JIP - JavaMuseum Interview Project

Survey: Katty Vandenberghe

Katty Vandenberghe
new media creative and educator
Pretoria, South Africa

  • biography
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    Survey: 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?

    In South Africa we have a wonderful boom in terms of graphic designers and film industry based animators and special effects artists. They engage with the digital media not only in their professions, but also as artists. However, in the traditional Fine Arts or Visual Arts field (pure art training) we are nowhere near to accommodating the digital medium. If artists or students do engage in this medium, it is on their own volition and mostly through their own efforts. The same lack of accommodation or understanding exists amongst our art gallery institutes. Digital artists do not expect to earn a living through selling their work in this country. Needless to say, there are exceptions – particularly at places like the WITS multimedia school in Johannesburg. As a trained Visual Artist I find myself at the forefront of trying to forge a niche for myself and other digital artists in this country. My solution is to turn to the internet where I can execute digital works with minimal cost and maximum exposure.

    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?

    I have only recently acquired ‘broadband’ (our telecommunications industry is questionable, resulting in weak and unaffordable delivery), and have therefore as yet not spent too much time looking at online work. However, I do feel the astists’ voice is still sadly lacking in this space. Much is still to be learnt and much more still needs to be said. I do not believe that a good work of art has anything to do with the state of technology. A good work of art survives technological advance through what it says, not how it was made. What concerns me more is the artists’ voice, and the training artists receive to be able to engage in these new technologies. Search engines like Google are not streamlined in a way that will deliver internet art to the world, their focus is textual and metatextual content. I would love to see them actively build an online art gallery and search engine of web and digital art.

    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?

    Apparently the MIT art department teaches their art students programming as soon as they arrive in first year. I believe artists should be trained in a small range of basic programming languages that would empower them to engage with, and understand the digital medium. Once artists understand the fundamentals on which digital technology is built, they will be empowered to manipulate and specialise their knowledge according to their area of interest and focus.

    We don’t need to teach youngsters, as educators we need to stop holding them back. I am an educator in software in the advertising arena. I can see youngsters are frustrated with how far behind educational institutions are in terms of technological facilities. I believe a closer and more generous relationship needs to be established between technology developers and promoters and the design and arts educators/industries. Those who advance and promote technological innovations, especially in the communications industry, forget that it is the design and art industry who will innovate and make their products look good.

    At the moment educational institutions are paying huge sums of money over to the software and hardware suppliers of new technologies. These costs get passed onto students who pay phenomenal fees, locking out a huge talent base. Software and hardware developers should be offering their wares for free to educational facilities and students alike on the basis that the educational institution is helping to promote their product and build a new client base.

    For as long as new media developers look at educational institutions as consumers of their products, rather than promoters and collaborative innovators, they are disempowering the future potential of their products and its growth in the market.

    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 the internet space is like any other and should carry the same diversity in approach, idea and outcome – just as our physical art spaces do. For me the term ‘netart’ is no more specific than the term ‘art’. I believe all artists should engage with the digital medium, no matter how simple or complex their contribution. Above all else, we should actively work against a technocracy that ‘others’ those who ‘do not know’. A simple blog environment is more than appropriate for artistic expression.

    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?

    The term ‘netart’ is meaningless. All it says is that an artwork is placed in a certain kind of place. You may as well be saying ‘galleryart’. As a term, it designates place. And that is all. Then ask the question “Are there any aesthetic criteria for a gallery based artwork?”

    My question would be more along the lines of “What do any aesthetic criteria have to do with art?”. Can art have aesthetics? Most definately, yes. Does it have to have aesthetics in order to be art? Most definately, no.

    “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?

    If an artist says it is, then that is all that matters. An ‘”artwork on the net” that is “offline” is a comment all its own. A network can be as big as the world wide web, and as small as the single digital device it sits on.

    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?

    First of all I would not attempt to define the physical space. Secondly I would not assume that an audience is imperative in order for an artwork to exist. The artists’ concern is to make art. It is the art critic, the gallery owner, the art investor and all other surrounding community structures and resources whose responsibility it is to recognise, appreciate and encourage the presence of art and artistic process. The physical space and public context will assert itself once the artist and their surrounding community decide to engage with each other. Once again, it is like trying to define how all art galleries should allow an artist to present their work. The alchemy of artwork, artist and available forums will determine and solve this question.

    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 arts, in general, are experiencing a decline in acceptence and appreciation. We live in a block buster world where art is viewed as a luxury item. A pass time of the rich, a practice for the idealist. Artistic process is considered irrelevant in the face of technological advancement and scientific discovery. The understanding that artistic process stimulates debate, innovation and insight into new solutions and new ways of thinking has been lost by a world that believes economic status is the only thing that matters. If the world cared about art, Google would seek it out, promote it and deliver it as easily and freely as it does intellectual and commercial content. The Google search engine does not ask – “where are the artists? what are they doing? why are they not here? how can we promote their voice? How can we empower them? How can we invite them in?”.

    As artists we are trained on how to market and manage ourselves – I’ve never met a brilliant artist who has the time, energy nor inclination to do any such thing. An artist who sincerely engages with the process of creating and discovering some kind of ephiphany in their work, can little afford to waste their precious reserves on what is essentially the strategic business of making money.

    How should artists change this situation? They should protest, loudly. They should invade and occupy any and every space they can find. They should paint graffiti on these virtual walls. They should bombard search engines with demands for recognition and placement. They should paint billboards on commercial banners. They should engage in any and all ways to say the smallest and tallest things. Artist must push back the tide of empty design and fake textures. Of flaccid animation and insipid illustration.

    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?


    Curatorship has become dictatorial and employs a selective process of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. What it should be, is nurturing, encouraging, open to new ideas. I must say that the forums I have seen on the web are very accepting and all encompassing. This is a good thing. On the web, the browser is the curator, the web gallery builder is simply responsible for how to help the browser gain access and make choices in navigation.

    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?

    I think that any ‘shoulds’ have no place in the artistic process. Whether or not a curator has technological knowledge is up to the participating artists.

    In general I think that technological art requires technological insight. Just like an oil painting requries insight into brushstroke and colour palette. The one is about digits and gadgets, the other is about suface, tone and texture. In order to appreciate what you’re looking at, a certain level of understanding and personal experience is helpful.

    When the Eiffel tower was first erected in Paris, the general public thought it a monstrosity – engineers thought it was beautiful. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a terrible clíche, but very applicable. May there be many beholders with many kinds of beauty in their eyes.