Interview: Michael Szpakowski

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews Michael Szpakowski (MS)

Michael Szpakowski
is a UK based composer, artist and educator

artist biography


Interview: 10 questions—>

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.

Tell me something about your educational background and what is influencing your work?
I have no formal training for any of the work I do. Whilst I am absolutely in favour of high quality training in the arts being available to all who want it, I would regret a situation where the field became over certified. This can lead to the stifling of new work and to a conservative inertia in the field.

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?
For me there’s just art. If it happens to be on the net, all well & good. That said, the net has been of the utmost importance to me in finding people to discuss work with, for collaboration & also to disseminate my own work.

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?
The former, I think. There’s a lot of woolly politics out there.

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).
I’ve been politically active on the Left all my adult life. In general if I want to make a clear political point I write a leaflet, sell a paper or whatever, not make a piece of art.
For me art is not at its best when it’s agitational. Of course I don’t reject that aspect completely but in the main it isn’t for me. I do believe that to make a piece of rich, nuanced & truthful art is to affirm our humanity—a quality not measured in pounds dollars or euros – & this very act flies in the face of the market, of the rule of capital. Ironically it strikes me that often artists with ostensibly right wing positions can end up making work which by its existence tends to stand in witness against a world where profit is all that counts.
Marx’s favourite writer, of course, was Balzac, who clinically dissected the bourgeoisie but from the reactionary perspective of support for the old regime & for the restoration of the monarchy.
So I just make work that engages my interest, on topics that appeal to me.
My presumption is that the larger world is to some extent to be found in embryo in the smallest detail, that everything is connected in a nontrivial way.

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?
Offline, online it’s all art, good, bad or indifferent.

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?
I don’t accept that there is a significant qualitative difference between art on the net and the art that has gone before. A difference of medium yes, but this is nothing new.
Interactivity in the narrow new media sense has no interest for me –any art worth its salt is profoundly interactive in a deep sense. Clicking to make choices or whatever is just dull. How do you interest people? –no idea except you make the best work you can & try & persuade folk to look at it..
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.?
It’s all good. The more ways the better, as long as the art is the focus. I’m sceptical about site-specific work where the art is tangential (advertising screens for example), as if by osmosis people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested will pick up some of the art’s virtuous qualities.
We should have enough confidence that what we do is worthwhile to demand care & attention in its presentation & that the art be the focus, whatever the venue, real or virtual.
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 like art galleries. I visit them whenever possible. They seem pretty good as they are to me.

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?
We should all strive to make better art. We should not be satisfied with what we’ve made. We shouldn’t talk up average work in a dreadful parody of the rhetoric of marketing. We should strive not to be discouraged.

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?
I do think everyone has the potential to be an artist. I look forward to a world where being am artist is not a profession but something everyone does maybe in the afternoon, or on Mondays or constantly in a way that is integrated into their lives.
What was it Marx said? –“to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic”
Some people will prefer to go to the pub or play golf. This is OK as well.
The internet in & of itself will not alter the fact that in our society as presently organised art will remain the province of a limited number of people, both as makers and consumers.

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?
Yes –“ignorance is not a revolutionary instrument”, as Trotsky said.
Understanding of background, context, tradition, technique is not something to be rejected but cultivated. Any other position is simply cheap philistinism.

It is planned, to re-launch
JavaMuseum – Forum for Internet Technology in Contemporary Art 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 ?
I’m pleased and grateful that many of us who are trying to make art have a hard working and energetic advocate in you. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to do this!

Thanks for taking your time.