JIP - JavaMuseum Interview Project

Survey: Domenico Quaranta


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    Interview: 10 answers

    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?

    The first media and net art criticism entered a long reflection on the “distinctive qualities” of the medium: structural anarchy, death of the author, collaborative creation, re-definition of the identities, open works, interactivity, de-localization, intimacy, global and un-specialized audience, multimedia, database as a symbolic form, de-materialization and crisis of the art object, connectivity, etc. More than ten years later, I think that they all hold out quite well, some of them better then others. The digital medium is still an anarchic medium, able to challenge artistic experimentation in very different ways. We realized that the author always rises again from its ashes: the digital media weren’t able to kill him, but they just enlarged the spectrum of the possibilities (collective identities, collaboration, user as co-author, etc.) We all get used to the basic interactivity of the medium, so we want from digital art something more provocative and involving than the usual Pavlovian games; and the space of the information gained such a concreteness that talking about de-materialization may seem naive, when the artworks re-materialize and the art market proves to be able to sell everything.

    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?

    Technology doesn’t make the work: the ability to accept the challenge of the medium and to give it an artistic shape makes it. So, early net works such as Heath Bunting’s King’s Cross Phone In, Vuk Cosic’s Net.art per se, Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Come Back from the War and Jenny Holzer’s Please Change Beliefs are able to stand – and often to win – the comparison with more recent works, even if they could be not able to survive the digital decay.
    What did change? Almost all: the bandwidth, the technologies, the social composition of the Net, its relationship with other media, the one between net art, art market and institutions, the opportunities of collective action, etc.
    About perspectives, I can see two very different trends. On the one hand, the technological evolution, social tagging and folksonomies are opening new ways of artistic experimentation, new possibilities for an art that wants to be net specific. On the other hand, some artists who are working in the field from the beginning look like to aim – in very different ways – at a new freedom of action, able to place them “beyond” media: that means, sometimes working without new media, sometimes moving freely from a medium to another or using them all together.

    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 approach.
    What Do you think, would be the best way to teach young people how to deal with the Internet as an environment of art?

    So, this is the one million dollars question. A technological knowledge is obviously very important, but it’s important to remember that the Net is something more then the sum of the softwares and the protocols it is made of. The new net artists have to know how artists used the Net from the early days till now, but also the ways not-artists used it; and maybe they need… an interdisciplinary approach, because it is still the better for Internet, which is not a medium, but a meta-medium. We must remember, indeed, that the evolution of the medium is deeply in debt with the “naive” vision of all those artists who, coming from other media, could have a fresh look on the Net, and ideas completely different from the ones by web designers, technicians and artists grown up in the Net.

    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.

    I think that seeing in new technologies nothing more than a new instrument is naive; but thinking the same about the Internet is stupid. And not just because McLuhan was a myth and we have to take into account what he said, but also because there are no neutral media, and because every software, be it proprietary or open source, has a message written in its source code. About the Internet, we can say that it is an instrument only after saying that it is a social space, a network of people, a place for political action and cultural production, a battlefield and so on. And engagement, in its broader sense, is strongly connected with every artistic practice that comes from the public space.
    Generally, I can say that I don’t believe that art have to change the world, but I like art that tries to do it. I think, along with Duchamp, that art must be provoking and shocking. A lot of net art shocks me, and so I like it. But Duchamp accustomed us to reject “retinal art” in such a way, that even a formal and aesthetic research could be shocking today. So, I can be shocked in the same way by 0100101110101101.ORG’s pranks and John Simon Jr.’s drawings: and I love them both.

    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?

    In my opinion, “net art” is the best solution: it’s definitely much more “pop”, it has an history and it starts to be used by people who don’t know what they are talking about, too. In other words, it is successful: even Italian people understand it ;-)
    About the discussion about criteria for net art, I have to say that I find it quite boring and uninteresting: not because I think that there are no criteria for net art, but because an artistic practice is not defined by words, but by works and artists. Vuk Cosic said: “I go to the conferences: this is net.art, too”. This statement has usually been read in this way: “net.art means living and working into a network, be it virtual or real”, but I prefer to read it as an invitation to an open vision: everything can be net.art, when net.artists are doing it…
    So, I use the term “net art” to talk about an open situation, defined by the impact that the network had on artistic practice, and not by the medium. This is a broad definition, which includes also practices that owe to the Net their existence or their actual status, like software art or game patches. At worst, we could say that all contemporary art after Windows 95 is net art. This is, quite obviously, a paradox, but it wants to be an invitation to avoid the Tables of Law, to keep open and always editable the list of criteria and to be conscious that each criterion may include also its opposite. Among these criteria, there are, without doubt, aesthetic criteria too, but we have to take them in the same account: for example, the structure of a database has a great influence on the narrative relying on it, in terms of fragmentation and of refusal of a linear organization; and the numerical nature of the data flux usually calls for an abstract visualization. But often we can find linear narratives relying on a database, and iconic visualizations of the data flux.

    “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?

    Yes, it can. Net art is a concept, not a connection status.

    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 art?
    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?

    I think that all the said contexts can represent an appropriate environment for net based art. Many net art works have been created for an intimate and private experience from the screen of the viewer’s computer, but with little adaptation they can be shown also in a physical environment. The problem is when someone wants to offer some kind of experience in another kind of space. In my curatorial work, the most immediate (and cheap) solution, that is putting an online computer in the middle of the exhibition space, is the last solution that I take into account when showing a work of net art or software art. And if the artist thinks that his work can be experienced only this way, I try to work, together with him, on a solution able to make the experience really intimate, and the presence of the computer in the exhibition space something natural and not affected.
    Otherwise, we have to work – together with the artist – to find the best way to show that particular work of art in that particular exhibition space: to “emulate” it in a different environment. It can be an installation, but also a video, panels and prints, sometimes also paintings, sculptures or drawings. The Net should have taught us that there are no limits to the variability of a net art work. And many artists (think about JoDi, 0100101110101101.ORG, UBERMORGEN.COM) are already working in this way.

    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?

    I think that the best strategy would be an “assault” to the world of art, which would avoid the cultural ghetto we built up with our own hands. In other words, we have to fight against the wall which is still keeping apart Duchamp Land and Turing Land, in Lev Manovich words. That means, for an artist, to propose his work to the galleries, and to look for solutions that will make his works marketable and apt for a physical space, without being content with the closed circuit of festivals, prizes and new media centers; and, for a critic or curator, to write articles and organize shows featuring net art together with more accepted forms of contemporary art, underlying similarities and differences. I’m talking about the art system, but I think that this strategy could be used for any other system the artist is interested to enter (cinema, music, television, etc.)

    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 think that the conventional ways of selection are useful and important, but that the possibility to reach a non conventional audience in non conventional ways could be really exciting for an artist, too. I think that anybody who publishes anything on the net could be an artist, but not anybody who does it is an artist. And I think that the term “art” is not the only one we can use for what they do. The Net is a democratic, open platform for experimentation. These experiments could become art or something other: but their importance doesn’t come from what they are going to become, but from what they are.

    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?

    In Protocol, Alex Galloway writes: “Media critic Friedrich Kittler has noted that in order for one to understand contemporary culture, one must understand at least one natural language and at least one computer language.” I believe it too. And I’m working hard to learn my first natural language ;-)
    What I’m trying to say is that technological knowledge is important, but that we haven’t to overestimate it. Art-historical, philosophical, sociological and whatever -ical knowledge are still very important in order to understand art from its roots – and, in the same time, no one of them is conclusive.