12:15 p.m. 7.Sep.99

Burning Under the Fingernails

Mark Tribe Talks With Gerfried Stocker

Gerfried Stocker is Co-Director (with Wolfgang Modera) of the Ars Electronica Center (AEC) in Linz, Austria.

The AEC organizes the annual Ars Electronica Festival, houses the Museum of the Future, and co-organizes the Prix Ars Electronica with ORF (the Austrian broadcasting company). Educated in engineering (communications and computers) and musical composition, Stocker became interested in the possibilities for using computers not just to make music, but to find new ways of presenting music in public spaces, such as parks.

The next step was to go into the networks. In 1992, he worked with Heidi Grundman, producer of the ORF's Kunstradio program, on an interactive sound installation at the World Trade Fair in Seville, Spain. In this project, he used a modem connection to broadcast sounds from the installation on the radio in Austria. In 1995, his "Horizontal Radio" project connected 36 radio stations in Europe, Russia and Canada for a 24 hour broadcast program in which listeners were able to control the audio mix via a web interface. This interactive paradigm of telematic feedback between public and private spaces via a network informs much of Stocker's curatorial practice today, as can be seen in projects at the AEC such as Ken Goldberg's "Telegarden."

Since joining the AEC in 1995, Stocker has channeled his artistic energies into his role at the AEC. I asked him if he missed making art:

Stocker: As a media artist, I had to play several roles: technician, organizer, promoter. This is an interesting model. In the work I do now, I participate in the process with artists on projects we commission. It's a kind of substitute for me, and it's so challenging, that I don't miss making my own art. But sometimes ideas are burning under my fingernails, as we say.

Tribe: I'm interested in how the topography of Ars Electronica's curatorial terrain morphed and expanded since the first festival twenty years ago. We could initially look at this from a semiotic perspective, starting with the name Ars Electronica itself, a name which simultaneously evokes the classical era with is use of latinate nominclature, and the age of electricity.

Stocker: At first, Ars Electronica was focused on electronic music--synthesizers and midi, which was then the cutting edge of technolgy. There have always been a lot of cutting edges at Ars. By the early 90s, it was virtual reality. And since 1995, it has been networks.

So Ars has always followed the technology, but we are not interested in the technology itself. It's not what technology can do, but what we do with techology. Ars is about art, technology and society. This third element became more important when I came in 1995. By then, this notion of techology as revolutionary, this utopian vision, was no longer relevant because technology was no longer an element of the future. The future was here. So the social impliations, ramifications and and transformations of techology became more important than before.

Tribe: What role does aesthetics play in your approach to art?

Stocker: Aesthetics is a word we used to describe an element in art that is very hard to describe. Aesthetics can be for example a major category for sinnliche Wahrnehmung [sensory/sensual perception]. In media art, we there are two approaches: art as a sensory or formal experience, and art that takes up a social responsibility and adopts new technologies because of a need to deal with their social impact. As an artist I took the latter approach, but as a curator I don't make a judgement as to which approach is more important.

Tribe: What is the place of net art in this field?

Stocker: I don't consider net art as a sub-genre of media art, but as an independent category. Net art and media art have as much in common as photography and film; the only thing they have in common is technology. Interactive art could be seen as a link between net art and media art (which includes video, computer music and interactive art).

Tribe: What is the historical lineage of net art? Do it roots lie in the interactive art of early 90's, or perhaps more in conceptualism, mail art, or Fluxus?

Stocker: I don't know, but I agree very strongly with the importance of this question.

Tribe: Several museums, such as the Walker Art Center, are staring to collect net art. Is the Museum of the Future building a net art collection?

Stocker: We are only building documentations, not collections, because you can't collect the moment of happening. The most important thing in net art is the time-based process of exchange and communication. And you can't collect that, you can only document it. But I belive, and it's a very important personal position for me, that I would rather invest in production than collection. What is the role of the museum in net art? You can't support it by collecting it. As soon as you collect it, you damage it.