Interview: G.H.Hovagimyan

G.H. Hovagimyan
US media artist

detailled biography

Interview: 10 questions

Question 1.
Since a reasonable time, digital media entered the field of art and extended the traditional definition of art through some new , but very essential components.
Do you think it is like that and if yes, tell me more about these components and how they changed the perception of art?

This is a very large and complex question. First you need to find the traditional definition of art. Then you need to extrapolate how new media has affected that definition. Art is different from other cultural products such as design or fashion or music and dance, or decoration or artifice or spectacle or entertainment or communication or film or theater etc.. Art can use all these other forms as a subject and also as an object or a technique within an art work. The intention of art is very different from all those other forms. (I should also include the sciences as well as computer programming in my list.) I often think of art as aesthetic research in order to detach it from other systems that lay claim to it such as the market system or the academic system or the gallery system or the secondary market system etc.. Artists make art because they want to look at the world in a different way or they see the world differently than other people. That’s the large answer. The small answer is that art can be broken down to a series of techniques and forms that are used to communicate such as , words, pictures, sounds, 3 dimensional forms, geometric structures, etc.. These forms are what constitute the digital world but they are just forms. What is different is that the overall mediasphere/communication sphere that now exists because of the internet and digital media is much larger and more connected than previous communication systems. This digital web is a global society that is a new way of looking at the world and humanity. Within this environment all the earlier forms of art can be explored.
For example I recently did a series of video podcasts called rantapod. They were 40 video performances that I did over the course of one year. They are offered to people to download onto their ipods or they can be viewed on the web. They are also listed on iTunes and can be viewed on large HD video screens and home theaters via apple TV. The piece is an extended performance that depends on the internet to house it. The video are stored in a database and made available via an rss feed. If you go to the webpage you’ll see different ways to access the videos. One way is a theme or a content tag. The other is by the date when it was uploaded. I started this piece because I was one of the original artists in the 1970’s working with video-performance. I decide to go back to that form and see what the difference was with digital media. The original structure of a video performance is for an artist to do something in front of a video camera. Video is a reflexive instantaneous communication form that is different from film. So you have, performance, camera and communication. That structure is different in digital video and the internet. After doing my rants in front of a camera I then imported them into an editing program. I found that I could analyze my performance in the editing software. I started to take ticks and unconscious behavior and rather than cut them out of the video I decided to sample them and multiply them using them as a rhythmic element. This actually goes back to a video performance I did in 1978 for the MoMA called Rich Sucker Rap. In that piece I used words in a performance and repeated them rapidly to create a percussion style or drumbeat if you like. In the digital performance I sampled myself. I cut my rants into very short phrases and then rearranged the clips in a random fashion. In one sense this harks back to the DaDAist cut-up performance such as UBU Roi but it also has to do with the advances in cognitive science and linguistics which recognizes that the mind organizes form and meaning and will do so even if the forms and words are jumbled up. This is something very specific and new to digital media, the viewer can access information/art and create or assemble the meaning. The word interactive doesn’t quite describe what this is.

Question 2.
A relevant section of digital art represents Internet based art. The Internet was hardly existing, but artists conquered already this new field for their artistic activities.
Can the work of these early artists be compared with those who work with advanced technologies nowadays? What changed until these days? What might be the perspectives for future developments?

I was one of the first artists to start working on the Internet in New York City. One of the more exciting parts of the Internet was the anarchy of communication. This was before any commercial companies tried to control the internet. There is a sort of dance between open communication, art and creative forces and the forces of government and business that want to control the internet or make it work for their own purposes. So you have a back and forth between hacking the systems on the side of anarchy and controlling the systems and shutting down free communication on the side of governments and business. The artists’ position for the most part is to oppose both the government and business forces that limit communication and freedom. The other position of the artist is to piggy back on commercial and government internet systems using them to create art or messing them up and making them more creative by doing things such as subverting browsers or setting up peer to peer systems or using video podcasting and youTube to present real artworks etc.. What is happening now is that a lot of ideas proposed in the early nineties for internet art are now being realized. This is because of greater bandwidth and faster computers. But the basic premise for digital art is the same. I can categorize digital art as, digital communities, virtual worlds and 3D simulations, publications formats & text based systems, audio & video streaming and coders & hackers. Within these categories the content and intentions are wildly variable. The actual definitions for digital art is not in place other than as broad categories. I do believe however that by looking at historical precedents that we can begin a discourse on new media that starts with DaDa and Conceptual Art, continues through punk and media art to new media.

Question 3.
The education in the field of New Media art, including Internet based art, started late compared with the general speed of technological development and acceptance.
So, generations of artists who used the Internet as their artistic working field were not educated in this new discipline(s) and technologies, but had rather an interdisciplinary approach.
What Do you think, would be the best way to teach young people how to deal with the Internet as an environment of art?

I’ve taught internet art and new media courses. The problem with new media art is that is accentuates the technology and code and doesn’t look at the larger discussion of the definition of art. As I said in my first answer you need to define what art is and is not. This is an ongoing and evolving discussion. Beyond that there is way too much hysteria and attention being paid to the latest code or hardware or system and no critical discussion of the pros and cons of using technology. It sometimes seems that new media artists are simply cheerleaders and promoters for the technology sector. Beyond that thee is a lack of emotional and intellectual depth to much new media art. This is because the artists feel that technological problem-solving, making a piece that has functioning technology, is enough. I’d say that any art work has three components to be successful, a. you need to be inspired in some manner by the world around you, b. using the techniques of art (composition, drawing, spatial, color, sound, etc..) you create a unique or new way of looking at the world and c. You work has a critical basis that engages art history, and other artworks of your period. I also think that there are some very basic issues in new media that have been glossed over and have never been explored in depth. These ideas were presented in the first rush online but have been forgotten as people try to trump each other with the latest tech. For example how has the structure of hypertext and hypermedia changed the way we see the world. I was thinking about this the other day when walking across the street I almost got hit by a guy driving a full sized white SUV. He was driving and text-messaging at the same time. It seems that on a certain level there’s an interruption and displacement caused by new media and communication systems. I would say that is a bad thing for humans. When you walk down the street now a lot of people are carrying on conversations on cellphones. I’m quite sure that most of these conversations are could be carried out in person. What happens is that personal contact, intimacy and chance encounters are reduced in favor of a media controlled venue. This is a very fertile area for critique and art that looks at the change in consciousness. It reminds me of a very early Laurie Anderson text that says, “I am in my body the way some people are in their cars.”

Question 4.
What kind of meaning have the new technologies and the Internet to you in concern of art, are they just tools for expressing artistic intentions, or have they rather an ideological character, as it can be found with many “net artists”, or what else do they mean to you?
Many “Internet based artists” work on “engaged” themes and subjects, for instance, in social, political, cultural etc concern.
Which contents are you particularly interested in, personally and from an art critical point of view.

I was first attracted to the internet as an art making tool because it offered an alternative to the art market, gallery, museum system. It also allowed for international communication and a global network of like minded artists. It reminded me of the more experimental groups and situations I was involve in in the 1970’s. At that time I was involved in alternative spaces, conceptual and performance art and artists groups. I see the internet and digital art as a continuation of those systems and dialectics set up in the 1970’s. Digital art, the Internet and New Media have created an extension into the virtual world of those ideas. Make no mistake, I am not a techno-utopian. I am interested in the position of expanding creativity and art beyond it’s commercial and physical constraints. I use digital tools and the internet to accomplish that expansion. Commodity capitalism offers a very narrow definition of what constitutes art and art making. Digital art, Net Art and New Media creates an alternative to that narrow definition. I also view the internet, new media and digital art as a place where the Situationist critique of the Society of the Spectacle can be implemented. By that I mean that a media-logos or global information media network that is part of global capitalism communication network can also be used as a both a location for art and a subject of art. What is important to understand that artists should be proposing alternatives to the commodity world and it’s communication arm. This means that rather than participating in the military-communication complex an artist should be proposing alternative narratives that “seize” the means of production.

Question 5.
The term “net art” is widely used for anything posted on the net, there are dozens of definitions which mostly are even contradictory.
How do you define “net art” or if you like the description “Internet based art” better?
Do you think “net art” is art, at all, if yes, what are the criteria?
Are there any aesthetic criteria for an Internet based artwork?

I would define net art as this, if an artist uses the internet in an artwork, that part of the art work is net art. I would also like to expand the definition to “media art” which is more interesting. The internet is an extension of the global media logos and communication network. The internet and artwork that is situated on the internet engages the media logos. I actually hate the idea of defining internet art and giving it an aesthetic position. I can only say that art is made by artists. Each artists has the potential to define their own aesthetic and criteria for what art is. I might want to apply Wittgenstein here and say that a meaning of a word is it’s meaning and a meaning of a word is it’s use. That said I would say that the meaning of internet art is that it is art on the internet. It’s use depends on the intention of the artist so for example if a schlock gallery puts up tourist paintings on a corporate shopping cart site it is net art but it’s usage is to sell paintings. If I put up a video piece such as Assembled Cinema — — the intended use is to present a randomly assembled video work that depends on the internet for it’s meaning. Both are internet art or net art. Both use the technology but the meaning of each is the final use. My piece Assembled Cinema allows the viewer to enter the piece at any time. There is no timeline. It depends on the viewers mind to assemble the narrative.

Question 6.
“Art on the net” has the advantage and the disadvantage to be located on the virtual space in Internet which defines also its right to exist.
Do you think, that “art based on the Internet”, can be called still like that, even if it is just used offline?

If, for example you have a piece that is on the internet but is being displayed in a gallery and is connected to the internet than I would say that it is true to form. The physical display apparatus can be loudspeakers or projectors or screens or physical interfaces etc.. the key component is that the piece exists on the internet. That is where it exists. For example my piece Assembled Cinema exists on the internet. It is also set up so that if a gallery or museum wants to display it, they hook up a data projector and loudspeakers and project it in a room. Some may say this isn’t net art but I disagree. I see the internet as a place where a digital archive can exist and be accessed to display artworks.

Question 7.
Dealing with this new, and interactive type of art demands an active viewer or user, and needs the audience much more and in different ways than any other art discipline before. How do you think would be good ways to stimulate the user to dive into this new world of art?
What do you think represents an appropriate environment to present net based art to an audience, is it the context of the lonesome user sitting in front of his personal computer, is it any public context, or is it rather the context of art in general or media art in particular, or anything else.?
If you would be in the position to create an environment for presenting this type of art in physical space, how would you do it?

I don’t think that computer stations in art museums work very well. At least not your standard pc screen & keyboard set-up. I think that touch screens are a much better experience. The best interface I’ve seen in that genre is [PAM] Perpetual Art Machine — — This is a database of avant-garde videos that is curated by the artists behind [PAM]. There are two touch screens. The one on the left has a list of buttons with taxonomy tags that the users selects. The one on the right selects all the videos that have the chosen tag and put them up on a grid. They all play simultaneously. If you touch one of the videos it expands to full screen. This is a perfect example of networked art that is interactive and engaging. What is really nice is that the right hand screen is projected large so that other viewers can see your choices. Another example is locusonus — — that create sound art installations and concerts that depend on live audio input from microphones that are placed around the world and are hooked to the internet.
I think that a physical space would need to be very flexible if it wanted to display digital art. I would suggest a simple grid of steel channels that held various types of cables be hung from the ceiling. The space would have a similar grid in the floor and a wifi system. These would be used to distribute data to specific locations in the space. The space would be totally open but have floor units and wall units that have various functions such as a screen surface or sound proofing or a data-grid wall unit. Exhibitions would be assembled and disassembled using these units. This would save a lot of money when mounting an exhibition. The actual digital hardware can be rented or gotten via corporate sponsorship. This space would also house a server farm that would store digital art in it’s archives. These archives would be the “permanent” collection of the space.

Question 8.
As Internet based art, as well as other art forms using new technologies are (globally seen) still not widely accepted, yet, as serious art forms, what do you think could be an appropriate solution to change this situation?

The field of new media and digital art is very young. As a new media artist I continue to make my work. If I’m lucky I am included in media art festivals and exhibitions in museums and online. I think that media artists need to create digital archives of their work that can be used after they die. These archive will become the foundation for history and critique of digital art. This also allows institutions such as universities and museum to house digital archives.

Question 9.
The Internet is sometimes called a kind of “democratic” environment,
The conventional art practice is anything else than that, but selective by using filters of different kind.
The audience is mostly only able to make up its mind on second hand. Art on the net might potentially be different. Do you think the current practice of dealing with Internet based art is such different or rather the described conventional way through (also curatorial) filtering?
Do you think, that speaking in the terms of Joseph Beuys, anybody who publishes anything on the net would be also an artist?

I diasgree with the idea that everyone is an artist. In particular I hate the idea of “web 2.0.” which asks people to pay for content that they create themselves and which the corporations don’t pay for.
I don’t think that democracy has anything to do with creativity. I do think that artists can collaborate with one another and use the networks to do so. This is a very conscious use of the potential for networked art. If however a corporation creates an art environment such as youTube or second life than I think it’s a false art. However there are some very good artists who have used these false art areas to critique the whole form such as Eva and Franco Matteo.

Question 10.
Do you think, the curators dealing with net based art should have any technological knowledge in order to understand such an art work from its roots? And what about the users of Internet based art?

Yes I think that the digital curator of the future should have an understanding of the software that’s used and has been used in the past as well as the hardware. I see the digital curator of the future as someone who in a hundred years will be able to present an artists work stored in a digital archive using the most recent programming and hardware. This means that a digital artist now needs to leave a plan or description of the parameters of any artwork. This would be similar to a musical with the curator functioning somewhat like the conductor or a symphony orchestra. The curator would orchestrate the art work.