Interview: Vytautas Michelkevicius


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Vytautas Michelkevicius
from Lithuania

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 questions

    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
    From medium point of view every artistic medium brings its specificity into art world and this movement changes or at least tries to change the definition of art. For example when photography entered art world it brought its specific characteristics like mechanical reproduction, black and white aesthetics, etc.
    Digital media first of all brought into art definition digital code, post-medium aesthetics, immateriality, processuality. Digital code blurred the boundaries between medium-specific artworks because with digital code you can produce either visual or audio or textual experiences. Digital code strengthened the positions of inter- and trans- disciplinarity in the art world because digital code became the same material for different artworks and experiences. Immateriality has reborn with a help of digital code. Like in 60-70s during conceptualism, nowadays the immaterial artwork became valuable again. If you look at most of the net art and some of digital art examples, you see that their value lies in the immateriality but not in the material form (like in painting).

    2.
    Question
    A relevant section of digital art represents Internet based art. The Internet hardly existed, 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
    We can always find parallels between old and new technologies because they share the same concepts. For example the concept of hypertext was invented in 1960s by Ted Nelson, although it came into reality only with the birth of WWW. If we don’t fasten ourselves to the concept of hypertext to the technology, we can even retrace its invention back into the middle of XX century and find it in the oeuvre of Jorge Luis Borges, Alain Robbe-Grillet and other writers. Hence, Heath Bunting’s art project “_readme.html” employed hypertext in 1998, whereas Borges did the same movement 50 years ago but with a different technology. With a help of future technologies we can implement the same idea much more sophisticated and persuasively in 50 years.
    So, we can always compare artworks made by artists from different generations if we understand the grounding concepts of artworks.

    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
    The interdisciplinary approach to new media education has its own advantages – we can learn about and treat the same object from different perspectives like philosophy, sociology, communication, science& technology, ecology, art, design, etc. Different disciplines enrich the concept of new media and internet and bring it closer to students from different disciplines.
    Artists as well as scientists have the exceptional possibility to be the first who tries out new technologies. So, they have to keep on experimenting and presenting their outcomes to society. The students can acquire knowledge on internet as artistic field not only from theory, which is rather undeveloped at the moment, but also from their meetings with artists, scientists and their experiments. Nowadays technologies are very down to earth if compare with technologies before 20-30 years, so the young people could and should experiment with these technologies themselves. However, they should not forget reading theories and taking part in virtual communities to understand the fast changing context.

    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 art critical point of view.

    Answer
    Firstly, new technologies and the Internet are for me like a new and specific artistic medium, which has its own characteristics. I like the democratic nature of Internet and weblogs. To my mind, weblogs empower artists to do things that they couldn’t have done without internet. For example, in has incredible communication potential if you compare internet exhibition and exhibition in the gallery which is bound to time and space limits.
    If we take into account Lithuanian art scene, there is a very little art space where young artists could show their art. So, the weblog is a way out of this situation. If there is no independent space for art in physical life, we can create a space in internet where all members contribute to creating the space, since the weblog form is open for all, unlike institutional spaces. Besides, the weblog www.3xpozicija.lt practices public curatorship, where all communication between the artists and the curators is open and transparent, thus the power control is transferred from the curators to the artists themselves.

    Hence, from institutional and political point of view our project is highly political because it claims for a new independent space for young artists. Besides that it takes into account power relations between curators and artists and tries to share the power (of decision-making, showing, etc.) among them.

    I am interested personally not only into art politics and power relations but also in immaterial aspects of art. New technologies, especially internet, give me a possibility to claim that art should be non-commercial, conceptual and immaterial. The same idea extends the Creative Commons licenses, which with a help of new technologies enable the free distribution of culture.

    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
    In my opinion, it is not possible to find a precise definition for a phenomenon, which is very young and is experiencing very fast development. I am convinced that a reproduction of painting, photograph or video art placed on website does not become “netart”. In order to define an artwork as a “Net artwork” we should claim that this artwork employs and explores medium-specific aspects of the net itself. It should bear the qualities of processuality, hypertextuality, networking, relationships, information, etc. The creative deconstruction, reconstruction and remix of the net character and its specific qualities can be also considered as critical elements of the net art definition. Net art can be not only the artistic play with a medium but also the interplay between internet (as a medium) and its content.
    To my mind, network aesthetics (especially the visualization of networks and relationships between the nodes) could be one of the critical aspects of the definition of internet based art.

    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
    I would prefer to use the notion “art based on the net”. In this case some of the artworks, which use characteristics of the net, can run on computer network (or even one computer) without Internet at all. Of course, there are some artworks, which have a critical need for Internet like http://www.communimage.ch/. However, this collaborative picture can be also made from pictures send by snail mail. But we can find examples of dynamic and generative art works, which are functioning only when certain amount of users are interacting online. Nevertheless, in most of the cases we can produce a gallery-version-net-artwork the functioning of which could be simulated.
    I do think that if we place a net based artwork in the gallery without internet and we can experience it through simulation or other similar method, we can still call it “net based art”.

    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
    Nearly every interactive art piece has so called “learning curve” or “experience curve”. If this curve is interesting and attention-keeping enough we can expect the participation of the user. Sometimes we need to include some tricks which give users something like “candies” (rewards) if they advance further in interacting with an artwork. We should borrow some game aesthetics where playing user is expecting to reach the next level.
    To my mind, net art could be highly personal and highly collective. It depends on the nature and characteristics of the artwork. Some of them require deep individual immersion; some of them are only functioning when there is certain amount of active users. Depending on the nature of the specific digital artwork, we can choose either intimate room, a gallery, cinema theatre or public space.

    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
    New media art is in its birth and development stage, so it is not so easy to be accepted in 10-15 years. I think that education and more intellectually advanced net artworks will bring this art to light. If the artists create more and more intellectual artworks with new technologies, then art critics and institutions will be convinced to accept net art as integral part of contemporary art. The more institutions (media-labs, galleries, foundations) and the more university programs taking care of net art we have, the more widely net based art will be accepted.

    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
    Publishing on the internet is not something exceptional as well as publishing a comment in a newspaper is not. I would agree with Anne-Marie Schleiner’s statement that filter feeding in the new media art is much more valuable than traditional curatorship.
    The democratic nature of internet can bring us much more disadvantages than benefits because we are experiencing information overload and spam everyday. It is hardly imaginable how many pictures are being posted every millisecond on the internet. We are in the great need of not only professional (human) filter feeders but also artificial intelligent software which could help us to navigate through the internet art.
    Of course, we can have hopes to grow up educated audience which could understand where good and bad internet art is. But we will not manage without filter feeders that will make the first selection.

    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
    Both curators and users should have at least technological basics to understand net based art. We are always facing a problem that new media curators do not know art history and contemporary art curators do not know technology history. Therefore, there is so little communication among them. There is almost no common ground to discuss ideas and this brings the answer why new media and net art is still not widely accepted. Understanding technology in net art is as much important as understanding colors and halftones in painting.