Petra.Heck on Mon, 14 Feb 2000 16:39:36 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> interview Tilman Baumgaertel

Where could and should net art be exhibited: in a museum or just on the
Net? What are the problems? Should it be collected and saved for posterity?
Can there be any criteria set up for these problems? At this moment I am
writing a thesis on this subject.

An interview with Tilman Baumgaertel by E-mail dated 10-12-1999. He writes
about netart and netculture in, among other magazines, Telepolis
( He is also the author of the book Materialien
zur Netzkunst, which was published in 1999 (see:	

Petra Heck: How would you define Internet art? 
Tilman Baumgaertel: Net art deals with the specific properties of the
internet. It might be on the web, but it might also use other net protocols
as well. And the main aspect of it might not be visible online at all (for
example performances that use the internet). 

PH: Do you think that institutions should exhibit Internet art? Why (not)? 

TB: Of course. Net art is not some underground movement, even though some
net artists would like to make you believe that. Opposed to popular
believe, a lot of net art pieces that required some work were funded by
some institutions or another. I guess if you are an artist right now, you
should not have such a hard time to get funding for an internet project. At
least it should be easier than getting funding for putting paint on a
canvas. A materialist study of how the most interesting net art projects
were supported would show that most of them received some sort of
institutional backing, which might be a grant or a teaching position or an
invitation to a festival or what ever. "Exhibiting" of a lot of these
pieces in a physical space is, of course, connected with a lot of problems.
I think that institutions that want to support net art should set up some
sort of financial support for artists to do net projects - without
expecting to have much to show in their galleries, museums, Kunstvereine or
whatever they are. But they could put the results on their homepage, which
would finally make them interesting. Some institutions are doing this: the
DIA art foundation for example or the Walker Center of the Arts, even the
Museum of Modern Art in New York to a limited extend.

PH: What is according to you the best place to exhibit Internet art in? (in
a virtual institution, just on the Net, on the site of a museum, or inside
the real museum space, etc.) Does it matter at all? 
TB: It does matter. How should you show it? It really depends on the piece.
Internet Art comes in all shapes and sizes, and it depends on the piece,
where and how you want to show it. The web pieces should stay on the web,
because that's what they were made for. I guess it would be good if there
would be a curator somewhere who is in touch with the scene well enough to
see, if some web site is about to be abandoned or lost, and acquire it for
preservation, before the whole site goes off-line, like in the case of Akke
Wagenaars "Hiroshima Project". I don't see anybody anywhere right now, who
is doing this, the Walker Center of the Arts being one notable exception.
If you are a curator, you don't make your fame by faithfully preserving
interesting or important net art pieces from bit rot. You make it by doing
your own projects and shows. 

PH: In which way do you think Internet art can be presented best? What are
the criteria, the necessities (theoretically and practically, what kind of
space, optical conditions, etc)?
TB: As I said, it depends on the piece. But I have one more general remark
to make. Almost all your questions just address this tiresome subject of
museums and institutions on the one side and net art on the other side, and
that's usually not where it happens. I said that a lot of interesting net
projects where made with the support of some sort of institution, but
normally not by museums. Actually that's OK, because the job of museums is
by definition not to commission work in the first place, but to keep what
is worth keeping. The funding for most of these pieces came from some
*official* source, but usually it was taking advantage of some sort of
vacuum. Maybe some money from a festival, or the local city administration
or some state scholar ship or whatever. If you are smart you try to use the
available means in a parasitically way for your own purposes. 

PH: Do more 'traditional' art museums approach Internet art in a different
way compared to the new institutions like the ZKM, or the virtual
institutions like Artnetweb, for instance? 
TB: Yes. The best pieces were not commissioned by museums. It is actually
not such a good idea to have some big-time institution supporting you, but
rather getting the smaller funds and fellowship that are available most
everywhere, if you look for them, at least in most western countries. The
worst thing would actually be if there was some state institution that
systematically supports internet art, because it is the latest thing. I can
imagine the kind of art that would be the result of this. The internet is a
distributed medium, so *something* will remain *somewhere. Not even
Internet2 will wipe that away. That doesn't mean that the state should stay
out of this, on the contrary. At one point the state should start to
preserve digital culture, but in a distributed fashion, not at some
Institute for Applied Net Art Preservation. Anyway, if I would work in a
museum, I would start an action plan right now. The first issue would be to
do a video collection of artist's TV and satellite projects, because the
tapes that these things were recorded on are hard to get and deteriorating
fast. And unlike video art, to my knowledge there has not been any attempt
so far to keep these things. The second issue would be a collection of
artist's software, browsers, screen savers etc. There is a lot of this
stuff, to be sure, that I wouldn't want to be taken away by digital decay. 

PH: Do you think Internet art should be collected or saved for posterity?
TB: They should preserve it, of course. It is culture, so every cultural
institution should have an obligation to keep net *culture* - not just art.
The first site of Time Warner or CNN by now is also of historical interest,
but you will not find it anywhere anymore. It is not just art that is
disappearing, actually it isn't even that bad there, because in the art
world there is some sort of understanding that it is important to keep and
preserve cultural production. At the big media companies, the only reason
why they could be interested in this issue is to make money out of licences
etc. But there is not a lot of money in old websites. There has to be an
institution that keeps digital culture, but not some national, central
library. I don't think it can be done centrally, but I still think that it
is enormously important that it is been done. Otherwise a lot of our
computer culture and thereby the most important developments and
innovations in the late 20. century will disappear completely. And of
course I would like to run this institution. ;-) 

PH: What are the criteria for acquiring and/or preserving Internet art, and
are they different from other (more traditional) art forms? 
TB: As I said, net art is tied to the medium it was created for, and in
this self-referentially, it is in the tradition of modernism. The problem
is just that other forms of modernism where tied to media that might end up
lasting longer that websites - to oil paint for example. I have a plan in
my desk for an show, which will show media art from oil painting to video
art to net art, to address the issue of how the dependency of modernist art
on its medium is affected by the fact that these media deteriorate. And
that the newer they are, the faster they deteriorate. But so far I have not
found a museum to let me organize this show. ;-) 

PH: Does the sale or exhibiting of a piece of Internet art necessarily
alter the work in and or itself? Is this different from other (more
traditional) art forms? 
TB: I guess that all media are in the process of converging, but I am not
prepared to make any prediction how this mega medium will look like. It
might be that the specifics of the medium internet will be lost, and than
many of the net art projects won't work or make sense anymore. 

PH: Do you have any idea how Internet art could be good preserved? 
TB: Yes. But that is a life time's work. It doesn't only include web art
things, but also operating systems, computer makes, software, plug-ins
etc., because they are all tied to each other. And this kind of collecting
shouldn't only involve net art, but every aspect of digital culture. I can
think of ways and means to keep these things, but that would exceed this
kind of questionnaire.... My book on net art is one attempt to do this
preservation, not by putting files on hard drives, but by having artists
speak about their work. It is preservation that uses the method of oral
history to keep some aspects of net art accessible in the future - without
computer! ;-) 

PH: How do you think institutions (should) deal with Internet art in the
TB: What will happen to net art in terms of the art market is pretty clear:
art institutions and collectors will become more interested in net art,
artist will become more accommodating to institutions and collectors, and
net art will become a genre like video art was in the 70ies: weird, but not
to be neglected by the art world. Then everybody will forget about it. Then
it will become part of the artistic tool set, like video is now. By then it
will not be interesting anymore. This process will take less than 10 years,
while in the case of video art it took 30 years. Hopefully the most
innovative artists who started net art will live to see this, because in
the case of video art pretty much only Nam June Paik managed to outlive the
art world technophobia to finally get his due. Most of the other artist who
did the most advanced things, when video was new, didn't manage to see the
day, when they were finally taken serious. And the Bill Violas collect the
fame. But to my thinking the first pieces from both net art and video art
are the best. And they are somehow preserved. In many cases just in print
format, though... 

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