JIP - JavaMuseum Interview Project

Survey: Patrick Lichty

Survey: 10 questions on Internet based art



Patrick Lichty

  • 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?
    This is a complex subject, as one could mention the ways the digital has
    affected the morphology of Western Art traditions, what is specific to
    the Digital as an art form, its shift regarding collectivity, and its
    nature as a genre, medium, or movement.

    Digital art seems to be the next media-based art after Video Art. The
    interesting parallel is the 1998 summit at the Walker Art Center of
    Media Arts in Transition was held before to consider the coming of Video
    Art. The difference here is that video is a far more unified medium
    than New Media. Perhaps Net Art, in its reliance upon networks, may
    frame itself in a much more unified way that allows it to be a
    descendant of the electronic Media Arts, still follows from traditions
    such as Performance Art, Conceptualism, and Video. Perhaps what is
    ‘new’, per se, is the use of global communications networks (similar to
    Phone and Satellite TV Art), the use of computation and numerical
    representation, and engagement with large connected communities as a
    grass-roots level. The last two, numerical representation/live
    computation and connectedness/connectivity are probably the ‘newest’ of
    the lot.

    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?
    This depends if one is looking at the work in terms of a contemporary
    context. If we look at people like the Vasulkas, Paik, Davis, Sonnier,
    Birnbaum and others who were early adopters of video, can we compare it
    to digital video? This is a rhetorical question, but I think the only
    comparison that can be made is the relative context of how the artists
    used the technologies/media in regards to their cultural milieu related
    to how present-day contemporaries use their resources within their
    cultural context. For Rauschenberg, what he and Kluver were doing at
    E.A.T. was very advanced, but many turn of the millennium artists could
    likely accomplish some technically similar feats with more ease.

    What’s changed? Maybe there are more and disparate technologies which
    allow for a larger discursive field.? I say this hestitantly, as in my
    research in media archaeology, I’ve been finding so many cultural
    similarities between Internet culture and telegraphic culture, with the
    obvious differences of scale, expertise, access, etc. And, of course,
    Virtual Reality could not exist in the 1800’s.

    For me, this is more of a change in modality than representation or
    production. There are new technologies specific to the digital, but
    what may be seen as similar is that of the social architectonics that
    these technologies create. Postal trains, air mail, telegraphy,
    telephony, Pony Express, radio, Slow Scan TV, satellite broadcasts, and
    so on have had profound effects upon the cultures they touch, and so has
    the Internet. For this reason, I no longer see the Internet as
    revolutionary, but more as another quantum shift in the development (not
    that I do not say progress) of human history. Our closeness to digital
    culture imbues it with a stature that I’m sure will be put in a much
    greater perspective in the future.

    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?

    As an educator, New Media art needs to be placed within the context of
    art first, then considered in the context of art in itself. For
    example, I still want the young to be well-versed artists. However,
    beyond a good traditional Foundations training, and some studio work,
    this is where it gets sticky. In an artform which is so closely tied to
    Conceptualism, Computer Science, Information Design, and so on, what do
    you teach an undergrad, and I’ll address the Grad issues soon. Perhaps
    New Media art education has to be an interdisciplinary affair;
    incorporating elements of Engineering, Computer Science and Graphic
    Design or Installation Art.
    On the other hand, New Media, by virtue of its breadth and diversity
    probably needs to have a fairly basic core curriculum and a _sizeable_
    Independent Study component and a Senior Study project. Most of us in

    First(pre 80’s), Second (80’s), and Third (90’s) Wave New Media artists,
    even though it wasn’t called New Media back then, were self- taught.

    Therefore, the idea of having a centralized New Media curriculum seems
    odd, even paradoxical. What makes sense would be to have the core set
    of skills, and then interdisciplinary guided study under the mentorship
    of an advisor. Of course, this would play havoc with institutional
    accreditation standards, or make them highly problematic.

    The New Media MFA is an even greater challenge. It seems like a
    polyglot genre like New Media, which demands experimentation and
    diversity, is at odds with the focus required by many graduate programs.
    The Master New Media artist is a flaneur, wandering where necessary
    within a generalized focus, not focusing on the mark for decades. Not
    that this isn’t important, it’s just that the forms are shifting so
    rapidly at this time that to not shift modes and context may result in a
    practical ossification. At this time, even two, let alone three years,
    is an eternity, requiring catch-up upon graduation, which is ironic.

    But what to do? A couple models come to mind. The first is the original
    CalArts setup in which ‘classes’ were much more like individual guidance
    in a semi-communal arrangement. The other is the old academic/atelier
    model, in which the student studies for a period of time with one or
    more masters in the area they wish to specialize in. Again, this is at
    odds at least with North American educational models, and what is most
    likely to happen is a partial educational model which is suited to New
    Media, where the student will have to engage with the autodidactic

    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 art-critical point of view?
    First the fact that many net-based artists engage with social issues
    suggests that there is some specific relation between the culture that
    the Internet has created and social activism. In the 1990’s, corporate
    media hailed the internet as the great democratizing medium, but in the
    2000’s, asking the question as to why people are socially engaged seems
    odd, as it is obvious as a residual effect of the hopes for the
    Internet’s own optimistic emergence. It could be a result of its
    demographics; this would be an excellent sociological research project.

    The first part of the question frames New Media in terms of the
    Medium/Tool dichotomy. To tie into later parts of the question, my
    position is that New Media in my case is neither: it is a choice.
    Framing New Media as a choice implies a historical awareness of its
    origins from European industry to the 20th Century Military-Industrial
    Complex, a criticism that I share with fellow New Media Artist Simon
    Penny. New Media has a lot of cultural history that subtly inscribes
    itself upon the subject in the very form of the way the device is
    constructed and the way the programs have evolved, and the fact that the
    Internet itself is a product of the US Military. I was brought up in
    the technoculture, and for me working with technology is as natural as
    weaving a tapestry or throwing a pot (although I can do this, too).
    It’s simply the voice my culture has gien me, and therefore my choice
    for expression, neither tool, nor aesthetic.

    As animator for The Yes Men, my concerns are obvious in regards to
    questioning corporate power. Nearly any abuse of power is excellent
    fodder for work; my Clevelander-Z collaboration with Laura Rusnak
    focuses on surveillance abuses, so there you are.

    In general, my work tends to be more analytical in addressing
    communication and narrative, and how these constructions of meaning can
    be used in online spaces for differing effects. Some of my interests
    consist of information aesthetics as abstractions, the barest minimums
    of digital representation, and the construction of online identity for
    social activism.

    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?
    Perhaps this is a little slippery. But if I were to make such a

    I would define it as an artform in which the use of networks or their
    technical infrastructures are integral to the realization or functioning
    of the work. In regards to aesthetic criteria, this should be defined
    by the context of the work’s intention. For example, an email art
    exhibition has a much different set of intentions, and thus aesthetics,
    than something like Golan Levin’s cell phone symphony.

    As an aside, I have, by and large, try to avoid netart as a genre, in
    that its acceptance through shows like net.condition, the 2000 Whitney
    Biennial, and Data Dynamics (among many others) has done much to
    formalize/canonize the genre. This places the possibility of
    expectations by curators and the audience upon the artist when they come
    to see netart. If net art is part of my work, it merely is so because
    it was required for the form/context at hand.

    And lastly, I’d like to put forth a quick distinction that netart, while
    a subset of New Media, is not New Media itself. This would be to
    exclude Generative Sound, Virtual Reality, Robotics, Mobile Devices, and
    so on. Netart is a powerful and necessary descriptor of part of the
    cultural milieu that New Media inhabits, but by no means is it
    all-inclusive, nor did I assume it to be. It is merely that in these
    questions that the terms are used very closely, and I wanted to draw a

    “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?
    Art on the Net, Art based on the Internet, art ‘based’ on the Net and
    net art are all different matters, and are all valid in their own right.
    Is it incorrect, or even wrong, to posit that there can be
    representations of traditional art on the Net (or even New Media
    representations, like QTVR objects), artworks that do not work without
    the Net, art ‘influenced by the Net’ (like Valery Grancher’s paintings),
    and the more general forms of Art on the Net, which could be anything
    that’s executable, viewable, or downloadable. Can we call these things
    by a proper name? Probably, but it is a difficult and imperfect

    The problem that seems to be posed here is once more that of definition.
    Consider the confusions in language between silicon chips and silicone
    breast implants. Also of note is the layperson’s confusion between
    memory and storage, where hard drive space is often said to be ‘memory’,
    which is incorrect. But then, what about a flash drive? A storage
    device made of non-volatile memory chips? No wonder people get
    confused. I hope that eventually that these terms will get straightened
    out as the technologies become more widespread. But then, when the
    Academy is still considering what the nature of drawing is in
    contemporary society, I have my concerns about our definitions about
    networks and artworks.

    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?
    First of all, except for the technical/representative mode, net art is
    not new at all. We could potentially go back to Mutoscopes and
    multi-threaded adventure novels, even forms of 20th Century
    installation, performance, conceptualism, and electronic art in the 60’s
    and 70’s that required intense audience participation. My assertion is
    that it is the method of representation (the Internet) and the way it is
    contextualized (the Internet community) that distinguishes it.

    That being said, how can one create a work that engages the audience?
    Emphasis on technology as seductress is not enough anymore. While the
    net artist and their surrounding community may have an intense interest
    in issues specific to the technology, they frequently do not address the
    issues of human inspirations, challenges, and aspirations that are much
    of the core of art. When the technology becomes transparent to the
    communicative function of the art, then and only there does the work
    become successful. I think a good question to ask a net artist is, “Why
    do you think this has to be on the Net, and what does it say that can’t
    be said anywhere else or in any other medium?”
    So, maybe to engage in human experience, cultural concerns, the great
    issues of history and philosophy, play, humor, irony, and polemics – all
    of these places could be a great start.

    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.?

    Depends on the context. Net art should not be confined to the screen, a
    certain size screen, or even to using a screen, for that matter. What
    about interactive sculptures networked across entire continents, or GPS
    pieces that are mobile? How about podcasting communities? This gets
    back to my concern about the definition of net art as being confined to
    an email browser or website. That is just the tip of the iceberg. The
    idea of net art being confined to a lonely user in a home study or
    library is a definition that’s limited by the recent formalization of
    the genre in the last 6-8 years, and should be questioned.

    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?
    Again, depends on the context. I’d love to (today, this always changes)
    to have a nice PDA phone in my pocket to show my colleagues net art
    wherever I went.

    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
    Establish outreach programs to curators and foundations, create
    grass-roots programs to get people involved, organize ad hoc festivals,
    and use the online media for its communicative potential. It’s going to
    take time, and as we are a culture that measures time in week sor
    months, waiting years and decades seems anathema to us. I’ve been doing
    forms of New Media (by Manovich’s definitions) since 1977, and it’s
    taken this long to get this far. Patience and perseverance is key, now
    that New Media is at a critical mass.

    Another thing that is of interest is that New Media is a movement of
    individuals across hundreds of methods and technologies. One of the
    historical forms of taking a position is that of announcing a movement.
    New Media (once a genre, now ‘media’) is being historicized into a
    movement through summits like the 2005 REFRESH! Conference in Banff. It
    would be interesting if an open source form of New Media as ‘movement’
    could be created in the signing on of anyone who works in numerical
    representation with computation in art. If someone needs the seed for
    that, I’ll declare it, but not claim ownership of it. From this, maybe
    then New Media artists and the net artists within them can unify to
    build their _own_ legitimation.

    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?
    People publishing on the net could potentially be artists, depending on
    context and intent, but not automatically. There is some content out
    there that is a very long stretch to be called art. It’s along the
    lines of Foucault’s assertion of a reader also completing the work of
    art. I would love to think so, but just can’t agree with it at this

    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?
    It depends on the way the technology is being used. I’d love to see New
    Media and Net Art that don’t require any foreknowledge of the
    technology. Ideally, this would be the most successful work – the art
    that speaks beyond its form. A big problem with much, if not most New
    Media is that it uses technology to seductively hide work that is either
    conceptually weak or to obfuscate its concepts unnecessarily. For me,
    the best New Media and Net Art is that which speaks directly and
    elegantly, but reveals its complexity as one investigates the work.

    Curators. Some are simply not taking the time to investigate the genre
    to be able to speak clearly on the work and make direct but challenging
    shows. I realize that New Media, and thus Net Art, have support
    challenges, a lot of technical knowledge and historical background, let
    alone terminology which is alien to any other art field. Most are
    stretched so thin by their duties, and I think that many others simply
    may not care until the field gets more support. It needs to happen, but
    whether it will or not remains to be seen.

    It would also be great if Net Art users would learn about its history
    and influences as well. But at least here in the States, I’m going to
    settle for appreciation of history by larger audiences before demanding