Interview: Babel

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews BABEL/Canada/UK
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BABEL
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. Tell me something about your educational background and what is influencing your work?

Babel:
My education was in Economics and Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge University. I was never ‘officially’ trained in digital design or art, but this side of my education began at age 11 when I received my first computer, a ZX Spectrum 48k.

AdC:
2. 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?

Babel:
‘Netart’ can be used to mean simply art that resides on the internet, but for me the term is more useful when it means art that requires the internet to function. Most of my work matches the first definition, but only some of it matches the second.

Yes, I certainly believe Netart is an ‘art’, and so its aesthetic criteria are largely the same as for any other art. It might have additional criteria, such as how the art can exist in a ‘live’ form in multiple spaces simultaneously. But perhaps there shouldn’t be any criteria, just a simple definition as a way to frame our discussions… maybe we should ask who these aesthetic criteria serve – artists, audiences, academics, curators, critics, institutions?

AdC:
3. 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?

Babel:
For me, the Internet offers new ways to create and distribute artistic work. But it also acts in many other ways across a wide range of activities, so its meaning is very dependent on the specific ‘piece’ of the Internet we are talking about. I don’t think any technology has a single or predominant ideological character – they are much more schizophrenic than that.

AdC:
4. 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).

Babel:
Haha, well – I don’t intend to send any kind of general artistic ‘message’ through my work, but each piece could be said to have its own ‘message’, and these vary widely – for example Electrosensitivity (Inanimate Alice – http://www.inanimatealice.com ), racial/sexual identity (U, I, X, Y – http://www.babel.ca/uixy ) or anti-capitalism (Protesters, Police, Politicians – http://www.babel.ca/quebec ). But I suspect people will take their own messages from these and any other works. The area that I have most consistently worked within is early modernist aesthetics and practice, particularly of the Dada movement, through collaboration with other artists at 391.org.

AdC:
5. “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?

Babel:
It can be useful to distinguish between art that can exist offline, and art that cannot. The term ‘Art on the net’ includes both these types, so may not always be a helpful phrase to use.

AdC:
6. 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?

Babel:
I think the main challenge with online ‘interactive’ artworks is that the common forms of interaction are still very limited – keyboard and mouse, clicks and drags… It will be exciting to see more work done with other forms of interaction – for example visual (eye-sensors, goggles etc.), sound (microphones etc.) and touch (‘data gloves’, touch-screens)

Everyone has different experiences of computers in their daily life, and different abilities and interests, so we need a wide variety of ways to encourage an audience! I don’t believe there is a single ‘best’ way to present net based art to an audience – some art benefits from being seen by an individual at home, in a dark room, and some is better experienced on a big screen at a festival or gallery with a live audience. The best physical space for presenting various types of internet works would be one that allowed both of these types of environment to be recreated, as best it can.

I think that people who have never experienced internet art before are not encouraged by work that requires a high level of reading/interacting ‘skill’ (for example to realise that there are hidden links, or that clicking and dragging is required). The problem is not necessarily the work, or the audience, but that the two are not well matched. This might sometimes be helped by better explanations by the artists or the insitutions that present their work, but over time, as people experience more interactive work, these kinds of issues should become less of a problem.

AdC:
7. 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?

Babel:
Sadly the way that art is ‘measured’ globally seems to be by audience and/or by money. So to be accepted as a ‘serious’ art form (by the world that measures these things) Internet art would need to attract large audiences, or make a lot of money. The latter seems very unlikely, given one of the abilities of the internet is to distribute information (and in this case art) freely, and many artists feel this is a very good thing. But the number of festivals and exhibitions of internet art is growing, and this will help; Prizes are another good way of attracting publicity and audiences.

AdC:
8. 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?

Babel:
Yes, I do believe that anybody who publishes their art, online or offline, is an ‘artist’. Actually I don’t believe they don’t even need to publish to be called an artist. But this says nothing about the subjective or objective qualities of the art they create. And practically speaking, there is not enough time for anyone to view all the art that is available in the world. So curators, critics, and other types of ‘filter’ can perform these and other useful functions.

AdC:
9. 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?

Babel:
I don’t think it is essential to understand an art work from any particular perspective, but it is useful for curators of net based art to have a practical understanding of how these works function so that they can understand how best to present these pieces, individually and collectively.

AdC:
10. 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 ?

Babel:
My hopes would be that such a space will encourage more people to experience – and create – net art. Good luck!