rachel baker on Sun, 16 Mar 97 00:54 MET

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Re: nettime: Art on Net

>>The term net-art (as opposed to art that happens to
>>appear on the net) should be quietly ditched.
>impossible after the definitive introduction by grandmasters Cosic and
>Shulgin in Trieste last May
>this term is a heuristic device used with a lot of irony by the operators
>the first truly machinic art form

So imagine the grandmaster Shulgin at a retrospective of his net.artworks
after the term has been consigned to history (say two months from now),
taking us through his career in an interview reminiscent of the precursor
to truly machinic art forms - grandmaster Duchamp. See the how theissues of
old modernist grandmasters conflate with the new.

"Regions which are not ruled by time and space...."*

Edited version of "A Conversation with Alexei Shulgin," interview conducted
by Rachel Baker, Riga, Art + Communication, November

 RB So here you are, Alexei, looking at the Moscow wwwarts gold medal
award site

 AS Yes, and the more I look at it the more I like it. I like the links,
 the way they fall. You remember how it happened in 1996, we put the two
 concepts of found web pages and found criticism together not knowing what they
 were carrying, and bounced suggestions around for suitable sites deserving
 award and that's the result! But the more I look at it the more I like the
 links:  They  have a shape. There is a symmetry in the linking, there
 is an intention there, a curious intention that I am not responsible
 for, a ready-made intention, in other words, that I respect and love.

 RB This was one of your most ambitious undertakings, wasn't it?

 AS By far the most ambitious. I worked eight months on it, and it is far
 from finished. I do not even know if it will ever be finished; Moscow
 wwwart site is always unfinished.

RB There are several versions of the Entry Page to Moscow WWWarts, aren't

AS Yes, eight; these
were shown at the Metaforums 3 Conference in Budapest 1996

RB The  critics called us an explosion in a shingle factory

AS Yes. That was really a great line they put out. Now this is the BlaBla
 As you see the design is completely arbitrary because that was the period
 when I changed completely from exhibiting art photography to exhibiting
 'non-art' sites, with no relation to arty handiwork.

RB Alexei, these are not the earliest works.

 AS No, no, no. The earliest
is this one here - Hot Pictures, That  was done before Moscow wwwarts
centre in 1994.

RB It is rather gallery-like, isn't it? That was the vogue.

 AS Yes; well, it was not just the vogue, it was the only thing
we knew about. It was a little advanced at the time, but when you look
at these two sites (Bla Bla, Gold Medal) which are later, you can see photo
- galleries were already a thing of the past.

 RB They are less static.
 The Moscow wwwarts Centre was for net.artists. How were you funded?

AS My funder, Ars. E. Lectronica, was  very nice about it. In fact, it was
very difficult then, as it is now, to  become a net.artist on your own. How
can you expect to live? He was  a good man. He used to give all of us a
small allowance, just enough for us   to live on. He was always very
understanding and always helped us  out of scrapes, for a long time even
after we were established. And he   had  very odd ideas. He told us "All
right, I'm going to  give you what you
want, but listen: there  are 12 of you. Anything   I give you while
I'm alive I will deduct from your inheritance."  So  he kept a careful
account of all the amounts, and when he died   these amounts had been
deducted from our inheritance. Not so   stupid, actually, that idea: it
helped us all manage,

 RB Well, there seems to be quite a step between Hot Pictures and the
gold Medal award site.

 AS Yes, Gold Medal was two weeks later,   and it was after these that
I decided to get away from all the influences I had been   under before.
I wanted to live in the present, and the present then was computer
communication. You see, in May 1996 net.art was new: the approach was so
different   from the previous movements that I was very much attracted
toward it. I became a  Net.artist and gradually came up with  Refresh.

 RB The Site has plenty of movement in it, net.art seemed to  be interested
in movement.

AS Yes. But don t forget there was also techno culture
at the same time. Croatian Rave... though I didn't know about it. I was
in my studio the Moscow wwwarts centre. I didn't  even know of the
ravers existence although at exactly the time I was designing this
Site. Was that a coincidence or was it in the air? I don't know. But I
did this site with  the idea of using movement as one of the elements in
it. The next year, I entered the  site in an exhibition.

 RB That was an event in the history of Net.art?

AS Yes, but we only know it now, 2 months later. At the time it
could have been just an explosion in a shingle factory: a successful week
or two, and    then nothing. But that was not enough for me. I went on with
idea that, all right, I had done what I could with
photo-galleries but now it     was time to change. It was always the idea
of changing, not repeating myself. I could have done ten other Hot
Pictures at that time if I had     wanted to. But the fact is I did not
want to. But I went on immediately to art  formula, the formula of the
Found Art site.    I used to surf around the pages of the World Wide Web
looking at the countless  homepages people had constructed. They fascinated
me so  much that I took it as a point of departure

 RB Well, what was different in your point of view of homepages than in
any  normal view of a homepage? Was it a mechanical interest, is that

AS Yes. The mechanical aspect of it influenced me then, or at least
that  was also the point of departure of a new form of technique. I
 couldn't go into the designing of new material I wanted to go back   to
a completely dry conception of art. I was beginning to appreciate  the
value of accident, the importance of chance. The result was that my work
was  more popular with amateurs, and   among those who liked net. Art.
The linking, threading and self-selection was for me  the best form for
that dry conception of art.

 RB And that was the real beginning for the Refresh site. At the time
 you did this, did you have a precise idea of what was coming?

AS I was already beginning to make an indefinite plan,  The WWWarts
gold medal site was one point of departure,   and then came the BLa BLA
site on the side. All this was conceived, networked, and  on screen in
1996. It was based on a dispersed, multi-dimensional chaotic view,
meaning incomplete knowledge of the arrangement of the  parts. It could be
haphazardly done or changed afterwards. It  did not have to go through
according to plan, so to speak.

 RB Well, l imagine you feel that Refresh heralded some-  thing in your
work, something of that break you have often told me  about.

AS Yes, it
was really a very important moment in my life. I had   to make big
decisions then. The hardest was when I told myself  "Alexei no more
Internet conferences, go get a job."

 RB I looked for a job in order to get enough time to make projects for
myself.  I got a job as a technician in  London atthe Institute Of
Electrical Engineers. It was a wonderful job be-   cause I had so many
hours to myself.

AS You mean to make projects for yourself, not merely to please other
people?  You know you are either a professional or not. There are two kinds
of artists:  the artist that is integrated into society; and the other
artist, the completely
freelance artist, who has no obligations.
 The artist in society has to make certain compromises to   please it;
is that why you took the job?

 RB Exactly, exactly, I didn't want to depend on my art projects for a
living.    But, Alexei, if you speak of a disregard for the broad public
    and say you are doing art for yourself, wouldn't you accept that as
 making art for an 'ideal' public, for a public which would appreciate  you
if they would only make the effort?

 AS Yes, indeed. It is only a way of putting myself in the right
position  for that ideal public. The challenge is in pleasing an
immediate  public;You should not wait for   fifty years or a hundred years
for your true
public. The immediately present public is   the only public that
interests me.

 RB That is a rather elitist point of view. I don't think you ever felt
that a person was justified in living in an ivory tower and disregarding
the intelligent and sympathetic public.

 AS No, no, no ivory tower in my idea at all.

 RB I remember a line in an interview with Vuk Cosic in which you said
that there was more possibility with the Internet to find art that
doesn't realise itself as art - non-conceived, intuitive, spontaneous
and naive.

 AS You see the danger is to "lead yourself' into a form of taste, even
 the taste of the Moscow wwwart site

 RB Taste then for you is repetition of anything that has been accepted;
is that what you mean'?

 AS Exactly; it is a habit. Repeat the same thing long enough and it be-
comes taste. If you interrupt your work, I mean after you have done  it,
then it becomes, it stays a thing in itself; but if it is repeated a
number of times it becomes taste.

RB And good taste is repetition that is approved by society and bad
taste is the same repetition which is not approved; is that what you

 AS Yes, good or bad is of no importance because it is always good for
some people and bad for others. Quality is not important, it is al-
ways taste.

RB Well, how did you find the way to get away from good or bad taste
in your personal expression?

AS By using found art techniques. A found art site has no taste in it

RB Because it is divorced from conventional art institutional expression
of   taste?

AS Exactly, at least I thought so at that time, and I think the same

RB Then does this divorce from conventional art institutions in net.art
have   a relationship to the interest you had in found art sites?

AS It was naturally, in trying to draw a conclusion or consequence from
  the de-institutionalisation of the work of art, that I came to the
idea of     Gold Medal Award sites which in effect are already
completely made. Let me     show you: this is a  website with
innocent non-art intentions,  it is a ready-made.   Now it is a Ready-made
in which shit is
changed to gold, metaphorically speaking. It is a sort of a mythological
effect produced by art awards and art criticism.

RB You didn't know me before you came to Holland

AS No. I came to Amsterdam in January. I met you at the Next Five
Minutes  conference it was the beginning of a long email friend- ship.
We devised the Gold  Medal Award and discussed infiltration of Nettime

RB The Nettime group was associated with several other groups, wasn't

AS Yes, there was Vuk Cosic and Heath Bunting for example, who was also
a   patron of net.art, and he started a museum called CERN. And there >was
V2    whose purpose was to promote net.artists from the east to get
a sort of communication between east and west, and it was quite
successful then. It was from then on  that the West was absolutely
net.art conscious, which it had never been before.

RB I see. Well, Vuk Cosic also owned your Refresh page which    we were
looking at a little while ago.

 AS Yes, it was in the Moscow WWWarts collection in 1996, at the    time
of its near-completion-. But no-one could own it because  it was too
fragile to transport, given its size.

RB Alexei, from what you say the Refresh page was never really finished.

 AS No. No. The last time somebody worked on it was this morning .

 RB So it remains a sort of unfinished epic. And also for me it seems to
indicate that you were never really dedicated to conventional
communication   in the ordinary sense of the word. I imagine that there
is something broader in your concept of what art is than just

 AS Yes. I considered art as a means of expressing the present,  not an
end in itself. One means of expression among others, and not a complete
end for life at all; in the same way I consider that color is only a
means of expression in painting and not an end. In other words,
communication should not be exclusively retinal or visual; it should
have to do with the concept, with our urge for understanding. This is
generally what I love. I didn't want to pin myself down and I tried at
least to be as universal as I could. That is why I took up Internet.
Internet initself is a hobby, is a game, everybody can play Internet.
It's like chess.   Actually when you play a game of chess it is like
designing something or constructing a mechanism of some kind by which
you win or lose. The competitive side of it has no importance, but the
thing itself is very, very strategic, and that is probably what
attracted me to   the Internet game.

RB Do you mean by that another form of communication?

AS Yes, at least it was another facet of the same kind of mental
expression, intellectual expression, one small facet if you want, but it
differed enough to make it distinct, and it added something to my life.

RB Do you regard Moscow WWWarts page as a distinct expression of  your
personality '?

AS Yes. Absolutely. It was a new form of expression for me. Instead of
merely photographing something for gallery exhibition the idea was to
reproduce the  work that l loved so much in miniature. I didn't know how
to do it. I thought  of a book, but I didn't like that idea. Then I
thought of the idea of  the box in which all my works would be mounted
like in a small museum, a portable museum, so to speak, and here it is
in this  Internet valise.

RB It is a sort, of ready-made catalogue, isn't it.

AS There was a whole art system, which I thought up to win at roulette at
Monte Carlo. Of  course I never broke the bank with it. But I thought I
found a system.

 RB Did you win anything?

 AS No, I never won anything. But at any rate as you know, I am
interested in the intellectual side, although I don't like the word
"intellect." For me "intellect" is too dry a word, too inexpressive. I
like  the word "belief." I think in general that when people say "I
know," they don't know, they believe. I believe that art is the only
form of activity in which man as man shows himself to be a true
individual. Only in art is he capable of going beyond the animal  state,
because art is an outlet toward regions which are not ruled by   time
and space. To live is to believe; that's my belief, at any rate.

*"A Conversation with Marcel Duchamp," television ionterview conducted by
James Johnson Sweeny, NBC, January 1956, Philadelphia Museum of Art
.....moscow wwwart centre......

london<+>isle of wight<=>liverpool<if>lusanne<then>vienna<go to>budapest<&>

ljublana<re:>barcelone<go to>bahamas

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