Interview: Sharkar Barua

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews SHANKAR BARUA (SB)
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Shankar Barua (India)
is a digital art practioneer, living and working in new Dehli/India

  • biography
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    Interview: 10 questions—>

    1.
    AdC:
    Since a reasonable time, digital media entered the field of art and extended the traditional definition of art through some new , but 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?

    SB:
    Yes, I will agree in broad general terms that arts have always been affected by the emergence of new technologies right from the very beginning of the history of art. For example, witness how painting changed forever from a basic understanding of perspective or just the simple emergence of affordable blue pigments.
    With contemporary technologies, the single most important and over-arching component affecting the arts, *to my mind*, has always been the widespread and burgeoning “Creative Empowerment of Individuals” right across the board from professional art-practitioners through to children.
    On the other hand, the downside of both practice and also perception with regard to technology based arts today often seems to very substantially still be their captivity to many various traps of elementary “Fascination & Infatuation” with new tools and what they can do.

    2.
    AdC:
    A really 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?
    SB:
    This is a tricky question, because artists operate under very different circumstances in different parts of the world. For example, most of the better-known Internet based art emanating from Europe seems to be state-funded by various robust mechanisms, both direct and indirect, which do not find parallel in countries such as India, where for example I live and work.
    On the other hand, while such support is certainly crucial to arts that essentially do not as yet have any real model for sales, incomes and ownership, the particular works thus supported are also arguably then very seminally just products of the bureaucracy itself. And, while one can make the case that every “modern” human society has traditionally manifested its values in art by these means, in the case of technology-based arts I sometimes fear that our comprehension of these new media might still be too shallow,.. which means that what has been most prominently manifested so far may very well be just a huge distortion rather than any really meaningful representation.
    So, what is also crucial to me personally, is broadening the canvas of what we regard to be art. For example, why should a 2min. amateur video looped continuously for two weeks in an art-gallery be regarded as art *to the exclusion of* say an entirely professional 2min. music-video squeezed into TV? And I choose this particular comparison precisely because there is no secret that very many of the video-artists featured in such galleries are actually just aspiring to break into such TV.
    As for comparisons between what we saw 10 years ago and what we see today as Internet based art, I fear that we are still largely caught up in the basic “Fascinations” I mentioned earlier, and that all that has really moved on are the technologies themselves and “popular practices”.
    And so, my first hope with regard to perspectives on future developments is obviously for release from such fascinations, towards brutal mastery of these new media in works that can stand the tests of time, as all art has had to do to merit true respect since the very beginning of all art.

    3.
    AdC.
    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?
    SB:
    I hesitate to touch upon the field of art-education in the context of technology-based practices, mainly because they move on too quick for even teachers to be able to really keep up.
    However, the basic and immutable values, aesthetics and essentials of art-education *in general* have stood the test of time in justifying the need for noble institutions…. whereas the endlessly elastic values, aesthetics and essentials of Internet based art are freely accessible and even inescapable in almost every home, school and office today.
    So, perhaps much of what needs to happen is actually happening anyway.

    4a.
    AdC:
    Tell me something about your personal and professional relation to New Media and Internet based art.
    SB:
    I have for the past several years described myself as a “Networker of e-Creative Practices, Practitioners and Associated Individuals & Entities all over the world.”
    The primary mechanism I have deployed towards this end from the year 2000 onwards has been The IDEA (Indian Documentary of Electronic Arts), a very simple creative sharing matrix manifested mainly as 7 CD-Gazettes so far, which have all very kindly been mirrored on the Internet for the past three years by the incredible e-Music pioneer & composer Laurie Spiegel in New York, for free access by anyone at: http://retiary.org/idea
    This work of mine now directly networks about 800 wonderful people all over the world on rich relationship bases, and thousands of others just a little bit more shallowly.
    Meanwhile, a key by-product of this work has been the incredible collection of original materials received on CDs and DVDs from all sorts of e-Creative Practitioners and associated entities all over the world, which is now considered in some quarters to be “one of the most significant archives of digital art in the early 21st century.”
    In January 2005, I established a public-benefit trust called “The Academy of Electronic Arts” to mentor this work and store the archive for future students and researchers (see: http://www.theaea.org), and the first major public work of this new entity was manifested in January 2006, in partnership with and in The India International Centre here in Delhi as the first Carnival of e-Creativity & Change-agents Conclave (CeC & CaC 2006, see: http://www.theaea.org/cec_cac/)
    However, it should be placed on record here that I set up this trust only after perhaps 5 years of urging that anyone other than myself should do it.

    4b.
    AdC:
    What kind of meaning have the new technologies and the Internet to you,
    are they just tools for expressing artistic intentions, or have they rather an ideological character, as it can be found with many “netartists”, or what else do they mean to you?
    Many “Internet based artists” work on “engaged” themes and subjects, for instance, in social, political, cultural etc concern.
    Which contents are you particularly interested in, personally and from an art critical point of view.
    SB:
    To me, the best “meaning” of new technologies and the Internet has simply to do with the “Creative Empowerment of Individuals” in every sense of the term, with almost all other aspects viewed as givens.
    However, I consider “engaged” themes and subjects such as you describe to *generally be* pathetic crutches to poor art, mainly because I am clear that a brief newspaper or magazine article or television report would go a lot further towards serving any cause than any artwork that I have seen attempting to do so. And to me, such mainstream media practices are also often art,.. and generally even the extra crutch actually being sought by the “engaged art” you describe.
    So, what I am particularly interested in is art that can stand up on its own feet without any real need for the support of mountains of words of contextualization, interpretation and explanation.

    5.
    AdC:
    The term “netart” is widely used for anything posted on the net, there are dozens of definitions which mostly are even contradictory.
    How do you define “netart” or if you like the description “Internet based art” better,
    do you think “netart” is art, at all, if yes, what are the criteria?
    Are there any aesthetic criteria for an Internet based artwork?
    “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?
    SB:
    Terminologies are unimportant to me. For example, I used to use the term “Electronic Arts“ but now use “e-Creative Practices“ instead. And yet, I still happily carry the older term in the names of both The IDEA and The AeA.
    On aesthetic criteria, I simply expect great art to make my hair stand on end when I meet it.

    6.
    AdC:
    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?
    SB:
    Artworks on the Internet have to fend for themselves, as do all artworks when done and in place, as for example the very beautiful door-handles of Koln Dom do amidst such beautiful statues, stained-glass windows, architecture and so on.
    Lonesome users sitting in front of personal computers should get out more, as should I.
    As regards “presenting” such art, my ongoing work with The AeA and CeC & CaC partly sets out to have individual artists meet, spend time together and also present works personally to each other and also interested audiences, so that we might all collaborate in trying to better understand the role and place for such art in our lives and find appropriate ways to move forward with it.

    7.
    AdC:
    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?
    SB:
    Well, a good part of this is being addressed by people such as yourself with your Java Museum for example, and also by people like me with The IDEA and CeC & CaC, all of which essentially connect such artists and their artworks to wider audiences, including each other.
    There also are many much larger efforts and organizations doing something similar in their own various ways, such as ZKM in your own country, Ars Electronica in Austria, Pro Helvetia in Switzerland and so on.
    But a very special aspect of what I hope I am doing with my own work all the time is *brutally* pushing it all to just get better and better till it cannot be denied.

    8.
    AdC:
    The Internet is sometimes called a kind of “democratic” environment, but 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?
    SB:
    At one level, I will claim to have responded in a sort of interview some 4-5 years ago that a key by-product of the Creative Empowerment of Individuals via the burgeoning development and spread of technology is that “the ‘artist’ as a species is rapidly blurring into ‘everyman’ wherever computers enter the picture,” and that “what will therefore have to emerge as art is new forms of ‘Super-Art’.”
    At another level, I think curatorial filtering is great stuff… when curators are good.

    9.
    AdC:
    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?
    SB:
    Two levels to my response again:
    On the one hand, that would equate to expecting every curator of a painting exhibition to first be a great painter, for example.
    On the other hand, I am fed up of art-historians playing curator on the basis of blinkered perspectives upon the past. The result I see from this in the context of electronic-art exhibitions in India for example, is that such shows too often seem to be setting out to mimic what happened in countries such as Germany in the 1970s and ‘80s… for example.

    10.
    AdC:
    It is planned, to re-launch
    JavaMuseum – Forum for Internet Technology in Contemporary Art
    www.javamuseum.org in 2007 in a new context, very likely even in physical space.
    What would be your personal wishes and expectations connected to this re-launch ?
    SB:
    My personal wish and expectation from your re-launch would be that JavaMuseum will be robustly represented in CeC & CaC 2007, early next year here in India.

    AdC:
    Thanks for take te time.