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<nettime> interview with Kathy Rae Huffman, part two
Josephine Bosma on Sat, 1 Aug 1998 17:42:09 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> interview with Kathy Rae Huffman, part two

JB: So you could say that your phase in Europe is like the third
phase in your development. First you concentrate on video art, then
you get into the theoretical side of electronic art in general and
an international perspective comes to be and then it's video art,
technological art and independence. You even create artworks yourself

Kathy Rae Huffman: Independence comes with a price, and I hope that I
am not finished with the phases in my life, but can have several
additional lives. I've learned to live in a very modest way in Europe.
It's not always so easy, coming from another reality. But anyway:
I enjoy it a great deal and wouldn't change my past decisions if given
the opportunity.

I relocated to Austria in Spring of '91. In '92, I started to work
with Mike Hentz from Van Gogh TV. I first had met these guys in '84,
and had seen them at various festivals in Europe. They were involved
in a very different kind of work then what was going on in America
at the time. They were developing technical processes to integrate
communications, computer graphics, and TV, with a strong performance
element. It was intrigueing.
I had spent a lot of time with them in '90, in Linz, with their
television piece 'Hotel Pompino.'  I invited the group to Boston
in early '91. It turned out to be the last show I did in at The ICA,
a Van Gogh TV live project with Continental Cable Televisioin.
We were able to access the program at  MIT, The ICA and at The
Computer Museum, and they had an audience which responded to their
4 hour live show. That was a lot of fun.  I also organized their
All Amerika tour, which Mike Hentz and Benjamin Heidersburger made
together, and Van Gogh TV visited several cities in the USA.

JB: You were asked to do the Piazzetta part of Van Gogh TV?

Kathy Rae Huffman:
Yes. In late '91, they invited me to work together to develop different
partners for the Piazza Virtuale. This was pretty much a hard years
work. From the early part of '92 to the long summer of '93 in Kassel
for 100 days of broadcasting. I worked directly with Mike Hentz on this
aspect of the VGTV documenta project.
For me that was a great opportunity, because it meant working on a
longer term project and I was fascinated with their group dynamics,
their ability to bring performance and television and this whole new
network concept of internet and chats and hackers and coding, a world
where I had always felt a bit of an outsider. I was very enthusiastic
to jump in and work on this project which actually happened at the
Documenta 9, in '92, where I spent the whole summer in Kassel.

JB: You said for this you had to travel the eastern block a lot.

Kathy Rae Huffman:
Mike had a pretty clear idea of what it would take to work in the
different countries, he was no stranger to this kind of orgnization.
It was very late, it was February and Documenta would start in June.
Our travel to each country, was to give the local groups support and
training, and to meet with officials for possible funding and access.
We travelled in Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Latvia, Finland,
Tjechoslovakia, France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Austria,
and various places in Germany and Austria.
This was a great development scheme.  Also we had a connection in
Japan, which I made during a trip there in January, right after we
first talked about the project. There wasn't time to initiate many
brand new working relationships, so we had to look at the people we
had worked with before, the groups who could be trusted to do
something under stress, and who could pull it together in their
country.  The commitments had to be put into place very fast.
Often when it's a concentrated effort like this, you naturally rely
on those groups of people who are familiar.  We encouraged each group
to bring in new people to sort of add to the next generation of
experience but there is a level of organisation where you need people
who can do the job. There was a lot at stake here. VGTV had one hundred
days of programming to do - and a unbelievable low budget to do it

The piazetta program actually worked very well. It was very intensive
and exiting part of the whole hundred days of television broadcasting.

JB: Can you tell me which countries it worked best in and in which
countries it was hard and what made the difference?

Kathy Rae Huffman: There were a lot of technical problems always. Even
with Van Gogh TV, who is quite excellent in solving technical problems.
They were a bit in advance of standards being set for ISDN lines and
various ways to connect with pictures and modems and
whatever.  For example the ISDN lines between Paris and Kassel had
extreme problems getting conformed, the software was not available to
modify the different connectivity standards. They were eventually
solved. But they weren't solved by listening to the Post and what
they had to say. They were solved by these guys who sat down and
recoded things. That was a very important thing to observe. There
were rules there, but there were also ways to solve problems around
these rules. They actually did a lot of research and development for
the Deutsche Telekom.

It worked well where there was a group of people who wanted to work
together and who were willing to jump in and have fun, as well as
try some new ideas.
It worked least well when there was some feeling of competition with
the program in Kassel. So, if the artists felt like they were somehow
being used as filler or something like this, that energy was clear.
Sometimes when you're far away, and you don't get the relationship,
these kind of feelings can develop. So,in every case, artists were
invited to come to Kassel. There was money that came from the Soros
foundation, and we were given support from Suzanne Meszoly directly
from the first exchange projects she organized. This money allowed
artists from the east to actually visit Kassel and to provide for
translation. This was a very important support for the piazzetta
project. Switzerland gave money for coordination costs, so that we
could travel and not have to sleep on floors everywhere. We did a lot
of that anyway. It was a very low budget international effort.

JB: So you had no trouble with bureaucracies of governements?

Kathy Rae Huffman: This was the problem of the groups in various
countries to organize. I think the idea was that we represented the
international program. We tried to answer all the questions to make it
clear what they needed to do. We provided them with Picture
Phones, which allowed the program to take place without using
television transmission - it was early live video transmitted by phone
lines, on TV.
In the various places we visited, Mike held workshops. We kept copious
notes of who all the different people involved were, how to contact
them, how to inform them with all the facts and ongoing operation.

Remember, this was stil the a time when you still had to phone the
international operator and make an appointment to send a fax to Russia.
It's not like today, where you can just send an email and ok, they
might have some problems getting a dialup phone connection from time
to time, but then, there were very severe communication difficulties.
You would make an appointment and then sit at the telephone the whole
day and wait for the operator to call you. And, if for some reason you
were in the toilet, you missed your connection possiblity for the day.
That is a very difficult pressure to be under, especially when the
program schedule is dense.

JB: There hasn't been much visibility or publications about
Van Gogh TV's Kassel project in Holland for example, do you know why?

Kathy Rae Huffman:  I don't think there has been a lot of research
into the VGTV projects in general. Of course, they won the Deutscher
Mediakunstprize in 1993, which was awarded at the ZKM. As far as I
know, there were lectures and presentations at The Next Five Minutes,
too.  Maybe after 100 days, not everybody wants to keep hearing about
it. Also, perhaps because of the technical programming aspects of
their work, and the hybrid nature of their interface to the public,
it is not the cool technology that media theoreticians are interested
Meanwhile, in Holland, there was Rabotnik TV, where Menno Grootveld
and Maarten Ploeg made a lot of actions. The VPRO had a lot of live
interesting program events that happened very early.  Most of the
people with any history in interactive experimental TV works were
invited to participate in the Piazza Virtuale events in Kassel,
and they often came to the social gatherings.

I think that VGTV had to be very strong and clear to keep their
position, because everybody wanted to have some credit for the
project. They worked very hard on this project, and made an extreme
energy output. In fact, shortly after Documenta the group, which had
worked together for 5 years, began to break apart. It was such extreme
energy that went into the development of this major, long term project.
Piazza Virtuale was created with very little money and had very little
support from the Documenta. This was a labor of love.  Maybe it looks
like it was a high priced thing, but it wasn't.

What always impressed me is that they also wanted to make it fun,
constantly, for the people who visited.
There were fanclubs that self-organized. They would come to Kassel in
groups!  And, the satellite user groups, who were connected via bbs and
electronic mail, who would connect with each other at Piazza Virtuale.
They would come and have their meetings in the Piazza.  It was amazing,
the kinds of new audiences this project developed.

JB: What happened with these new audiences, because after this it seems
that a long silence set in.

Kathy Rae Huffman: It's funny how these things work. You never know
immediately who was this audience, especially if it was a television
audience.  In television, when the program is over, it is over -- it
is yesterday's newspaper.
It was always a big problem for us working in the eighties to know who
was the audience, what effect did any of this artwork on television
have. Nobody really knew immediately. It's quite fascinating to me
that I am meeting people now, in very strange places, like in Glasgow,
or in Spain, people who watched Piazza Virtuale when they were
teenagers, and it changed their life.

So it does make a difference, it really does. These people are now very
active and organizing around issues on the topic. They have no direct
contact with this VGTV, but they knew them.  In some conversations,
when I mentioned what my part was, they say:" Owhaaaaaaoooww, I remember
watching that and jumping up and down and thinking this is great!
Calling everybody I knew and telling them about it.."
Nobody knows these things in the art world, but it must have been going
on in various places around the whole European scene.

JB: Was there much reflection afterwards, reports or talks?

Kathy Rae Huffman:

Well yes. They have made dozens of lectures and follow up reports.
A documentary was made. There exists a website with a lot of
information. Theoretically I think all this area of live TV by
artists is still quite open for analyses. Very open.
The fact that they were bridging a gap between the program and
audience, a direct television connection, actually a live two-way
television, nobody knows how to handle this really, even though
there have been experiments going on since the late 1960s.
Now that we have web-tv, that we have the whole multi-user online
environment, (which by the way the Van Gogh TV energy has morphed
into very nicely), it might be easier to take the early experiences
and relate back. It is a special topic. I like to look back over from
the early examples, the sixties, seventies and eighties all have
instances when live TV interventions were taking place.  It has
gradually started to build into a topic that is open for analysis.

JB: Can you maybe lift one piece of the curtain and tell us what your
conclusion could be or what from your point of view is the most
interesting about it?

Kathy Rae Huffman:
First of all, it is the kind of event that makes much more impact
if you can experience it first hand, yourself. Watching a documentary
is a bit voyeuristic and it doesn't translate well. It is really
something where the more people who can be involved in a first hand
way, the better. The problem often is that there aren't enough ways
to establish nodes for public contact. VGTV set up Public Entry Points
in Kassel, they set up points in different countries, they lent the
Picture Phones, and set-up modems, but it was a bit early for the
general audience to get involved in it.  Therefore, the main players
were technically orientated, often hackers and programmers.  As the
summer went along, and the sections of the program became technically
more reliable, consistant, and comfortable for everyone, then poets,
performance artists, and live actions were easier for VGTV to

Now what has happened is that they have the experience from this
situation, as well as other programs that they made.  Other groups
have done live TV, but noone has the major experience of combining
Network communication with graphic interfaces, and for such a long
period of time. Now, they can take that experience into the webworld
of multi-user environments with knowledge.
They are aware, and do not treat the Internet like it was something
brand new. They go into it with some authority of experience.
I think we have to accept that as a very serious attempt to go on and
continue to build. This work is important to follow through with.

JB: Did you follow it through?

Kathy Rae Huffman:
I have very good contact with VGTV, yes. I am keeping up on their new
projects since documenta XI, and I am thinking about doing more
research myself into this area.  Because I have changed my own way of
working, you know.

JB: Exactly, did you follow it through in your own work?  What did you
do after Van Gogh TV?

Kathy Rae Huffman: After Van Gogh TV I went to German school, to (and I
still try) to learn German.  Then, I went back to Austria then and I
started to get online.
I had a number of personal changes and challenges.  I worked with the
Soros Centers for Contemporary Art as a regional consultant for two
years, and finished up with the NewMediaLogia symposium in Moscow, in
November 1994.
I was introduced to many artists who were already discussing
connectivity, and setting up personal Internet connections in Russia.
The SCCA was then only partially online, and in Moscow Alexei Shulgin
was already at hand to assist with connectivity.  It was all pre-browser
work for the most part. I saw the Mosaic browser for the first time in
Moscow at Relcom, it was an exciting breakthrough to contemplate.

It was a kind of big cloud of time.  I was moving a lot in the east,
getting to feel what artists were thinking about. What was fascinating
to me was that they wanted to jump over the whole video thing, for the
most part. They didn't see any value to deal so much with video or
radio, they wanted to go right straight to the Internet. They saw it
as their direct link to the world and they could take all the
information and just jump right there. Now, I think they are creating
some excellent examples of what can be done in the medium.

Then, in 1995 I moved to Vienna to work with Hilus intermediale
Projektforschung. This was a group of between 6-9 persons, who had
organised the event Unit N in Vienna in 1992.  I had participated in
that program, as did VGTV.  Hilus was connected, they were technical,
but they were also artists.  I joined the group, and contributed my
history of media library and tape collection as a resource, as I had
no equipment to bring to their studio.  There, I was able to work
online, in a nice office space. That was in the very beginning of '95.
Before that time, I could only get access here and there, or read
about it.  But all of a sudden, I could really jump in full force.

This is also when Eva Wohlgemuth and I.., well, I just got completely
captivated by the Internet. I got my email account and all of a sudden
within a couple of months I was mailing with friends in America and all
over the world. I had fifty to sixty emails a day, then.  It just has
not stopped since then.

JB: You said you immediately got very involved into the internet. I know
that the first big project you did was the Siberian Deal. Was that at
that moment the thing you concentrated on most, or was it like most of
your work: one of the projects you did at a certain time? You do always
many overlapping projects.

Kathy Rae Huffman: At the time Eva and I started to work together, as
always, I needed to earn money to live, so I was writing a little bit
for some magazines. I started to organize a video program which dealt
with how artists conceived virtual spaces. I worked on this with Carol
Anne Klonarides for the '94 Ars Electronica. This was really research
into visualized virtual spaces, how could these spaces look and be.
It was quite fascinating.
I moved on to do another video show, in Luxemburg, which Armin Medosch
invited me to curate for Telepolis. I called this show CyberSpaces.
Then I made an exchange programs called Ost/West Political Video for
the Landesmuseum in Linz.  They sponsored the invitation to Tatiana
Didenko to come from Russia, to present her video programs made for
television, and at the same program, I invited Marty Lucas from Paper
Tiger Television, who also presented a program of American political
television programs.
That is when Eva and I started talking about Siberia. This was in
Spring of '95.  Eva and I made a dinner for these guests. We found out
then that Siberia is a pretty cool place.  We had always thought
Siberia was a terrible place.  So we all agreed --around the table--
that we would go there and find out. We would check our propaganda
input, how we had been brainwashed. Eva, being very practical and
consciencious, applied for some money from the Austrian ministry.
She got a very small grant, I didn't know if I would have time to
go.  At a certain point I started saying:" Eva, where are you going
to go?" "Let's check it on the Internet".  So I started to get involved
directly by mailing different sysops at institutes and finding out that
you can make friends very fast, you don't even have to know the people.
We set up an itinenary, where the best places to go might be, talked
to people in Austria from Russia, figured out what it might cost, where
could we find connectivity. It was so exiting we did not really think
about pitfalls or not being able to do it.

JB: It seemed like a natural way to do to get the internet involved into
all this...

Kathy Rae Huffman: It seemed like the only way we would be able to
connect. I knew the telephone lines were really bad, but we could
connect to these institutes, then we would also be able to connect from
them, because they seemed to be always connected. They are on different
kind of lines then regular people.  We did it and I must admit it was
hard work.

Looking back, for me it was not a very different process from
organizing, the same way I did as a curator, because there is a lot
of details that have to be done in this kind of work, as an artists
work. There are a lot the same kind of processes. I did it together
with Eva. We divided the work, she did the webspace, I made all the
negotiations for our plan, the schedules and the connections with the
people, which is the same thing as I have done all along. So for me
it was not jumping into a really new way of working, it was just
reorientating the focus of where I put this energy.
That was a very new experience for me.

JB: Maybe we can make a big leap, due to lack of time, and jump to
Face Settings.

Kathy Rae Huffman: That is not such a big leap actually. We finished
the Siberian Deal, and we collapsed a little bit.  Then we started to
sit together and reflect on the experience. To organize the materials
and talk about how it affected us, what we wanted to do next. It was a
really great way to wrap it up.  We looked at the project carefully.
After we decided we wanted to work together again, on another project,
we went over the kinds of things that worked best for us in Siberian
Deal, what were the things we liked to do together, what were the
area's of interest we shared, and wanted to find out more about. We
took a very methodical way of going forward. We also wanted to try not
to get a fixed idea of an end point, but let whatever we did become an
open project, where a lot of people could join in, and we would try to
guide it in a certain way.

Therefore in FACE SETTINGS, we don't aim at some definate artistic
goal, like getting a series of portraits made, or something like that.
We aim our energy in a certain direction. So now, our travels are
devoted towards getting women together in non central European and
East European countries, and to learn more about female connectivity
and how that might relate to cooking and communication.

JB: The decision to make it a project around women, did that come also
out of your experiences with Siberian Deal?

Kathy Rae Huffman: Neither one of us has worked or been identified as
working in a feminist tradition. Neither one of us has ever been
recognized in this way, but we wanted to narrow down our scope of
working. We knew we couldn't tackle the entire topic of communication,
for example.
We thought it could be very interesting to take this female topic with
women and invite women to deal with it. We knew it would offer a lot of
different responses. It was a way of focussing ourselves. We work a
lot with men and it's not a thing about men...it really has nothing
to do with men. This is a project that we wanted to find out about
our female connectivity. We realised we had had a lot of help from
women. When we needed information we got it readily from women (and
to be honest also with men, but there was a difference). There was
a lot of sharing, a lot of community that we felt with women, and we
wanted to examine that. We also wanted to bring our experiences to
other women who we knew were trying to find out about Internet.  Then,
we started to read, and to get more aware of all the research being
done, and theoretical positions on the topic.

JB: In the period that Face Settings now works, can you say that
there is a difference in handling the internet between men and women?

Kathy Rae Huffman: Most definitely. I think, more in general, women
are really caring about their online community.  Actually, it is
interesting, that the open aspect of Internet, the vast possiblities
to meet new people every day online, often is not very satisfying.
What we find are pockets of communities built up on common goals,
common interests, and shared realities.  Women might go about the
organization of these communities differently than men do, but that
is for someone else to study.
We are interested to learn more about our own reactions, and the
reactions of our remote groups in the Face Settings project.
We hope others can benefit from these communication experiences,
and have some good meals at the same time!


see: poptarts

The Steirischer Herbst exhibition

Siberian Deal is:
http://www.icf.de/siberian_deal (- original travel project)

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