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<nettime> Interview w/ Vuk Cosic
Tilman Baumgaertel on Mon, 30 Jun 1997 15:36:38 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Interview w/ Vuk Cosic


        I enclose an interview I did with Vuk Cosic in Ljuliana at the
"Beauty and the East meeting" for your reading pleasure. 

        Those who read german will find a translation of this piece and a
lot of other fascinating stuff at the new art special of "Telepolis" that
went online   {AT}  


>>Tilman Baumgaertel, Hornstr. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
Tel./Fax. 030-2170962, email: Tilman_Baumgaertel {AT} CompuServe.Com<<


?: In read somewhere that the first bible in Slovenian was printed in
Wittenberg in
Germany. I was wondering if you think there is a similar situation with the
internet now, if you have the impression that it was somehow invented
elsewhere and therefore suspicious, as many west europeans seem to think? 

Vuk Cosic: No, Slovenia is actually very well-connected. There is also a
high number of computers in offices and homes. The number of hosts per
capita is higher than in many west-european cuntries, for example in Italy
or Spain. At Ljudmilla we have a 256k-line which is the best you can get in
Slovenia. So itīs not such a bad situation. We have live-stream real audio
and video, and the bandwidth is definitely sufficent. 

?: Tell me how you got "on the net"?

Cosic: I first encountered the WorldWideWeb in the second half on 1994. I
"Wow, this is sexy." You know, the moment, when you see words on your
screen, that somebody else wrote somewhere else, is like a religious
experience, very emotional in a way. I still have a photographic memory of
what I saw when I went online for the first time, the different websites I
looked at. So I said: "This is cool", and I decided to change my career.
Before that I worked as an art manager. I did art exchange projects between
countries that were in war with each other, like Slovenia and Serbia. So on
the 4th of April 1995 was the last day of my career as an art manager. I
had finished a good project, and that day I said as myself: Ok, now Iīm
into the internet, one way or another. I didn't know if I would end up
selling modems, or teaching DOS in elementary school. I didn't have a
strict goal, only had this gut feeling to go there. It just was the thing
for me. Then I was inivited to the first nettime meeting in Venice - well,
and the rest is history. 

?: Had you worked as an artist before?

Cosic: I had done collages and other art works before, and really the only
thing that had changed was that I had discovered a new platform for my

?: I noticed that some of the pieces on your homepage seem very literary.
Do you have a background in writing?

Cosic: I originally came out of writing, but then I developed a very
strange attitude about which platform I wanted to use. I first have the
idea, than I decide which medium it is going to be this time. I did land
art, I did exhibtions. I actually have three different biographies. I was
very active in politics, I was a candidate for the nobel peace prize with a
few friends, because I was a leader of student demonstrations in Belgrade.
Originally I am a archeologist by training. I am still sort of working on
my Ph.D. thesis, but I did not persue my career as an archeologist. I know
that your next question will be 'How come that an archeologist is working
on the internet?" I think that it is the same apparatus that has just been
turned around on the tripot, looking in the other direction...

?: So you are an archeologist of the future? 

Cosic: Yeah, I am on that tripod. 

?: Back to your career as aspiring net artists. Tell me how you got started
in this art form, in case it really is an art form...

Cosic: For some reason I didnīt dare to do HTML for quite some time. I
didn't want to
dirty my hands, until I eventually understood how fucking simple it is.
When I finally
started, nothing could stop me. I did the first website that could be
called net art in May 1996 for a conference called "Net.art per se" that
took place in Trieste in Italy. 

?: There is this one "found footage" page that you designed that looks the
homepage of CNN, except that the main headline is"Net.art found possible"
and that the hidden hotlinks all lead to other art websites... 

Cosic: That was pretty surprising for a lot of people. And I was very
surprised that these guys at this conference appreciated my work. And
that's the beauty of all of this that developed out of this conference.
It's like me and Heath Bunting and Alexej Shulgin and Olia Lialina and Jodi
had studios next to each other, where we could look at what the others were

?: What do you mean with "having a studio next to each other"?

Cosic: You know, it's like Picasso and Braque in Paris in 1907...

?: But they were physically together...

Cosic: The output of a net artists is net art, which is obviously - because
of the qualities of the internet - accessible to everybody. And I can see
everything that they do in the moment they do it. It usually goes like
this: Jodi do something new - and they are crazy, they are maniacs, they
create something new every other day - and they send the URL to me, and
ask: What do you think about this? And there are collaborations over the
net, too, and group projects. We steal a lot from each other, in the sense
that we take some parts of codes, we admire each others tricks. 

Jodi are very interesting in their exploration of technology, but Heath is
magnificent in his social awareness and his glorious egotism, or Alexej
with his russian temperament. Cyber-Majakowski, someone once called him. I
have the feeling that I know the greatest people that are alive in my time,
while they are still good. Now we have this communication system that
reminds me of the communication between the futurists or later the
dadaists. There were two guys in Berlin, four in guys in Paris, two in
Russia, and they all knew each other, and there were all 25 years old. How
did they get in touch? It was because of the strength of their believes and
the good communication channels, because there were a few guys traveling.
What we have now is the same: We have some strengths, we have some
qualities - even though that's really up to others to say - and most of all
we have a good communication system. 

?: Which is the internet?

Cosic: This time it's the internet. Earlier it was Picabia who had the
money to buy an
expensive car and travel and print one issue of his magazine in every town
he came to. 

?: When I look at your work, but also at the works of Shulgin or Jodi, one
aspect of net art that catches one's attention, is that it is very

Cosic: The usual analogy is video art, which was also very self-referential
in the sixties when it started. I am not talking about video art today,
which has developed in a sort of funny direction. But if you think about
pieces by people like Weibel, they were very much about monitors, about 100
Hertz, about all kinds of noise. They were all about this video option you
had suddenly as an artist. 

Then again there are not such easy generalisations. None of us has really
done net art that has references to historic avantgardes. There is no real
dada lover among us, even though I manically collect the books from this
period. But there is no dada web site, which to my mind would be a total
mistake. That's for boring people to do. That's why I am doing CNN. That's
self-referential in a certain way. We like to think about the net, and how
it's made, because we want to understand it. And our process of
understanding it is immediately transformed into some form of expression. 

?: What is a very striking parallel between net art and video art is that
the first that artists did when they discovered television or video was to
take these media apart and attempted to destroy them. Now the same thing
seems to happen on the net.

Cosic: Exactly! I did a lot of HTML-documents that crashed your browsers. I
noticed that there was a mistake somewhere in my programming. And than I
asked myself: is this a minus or a plus? So than I was looking how to get
to that. It was not enough just to avoid this mistake, I was trying to
really understand that particular mistake, with frames, or with GIFs which
used to crash old browsers, or later Java Script, that does beautiful
things to your computer in general.

?: So why is it the first reflex of artists to decontruct a new medium?

Cosic: In what we are doing, there aren't any laws. It is like any other
art form, it's totally individual. I think, that every new medium is only a
materialisation of previous
generations' dreams. This sounds like a conspiracy theory now, but if you
look at many conceptual tools, that were invented by Marcel Duchamp or by
Joseph Beuys or the early conceptionalists, they have become a normal
everyday routine today with every email you send. With every time you open
Netscape and press a random URL at Yahoo! 80 years ago this action, that is
now totally normal everyday life, would have been absolutely the most
advanced art gesture imaginable, understandable only to Duchamp and his two
best friends. This very idea to have randomness in whatever area, form,
shape, would have been so bizarre in those days. Or to do something that
makes artistic sense here and somewhere else at the same time! You recall
these art projects where there was one guy in Tokyo and one New York, and
they agree over the telephone to do the same thing at the same time, to
look at the sun or something - we do it with the internet all the time,
with web cameras! I see this deletion of remoteness as something very
intriguing, and maybe
that's one little proof of this weird thesis that the internet is only the
materialisations of earlier generations' dreams. I will give a lecture in
Finnland in September in which I will argue that art was only a substitute
for the internet. That is of course a joke. I know very few people who have
so much esteem for what artists did in the past. 

?: There is a lot of reflection going on about net art right now. That is
very different from  other art movements where the artist-genius put some
paint on the canvas and it was up to us, the audience, to wonder what this

Cosic: Yeah, in a way we are Duchamp's ideal children. You and I and all
the people in this conference, we have all read a lot. Let's not be modest
about this, because we are proud of that. We read a lot, we work a lot, and
we are at the same time creative, because the medium internet is enabling
us to be this way. 

?: There is a piece on your website where you encourage people to put
footnotes on
academic texts. That's another thing I noticed about net art, that it is a
lot about theory.

Cosic: Yeah, that's what nettime does to otherwise normal people.
Unfortunately I didn't find enough strength in me to persue this project.
Now it is only an invitation for collaboration that never found an echo.
There were a few, by Heiko Idensen and Heath Bunting and Pit Schultz, but
it wasn't enough. I have them in my mail box though...

?: Does it matter if this project gets finished or not?

Cosic: No, there is this state of final incompleteness, as Duchamp once
said about his Big Glass. I can open this document whenever I want - I call
them documents, not art pieces - and do whatever I want to it. It's cool. I
don't want it to be finished. I'm not interested in this project very much
anymore, though. 

?: Is your homepage a complete collection of all the art project you did on
the net?

Cosic: No, my homepage is not a catalogue of my works, because there are a
lot of things that I am doing when I go to other places, which I never put
them on my homepage. A lot of net artists are trying hard to get as many
links as possible from important web sites like "ars electronica" or
"Telepolis", in order to get many hits on their sites, to get recognized.
But to me this protocol is also subject to artistic reflexion. Thatīs why
there are a lot of my works missing on my site. I sometimes give fake
URLīs. I used to print fake business cards, and now I do the same thing on
the net, just for the fun you can have with misinformation. 

?: One of the most conceptual pieces on your website is called "A day in
the life of an internet artist", which records your daily activities. Other
people call this a homepage, but in your case it is a work of art. Why?

Cosic: That was the first time that I noticed that there is a million ways
of classifying what you are doing on the internet. The reasons is that on
the internet it is so beautifully undefined which plattform you are going
to use: text, video, graphics, audio, whatever. You certainly have a
problem there, and you really have to go down to the basics. When you go
down to the basics, art is really about subjectivity, even if you attempt
to do something else. And even the worst formalist experiments in the
heroic age of video art are a reflexion of the individual quality of the
maker. And I am trying to play/work with that. 

?: So it is dealing with the historic art genre of the self-portrait?

Cosic: Yeah, sort of. In this particular site I tried to give a vivisection
of my everyday
communication with the internet enviroment. So there is one part that deals
with my net art projects, one that deals with writing, one that is called
"job art"... 

? Why is it art to have a job?

Cosic: I am a little bit puzzled with the term "art". Not because I decline
the epithet artist - itīs a nice hat to wear and the girls like it, too.
But actually it is a little bit worrying how it puts you into a certain
corner. So instead of deleting the word "art" as etiquette for what I do, I
gave the word "art" to *everything* I do. 

?: Like Yves Klein said: "Everything is art"...

Cosic: Yes, but I try to do it in a very practical, everyday way, without
too much talk about it. This web site is not accompanied by an essay or
anything. Actually there *is* an essay with the same title, but it has
nothing to do with the web site. That was another thing I did to mislead
the audience. 

?: There is one piece on Nicholas Negroponte on your website too. What is
that about?

Cosic: When Negroponte came to Ljubliana, I had a big fight with him, and
we interrupted his speech. Luka Frelih and I went around the city spraying
graffiti: "Wired = Pravda". I made it look like a secret internet terrorist
organisation. On the website we compare him to Tito. But we did it without

?: Today at the conference you proposed a project called "Ljudmila West".
Can you say something about this?

Cosic: Ljudmila West is a foundation that is set up to help west european
artists to
communicate, to learn about new multimedia technologies and to contribute
to the
european integration, because there is an obvious lack of information in
this area. So we can not sit with our arms crossed. We should do something
about this. Because this is definetely the last moment for the West
Europeans to catch on, otherwise they will remain in their closed systems
or their closed societies, to quote Popper and Soros. 

?: Is this a parody of the rethoric used at events like the V 2 festival in
Rotterdam? The west europeans are helping the poor east europeans out of
their mess, only reversed? 

Cosic: I have been to so many art events in the west, where the direction
of teaching was not the expected one. It was actually the guys from
Belgrade and Moscow teaching those french, british, german fellows things
about life. Of course this virtual Ljudmila West project is just a cute
little joke, but there is a very serious point to it. And it comes out of
very serious frustration. I am not a frustratable fellow, but I noticed
this growing frustration among east europeans.  So I as an artist react and
offer an art project, which is this story about Ljudmila West. Sounds like
the name of a film actress, by the way.

Interview: Tilman Baumgärtel
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