Interview: Carla Della Beffa

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews Carla Della Beffa [CDB]
Carla Della Beffa
is a media artist living in Milano and in Paris
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 went to an art college and worked in advertising for a long time. Art-director first and then creative director, I worked with many big international clients and I learnt to think in words and images, movement and sound, to use every medium for its potential.
As for the technique, I had learnt to imagine photos and videos but at the time I worked with other people to realise my ideas, it was a teamwork. I had to learn to work on my own, little by little, and I’m still not very technogical nor wishing to be. Every time I need to improve my skills, I just learn what is useful to realise the idea in the simplest way. And whenever I can, I still work with other people (editors, musicians, writers…).

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?
I used to consider myself and to be thought of as a netartist from 1997 to around 2003 (I was also a painter at the time). After that, the definition of netart tended to be restricted by critics to networking and real interactivity. As Steve Dietz wrote me at the time “one of the distinctive characteristics of net art has to do with it being transactional over distance.”
What I did was to create some projects expressly for the net, at first with animations exploiting the random way and the slowness in which the files downloaded, characteristics now lost. Later I used other typical communicational patterns as the diary (now at the base of all blogs), the complexity of the hyperlinks tree and some sort of guessing games. I also avoided writing in one language preferring to translate all my webpages. These are all characteristics of netart, but now they are not enough any more: I think “netart” is now so restricted that the definition “net based art” is perhaps more to the point.
In my opinion, though, “net based art” must have some elements of site-specificness, it cannot be purely a digital version of something else. It needs something to differenciate what’s online from works presented in a gallery. At least that’s why I try to do presently.

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?
New technologies are the instruments I use, I only work with digital cameras and videos. I usually add elements to my photo series, and this I do with photoshop. But I don’t think to be a digital artist, first because I take my pictures from life and I don’t change them, I just add signs or words or sounds. I dislike definitions and believe art is indipendent from the technique: it is, or not. Of course, having chosen the internet as a main channel for my work I also have a democratic, global vision and tend to make projects which can be appreciated around the world. At least as much as I can. But I also try to avoid the ideological accent some other netartists love. My point is awareness, not explicit politics. I have opinions and ideals and feelings I act upon but I am an artist, not an activist.

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).
As a woman and student of life, the main theme I work on is life. I can start from any fact and build a video around it. I’m presently working on a video about the difficulties of expatriates, just published a photographic book on the relation between economics and culture and food. In 2003 I made a video on noise, against sound pollution. I currently have projects about nature and architecture and more…
I put some of these works online, ready to develop them into physical space projects. Internet is a good place and medium and has lots of possibilities but the physical experience is quite another thing. For instance, many of my videos are too dark or too heavy to be presented online, at least without taking too long to download. And to look at a frieze of images walking along it is quite different from clicking on a toolbar.

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?
Yes, I suppose so, but I don’t really like the idea of being seen offline and maybe copied or adapted. In a way, that is why I usually put online very low-definition files. But I never even thought of it before!
Are you thinking about CDs and DVDs and gallerys or museums or other places, or just to the free help-yourself download-and-offline kind of use?

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?
Whenever I have an important new project online, I send around the news. Unluckily, because of spamming and because things have changed -a new work of mine online is not exactly news- I do it a lot less than I used to, and I’m sure everybody now tends to read less than before this kind of communications. Anyway, I also change the colors of my home page every time I add something, and I talk about the news in my art-blog. That for the lonesome user or friend.
I share in some groups and exchange links if I think the portals or links are interesting. I’m also invited to interviews and meetings about netart and such and I usually accept every opportunity to make my work better known. Contacts online are very good, but I always try to remember that people are alive and a voice and a smile can make a real difference.
If I could create an environment for presenting this type of art, first thing I’d show it large. Every time I’ve seen an interactive game on a big screen, I loved it. Physical space should give a physical experience unlike the one one has at home. If it’s the same, why bother?
This centerpiece should change often and be a sort of appointment for people to look for. Exchanges between people are important (maybe a bar?), especially since the usual use of this kind of art is made alone at home. Since the start (in 1996), some of my friends have been browsing through my website and reading the art-blog together, each one at home and on the phone or exchanging mail: sharing the experience is important.
I’d also put a ring of computers around somewhere, with the archive and/or the current show, to browse on one’s own, but not alone. It should be like a festival.

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 just need to be persevering! I see they still make a difference between video and film at festivals, not because of the language but because of the support. But at the same time some very good directors work on video, I mean on DV, and little by little the choice of support is going to be less important than the idea and the execution. Same with other media: both photography and cinema took a long time to be accepted as art, and to date most people think of art as synonimous of painting.
I see there’s a lot of confusion around, anyway, especially when “experts” talk about netart and digital art. Dividing the world into categories is not getting this kind of art, nor anything else, any farther. Also, the reproducibility of artworks is not something specific to digital art, as I’ve heard often: it started with prints, centuries before Walter Benjamin.

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?
No, I don’t think anyone publishing anything on the net is also automatically an artist. I don’t even think Beuys thought and meant that (but that’s quite another matter).
From my experience, I see that the internet art audience and the art world are totally apart. People have always been liking what I do, writing and commenting and periodically coming back to my website to enjoy the free art, and some critics and gallery owners too, rarely going far enough to show my work though.
As you say, it’s also a matter of elitism: art on the net is accessible, and the art that makes money can go two ways. Either it’s the sort of painting that’s easy to recognize and to buy, loved by art merchants around the world but despised by intellectuals and curators, or it’s difficult, often unpleasant, shocking, but it makes the headlines.
Net based art, which is seen and loved by many through the internet, fails both ways: in the art world, the audience, which is all-important all the time, suddenly becomes irrelevant.
When I feel optimistic, I think there’s a lot of work to do. And most of it has to be done offline, using other media and trying new places and ways.

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?
A little knowledge is necessary, but I’m afraid too much of it can bias the understanding and judgement. If critics aren’t overly technological, they’re freer to see things as they are and as they are seen by the public. I believe technology is an instrument, not an end in itself.
After all, if critics knew ho to paint or dance or make films they would all be painters and dancers and directors.

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?
Actually, I’m not all that technological. So if the accent is on technology, I feel I might be considered out of it. If instead the accent is on humanity, on problems, on life, as it has been up to now, I’d love to go on working together.

Thanks for taking your time.