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[Nettime-bold] An Interview with Max Herman of the Genius 2000 Network:
Nicholas Hermann on 26 Feb 2001 20:31:19 -0000


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[Nettime-bold] An Interview with Max Herman of the Genius 2000 Network: PartOne


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February 26, 2001

Interviewer, Charlie Rose:

I would like to thank all of you for joining us.  Our interview today
is with Max Herman, contributor to the Genius 2000 Network.  Mr. Herman
has distinguished academic credentials, including degrees in literature
from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University, where
he received the prestigious University Fellowship.  He has also studied
literature, critical theory, video art, aesthetics, creative writing,
and mathematics at various institutions such as Oberlin College,
Binghamton University, Cambridge University (UK), and the University of
Minnesota (as part of the University of Minnesota Talented Youth
Mathematics Project or UMTYMP).  His website and video documentary for
Genius 2000 are currently among the most controversial recent works in
their respective fields.  Mr. Herman, thank you for joining us.

Max:  It's my pleasure Charlie.  Please call me Max.

Charlie:  Certainly Max.  Now for those of our viewers who have not yet
heard of Genius 2000, can you briefly describe what it is.

Max:  The Network at this point consists of several participants and
contributors, most of who work on the internet.  Of course many do not. 
We use listservs, videotape, and websites to elaborate the core concepts
of Genius 2000 and to bring them to a wider audience.

Charlie:  And what are these core concepts?  I'm aware of the
complexity of your work but for the sake of clarity can you sum them up
in a few words?

Max:  Of course.  Genius 2000 is about changing the global system of
media control as we enter the twenty-first century.  We promote a
radical democracy of genius.

Charlie:  And it is in your work that you elaborate more precisely what
this movement is about?

Max:  Absolutely.  We explore as many facets and ramifications of the
core concepts as our budget and time allow.

Charlie:  Well you've taken on quite a task.  For example, your
video--also called the Genius 2000 Video First Edition--took over six
months to shoot and edit, and if I'm not mistaken was funded completely
out of your own pocket.

Max:  Correct.  I felt the academy would not assist me in any
meaningful way with the video and decided to go independent, as it were.
 Sometimes artists and intellectuals need to break away from the
institutions in order to focus their energy and explore new methods.  

Charlie:  What were some of the obstacles you faced in graduate
school?

Max:  That's a tough one.  Much has been said about the careerist,
homogenized tendencies of US universities.  I can't prove this of course
but I sensed it.  There's a lot of "steering" so to speak that goes on
in the academy.  Not just in literature, but in all the arts and
humanities.  You sort of have to experience it to really understand how
the obstacles to original ideas are built into the system, but a simple
metaphor would be that of nepotism.  One's importance in the academy
depends mainly on the importance of one's sponsor and the degree of his
or her favor.  There are no objective standards for quality work--aside
from the GRE, on which I scored in the 99+ percentile--and there is
certainly no public involvement in assessing academic work.  Just as
nepotism in economies leads to corruption and mediocrity, the current
tenure-track or art-star system encourages imitative and derivative
work.  

Charlie:  Well that's a scathing indictment but certainly one that has
been voiced by many both inside and outside the academy.  What was one
example of this nepotism, as you call it, adversely affecting your own
work?

Max:  There were quite a few, and you have to remember that this
"steering" is more a dirty little secret than an open policy.  One that
stands out for me involved Tom Sherman, a very well-known professor of
new media--

Charlie:  --Which is--

Max:  New media encompasses basically everything electronic like
computer art, video, multimedia, sound, the internet--basically what's
left after painting and sculpture.

Charlie:  So this professor was involved in new media--
Max:  Yes, video in particular was his area of expertise.  He was
involved with video art in the seventies I believe, when it was very
new, and that's how he got into arts administration.  He has a lot more
experience in adminstration than in art, but for some reason he got the
job of running the new media program at Syracuse.  There were rumors
that he only got it because his parents were wealthy, old money--you
know how that works--but I doubt it can be proven.  In any event, I got
to know this professor a little and saw a few lectures, so when I
finished my degree work and decided to start a new project on the
internet I contacted him.  

Charlie:  And at this point you were on good terms?

Max:  Yes, I believe so.  He sounded interested at first but after a
little correspondence he asked me--and this is verbatim--"why would I or
anyone want to invest in a project with no identifiable product?"  Now
this comment struck me as alarming in many ways.  I had mentioned that I
wanted to work with the idea of a brand-name, in part to satirize
consumerism but also to lend coherence to work in different disciplines
and media.  I didn't think it was such a strange or controversial
measure at all, more compositional than anything, more of a title than a
finished work.  But he was very hostile.  You can tell when a professor
is brushing you off.  Anyway, he obviously didn't want to discuss the
project anymore.  After it got well known, he was either noticeably
silent or attacked my work without actually mentioning it.

Charlie:  You have to admit that sounds a little paranoid Max.

Max:  Well academia breeds paranoia!  It's all about stealing ideas,
amassing cachet, you name it.  I can tell you haven't been to graduate
school in the last couple of decades; anyone who has knows exactly the
kind of treatment I'm describing.  It doesn't stop you from working, but
it does stop you from respecting the academy.

Charlie:  Well moving on, assuming you weren't given a fair hearing at
school, how have you been able to get your work out to a wider audience?
 After all, here you are on the cover of Wired--

Max:  --and on Charlie Rose!--

Charlie:  --And on Charlie Rose, so you must have struck a chord
somewhere.  What was your first connection with an audience other than
the university environment you came out of?

Max:  Well that's simple, it was the internet.  I joined a lot of
discussion groups, and when I finished the Video there were quite a few
people out there willing to watch it.  Plus a website, that helps lend a
certain heft to one's internet presence.

Charlie:  Specifically though, who were the first people to listen to
what you had to say?

Max:  Well Charlie there's hearing and there's listening, but I'd say I
received a fair amount of attention on the first internet list I joined,
which I ironically was run by the Walker Art Center--

Charlie:  --Your hometown museum--

Max:  Yes, I grew up in Minneapolis so I felt I had a right to
participate in an open forum.  I had my website up, and I'd talk about
the video as I was working on it, so I got some recognition there.

Charlie:  As well as some heat if my information is correct.  This is a
quote from the Shock of the View discussion run by the Walker:  "I think
Max should donate his website to Mark Napier's Digital Landfill.  That
way he will get the critical and culturally acclaim he so desires."  Now
that sounds to me like an insult.  Is it?

Max:  I'd say it is.  It's the kind of insider-insult that people with
a reputation use to strong-arm anyone new to the scene.  It's
intimidation; it happens all the time.  But the person who said that was
a pretty high-profile artist at the time--G.H. Hovagimyan--and he has
continued to more or less savage me and my work ever since.  He even
closed a prominent discussion group to unmoderated posts because of me. 
I'd say he considers me a jerk, to put it mildly.

Charlie:  But you also got some respect on the Walker list?

Max:  Yes, I'd say so.  I was fairly mild-mannered for most of the time
I was on that list--after all it was my first list--and I sort of proved
that I had a good education and at least some independence of thought. 
I made some contacts there, people who were like "give him a chance,
he's not so bad," and that kind of balanced out the negative opinions of
Sherman and Hovagimyan.  One odd result of the Walker list was that I
made enemies out of most of the New York City web artists, and only made
friends with the other outsiders, like from Manitoba and Orlando and so
forth.  But yes, it was a good experience and I did get some
recognition.  

End of Part one of the Interview.

(Please Note:  This is a fictional interview, written completely by Max
Herman for Amy Alexander's IYIYIYIYIY project.  See plagiarist.org for
more details or contact Max Herman at nmherman {AT} aol.com)


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