Agricola de Cologne (AdC) interviews Glorious Ninth – Patrick Simons (PS) and Kate Southworth (KS)
Glorious Ninth is a collaboration between Kate Southworth and Patrick Simons, they produce networked art which is shown nationally and internationally.
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 studied political theory and sociology, then organisational theory, and art history and theory at post grad. I have also been involved in contemporary music and performance since the mid 1980’s.
I did a BA in Fine Art (painting) followed by an MSc in Multimedia Systems. I’m currently working towards a PhD within Fine Art at the University of Leeds under the supervision of Griselda Pollock and Chris Taylor. My interest in new technologies in the early 1990s, came, in part, from a deep frustration with fine art as a discipline and area of practice. I was accepted onto a technology-oriented postgraduate programme that was based within the department of Computing, Information Systems and Mathematics at the London Guildhall University. Throughout my postgraduate study, under the supervision of the wonderfully open-minded Professor Bruce Christie, I attempted to weave aspects of a painting practice together with notions of interactivity, accessibility and participation – all supported with the utilisation of new technologies.
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?
Definitions of art forms and groupings seem to dominate many of the discussion lists and forums centered around this community. Perhaps the desire to categorise and make distinct, elements and processes that are developing out of these networks and relationships is symptomatic of traditional art historical practice. In order to engage with institutional and academic discourse(s), a positioning and response to, existing art forms and practice dictates and frames the language and relationship used. I think netart and work created out of or from internet technology has been both hugely liberating and disruptive in terms of the relationship between the work produced, consumed etc and the means by which that has happened. I see our work as a consequence of, and a response to the questions and potential solutions that netart has provoked. I am not sure how successful definitions of inter/net art have been, and there has been a tendency to delineate netart with, whilst knowingly playful and apparently self depreciatingly, “heroic”, and “golden” ages, referencing the avant-garde of the early 1900’s, and a self writing history which seems to be anything but progressive and radical in form. Perhaps a little distance and reflection is needed before this can be usefully done.
It works well for me to think of netart as a form that brings together networked technologies, concepts of networking and participation and aesthetic practices. I like the idea of trying to really understand the technology, its protocols, its history, its uses and potential uses with reference to radical left politics and radical feminine aesthetics. I continue to attempt to develop a critical and creative aesthetic practice, collaborations and participatory networks within a broad netart frame, and I continue to attempt to develop an understanding of the limited and limiting logic of contemporary technologies/capitalism. An investigation of relationship between aesthesis and protocols of control informs all of my 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?
Because we are informed by radical politics and counter capitalist values, our work is inevitably ideologically based, whether overtly or not, and it is this not the media used or the subject matter which defines our work. The new technologies are interesting to me for several reasons; firstly because they are the tools of today, the means by which information, knowledge and capital is controlled and regulated in our world. The opportunity that the technology offers for the artist to replicate, distort or simply to reference the mediated world is too good to ignore. Secondly because the apparent internal logic of new technology, the reductive and assimilative nature of the world being shaped in part by the technology is increasingly absurd and without credibility for a large proportion of the population. The gaps and spaces left by the homogenising force of dominant cultural forms are going to, I believe, become increasingly apparent. New forms of expression and a reassertion of our humanness and antipathy to control and regulation will produce new cultural and artistic forms.
A third reason why I find these new technologies interesting and therefore have been drawn to them, is the possibilities that they offer to engage and collaborate with people and communities whom it would simply be impossible for us to work with in any other way.
The work that we produce draws on an understanding of networked technologies, their relationship to processes of commodification and colonisation and our human attempts to craft supplementary spaces outside these logics . For me, one of the most interesting aspects of contemporary life in the West is the extent to which the logic of the network is influencing our ways of thinking and being. I think there is an interesting parallel between the conflict between control and freedom within a networking paradigm and psychological conflicts that we all face between the need to sometimes inhabit deep creative/non-commodified and non-colonised spaces and our need to conform to the system in order to survive. I suppose one of the questions for me is, how do we survive ethically and economically within a technologically supported complex system?
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).
We have been exploring networked and open-ended strategies, between the virtual and physical spaces, which seem to offer possibilities for us to look at particular things we are interested in at a greater level of complexity and with a depth that purely online work doesn’t seem to produce.
I think that we are attempting to craft spaces, networks, moments, that are supplementary to the dominant. We are not trying to escape the dominant by proposing a sanctuary or a refuge. Rather, by acknowledging the dominant (phallic logic, intensification of commodification and colonisation into more and more aspects of our personal lives) we choose to work with the technologies that carry this logic as part of what they are. We try to engage the dominant through a supplementary logic: one that encounters the other (including the ‘other’ of our own psyche) without attempting to master, assimilate, incorporate or reject. Our current work is exploring supplementary understandings of ‘networks’ and ‘networking’ that perhaps could be described as dialectical weaving.
“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?
I suppose that when “online” work is shown offline , it does become something else, but I can see that the work can still be understood and have value as an offline work, just as a restaging of a live art event or the reinstallation of a physical piece within a gallery setting can, although I think the contextualisation of the work needs to be clean and transparent. The distinction between on and offline will and is becoming less clear as bandwidth grows and more of the world is connected. There is a qualitative difference between the kind of work that we make on and off line, and although the nature of the online work is somehow dependent on its internal programming logic and the offline work is not, our consciousness or senses have been affected irreversibly by the former.
I don’t mind. I’m interested in how artists use the network to promote and sell their work and interested to see how the economics of dematerialisation develops: art on the internet is one aspect of this. However, for me, it is the networking paradigm itself that I find most interesting, and in particular I am interested in ways in which artists are crafting supplementary networks that challenge the logic of the network. I think Patrick and I find it necessary to work inside and outside the logic of the network in order to unpick it, lay out the elements and weave them together in supplementary ways.
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?
Some of the issues about encouraging interaction and engagement are probably design based questions and some are perhaps issues about encouraging people to engage and claim a voice in terms of cultural production more broadly. I am sometimes conscious that the temptation for the artist is to find solutions to the click and click again problem of screen based work is to unquestioningly turn to the solutions offered by games interfaces. Similarly some work is designed to automate the responses fedback by the work to the viewer through triggers and sensors. Both these approaches can be conceptually problematic, I believe, unless the artist is clear as to what they are replicating and conceptually why the technology is used as it is elsewhere, as a means to ”shock and awe”, to offer a spectacle without any depth.
I am aware that this does not offer much in terms of solutions to the difficult problem of how to create environments to show net-based work, and perhaps there are not solutions which work for all. I have enjoyed work at home on a medium sized screen, on a train on a laptop and on a projected screen/wall in a gallery. Some of the more detailed, complex work has been something which I have had to revisit and reconsider several times, and this has been possible because I have been able to spend time with the work on my own, at home. The Net Reality touring group show, in which we have a piece of work, is perhaps an example of the diversity of possible responses that a group of artists produce in response to being asked to create a piece of work for a gallery based show with both on and off line components. The range of different approaches suggests if anything, the examples provided by installation, land, multi media and sculpture offer possible exhibition concepts rather than technological solutions.
Your question raises more interesting questions, perhaps it is a bit like the open ended work Kate and I are attempting to produce !
Are we asking the viewer to interact with artworks steeped in the dominant logic of networking or can we present supplementary encounters that frame things a little differently?
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?
The difficulty for netart and new technology based work, to be accepted as you say as “serious art forms” is perhaps that the new in art has always found it hard to establish itself in the canon. Surely that has always generally been the case, with a few obvious exceptions, but perhaps the question should be reversed and put to the arbiters of visual culture. What can it do to become more responsive to new cultural forms. There are many examples in other cultural forms, in elements of contemporary music, for example where the underground has produced new forms (punk,dub, electronica, d&bass etc) and the means to disseminate and distribute the work (pirate radio, independent labels and small record shops) all of this driven by a need to share and engage more immediately and directly with people, something that the huge music/publishing companies still can’t manage to do. Perhaps the failure of netart and netbased art to be grafted into the collection is because it is still forming itself, still evolving and responding to the culture it grows out of, rather than representing a moment that has already past.
Artists, curators and galleries are working hard to find ways of presenting net art and new media art to really diverse audiences – online and offline. I imagine that this will continue. I think netart asks a lot of its audience/participants because it often seems to insignificant if the means of engagement is framed just within a visual/aural and conceptual framework. I think network art requires another means of engagement that lies beyond the neo-conceptual, and I think this asks the audience/participants to make a paradigm shift in the way that they understand the world. I have very little doubt that network art is an enormously significant artform, and that it is continuing to develop deeply interesting new forms.
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 am not sure how much more democratic the internet actually is, and I am equally not sure if you mean in terms of producing, distributing and or consuming work. In terms of being able to “put up” work then sure it is easier to show online than it is to get gallery space, but the idea that this access is somehow therefore more democratic is questionable for me. I understand why Beuys says anyone who says they “are” “Is”, but surely if Beuys says I “was” it would carry more weight and prestige than if I said I was!
I think this is a fairly complex question because networking is inherently contradictory. Yes, on the one hand the internet offers a certain freedom to connect to others, an openness and a certain level of democratisation. Yet on the other hand, these democratised activities are rigorously centrally controlled through protocols and procedures. I love the way that networked technologies facilitate the dissemination of people’s creative experimentations, enabling them to share their work with others, and I think that’s what we’re all doing really isn’t it?
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?
It would be helpful if they knew their way around a Mac anyway!
Seriously though I think it is important that the curator offers the contextualisation of the work the same degree of relevance that they would to any other form of installation.
I think its important for curators dealing with net based art to be familiar with the technologies, yes. They don’t have to be technical though.
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 ?
A dialogue with the JavaMuseum as to how why and in what form the work was presented. And its something we’d love to be part of it.
Thanks for taking your time!