Peter Luining on Sat, 27 Mar 2004 15:56:47 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Interview with Mouchette

Interview with Mouchette

Of course everybody knows Mouchette or better everybody thinks (s)he knows
Mouchette. Here's an interview with Mouchette that I made for the P2P show
that momentarily is held at the Postartum galery in L.A. It tries to
uncover what's behind Mouchette and focusses amongst others on issues as
"the life of a virtual character", copyrights and art institutions.

Peter Luining: - Mouchette has been for quite a while on the net. How did
you find out about the internet and are there any specific reason why you
started with "Mouchette"?

Mouchette: Internet arrived very early in Holland and it was like a
democratic revolution. For the first time in the history of information, a
medium was created where every receiver could become a sender. There was a
sort of euphoria, an utopia of the information age was suddenly made true.
Everything you saw on the web was something you could make yourself and
put out there for everyone to see. I didn't have much technical background
but web technology was very simple at that time, so if I could do a web
page, a child could do it too. I was very amused by the phenomenon of the
personal homepage, which I immediately experienced as a popular "genre" in
that medium. I am the kind of person who thinks that art is never where
you expect it, and that art is only in the eye of the beholder: a true
descendant of Marcel Duchamp.

PL: - By now everybody knows that there are links to Mouchette and the
movie by Robert Bresson, you were even in a legal fight with the heirs of
the director, could you tell something more about links inspiration?

Mouchette: I knew I wanted to make a young girl's character. There were
others I liked. It could have been Alice (by Lewis Carroll) or Zazie (from
"Zazie dans le Metro" by Raymond Queneau) but they were too well known
(Zazie in France) and their lineage was already claimed so much. I liked
the dark aspects of the character of Mouchette, she was not cute, pink and
pretty, although I must say I didn't know the film very well at that time,
I'd only seen it once. I was very impressed by the art of Robert Bresson.
His film making was so pure and minimal, with essential facts like a greek
tragedy. His actors didn't "play" or "pretend", they embodied the
character by their physical presence only and plainly spoke out the text,
he always chose non-professional (amateur) actors. The work I created in
reference to the film (the Film Quiz) is a homage. Too bad Bresson's widow
didn't see it like that! She didn't like the spirit of it, a certain cold
humour. The dispute ultimately worked out in my favour: I had to remove
the work from my site, but through the solidarity of the community
it got hosted by more than 50 different sites.

PL: - You give shape to a character on the internet, a lot of art on the
net is about playing with identity, especially in the early days. We
nowadays see a tendency in art that is called identity art in the true
sense, meaning searching for were do I stand, who am I, going back to your
roots, through self. Do you think Mouchette still fits in this last
category or do you think she is a product of a certain period?

Mouchette: For me identity is something that exists between the "I" and
the "you", it's not just a personal investigation. Mouchette is
constructed by her public. When they love her, when they insult her, they
make her who she is. And I design everything like this: words as
questions, identity as an empty space where people project their desire.
That is why it is still growing since the beginning, and that is why I
never get bored with it because I'm not just looking at my own
(artificial) navel; and evolve with the public, with the development of
the internet itself. I'm just another drop of water on the internet ocean,
changing with it.

PL - Mouchette's website seems to be visited by a lot of people that
aren't aware of its art background. Do you think this, crossing over
different audiences, is a typical thing of net art?

Mouchette: No. I think most net.artists want to throw their CV and
artist's statement at your face before you see their work. Their work can
usually be understood by a child of 10 (which is a good thing) but they
want to force it into the art context that way. I think is a form
of public art, art for the public space, it should be accessible for any
kind of public, at any level. Let the curators and the art institutions
see Mouchette as art if they can, but if they can't, it's only their
problem. I'm not going to exhibit my artistic pedigree and references to
make my work fit into their frame of mind. They are the ones who should
change their frame of mind and understand what the internet public already
sees very clearly. So if there is some crossing over to be done, it's on
the side of the art institutions, who should find a new place between the
net.artists and the public.

PL: Interesting. The point that you make about the "institutional"
artworld sounds very similar to ideas of a lot of early "net artists" that
saw/see themselves not as artists (Michael Samyn, Heath Bunting, Graham
Harwood) but tried/try to get this different "frame of mind" through too.
What's your stance/view on this?

Mouchette: It's nice to know that on internet you can propose your work
outside of ANY art context and that surfers who stumble on it by chance
will have some fun, some pleasure, some first-hand emotion without having
to relate to any known work of art or to any critical theory. Yet, if your
work can still function on that level and offer analytical content to
those who have an artistic or intellectual background, if your work can be
approached on several levels at the same time, then you know you have the
right frame of mind. Yes, that's the best of both worlds, an ideal
position. I know it doesn't always work like this, so if I choose to
ignore one type of public, it's the artistic public. When they're smart
enough they get the intellectual content by themselves, without having it
explained. And I know this analytical approach is going to come out in my
work one way or another because it's present inside of me.

PL: Something related to this is that I know Mouchette won some art prizes
on festivals you had to apply for. If you do enter this competitions do
you just send your url or are you going for the full form. What I mean
with this is: does Mouchette adapts on this level to get her "frame of
mind" through?

Mouchette: In the very beginning I didn't connect to the art world at all,
but the art world connected to me at some point. Takuji Kogo (Candy
Factory, Tokyo) was the first one to pick it up as art in 1997, he made
collaborative exhibitions in his gallery, he introduced my work to
Rhizome. Net art people had no difficulty in seeing it as the creation of
a grown up and developed artist although nobody told them. They spread it,
commented it, linked it. So it was easy for me to enter my work in
competitions. Besides, most of them didn't request any artistic
references, you only had to send your URL. When I have to give more
details, I never break the rule of the anonymity of the author and never
disclose my gender. I'm still within my rules in this interview. I like it
when my work participates in the artworld and I would make the effort to
bring it to them if I can stay within my rules. I want to add here that
this "mystery of the author" serves no personal purpose, only an artistic
purpose. But it makes it all the more difficult to connect to the world of
art as much as I would want to.

PL: And linked to the question above: do you see yourself as an artist or
net artist?

Mouchette: From the beginning I always saw myself as an artist, not a
net.artist or a something-artist, just an artist. For me is not
separated from the rest of the arts. It should be brought to the public by
museums and other art institutions.

PL: Ehhh. Above you say that net art should be seen as a form of public
art, art for public space, to bring it in the white cube is something
different. Explain.

Mouchette: Art in the public space should be enjoyed by the passing people
without any reference to the art context, that's what I meant. It can be
integrated in the street context to such a point that it's not even seen
as art, but still experienced as something meaningful, or useful, or
disturbing etc... When envisioned through the art context, the standpoint
is different and what makes it an artwork is a particular mixture of the
work itself and the public participation to the work. That's why I don't
see a contradiction between general public and art public: it's just a
different standpoint for the same work.


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