naomi on Sat, 23 Oct 1999 18:54:49 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Wired Online Interview with AKSHUN collective

Telephone Interview with Wired Online and "mona" of the AKSHUN collective
October 22, 1999

This interview was conducted in response to a recent online offering.  On
Friday Oct 15, a collective at California Institute of the Arts in
Valencia, known as the AKSHUN group, put the schoolís main gallery up for
auction on popular internet auction house ebay. A controversy has erupted
within the Southern California art community over the use of gallery
space.  This is further sparking a series of heated debates over the
internet concerning censorship, education, and the value of gallery space. 
The site continues to be up for bid on ebay until October 24. 

Following is the interview:

WIRED Is it true that absolutely anything will be shown?

AKSHUN Yes, anything.

WIRED Including pornography?

AKSHUN. Yes, including pornographic work. But then we would have to
debate on what pornography is.

WIRED Who controls this space, isnít it the school administration?

AKSHUN  We are responsible for what goes in the space. We have certain
restrictions about the use of the space.

WIRED What will you do with he money?

AKSHUN  Weíre going to buy  champaign, weíll have  a party!

WIRED Of course-you are art students after all. When will that take

AKSHUN  Thursday December 16 @ 8:00 pm. We encourage people to attend.
The exhibition will be for one week from December 11-16 at California
Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California.

WIRED What is the project about?

AKSHUN We would like to question the process by which artists acquire
galleries; as we all know, it has little to do with how good an artist is.
It often has to do with who one knows, with where one went to school, with
the salability of the work. This project is also a response to the intense
competition around gallery space. This competition for real estate goes on
already in art institutions, students vie for the best school gallery

WIRED Then why not use the space to offer your definition of a ďpureĒ art,
an art unencumbered by the kinds of business concerns you mention? 

AKSHUN  You mean organize our own show of other artists?


AKSHUN Then we would become curators, and would be participating in the
kind of hierarchy we want to call into question. For artists who work
online or digitally, there is a different perspective as far as exhibition
space is concerned. There is an interest in calling attention to
alternative spaces or ways of encountering work. We want to blur the line
between action and object, between politics and art. 

WIRED So in offering this item on ebay, you are making a comment on its

AKSHUN We want to reduce the value to a purely monetary one. 

WIRED The calarts people in charge are not happy about what you are doing? 

AKSHUN There have been mixed responses on the part of the administration.
Some believe it is a crass and incorrect use of gallery space. They think
the galleries should contain only student work. 

WIRED Iíd like to ask you about the North Korean relationship. How did the
north Korean correspondence come about, exactly? 

AKSHUN There are many Korean students at our school, from Seoul. One of
our members as well as 2 recent art school graduates from Seoul are
involved in this. When we began discussing this project as a vehicle for
non-artists, non-established artists, and others who typically cannot
engage this kind of audience, naturally we thought of those we knew who
donít get this kind of exposure.  Our Seoul friends contacted North Korean
artists they knew: a cousin and a friend. They are apparently known in
North Korea, they have a following. But they are not artists you would
see, for example,in an official show of North Korean work.  Because of
their political beliefs, they are in disfavor with their government, so
they work underground. We contacted them and they expressed interest in
the project and wanted to participate in the bidding. 

WIRED Then you found out this type of activity wasn't possible? 

AKSHUN Shortly thereafter we got an email tipping us off to the

WIRED From who? 

AKSHUN (pause) We donít know who. 

WIRED Anonymously? 


WIRED How do you communicate with those in North Korean? 

AKSHUN Through the people from Seoul. We give messages to our contacts,
and then we are contacted back by various means. Sometimes we receive
emails in response; they travel a circuitous route. Sometimes messages go
out via fax; again through a circuitous route; we cannot fax them

WIRED So somehow or another, youíre not sure how, you contact your people
and they contact them. 

AKSHUN Basically. 

WIRED If you really wanted to help those in North Korea, you could for
example arrange to have this space available for them for a week, couldnít
you? In offering this up for auction in the west, arenít you excluding
those without means to participate? 

AKSHUN Well, I havenít checked in a little while, I did not take on that
duty, but the bid yesterday was up to $120. That is not an exorbitant
amount for anybody...but the point is to allow the participation of those
who wish to participate. Perhaps what you suggested would be another

WIRED There is something not quite consistent about this; on the one hand
you are offering the space up for sale as a commodity, on the other hand
you are "friends of the oppressed". 

AKSHUN We are not friends of the oppressed. We do not personally know
them. We do not know if their current work is anti-governmental. Our beef
with the trade prohibition has to do with the fact that this is not about
trade, but instead the exchange of ideas. And we believe this project must
be open to everyone in order to fulfill our own requirements for the

WIRED Off the record here, you are aware there may be political
repercussions for you from north korea or our government in supporting the
views of dissidents. So... therefore the anonymity on your part and on the
part of the korean students through whom you are communicating. 

AKSHUN Yes. The practical laws governing e-commerce and e-communication
are being formulated faster than regulation can address them. The trade
restriction we are talking about is based on a 1917 ruling. This law is
arcane. It should not affect those attempting an exchange of ideas between
one people and another. 

WIRED Are you really in contact with Madeleine Albright? 

AKSHUN Not yet, but we plan to contact the Secretary of State. We are
consulting a lawyer at this point. 

WIRED She says as....she....slows...down...her...words....(chuckle) One
always has to be careful once a lawyer is called into things.. 

AKSHUN Yes, of course. (smile) 

WIRED So you will contact her in the next week or so? 

AKSHUN I would think by then we will have contacted her. 

WIRED You talked about the lack of exhibition space, the competition for
space. Is this a very coveted space? Is this a space that any artist would

AKSHUN We have students and faculty here from all over the world, and many
famous visiting artists at any given time. So you have an amazing
opportunity as far as who sees your art going through this heavily
traversed way through the school. Southern California art schools more
than any other area attract artists from all over the country and all over
the world. 

WIRED More than Northern California? 

AKSHUN Yes. Southern California in the early seventies was the birthplace
of Conceptual Art as well as the Feminist Art Movement. It was and
continues to be a magnet for artists.  Again, we are not talking about
artists, necessarily. We donít know who is bidding on the space. All we
have to go by is the email addresses.  The joke may be on us, ultimately;
we are obligated to hang any work and are (implicitly) responsible for the

WIRED Is it true that, letís see what you have here, UCLA and USC students
are competing for this space? 

AKSHUN Actually, UCLA and Art Center students. 

WIRED Is that because they canít get space at their schools? 

AKSHUN These days enrollment is at an all time high. The usual route today
for professional artists is to go through graduate programs. There may be
shortages of exhibition space at their schools. 

WIRED Is there someone I can contact at UCLA and Art Center? Do you have
the names of the deans or something? 

AKSHUN I vaguely recall the name of the chair of the photo program at
UCLA, I applied there. Jim something or other. But you can call either
school and get it, that should be no problem. 

WIRED As far as you know, is there something illegal about this? 

AKSHUN As far as I know, no. Our institute explicitly states that they
will not censor the content of our work. And this is our Art. So it looks
like the show will go up. 

WIRED Has this ever been done that you are aware of? 

AKSHUN Not that I know of. This sort of thing wasnít possible until very
recently. E commerce as a mass activity is a recent phenomenon. 

WIRED And the mass emails are necessary because... 

AKSHUN This kind of mass contact was also not possible before. Now you
have these email lists that are substantial and there are a lot of them. 
We have a way to call attention to the project, to make it open for anyone

WIRED And to get publicity? 

AKSHUN And to get publicity, this becomes part of the project, the online
activity is part of the project. 

WIRED Is this the first time that you are doing this? 

AKSHUN Yes, this is the first time that we are engaging in this particular

WIRED Will you do this again? 

AKSHUN I think so, this has been fun! Perhaps next time we will succeed in
getting a Los Angeles gallery or New York Gallery. One of us spoke with a
New York gallerist about doing this project there. He was excited about
the project, but hesitated to offer his space. Maybe next time we will
succeed in getting an even more visible space. 

WIRED Can I ask your last name? 

AKSHUN With respect to the collective, I would prefer not to give
information about individuals in the group. 

WIRED Are you a graduate student? 

AKSHUN I donít want to give that information either. 

WIRED How many of you are there? 

AKSHUN There are....nine of us! 

WIRED (chuckle) Letís just say you wonít divulge that information, for
your sake.... 

AKSHUN Too many or too little? 

WIRED Well, nine of you, that doesnít seem substantial. 


WIRED Is Mona your real name? 

AKSHUN Well, I have some letters in common with ďMonaĒ... 

WIRED Can I call you at this number for questions? 

AKSHUN Yes, certainly. 

WIRED I think this is all we need for now. 

AKSHUN Thank you! Bye. 


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