Interview: Genco Gulan

Agricola de Cologne interviews Genco Gulan (GG)
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Genco Gulan is an Istanbul based multidisciplinary artist and the creator of WebBiennial.

  • 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.
    AdC:
    Tell me something about your educational background and what is influencing your work?
    GG:
    I rather have a different background than many other artists because originally I have studied Political Science and International Relations at Bogazici University in Istanbul. Hence my art always had a social or a political dimension. During my BA at Bogazici I also took painting classes at Gregg Wolff studio where I started to take art seriously. I got my first art prize from BP in 1993 with a painting that had a multiple medium approach; the canvas was both painted and printed and the frame was almost a assemblage. From that point on my work developed more into conceptual, inter-media, ready made and live art. Therefore first video than computers and its networks could easily fit in.

    I have exhibited my first interactive installation in 1996 at AKM Istanbul in an exhibition called “Re-Construction”. I could not find the proper equipment hence I have used screen shots from a CD-Rom but after ten years I still come across to people that clearly remembers the project.

    My first encounter with net art was in 1997 in the context of “Chaos in Action: Eurinimes Gambit”. It was an international networked project by Evgenija Demnievska and Wolfgang Zimmer. The project that combined twelve European cities including Istanbul had also been presented at the portals of Centre Pompidou, Paris. The online experience was very impressive for me because I did not have to get a Visa to participate an International event and got real time response hence I kept on studying the possibilities. Also for that project I have entered into Bogazici University Computer Engineering Labs for the first time where I have been researching –unofficially- ever since. In 1998 I founded a museum online; Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum, iS.CaM and than with this project I have received a scholarship award from Media Studies at New School University, New York, NY.

    It was really a great experience to be in New York right at the turn of the millennium, studying on the “digital revolution” and than it was terrible to be there during 9/ 11. I learned a lot from the City and my experience reflected directly to my work, it became bold and rich. In 2002 I organized my first online exclusive exhibition “Re-load”, in 2003 I started the Web Biennial, the only international online exclusive contemporary art biennial. In 2005 we celebrated the second Web Biennial and this year in 2006 we have realised first WB e-symposium with participation from all around the World. The symposium got also published as the ISEA Newsletter Winter 2006.

    2.
    AdC:
    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?
    GG:
    Net-art is one of the very few art genres that remain revolutionary today. It is still avant-garde not only because of its use of advanced technology but also it brings different relations to art production, presentation and documentation. You can not simply buy or commission net-art. It is a process rather than a simple product. It proposes different relations to artist, audience, curator and collector. It is one of the few art forms that impose a change in today’s status quo. That is why net-art is more art than many others.

    Personally, I differentiate between net-art and Internet based art. For me net-art is simply “networked art”. And this network may mean Internet, cable or wireless but must be a two way- send and receive- system. According to my own definition, net-art can not exist without a networked environment as the fish can not live without water. A salmon fish is called smoked salmon or sushi outside the water.

    To test a net-art work wheatear is it real or not, just unplug it from the network. If it dies, it was net art. If it does not die – and play from the cache- than it is Internet based art which we name as Web art. For the Web Biennial we do not have any artistic selection criteria other than few simple technical rules. One of them; we do not accept commercial design work as art. This is simply separating design and art. Aesthetics he never been a criteria for my art neither for the Web Biennial series. For 2007 we are planning to develop sections for Net-art, web-art and mobile art separately.

    3.
    AdC:
    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?
    GG:
    New technologies are revolutionary forces and they are going to change our society in one way or another. There are different sectors in the society that are competing to utilise/ monopolise/ channel this change. I believe that artists were and they should continue to be one of the leading players. Artists should not give up the social lead for more revenue.

    Net-art is avant-garde also because it is relatively cheap to learn, produce and distribute art and information. The conservative forces move rather slow and they can not adapt to the change in technology – or social behaviours- fast enough to capture or purchase the activism in the field. Hakim Bey refers to this relative advantageous field as; temporary autonomous zone. Hence we have to keep up with the technology to preserve our artistic autonomy.

    Media can be a message but not an ideology. Internet has helped new ideas to flourish and it proved that possibility of collaboration, solidarity is still possible on different platforms even in our post-post modern situation. More important than everything else, new communication technologies proved that the dynamics of the world is changing. So today it is clear that the consumer society is ending and it was the rise of Internet which showed the first signals. The paradigm is at the point that the non-material (information) owes its existence to a material infrastructure.

    4.
    AdC:
    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).
    GG:
    As an artist born in a 3rd World country, my work has always been engaged with politics and culture. However I also produce non-political non-conceptual art. When I produce net-art or web art, technical boundaries or possibilities shape or limit my work very much. So sometimes technique, sometimes the concept or sometimes the budget comes first. In the future I prefer to keep on producing and communicating as independent as possible.

    5.
    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?
    GG:
    As I have mentioned before net-art can not exist off-line. What ever presented outside the network can be the documentation or the by-products of a net-art but it is not net-art. Again it is smoked or canned salmon and not the original fish. Personally I believe that art is not about representation but presentation. In this way I think net art is very much similar to performance art, process art or live art.

    6.
    AdC:
    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?
    GG:
    Most of my art require mental and or physical engagement. In this regards I do not think that my net-art pieces are radically different than the physical work. How ever I know that my online audience is more crowded and physically more distant. Hence I try to keep them as easy and simple as possible. Still I know that new media is very demanding in terms of education on many levels. I know that they are teaching my net-art in many different Universities abroad but I can not easily teach them to my own students at home.

    I exhibit my net-art works both online and on site on single, multiple computers, with screens or projections, on flat or different surfaces. Still I think that when we are talking more about physical presence, we started to talk about other arts; such as installation, sculpture, sound installation, multimedia etc. Whenever I exhibit the works on site I start to call them networked installation or networked sound installation etc.

    7.
    AdC:
    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?
    GG:
    I think we have to develop new exhibition, institution models because new art can not fit into old school art institutions. At the same time becoming a discipline requires developing a different intellectual ground. We also have to build our own digital art theory. The art of tomorrow will be built on new media, new methodologies and new theories.

    8.
    AdC:
    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?
    GG:
    As I have mentioned before Internet is a temporary autonomous zone. Soon mobile systems or the new IM’s will take over. But up to that point Internet will keep on providing certain liberties and boundaries. It is clear that Internet helps us to get over certain boundaries but it will eventually build up its clergy. Still we try to keep Web Biennial a non curated project. It is like this not only ideologically but also it is economically and technically very possible. I also think that anyone (even robots) can be artists. But he or she or it should work for it. And being an artist may not necessarily mean being a good artist.

    9.
    AdC:
    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?
    GG:
    I believe that net-art requires a basic knowledge of technology to operate. We are not only talking about art as an “object” but art “as a relationship.” Hence, as you have to learn how to survive in Venice to see the Biennial you have to learn how to navigate in the Internet to observe the “Web Biennial”.

    Still I personally knew that many academicians, curators or even jury members do not know how to use the Internet and some not even the computer. For example at prog: me in Rio de Janeiro festival, the coordinator Carlo Sansolo told me that he had to show in person all the net-art pieces to the jury members and they just sit and watch to pick one.

    However net-art is not to watch and get entertained but we are producing work to engage, interact and think. It requires a different relation ship with the artwork, you have to use the eyes, ears but also the hands and most important the brain.

    10.
    AdC:
    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 ?
    GG:
    In a physical space you need to serve some good java beans as well as java coding. Hope to keep on collaborating with Java Museum in the future so that I can cook and serve you some Turkish coffee as well.

    AdC:
    Thanks for taking your time.