Interview: Caterina Davinio

Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews CATERINA DAVINIO (CD)

Caterina Davinio, Italian techno-artist, writer and poet, experiments in computer art, net-art, video, digital visual poetry, Internet-performance, video-performance.

More info see artist biography

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?
My educational background is scientific, literary and of fine art history. I started as poet since I was fourteen, as painter in the 80s with some solo and group exhibitions in Roma, as computer artist and computer poet in 1990. But I lived in the 80s a fundamental contradiction in my artist work, related to the analysis of Marcel Duchamp’s work: I saw as non convincing painting representation after Duchamp, so painting was in an hedonistic perspective, without rational, historical, and philosophical necessity, rather important in the light of a scientific formation.
The scientific formation influenced my curiosity for all what is technologic, but determines also a special approach to literature and art. Important was the contact with historical concrete poetry and performance poetry, with Italian visual and performance poets, who were active in Rome, but also at an international level, in the 80s and in 90s. Fundamental in my new media work is the interest of concrete poetry in materials and supports of writing, the interest in performance and in gesture, the contamination of visual, word, and mass media communication in visual poetry, in pop art: all this came together to determine a new approach, at first in computer art, and, since 1998, in the Internet, which is at the same time “computer generated”, communication, and mass media.
I think this formation has contributed me to realize a pioneer work in Italy in the field of new media poetry, where, in 1990, I created, as an artist and as a curator, a bridge between experimental poetry and the circuit of independent video and computer art. In computer art I saw with great interest the possibility for the artist to use a new electronic and telematic/communication material, by modelling new structures and forms on that material.

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 define net-art as “art based on communication in network, as art events in network, as contact, exchange. It is an art in progress, performative and deeply bounded to Fluxus, and to relational art. In this perspective, digital or digitalized art (still or in motion) published on web can not be considered There was during the end of the 90s a continuous growing attention to spectacular aspects of web art work (the same happened in computer generated art), by the development of new software and avant-garde technology. So we could say, with a provocation, that existed only until it became discipline in fine art academies and art school… then started a mystification process that brought the centre of attention in the iconic and spectacular dimension of the digital technology, with a systematic negation of the real spirit of it. A visual artist with reluctance can renounce at all to the iconic aspect of the “fine”, to the “aesthetic” in art, and Net Art has nothing to do with the sphere of the iconic. This doesn’t mean it is iconoclast and that it cannot produce forms and icons in its communication process. They are traces of the process, that could also have an aesthetic value: but the aesthetic aspect net-art can have is totally non relevant in its process. For what concerns your question if net-art is art and with which criteria, I clarify is art, in the sense and with criteria I just said. But I think its parabola as new form of art is rather concluded, and, at the moment, I see only the possibility to reproduce communication events in network that are in spirit copies of what was already done, or to work in spectacular and iconic dimension in the Internet, in a genre that is not, but digital art in the web, or web art.
Part of my work done between 1998 and 2005, is net art; specifically I created for the first time in the world net-poetry events, also in the context of the Venice Biennial since 2001.

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?
To me every tool or material, also new technologies and the Internet, are tools for doing art; this doesn’t mean only expression, but pleasure to build something, to let live new materials and substances in new “structures”, exaltation of their prerogatives and possibilities. So my work and I are at the same level, in parity of status: in a certain sense, I don’t like to express and determine it at all, I prefer to interact with the material I chose, that is often ready made, also work of other artists. But also, as network that connects persons, ideas, planetary problems, as social structure, net art is in contact with social themes, such as social justice, peace. The word “ideological” has a negative meaning to me. Beside, be everyone aware that an artist could do a very bad art with very good moral, social, or political contents: should we accept it because of the contents? Art is language.

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 do not a rigorous distinction between forms and contents, because they contaminate and influence each other. My favourite themes are the same of my writing: peace, memory, the search for happiness, time, self-portrait, diversity. But also metalinguistic contents: text, poetry (also as sound and performance) and writing, art self, communication, network. I utilize in ready made and works of other artists since 1998.
I see the future of art in general a little sad, because I see few new ideas and many vulgarisation and academy reproduction of themes and concepts already explored, that are now insignificant without their pioneer spirit… but rather spectacular.
The future of my art in particular: I am at the moment working on a new novel, on poems, digital visual poems and photography, various collaborations and projects. I am continuing a cycle of video works ( video-poems ) dedicated to automobiles, I have done the first with the Ferrari Modena car, Poem in Red.

“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?
We can call it as we like, since we have clear what we mean. I think there is a great confusion of definitions and words in this phase of art, maybe a transition moment, where something that was very new yesterday results obsolete. “Art based on the Internet” could mean there are images located in a virtual gallery: this is an utility, but has no sense, it is absurd referring to If we intend “art based on the Internet”, in the sense that it has at the basis, in its structure, the system of communication generated in the Internet, its circulation, its material of bytes… this could have a sense, but has been already explored and done. Both obsolete definitions.

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?
In my first project, (1998) was cancelled the difference between art and critic, poetry and critical discourse; the user was stimulate to participate by sending theoretical, critical, digital art/poetry contributions, to be in the spirit of a fluxus project born for the Internet. Parallel Action-Poetry Bunker was an on line event realized for the 49th Venice Biennial to complete a real performance event at the Orsogrill delle Artiglierie in Venice: poets and artist sent poems for a happening on line (June 2001). Other projects, such as Global, Poetry (2002) and Gates (2003), were performance events decentralized in several locations very far in world. In Global Poetry every artist had to produce an installation or a performance contemporaneously (21st-23rd March 2002) using 122 digital images and texts, sent by other artists from all over the planet. Gates had a development also in the time: since July 4th until December 31st 2003 participants could reproduce an installation with the form of an open door and organize happenings, readings, video screening, performances under/around it. Every one was free in inventing the type and form of the door and the kind of event, but all was part of a unique project in network. In the last project “Virtual Island” (Venice Biennial 2005) 500 poets and artists could publish their text on line in a virtual island which was a parallel virtual space of a real light installation on San Secondo Island, realized by the architect and artist Marco N. Rotelli (Curator of the project was Achille Bonito Oliva).
I think net art can be exhibited in many ways: lonesome user sitting in front of his personal computer, as installation of computer in a gallery, or as presentation on large screen, i.e. during a lecture. I have no preference, so I let the organizers of the exhibition to choose.

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?
Well, see… I like to work as pioneer in a research field, I am interested in avant-garde projects, so I don’t feel important if my art is widely accepted as “serious art form”. Anyway it was until now accepted in very important locations, such as the Venice Biennial official web site (in 2001, 2003, and 2005). Problem is when the spirit and nature of my project is not understood in that context. Sometimes it happens.

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 don’t think everything is art, in the Internet and out from it. Maybe art existence depends on the viewer, maybe it is invented by the art critics, maybe art is only a collective suggestion, or a collective linguistic pact. This discourse has a long history. Conventional art is selective because of its costs: art is a system done of culture, but also of enterprise, where only few artists and galleries can be really in the market, so there are some rules you cannot avoid. In this sense I don’t like curatorial filtering, because they are not cultural.
Internet is an open space at low costs where everyone can speak, everything can be invested and re-invested in communication. Every medium which allows to get in contact with a great number of persons give you an opportunity, a power. If you are able to create a communication project you can “live” in this element, in the Internet, on the contrary your communication is directed only to your friends and family, exactly as it happens in the reality. Maybe this discourse could appear cynic, but it is realistic. I have done both, filtered and non filtered projects. Notice also that by research projects there is a natural selection: they are not for everybody, and not everybody likes them.

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?
Naturally it would be better if curators have technological, fine art, aesthetics, art history, new media art history, knowledge and background. Curators I had the opportunity to meet were of two kinds: the first came from a technical background, but too few philosophical and aesthetic reference, so the discourse around art was extremely poor, or cryptic, and art get in the risk to be an affaire of hardware and software. The curators who come from a fine art background, especially the important one, has no knowledge of new media art landscape, they were manipulated by “specialists”, with results often insignificant and arbitrary. So I actually expect from curators they do less damage, if possible… ;-).

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 wish every success to this project! I hope this will clarify various aspects of, its actors, its history, particularly I hope it will be a real landscape of something that risks to become historical without being studied and understood… :-)

Thanks for taking your time.