fokky on Sat, 27 Sep 1997 21:08:45 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> interview with

---------------------- <context> -----------------------------

Michael Samyn (29) studied graphic design in Sint Lucas, Belgium.
Until 1995 he designed graphics for print media and made analog art with
Group Z, Belgium.
>From 1995 he devoted himself to digital media, most of his work intended
for the internet.
As a designer he is Zuper! ( As an artist Group Z,
Belgium ( He did FFF
( together with Jef Morlan and is still doing Heaven
& Hell ( with Olia Lialina. He recently
won one of the prestigious Form Art Competition prizes
( and became the proud father of a daughter
When it gets hot he gets horny (
On October, 15 Michael will give a lecture at the Dutch
Vormgevingsinstituut (Keizersgracht 609, Amsterdam) - lecture series
"ontwerpen in de informatiemaatschappij" - discussing the death of

Fokky (Sandra Fauconnier) (24) has just graduated as an art historian at
the University of Gent, Belgium. She has written a thesis about
web-specific art and now works as a researcher at the Teacher Training
Department (CAMER research group; new media oriented; of the same university. She is
passionately involved with new media art and will probably soon start Ph.D.
research on this subject.

--------- < start e-interview michael-fokky > ------------------

"Since good pornography is even more rare than good art, one might consider
good pornography to be more valuable than good art." (Michael)

Fokky: Mr Spammer, some time ago you caused some commotion -- thanks to
Andreas Broeckmann even Nettime could enjoy it (13 aug. '97) -- with your
(junk?)mail to The original message was a link to a new
project of yours, . Wow! Tell me something
about it... (noot: in een van de nettime-manifesten staat dat nettime tegen
porno is, tenzij goed gemaakt. Profitez!)

Michael: I guess that remark in Dutch is not intended for the sensitive
hearts of I find it very interesting though.
So Nettime -who- or whatever that may be- is against porno, unless it's
well done? I find that a strange idea. I am personally against *anything*
that is not well done -including a lot of my own work. The difference
between art and porno is that in art the percentage of well made things
lies slightly higher. Let's say about 10 percent of art is worth looking
at, while maybe only 1 percent of porn is. Most pornography, as most art,
is boring and ugly.


Fokky: What's your remedy against this boredom and ugliness? What will your
well-done porn look like?

Michael: My remedy against boredom and ugliness is excitement and beauty. Ok?
The best remedy against bad art is not to look at it. Sounds easy but it
took me a lot of time and experience to come to that conclusion.
I don't know what my porn will look like. I know what kind of effect I want
it to have on people and I will do my best to reach that. I'll probably end
up making something entirely different, like I usually do :( . I'm just a
medium and my brain is not big enough to understand my muse.

But I think you wanted to ask me something about being critical and
commercial at the same time?

Fokky: Yeah! I wrote about you in my web art thesis and what struck me, was
the fact that you are both an internet artist and a web designer. You
depend on your commercial design for a living. I have a feeling -- but I
could be wrong, since your girlfriend is angry with me ;-) -- this has
quite an influence on your "artistic" work as well. I called you a
formalist in one of our last emails, and this made you really angry. Let me
explain myself better. Your work is very experimental and flamboyant (Olia
Lialina calls it "baroque"), you use Shockwave very often, your interface
design is extremely innovative. But what's behind it? I'm interested in art
with some critical content, some reflection about the (political,
sides of the) medium too. Do you want to be critical? Can you afford it,
being a commercial designer? It might be there, only I'm unwilling or
unable to see it. Maybe you have different intentions. I'm quite curious to
hear what you have to say to this.

Michael: I was trained a graphic designer. The difference between art and
design for me is that design should serve a certain function. But since my
school days I have never ceased finding new functions for design. A chair
is not just meant to sit on. So the border between my art and my design is
getting more and more blurred. The only practical difference I currently
still make is that I get paid to do design.

As an artist I have always found my education as a designer to be a
benefit. I don't have an artist's fetshisms -like being in love with the
smell of oil paint- and I don't feel any pressure to pretend that my work
has very deep philosophical meanings or the urge to express my inner self.
Also I happen to be very interested in everything modern like fashion and
pop music. So being a designer helps to use that kind of imagery,

My art is research. I don't want to be critical as such. I want to analyze
things and present my results. Those results should help the viewer to deal
with contemporary society better.

A lot of my work is about this strange coexistence of the natural and the
media world, which you can probably extend to the 'real' and the fantasy
world. Both seem very real to me and influence each other. With my work I
try to help
Alice survive in Wonderland. So it's not the medium as such that I find
interesting but the mediatization.

Maybe I'm not critical in the way that revolutionaries are critical. It's
probably a typically Belgian attitude to find workarounds instead of trying
to solve the problem. Problems are like facts to me, not questions that
need answering. I try to face the facts.

In my design, on the other hand, I am probably much more critical. Maybe
because criticism is a lot easier to communicate than what I tried to
describe above. All my design is critical of what it is about. It is always
full of jokes and puns that make fun of its subject.

A form of criticism that I do like to practice is meta-criticism, criticism
of the criticism. I am very critical of criticism. I always suspect the
critics to have other reasons for their criticism than righteous ones.
Maybe they are only critical because it's so sexy to be critical. Since the
Benetton/Toscani ad campaign criticism has been very fashionable, and as
such suspect.

During the CDA period when every website made its homepage black as a way
to protest against censorship, for instance, I made the homepage of FFF
black too with the text "This page is black as a result of aesthetic
considerations." FFF, which you present as a totally brainless site in your
thesis, is in fact full of (meta-) critical statements like this one, about
the medium, about the internet society, about the art world, etcetera. It's
probably the most critical project I've been involved in.
You just didn't see it.

Fokky: Hey you bastard, I never said it was brainless! :-p Still, I'm sorry
about that. I might have misunderstood. But why? This puzzles me. Maybe
your flamboyant design methods are not the most efficient means to
communicate this. Or maybe they are too efficient, cause they're
manipulating, they disguise a lot; your work takes me (the viewer/user)
somewhere unexpected without my being aware of it. You are playing with the
interesting but dangerous relationship between art, design and commerce; in
that sense your remark about the Benetton campaign was very meaningful. Are
you aware of your manipulative power as a designer and do you use it
deliberately in your art projects?

Michael: First of all I'd like to make it clear that I'm a minimalist.
Nothing but the very essential shows up in my work. It's only because of
the complexity and ambiguity of the subject matter that my work starts to look
'flamboyant' or 'baroque'. And I'm usually a reasonably happy person, so I
use happy colors. Though the latter is also a result of a very
minimalistic systematic approach: I use red, orange, yellow, green, blue,
purple, pink, white, black and brown. I don't like in between colors or
tints. Furthermore I like using squares and circles. Rectangles and ovals
are not 'pure' enough. And I like round numbers, you will find a lot more
GIFs that are 100 pixels wide than 98 or 103 in my work. Etcetera.
Etcetera. Which goes to show that minimalism is just another mannerism. I
love mannerisms. And please don't come calling me a 'formalist' because of
that. Mannerism is just the style, not the content. I love a good style.

Yes. I want to manipulate the users of my work. I have by far not reached
the goal I have set for myself. I won't be satisfied until I can get into
their skulls and push their hormonal activities over the limit of human
tolerance. And they will love it.
But I will never do it without letting the users know that they are being
manipulated. At least if they're smart enough.

The only reason why advertising might be more manipulative than art is
because the people who made those ads are more talented than the artists.

I love to be manipulated. Especially when I know that I am being
manipulated. It's a bit like sex, isn't it?

Fokky: Yes. But what about consumerism?

Michael: What about it? 'I shop therefore I am'. Manifesting ones identity
by consuming certain things is better than having no identity at all. Some
might call it art. Consumerism is part of our culture. Consumerism is not
the enemy. If there is an enemy than it's the consumers themselves.
Consumerism may in fact be a way to escape from the impasse our culture got
itself into.

Isn't it about time that we lose that old fashioned idea about Art in
Museums and Galleries? Art can be everywhere (some might say *has to be*
everywhere -else- in order to survive postmodern stress): in shops, in
magazines and even on the world wide web. It's not because something
doesn't *look like art* that it isn't...
The borders between art, design and entertainment are vanishing rapidly.
Art, as we used to know it, is dead or can't stop dying. Let's hope that
design and entertainment die too and that out of the three a huge new
experience environment forms where we can be manipulated as much as we
want to (without having to be worried about "Do we understand it?" or "Do
we find it beautiful?" or "Should we be having fun?").

Fokky: I'm quite glad you say this. This is exactly the reason why I find
your new pornography project so interesting, cause it has no art context,
it should be nice for anyone, for both porno lovers and art lovers, haha.

Michael: I think everybody is a porno lover and everybody is an art lover.
It just depends on the kind of art or porno.

Fokky: It's very challenging, I'm really curious what it will look like.

Michael: Me too.

Fokky: What do you consider your best project until now?

Michael: Depends when you ask me. Usually I find the very last thing I've
done the best thing ever. So as for publicly available stuff, that would
be, err... 'Horny' I guess!
But there's more recent and much better stuff sitting on my harddisk.
But sometimes I get melancholic and I start liking, say, the old
'Virgin/Sucker' very much.
I don't know really. And actually the more works I produce, the more I see
connections between them. Maybe they're all part of one big project. And
that would be my best project, I guess.

And off line, my best project is of course Marcel, my son. But the
competition is closing in!...

Fokky: Your little baby daughter Martha :-D
Look, here's something very typical: in your work you talk about your
personal life very often; most of your art is about everyday life. Why is
that, and why this self-exhibitionism?

Michael: That's a question I have asked myself more than once. Expecially
because I believe that a work of art should be an object in it's own right:
one should not be obliged to know the artist or how he or she lives in
order to understand the work.
My work is about contemporary life and I guess I use my own life as a
model. Every artist probably makes works about his or her own life and
since my graphic language is more or less explicit I guess my life is more
recognizable in my work.

I must admit that since I stopped making analog works in favor of the
digital media the amount of real life elements in my work has increased.
This may have something to do with the fact that the step from analog to
digital for me also meant the end of the distinction between art, design
and the rest of my creative life.

Fokky: And do you have any idea why this happened?

Michael: I was ready for it.
I tried to be a succesful designer and failed. I tried to be a famous
artist and failed. I had to take the next step. I have been calling myself
an ex-artist for a while now and recently I started realizing that I'm
probably an ex-designer too. Digital media and especially multimedia
enforce one to become a person of many trades. You have to be a technician
and a designer as well as an artist and a poet. An artist who can't design
makes inaccessible digital works, a designer who isn't an artist makes
boring websites.

Another reason for that socalled exhibitionism might be the strange
anonymity one has on the net. The audience of internet artists is a hundred
times bigger than the audience of traditional artists and still somehow the
network artist feels more anonymous to me. This may have something to do
with the fact that on line relationships are not the same as off line ones.
I used to think they were but it was in fact you who made me think about
that. In your thesis you mention that Baudrillard considers the internet a
huge medium for non-communication because for him communication includes
responsibility and duty.

When I published a picture of my ass on FFF, nobody in the local
supermarket was looking at me strangely the next day. You can get away with
a lot more on line.
Anyway, the most personal things I published on the web were about my two
children. And that's just because I'm so very proud of them and their
It's not art.
It's ex-art.

Fokky: Let's hope so....
Thanks for the interview, Michael! (panting) And send
some spam when your porno thing is finished.

Michael: Shall I put on my spamming list?

fokky = network grrrrl =

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