JIP - JavaMuseum Interview Project

Interview: Ryan Gallagher

Ryan Gallagher
US based

  • artist biography
  • —>

    Interview: 10 questions

    Since a reasonable time, digital media entered the field of art and extended the
    traditional definition of art through some new , but very essential components.
    Do you think it is like that and if yes, tell me more about these components and how they
    changed the perception of art?

    No. And I say this not because I think digital media has not had an impact, but because I
    feel that art has always been beyond definition to an extent. To attempt to fold in one
    particular media or another into the perceptual and “traditional” definition of art is to
    repeat the mistake of everyone who has ever tried to define art in such concrete terms in
    the past. Just because digital media is finally being “accepted” in certain circles as art
    community does not mean it was not being used to produce art before that acceptance.
    The perception of this influence of digital media extending the definition of art is based
    on a delayed (if not flawed) perception of art to begin with.

    A relevant section of digital art represents Internet based art. The Internet was hardly
    existing, but artists conquered already this new field for their artistic activities.
    Can the work of these early artists be compared with those who work with advanced
    technologies nowadays? What changed until these days ? What might be the perspectives
    for future developments?

    Artists will always conquer, and have always conquered the tools and media at their
    disposal given the technology of the day. Internet based art is merely an example of this
    exploration. It is a trend that has persisted and will continue to persist. If you can site
    one element that has fundamentally changed it is the rapidity and interconnectivity these
    technologies permit the artist to utilize. But a collaborative netart project is not all that
    different on the fundamental level from, for example, a postal mail collaboration. The
    potential and ease of collaborations is where the real revolution has occurred. Looking to
    the future one could expect to see more evolved, advanced, and communal projects being
    undertaken by groups of artists who may not share geographic similarity. As tools for
    translation get better and better these groups may not even share the same spoken
    languages, yet via technology, collaborate seamlessly as if they were working in the same

    The education in the field of New Media art, including Internet based art, started late
    compared with the general speed of technological development and acceptance.
    So, generations of artists who used the Internet as their artistic working field were not
    educated in this new discipline(s) and technologies, but had rather an interdisciplinary
    What Do you think, would be the best way to teach young people how to deal with the
    Internet as an environment of art?

    Firstly, I don’t necessarily think that every young artist needs to be taught how to
    communicate their art and ideas either by producing internet dependent artwork, or
    displaying their work on the internet. Young artists select the mediums they enjoy and
    provide the possibilities necessary to express their ideas, this is a natural process and the
    artists that will want to use the internet environment will gravitate that way somewhat
    naturally. Once that desire is established however, I think a great deal can be gained with
    the education process though I am not sure which, structured or interdisciplinary, is the
    better approach to this education. Likely a healthy mixture of both is the most flexible
    and beneficial to the young artist.

    What kind of meaning have the new technologies and the Internet to you in concern of
    art, are they just tools for expressing artistic intentions, or have they rather an
    ideological character, as it can be found with many “netartists”, or what else do they
    mean to you?
    Many “Internet based artists” work on “engaged” themes and subjects, for instance, in
    social, political, cultural etc concern.
    Which contents are you particularly interested in, personally and from an artcritical
    point of view.

    Being interdisciplinary myself, the meanings wrapped up in the technology fall more into
    the “tools” and “enabler” categories. Where I take my ideological stances falls in more
    broad topics such as aesthetics, process, and what I am trying to communicate, be that
    within a technology based artwork or a more traditional form. I am personally interested
    in the connection between the concepts that are commonly imagined as
    virtual/mathematical/computational and exposing their physical or natural counterparts
    via a mixture of technology enabled approaches and traditional ones, among many other
    related and branched topics. On a “cultural” and “social” level I am mostly interested in
    these elements as aspects of collaboration or participation, not so much in a commentary
    capacity, but I am myself a young artist, and that could change as my work evolves.
    From a critical standpoint I do appreciate some ideological “netart” as well as art that
    engages social and political topics, be that work through technology or otherwise, though
    I don’t think it inherent in the medium of technology and the internet that the art
    necessarily be of this variety. I think its existence is a product of the fact that the
    medium, and any given artwork within it, is obviously capable of reaching a broad
    popular audience provided the right chain of events, and some artists leverage this
    heavily in the process of getting their message out. The internet, and the communication
    possible utilizing it, is rapidly proving to be a medium that is capable of spurring actual
    social or political change, and art has always addressed these topics even in traditional
    forms that may have been more limited in distribution, so no surprise that it continues to
    do so in the environment of the internet, with even more potency in reaching popular

    The term “netart” is widely used for anything posted on the net, there are dozens of
    definitions which mostly are even contradictory.
    How do you define “netart” or if you like the description “Internet based art” better?
    Do you think “netart” is art, at all, if yes, what are the criteria?
    Are there any aesthetic criteria for an Internet based artwork?

    For my own definition, I like to imagine “net art” as artwork that is somehow
    fundamentally dependent on the connectivity aspects of the internet. This could come in
    the form of a community that self organizes and produces themed works, perhaps
    leveraging the data available on the internet to produce or enhance a work, engage a
    disparate audience in an interactive way. It should fundamentally rely on the network,
    not just the technology on top of the network. Perhaps this is a little forward thinking as
    many examples people may cite as net art do not fall within my definition, and are rather
    works of art in the medium of various technologies. I don’t feel simply posting a
    reproduction of a traditional work online constitutes this concept of “net art”, however
    that is a grey area that people explore constantly, because many will be compelled to
    utilize the previously mentioned “network dependent factors” in their presentation of that
    work. Then it is transformed into a hybrid.

    As interested in aesthetics as I am myself, I don’t necessarily feel that net based art has
    some established set of aesthetic criteria. I am not sure if those criteria simply don’t
    exist, or have not been formalized yet due to the youth of the medium. Certainly many
    principles are borrowed from the general concepts of “design” when producing internet
    art, and I feel in general most netart is interdisciplinary in it’s attempt to create an
    aesthetic quality, borrowing from most, if not all, traditional forms, and occasionally
    deriving such inspiration for aesthetics from the underlying technology, network, code,
    data, and medium itself.

    As for a “term”, I don’t have a preference, and considering my definition leanings I
    would probably suggest something like “network dependent art”.

    “Art on the net” has the advantage and the disadvantage to be located on the virtual
    space in Internet which defines also its right to exist.
    Do you think, that “art based on the Internet”, can be called still like that, even if it is just
    used offline?

    I’m not positive what this “only used offline” situation would be that you describe, as I
    can think of several distinctive variations. I suspect you are referring to using internet
    technologies, but not the connectivity that the internet provides as either a means to
    create or display the work. Considering my suggested definition of net art that depends
    on that connectivity, I would have to say that this is somehow fundamentally not the
    same thing, but rather an artist working in the medium of internet technologies as a tool
    exclusively for composition and expression. Does using technologies such as java, html,
    CSS, Processing etc. necessarily make the work an example of this “netart”, I don’t think
    so. But the broader topic of “new media” certainly, at this time, includes these examples.
    “New Media” is a strange and amusing concept in itself because either it will, at some
    point in time, no longer be new, or it will effectively slide along with the pace of
    technology and at some point works that were once new media will become old media?
    The other situation I can imagine is an artwork “no longer” existing in a connected
    fashion on the internet, perhaps it has migrated to a private collection, been archived in a
    way that is not accessible via the internet, or has simply been taken “offline” intentionally
    for display in a setting that is without connectivity. In all these situations, depending on
    how the internet played a role during the period in which there was connectivity, I think
    the work is likely to still qualify as net art. Although I can think of examples that would
    absolutely fail to exist without the underlying network, some additional step of archiving
    the data on which they depended, or are presented within, would have to be undertaken in
    the process of art preservation, and this is perhaps not even possible in the most extreme

    Dealing with this new, and interactive type of art demands an active viewer or user, and
    needs the audience much more and in different ways than any other art discipline before.
    How do you think would be good ways to stimulate the user to dive into this new world of
    What do you think represents an appropriate environment to present net based art to an
    audience, is it the context of the lonesome user sitting in front of his personal computer,
    is it any public context, or is it rather the context of art in general or media art in
    particular, or anything else.?
    If you would be in the position to create an environment for presenting this type of art in
    physical space, how would you do it?

    While I think your original premise to be true of some examples of net art, I do not think
    it universally applies. I feel it perfectly possible for works that heavily leverage the
    premise and connectivity of net art to an extreme degree be extremely successful as a
    work, yet reach a very tiny audience (if any at all) in it’s native environment of the
    internet. There is more on the internet than simply an audience to engage, and artists,
    especially ones lucky enough to have established to a degree, actively tap these additional
    resources in creating their works while ignoring the format of the internet as a mode to
    engage an audience. They may never intend to, or aren’t able to display the final product
    to the internet audience. Works of “net art” are being encountered in a host of unusual
    (many non-traditional) ways, only one of which is as a user of the internet. As long as a
    work engages an audience it will thrive, be that audience actually a user of the internet at
    the time of engagement or not. One tiny facet of this extra-internet audience is comprised
    of the traditional galleries, museums, and other settings that are becoming more aware
    and actively curate the works of net artists. As I have said before, if a work’s only
    application of the the underlying network is to reach an audience, I don’t fundamentally
    feel it would qualify as net art.

    Concerning the appropriate environment to present net art, I think I’ve sufficiently
    established that I don’t feel one exists. Each work of net art has it’s own ideal method
    and environment for interaction. Certainly engaging a single user of the internet, and
    doing this repeatedly for many individual users works for some examples of net art, but
    the concept of “internet dependent art” is too broad to expect it to be the appropriate
    format for all works. On a fundamental level art should be stimulating, and following
    stimulation there is often a need for discussion among the audience. The single-user
    model is not ideal here and additional mechanisms would ideally be in place for the
    proceeding discussion. That need is so core that in the unstructured environment of the
    internet you see them begin to organically emerge, and conscious projects to present and
    curate artwork online should take great care to include such mechanisms, of which there
    are many possible forms.

    Presenting net art in a “general art” context as well as in “media art” contexts can both be
    beneficial depending on the emphasis of the artist. Artists that work exclusively in media
    arts should likely be presented in that context, while artists that are more interdisciplinary
    in their projects and interests would be inadequately presented in such a narrow scope,
    and should be presented in a general art context.

    Considering the scope of what is possible within what I have hinted at being my preferred
    definition of net art, a large one, I imagine the ideal physical space should be left
    intentionally as flexible as possible. This is very hard to do but the example of the
    “modern art” museums is a excellent starting point, as they too face such herculean
    variability in the types of works which they might undertake presenting. Is this format
    ideal for every individual piece? Unlikely, but when attempting to tackle the spectrum it
    seems to be the best compromise. It should definitely have comfortable screening spaces
    for works that rely on projection in a more traditional film sense, laboratory type
    elements for works that rely on user interaction at the console, both individually but also
    where one user might interact while the rest of the audience in the space observes, and
    ample flexible installation spaces for more physical interaction.

    As Internet based art, as well as other art forms using new technologies are (globally
    seen) still not widely accepted, yet, as serious art forms, what do you think could be an
    appropriate solution to change this situation?

    Part of the cause of the delayed acceptance I think is this aspect of audience. Art (and
    many artists) yearn for audience, and more traditional forms had to embark on certain
    journeys to find that audience, forums in which the sense of “accepted” art was created.
    Internet art, especially the variety directly presented online, had this innate capacity to
    organically find an audience without doing much more than simply existing. So in one
    sense anyway, internet presented art was accepted before the traditional people who
    judge and filter art even had a chance to react. It is an ultimate expression of appealing to
    a popular audience… and when successfully so… often the established art community
    (being galleries, curators, museums, critics etc) scramble to justify their position as the
    judges. Now, not everything a popular audience likes is necessarily good art, or even art,
    so the judges need not worry about preserving their role too much. It is now their charge
    to familiarize themselves with the technology and medium in which internet art is being
    produced, and serve to elevate the artists and works that need to be seen and recognized,
    especially if they didn’t achieve that exposure naturally in the process and environment
    of the internet. Not every great new artist of traditional mediums is a natural at the
    exposure aspects, in fact most probably aren’t. The same is true of internet artists as
    well, although they are uniquely advantaged in that a strange personality or introverted
    tendencies need not be an immediate detriment in gaining online exposure provided they
    are comfortable with the medium in which they work.

    The Internet is sometimes called a kind of “democratic” environment,
    The conventional art practice is anything else than that, but selective by using filters of
    different kind.
    The audience is mostly only able to make up its mind on second hand. Art on the net
    might potentially be different. Do you think the current practice of dealing with Internet
    based art is such different or rather the described conventional way through (also
    curatorial) filtering?
    Do you think, that speaking in the terms of Joseph Beuys, anybody who publishes
    anything on the net would be also an artist?

    I don’t think the need for a filter or curator role has vanished in the world of internet art.
    Internet based art that finds a resonance with a popular audience may not need the
    traditional curatorial filters to get it seen, but it may need them to get it fully appreciated.
    Equally so, internet art that does not find resonance easily with a popular audience (for a
    host of possible reasons) is not necessarily undeserving of being communicated, perhaps
    it simply requires more attention than the typical internet session provides to be
    appreciated, and the curator’s role is then to assist in crafting the environment where an
    audience might devote that attention. As for the current state of affairs, I don’t think the
    curators have quite caught up to the need for such filtering, and most net art is seen due to
    popular causality. Not in itself a bad thing, but not a complete perspective either.
    While I don’t necessarily agree that anyone who publishes anything online is, by act of
    publication alone, an artist… I will admit that we are all participants, and even more so as
    the internet increases it’s role as a medium of communication and expression for the
    individual. It is that participation in the greater whole that creates a fertile environment
    for the existence of internet art and internet artists. Every act, no matter how trivial, is
    capable of having artistic consequences. In that vain, internet artists today owe thanks to
    the first publishers of content online, which you can imagine as artists in their own right,
    and future generations will no doubt be given direction, mediums, and inspiration by
    what we create… even in cases where they consciously aim to reject it.

    Do you think, the curators dealing with net based art should have any technological
    knowledge in order to understand such an art work from its roots? And what about the
    users of Internet based art?

    To properly appreciate the process of a work is as important as the interpreting the final
    product. This is as true for traditional mediums as it is for emerging ones. So for a
    curatorial role this knowledge is important. An audience however can not be expected to
    necessarily have this understanding, although the viewing of a work or a body of work by
    an artist should be capable of inspiring the desire to learn, think, and create. All artists
    are inspired or enabled directly or indirectly by the works of those that came before them.
    The future artists are the youngest or most inspired members of the current audience. As
    always, there are distinct levels of appreciation for art and artists, and each one has to be
    addressed by the curators of art. They must actively encourage the audience to see and
    appreciate each, progressively deeper and broader level. Even though the curators will
    likely fall somewhere short of this goal on all but the most predisposed or willing
    audience members, I sincerely wish the odds were in their favor. It is that minority they
    do succeed with that will prove to be integral to the continuation of a creative and
    enlightened society, not to mention the preservation of being a curator as a viable career.