Interview: JR Carpenter


JR Carpenter
from Canada

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 question

    1.
    Question
    Since a reasonable time, digital media entered the field of art and extended the traditional definition of art through some new , but very essential components. Do you think it is like that and if yes, tell me more about these components and how they changed the perception of art?

    Answer
    Digital media have become so all pervasive as to alter people’s perceptions of reality, which in tun, dramatically alters they way they perceive art. In many places in the world people have begun to take digital effects in print advertising and film and television media for granted – they do not necessarily look critically at a car commercial, for example, and question how and why the images of landscape, gender, money and power that they’re seeing have been manufactured for marketing purposes. The perception of digital media is further altered by the prevalence of personal computers, software and consumer electronics. The lines between the producer and the consumer have become blurred. Everyone has a digital camera, so everyone thinks they are a photographer. Everyone browses the web so they they think they know how it works. In this paradigm it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between artist and amateur, and so the question arises: why should one?

    2.
    Question
    A relevant section of digital art represents Internet based art. The Internet was hardly existing, but artists conquered already this new field for their artistic activities.
    Can the work of these early artists be compared with those who work with advanced technologies nowadays? What changed until these days ? What might be the perspectives for future developments?

    Answer
    I got my first Unix account in 1993. The Internet was a totally textual world back then. One had to be quite clever to make the early BBS, USENET, MOOs and listserves into creative spaces. In retrospect, there existed in those environments, an “art” of conversation akin to the salons of the Enlightenment period. I made my first web art project in 1995 for Netscape 1.1 – it’s still online and it still works – http://luckysoap.com/butterflies/parasite.html In those days there was no “web art” no “new media” – so no community, no funding, no exhibitions and no competition over what was or was not web art. The technology was simple and easy to learn. I did everything myself. My early web work was all about using the medium as it was to create stories that fit wonderfully within those limited parameters. The biggest difference between now and then is software. There are millions of people out there using WUSIWYG software to create personal web pages who have no idea that something called “web art” even exists. There are artists hiring web “designers” to implement their “web art” ideas for them and there are “net artists” who are are only interested in programming and its behaviors. Some next artists don’t consider web art interesting if it’s not “innovative” in the sense it’s new programming. My work remains heavily influenced by those early days of HTML when I learned how to do everything by View Source, Copy, Paste. I believe in recycling – I make new work out of bits and pieces of existing code combined with my own texts and images which are then interspersed with the texts and images of others. I don’t believe technologies “advance” – they just change. Web art needs to develop a visual literacy of it’s own genre. Earlier works need to be understood as part of a continuum, so that people who have never hard-coded can understand the connections between that early “hypertext” era of web art and have some inkling of what’s happening underneath the slick surfaces of Web 2.0.

    3.
    Question
    The education in the field of New Media art, including Internet based art, started late compared with the general speed of technological development and acceptance.
    So, generations of artists who used the Internet as their artistic working field were not educated in this new discipline(s) and technologies, but had rather an interdisciplinary approach.
    What Do you think, would be the best way to teach young people how to deal with the Internet as an environment of art?

    Answer
    When I went to art school the term “new media art” barely existed. I didn’t study web art or web programming or poetry or fiction or any of the other things I do today. I believe in learning by doing. An interdiciplinary education is harder and harder to come by these days. Students feel pressure to arm themselves with skills. There is less room for experimentation and play. I occasionally teach workshops where I am dismayed by students’ supersaturation in software – they spend all day on the web and don’t think of it as a place to make art. I try and make them turn off their email and turn of the “design view” of whatever software their labs are using and go back to the code view. I show them very early web art and explain the source code to them. And I talk about the reasons I started making web art – I came out of a poetry chapbook, collage, bookwork and zine culture – many students find that easy to relate to.

    4.
    Question
    What kind of meaning have the new technologies and the Internet to you in concern of art, are they just tools for expressing 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?
    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, personally and from an artcritical point of view.

    Answer
    My work is not particularly political, but where I make it is. In the early days of USENET there was a lot of talk, in certain newsgroups anyway, about issues such as: community, net-etiquette, gender, (did)embodiment, egalitarianism, class, access, elitism and so on. That seemed to disappear with the advent of the web. Perhaps because the web is so visual, with the web came advertising. In the 15 years that I’ve been making web art I’ve also worked in every aspect of the industry – from artist to designer, from teacher to technician, from programmer to a three-year stint as the manager of web development for a multinational software company. In that job I saw the dark side of power and corruption in technology and participated myself, for a period, in perpetrating some dubious and predatory web marketing. I took this job mostly because I found much of the new media discourse at the time to be naive and trite and I wanted to see how technology was really being used in the world. I resigned from that job in 2001 and it took me a long time to want to make web art again, being all to well aware that I’m publishing web art poetry projects onto an Internet full of predatory robots, spyware, advertising and porn. But on there other hand, I reasoned, doesn’t that sinister web need art in it – as much art as possible! – and somebody’s go to do it. So now my basic position is this: The more the Internet freaks me out, the more I am committed to using it in poetic and intransigeant ways.

    5.
    Question
    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 “netart” is art, at all, if yes, what are the criteria?
    Are there any aesthetic criteria for an Internet based artwork?

    Answer
    I couldn’t care less.

    6.
    Question
    “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?

    Answer
    Who cares where art is so long as there is art?

    All of my web art projects are based on a piece of my own writing. Sometimes that text has already been published in a print or online journal, or broadcast on the radio, or performed live at readings. In it’s web iteration that text will be joined by images, some of which have been used in other projects, so of which are drawings I no longer own, and many of which are “found”. I often make mini-book versions of my web projects – small photocpoied zines – which re-print the central text of the piece yet often include totally different images. These are cheap and easy to hand out, the bookworks “advertise” the URL of the web project. Then sometimes the web art project is presented offline in a museum with the bookwork and some other physical manifestation of the images and ideas that first inspired the piece. I don’t care what any of these things are called, but I will say that only the Internet can bring all these things together.

    7.
    Question
    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 think would be good ways to 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?

    Answer
    My target audience is people who are not necessarily artists, who may know nothing about art at all, and who many not even exactly realize that they’re looking at art when they’re looking at one of my web art pieces. My favorite way to present web art is in email, with a simple plain-spoken paragraph about the piece (funny if possible) and a URL. I write different paragraphs for different people. I love it when people forward these messages on to other friends. There’s something very personal about encountering a piece this way. It’s like being lent a book by a friend – you already have a vested interest in it because of the friend who lent it to you. I find I get the most careful viewing of my work from people have received an email about it – from me or a friend or a gallery they know or a listserve they like. People sometimes write me moving emails about what they were doing just at that moment in the day when they received the email that led them to a piece of my work that then had a big effect on them. Often, especially in the case of office workers, a random email invitation to view art in the middle of the day creates an opening, allows for the possibility to be transported for a few minutes or more into another place or mind set. I also get really wonderful emails from people who stumble upon my work through search engines. Quite a few people start off researching vacationing in Nova Scotia and wind up lost in The Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls [ http://luckysoap.com/mythologies] and I’ve notice that a new piece I’m working on, called Les Huit Quartiers du Sommeil, has started to influence Google Maps Montreal search results [ http://luckysoap.com/huitquartiers].

    8.
    Question
    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?

    Answer
    This situation does not concern me particularly as this has always been the case with new or avant guard forms. I do think that web art and web artists need to become more aware of and to reflect upon the history of the genre and the social, political and technical infrastructure from which it originates. Within this reflexivity there needs to be more widely and generally accessible critical writing that introduces, contextualizes and situates the field for the public.

    9.
    Question
    The Internet is sometimes called a kind of “democratic” environment,
    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?

    Answer
    There are some really interesting attempts to create net art galleries via social bookmarking sites and wikis that anyone can submit to and alter. Many quickly become too bloated and disorganized to sort through. Not everything that’s posted is art in the same way that not every book that’s published is fiction. Some web art is quite obviously “art” – it is about art and it is intended for art viewing audiences. Some web art is more subtile and/or interventionist – and some web content that is not intended to be art at all can quite wonderful if considered to be found art.

    10.
    Question
    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? And what about the users of Internet based art?

    Answer
    Web artists don’t necessarily have to rely on the old strategies of the curator/gallery continuum, but so often they do because that’s still how the rest of the world works. There’s so much great work out there. Little makes it to the attention of curators, but that doesn’t seem to matter. So far Google is my favorite curator. There are lots of different kinds of web art and lots of different kinds of users. Some web art works well in a gallery and some does not. So far I haven’t met many curators that know the difference. Some web art does not work well viewed by individual users on their home computer because it doesn’t work in certain browser-platform combinations or is too heavy to download or requires a bigger monitor or better speakers or too many plugins. In that case I would argue that it is the web artists who is in need more technological knowledge. Even in this age of high-speed Internet I try and make my work as cross-browser and cross-platform friendly and as low bandwidth as possible. For example, my I have no high-seed today. I’m posting this survey from a dial-up connection.