Interview: tobias c. van Veen

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews tobias c. van Veen (TV)
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tobias c. van Veen
media artist from Montreal/Canada

  • artist biography
  • —>
    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”.
    TV:
    It is apparent that net-art now appears as a genre, an historical tangent, even, perhaps an association or grouping of people, with a recognizable body of work and styles. Perhaps, for awhile, there was reciprocal interest when new projects were launched without institutional support or festival recognition, enough to generate such a sense of “belonging;” in any case, I do not think I could be considered representative of such a body; the work I explored in the ’90s and early 21C remained considerably underground and far removed from the media circuits. I have never been recognized as a “net.artist.” I disavow myself before this interview; really, I can only comment here from limited experience or from studying the body of works. And the Net was “smaller,” was it not? The perspective I carry concerning “net.art” is more or less that of DIY culture, interventionist perspectives, hacker mythology. Unlike the technofetishism of the genre, the “new” technologies interest me less than ways to repurpose the colonization of space and time.
    AdC:
    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.
    TV:
    To be sure, a quick check of my birth would confirm me as a younger artist. For the record, however, I began even younger (since BBS culture, acid house and rave culture). Hence my approach is unschooled and largely ignorant of high-level programming or education in a history of net.art. My education is, perhaps, and like many “older generation” net.artists, more multidisciplinary and conceptually articulate than technologically savvy. This is a prominent mark which you have identified here. At any point where mathematics or formalism overtakes the fascination I hold with the labyrinthine aspects of the web, I begin to lose interest. There is something of the labyrinth which is seductive to multidisciplinary approaches and exploratory frameworks.

    1.
    ADC:
    Tell me something about your educational background and what is influencing your work?
    TV:
    Becoming lost in the far reaches of the Net, its violence, eroticism, exposition of desires, its networks and strange communities of even stranger affinities, its connectability and its dead zones – the vastness of the Net and its crystalline formations. An investment in DiY culture, technoculture, turntablism, underground art organization, independent media, ghetto expression, stemming from electronic music, anarcho_electronic collectivization, solo projects and so forth.. first & foremost…

    http://www.thisistheonlyart.com
    http://www.shrumtribe.com
    http://www.controltochaos.ca
    http://theupgrade.sat.qc.ca

    —. I am also a doctoral candidate in Philosophy and Communication Studies at McGill University; but I hold no formal education in art or music. I am self-taught (or, collectively mentored) in all of my practices and curatorial projects. I’d prefer to study the historical and conceptual lattices of art than study its techniques; art for me springs as relief to the demands of training rather than a response.

    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?
    TV:
    Here, perhaps it is the responsibility of art history and criticism to consider the associations which have formed, the problems investigated, the similarities and differences. And is there not a certain exhaustion with these problematics of genre, aesthetic guidelines, rules of in & out ? Perhaps there are other questions being opened. In _Document 9-1-1_ (2001) ssiess & I touched upon the work’s own self-analysis, producing a document internal to the work which attempted to classify its aesthetics — & not without a hint of sarcasm. Besides its connection to the Net, there appears to be, for essential reasons, no otherwise differentiation of net.art’s aesthetics _as such_. Yet, what has always attracted me to “net.art” was a certain critical leverage, perhaps even spirit, which guided the best pieces. This would perhaps be a significant difference which would cleave certain groupings of work.

    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?
    TV:
    Neither tool nor expression precede the emergence of the piece, if only because I’ve never been competent enough to consider the tools of the Net (i.e., code) a skill. There are always concepts to follow, it is true, insofar as this character is “ideological,” then net.art becomes interwoven in forms not unlike the inscription of a novel. Yet this would not be purely ideological, but rather, simply, a thought process or lattice on which to hang shards of code, sound, image. What is “ideological” here, strictly, would be quite unrecoverable. In many cases, the work becomes the assembly itself, which is perhaps akin to an art of process, but since the process can become technically fragmented, such process is not a performance nor even a consistency. Elements of a certain concept, however, are sought to be experimented upon or with, and in the most succinct works, it is the concept that guides its net_based arrival.

    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).
    TV:
    The infinite library, the labyrinth, the spiral and the ellipsis, these are the figures that trouble my sleep, as they trouble the sleep of all colonizers of space and time, all the fences of property.

    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?
    TV:
    Once offline, it becomes somewhat static, a screen-based sculpture of video-interaction; my own projects often cease to function offline as they are intricately interlinked with contemporary Net works and sites at the time.

    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?
    TV:
    Is not boredom & banality of the screen a contemporary symptom which has rebounded against public appreciation of net.art ? Is it a “public” art ? Or is it not closer to a form of ~graphy which the Net is so very successful at distributing ? Net.art works best when it is playful, when it intrigues the viewer, when it draws the viewer in, when, for me, it creates an entire world to step into, an alternate vision of the Net. Net.art operates best when discovered accidentally, drifting the Net, late at night, lost in quasi-consciousnessness, when a link leads to an unexpected place. To present this work in the gallery, in physical space, should not become merely a room of computers (walk by… turn the head): the work becomes all the more potent in such an environment when projected on massive screens with interactive consoles. Let it overtake, this “public” of the private, let its vastness which we experience — like in reading a novel — become larger-than-life. The transposition of net.art to the gallery or public space is like that of the novel to the film: it has to occupy the entire experience of the viewer, interactive or not, to come close to grasping at the depth to which a “personal” experience with writing and the imagination conveys from the smallest particularities of a text, be it in a novel, or through the code of the screen.

    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?
    TV:
    Whom are we trying to convince ? The art market ? Galleries ? Theorists ? Why does it matter ? (Of course we know the answer to this — but should we be occupied in convincing others of the value & worth, or should we not be focused on generating further experiences in net.art ? An appropriate solution would be work so powerful that it cannot be ignored.)

    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?
    TV:
    Anyone can generate the gesture of art in the space of the Net, given certain preconditions (access to servers, connections, etc.). I am not sure I am an artist, so I’m not sure why we should take Beuys’ dictum as flattening out creative spaces wherein everyone becomes an artist. For these reasons net.art remains “democratic,” insofar as here we mean the ability for anyone with certain technological privileges to tyrannize a certain space and time. As for the broader organizations for net.art, they appear to remain as curatorial, filtered, and hierarchical as any other; there are few net.art organizations (your work, Agricola, being one of few exceptions). There is also a strong Eurocentric tendency in net.art supported by a festival system that routinely ensures a strong clique of European participants. One feels distinctly removed from these atmospheres in Canada.

    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?
    TV:
    Yes.

    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 ?
    TV:
    To have an excellent party in a physical space! to get down and shindig in VR suits, and to float on giant foam bubbles in a room full of interactive touch screens .. to drink superior champagne.

    AdC:
    Thanks for taking your time.