Interview: Yvonne Martinsson

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews Yvonne Martinsson (YM)
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Yvonne Martinsson
Stockholm, Sweden

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 questions—>

    AdC:
    You belong to an art scene using new technologies, you are an active representative of a genre dealing with Internet based art, called “netart”. When those artists started who are active since a longer time, the education in New Media was not yet such advanced like nowadays, often they came form different disciplines and had an interdisciplinary approach, those young artists who start now have partially this more advanced education, but rather not much experience in other disciplines.

    1.
    AdC:
    Tell me something about your educational background and what is influencing your work?
    YM:
    From the beginning I’m a literary person. I got a PhD in English lit. I write. I’m trained in post-structuralism, psychoanalysis and deconstruction and I’ve been through the deconstruction of gender, public/private space and other common explorations of contemporary artists during my academic years, before taking the step to the net. My background though infuses my work as most of it circles around questions of text, desire, love.

    2.
    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 your work belongs to this specific genre, do you think “netart” is art, at all, if yes, what are the criteria? Are there any aesthetic criteria for an Internet based artwork?
    YM:
    Broadly, netart is born-digital art that is native to the technologies of the internet, as opposed to art that is streamed and/or distributed via the internet. It’s a broad definition, but it will have to do. My own work I’d like to narrow down to the term hypertext art as the term includes the three elements hyper text art, which brings its technological, textual and visual aspects to the fore at once. The hyper element refers, on one hand, to the mathematical sense Nelson has proposed and, on the other, to the open-ended environment of hypertext marked-up language (html) – that is, hyper- denotes a multi-dimensional entity that is to be viewed in an internet browser.

    Is netart art? No, not if we define art as that which the middle classes are prepared to pay for. Otherwise, yes. But whether it’s good or bad art is up to the viewer/reader to decide and, considering the heterogeneity and global economy of netart, that’s no easy task as we cannot approach netart with preconceived aesthetic criteria. Netart needs a fresh mind!

    3.
    AdC:
    What kind of meaning have the new technologies and the Internet to you, are they just tools for expressing your 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?
    YM:
    Both and. The new technologies frees writing from linearity. It also frees the text from being only language. It makes the text Barthes dreamed of possible. The image is a text, encoded by language, and so is netart, which extends the notion of the text to include music, video, downloading, interactivity, interconnectedness, networking etc to a various degree.

    In the last year I’ve migrated to php and dynamic pages. There is something here that intrigues me, the way in which the work is viewed against the dynamics of a server that is alien, outside, the work – an absence against which the work/text takes shape. It’s beyond my control, my intention. This is also where the ideological aspect comes into play. Netart and writing undermine aesthetic criteria such as intention, linearity and coherence, all of which are ideological constructs (of the white bourgeois male).

    4.
    AdC:
    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, what are the subjects you are working on and what is your artistic message(s), if you have any, and what are your personal artistic visions for future artworking (if you have any).
    YM:
    I have no message. I write/create. Occasionally I comment on the medium of my choice, but an art that is a metatext exclusively focused on its own medium becomes tedious.

    5.
    AdC:
    “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?
    YM:
    Yes, if possible. Netart that depends on internet technologies such as servers or networking, it goes without saying, won’t work. But I can envision projections of netart in gallery space. An extra dimension where it would be possible to show several screens on the walls that could be altered interactively via a computer, each alteration creating a new piece of work. It would produce a simultaneity of perception of different screens which I cannot experience in front of my computer where each screen succeeds the other in front of me. I cannot be surrounded by the work(s).

    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 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?
    YM:
    Netart need to be user-friendly. Experimentation and heavy technology is fine, but the medium puts certain restraints. Too long downloads, bad scripting, obscure plug-ins, and too heavy pages that make your computer crash are a turn-off. It is difficult to find a balance between the quality you want and what a browser can take, but it must be done.

    Similarly, too much interactivity by clicking, dragging etc may lead to less mental/bodily interactivity. Clicking tends to replace the viewer’s engagement with the work and, as a viewer, I quickly skip on instead of pausing in that old-fashioned mode of contemplation and enjoyment. Even though contemporary art and textual theory rejects passive consumption to the benefit of immersion and production, to the birth of the viewer, such a stance may in effect mean the death of the viewer. Since most of us have been taught to be contemplative and reflective in gallery space, maybe gallery space would be able to induce a less nervous and erratic involvement with the work than we come across when surfing the internet.

    Another aspect to avoid is lengthy pieces. This applies probably more to netart as writing and I doubt we will ever see book novel length work on the web. This is also where you as an artist or writer have to give up control as you can never know what paths the viewer/reader will take nor how long they will stay. In my Shades of Cogs, a rather lengthy hypertext essay, I had to come to terms with the fact that each reader will follow one or possibly a few ‘cogs’ and hence that each part must work on its own. There is no room for an overall intention, message or whatsoever.

    Would netart that is basically writing work in gallery space? Yes, I think so. I don’t think the question of whether netart works best in solitude before your personal computer, not unlike reading a book, or in a social space like an art event. The distinction relies on a distinction between the ‘solitary’ and the ‘social’ that we associate with reading and exhibitions respectively. Since netart often crosses these boarders thereby creating an enormously heterogenous and divers field, it can be assumed that the context in which it is exhibited and viewed must be determined in each case. As I said above, I can envision interactive installations of netart in gallery space. It would work with some of my works but probably not all, unless solitary boxes were part of the installation.

    7.
    AcD:
    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?
    YM:
    Over the last couple of years the internet has regressed into increased streamlining and industrialization and, today, most people consider the internet a vehicle for information and distribution. It is the physical world transferred to the internet, as in web design where it is still an A4 on which the designer starts to sketch. What’s digital born seems to be lost, except for games that have become the narratives of our time. How do we make people see that there is more? That the net not only is a huge database of information but a medium of its own? What are the hindrances? The fact that the net is seen as information and mass media? That the inclusiveness of the internet and the exclusiveness of art are mutually exclusive? Again I think we have to show that cyberspace is as varied as physical space, if not more. Of course, we all have to be good at what we do and realize that accessibility is important. We have to think quality, even though netart must live on its own terms.

    8.
    AdC:
    The Internet is 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?
    YM:
    Yes, the internet is democratic, decentered, even scattered. Most of netart can be viewed without curatorial filtering and, ohhh, I have to rely on my own judgment, ughhh! Best return to institutional regulation… before I make an ass of myself.

    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?
    YM:
    Yes, definitely.

    10.
    AcD:
    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 ?
    YM:
    Contradictory as it may seem to what I’ve said above, tightening up is the word that comes to my mind. But with tightening up I don’t mean turning the Javamuseum into a record of things past and an archive over the early days of netart. On the contrary, I hope it will be an injection for new creative impulses and, with the benefit of hindsight, a launch pad for the future, wherever it may take us on- and offline.

    AdC:
    Thanks for taking your time.