Interview: Chris Basmajian

Chris Basmajian
US media artist

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?

Answer
I think part of the effect of digital media owes to events and conditions that existed long before digital media came along, for example mass reproduction. The unique qualities of electronic storage and distribution intensified the effects of these trends.

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?

Answer
The work of early Internet artists can be compared to current advanced technology work rather simply, they both sought to consider the uses, boundaries, and implications of existing and emerging technologies. What have changed are the technologies, and the way the general population approaches these technologies.

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?

Answer
Well, first you have to teach them about art. Many young people, even art students, have misguided notions about materiality and legitimacy in art production. They have rebellious, curious, ambitious attitudes that are in conflict with the bourgeois values that circulate around the marketplace and shade their judgment. Once people truly understand that art has no boundaries, they will see the Internet (which they already know) as part of the wider realm of art and ideas.

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 “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 artcritical point of view.

Answer
Art is most interesting when it melds form with content. Internet art is most interesting when it considers the forms of its delivery and the conditions of its reception. Engaged themes are just part of this. For example, a lack of engagement is equally relevant to an audience that experiences the Internet in isolation.

Question
5.
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?

Answer
I guess I would say that net.art is art that concerns Internet technologies and/or experience. Net.art is off course legitimate art, it expands our ideas and perhaps even behaviors beyond those intended by commercial entities. It provides perspective and a renewed sense of experience.

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?

Answer
The phrase “art based on the Internet” seems problematic to me, as it implies an online existence. If the phrase is intended to mean, “art based around the experience and tools of the Internet”, then a less ambiguous phrase should be used that doesn’t conflict with common sense.

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?

Answer
I don’t know. Some net.art should not be decoupled from the typical Internet experience (lonesome user in front of his personal computer), as this experience is key to the work. I can’t help but compare the situation to artists who use photography to document performance, activity, temporary or hidden environmental art. The photograph becomes the primary access point, some would even say it becomes the art itself…but this is a result of necessity, it’s a compromise. I’m glad those photographs exist, so that I may share in the ideas and imagine the experience, but I wish I’d been there.

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?

Answer
For one thing, artists have to continue to be brave enough to make relevant and interesting art that doesn’t necessarily appeal to the mainstream art market, and those that teach art should encourage artists to do so. Also, those that trade in art should take note of the shifts occurring in purely commercial media—consumers are becoming less concerned with physical objects and more comfortable with electronic and screen based content. If art professionals and collectors won’t take note, then they’ll risk becoming irrelevant, losing their place among the vanguards of culture.

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?

Answer
I’m glad that there are “filters” for art (and net.art). However, I don’t think of it as filtering but rather as aggregating. Rather than excluding work and ideas, curators are seeking connections and providing context. The audience does not have to make up their mind second hand if they don’t want to. They have to choice to perform their own research, or ignore art completely. However, I would certainly like to see artists take an interventionist stance and challenge overly rigid, obtuse, repetitive, or insular curatorial perspectives.

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?

Answer
I don’t think so. Production is the domain of the artist, not the curator or audience. It shouldn’t matter to an audience how an artwork is made.