Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Paul Hertz Profile - Intermedia Artist

You originally trained as a traditional fine artist. How did you find your way into computer programming and virtual reality art?

Well, I always had an interest in math, especially if it was entertaining. As a teenager, I was an avid reader of Martin Gardner and other "recreational math" authors. Studying music composition and electronic music as part of my university education also fostered an approach to visual art that involved some of the pattern-making and symmetry operations used in music. These interests led me to use algorithmic approaches to art making, so that later on working with computers seemed a pretty obvious choice.
When I lived in Spain (from 1971 to 1983) I worked with a theatrical group (Taller de Experimentación Teatral, TET, directed by Chilean playwright Jaime Silva) and with musicians associated with the Phonos electronic music studio in Barcelona. When I returned to the States in 1984, I didn't know any musicians or actors but I had the idea that a computer could be a kind of theater-in-a-box. I thought it was a solution to not having many performing arts connections. Of course, it wasn't, but it was a lot of other things that kept me busy for some time.
VR [virtual reality] came later, through contacts with Dan Sandin and people at EVL [the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at UIC], where I hung out a lot. I can't even remember when I first visited there, but it was probably part of events in Siggraph when it was here in Chicago. Eventually I had the opportunity, as Visiting Artist in Northwestern University's Center for Art and Technology, to help set up a VR lab there, and teach courses in VR for artists.

You are also a musician. Do you work in each area independently? How would you describe their crossover?

I'm not sure if I can call myself a musician in the same way I can call myself an artist - anyone can be an artist, but I am not a performing musician, and my work in composition has led me to intermedia more than to musicial composition. But yes, I have played jazz and rock and had a union card, long ago. I received at least the basics of an education in musical performance and composition. That education has been critically important to the way I think about my art and to the sorts of works I produce, which attempt to integrate sound and image within frameworks that owe much to music composition and theory.

You lived and created for many years in Spain. Did that influence your traditional fine arts work the most? Has it impacted your music?

When I was in the U.S., the academy was Abstract Expressionism, so that was what I learned. In Spain, the beaux-arts tradition still held, at least in the small town where I settled, and so I representations. Reality is not seen as the artist chooses, nor is art perceived in the same way that it is constructed.

Do you feel yourself part of an artistic community in Chicago that is focused on art and technology?

Yes, though its structure and boundaries are fluid.

Who or what are your broader influences?

The question of influences is always a tricky one for an artist to answer. What an artist as a person feels are her influences are not necessarily those that are apparent in her work, which as a body implicates a "persona" that is someone other than herself. What the artistic persona's influences are is a question of a different order, and probably not one that the artist is competent to answer. So, if I say that Charles Baudelaire, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, John Cage and John Whitney influenced my work, that doesn't necessarily mean I understand how the work comes about or where it stands in relation to other works. I could also say that Rembrandt or Bach influenced my work. That could be true for me as a person making art, but I'm not sure it would hold for the artistic persona that emerges from my art production. I don’t mean to dodge the question - it's been important enough to me that I have created other artistic personas whose function is to produce the art that "Paul Hertz" would not. I just think the most meaningful answers to such a question lie with the work and not with the artist.

Interactivity is a common theme in new media art. How do you incorporate interactivity and has it taken different forms in each work?

Design of interfaces that dispense with mice and keyboards is a key aspect of my interactive art installations. I am particularly interested in interfaces that only reveal their full capabilities when several people work together. Interactivity also provides me with a way to give the audience control over the creation of an artwork. I was using both approaches well before I started working with computers. The ways in which I realize the social or participatory aspects of a work vary, of course, but those two ideas are almost always present in my interactive work.
Given the advanced thinking on technology, cognition and sensory perception in your work, how do you bring that all together into a work that can communicate with a general audience?
Just as in any other computer software design scenario, in computer-based art knowledge of technology, cognitive science, visual design, etc., enables the production of work that can engage an audience without making that knowledge apparent. These things are just part of the craft. If we understand them well, then communication becomes a matter of what we have to say, not of our methods or means of saying it.

Time seems to have a special meaning for you in relation to creation, performance, interactivity and intermedia. Would be accurate to say that time is a key concept underlying your work?

I guess so; however, I haven’t thought about time as a concept within my work, as a theme or element presented by the work. What I do keep in mind is that time presents both synchronic and diachronic aspects - events happen together and they happen as parts of processes that amount to structures imbedded in time. At least some of these structures can be represented in ways that "flatten them out" so that we can perceive them as whole entities, within the window of present-minded consciousness. Maybe we turn them into visual objects, maybe we tease recursive structures out of them that can be resumed in one line. At any rate, we make them accessible to human understanding. In this respect, an artist is not unlike a scientist. Both seek to make patterns accessible to the human mind.

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