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<nettime> Alien Intelligence in Kiasma/Helsinki/Erkki Huhtamo Interview

Alien Intelligence
February 12. - May 28.
4. & 5. floor

How does digital media technology affect our lives, our experiences and
our fantasies?  Is the computer our mirror image, or a reflection of some
"alien intelligence"?  Is the computer our servant, our partner, - or our
competitor?  How has our media-saturated culture been anticipated in
earlier centuries? What is the role of digital technology in art as we
enter the new Millenium?

Such are the questions posed by Alien Intelligence, a major exhibition
launching the new Millenium at Kiasma. The exhibition, curated by media
scholar Erkki Huhtamo, investigates the impact of digital technology on
culture as seen and interpreted by artists. Participating in Alien
Intelligence, there are major media artists from different parts of the
world: The United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. Many of the works have
been commissioned especially for this exhibition and will be experienced
for the first time at Kiasma. To provide a historical perspective for the
artists' visions, the exhibition also contains a "media-archeological"
gallery of historical artefacts.

Zoe Beloff Arno Coenen & Rene Bosma Chris Csikzentmihlyi Ken Feingold
Jean-Pierre Hbert Christoph Hildebrand Perry Hoberman Troy Innocent Toshio
Iwai Jane Prophet Martin Riches Ken Rinaldo Sara Roberts David Rokeby
Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau Mika Taanila

Erkki Huhtamo, interviewed in Kiasma 5, the curator of Alien Intelligence
and the editor of this catalogue, is an internationally known media
scholar, curator and television director. He was born in Helsinki, 1958.
Erkki Huhtamo has produced several books on media art and media
archaeology. His writings have been published in 12 languages. Huhtamo has
curated several media art exhibitions in Finland and elsewhere (including
the retrospectives of Toshio Iwai and Perry Hoberman). He has been
involved in organizing many international media events, also as a jury
member. He has lectured widely in different parts of the world and
directed television programs on media culture for the Finnish Television
(YLE). Huhtamo is a visiting professor at UCLA, Los Angeles (Department of

Erkki - you are curating a huge up-coming exhibition at KIASMA on
the theme Alien Intelligence. What is it all about?  

There are two intersecting axes: The exhibition looks at the ways in which
the coming of the computer and the subsequent digitalization of culture
has been seen and reflected upon by artists. Yet because such an approach
is far too wide and general, I decided to concentrate on ideas about the
computer as somehow "alive" and "smart", a kind of distorting and, perhaps
even a self-acting mirror to the human being, its creator. An Alien, and
maybe a Double.

The term Alien Intelligence, is that the same as Artificial Intelligence?  
How should one define it, or rather how do you define it?

You got it right, the title engages in a wordplay with Artificial
Intelligence (AI). Yet this is not an exhibition about Art and Artificial
Intelligence as such. Although several artworks have certainly been
influenced by Artificial Intelligence and its more recent manifestation,
Artificial Life, the connection is more metaphoric than actual. The
relationship between "AI" and AI is left deliberately ambiguous. And there
is certainly an element of humour and parody embedded in it, too.

Is the actually exhibition concerned with the verbal deifinition
of the theme?

I have seen many "media art exhibitions" which have been hardly curated at
all. They are like supermarkets, containing this and that. Yet the field
of media art is rapidly diversifying. Also, we should not accept merely a
technological solution like "interactivity" as the common denominator for
an art exhibition any longer. I emphasized the conceptual side and wanted
to create a tightly curated exhibition. I did this in close collaboration
with the artists.

How and when did this idea or concept come up? Where did the initative
come from?  During the 90's I have curated many art exhibitions which have
dealt with interactivity as a new way of relating artworks and audiences.
This began to feel too obvious and I also sensed some changes in the air.
One inspiration came from the Canadian artist David Rokeby, one of the
creators of interactive art. In an e-mail conversation in 1997 he told me,
describing a change in his art: "I feel as though the transition from Very
Nervous System to The Giver of Names is a transition naturally paralleling
the shift in the sense of what was being most challenged by the computer.
In the 80s it seemed to be the material body. In the 90s it seems to be
the notions of intelligence, and consciousness." This gave a concrete
expression to my feelings too, and partly inspired the theme of the
exhibition.  Instead of merely interacting, pushing buttons and jumping up
and down, it was time to think deeper, to reflect on our cybernetic
"partners". Of course, Giver of Names is one of the artworks in the show.

As I understand this exhibition includes plenty of works which are
commissioned solely for this event? How many artists participate?
Where are they from? Examples?

There are about 15 artists - I say about, because I am still working on
some final decisions. They come from all around the world. There are both
well known media artists, like Perry Hoberman, Ken Feingold, David Rokeby
and Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau and younger talents like the
Dutch duo Coenen and Bosma and the Australian Troy Innocent. There are
several artworks which have been commissioned for this exhibition and will
be premiered at Kiasma. In addition to the artworks, there is also a
"computer archeological" gallery of "found objects", such as antique
automata and robots, related to the theme.

How did you go about with the selection of artists and works? What
were the criterias?

The selection process has taken almost two years - a lot of travelling,
listening in, asking questions, hours and hours on the Net, etc. I did not
go after "big names", I was more interested in new creative ideas, and a
certain historical and cultural understanding too. At the same time I was
also thinking about the theme. As I said before, I did not want to put
together another "anything goes" -event. I wanted to create an original
exhibition concept, something which has not been experienced before.

What is the visitor actually going to experience at the

In spite of the rather strictly defined theme, I believe there is enough
variety to provide inspiring experiences for any kind of visitors. There
are interactive artworks, but also "automatic" works merely to observe,
without touching. Several artworks are based on state of the art
artificial life programming, but there is even a more or less traditional
floor mosaic! This exhibition is meant for people of all ages, not just
for the young.

Thinking of KIASMAs fantastic approach to art & new technology
it"s hard not to think that Swedish Institutions really are
behind. One asks oneself why things seem so much easier in Finland
regarding this area? What do you think?

KIASMA wants to be a "meeting place", a museum for everyone. It recently
organized a highly popular exhibition of technoculture. Of course Kiasma
also exhibits contemporary art produced by more traditional means,
including painting and sculpture, but there is a strong feeling that the
latest developments in media art should not be left outside its doors. It
is a new museum which looks for a new kind of a profile. I think my
proposal, developed in collaboration with Kiasma's radical media art
curator Perttu Rastas, fits well into that scheme.

What"s your experience of the attention from Finnish media
regarding art & technology?

Contemporary EU Finland wants to be seen as a leading high-tech society,
rather than a nostalgic backlands as represented by the films of Aki
Kaurismaki. This new image of "cyber-Finland", epitomized by the global
success of Nokia, one of Kiasma's sponsors, was recently featured in Wired
magazine in a 17 page article, with Nokia's CEO Jorma Ollila on the cover.
In the eyes of the media, media art seems to fit well into this vision,
although it is premature to say anything about the reception of Alien
Intelligence. To be honest, the Finnish media art scene is still fairly
narrow in its scope - there are no Finnish artists in Alien Intelligence.

And compared with the International press? Which I believe you
have experienced from your projects abroad?

Internationally media art is only beginning to attract wider attention,
and even then it is mostly video art. Yet video art began 25 years ago!
Computer art is still often considered as something esoteric, a fad rather
than a thing to be taken seriously. It will change gradually; perhaps
exhibitions like Alien Intelligence will be able to speed up the process a
little bit.

You have been around in this area of art and new technology for a
good deal of years. How has this part of the art world changed
along the years? With the event of PCs in almost every home for

One of the early utopian ideas was to take media art out from museums and
galleries and bring it to both public places and homes. This has not
really taken place, although artists like Nam June Paik have been able to
create permanent public media artworks. Video art never became popular in
the home in spite of VHS videotapes and playes. Multimedia art on CD-ROM's
distributed to the home is very much a marginal activity. The contemporary
art museum still plays an important role, in good and bad. If video games
will eventually prove to be a new popular art form maybe we will see a
change. And there is certain some promise in .

To talk a bit about you, Erkki, and your profession. What is your
background and why where you chosen to curate this exhibition?

I have been working with audiovisual media for years as a researcher,
teacher, writer, TV director and curator. I have never been able to
concentrate on just one thing, and at some point I realized that it is
best to let my different interests interact with each other. With Perttu
Rastas, the current media art curator at Kiasma, I have been responsible
for many media art events in Finland over the years, particularly within
the framework of the MuuMediaFestival. Curating Alien Intelligence is a
logical continuation of this collaboration.  Actually, in 1994 I curated
with Asko Makela and Paivi Talasmaa another large media art event for the
Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, the ISEA 94 exhibition. It took
place in the museum's former venue at the Ateneum.

Your profession, focusing on art & technology, is quite unique.
There must also, all together, be a quite small community in the
world? Is there a net work thing with exchanging of experiences
and ideas? How and where and when?

The international field of media art - I would not say it is a "community"
- is still fairly small, and I believe I know about 80% of the active
players. The Internet has proven to be a valuable means of sharing
information, although I still have to spend a lot of time in airplanes and
hotel rooms. Events like Ars Electronica in Linz and Siggraph in the
United States are important meeting places.  I have recently began to
spend a part of the year in Los Angeles as a visiting professor at the
University of California (UCLA), so that helps me to keep in track about
what is happening in the United States.

An exhibition like this must demand a lot of preparation in terms
of research, planning, technical resources? What are your tasks a
"normal" working day - if there is such a thing?

Curating an exhibition is not a full-time work for me, even on this scale.
I work on it beside my other activities. The exhibition could not have
been realized without the day-to-day impact of the Kiasma staff. They keep
the things rolling, my role is more impulsive and intermediary. As the
opening date gets closer, I find myself spending more and more time on the
Internet. I (physically) visit Kiasma once a week or so - after all, I
live in another city, Turku.

After "Alien Intelligence" - what are your plans/projects?

I am working on another exhibition for the Helsinki2000 cultural city
program. It is titled "Phantasmagoria. An Archaeology of the Moving Image"
and will take place at the recently opened Museum of Cultures in the
center of Helsinki between September 2000 and January 2001. This
exhibition deals with the pre-20th century developments of visual media
(some people speak about "pre-cinema", which concept I don't like) and is
completely based on my private collections. I will exhibit my collection
of magic lanterns, peep boxes, zoetropes etc. for the first time in
public. I am also working on another media art exhibition titled
"Circu(it)lation" for the Art Center College of Design Gallery, Pasadena,
California, for the autumn 2000. I also have a couple of book and
television projects etc., enough to keep me busy well into the next

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