Josephine Bosma on Tue, 22 Feb 2000 01:26:15 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> interview with Ron Kuivila

     "what if we begin to think of the creation of media work
        along the relationship of notation/realisation."

Ron Kuivila is a sound artist and a teacher at Weslyan University. He was
in a panel at V2 during the Rotterdam Filmfestival, the other speakers
being David Blair (Wax Web) and Martin Berghammer (specialist in games).
He has the idea to have a net arts* notation festival, and would very
much like to see it realised. Somehow in the edit he himself made of the
interview (I let people do it together with me usually) an interesting
aspect of this was lost, namely that it would be very good to also look
at which notations would/do -not- get realised and why.
Notation/realisation has a long history in performance and music,
and a slightly younger one in the visual arts. (correct me if I'm wrong)

*for this spelling of see the proposal of Florian Cramer
on nettime recently to use the term net arts instead of
from now on. ("net multiculturalism and net arts - a proposal")
Especially with the rise of web art, and the fact that many people
confuse web art with net art, this might not be a bad idea.
Now all we have to do is see how we deal with the term art in the near


JB: Why were you asked to speak at V2 in the context of storyboards in
interactive media?

Ron Kuivila: It arose out of an email exchange I had with Andreas
Broeckman where I proposed the following line of reasoning:
The acceleration of development in digital media has also increased their
ephemerality. This becomes a fundamental creative problem for artists
trying to engage the possibilities of a particular technology as a
'medium'. By the time you have mastered it, it has gone away. For
example, you may put enormous amounts of energy, creativity and
invention (as many did) into making a cd-rom, and then discover a year
later, that it is close to unviewable because the technical performance
is not at the next achieved level - it has slipped behind. What I am
interested in is raising the possibility and asking the question: what
if we look at that seriously and begin to think of the creation of
media work along the relationship of notation/realisation.

Individuals simply cannot keep up with the enormous investments being
made to speed things up, make them slicker, and in various other ways
make the next media form sufficiently attractive to make it difficult
to even look at its predecessor. In this context making art works with
these media becomes a bit like to a performance.  What happens if we take
that observation seriously and imagine all art making with media as
having the ephemerality of performance?
At the moment, the best alternative I can imagine arises from
the artistic and social relationships that grow out of notation and
realisation. I mean notation in a 'prescriptive' sense that sets ground
rules for a complementary activity - realization - rather than in a
'descriptive' sense that specifies a work fixed in every detail.

In the last year there has been a lot of interest in 'open source'
software. The basic model evolved from the communication possibilities
of the net, and the tradition of agonistic adolescent male display
associated with computer programming.  People discovered that you can
create much better software by allowing the source code to be freely
distributed and inviting people to improve it.  Only half ironically
I want to claim that prescriptive notation is the original open source.
Or, at least, that I am using the term notation in a way closely related
to the ideas of open source software.
And to some extent, new media are themselves notations. Consider: one
works with a new tool such as html or whatever. It constitutes a
meta-score of some sort, because it creates a field of play. We are very
comfortable saying: "No, it is just enabling technology. We can
distinguish that very clearly from the work." Perhaps we shouldn't.
We could imagine the passage between a particular set of technical
possibilities to a particular piece as a more fluid situation.
Or, we can take the opposite tack and imagine works as problems of
specification. Making a work then becomes a matter of making a notation
that exists independent of any specific technical possibility and that can
be re-constituted by adding the water of a current technology.
So, you see I am raising the possibilities to the notation/realisation
almost in self-defense against the boundless energy and invention of
these technical forms.

JB: You bring art in networks close to performance, even if the initial
idea behind a work is not performance like we have come to understand
the term "performance". Is any recording or archiving (which recording
in 'databanks' like the net becomes) by an artist a performance in this

RK: Not quite. What I was saying was that any time you go about
trying to make a work, the media used are morphing under your
very fingertips. This can make it seem like any work you make is
really a performance because it only has a momentary existence.
The databanks themselves ephemeral. They will enjoy a
continued existence only if someone maintains them. There is a
disciplinary element to that. Maintaining is not making.
Eventually you start to loose the race, and you get more tightly
leashed to the 'common wisdom' because you don't have time to
explore the alternatives.
And then you think, "oh my god, I've been left behind".
Part of my initial search of individual websites was that they are
a little bit like cave drawings. They are a way of marking your own
presence in a site that one was not completely familiar with and a
little bit afraid of.
The notation/realisation axis can exist a little bit independent from
that. Not totally independent, but it offers some resistance
that provides an alternative channel for imagining yourself and
what you do, while at the same time making it possible to be engaged
directly with the media.

JB: If you put the emphasis on practice instead of object, isn't it
much more likely to get out of your hands though? Isn't it much more
likely that especially then you loose your individual mark on the work
as its creator?

RK: It is a very complicated question. In a way what you have to do
is go and ask yourself about different kinds of work that existed as
notations. We can look at two opposite extremes: Sol LeWitt's
walldrawings, where it does not matter who draws them. It is very
strongly controlled and closed. There it is. You know it is a Sol
LeWitt. They can either be drawings described in terms of some kind of
geometric configuration or in terms of some kind of athletic thing:
as many vertical lines or pencil strokes as you can make in a minute
or three minutes and ten seconds. It doesn't matter.  The whole point
of the piece is that it is entirely encoded in the instructions.

Take on the other extreme a much more open notation: David Tutor's
Rainforest. In that piece the basic concept is the transformation of a
found object into a loudspeaker. The realizer's job is to find an
interesting object and then provide it with sounds that bring out its
interesting sonic characteristics. It is a project that confuses
sculpture and music in a nice way, and very naturally creates a large
scale group activity that can be developed separately and then brought
together, like a potluck. Here is complete room for individual
invention in arriving at an appropriate object, arriving at the sound
material for the object. But invention is constrained by a premise that
is simple enough and strong enough to unify many separate realizations.
This is a piece that has a coninuum of authorship from Tudor to the
performers to the objects.

I don't think the possibilities of notation/realisation should be seen as
a replacement for current work, but as a useful supplement. As a practical
possibility, I imagine a festival in two stages. The first stage would be
an open call for notations. These would be made publicly available on the
WWW, a library of 'open sources'.  Then individual wishing to get a 'gig'
in the festival would need to propose to realise somebody else's notation.
the festival would create a kind of market, not for media artworks, but
for ideas and projects that could and should be constituted or
re-constituted by others.

JB: What do we do in the future with describing these works? Are we
going to just keep describing the notations, or will we describe the
realisations, or will the works of artists that make actions without
notations be the utter form of originality? Do we still need to mention
those that initiate the notation, or do we only mention those that made
these specific notations famous with their actions?

RK: What happens there is that you get a kind of accretion of a
cultural outlet. For example Nam June Paiks 'Zen for head' has been
written up many times. Sometimes it is not entirely clear that it was
a realisation of a Lamonte Young's composition no 10 for Robert Morris.
Sometimes that is made very clear. I think the point is: the minute you
maintain a strict author model as opposed to a more flexible sense of
shared authorship you end up getting into issues around intellectual
property and back catalogue. The most effective means of resistance
to any kind of set piece in cultural practice is to proliferate: to
create many possibilities where before there were only a few imagined.
This comes right out of the book of resistant practices in terms of
sexuality or in terms of politics. I am just suggesting that we should
actively embrace the variety of modes of authorship that are possible
and incorporate them into our conception of art making.

Of course, this already exists. Miles Davis is credited as a kind of
composer, given a special status in the creation of "Bitches' Brew",
when this was a bunch of group improvisations he edited together. The
reason he is given that status is because the players, the other
musicians who are working with him, felt that he was giving a kind
of creative direction that warranted that respect. So there there is
a complex exchange between Miles and the other musicians that
stabilized Miles' identity as the 'author'.

JB: It seems to me that both this strict authorship and the
"different degrees of authorship" model both bring their own problems
along. It might be just whichever you prefer at the moment, but the
"degrees of authorship" model most likely is the form of authorship
something we will all -have- to live with in the future. There will be
no other option really. The problem with this then is that it then
becomes a matter of power or money whether one gets any degree of
authorship at all. History is very easy to manipulate in that sense.

RK: It is confusing. Of course, there are the people who 'become
history' and people who don't. I was just thinking of Anthony Braxton,
who commented to me: "If you look at the masters, John Cage, Karlheinz
Stockhausen, you'll see they are -very- careful about their
documentation."  He was giving me some flinty eyed practical advice
of the form: look buddy, if you don't shape your exo-skeleton, nobody
else will and you will disappear.
The notation/realisation model I am talking about does not alter that
reality, but it may make room for a more varied collection of 'culturally
intelligible' makers.

JB: It's a case of the -idea- wins?

RK: If the idea has legs. At least it creates more of a possibility for
that. For example when you look at web art. There is a certain kind of
superficial political claim that because the WWW is nominally a site of
free information exchange sites based on appropriating from other sites
are 'making sure' that is the case. The problem is that appropriation is
at least in part a form of virtuoso consumption. The complementary
problem is that just about any act of 'creation' just becomes more Web.
That is the genius of the web, it flattens distinctions.
What may be interesting about notation/realisation on the Web is that a
simple verbal injunction could act as the 'source code' for a page or
site. There is an encoding/decoding process that goes on there. You
see this in relation to the specific simple constraint. Then your
relationship is not one of shopping on the web for something equally
diverting, the relationship is between an idea and a realisation.
I don't make webpages, and I certainly do not do web art. I offer
that up more as a starting point for a conversation then a claim of
fact. I think it is a conversation that is worth having. I suspect the
conversation is worth realising.


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