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this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

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2008-07-14

>> interviews: Jon Ippolito, Steve Dietz and Benjamin Weil about äda'web

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Interview with Jon Ippolito


"Leaping into the abyss and resurfacing with a pearl". E-mail interview
with Jon Ippolito
di Domenico Quaranta

[Published in "Noemalab", October 2005,
http://www.noemalab.org/sections/wandp.php
In the same section you can read previous interviews, more focused on
ada'web, with Steve Dietz -
http://www.noemalab.com/sections/wandp/musem_netart/dietz.html -
and Benjamin Weil -
http://www.noemalab.com/sections/wandp/musem_netart/weil.html]

In despite of the pioneering commitment of curators and institutions
which, during the last decade, started studying the methods of archiving
and preserving new media, they are very far away from a definite
solution, the one that defeats all the rest, forces itself upon them and
becomes routine. Maybe there is no best solution, and (maybe) this is
the best part of the whole business.
Jon Ippolito's work seems to substantiate this hypothesis. Even better,
it seems to say: "there is a best solution, but it's variable". From the
seasoned case history of ada'web's archiving, that Ippolito - together
with his adversarial collaborators, Janet Cohen e Keith Frank - worked
out with an unreliable archivist, to the Variable Media Initiative and
the Seeing Double exhibition, let's run through the stages of this
experience.

DQ. What do you think about ada'web? Do you think that its (old, in
web-years) experience can teach something to current net art?
JI. ada'web's role in the history of Internet art is unmistakable. There
were certainly works of Internet art that preceded ada'web and/or
reached beyond its cultural and geographic bias - most notably the
classic European "net.art" works of the early 90s. Nevertheless, ada'web
was the first and foremost platform for Internet art in the mid-1990s,
and remains relevant to this day.
That said, my artistic collaborators Janet Cohen, Keith Frank, and I
didn't like everything on ada'web - which is why we set out to "improve" =
it.

DQ. What about the way ada'web has been collected by the Walker Art Cente=
r?
JI. While other curators wrung their hands about the nightmare of
archiving digital media, Steve Dietz, the architect of the Walker's
Digital Study Collection, leapt into the abyss and resurfaced with a
pearl. Of course it would have been great for him to do variable media
interviews with all the artists first, but you have to remember that one
of the inspirations for the Variable Media Network was Steve's daring
leap. In new media, we learn by doing, and Steve was the first to do it
in a thoughtful way.

DQ. How did The Unreliable Archivist see the light?
JI. Janet and Keith and I often joked about our Force Majeure resume -
Force Majeure being the clause that lets parties break a contract thanks
to an "act of God" like a war or hurricane. This resume was full of
exhibitions and publications cancelled at the last minute because of
ceilings declared unsafe and so on.
When ada'web curator Benjamin Weil offered to let us make the next
featured work for ada'web, we were very excited - until we heard that
AOL dropped ada'web's funding, at which point we thought, OK there's
another line for our Force Majeure resume.
Then Steve heard about our proposal and the light turned green again.
As an aside, I've worked with and alongside curators who simply shuffle
commissions in and out of their exhibitions to coincide with prevailing
fashions. Steve was a provocative and engaged interlocutor in our
collaboration, both in refining and contextualizing the project. He
probably deserves credit as one of our artistic collaborators.

DQ. Why 'unreliable'? Do you think there's a reliable way to archive a
piece of net art?
JI. Ha! No, you're right. The word "archive" derives from the Greek word
for "house of government" - the same root as monarchy - and their
centralized, controlling nature is proving increasingly unreliable for
the preservation of digital culture.
That said, I'm working with some collaborators on a completely
distributed model for documenting digital art and criticism. I should
also say that I think archiving and collecting are two different things;
the former implies fixed documentation, while the latter requires a more
variable approach to preservation.

DQ. How much of the curator Jon Ippolito can we find in The Unreliable
Archivist?
JI. Hopefully none. A curator's job is to nourish artists and safeguard
their work. In The Unreliable Archivist, my job was to knock them off
their pedestals.

DQ. In an interview you had with Liisa Ogburn in April, 2000, you make
yourself a question: "What would it mean to adapt museum culture to net
culture?" Can I make you the same question?
JI. It would mean complementing archivists with animateurs. Animateurs
are those loony folks who re-enact historical moments, whether medieval
jousting tournaments or the Wright brother's first flight. One of
Internet art's first "historians", Robbin Murphy, once suggested that
thinking about animateurs might help us understand what's missing in new
media preservation, and I think he was right. We need this kind of
person - for their anachronistic skills (whether it's wielding a
crossbow or Commodore), their interpretive fidelity (how do you cast
Hamlet in a chat room?), and their enthusiasm for the process of
re-creation.

DQ. As new media curator at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, you
conceived the Variable Media Initiative. What's the current state of the
project?
JI. I was never alone in working on the idea; collaborators like Keith
Frank and Rick Rinehart have contributed more to the idea of variable
media, while folks at the Guggenheim and Langlois Foundation have done
most of the heavy lifting. One of the most ambitious projects we've
accomplished to date is a test of emulation, which is one of the most
important tools in the animateur toolbox. In 2004 Caitlin Jones, Carol
Stringari, Alain Depocas, and I organized Seeing Double, a Guggenheim
exhibition that paired works still running on their original hardware -
such as Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman's Erl King from 1982 -
with emulated versions running on completely different hardware. We did
audience surveys and held a symposium to gauge the reaction of viewers
to the digital doppelgangers we built in the gallery.
Along with innovations like Seeing Double, we continue to refine the
variable media questionnaire, a tool for allowing artists and others to
articulate their visions of how a work may - or may not - be re-created
in a new medium once its current medium becomes obsolete. Although
anyone can currently download the prototype just by requesting it, our
latest thought is to get a Web version up so a broader audience can play
with it.

DQ. How did artists react to the VMI?
JI. Almost without exception in our case studies to date, artists have
reacted to the questionnaire with a serious and sustained imagining of
how their work might unfold over time. Some had already devoted some
thought about the future of their work; for others the experience was a
revelation. In every case, as far as I can remember, there was at least
one question the artist had never considered before.
I did get criticisms from a few artists who had no direct knowledge of
the variable media paradigm. They had heard that we asked artists to
give the museum permission to re-create works, and these critics figured
it was just a way for museums to wrest control of the work away from the
artist. Whereas in fact it is precisely the opposite - as the market's
influence on the ultimate fate of Dan Flavin's light installations has
made painfully clear.

DQ. The VMI began with a reflection on net art and its preservation, but
it spread out as far as covering many other fields, and more traditional
(or simply older) art practices. In this sense, can we say that net art
can reach an invaluable role in the updating of museum engine?
JI. Absolutely. The hardest innovation for the museum to swallow is the
network, for museums have historically been defined in the exact
opposite terms (centrality, stasis, rarity, disconnection).

DQ. In "The Museum of the Future: A Contradiction in Terms?" you say:
"... the most extreme departures from the material object, digital or
otherwise, are ultimately the ones whose future depends on the very
institution they were designed to render obsolete". So, does net art
need museums to survive? Do you see other possible solutions?
JI. Net art doesn't need today's museums - it needs what museums will
morph into if they take up the challenge of adapting to the needs of an
increasingly networked culture.
To be sure, my colleagues in the Variable Media Network and I have been
exploring more distributed alternatives to documenting and preserving
Internet creativity. But even the most net-native scheme requires
someone somewhere who dedicates herself to keeping culture alive. More
than technical knowledge, that person needs interpretive skills and a
passion for preserving history undaunted by the many challenges in her
way. Right now that person is most likely to be found in a museum.

DQ. I find the VMI very interesting, but I think it runs the risk of
seeming something like an aggressive therapy. Looking at the
questionnaire, and thinking about strategies like emulation, I can't
reject the idea that they are based on a question like: "How would you
like to live when you'll be dead?" What about this real risk?
JI. New media artworks die and are reborn constantly, with or without
the variable media paradigm. Apartment, a networked piece by Martin
Wattenberg, Marek Walczak, and Jonathan Feinberg, went through some
30-odd variations from 2000 to 2002 alone; it has been incarnated
variously as a net-native piece, a single-user installation, and a
dual-user installation.
While the artists are still kicking, they can direct the life cycles of
their artworks. But before the artists themselves kick the bucket, they
should have the option of entrusting others to supervise future
re-incarnations of their work.
Your question implies the Variable Media Network could explore the
possibility of resuscitating dead artists as well as artworks -
definitely an option I hadn't considered! Researchers like Hans Moravec
and Ray Kurzweil have proposed that we download our consciousnesses into
hard drives for use with new bodies once our present ones disintegrate.
The reason I find that suggestion so revolting is that I feel very much
part of my body. Partly this is because all my experience is mediated by
it; I might be writing different words now if I were a woman penning a
manuscript in a monastery rather than a guy typing on a laptop in an
airport. But the other reason I've grown attached to my body is that
I've never been separated from it. This is not the case for digital
artworks, whose bodies are swapped out for new parts all the time.

DQ. Today, the =E2=80=98love affair=E2=80=99 between contemporary art mus=
eums and net
art seems to be in troubles. What about the future of this relationship?
JI. Sure, the relationship is on the rocks now. But there's a
groundswell of interest in Internet art on the part of graduate students
in art history and museum studies departments. Things may change once
this new generation gets a foothold in the museum world. But even then,
these folks will bring a perspective on networked culture that's
different from geezers like me.

DQ. What are you doing now?
JI. I'm about to publish a book with Joline Blais called At the Edge of
Art, which proposes a functional definition for art in the age of the
Internet. We argue that the most creative work these days is coming out
of scientific labs and online activism, and conversely that a lot of
works in galleries - paintings, sculptures, installations - aren't up to
the new tasks that art must fulfill in the 21st century. The book is
sure to piss off curators who assume Duchamp granted the power to define
art to the white cube's gatekeepers. But if Duchamp could be
reincarnated as you suggest, I like to think he would have a good laugh
at their expense.

Jon Ippolito - http://www.three.org/ippolito/
The Unreliable Archivist - http://www.three.org/z/UA/
Variable Media Initiative - http://variablemedia.net/
Seeing Double - http://variablemedia.net/e/seeingdouble/index.html

--=20

*Domenico Quaranta*

mob. +39 340 2392478
private mail. qrndnc {AT} yahoo.it
job mail. d.quaranta {AT} progettocluster.com


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ada'web/Walker Art Center


Gallery 9/Walker Art Center announces the formation of a Digital Arts
Study Collection and the acquisition of the complete archives of the
pioneering Web site ada'web, a leading site for the creation and
presentation of Web-specific artworks by such artists as Doug Aitken,
Jenny Holzer, General Idea, jodi, Antonio Muntadas, Vivian Selbo, Laura
Trippi, Lawrence Weiner, and many others. The acquisition is made possible
through a contribution by America Online. Essays by ada'web co-founder and
curator Benjamin Weil, art critic Robert Atkins, and Andrea Scott have
also been commissioned as has a new work, "The Unreliable Archivist," by
Janet Cohen, Keith Frank, and Jon Ippolito, which comments playfully on
archiving new media in general and ada'web in particular.

Steve Dietz
Gallery 9/Walker Art Center

----------------------------------------------------------
from: http://noemalab.com/sections/specials/net_art_bioart/dietz.html

We all looked at that site and this knowledge shows

Interview with Steve Dietz


Domenico Quaranta. What curatorial methods did you follow in collecting and archieving ada’web?

Steve Dietz. Opportunity (ada'web was being discontinued by its corporate owner) met long range strategy (had decided to start a "digital arts study collection" based on our commissioning program) via networking (had done a "studio visit" with Benjamin Weil and crew a while earlier, so we were familiar with each other).

D.Q. Some of the links from ada’web to other sites now take us to the funeral inscription of all dead sites: 'Error 404'. How did you deal with the question of the inevitable loss of the context around ada’web?

S.D. Primarily through acceptance and through commissioning "The Unreliable Archivist" as an artist-generated project about archiving ada'web. I do wish we had captured at least first page screen shots of the now 404 pages.

D.Q. .... Can we record a 1996 art project without recording its 1996 environment?

S.D. Yes, technically, although it's clearly not the same. May be able to use Wayback machine or other archives in the future to recreate the past.

D.Q. One of the worst consequences of this loss is the current online inaccessibility of Weiner's 'Homeport', one of the most interesting projects of the 'digital foundry'. What about that?

S.D. I agree completely. It is a project that would be worthwhile to "restore" in the same way that darkened paintings or other degraded media have been as a special project.

D.Q. What’s the difference between curating a dotcom like ada’web and a museum website?

S.D. The line between curating work for sale and not selling work that is curated is almost a taboo. At the same time, the relationship — or formal lack thereof — is constantly manipulated. If curating a dotcom site is based on sales, I would say that it is different than curating for a museum because the vested interests are potentially different than the goals. For example, search engines that return results based on who has “bought” the search term makes me suspicious whether the results really are the best ones.

However, I think that curating for a for-profit institution (a dot com) vs curating for a not-for-profit insitution (a museum) are not necessarily that different. Indeed, both Walker Art Center and America Online gave up their web art programs precisely because of monetary pressures.

D.Q. Can you tell me your opinion about the rule of ada’web in the history of net art?

S.D. Seminal.

D.Q. Why? Do you think current net art owes something to that experience?

S.D. Precisely because it was such an experience in a way that few other sites at the time attempted and which few other sites since have achieved. We all looked at that site and this knowledge shows.

D.Q. Can we find in ada’web a prominent work of art, something that had an enduring influence on later projects, or do you prefer to look at ada as a whole?

S.D. In the end, I believe ada'web is greater than the sum of its parts. At the time, Jenny Holzer's Truisms was a kind of breakthrough as were many of the projects, but it is the overall site that has the greatest resonance and importance to my mind.

D.Q. Do you think there’s a place for 'another' ada’web today? How much the net art field has changed from 1995?

S.D. Yes! I think it is critical that the field develop a rich, heterogeneous environment, where no single approach is dominant or _the_ way to go. Even at the time ada'web was operating, Stadium, artnetweb, internationale stadt, the thing all made a rich context.

D.Q. What's your idea about ada’web as an 'entrepreneurial venture' (Scott), 'a new approach to the economy of the arts' (Weil)? After four years from its loss of funding, was it a success or a failure?

S.D. ada'web is an unquestionable success, but I think that many ideas about how to go about economic self-sufficiency have gone by the wayside, and this was not the genius of ada'web, so to speak.

D.Q. I think that projects like Simon's Alterstats (supported by ada) and The Web Stalker corroborate Weil's idea that net art can be useful for corporations and software developers. What do you think about this conception of net art as a 'creative research'?

S.D. I'm skeptical that art and corporate research can benefit each other in a very direct way. Especially over the long term. Too many trade offs. But I'm a fanatical believer that each venue can learn from the other – the relationship just needs to be structured differently than "creative research," I think.

D.Q. Would you like to change something today in the way you archived ada’web in 1998?

S.D. I would like to be more rigorous in recording meta data about the exact state of ada'web. I would like to have done more "variable media" interviews with more of the participants. I would like to have captured more fully more of the context of ada'web.

D.Q. What do you think about the Variable Media Initiative? Do you find any mistake in this kind of approach?

S.D. I view the Variable Media Initiative as a valuable tool, not a complete solution—which is how I think its proponents view it. There are, presumably, many mistakes to be found in the specifics of VMI, but that is part of its beauty that it is flexible and not fixed and open to change. I do think that the issue of artist wishes vs cultural needs are unresolved by VMI.

D.Q. In a way, you archived ada’web two times: collecting it in Gallery 9 and commissioning The Unreliable Archivist. What’s the best way? How much that second archivist is ‘unreliable’, and how much the first?

S.D. I think the best way was, of course, both. Unreliable Archivist was not intended as a literal archive but as a parable of archiving, which I think remains relevant but not a reason not to archive.

D.Q. Introducing The Unreliable Archivist, you say: “No matter how intelligent archiving agents are in 2020, they will be poor substitutes if they can't represent an individual point of view”. What’s the role of subjectivity in your curatorial work?

S.D. I don’t know what the root is and generally, I am not convinced by notions of origin.

D.Q. Talking about museums on the web. For different reasons, you left the Walker (or the Walker left you), and Ippolito & Weil changed from a full-time to a part-time job. Do you think American museums are losing their previous (and pioneering) interest in net art?

S.D. It’s hard to say with such a small sample. At the same time, the Whitney is supporting Artport, Dia is continuing to do stellar commissions, the New Museum is joining a strategic alliance with Rhizome… Perhaps there will be a second wave of interest by mainstream museums, and hopefully it will be more nuanced and better integrated than the first wave.

D.Q. If American museums seem to lose interest in net art, European museums, with few exceptions, don’t find it interesting at all. What’s net art without museums? And what museums without net art?

S.D. I have always contended that net art doesn’t need museums. I still believe this. And institutions that purport to present the “art of our times” that don’t figure out ways to actually do this with net art will become history museums — with lacunae — all the more quickly.



http://adaweb.walkerart.org
http://www.walkerart.org/gallery9/dasc/g9_dasc_adafr.html
http://www.walkerart.org/gallery9/three/

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

from: http://noemalab.com/sections/specials/net_art_bioart/weil.html

Investigating a new realm, a new set of givens, a new landscape

Interview with Benjamin Weil

Domenico Quaranta. When you started äda’web, there were only a few artist’s projects on the Web. What did you know about them? What made you think that the Web could be an interesting medium for artists and what made you bet on it?

Benjamin Weil. The community at the time was very small. The Jenny Holzer project became known very fast. By the summer of 1995, a lot of artists working online had been in touch. We were also looking. However, it is really important to point out that one way we learnt about the existence of other projects was through the links they left in the “Change” section of Jenny Holzer’s project. Something of course we did not anticipate at all.

I did not get engaged with the web because of the artists who were already working with it. For instance, I only learned about Muntadas’ “The Fileroom” long after it was launched (I’d say in the spring of 1995).

The web was the logical development I was expecting when we started The Thing in 1991. It also had to do with my interest in working with artists outside of the art sphere, with an interest to try and invent a new model, a new form of interaction between art and its viewers. This is for instance what interested me in 1993, when I curated an exhibition on the vaporetti in Venice, during the Biennale. It is also what led me to curate an exhibition of poster projects that were to be fly posted in the urban settings. Both exhibitions were informed by the notion of reaching out to people outside of the context of art, because of the conviction I had that the context of art precluded most people from accessing the ideas expressed in the art projects because of the prejudice created by the context. Not because of the work itself.

I immediately understood the web as a public place, a neutral place of sorts. Also a place where artists could engage with a new medium before it was totally mapped out by commercial interests. It was an opportunity to fashion the medium, make people understand that by taking ownership of their experience, they could gain a more critical understanding of the environment they lived in.

I also thought it would be interesting to bring artists whose operating principle was more conceptual than medium specific. They could understand, in my mind the idea of experimentation with a new form of communication, take the challenge as an opportunity. In a way, I thought of the web, as a mean to do what public access television did not manage to do, because of the fact it came too late in the game.

D.Q. At the beginning of the 90’s you were one of the pillars of The Thing BBS. Has it been an important experience for you? Did it help you to formulate your curatorial criteria?

B.W. It was a seminal experience. The first time I could really engage in a reflection about art, its social function, its capacity to possibly represent the world, not just as an image, but also as a set of parameters to understand the world. I think Wolfgang Staehle was definitely a visionary in that sense that he got immediately the incredible power of a community-building instrument that went beyond the notion of geographicallocale. He wanted a “Mudd Club” (1), or a Cedar Tavern (2) of the 1990’s, a place where people from all over the place could meet, and have those long discussions that they did not necessarily have in bars or clubs, any more. The Thing was also a collective of people, a loose-ended group of people, artists, critics, curators, thinkers of all sorts, all of which saw the collapse of the art market in the late 1980’s as an opportunity to reinvent the art world, or at least a moment when new ideas could be pushed forward, when there was so little money, and so much time! The Thing definitely helped me explore the idea of artivism, of a mean to empower the idea of art over the idea of commodity, the importance of gesture and process opposed to the one of product. In that sense it was a grounding moment.

D.Q. You decided to bring artists not involved in digital art to the Web when it was difficult to call ‘art’ what some people were doing on the Web: this is one of the points that make the strength of äda’web. Tell me something about it. Did Julia Scher’s work for The Thing have an influence on your view?

B.W. I first worked with Julia Scher on an exhibition in 1989, which was the graduating project, so to speak, of the Whitney Independent Study program. Along with 4 other students, we curated “the Desire of the Museum”, an exhibition that very much reflected the current intellectual climate of what was later on referred to as “institutional critique”. I also curated an exhibition at Galerie Esther Schipper, in Cologne, in early 1991, where Julia contributed a new piece. So I knew Julia quite well before The Thing. I brought Julia to be one of the co-founders of The Thing, and as such, she was very much involved with its development. She was also very interested in the aesthetics and practice of Sado-Masochism at the time. The dungeon was only a trace of those concerns, a mean to recontextualize the practice and aesthetics of S&M in art. I called Julia into working on Securityland, because it immediately occurred to me she would be interested in the web, which I introduced her to. I do remember the night we first “surfed the web together” I had never done this before. Neither had she. We were both fascinated by the enormous resource it already was at the time. No amazon.com’s, rather, a multitude of university pages, about any subject you could imagine, a live encyclopaedia where you could learn about pretty much any subject. We looked for hours, with UrouLette as our starting point (that was a student site that sent you to any random page entered by people who were using it… the first… even before Yahoo, I believe).

D.Q. Äda’web has been an ‘entrepreneurial venture’ (Andrea Scott). Atkins says that you looked not at ‘commercial art-world models’, but at the ‘burgeoning high-tech industry’. Is it true? How did you persuade Borthwick to join this venture?

B.W. First, I did not have to persuade Borthwick at all, as he’s the one who introduced me to the web, and the one who contacted me because he had known about The Thing. We had known each other socially for a few years already. We reconnected because of the web. After he had shown me what the potential was, we worked together on starting this project. He was a visionary, and äda ‘web was as much his brainchild as mine. We both agreed when we started, that this was an opportunity to share our interest in art and artists with a broader audience, and through channels that were not tainted with conventions. We were both driven by the same interest. He had a business background; I had a curatorial and critical background. Our partnership was evident. The idea was to avoid referring to art, and to the art world. And part of that idea also translated in the belief that it had to be a profitable venture, so as to create a new economic model for a new form of art. The economy of äda ‘web was indeed an integral part of the mission. We were much closer to software and to the burgeoning net economy also thanks to John’s contacts, knowledge, and interests. And as stated before, I was indeed drawn to this because I wanted to work with artists outside of the constraints of the art system as it was then (and is still now!)

D.Q. You spoke about online art as a form of ‘creative research’. Do you still think this way? Perhaps, Homeport by Lawrence Weiner can be an interesting example of art able to improve technology. Can you find other examples (inside and outside äda’web)?

B.W. I still strongly believe artists have something to teach to the rest of the world. And my model was informed by scientific research. In a way I see art as the fundamental research of culture in general: a place where ideas are pioneered, way before they become mainstream. I continue to this date to be convinced that Jenny Holzer invented banner advertising when she asked us to negotiate with existing web sites the placement of one of her truism in their content, as a link back to her work. That’s one blatant example. When I decided to move to London and work at the ICA, one of the really compelling reason was the partnership with SUN Microsystems. And even if what I had in mind did not work, I left knowing that it was just a matter of timing if things did not unfold as planned. Sun engineers had lost confidence in the partnership, and to re-establish that confidence took way more time than Ithought… we were all exhausted before we could actually achieve what we were set to do. I still think that including collaborations with artists would have been an asset for Sun engineers training (we were about to put this in place when I left the ICA). And I am convinced that the most difficult thing is to create a platform of common language, where each can see their interest. It is not about charity, it is about re-inventing the relationship of art with the modern, post-industrial capitalist economy.

D.Q. Homeport: I tried to visit it, but I couldn’t. Is it a permanent loss? Has been made an offline copy of the project? What do you think about offline preservation of a web project in general?

B.W. Unfortunately, yes, most of it is gone. Keeping a separate server to operate the project was too complicated, and therefore was abandoned soon after the demise of äda‘web, when the archives were transferred to the Walker Art Center. There are archival papers, drawings, etc. But no electronic trace.

D.Q. Many of the links from äda’web to the Web around it bring us today to an ‘error 404’ page: äda is always the same, but the context around it is changing, and this can compromise our way to look to the ‘digital foundry’. How can we deal with this problem? Do you think that updating the links and ‘unfreeze’ äda could be a solution?

B.W. The web has not been saved the way äda ‘web has. TotalNY, the sister web site, launched more or less at the same time, has completely disappeared. Things change, migrate, re-invent themselves. The web is a very instable environment. Just like the street, in a way. Maybe it is just a matter of time: links always expire, sooner or later. So to keep the links live would be a full time job… why do you think search engines were invented… in my mind, they remap the web all the time, and that’s what they’re really good for. So my take on this is that one has to accept that äda ‘web is no longer a live site. It is an archive. And as such, it will age, and decay. And will eventually disappear. The cultural context in which you look at it today is not the same. Speed of access is different, screen definition is not the same, processing speed has changed, etc. To update it would be to deny the fact it is no longer a live project. Your thesis is very much part of a process that is recording that presence, documenting that trace. And that’s great!

D.Q. Tell me something about the ‘collaborative process’ in äda. You can start from a project produced by the foundry.

B.W. The notion of foundry is informed by the idea of sharing expertise. A team of people who devoted their time doing research online, learning the dynamics of html programming and related web production, and understanding the network and the hypermedia structure engaged in a dialogue with an artist or group of artists. That was the basic idea: to create a studio wherein people with a range of expertise would congregate to develop projects. This idea evolved through time. Initially, the idea was to have one team at äda ‘web, and others working in the same studio, on different projects. Then the idea evolved into trying to better integrate the teams. This did not really work, even though that made the process more transparent to other teams. In the end, there was not enough time to really experiment with that. That’s a shame, in a way, because this would have been a real breakthrough. Maybe this can be tried now.

To go back to the idea of teamwork, I think the web called for a different form of process. So a lot of the work process was based on the notion of exchange. Each person, each set of skills, would bring to the table something. We worked in a loft, so eavesdropping in a conversation was something that was not only allowed, but also really encouraged. Of course that was not always easy, and there were times when working that way would drive some insane! It was for instance very hard to concentrate on one specific thing, at times! All in all, however, I really believe that was an extraordinarily productive process.

D.Q. I think the ‘associate dimension’ can be seen as evidence of what a great context was äda and of its appeal for artists (like Jodi or Michael Samyn) with a very different approach to art online. What do you think about it?

B.W. From very early on, it became clear to me that the cultural context for the work produced by the foundry was essential. Maintaining good ties with the artists working independently was also very important: hosting (some of) their project was a way to give thema mean to collaborate that made sense to them: providing tools is something I still believe makes more sense. Both Michael Samyn and Jodi came to us: the äda ‘web team was really excited when they decided to offer a project to the site. It meant a lot to us, that we were part of the same community, in a way, even though what we were doing was different. I think that it meant a lot to them that some people understood what they were doing, and respected it without wanting to co-opt it.

D.Q. In net art, sometimes artists adopt a curatorial approach (i.e. Laura Trippi) and curators are involved in art projects (i.e. you and Extension, Barbara London and Stir-Fry). Can we say that on the Net curators have to adopt a more artistic approach? What about your experience about it?

B.W. The curator is not only a facilitator and an organizer, as well as a selector: she or he may also have become at times a close collaborator of the artist… However, I think it is really important not to blur the functions and perceptions thereof. The only risk is that nobody does a good job any longer… curators are not artists, even though some people may have two careers running along; my opinion is that sooner of later, these people have to choose, as they risk conflict of interest and intellectual blurriness.

D.Q. What about äda economic strategy? How did it change from the beginning to the end?

B.W. I would say that it changed with the growth of the Internet bubble, and the way expenses and pressure for return on investment grew exponentially out of control! At the beginning, there was a lot of utopia in trying to create a new economic model fast enough, then came the idea of what in economic terms you call a loss leader (äda ‘web as the prestigious r&d of the web publishing group it belonged to - web partners, LLC), to trying to be closer to the traditional model of non-profit (the company was re-incorporated as an non-profit just a few weeks before it had to close). I guess in the end, it was all about timing!

D.Q. How does your work in äda’web affect your present work as a museum curator?

B.W. As curator… I have become much more interested in process than I ever was before: both artistic process and organization. I probably have also been more inclined to investigate hybrid art forms that emerge from the technological convergence (use of the same production tool: the Macintosh computer)… cinema is affected not only by the advent of inexpensive and versatile professional quality equipment, but also by the prominence of sampling and remixing, pioneered by the sound scene. The web was an interesting ground for this, and the intentions äda ‘web had was to also foray into the establishing of a dialogue between various artistic practice with the site as interface. In the context of the museum, the dialogue is also enriched by the proximity of a historical continuum, which also leads to think more about conservation issues, and hence about how to “frame” an artistic practices that have become extremely ephemeral formally.

D.Q. Looking backward, what has been äda’web historic rule? How did it influence the history of net art, its relationship with art institutions and with the world of art in general?

B.W. Investigating a new realm, a new set of givens, a new landscape is how I see things today, and saw things then. On that level, my viewpoint has not changed much; we were set to do something that simple and that complicated. The modus operandi was “we do not know what we are doing; but then again, nobody does… so can we can only be wrong if we do not try things”. As for influences, it is really hard to tell. I guess you may be in a better position to judge… I was too involved with it to know. One thing that is clear to me is that there was from very early on people who saw the importance of such experimentation, such as critics ranging from the likes of Robert Atkins to Matt Mirapaul; curators (Barbara London at the MoMA; Steve Dietz in his various jobs since 1995; Lynne Cooke at the Dia Center for the Arts, working with Sara Tucker); or directors (Kathy Albreich; Michael Govan; David Ross).

D.Q. Do you think there’s a place today for another ‘digital foundry’, for another experience like äda’web? Why/why not?

B.W. It would probably not be the same: it would have to adapt to the needs of a wider number of practices, ranging from design to programming… from using the web as a space of experiment that goes beyond it, hybrid forms, multi-platform projects, etc. as the web has become part of a larger sphere of cultural practice. What people like Alex Galloway or Jon Klima do, for instance, needs other types of tools and support, which need to be articulated. I think it would more look like a lab than a foundry. It would more be an interface for the encounter of different expertise in order to create new forms: in a way, it would more owe to the Bahaus than it would to the printmaking studio of the foundry. It would however have one common goal withäda ‘web: it would have to provide an ongoing thought process about the necessity to evolve the economic model that supports these new cultural forms. What has stopped the web from really evolving is the short sight of commercial projects that tried to mimic the ones of older media. Think for instance of how advertising has permeated the network in the most inappropriate and inefficient manner.

Notes

1) A New York club, where a number of artists performed, but also just met and hung out together in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. [back]

2) A New York bar, where all the abstract expessionists used to hang out, located in Greenwichvillage. [back]


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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.