The Rhizome Digest merged into the Rhizome News in November 2008. These pages serve as an archive for 6-years worth of discussions and happenings from when the Digest was simply a plain-text, weekly email.
Subject: RHIZOME DIGEST: 3.31.02
From: email@example.com (RHIZOME)
Date: Sun, 31 Mar 2002 19:23:56 -0500
RHIZOME DIGEST: March 31, 2002
1. Alena Williams: Rhizome.org has expanded the scope of the ArtBase
2. Lars Gustav Midboe: Call For Entries--Electrohype 2002
3. Derek Holzer: NEXT 5 MINUTES 4--First General Announcement March 2002
4. Michael Naimark: response to "engineer-as-artist" interview
5. Florian Cramer: Hacking the Art OS--Interview with Cornelia Sollfrank
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From: Alena Williams (alena AT rhizome.org)
Subject: Rhizome.org has expanded the scope of the ArtBase
Rhizome.org has expanded the scope of the ArtBase, our online archive of
new media art.
While formerly restricted to net art, the ArtBase is now open for *all*
types of new media art, including net art, software art, computer games,
and documentation of new media performance and installation.
The goals of the ArtBase are to preserve new media art for the future
and to provide a comprehensive resource for people who are interested in
experiencing and learning more about new media art.
The ArtBase now contains over 550 artworks. You can find out more about the
ArtBase, and search the archives, at http://rhizome.org/artbase
We welcome your ArtBase submissions--particularly submissions of software,
games, and documentation projects. To submit please visit:
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STATE OF THE ARTS SYMPOSIUM * UCLA APRIL 4-6, 2002 * RHIZOME DISCOUNT *
<http://www.eliterature.org/state> ELO invites Rhizome subscribers to
join leading web artists, writers, critics, theorists for the seminal
e-lit event of 2002. Rhizome subscribers who register before FEB 15 2002
may register at ELO member rates ($25 discount).
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From: Lars Gustav Midboe (lars.midboe AT electrohype.org)
Subject: Call For Entries--Electrohype 2002
This is the first call for Entries for the Electrohype 2002 exhibition.
Deadline: May 31st 2002
The Electrohype 2002 exhibition will be held in Malmö, Sweden, during
ten days in the second half of October 2002.
Your submission should contain the following:
1. Short description of your work, abstract or synopsis.
2. Full description of work, including title, year of production and
3. Artists presentation, CV etc.
4. Visual presentation of your work, photo, video, url etc.
5. Technical description, including size, weight, technical and spatial
The exhibition will include a variety of works ranging from net based
projects to large installations controlled by computers. Therefore we
are seeking works of art that requires a computer (or several) to be
experienced. We are not looking for artworks that relate to linear media
even if they are produced by computers,- like rendered images and linear
Electrohype is a non-profit organization promoting and advocating
computer-based art in Sweden and the other Nordic countries. At the
present time this art genre lacks its own established forum in this
Electrohypes main objective is to establish the basis for growth and a
supportive environment for this art form here in Scandinavia. We will
accomplish this by organizing exhibitions, seminars and workshops
related to computer based art.
By organizing the Electrohype 2002 exhibition we will establish the
first Nordic biannual exhibition for computer based art. The specific
dates will be announced during the spring.
Submitting material can be done either online or by snail mail. The
electronic form will be suitable for those of you who will apply with a
URL or net based project. We would like to encourage those of you who
will apply with CD-ROMs or installations to print the form and enclose
the material/description of installation etc.
Both electronic registration form and printable pdf can be found at
Send the application to:
Södra Förstadsgatan 18
211 43 Malmö
If you have questions regarding the exhibition or the submission you can
contact us at: info AT electrohype.org
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Leonardo Music Journal (LMJ) 11 includes a double audio CD, "Not
Necessarily 'English Music,'" curated by musician, composer, writer and
sound curator David Toop. The CDs feature pieces from pioneering U.K.
composers and performers from the late 60s through the mid-70s. Visit
the LMJ website at http://mitpress2.mit.edu/Leonardo/lmj/
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From: Derek Holzer (derek.holzer AT balie.nl)
Subject: NEXT 5 MINUTES 4--First General Announcement March 2002
Announcing the 4th edition of the Next 5 Minutes, a collaborative
exploration of tactical media-making from around the world.
For the last decade, Next 5 Minutes has been celebrating and exploring
connections between art, electronic media and politics. The variety of
zones where these practices overlap are what we call tactical media.
Next 5 Minutes will transform itself into an interlinked series of
Tactical Media Laboratories (TMLs) and smaller scale local meetings
organised in collaboration with media tacticians in many different
countries. The first Tactical Media Lab begins in Amsterdam in September
2002, and further TMLs are planned for New York, Delhi, Latin America
These TMLs and local meetings, nurtured and enlivened by an
internationally distributed editorial team, will lay the groundwork for
the main N5M4 festival scheduled for May 2003.
General information, links and news can be found on the website of Next
5 Minutes 4:
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**MUTE MAGAZINE NEW ISSUE** Coco Fusco/Ricardo Dominguez on activism and
art; JJ King on the US military's response to asymmetry and Gregor
Claude on the digital commons. Matthew Hyland on David Blunkett, Flint
Michigan and Brandon Labelle on musique concrete and 'Very Cyberfeminist
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From: Michael Naimark (michael AT naimark.net)
Subject: response to "engineer-as-artist" interview
As the only employee at Interval Research with the "a" word on my
business card ("arts and media projects"), and one of the first to
arrive (1992) and last to leave (2001), I'm obliged to respond to
Natalie Jeremijenko's statement about Interval ("The Engineer-As-
"Interval had this same problem [as MIT]: engineers and designers wore a
lot of black and had long hair and called themselves artists but didn't
exhibit artwork. They were funded by different institutions, such as
venture capitalists, and exhibited in very different contexts, mainly to
patent attorneys. Calling themselves artists was primarily a way of not
being accountable to the [other] engineers." --Natalie Jeremijenko
Interval employees exhibited their Interval work constantly in public
international art venues such as Ars, ISEA, IAMAS, and Siggraph; in
local mainstream and alternative venues; and in various film and media
festivals. These included works by Tina Bean Blaine, Elaine Brechin, Sue
Faulkner, Becky Fuson, Golan Levin, Jason Lewis, Scott Snibbe, Rachel
Strickland, and me. It also included work by engineers never claiming to
be artists who were convinced such exhibition would inform their
research. For example, former Interval computer vision researcher Trevor
Darrell, now an MIT faculty member, said recently of his collaborative
exhibit "Mass Hallucinations:" "it was one of the most effective demos
I1ve ever done because it didn1t require a graduate student to stand
there and explain it to the visiting people and I had more customers per
minute than most demos that I1ve ever done." (Media Lab Portraits
Colloquium presentation, 10/10/01).
Interval was a major sponsor of the MIT Media Lab, NYU's Interactive
Telecommunications Program, and the RCA's Computer-Related Design
Department, among other places. It supported interns and affiliates who
also exhibited regularly, including Romy Achituv, Maribeth Back, Richard
Brown, Paul Debevec, Judith Donath, Ignazio Moresco, Camille Norment,
Danny Rozin, Camille Utterbach, Leo Villareal, and Emily Weil, to name
some. And Laurie Anderson.
Interval employees also published - over 200 publications were available
on the interval.com website before it closed. (The entire Interval
archive, both external and internal websites, is now part of the
Stanford Library collection.)
Did Interval patent? Yes, that was part of the deal. There was a shared
belief that good ideas should impact the marketplace. I think Natalie
shares this belief, and the belief in the potential value of patents, as
Natalie missed Interval's biggest problem to many on the outside: its
reputation (earned, I'm afraid) for secrecy. Public exhibitions and
publications were part of the solution. They represented a relatively
small part of Interval's overall budget. Insuring they continued in a
symbiotic, well-managed way was a high priority for several of us.
In the end, it probably didn't matter to Paul Allen when he decided to
abruptly shut down Interval. My own conclusion is that if art practice
had greater influence - being resourceful, knowing when to risk, knowing
when to compromise, not confusing greed with quality, being true to
heart, finishing in time for the show - that Interval would have had a
better chance of survival.
MIT's problems with the arts are older and deeper.
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From: Florian Cramer (cantsin AT zedat.fu-berlin.de)
Subject: Hacking the Art OS--Interview with Cornelia Sollfrank
Keywords: net art, hacking, gender, design
[This is the English translation of the original-length German
interview. Copyleft and publication data is given at the end. -FC]
Hacking the art operating system
Cornelia Sollfrank interviewed by Florian Cramer, December 28th, 2001,
during the annual congress of the Chaos Computer Club (German Hacker's
Club) in Berlin.
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FC: I have questions on various thematic complexes which in your work
seem to be continually referring to each other: hacking and art,
computer generated, or more specifically, generative art, cyberfeminism,
or the questions that your new work entitled 'Improvised Tele-vision'
throw up. And of course the thematic complex plagiarism and
appropriation - as well as what can be seen as an appendix to that, art
and code, code art and code aesthetics.
CS: Surely code art and code aesthetics are more your themes than mine.
I think I should be the one asking the questions here. (laughter)
FC: ...no, this refers very specifically to statements made by you, for
example in your Telepolis interview with 0100101110111001.org, which I
found excellent because of its rather sceptical undertones. If that
really is more my area though, then by all means we can bracket it out
of the interview.
CS: No, no. I didn't mean it like that. Quite the opposite in fact.
However that is what is so interesting and difficult about the
relationship between these complexes - and which I often find myself
arguing about. A lot of things appear to run parallel, or better put,
one invests more in one area for a particular period of time, then
returns back to something else. To keep an eye on how these various
activities link together is not easy.
FC: When I look at your work, I notice that on the one hand you are a
very important net artist, on the other hand - what nevertheless seems
closely related to the this - you work as a critical journalist for
among others, Telepolis, and frequently write about hacker culture: for
example, you've written about an Italian hacker congress and interviewed
the Chaos-Computer-Club spokesperson Andy Müller-Maguhn about the
Cybercrime Convention. Am I right in supposing that when you write about
hacking, you always maintain an aesthetic interest in net art - and
that, vice-versa, when you are writing about net art, you investigate to
what extent it tends towards computer hacking.
CS: I see myself foremost as an artist, and that is my point of
departure for everything else; it gives me the motivation too to slip
into other roles. Being a journalist is more a means to an end, because
as a journalist I obtain information that as an artist I would not
obtain. That means, I instrumentalise this function, as I did at the ars
electronica 2001. The theme there was 'Takeover' and I was invited to
participate on the panel Female Takeover. An interview that I did for
Telepolis with the head of the ars electronica, Gerfried Stocker, helped
me understand what he thought about the theme - and how this somewhat
vague concept came about. That's why journalism and scrutiny are basic
tools of my art. My product though - I don't know if I should refer to
it like that - is ultimately artistic, or if you want to call it that,
FC: In the conclusion to your review on ars electronica you write:
"perhaps art no longer needs ars electronica either". I have to add that
I warmed to that remark. (laughter)
CS: But perhaps it does! "Perhaps" is what is written and meant.
FC: The motto of the event does not imply that art wants to appropriate
technology, rather to the contrary, that technicians want to control art
and make artists superfluous.
CS: I saw another 'Takeover' there. Stocker felt it was a 'Takeover' by
people working in the free market who have virtually taken over art. And
basically for the very reason that they are more creative than artists.
His whole concept of art circles around creativity; nothing else seems
to occur to him about a possible definition of art. (Quoting our good
colleague Merz here, creativity becomes something for hairdressers!)
Sure, Stocker's thesis was meant as a provocation to artists - on the
lines of look at yourselves for once, what a bunch of boring shits you
are compared to the young laid back super-kids in the companies who come
up with the wildest things. But even that can be interpreted in various
ways. You could open up a wider spectrum to 'Takeovers', just like we
did when we discussed and engaged with the issues of 'Female Takeover'.
By the way, one result of our panel was that at a future ars electronica
there should be a 'women only' ars electronica.
FC: In order to come back to the question of defining contexts - such as
art and non-art, art and hacking: it occurred to me while reading your
article on the hacker conference in Italy that usually the domains of
art and the hacking are kept apart from one another. Even if in Italy
this division was not so rigorously kept in force. That seemed to be a
sociological observation, and not a thesis that you support and want to
concretize. Is hacking then for you art and does hacking have something
to do with art?
CS: Both. As far as sociological theories on art and hacking go, I've
come increasingly to the conclusion over the last four, five years in
which I have been involved in hacking, that hacking culture always has
something bordering on a national...(laughter) flavor. That's why it is
interesting for me to visit other countries and especially Italy, where
it appears as if there does not exist the slightest fear of contact
between artists, activists, philosophers etc. They coexist there
naturally, dialogue with each other and create a common language in
which they can communicate (laughter), which is something I haven't
experienced in Germany. As a female artist in the Chaos Computer Club, I
have come face to face with some of the worse preconceptions,
accusations and verbal abuse of my life (unfortunately).
FC: You said: as a 'female artist' in the Chaos Computer Club. What do
you put the emphasis on? Being an 'artist' or being 'female'?
CS: On both. As far as gender goes there is a basic frankness involved.
When one deals with the same themes identically and speaks the same
language, gender means less hurdles to cross. (laughter) Since that is
seldom the case it becomes one. The bigger problem however is art. That
left me utterly dumbfounded. I was having a nice chat with someone at
one or other of the Chaos Computer Club's parties and was asked what I
do. When I replied "I am an artist", the reaction I got was a hoarse
exclamation: "I hate artists", which left me thinking, oh, that's a
pity! That usually makes for an abrupt end to any conversation you might
have. I find it very difficult to find new topics to talk about, or
reasons to stay and ask questions. That has no doubt to do with the fact
that hackers see themselves as artists - and more to the point the only
genuine ones - and that everyone else is just an idiot and hasn't a clue
(laughter). On the other hand though a connection to art has arisen out
of the formative days of the Chaos Computer Club. For example in
Bielefeld, where padeluun and Rena Tangens see themselves as being
active as both artists and gallerists - although they are by no means
equally loved and cherished by everyone at CCC.
FC: ...Felix von Leitner for example, one of the most skilled computer
experts in the CCC, enjoys giving padeluum a regular bashing ...
CS: In the German CCC that has a lot to do with the person padelun - who
many simply can't stand. He embodies for some what they are accustomed
to in art, and which means the subject is put to an end.
FC: Is that not a problem perhaps of the definition of art? Because
since the middle of the 18th century, and at the latest since
Romanticism, we have a definition of art that is no longer focused on
the 'ars', the actual skill involved, but rather on the genius and the
aesthetic vision. If one nonetheless sees hacking as art, this seems to
have a lot to do with the older definition of 'ars'.
CS: That can also have to do with a newer definition of art, if it is
exists in the minds of people. For me this has less to do with skill
directly, because one person alone in our times does not have the skill
to produce something relevant, rather different people with different
skills have to come together. A typical hacker would fit into such a
team. However it is very tough to get a foot into the German hacker
culture with that idea. You probably don't know my work with women
FC: I know the interview that you also did with a female hacker at a
Chaos Computer Congress in 1999.
CS: ...Clara SOpht...
FC: ...right. And you are working on a comprehensive video documentation
of this theme!
CS: I'm making a five part series. Due to my experience in the CCC, I
narrowed my research down and tried to find women who see themselves as
hackers. Besides posting to numerous mailing lists and newsgroups, I
asked a diverse number of experts. Bruce Sterling, for example, who has
written an erudite book "Hacker Cracker", and is seen as an expert in
the American scene, or the American hacker hunter, Gail Thackeray, who
was the co-founder of the Computer Crime Unit in the USA. They are
really specialists who know the scene very well, and all of them
confirmed that there are no highly skilled women in this area. That
proved very depressing for me. In my fantasies, I imagined there were
all this wild women, complete nerds, exotic, anarchistic and dangerous,
courageous enough to want to cross borders and break all conventions,
psychopathic and with criminal tendencies, politically active, artistic
and more: however they just didn't exist. That's when I switched from
the journalist-research modus to the artistic-modus and said to myself,
I have to try and reshape this boring reality. And that's why I did the
interview with Clara SOpht for example, who doesn't really exist.
(Laughter) I just started to invent female hackers.
FC: Oh, I see! (laughter) Great!
CS: I did show the videos which come out of this process in the art
scene, where they went down really well, although sometimes certain
clever people ask what they actually have to do with art. Depending on
the situation I then reveal that the female hackers do not exist or
STILL do not exist. I preferred showing them though in a hacker context.
For example I gave a talk at the CCC congress on women hackers and
showed the interview with Clara SOpht. It was pretty well attended,
including a lot of men, who watched everything and then attacked me for
not defending sufficiently Clara Sopht's privacy, because she had
stressed that she did not want details about herself being publicized.
At the end of the event I mentioned casually that the woman did not
exist and that I had invented her. Some people were gobsmacked. Quite
unexpectedly they had experienced art, an art which had come to them, to
their congress, and talked in their language. I found that very amusing.
These little doses of 'pedagogy' can trigger off a lot and no doubt help
CCC to develop itself further.
FC: There you become a hacker yourself, but in a different system from
that of computer codes. You do 'social hacking'.
CS: Exactly - my favorite hack in the CCC concerned the Website of the
Hacker Club, the 'Lost and Found' Page, which I always liked to study
after every congress. I found it fascinating to discover what things
hackers have on them and have forgotten. I then turned that around.
While I was working on the theme 'women hackers', I deliberately left
things at the congress so that they would turn up on the 'Lost and
Found' page and cause commotion and upheaval. By that, I mean I left
things there which normally only women have or possess. The main object
was a small electronic device with a display and two little lights that
women use to calculate their fertility cycle. I handed that in to the
'Lost and Found' and added that I had found it in the ladies' toilets.
Five hackers grouped around this device and studied it ...(laughter) to
find out what it is. This ominous device became the center of a lot of
heated discussions before it was finally pinned up as a large photo in
'Lost & Found' Page. Those are examples of some of my small hacks at the
CCC - back then while in the process of leaving clues to female hacker
and characters who do not exist.
FC: In the early nineties the art critic Thomas Wulffen coined the
phrase 'art operating system'. Can you relate to that in any way? Or do
you find it problematic? Your artistic hacks that you've mentioned do
not engage directly with the art operating system!
CS: I can relate to that in a big way because what interests me most in
art is it's operating system, the parameters which define it, and how
they can be changed and what the possibilities of new media contribute
to this change. What also belongs to the operating system is the concept
of the artist, the notion of an artistic program, an artist's body of
work, and last but not least the interfaces - who and what will be
exhibited and who will look at it. This system is actually what
interests me most in art. To intervene and be able to play with it I
have to know how it functions.
FC: But then isn't it difficult to be a net artist as well? In my
perception of net art what astonished me most and what affects you too,
is how petty bourgeois, reactionary and utterly humorless this
contemporary art scene really is - although one always thought it was
the most aesthetically permissive around. In the example of net art,
one could see how in the very moment in which no new objects were being
produced which lent themselves to being exhibited, that it (net art)
lost its footing and was not given proper recognition in the art world.
I still find it astonishing how much net art has to fight against this
in order to be taken seriously in the first place by the art operating
system. Is that not difficult for you, as an artist, to want to try and
hack the art operating system, and to do as a net artist?
CS: First of all I do not see myself solely as a net artist, but rather
as a kind of concept artist. I find the net indeed very interesting,
and to be active in it fulfills many of my wishes, but that aside, I
also work with video, text, performance and whatever else is required
for a particular project. That net art is not recognized in the art
world and has problems there is primarily due to the fact that, in my
opinion, there are no pieces/objects which can be exchanged from one
owner to another in a meaningful way. An art which is not compatible
with the art market is hardly of any interest, because in the last
analysis the market is the governing force in the art operating system.
Another further difficulty is the ability to exhibit. What
justification is there to show net art in the 'White Cube'?
In that way all curators have to ask themselves: why should we actually
show net art here in our museum? Some net artists quickly understood
that they wouldn't get far with their non-commodifiable, difficult to
represent art in the market, and expanded to working with
installations. That has worked well - just as it did with video art. It
is not a new phenomenon that is happening to net art. Before it, there
was also ephemeral art, Fluxus and performance art for example, or
technically perfect reproducible art forms such as video and
photography. All these art forms had enormous problems at the
beginning, but then opportunities surfaced in the market and certain
intermediaries really supported them and managed to create a space for
them. And when everything becomes too much, another decade of 'new
painting' is heralded in order to let the market recuperate.
Nevertheless I think there is an interest regarding net art in the art
world. For a long period it was given a lot of hype, and at the moment
I see a kind of consolidation. Ultimately there are a few big
institutions like the Guggenheim, the Tate Gallery or the Walker Art
Center that commission new works. What goes wrong in net art is that
artists - I'm talking mainly about the group net.art and that scene -
have not developed collective strategies as to how they should deal
with the art system - which was one of the great strengths of the
Fluxus artists. There is missing a willingness to accept that a problem
even exists in the first place.
Therefore the result can only be disasterous when the two worlds
collide. Attitudes like: " I'll show my work at documenta or in the
Whitney Museum, but it doesn't mean anything" don't lead anywhere. That
is unpolitical and weakens every single artists' position.
Vuc Cosic acted similarly at the Biennale 2001 in Venice. Leaving aside
the strange circumstances which lead to him ending up in the Slovanian
Pavillion, it was a success for net art and for him personally, and it
was generally an interesting Pavillion. And instead of celebrating that -
which would have been honest - he tried to convey through his acting
that everything was trival and meaningless. Some people found this very
unpleasant and there arose quite spontaneously the idea of commenting
what was going on. The result was the very controversial 'flower
action'. In the name of the Old Boys' Network three cyberfeminists
handed him a large bouquet of flowers at the opening of the Pavillion
in order to gratulate him and pay tribute to his achievements in net
I like this action, because it works at different levels: the Slovanian
press were proud of their artist, and insiders would remember very
clearly Vuk's gesture - as part of the opening of the net.condition at
zkm - of laying down a bouquet of flowers to symbolize the death of net
art through its institutionalization. A wonderful refernce, I think. I
believe too that it was also a bit painful for him.
As I said, the lack of a collective strategy for net artists was and
still is a big problem. In 1997, a further symptom of this occurred in
the form of the first competition for net art a museum has launched:
EXTENSION by the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Like the introduction of net art
at the documenta x, artists here were very uncertain and didn't know
how they should deal with the idiotic and incomprehensible conditions.
And so they contributed half-heartedly. This was the time when it would
have been easy to hack the art operating system. It was definitely a
FC: You see yourself as a concept artist, and on your homepage there is
a slogan that could be seen as an analogy: "A smart artist makes the
machine do the work". Is that supposed to mean that concept art
actually wasn't concept art before machines started to process the
CS: No, I wouldn't formulate it so radically, so one-dimensionally
(laughter). Ultimately one could take slaves instead of machines to
produce art (laughter).
FC: A la Andy Warhol Factory...
CS: Yes, somewhat similar. Or simply craftsmen and women, or keen art
students who implement the master's idea.
FC: ...Jeff Koons...
CS: Yeah Jeff Koons is a good example. I don't think that one needs a
machine to realize that idea of art. If the aethetic program is
developed with which the artist works then it doesn't matter who
produces the actual pieces. And the artist becomes a purely
representational figure... He or she simply has to fit well to the
'image' of an artist set as parameter in the system.
FC: I want to add on something there. Yesterday I read on the 'eu-gene'
Mailing List for generative art - which was set up by among others
Adrian Ward - what I feel is the first enlightening definition of
generative art. It comes from Philip Galanter, a Professor at the New
York University, and dovetails nicely into what you just said:
"Generative art refers to any art practice where the artist creates a
process, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program, a
machine, or other mechanism, which is then set into motion with some
degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed work of
I find that an interesting definition, because it not only reflects
computer art, but also spans a lot more.
CS: Yes, I think so too. It's a good definition.
FC: Would you say that what you do is generative art?
CS: Not everything that I do. But definitely the work I've done with
the net art generator. Whether this set of rules he speaks about applies
to my work... I'd have to really give that some more thought. What seems
to support this though is that my point of departure is founded on not
being creative, in the sense of creating new images or a new aethetic.
Rather, I work with material that is already available. This material is
then reshaped under certain structural conditions or simply reworked.
But I couldn't give a NAME to this program. (laughter)
FC: I ask myself, however, whether for you in 'Female Extension' - where
you submitted several hundred art websites under different female artist
names to the net art competition EXTENSION, and which were in fact
generated by a computer program - the generative is simply a vehicle, a
means to an end. 'Female Extension' was also a 'social hack', a
cyberfeminist hack of the net art competition. How your generators were
programmed was actually pretty irrelevant!?
CS: In principle, yes. (laughter) However after 'Female Extension' I
continued to develop the concept of net art generators.
FC: What springs to mind now is that in one of your net art generators,
you used the 'Dada Engine' by Andrew Bulhak, which is also the basis for
his very humorous 'Postmodern Thesis Generator'...
CS: That's right. Unfortunately that is also the most complicated
generator and often causes problems.
FC: So the net art generators were not inspired by the 'Postmodern
CS: No, that was different. While the competition at the Hamburger
Kunsthalle in 1997 was taking place, it was clear to me that one of the
crucial points was: museum wants to incorporate net art. I wanted to
intervene and clarify things: on the one hand for the artists or net
artists. I felt we had to watch out with how we dealt with the
situation, so that the potential of net art - which had been acquired
was used in a subversive way - was not thrown away, given away to
easily, and on the other hand, that the museum was given a lesson.
That's how 'Female Extension' came about.
At the start I intended to make all the web sites manually, using copy
and paste, because I was not capable of programming them. The
programming happened more by chance through an artist friend of mine. I
was very happy with the results; the automatic generated pages looked
very artistic. The jury was definitely taken in by it, although none of
my female artists won a prize. Through 'Female Extension' and the
social hack I got caught up in the idea to conceptualize the generators
in even more detail. Three versions have now been around for some time
now: one, which works with images, one which combines images and texts
in layers on top of each other, and one that is a variation of the 'Dada
Engine'. This one is specialized in texts and invents wonderful word
combinations, sometimes even with elements from different languages. Two
more are in development for particular applications.
FC: There is a corresponding simultaneity that can be perceived in
various aesthetical processes in your new work 'Improvised Tele-
vision'. You are referring to Schöneberg's piece 'Verklärte Nacht'. It
was recoded by Nam June Paik, who let the record run at a quarter of its
normal speed, and then its recoding by Dieter Roth, who restored
Schönberg's music to it original tempo by speeding up Paik's version.
Then you join in, by building a platform for the 'ultimate
intervention', upon which the user can decide which tempo to choose.
That immediately reminded me of the literary theory of Harold Bloom, his
so-called influence theory, according to which history of literature is
the product of famous writers, who each in turn adopts to his/her
predecessor as an oedipal super-ego (laughter) ... and who then again
manages to free him-/herself from the predecessor.
CS: Oh really? The sub-title for 'Improvised Tele-vision' originally
was 'apparent oedipal fixation', which I then discarded again.
(laughter) And it was the 'apparent' which was important to me.
FC: That is what I assumed. There are - from my point of view - these
tremendous artists, like Schönberg, Paik and Roth, who take each other
down from the pedestal in order to put themselves on that very
CS: Exactly. [Laughter.] By the way I've heard a similar theory in art
history from Isabelle Graw, who apllied it in a lecture about Cosima von
Bonin to talk generally about female artists.
FC: ...and clearly your work also uses it, but in a playful way. You
wrote that you would leave open the speed at which the piece can be
CS: Yes, with the exception of the original speed, which cannot be
played on my platform.
FC: ...with the exception of the original speed. You nevertheless
write: "The decision is to be made by the user/listener and not by the
composer, or an intervening artist". But you nevertheless set massive
limits, for example by not allowing a one to one recording to be heard.
CS: Whoever wants to hear the original can get hold of it without any
problems. For me what is interesting is the fact that the three artists
who worked on the piece before me wanted to determine the one and only
tempo possible. That is a gesture which I bypass by offering a tool by
which the piece can be played at completely arbitrary speeds.
FC: Isn't the contextualisation with Schönberg, Paik, Roth already a
defining feature? And also the decision to pack all four interventions
into one room, as you did in the case of the installation, which forms
the second part of the work?
CS: Yes of course! My rhetoric about the ultimate intervention which is
made possible through the internet, such as participation,
interactivity and self-definition etc. is really a pure piece of irony!
FC: Yes, that was precisely my question. Whether you really take that
seriously or not!? Or whether that is just some naïve understanding of
CS: It is not naïve, but rather I am making fun of it. And I take my
assumptions and lead them through the installation to the point of ad
absurdum. On the four walls of the space there are portraits of the
four of us. They create the impression of being painted on canvas - but
in fact they are nothing more than Photoshop manipulated photos - which
were then actually printed onto canvas and stretched onto adjustable
wooden frames. Next to each one of them there's an artist's text which
refers to 'Verklärte Nacht'.
The sound you hear in the installation is a piece which I composed of
four tracks: the original by Schönberg, the slowed-down version by Paik
and the speede-up version of Roth, which is practically the original,
but not really because of the vinyl cracklings and the fact that the
speed is not quite the same and is therefore not synchronous, and can
only ever approximate the original. On the fourth track I play Roth's
version backwards. This is also a reference to Schönberg and his later
composition theory as well as twelve tone music, in which the melodic
motives are played as crabs and backwards as crabs returning. I was
gobsmacked how good the playing backwards worked together with
'Verklärte Nacht'. This music has nothing to do with the web project,
the ultimate intervention, but is rather an additional variation of the
composition. And I also found the visual transformation of the portraits
important; that makes it clear again where I position myself and
inscribe myself in the genealogy. I, as a woman, as an essentially
younger woman, accuse them of setting things, whereas I leave everything
open, moan about how they put themselves on the pedestal and by doing so
put myself on that very same pedestal.
FC: Precisely. But is that not the tragedy of every anti-oedipal
intervention, that it automatically - whether it wants to or not -
becomes inscribed in the oedipal logic again? That's what I see in this
CS: If that is the case, then that's definitely tragic. Probably that's
the reason why I've made it into such a theme. I find the public's
reaction amusing, which was partly very aggressive. I received such
accusations as: "You don't want to be any different than they are".
(laughter) What it is actually about, however, is showing the processes
involved, how it functions. That I cannot extract myself from it, if I
want to be part of the system, is logical. And that is a decision that I
made. Nevertheless I want to know and reflect on what the conditions are -
in other words, I want to make that precisely my theme. If it becomes
intolerable, then I can always step back. But I lack the belief that a
real alternative is possible. As long as I manage to handle this, like
how I'm handling it now, then I find it acceptable. It is a state of
being simultaneously inside and outside.
Another example for this, which once again leads us back to the market
compatibility of net art, is the invitation of a five-star hotel to
partly decorate their interiors. Actually I was always fairly sure that
I was the last possible artist anyone would invite for such a task. But
it did interest me and I began to experiment with this. Fortunately I
have the net art generators which endlessly can produce for me, which
meant I just had to find a way to materialize the 'products' being
created. I ended up making prints on canvas or paper and frame
everything. That's how I create a series, series of images, and it is
astonishing what actually transpires. It is through the arranging
however that I manage to tell stories, which of course is massive
manipulation. In that way I find the idea of the rematerialization of
net art interesting - by packing it into accessible formats and then
seeing what happens. I started by being convinced that it was not
actually possible. The whole episode took place with a fair bit of
raised eyebrows. However, I extended the idea further at my first
gallery exhibition that I recently had in Malmö (Sweden). And it was
overwhelming to see what the images were like and how they were flushed
out of the unconscious of the net and onto the surface.
FC: Is that still concept art?
CS: Yes, of course. At least for me it is. I have now offered the hotel
to let me do series for them. I insist that my images are hung in
endless rows in a long corridor (which for other artists definitely is
not an interesting place). And of course I hope to make a good deal on
it: first of all the money on offer is interesting. But over and above
that, this will be the first sale in the history of net art that is
worth mentioning! [laughter].
FC: That reminds me a little bit of Manzoni and his strategy in the
fifties to sell air in tin cans...
CS: Yes, whereby I don't sell air, rather real images (laughter). What
is interesting however is that there is no printing technology involved
which insures that the images remain in tact. They might well pale over
time. I sell them as products, though in a few years they could very
well be just white paper, which I also find an attractive thought.
FC: And with that you once again have an oedipal reference to Dieter
Roth, who came up with the chocolate objects in the sixties and which
are now preserved by specialised restaurateurs.
CS: Yes, or the work with rubbish and mould. The ephemeral is a very
important aspect. And the example of the hotel is a successful
masterstroke for two reasons. One because I receive money, which is
always important, and two, because I set an example to the net art
colleagues who lease or sell their web sites for ridiculously cheap
FC: I want to try to make the jump from here to cyberfeminism, which is
difficult... let's start with the key word 'strategy'...
C.S.: I can tell what the term 'Cyberfeminism' means to me or how I
work with it, and maybe in that way we can build a bridge.
FC: Perhaps I should begin like this: what always troubled me with the
term 'Cyberfeminism' was less the 'feminism' than the prefix 'cyber'.
Does that have to be?
CS: [laughter] That's amazing! If the feminism had troubled you I could
have related to that. (laughter) But you seem to be pc... (laughter).
The theme 'cyber': that is "what it is all about". I first heard about
Cyberfeminism rolling off the tongue of Geert Lovink, and I said to
him: what kind of nonsense is that? That was back then when everything
went 'Cyber': 'Cybermoney' 'Cyberbody' etc.
FC: Yes, that's the point.
CS: I pigeonholed it together with all that and treated it like it was
utter nonsense. But the term lodged itself in the back of mind without
me knowing what it is. Later when I realized that I asked Geert again
what it meant and if he could send me a few references.
CS: But there was not much available in 1995/96. He sent me sure enough
a reference from Sadie Plant and VNS Matrix - and 'Innen', which was a
female artist group which I was involved in myself. He sent me back
quasi my own context as a reference. That was a real little surprise.
That he had done this was definitely no coincidence. So I thought to
myself, OK, I assume he knows [laughter] which references he sent to me.
I kept mulling over that in my mind. Then came the invitation to 'Hybrid
Workshop' at the documenta x. Once again Geert was involved. He wanted
me to plan a week or block - not on Cyberfeminism, but rather on one or
other female/feminist issue. And this invitation was the catalyst for me
to start working on the term 'Cyberfeminism'. By then I had found real
pleasure in it and discovered that there was an enormous potential
involved and which both Sadie Plant and VNS Matrix had not capitalized
on. They had only dabbled in a few areas.
What is interesting in Cyberfeminism is that the term is a direct
reference to feminism, and therefore has a clearly political notion. On
the other hand though, due to this disastrous prefix, which sure enough
is a real burden and very loaded, it also shows that there is something
else there, an additional new dimension. That this 'cyber' is present
does not mean that much - apart from the fact that in all this hype it
worked quite well. Taking a pre-fix that has popped up out of a good
deal of hype, and what's more using it and attaching it to something
else, creates a real power. Especially when everyone cries out (apart
from you of course), Oh my God - feminism! It was this potential not to
begin again from scratch with feminism, but to find a new point of
departure - as well as the motivation to get people to begin engaging
again with this term. Theoretically we could have made an attempt to
redefine feminism. But it's history is simply too prominent and the
negative image too powerful.
FC: The difficulty I have with this no doubt stems from an academic
point of view. We are in the midst of a discussion about net culture,
which includes mailing lists like Nettime and other forums, where one no
longer has to discuss the absurdity of 'cyber' terminology. That's been
done. Then along comes something that one knows is not to be taken
completely seriously. However when I set foot in academic circles, I
found myself being criticized - like I was at the Annual German Studies
Convention - for debunking dispositively the terms
'cyber'/'hyper'/'virtuel' which are still used there as discursive
coordinates. These terms have gathered their own dynamic and have been
written down and canonized for at least the next ten years. And it is
precisely here that 'cyberfeminism' fits in, as a term which does not
sound so experimental or ironic when one puts it into the context of
something like Cultural Studies.
CS: But what do you mean? Is that actually a problem?
FC: Well, isn't it the problem that one thereby creates a discourse
which in academia can gather its own dynamic and then no longer...?
CS: ...in that case, yes. I fully support you there.
FC: Another problem: what always becomes very apparent in the context
of Feminism when one reviews its history from the Sufragettes to
Beauvoir to the difference feminism of the seventies right up to Gender
Studies is that 'Feminism' as such does not actually exist.
CS: No, that's obvious.
FC: There's an anthology of American feminist theory, which sensibly
uses the title 'Feminisms' - uses the plural. Shouldn't it also be
CS: It's been called that often. For example in the editorial of the
second OBN (Old Boys Network) reader it's referred to as 'new
Cyberfeminism' and then 'Cyberfeminisms'. Or in a definition by Yvonne
Volkart: "Cyberfeminism is a myth and in a myth the truth, or that,
which it engages resides in the difference between the individual
narratives." I think that is one of the really good definitions of
FC: You initiated the cyberfeminist alliance 'Old Boys Network', whose
Internet Domain is registered in your name. Organized by OBN the
'Cyberfeminist International' had its first gathering at the documenta
x. Is the impression I have right that the group or the discourse
consists mainly of women who are active in net art culture?
CS: No, that's not right. We did have our first big gathering at
documenta x, but especially this documenta, namely the hybrid workspace
where we were located, brought different contexts together. Not only the
art world, but also the media and activist scene for example.
In the 'Old Boys Network' we have always experimented with different
organisational forms. The ideal form does not exist. One has to somehow
organize a network, because it doesn't exist by itself. Finally however
there was no form that functioned really well, which means we always
have to conceive of new forms. For a while we had what could be
identified as a 'core group' of five to six names. From those less than
half were artists. There has always been a predominance of theorists,
from the literary experts to the art historians...
FC: That means theorists who situate themselves in the context of art,
and it reeks as ever of net art.
CS: For me personally that's correct. But there are many people in OBN
who would refuse to see it that way. Our goal was always manifold. Our
main idea was not to formulate a content with a concrete political goal.
Instead we considered our organizational structure as a political
expression. To be a cyberfeminist also makes demands on us to work on
the level of structures and not just to turn up at conferences and hold
a seminar paper. On the contrary, it means to tend to financial
matters, or to make a website, a publication or create an event - hence
to engage in developing structures. And 'Politics of dissent' is a very
important term. It means placing the varied approaches next to each
other, finding a form so that they can coexist and act as a force field
to set something going. That's why we tried to incorporate women from
the CCC - female hackers - as well as female computer experts. Fourteen
days ago at the third 'Cyberfeminist International', for the first time
there were several women from Asia, as well as women from 'Indymedia'
[The anit-globalisation news network]. It is very important to keep
extending the connections.
FC: I find it very interesting that you focus on structures when I ask
you about the term Cyberfeminism. Is it then just another platform,
another system that you have programmed generatively as an experiment to
see what will happen?
CS: That's pretty extreme, but yes one could say that. When I was asked
to define Cyberfeminism, what was always important for me was building
structures, and like Old Boy Network disseminating the idea through
FC: In 1997 Josephine Bosma asked you in an interview: "Do you think
there are any specific issues for women online?" - and you answered:
"No, I don't think so really".
CS: [Laughter.] I still believe that.
FC: Yes? - That was my question.
CS: After four and a half years of Cyberfeminist practice and contexts
such as 'Women and New Media', and a series of lectures and events, I've
come to the conclusion that one can divide this topic into two areas.
One is the area of 'access', meaning, whether women have access to
knowledge and technology, and which is a social problem. The second area
is if the access exists, and the skills are there, what happens on the
net or with this medium? What factors determine WHAT is made? About that
there's very little which is convincing. Mostly it is a lot of arid ill-
defined essentialist crap, with which I want to have little to do with
because it reaffirms the already existing and unfavorable conditions
rather triggering something new. Feminist media theory that extends
beyond this definitely is a desiderat.
FC: Regarding the phrase 'essentialist crap': is my assumption right
that your focus of attention on systems and regulationg structures as
experimental settings - whether that is Cyberfeminism or net art
generators - can be see as an anti-essentialist strategy, which includes
your appropriations, plagiarizing and the use of already existing
CS: There are not that few female artists whos' approach is the idea
that women have to develop their own aesthetics in order to counteract
the dominant order. But I've always had problems with that and didn't
know what that could be without predicating myself again in strict roles
and definitions. That is the problem with essentialism. The claimed
difference can easily be turned against women - even when they defined
it themselves. That doesn't take you anywhere and is just another trap.
Besides one of the miseries of identity politics was that the identities
certain communities and groups had developed seamlessly got
incorporated, for example by advertisement, what meant a complete turn
around of its actual intentions.
FC: That would be the case for the art referred to in the two volume
Suhrkamp Anthology 'Women in Art' by Gislind Nabakowski, Helke Sander
and Peter Gorsen...
CS: I don't know that one [laughter]...
FC: ...or such art as Kiki Smith's, which I see as the antithesis to
CS: Maybe. My problem at present is nevertheless that the theme,
Cyberfeminism, has to some extent driven me into the so-called 'women's
corner'. What would be a broader definition and would include a more
extensive notion of my art is hardly taken into consideration. That is
why I am determined to take on other themes. The work about Schönberg
was the first step to expanding the spectrum - although as ever I still
like to surround myself with many great women. [laughter]...
FC: When you say that you want to come out of the Cyberfeminist corner,
I have to ask myself whether - as in the Schönberg installation - your
anti-essentialist strategy of constructing and producing systems and
situations as well as plagiarizing, nevertheless have a feminist
CS: A feminist component is always implied, because I basically have a
feminist consciousness. So all my engagement with the art system
includes that aspect, irrespective of what I do. That was the case in
'Female Extension' and ... it is always implicit.
FC: What I have noticed is that women are amply represented in the code-
experimental area of net art.
FC: From what I've seen, yes. Jodi for example is a masculine-feminine
couple, the same goes for 0100101110111001.org. Then springs to mind
mez/Mary Anne Breeze or antiorp/Netochka Nezvanova, which we now know
has a woman from New Zealand forming the core figure.
CS: Are you sure about that?
CS: I'm currently working on an Interview with Netochka Nezvanova...
CS: Yes, she tells me everything! What she thinks about the world - and
especially about the art world. [laughter]
FC: That is someone then who also fascinates you?
CS: I find it extremely interesting as a phenomenon, and ask 'her'
things such as... how much does her success have to do with the fact
she is a woman... Ultimately though there are several people involved in
forming the character.
FC: But the core is a woman.
CS: Great! A new concept of N.N. I have asked so many people about her,
and everyone had contradictory information about her. The last theory
that I heard led me to the media theoretician Lev Manovich as the core
FC: [laughter] It is a good concept. Another social hack and a system
that is triggered off... And something that dematerializes.
CS: That's why I am working on finalizing this concept. I want to kill
'her' by doing an interview in which she reveals all of her strategies -
something she would never do anyway. That is my idea...
FC: In your interview with 0100101110111001.org you were pretty tough
on them - which by the way I thought was good - discussing the
'biennale.py' computer virus. You described that out of it an aesthetic
code-attitude would emerge which is not really progressive, because no
one can read the code. Would you nevertheless admit that this
intervention was a form of 'social hacking'?
CS: Of course. That's what it is first of all. The way how the code has
been aestheticized is secondary, something that happened more by
mistake because the artists probably had not thought so much about the
traps of the art system before. The virus clearly was a social hack. And
it would have already been sufficient to call it 'virus'. Even if the
code would not have worked or would have been just some nonesense it
would not have done any harm to the project.
FC: Is it then necessary to use labels like 'net art' at all when the
medium is not so relevant?
CS: I think it makes sense to use such labels in the beginning, when a
new medium is being introduced, and actual changes come along with it;
in the phase where the actual medium is explored like jodi did for
example with the web/net, or Nam June Paik with video.
You could compare it with video art - which is in this sense a
predecessor of net art. I don't think that it is useful any longer to
talk of 'video art'. The ways how video is being used today are
established and it becomes more meaningful to refer to certain contents.
That is, by the way, the problem of the whole thing called 'media art'-
too much media, too little art...
FC: Looking at your art, isn't it the case that projects like the
net.art generator develop their concept, their systems of 'social hacks'
from the media?
CS: That's true in this case. But it is not necessarily the way I work.
The term 'net.art' functioned also as a perfect marketing tool. And it
worked until the moment it gained the success it had headed for. Then
everything collapsed. [laughter]
FC: Would it be possible for you to work in any context? We met here at
the annual conference of the Chaos Computer Club. But would it also be
possible to meet at the annual congress of stamp collectors, and this
would be the social system you would intervene?
CS: Theoretically, yes. [laughter] I think anyone who managed to get
along with the hackers, the hacker culture doesn't shrink back from
anything - not even stamp collectors or garden plot holders.
FC: ... or hotel corridors.
CS: No, theoretically a lot is possible, but not practically. My
interest is not just formal and not only directed towards the operating
system. It is an important aspect, but when the arguments and the people
within the system are of no interest for me, I can hardly imagine to
FC: That would mean at the hacker's convention your reference would be
that people here play with systems, and critically think about systems?
CS: And what's also interesting for me is the fact that hackers are
independent experts, programers, who work for the sake of programming,
and are not in services of economy or politics. That's the crucial
point for me. And that's also the reason why hackers are an important
source of information for me.
FC: But that takes us straight back to the classical concept of the
autonomous artist coined in the 18th century, the freelance genius. He
is no longer employed, and gets no commissions, but is independent and
does not have to follow a given set of rules.
CS: Maybe you're right, and my image of a hacker has in fact a lot to
do with such an image of the artist. But reflecting upon the role of art
in society in general, I would prefer to consider art as autonomous, to
considering the individual artist as autonomous - given that the idea of
autonomy per se is problematic. The idea of art as observing,
positioning oneself, commenting, trying to open up different
perspectives on what is going on in society is what I prefer. And that
is exactly what is endangered. The contradictory thing about autonomy is
that someone has to protect/finance it. And it is most comfortable when
governments do so, like it was common here in Germany over the last
decades. I think this ensures the most freedom. Examples which
illustrate my theory are Pop Art and New Music; in the 60s and 70s
artists from all over the world came to Germany because here was public
funding, and facilities to work which existed nowhere else. I consider
it as one of the tasks of a government to provide money for culture. And
the development we are facing at the moment is disasterous.
A short time ago somebody asked me how I would imagine the art of the
future, and after thinking for a while I got the image of a an open-plan
office, packed with artists who work there, all looking the same and
getting paid by whatever corporation; the image of art which is
completely taken over and submitted to the logics of economy. This does
not mean that I would reject all corporate sponsoring, but it should not
become too influential.
FC: Doesn't the new media artist make the running for the others,
because they are so extremely dependent on technology?
CS: Absolutely, and I think this is really a major problem. They make
the running for the others...
FC: ... but in a purely negative sense.
CS: Basically yes. It is a difficult field to play on. Some artists are
thinking of work-arounds, like low-tech, and as another example, I would
highly appreciate if ars electronica, which obviously suffers from a
lack of ideas and inspiration, would choose the topic of Free Software.
They could do without their corporate sponsors, and only give prizes art
works which are produced with the use of Free Software. It would be
really exciting to see what you can do with it.
FC: But not to forget that Free Software is also dependent from
corporate sponsors. You almost don't find any major Free Software
project where no big companies are involved - directly or indirectly
trying to bring an influence to bear.
CS: At the latest with the distribution ...
FC: Yes, but it starts already with the development. The GNU C-Compiler
for example belongs to Red Hat, IBM invests billions in developping
Linux further, and these are, of course strategic investments. Almost
every well-known free developer receives his salary cheque from some
CS: Are you saying that Free Software, in the end, is nothing but
FC: No, I wouldn't say it's an utopia which does not become true. The
code always stays free, and even if there's a recession, the developers
are able to work quite self-determined. - But I do not believe that
this equals the type of the autonomous artist.
CS: We are mixing up several things now. Hackerdom for example is not a
profession. A hacker may be employee in a company, but this has nothing
to do with being a hacker. And here you can make comparisons with art.
How about being an artist: Is it a profession or not? Would I still be
an artist even if I would make my money by practising a different job?
I am organized in the German trade union for media workers--in the
department for artists--and am interested how generic interests of
artists can be represented. Being an artist should be an acknowledged
profession, secure, and insured like the Social Insurance for artists
does here in Germany (Künstersozialkasse). But this point does conflict
a lot with the idea of autonomy. I am not sure myself how it can go
together. Although, I basically insist on my professional rights, it
often seems to contradict the status of being autonomous. And this
uncertainty of the artists very often gets abused, by treating artists
unprofessionally, and exploiting them shamelessly.
FC: A while ago you have said that you contradicted Gerfried Stocker
when he equated art with creativity. Being an artist is a profession for
you, and therefore a definable and distinguishable subsystem of society.
This would also be an anti-thesis to the idea of 'expanded art'
['erweiterten Kunstbegriff'] à la Fluxus - and to Joseph Beuys' idea of
"Everyone is an artist".[Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler.]
FC: I would simply add 'potential'. I think there shouldn't be any
mechanism or criteria which includes certain people per se, but
certainly not everyone is an artist, although everyone could be an
artist. But most people don't feel any desire to become an artist
[At his point we switched off the tape recorder and kept on talking
about the necessity of doing things on the one hand side, and discarding
them again on the other hand. During that the conversation turned to
Neoism and its internal quarrels.]
CS: Such quarrels can become very existential, very exhausting, and
weakening. Things tend to become incredibly authentic - something I try
to avoid otherwise.
FC: But this is important. When I hear standard accusations, saying
that dealing with systems, disrupting systems through plagiarism, fake,
and manipulation of signs, is boring postmodern stuff, lacking
existential hardness, my only answer is that people who say this, never
tried to practise it consequently. Especially, on a personal level, it
can be deadly. You have mentioned the group `-Innen' before, a group you
have obviously been part of in the early 90s, before the days of
CS: Yes, this was in '93-96.
FC: And, if I get it right, it was also a 'multiple identity' concept.
CS: Yes, and although we handled it very playful and ironic, it started
to become threatening - so much that we had to give it up. We had
practised the 'becoming one person' to an extreme by looking exactly the
same, and even our language was standardized. And then we felt like
escaping from each other, and not meeting the others any more.
FC: Is this the point where art potentially becomes religious or a
CS: Maybe, if you don't quit.
FC: ... if you don't quit. I am thinking of Otto Muehl and his
CS: That is exactly the point where you have to leave and go for the
unknown, leave the defined sector, and reinvent yourself - which might
be not so easy. To do this together, in or with the group is almost
impossible. There's probably some marriages which realize to do so, to
reinvent themselves and their relationship permanently, to keep it
vivid. But with more people than two it's too much.
FC: Are your projects kind of marriages for you, or sects or groups?
CS: Well, it has a lot in common. That's amazing! It starts already
with the reliabiliy, which must be there. Because nothing works, if
there is not a certain degree of reliability, also regarding the
dynamics, how roles are assigned or how people choose them.
FC: Designing such systems also has something to do with control and
loosing control, right? In the beginning you're the designer, you
define the rules, but then you get involved and become part of the game
yourself, and the time has come to quit.
CS: Well, certainly I do have my ideas and concepts, but the others
might have different ones. The whole thing comes to an end when the
debates and arguments aren't productive any longer. With the 'Old Boys
Network' we are currently experimenting with the idea to release our
label. To think through what that actually means was a painful process.
You think:"Oh god, maybe somebody will abuse it, do something really
aweful and stupid with it. That's shit." But if we want to be
consequent, we have to live with that. And the moment comes where you
have to learn to change the relation you have towards your own construct -
what might be difficult.
FC: What was the case with 'Improved Tele-vision', where the system
already had been set? As far as I can see, this work was the first where
you did not design the system yourself, but engaged in an already
CS: Yes, that's why it was so easy for me.[laughter] I didn't have to
work too hard on that one.[laughter]
FC: Can you imagine to consciously leave 'Old Boys Network?'
CS: Oh yes - meanwhile!
FC: ... and ignoring it for like three years - or longer - and after
that period trying to engage again, but with an artistic approach which
is observing, like in 'Improved Tele-vision'...
CS: Sounds like a good idea, but I am afraid it would not work. My
presumptious idea is, that three years after I have left, OBN would not
exist any longer. [laughter]
CS: At the same time it is a generic name. 'Old Boys Networks' have
always been around; usually, they are not exactly feminist. [laughter]
CS: One big trap for us was, that we called it 'network', although it
actually functioned as a group. And we refused to realize that for too
long. OK, there is the associated network of hundreds of boys, but the
core is a group.
FC: But this seems to be a very popular self-deception within the so-
called net cultures. I also say that also 'nettime' and the net culture
it supposedly represented was in fact a group, at least until about
CS: And that is the only way it works. There's no alternative way how a
network can come into being. At some point there have to be
condensations, and commitments. And 'networks' don't require a lot of
FC: So, how do network and system relate in your understanding?
CS: I think a system is structured and defined more clearly, and has
obvious rules and players. A network tends to be more open, more loose.
FC: Now, I would like to know, if in your view, systems as well as
networks necessarily have a social component. One could claim that
purely technical networks as well as purely technical systems do exist.
Your work alternatively intervenes in social and technical networks.
But, in the end, your intervention always turns out to be a social one.
Can you think of networks and systems - referring to the definition you
just have given - without social participation?
CS: Not, not at all. Because the rules or the regulating structure
always is determined by somebody. Like computer programs are often
mistaken as something neutral. 'Microsoft Word' for example. Everyone
assumes it just can be the way 'Word' it is. But that's not the case. It
could be completely different.
FC: ... as Matthew Fuller has analyzed in his text Text "It looks like
you're writing a letter: Microsoft Word" in every detail...
CS: Yes, there are endless individual decisions involved - decisions of
the programmer, and from the person who designs the program, and decides
how and where to lead the user, and to manipulate the user, making
him/her doing certain things.
FC: There's also earlier experiments within art, on designing self-
regulating systems. Hans Haacke has built in the 60's his 'Condensation
Cube', made of glass. On it's side-walls water condensates corresponding
to the amount of people who are in the same room. Such a thing would not
be of any interest for you?
CS: No, I don't think so. It is also typical for a lot of generative art
that one system simply is being transformed into another one. I find
this totally boring. For me, it is important that the intervention sets
an impulse which results in - or at least aims for a change.
+ + +
The interview by Cornelia Sollfrank and Florian Cramer was commissioned
for the new transcript series of books on Contemporary Visual Culture
published by Manchester University Press in association with School of
Fine Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of
Dundee. A shorter version of this interview will be published in volume
II of this series 'Communication, Interface, Locality', edited by Simon
Yuill and Kerstin Mey, forthcoming autumn 2002. Please see MUP website:
This text is copylefted according to the Open Publication License v1.0
(http://opencontent.org/openpub/); restrictions on commercial
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