Friday, March 21, 2008

Programmed Seduction; Cornelia Sollfrank tests new models of authorship on the Net

Programmed Seduction
Cornelia Sollfrank tests new models of authorship on the Net

by Ute Vorkoeper, 1999/2003

Cornelia Sollfrank is suspicious of the roles for the artist that are commonly accepted, consciously or unconsciously. She would rather observe, review and reshape what happens around her and borrow her authority from the paragons of the future with their faith in the markets and technology. So she ceaselessly follows the immaculate, perfectly styled yet humble experts, advertising professionals and consultants who are everywhere all the time for us. Uniform, nameless and all but without bodies, they've made their quiet way into our living spaces and busily work there towards model solutions for a contemporary social and personal engineering meant to lead us to successful, happy and efficient lives.

Sollfrank steals her styling, takes on gestures, uses her worldly imagery and explores her strategies of making the world anew. She is a manager, an advertising strategist, event organizer and consultant and plays all the roles that promise her success. But then she'll suddenly switch sides again and become a tricky traitor, a hacker or a revolutionary cyberfeminist.

At the same time, she consistently plays with the fascination associated with the roles she's taken on or the clichés she's chosen and does not ignore the power of seduction inherent in the latest technologies and virtual worlds, particularly for a well-groomed consultant. She passionately studies every new brochure put out by Deutsche Telekom and excitedly shows her favorite images: Sprightly, nice ladies in front of the newest computer models, a monumental satellite disk stretching out beneath a romantic sky, resourceful visualizations of data highways.

In the poses and strategies of experts, service providers and advisors as well as in those of the down-and-dirty actionist opponent, she's recognized the most effective means to be present and to draw attention these days. In doing so, she switches media and addresses different target groups and plays with the most varied institutions and scenes in order to see her own campaigns through. Perfectly costumed, she appears on streets, in studios and galleries, in clubs, at conventions, on the Internet and entraps her viewers, listeners and conversation partners with stolen or copied images and texts.

What appears to be a fashionable mix of contemporary criticism of author or artist models proves to be a complex intertwining of delusion and disillusion, seduction and responsibility. Sollfrank's artistic programs mimic invisible power structures and hidden mechanisms in order to explore production, usage and responsibility on the Net. Once seduced or taken over, users are no longer free from questions regarding the maker of a work, those responsible for it or questions regarding their own or other goals.

[Cornelia Sollfrank on vacation while she has the machines do the work for her.]

Expecting that there would not be many traditional artists, she asked a programmer to develop the first automatic Net-art-generator. She did not have to be a clairvoyant to foresee that there would not be a whole lot of female cyberartists applying for the Net Art Award from the Hamburger Kunsthalle, so her generator soon helped out with that. Again and again, it crawled through the WWW gathering found images and texts and rebuilding them into new pages. She ascribed the results to internationally known women's names, transferring them electronically from all around the world, it seemed, to the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Accordingly, she speculated on a further automatic mechanism in the art world: the combination of "name" and "something" becomes "artist" and work of "art".

Surely this formula has never worked out that well for women. However in Cornelia Sollfrank's "Female Extension" it was fully applied. Each of the 288 women's names entered were unquestionably acknowledged as artists. Even if none of them did actually obtain the award, the press spokesman proudly referred to the high number of women's entries as a great success. That is symptomatic.

Of course all the pages created by the generator (using several search engines) looked different, but the expert jury should have noticed the fact that they were all produced by one and same program. Both in art and art history one would call this an "aesthetic program" - and be on the lookout for it. That the significant similarity of the pages did not come to the attention of the Hamburg experts might point to a recurring blindness and thoughtlessness when faced with issues of authorship and ethics in the digital media.

However, Sollfrank's effective automatisms strike both men and women in the same way. That the surplus of non-authors went unnoticed is just as disturbing as the actual lack of real authors, and responsibility here is shared. It applies to those who use aesthetic programs without questioning the principles behind them and the results, those unable to break away from prevailing programs which misinterpret usage with creation as well as those fulfilling other's goals instead of developing programs for their own needs.

"A smart artist makes the machine do the work." generator

That is why Cornelia Sollfrank has started a new experiment which allows users to test other concepts of authorship on the Net. This time she plays the dark, greedy employer of programmers that generate art works endlessly. Since the idea of freely available generative programs is also stolen, the homepage of the generators has also been created by an existing web page generator, and it contains links to other poetry, essay, insult, joke, graphic and web page generators.

All her generators follow the same basic principles: to begin with, you enter a search word in the first field and your name or pseudonym in the second field. Then generator_01 and _03 will instantly mix a new page. Whereas the first one is more graphically oriented, number 03 is geared more towards images. Generator_02 will search and construct a website in about half an hour. The three generators correspond with different search-engines; only generator_02 is based, in addition, on the so-called "dada engine." Four programmers found very different solutions for the same task.

Attracted, maybe, by the casual aesthetics or by being passively creative, we send the generators to search, appropriate and remix. That's fun, which is the reason the generated archives are growing so quickly. The art machines are visited daily, finding constantly different versions even for identical search words. Each user can claim authorship over her or his input results, yet most of them prefer to stay anonymous.

At the same time, we as users are assistants to the artist who collects our images under her name. Some of them she exposes, frames and exhibits in gallery spaces, for example, in her show at the City Gallery in Bremen, at Gallery 21 in Malmö or as part of the GENERATOR show at Minories Art Gallery in Colchester, GB. Her "signature" appearing below the generated pictures is both a Duchampian gesture and Broodthaer-like play with the institutional framework. The generator project becomes even more paradoxical when displaying the user's participation. On the one hand, it breaks with existing categories and hierarchies, while on the other, it shows how these remain persistently installed somewhere in the background and can be abused.

In the meantime, we realize that we have always equated art production with repetition, robbery, quotation, consumption, appropriation and combination. We notice as well that we love to stay anonymous, not wanting to assume any responsibility. We are ready to comply with the aesthetic tenets of some programmer. If, in the end, the results remain too similar or our initial amusement at the colourful pages fades into boredom or perplexity, it is too late anyway. We have taken the next step in the program's design: the results stemming from our inputs are immediately appropriated by the artist. As she points out herself: "A smart artist makes the machine do the work." However, she still does not reveal the whole truth: "A smart artist orders programs which make the user do the work." The generators and their users keep on working, feeding the myth of authorlessness while multiplying Cornelia Sollfrank's fame.

We can hear her laughing in the background as we complete the "artistic" program. Although it promises amusement and pleasure, it has made us accomplices to an artist who uses us to collect images from the web. Soon she will display the automatically generated images as a salon - those willing to assist her should try it out and go to:

1. Generator_02 is currently not working, but its principles can b e followed by looking into its archives.

Copied from Net.Art Generator

Tony Conrad - interview with Brian Duguid

Tony Conrad, best known for playing violin with the Theatre of Eternal Music in the early sixties, and for his more recent violin-centred compositions, admits that his introduction to his instrument was mostly negative. It was only the influence of the young violinist Ronald Knudsen that changed things, urging Conrad to play slowly, and concentrate on the tuning, something he has been doing ever since.

Knudsen wasn't the only influence that set Conrad on the path that pioneered the minimalist drone. After hearing Heinrich Biber's 17th century Mystery Sonatas, Conrad noted: "Biber's music transformed me; for the first time, my violin sounded truly wonderful". Close behind Biber's polyphonic timbral invention came Indian classical music, which Conrad quickly came to value for the function of the drone and lack of conventional harmonic progression.

When Conrad left music school at the beginning of the sixties and moved to New York, he soon encountered La Monte Young's then group (featuring Billy Name, Marian Zazeela and Angus Maclise), playing a proto-minimalist jazz mutation. Soon, Billy Name left and Conrad joined, beginning by playing only an open fifth drone, and moving the small ensemble towards a "Dream Music" that would profoundly influence subsequent composers.

Conrad saw contemporary music as being at a crisis point. John Cage's radicalism, and Young's Fluxus verbal scores (listening to butterflies as a piece of music) indicated music being dismantled in an unsurpassably extreme manner - a limit that Rhys Chatham describes in more detail elsewhere in this issue. Conrad believed that the "Dream Music" offered three routes out of this quandary. Firstly, it dispensed with the "edifice of high culture" - it was music to participate in, anywhere, not just fodder for galleries and concert halls. Secondly, it dispensed with the musical score, offering a way for classical music to ditch compositional authoritarianism in favour of the improvisational collaboration already mapped out by jazz musicians. Fianlly, it focussed not on the act of composing at all, but, thanks to the minute harmonic intervals the group were now exploring, on the act of listening. According to Conrad: "This was a total displacement of the composer's role, from progenitor of the sound to groundskeeper at its gravesite".

With the addition of John Cale and his viola, the newly named Theatre of Eternal Music became dominated by the drones, and soon left Young's saxophone elaborations behind. They explored new harmonic intervals, dissonant but not discordant, and developed a sound that would ultimately become legendary.

However, as Tony Conrad points out below, "History is like music - completely in the present". About 100 recordings of the Dream Music were made, but after Cale and Conrad left the group in the middle of the decade, Young retained them all, and has since refused to release them to his former collaborators. Despite the scarcity of Young's own recorded output, most histories of minimalism describe the Dream Music as primarily Young's work, not as the radical collaborationt that Tony Conrad today recalls. Some of this "hidden history" is, however, beginning to resurface.

American label Table Of The Elements have recently reissued Outside The Dream Syndicate, an early-70s collaboration between Faust and Conrad (although it curiously disappoints compared to the shrill intensity of their 90s live performances). Since then, they've issued Slapping Pythagoras (see this issue's reviews), hard evidence that the penetrating drones of 60s minimalism remain relevant today, and perhaps an indication that the philosophy against which Conrad struggles dates back not just through this century, but for over two millennia. Coming later this year are Conrad's monumental attempt to resculpt musical history, Early Minimalism, and an excellent and previously unavailable recording dating from 1964, Four Violins. Judging by the latter, they should prove essential listening.

TC: You've heard my "new" record, Four Violins. It is going to be the gateway into my next set of CDs - a complete recording of Early Minimalism. I wrote the seven parts of Early Minimalism over the last ten years, but they all look back at Four Violins, and the "Dream Music" that I worked on during the early 1960s with John Cale, Angus MacLise, Marian Zazeela, and of course La Monte Young.

EST: You've picketed La Monte Young in the past, and La Monte Young is presumably well aware of your criticisms of his stance (most notably his unwillingness to unconditionally release recordings by the Theatre of Eternal Music). How has he responded to your picketing, handbills etc?

TC: What kind of conversation are we having here? I think anybody reading this expects us to be having a very informal kind of exchange. Okay. But picketing - picketing for or against something, and handing out literature - these are conspicuously formal actions. They have to be understood as indirect communication. Yes, I am "in communication" with La Monte Young, of course, when I picket and he is there to perform his public action - but by clearly shaping my own action as "picketing," even though there is only me there, I am making my action interprable only as a public or political action, not as a private communication.

What I'm trying to say is that both the message conveyed through my picketing, and the picketing itself, were not communications primarily intended for La Monte Young personally. They were communications which took place on the public level, which is the level of culture, of symbolic statement. These were symbolic or formal statements, which are as much a part of "Music" as this interview is - even though this interview is actually silent, and we aren't even speaking out loud.

People aren't used to thinking of cultural forms spreading out across the full range of formal interactions - or what is called the "text" in literary terms. Even though we have heard all sorts of political expressions in music, as song, when a musical expression takes the form of politics, it still seems musically inaudible.

Let me get back to Young. La Monte Young's early works, you know, were involved with the neo-Dada movement in New York that spawned Fluxus, conceptual art, and happenings. In some of his pieces, he calls for what might be termed "extra-musical" events: leading a bucket around by a string, feeding a piano some hay, releasing a butterfly, and so forth. That kind of piece, perhaps most recognizable because of Yoko Ono's similar work, built a bridge between performance art and music - and without raising any awkward social issues.

When I picket La Monte Young, I am not only making a cultural statement in the formal arena of political action, I am also consciously pressuring the societal isolationism that Young stands for as a figurehead of this earlier movement. His neo-Dada work was a key piece in the architecture of a 60s cultural understanding: that the institutions of art could be violated, the walls torn down between disciplines, and that this could be done as pure Art, without any involvement with "real" politics or social issues.

I have chosen to use a "real" political form to address a cultural conflict between two individual artists, in this instance, because the action of picketing in itself highlights the paradoxes that La Monte Young continues to represent - he is socially elitist and culturally absolutist, yet his cultural image is of a "radical".

Well, I guess I should get to your question - about how he responded. As soon as Young read my statements and saw clearly what I was saying, he stopped communicating with me. I have heard that he cut me out of the new edition of his book, but I haven't bought it so I'm not sure.

EST: This sort of "direct action" is an unusual step in most artistic communities. Do you feel comfortable with your approach, which seems to me to be almost courageous, it seems so unusual?

TC: Yes, somehow there has been a convention that in their work artists don't use each other's works, and they don't invoke one another personally. This is part of a more general depersonalization of consumerist culture in postmodernity. In the old "modern" art, Picasso painted his girl friend and Cezanne painted his neighborhood. But in postmodernity, there has to be impersonality, because the understanding of art is that it is only legible among a community with shared cultural interests. When Warhol painted Marilyn or Campbell's soup cans, it was only to display their objectification and depersonalization. Then about 1980 Sherrie Levine appropriated photographs by Walker Evans - but Evans was too much a person, too little a product - and Sherrie ran into lawsuits, even though Evans is dead.

This is a particularly insidious energy boundary in our corporation-based contemporary culture - it shuts down personal responsiveness and political interactivity, and rechannels expressions of diversity through polite conventions. Why is this taboo so strong? Because using another artist is first "impolite," second violates proper business methods and the proprieties of consumerism, and third is not cool and impersonal like Art is supposed to be.

For me, music and art just crap out when they don't step across into non-polite spaces and outlaw territory. The job of an artist is to discover laws to violate that haven't been made yet. I remember picketing a Stockhausen concert with Henry Flynt in 1964. A lot of artists were inside participating in the event.

Later, in the press, we were accused of stealing equipment. That was how far the "responsible" press was willing to go to discount our impolite action and divert attention from our message. I'm not going to go into that message right now; it's enough to say it was about cultural imperialism, and would have been clearly understood today by anyone interested in post-colonialism, but was about 25 years ahead of its time.

By the way, I do know that La Monte Young's own social elitism makes it impossible for him to take my picketing for anything other than interpersonal bickering, but for me that has nothing to do with the message. Nevertheless, I wouldn't have picketed him if he had not broken the back of our long friendship by waiting for me to die without being able to hear my music.

EST: Do other former T.E.M. members share your view of the situation?

TC: Marian Zazeela is La Monte's wife, and Angus MacLise is dead.

I've talked with John Cale for two decades about what to do about La Monte, and how to get copies of our work. We consulted lawyers, negotiated with La Monte, and begged and pleaded. Nothing. But all of that helped me realize how special the status of these recordings had become. We were the people who first started making so-called "minimal" music, and these recordings are the residue of that influential conjunction. Why doesn't La Monte Young want these recordings heard, when their historical influence is stronger than their actual audibility?

Because they don't show him in as strong a light as he would wish. His approach to music is unashamedly founded in individualist romanticism, and the tapes can't bear the load of his overinflated personal myth. Young's personal peccadillo has set up a historiographic paradox; the cultural influence of this music is more legible than the music itself is audible. That made me see, in the 80s, that re-composed "images" of this music, by its originators, could throw new light on the relationship between cultural history and the practice of music composition.

EST: You've said that the members of the first TEM were painfully aware that they were making the most interesting avant-garde music of the period. Is this still your opinion?

TC: Yes, for sure. In my notes on Four Violins I go into this in greater detail than I can here, but the key elements were social. By improvising, we eliminated the role of composer. But more, this was the turning point from a regime of writing music to a regime of listening. Many things at the time pushed this change, even though there has been very little comment on, or understanding of, the core paradigm shift that this represented for music.

The principal convergence was among three forces. In terms of the symbolic cultural order of the West it was John Cage, in the 50s, who turned music composition most forcefully toward listening. And as it happened, the 50s also saw the eruption of rock n roll consumerism. Whatever else it was, rock'n'roll elbowed itself to the front of pop music because of its sound - a much simplified, listenable music. In another universe, rock'n'roll might have been called "minimal pop." Then, perhaps most important, the technology of recording, and the economics of the music industry, began to make it practical and possible to listen to more sounds, and music, than ever before. It was only in the 1950s that we began to see LP records of music from other times and cultures, weird jazz, and even avant-garde music, all accessibe by any consumer with enough appetite.

Our "Dream Music" was an effort to freeze the sound in action, to listen around inside the innermost architecture of the sound itself. It had something to do with composition, since it became a commentary on the temporal site of the composer, in relation to the sound itself. We were announcing that the composer could sit within the sound, so to speak, and work with it as a plastic continuum extended in time along the same course, and at the same pace, as the listener. That is quite different from improvising on a tune, or using improvisational variation to elaborate sound patterns. The message here was not about indeterminacy, nor about immediacy, but about the control of sounds right there in your environment, and the process of composition as long-term growth of interests within that sound complex.

When I picketed La Monte Young in 1990, it was principally because he had insisted that before making copies of our music for us - which all of the collaborators had agreed originally would be done - that we each would have to sign an agreement that he, Young, was the "composer" of the music. My picket sign said:


1. The "Theater of Eternal Music" ("TEM") of 1964 was collaboratively founded - and was so named to deny the Eurocentric historical/progressive teleology then represented by the designation, composer.

2. Young is suppressing the recordings of "TEM," which do not flatter him. He has specifically denied access by members of the collaboration (Tony Conrad, John Cale) to the collection of recordings for 25 years. Two members are already dead (Maclise, Jennings).

3. Young himself now ignorantly insists on the artistic demolition of this body of work by claiming that it is a series of "compositions" (by him).

4. The "TEM" introduced an influential preoccupation with just intonation. "TEM" was anti-rationalist and non-electronic, but did focus on perceptual and conceptual aspects of small intervals. Young himself misunderstands this development as neo-Pythagorean rationalism (after the scientific idealism of Helmholtz).

5. Each "TEM" member had an interest in carefully structured improvisation and long durations. Young's early eurocentric compositional innovation - the use of long notes - appears in his String Trio. However, nowhere do his compositions show "TEM"'s crucial understanding that long durations are small intervals.

6. Young's neo-Futurist ("Fluxus") work aside, his Orientalism and romanticized personality-cult mark him among the most regressive of contemporary artists. His conservative gutting of "TEM" has paid off (for him) in a multimillion petro-dollar bonanza, which he uses to perpetuate his exploitative and artistically mindless enterprise.

7. Money paid to Young is valuable resources wasted on ignorance, false self-representation, service to Young's ego at others' expense, and a colonial image of American cultural expression. YOUNG - OUT OF BUFFALO NOW!

But enough of Young, and back to your question. In the group, all of us had a strong conviction that we were making the most interesting music of the time, and that it was continually growing. Personally, what I enjoy most is being stimulated by cultural experiences that change my way of thinking, and that is what had first drawn me into contemporary music. Yes! In fact, I would like to see the concept of "avant-garde" replaced with that as a criterion for art work. So it was painful to sit through the fifteen years after the first Dream Music without hearing anybody out there doing anything comparably interesting.

In a certain sense, our invention of "minimal" music had been a resultant in a flowing and ongoing cultural process. On the other side, there were qualities in our music that presented specific tough challenges for musical art, and for some years after our work, it was difficult to see anywhere to go but backwards into mannerism.

A moment ago I referred to the emergence of a "regime of listening" - a musical sea change that appeared in the wake of swelling access to music from other times and cultures, the tidal wave of rock'n'roll in pop music, and John Cage's summation of the Western symbolic cultural order. Ever since the Enlightenment in the 1700s, Western music had understood itself through the balance between the "universe" of music on the one hand, and the particular world of a single composition on the other. As Julia Kristeva puts it, in classical music "each musical text invented its own laws and did not obey those of the common 'language.' This is the famous loss of 'universality' that music history attributes principally to Beethoven." In earlier music, and in "primitive" societies, supposedly "musical 'creation' requires strict obedience to the rules of the musical code." [Julia Kristeva, Language the Unknown: An Initiation into Linguistics, 1989]

In "Dream Music" there was a complete loss of the particular, in this sense, since the musical work as a closed and internally structured system vanished with the composer. The structural elements with which we were occupied were not parts of an arbitrary system of signifying practices, even by extension, but rather were the physical constituents of tone. We, the performers of the sound, were also first and foremost the listeners. In the context of a single protracted sound, the listener's connection to musical language is cut off; the process of listening is silenced. In this emptiness, unexpectedly, there appears a legibility of rhythm and melody which rises to consciousness automatically, out of the unconscious level of perceptual processes, when the standing wall of sound paradoxically releases the listener's attentiveness.

EST: Why do you feel the strand of minimalism that TEM evolved has failed to reach far beyond a small minority of listeners, unlike other obvious strands of minimal music?

TC: I suppose you're thinking about Reich and Glass. Their "minimalism," though superficially similar to ours, arises quite differently, through process, rhythm, and design - all elements which are deliberately absent in Dream Music. Since their music retained rhythm and internal structure, it had a comfortable familiarity for the Western "classical" listener, and in its rhythmic directness made a bridge to rock music. The bridge to rock was foregrounded in the 70s, of course.

Let me say this more clearly, though. Dream Music had torn up the book of Western composition, whereas Reich and Glass reinscribed it. Nevertheless, there were certain linkages among the two approaches, right from the beginning.

The first composition of mine ever played in concert, Three Loops for Performers and Tape Recorders from 1961, used the same tape delay structure that Terry Riley discovered independently just a bit later. Tape delay was a technological system which had direct rhythmic and metrical implications. Steve Reich saw this during his early apprenticeship with Terry, and appropriated tape delay as the systemic foundation for his own later work. Perhaps it was my own good luck that I have never been very interested in rhythm, and so my piece, Three Loops, is primarily about timbre and process, not rhythm.

To get back to Dream Music, though, perhaps the premise that our music has not reached beyond a small strand of people isn't as accurate as you think. Of course, La Monte Young has built a wall of elitism and privilege around the music we made, and it's easy to imagine that Dream Music has not had much influence, since ironically you can't listen to it. But we did play out at the time, and also privately, for a number of composers. For example, Karlheinz Stockhausen came to listen to us play. At that time we were frequently using a large gong that Robert Morris had made for La Monte. Immediately there was a great change in Stockhausen's music - which had been stalled in its serialist tracks. He started using "improvisation," and even wrote a piece for gong. What a dweeb. I had felt respect for him earlier, but that experience told me a lot about how he worked.

More importantly, of course, our particular approach to the structure of tone, and our departure from the Western compostion tradition, have each been profoundly influential. In fact, the use of "modal" tonality, with harmonic tunings, is a fetish which we installed, and which has popped up all over the musical map.

EST: Were there any other minimalist musicians who you felt any sense of commonality with at any stage?

TC: Yeah, certainly, and at many different times. Of course, Henry Flynt, my earliest friend, would never want to be called a "minimalist" - but his ideas about music were very important in my development. From my first years in New York, one of the most important was Walter DeMaria, who was and is a sculptor - and he would never want to be called a "musician." His use of natural sounds was particularly influential for me. None of his recordings are available anywhere.

There were repeated instances in which I played music with, or for, other musicians, and through this their work was strongly affected by having an awareness of Dream Music. Often, personal contact was the only way that even the most avid younger composers could become aware of our music, during the decade or so following 1965.

In 1971 I played a concert at The Kitchen, for which I devised Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain. Rhys Chatham was the musical director there - he was also a flautist with a passion for Indian music. I played the violin part, but I needed another stringed instrument and a bass pulse, so Rhys and Laurie Siegal played with me, and it was clear that this encounter had an impact on his thinking.

It was Rhys, of course, who fulfilled John Cale's initiative begun a decade earlier, by injecting the "minimal" sound into the heart of rock music in the 70s. His music for guitars was, in turn, appropriated by Glenn Branca. Of course, what I mean by John Cale's initiative was the incomparably important work he did with the Velvet Underground. Not only did he incorporate his Dream Music viola work within the Velvets, he also used the Velvet Underground to create huge and powerful continuous sound forms as rock music - in effect constructing the first industrial music.

Charlemagne Palestine and I met in January 1969 when I recorded him performing on the carillon at St. Thomas's Church in New York. He was a music student at that time, and only became involved in minimal music somewhat later. I'm excited that he has returned to music lately, because his work was among the best in the 70s.

When I moved out of New York in 1974 to teach at Antioch College in Ohio, David Hykes was a film student there. He was already aware of Young and my connection with Dream Music, through Paul Sharits. Everyone, like Paul, who had been involved with Fluxus was aware of the Dream Music. Hykes and I played music together occasionally, though the core of our enduring friendship was filmmaking.

And when I moved to Buffalo to teach video, Arnold Dreyblatt was a student here, working with the Vasulkas. Only after he moved to New York, became Young's archivist, and returned to Buffalo for a visit, did he accost me with his astonishment - "So you're the one who started the music!".

EST: Could you tell me something about Early Minimalism?

TC: Sure. Early Minimalism is a series of seven compositions that do two important things - aside from sounding excellent. First, they are comments on the function of history and a non-recoverable past in the archive of musical culture. I said something earlier about the impact of recording technology on access to musical materials. Recording, as a system for the storage of sounds, has always fascinated me - as in Three Loops. You make a record of a sound, it is "archived" for some period, and then it is reproduced. In notated music, written records might be said to "archive" the sound for "reproduction" by a later performer. In Early Minimalism the time frame of "archiving" is a historical interval - about twenty years. The "recording" was effected by and through the composite cultural processes of music history, and the "reproduction" is my act of composition, enabled by the authority of my participation at the originary site of minimalism.

In Early Minimalism I have established a place for the direct participation of history in the cultural process, with history operating through the instrumentality of the composer. The thing that provided me with an unusual opportunity to explore this approach was itself La Monte Young's closure of our taped archive. That closure insured that the cultural legibility of Dream Music would always be understood as indirect. However, by reason of our own participation in the music, I and the other Dream Music collaborators are singularly empowered with direct access to the music.

Early Minimalism invites an interrogation which, for music, has timely and cogent implications: How has "the music" been archived? How is it being reconstituted? What are the cultural processes entailed in storing or recovering musical information? And what reconstitutive processes comprise authenticity? Each of these questions demands attention to the non-congruence of personal memory (or experiential continuity) with cultural memory and influence - that is, attention to the double sites at which music history's power relations are transacted.

I have wished for an active intervention of the historical time scale into music before, but not until the popularity of Foucault's writings and the appearance of postmodernism have such ideas been legible as components of a work.

The secondary ambition which I have for Early Minimalism is simpler and more accessible. Early Minimalism is my way of taking up the Dream Music where I left it and moving it ahead, without the encumbrance of Young's arch-conservative imprint. More than that, in honesty the exquisite joy and painful energy of our high-voltage music began to slump, for me, under the sodden weight of the singing, just at the moment when my playing with John Cale - the two of us, on violin and viola - was reaching a dizzying azimuth. Early Minimalism picks up from that apex.

And further, it has launched some compositional developments in my music that are doing exciting new things with microtonal music. But that's another story.

EST: Given your strong interest in recovering what you've said is a missing personal history, do you feel comfortable with the way that listeners may start to perceive minimalist musical history through the filter not only of writings about Young, but also now through the sound of your "new" music?

TC: Sure. History is like music - completely in the present.

EST: I've received the impression that Early Minimalism, like Slapping Pythagoras and Four Violins, concentrates on the characteristics of stringed instruments. Do you think the absence of vocal/wind parts in any ways misrepresents minimalist musical history? Or is it just that their contributions were never of significant interest?

TC: Well, I'm not sure I want to be the one who tries to authenticate music history; I'm more interested in using it, as a material in my work. As for my choice of instruments, I want to write music that can be performed, and right now that requires me to do a lot of the performing myself. If I'm going to get the sounds I want. The instrumentation might become secondary, if I could be confident about the outcome!

EST: You've spoken almost admiringly (or, with interest, at least) of the way Young allows his personal mystique to create history around him. Are you also trying to consciously remake your own history?

TC: Yes. I have a site to occupy that has stood unannounced for too long. But my approach has nothing to do with personal mystique, and everything to do with ideas and works that aspire to authorize cultural adventurousness and diversity.

By the way, I do believe that La Monte Young wants me to die without hearing my music, just as Angus MacLise has died. I would like to think that Angus's son, Ossian, would contest Young's retention of the Dream Music recordings - but Ossian was raised in Nepal as a Buddhist monk. Young has now already taken control over the works and musical heritages of several dead composers: Terry Jennings and Richard Maxfield, as well as MacLise. That kind of necrological cooptation makes you feel like you'd better get your own words said before you go, if Young controls any part of your work.

EST: Young has acknowledged a debt to yourself in introducing him to the mathematics of just intonation.

TC: Well, among the Dream Music collaborators I provided the understanding of rational numbers as frequency ratios, Cale found Alain Danielou's Tableau Comparatif des Intervalles Musicaux, and Young suggested eliminating the prime factor 5 from our performance intervals. He also discovered Harry Partch's book.

EST: Do you acknowledge any particular debt to him, or the other TEM collaborators?

TC: I certainly do. The Theater of Eternal Music was a collaborative enterprise from the beginning, and I have never deviated from that understanding. Each of us brought an immense contribution to the table, and only Young has corrupted that premise. In particular, without La Monte's discipline, space, and idealism, there would have been no cohesive impulse sufficient to hold us together as long as we were.

EST: What are the most obvious common attributes that you see in your music, film and video work? I'm talking about your public access video work; you seem to have been most interested in community/participatory issues.

TC: Ok, I'll just talk about public access video for now. Usually public access is thought of as an open forum for idiosyncracy and ego fulfillment. However, public access also turns an entire urban municipality into a laboratory for exploring models of the circulation and development of cultural forms. For instance, I have used it to test the potential for triggering cultural participation among the people in my city. I have also tried to reach children in inner city families with messages that can help to authorize their participation in schooling.

This may seem far afield from the music am making, but an overarching concern of both is very close to me. I see the United States as the heartland of a corporatist de-development effort aimed at leveling the playing field for consumerist marketing. Any cultural differentiation on this landscape is antithetical to the structural needs of corporate consumerism. The single preeminent cultural objective that makes sense in the 90s is the development of mechanisms that can trigger and sustain differentiated cultural expression.

There is a scattering of recent developments in communications that appear to be promising in this regard. Some, like the "information superhighway" and the multimedia educational technologies, are fakes that are being oversold in the interest of commercial development. On the other hand, the "zine" scene, and the proliferation of small independent music labels, each seems like a powerful machine for running upstream against the corporate current of cultural diversity dismantling. Perhaps the biggest reason for my increased visibility today is my just being exhilirated by the great little labels like Artware, Barooni, Complacency, Distemper, Extreme, Review, Streamline, Tone, and the rest - and of course Table of the Elements.

EST: To what extent are similar concerns applicable to your music, particularly given its frequently fairly traditional performance context? Also, in discussing The Flicker, you've drawn attention to its hallucinatory qualities, and I'd be keen to hear to what extent you want your music to create similar experiences.

TC: When I made the film The Flicker in 1965-66 my principal motivation was to explore the possibilities for harmonic expression using a sensory mode other than sound. The experience of "flicker" - its peculiar entrapment of the central nervous system, by ocular driving - occurs over a frequency range of about 4 to 40 flashes per second (fps). I used film (at 24 fps) as a sort of "tonic," and devised patterns of frames which would represent combinations of frequencies - heterodyned, or rather multiplexed together. I was interested to see whether there might be combination-frequency effects that would occur with flicker, analogous to the combination-tone effects that are responsible for consonance in musical sound.

That was a sophisticated idea. Even though the frequency range of flicker is theoretically large enough - though barely - for harmonic modulation products to occur, The Flicker did not convincingly demonstrate the existence of any harmonic flicker structures. Nevertheless, the hypnotic phenomena and trance states that characterize flicker drew my attention again later, when I was working in the 70s and 80s on mind-altering, on attentional states, and on Music and the Mind of the World.

EST: Given that you evidently valued the collective semi- improvisatory approach to music-making of the TEM, do you forsee further collaborations with musicians like Faust or others? What interests you about the juncture between "your" music and theirs?

TC: Right now my music has moved so far in its own direction that I don't have any immediate collaborators. In the most recent compositions, there are a lot of new ideas that use tiny harmonic intervals in ways I haven't ever heard of. But that's the impulse for making things - if there's something you won't be able to hear otherwise, you have to play it yourself.

On the other hand, I have been completely inspired by the opportunities I've had to work together with Chicago musicians that I've met through my friend Jim O'Rourke. There is a lot of talent, openness, and adventureousness in the Chicago scene. For instance, Steve Albini, who is a celebrated rock producer, has contributed generously to my recording activities in Chi-town. Jim O'Rourke needs a book-length treatment of his own. Let me just say that I have especially enjoyed playing together with Jim and David Grubbs, and I could envision future collaborations with them very easily.

EST: Could you tell me something about your late 70s music, such as Music and the Mind of the World?

TC: Well, that was twenty years ago, when certain currents in the art world began running more strongly against the stagnation of the late 60s and early 70s formalist hegemony. Some of the younger artists whose ideas were flowing through Buffalo then were David Salle, Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, and Jack Goldstein. At the same time, women artists were forcefully questioning the closure of art under Greenbergian modernism. My own tactic was to break decisively with the use of formal structures, to explore psychological states and attitudes, and to adopt genre expressive forms as vehicles for constructing public art. I produced a "war" film and a "women's prison" film; in music, I spent five years playing the piano. Since I wanted to incorporate a variety of critical postures and attitudinal approaches within the boundaries of my work, I decided to include rehearsals, being yelled at for making mistakes, doodling, playing excellent music, recalling musical ideas from my past and trying to play them, and even using formally structured playing. Everything was taped; some of it was performed in public. I played at the first New Music America festival, for instance. That phase of my work was extremely important as groundwork for the emergence of Early Minimalism, which takes up certain of the same concerns but addresses them more concisely and within a more auditorily spectacular performance situation.

Conceptually, music presents a lot of opportunities at present, and Music and the Mind of the World continues to be my base camp for approaching the biggest questions.

One of the most profound questions for musical art is how sound and music can be shown to be radically different from language and visual art. All the recent talk about postmodernism has seemed to level the playing field for artists to move their projects ahead in any number of different directions - but then some of the central paradoxes of twentieth century modernism remain dead ahead in front of us, and don't seem to go away. Peter Burger has discussed this. He comments that modern art rebels against its status either by construing itself as political ... or by declaring that the void that it recognizes itself to be is the whole purpose ...

Politicisation or messianic over-inflation are the extremes into which modern art must throw itself as soon as it becomes conscious of the constraints dictated by autonomy. And once these positions have been passed through, all that remains is to attack the institution, a task undertaken by the movements of the historical avant-garde in the wake of World War I ... Since the historical avant-garde, art's self-sublation figures as one of its poles, the other being the self-contained work.

Then he confronts art with an apparent brick wall.

Aesthetic experience cannot get beyond the attack on the institution, because its failure seems only to reinforce the institution's boundary. The catastrophic scenarios of postmodernity with their declarations of the imminent end of art have evidently missed out on an aspect of aesthetic experience continually encountered by artists since the historical avant-garde; namely that once you're inside the place called Art there's no getting out again. As if you were King Midas, everything you touch turns to art. Even the blank refusal to produce anything at all is transformed into an aesthetic act ... What these days goes by the name of post-modernism could more accurately be termed 'post-avant- garde': in other words, an epoch marked by the failure of the historical avant-garde's attack on the artistic institution. [Peter Burger, Aporias of Modern Aesthetics, in Thinking Art: Beyond Traditional Aesthetics, ed. Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne, 1991]

But Burger may be wrong where "art" concerns music, if music at its heart functions quite differently from the signifying practices of language and visual expression. And there are reasons to expect that it does. Sometimes, for instance, we just hum or whistle, and it does seem completely artless. Why do we do that? Tunes are for controlling people; otherwise, why would melodies stick in our heads? Perhaps music is not a cultural form so much as an endemic disorder, like a computer virus. Like endemic diseases, it has become a childhood disorder - and lullabies (or now television jingles) may tell us why music is so compelling in group socialization, why it has such a big part in the subject's participation in the social order - politically, religiously, and sexually. And yes, while we're talking about the music inside of our heads, why do humans have such a vast capacity for melody? Is that just a piece of evolutionary bric-a-brac, or does it mean something?

It's going to take a careful study of the full range of cultural diversification to explore these questions - everything from the one immense worldwide corporate hegemony to the numberless inscrutable private cultures or languages that Wittgenstein tried to write out of existence - but which have arguably appeared in Henry Flynt's development of concept art, would arguably eventuate from the infinite fragmentation of subject positions hinted at by queer theory, and arguably arm us with an atheoretic model for understanding hypnotic trance and attentional disorders.

This interview was conducted by eMail between Tony Conrad and Brian Duguid in June 1996. Contact Table of the Elements, Box 5524, Atlanta, Georgia 30307, USA. Special thanks to Jeff Hunt for assistance. Interview © Brian Duguid 1996.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Joseph Beuys, Art and Politics

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"CAPITAL is at present the work sustaining ability. Money is not an economic value though. The two genuine economic values involve the connection between ability (creativity) and product. That explains the formula presenting the expanded concept of art: ART=CAPITAL."
-Joseph Beuys, 1985

Beuys' involvement in politics was far from traditional. According to him, art is the primary factor governing our existence and our actions. Politics is art in this sense as well, not as the "art of the possible," but of the freeing of all creative forces. Beuys didn't have time for democratic compromise, yet wanted to break through the limitations to establish a kind of primeval democracy. His goal was the restructuring of society as a whole.

In 1967, the German Student Party, so named because every human being was considered a student, grew out of the public discussion circles that Beuys regularly held in his class at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. Together with Bazon Brock and Johannes Stüttgen, he defined objectives for the German Student Party to set his expanded concept of art into operation, which included such topics as self government of law-culture-economy, absolute disarmament, and the answer for life after death, among others. "Between birth and death, human beings have collective work to do on earth" was their declared sacred duty. In 1968, the party changed its name to Fluxus Zone West. The Organization of Nonvoters Free Referendum was later founded in 1970, and attracted some 200 members.

The basis for Beuys' expanded concept of art were the theories of anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861 1925) about a "threefold social organism." This organic structure of society draws parallels to the threefold human organism of head (center of nerve and sense activity), rhythmic system (breathing and circulation), and metabolism. Steiner's analysis examines three independent spheres of society: the cultural life (science, art, religion, the educational system, information), the rights life (legislative, executive, judiciary, state, and politics) and the economic life (production, distribution, and consumption of goods). He observed in 1919 that the current social order is dictated by economics, which is the cause for unlimited profit-seeking, permanent inflation, unjust distribution of wage and property, and the unequal position of the human being before the law. Only when each sphere is organized under its own principle--freedom, equality, solidarity--the healing of the social organism can occur.

In June 1971, Beuys founded the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum, and worked tirelessly using nearly all his exhibitions, actions, and lectures to propagate these radical ideas and programs. For example, on a busy street in Cologne he handed out shopping bags printed with his diagram of the organization, the multiple How the Dictatorship of the Parties Can Be Overcome (1971). In May 1972, he literally swept out the Karl-Marx-Platz in West Berlin after a Labor Day demonstration, collected the garbage in his printed plastic bags, and exhibited them in an art gallery while debating with tired demonstrators about freedom, democracy, and socialism. During this year Beuys also established his Information Office in the documenta 5 exhibition, where he debated issues with gallery visitors for 100 days. On the last day, he fought a Boxing Match for Direct Democracy.

In October 1972, after conflicts about the over-enrollment of 125 students in Beuys' classes, he was dismissed without notice from his teaching position at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, which was followed by an international wave of protests. (Beuys filed lawsuit, which he eventually won at the Federal Labor Court in 1978.)

The foundation of his own Free International College was on its way, yet not intended as a private teaching venue for Beuys himself. The primary objective was to reactivate the "life values" through a creative interchange on the basis of equality between teachers and learners. In February 1974, after his return from his first lecture tour through the United States entitled "Energy Plan for the Western Man," Beuys and poet Heinrich Böll announced the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research (FIU). (See Teaching and Learning guide.)

Beuys participated at documenta 6 in 1977 with the installation Honey Pump in the Workplace (1977), in which students in the FIU workshops were an integral part. Since this exhibition, the FIU has expanded as an international working collective. "Appeal for an Alternative," first published in the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau in December 1978, was a lengthy manifesto that embodied the ideas, realizations, and demands that Beuys had debated over the years at the FIU and during the congresses at Achberg. He also used the text in several multiples.

In turn, this manifesto became a fundamental document for the Green Party, Germany's grassroots alternative to a political party, in consolidating certain vital social and ecological aspects of their platform. Beuys saw the Greens as a reservoir for grassroots initiatives. His slogan was "Unity in Diversity," in terms of a spirit of active tolerance. In 1980 Beuys headed the list for the Greens in the Bundestag elections for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but he was not elected. The Greens later entered the parliament in 1983, and during the course of their establishment, Beuys was cast aside. With their focus on "political realism," neither Beuys' radicalism nor his depth were understood.

Undaunted in his efforts, in 1982 Beuys' and participants in the FIU started the action 7000 Oaks in Kassel for the documenta 7 exhibition. "Urban Afforestation Not Urban Administration" was his slogan. Although there was a storm of protest, it became a rather glorious success. Beuys had intended to go further with his land-healing efforts. He had planned a gigantic ecological project entitled Spülfelder Hamburg 1983/84, which involved the transformation of heavily polluted, flooded fields. Government refusal hindered the realization of this project.

Long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Beuys spoke about his "Action Third Path" as a bridge beyond capitalism and communism that could bring solidarity to the economic life. With this "free democratic socialism," capital would be constantly neutralized in an organic circulation economy, where any surplus is returned to the cultural life.

Beuys' ideas for a new concept of economics were inspired by Wilhelm Schmundt (1898­1992), whom he had met and who had developed Steiner's ideas further. Beuys saw the concept of supply and demand precisely the other way round, in which the "demand" has to exist first, stated actively by the consumer, so that the "supply" can answer. According to Beuys, the inner needs of a human being should be met first through the "production of spiritual goods" in the form of ideas, art, and education. "We do not need all that we are meant to buy today to satisfy profit-based private capitalism."

When these soul needs are satisfied, products of daily life could be very basic and simple, as can be seen in Beuys' studio and private home. Numerous multiples called Economic Value, which included basic groceries and other simple products manufactured in Eastern Europe, express this reduction to the essentials and provoke a "counter image."

"Art that can not shape society and therefore also can not penetrate the heart questions of society, [and] in the end influence the question of capital, is no art."
-Joseph Beuys, 1985

-Regina Brenner, scholar and educational artist

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Net.Art, Machines, and Parasites Andreas Broeckmann

Net.Art, Machines, and Parasites

Andreas Broeckmann

1. The electronic networks, most notably the Internet, are creating new artistic spaces which are currently being explored in a multiplicity of ways. Alongside industrialists, designers and stock traders, artists are fascinated by the possibility of almost instantaneously transmitting and receiving data on a world-wide scale - the 'world' in this case obviously being those parts of the globe which have an infrastructure of telephone lines, personal computers, modems and Internet providers. The World Wide Web (WWW) with its hypertextual structure and multi-media possibilities is the most prominent, though not the only domain of the new network art.

There are a variety of network-based art practices that have already existed prior to the popularisation of the Internet in the 1990s and that have used, for instance, the telephone network for live-audio performances, or fax machines for the instant exchange of written and drawn messages. In a similar way, mail art circles have, for more than 25 years, used the postal service which has allowed artists to stay in contact and collaborate in a widely spread network of friends and colleagues.
Time, space, speed, collective creativity and communication are the primary themes of the projects that were realised in these fields. The use of computers in the electronic networks has added independent machine agency as an extra dimension of such practices: the communication and data exchange among networked computers in processes which are not controlled or initiated by human actors, has taken on an aesthetic quality.[1]

In the telematic spatial sound installation by the Austrian group x-space, 'Ping - Die Metrik der Zeit' (1994), for instance, sounds made in front of a microphone were delayed by digital signal processors before they were played over a set of loudspeakers in the same room. The time-lag between input and output was determined by the time that it took for a certain data packet to be sent from the installation site in Austria via the Internet to New Zealand and returned from there. This protocol is called Ping and is used regularly in electronic networks to check whether there actually is a connection between two computers, and how fast this connection is. Its speed depends on the amount of data traffic going on in the network, as well as in the server computers at the nodes that the signal has to pass through. Ping thus becomes a measure of time, distance and speed that is relative to the activity and communication on the network: the acoustically created spatial dimension which can be experienced in the installation room is dependent on an uncontrollable, machinically induced process.

Such a use of the technological disposition has become typical of some of the art projects realised with digital media. They do not aim at a beautiful or effective artistic expression, or at a convincing representation of an abstract principle, but use the fact of machinic and interpersonal communication across the network, the technological structure and functions of the network dispositive, and amplify, mock or playfully subvert them.

2. A number of artists and groups are currently concentrating on the World Wide Web for this kind of work. The WWW is a protocol on the Internet that allows for an integrated transmission and presentation of textual, visual and audio material, mainly using graphically designed screen 'pages' as the interface. This multi-medial quality, and the fact that the interactive functionality of the interfaces is rapidly expanding through the development of plug-ins, has meant that since its launch as a new mass medium in 1993, the WWW has been embraced by media practitioners of every sort, artists, activists, companies, advertisers and media conglomerates, to communicate with their audience, present their products and entertain WWW users. Connectivity and bandwidth are still too small for the Web to be a serious competitor for television, but there is a possibility that a lot of the mass communication that is currently being conducted via TV will, in the future, be transported via the electronic networks.

Whether this means that the quality of Web content will be as poor and as limited as that of television, will largely depend on the way in which the technological infrastructure of the networks will be developed. The Internet has the potential for being a genuinely open, many-to-many medium where every user can post his or her own contents which can then be accessed by all other users of the network. Practically, however, there is now a real danger that this new public communication space gets squeezed by commercial interests on the one hand (advertisers and broadcasters who want people to consume rather than use the medium), and by government censorship on the other (regulating what content is available to whom). It is important to understand that the development of the electronic networks as media for personal and artistic communication and expression is dependent on the political and technological decisions that are now being taken, and that it is necessary to demand open and flexible infrastructures in which private and non-commercial initiatives can flourish alongside the commercial usages of the networks.

3. This is the context in which a loose group of artists, almost a movement, is currently realising projects under the name Net.Art. They are based in various European countries, team up in real and virtual institutions like CERN, Netlab, the WWW Art Centre, etc., working locally as well as translocally, sometimes remotely and together on the same project, at other times individually or with local collaborators. An important feature of projects realised on the WWW is that they can constantly be updated and changed, so that there is never a ready and fixed creation or 'work'. Net.Art works are temporary (though not necessarily time-based) and as unstable as the networks themselves.

At this moment, Net.Art is certainly in a transitory state, in permanent flux, and it will change and develop as its agents and environment change. The following is therefore a snapshot rather than an historical analysis. The main tool of Net.Art is the hyperlink through which one WWW document can be linked to another, no matter where on the Internet that second document is located. This means that (if we disregard the documents that allow only restricted access) all the millions of documents on the WWW are potentially linkable, they belong to the same horizontal surface of material, a felt of singularised objects, on which artists and designers can draw. The WWW Art Medal project, for instance, consists of links to WWW pages that are not meant to be 'art', but that have an 'arty' feeling to them. These pages, often accidentally found, are awarded the WWW Art Medal and are complemented by pirated art critical quotations which describe what may be seen as artistically valuable in the individual pages. The project creates a distributed artistic space and exhibits 'objets trouvŽs' from the networks, diluting the boundary between intention, gesture, collection/presentation, and object. The artistic practice, 'project' in the literal sense of the word, is a sliding across the surface of the webbed documents.

In another project, Net.Art.Per.Se, the designs and images of existing WWW sites of major media companies, search engines, etc., are used to contextualise a series of speculative statements about Net.Art. Net.Art presents itself as a hypothetical thread, as a possible trajectory through the mediatic space. It incorporates and structures found material, and it inscribes itself into the expanses of the Web, tilting some of its smooth surfaces, creating little channels in which the digital material can change the direction of its flow.

For the Refresh project, more than twenty WWW pages located on so many different servers all across Europe and the US were linked together in a loop through which the visitor would be 'zapped' automatically, one page following the next after ten seconds. The project made use of the 'Refresh' meta-tag, a command within HTML, the language that is used to design WWW pages. The command tells the WWW browser software on the personal computer of the user to automatically go to a particular page after a certain time. By making sure that all these links created a loop, Refresh would take you through all the pages over and over again. The project was exciting for those immediately involved as they could experience how the loop grew page by page, while they were simultaneously communicating and negotiating via an IRC chat channel how to solve certain problems. More generally, the Refresh loop was designed to employ the interconnectivity of the computers and the software infrastructure to create one project that was simultaneously happening at more than twenty different locations, a genuinely distributed artwork whose experiential effect both depended on and transgressed the physical distance between the participants.

4. The aesthetics of such projects is dependent not so much on the intention of a single or collective author, but on the process initiated by and within the complex machine of people, the network infrastructure, desires, technical hardware, design tools, interfaces, behaviours. Machines in the sense in which I am using the word here are not only technical apparatuses, they are assemblages of heterogeneous parts, aggregations which transform forces, articulate and propel their elements, and force them into a continuous state of transformation and becoming. Machinic assemblages are made up of singularities which dynamically transform the environment by which they are being transformed and recomposed. And the machinic assemblage as a whole has an aesthetic effect. The artistic explorations of the machinic are attempts at formulating an understanding of production, of transformation and of becoming that is no longer dependent on a humanist notion of intentional agency. Its place is taken by an ethics and an aesthetics of becoming machine.

5. The media theoretician Toshiya Ueno has claimed that the key aspect of network art is the creation of a relational field in which people who are physically far apart can collectively maintain a strong ideological, ethical, or spiritual relationship amongst each other. Interestingly, Ueno directly relates this to the situation of people living in a diaspora, suggesting a function of network art that aims at recreating broken or weakened ties within a particular community. For Ueno, networked relationality is based not only on the technology which makes the contact and communication possible, but also on travelling and physical mobility. Translocality means that, in order to create a forceful relational field, technically supported interconnectivity is not sufficient: network art that is based on and aims at translocal communication needs the fluid movement of people, objects and ideas. More than anything, Net.Art is a dynamic felt of relations constituted by movement.
Ueno also points out that the social practice associated with Net.Art, in which the sharing of food and data is central, resembles the principles of Immediatism described by Hakim Bey, who writes that the gathering and the potlatch are crucial levels of the immediatist organisation, where friends meet and exchange gifts and food. Collaborating on specific projects (the Bee) and the creation of temporary autonomous zones (TAZ) are further levels that are deployed to achieve the goals of the Immediatist organisation, i.e. conviviality, creation and destruction.

6. I would like to add some reflections about the parasitic activity, based on Michel Serres' book Le Parasite (1980), implicitly suggesting that its parameters and attitudes might be useful for a description and further development of the economy, ethics and aesthetics of Net.Art. The connection drawn in the following between Net.Art and parasitism is a hypothetical one; it attempts to describe an artistic practice that aims neither at representation nor at interactivity, but at a tilting of, and sliding across, the technological dispositive.

The relationship between network art and parasitism was earlier suggested by Erik Hobijn who introduced a concept for Techno-Parasites: "Parasites live and feed on other plants and animals. Techno-Parasites use whatever technical systems or apparatuses they can find as hosts, drawing on their output, their energy supplies and cycles to procreate and grow. A Techno-Parasite can be a simple or a complex system which is attentive and adapts to its host's structure where its inventive struggle for survival causes technical disruptions. Techno-Parasites suck other machines empty, disrupt their circuits, effect power cuts, disable them, destroy them."[2]

Hobijn insists that the parasite is not alien and exterior to technological systems, but that each system, whether natural or technological, brings forth its own counter-forces which will disrupt its stability and continuity. The techno-parasite, Hobijn claims, is an integral part of the technological ecology, it helps to make the technological system viable. (It should be noted that Net.Art, in its current form, is much more benign than the TPs.)

7. "To be a parasite means: to eat at somebody else's table." (Serres, p.17) To be a parasite means to divert food, money, energy, anything material, from its destined path. But the parasite is neither thief nor villain: the host creates the conditions for the parasite to come and welcomes it, explicitly or implicitly. The host is not the victim, but the home of the parasite. In its host's house, the parasite must be humble and quiet; being too visible can be fatal. Similarly, the parasite must know when to eat, and it must know when to go.

8. The parasite is not fixed and it is not attached to the source of its nourishment directly. It "has a relation not with a station, but with another relation." (55) The mouse eats the bread crumbs that fell to the ground when its host was eating the bread. The mouse does not go to the bread box, which is locked, but to the crumbs that result from an instability in the relation between host and bread. Similarly, the leech will not enter the body where it would drown in the blood, but it makes a hole in the skin and consumes the blood that wells from it. "The parasite is 'next to', it is 'with', it is detached from, it is not sitting on the thing itself, but on the relation. It has relations, as one says, and turns them into a system. It is always mediate and never immediate. It has a relation to the relation, it is related to the related, it sits on the channel." (64-5)

It is important to remember that the parasite is always dependent on a host. It can leave and search for new hosts, and it can flee from danger, but it will have to return to a host, "its outside is always the inside of something else." (300) The pact that the parasite has to make is to convince the host, again explicitly or implicitly, that the inequality of exchanged goods is for the mutual benefit.

The parasitological economy and ethics are not based on an exchange of equal values, but on presents, offers, and on gratitude. "The logic of debt and credit is ruled by exchange, it relies on the accounts and calculates the balances; in the logic and the economy of thanking, of gratitude, exchange does not exist. One collective is ruled by demands while in another, gratitude circulates. Two societies which are not comparable. In the second system there is a lot of eating, lots of invitations for festive meals and dinners." (51)

9. Just as white noise plays a constitutive role in acoustics, parasitism is constitutive for relations. "The background noise is the basic space, and the parasite is the basis of the channel that leads through this space. Parasitism is nothing but a linear form of white noise." (83)

There is a direct correlation between the intensity of activity on the channel and the communication of the message, between white noise and communication, between parasitism and functionality. Heating up the cable's fibres, for instance, will increase the white noise. "This agitation prevents the message from passing through. However, sometimes it only makes the communication of the message possible, which would not be able to pass through a channel that is not agitated or energised. The background noise is the precondition of transmission (of meaning, of the sound, and even of the noise itself), and the noise is its interruption or disruption. In turn, the noise - the parasite in information-theoretical terms - is at all three corners of the triangle simultaneously, it is sender, receiver and channel. Heat it up a little, and I receive, send, I collate; heat it up a little more and everything breaks down. A minimal increase in one direction or the other can transform the communication system as a whole." (298-9)

10. The parasite is a strategist and an ecologist, it knows its environment and, like a nomad, it is good at 'passing through' and at conquering through movement, rather than at occupying, settling, and conquering by force. "The strategist we are looking for is not a dynamicist, he laughs at physical strength, he is a topologist, he knows his ways, the channels, the terrain. In short, he is a geographer. May the enemy come with a hundred divisions, heavy tanks and artillery, I will let him walk through the swamps and drown in them. The parasite of the networks does not go into battle; no message has any meaning any more, it gets lost in the noise. The white noise is distributed where meaning is scarce, chaotic long waves from which the message emerges, short and sharp. Nothing can be produced more easily than these little waves, nothing can be maintained more stable." (301)

11. The irritation caused in the host system comes from the parasite's ability to swap places, to be channel and disruption, to force the system into oscillation. "The parasite is an infectant. Far from actually transforming a system's nature, its form, elements, relations and paths, the parasite makes the system change its condition in small steps. It introduces a tilt. It brings the system's balance or the distribution of energy into fluctuation. It irritates it. It infects it. Often this tilt has no effect. It can bring forth effects - even massive ones, through chain reactions or reproduction. (...) The parasites brings us close to the simplest and most general agents of change in systems. It causes the infinitesimal diversions to fluctuate. It makes them immune or blocks them, it forces them to adapt or kills them, it selects and destroys them. Should we generalise what Claude Bernard said about poisons and call the parasites 'the real reagents of life'? This is the case because the parasite brings us close to the subtle balances of living systems, close to their energetic balances. It is their fluctuation, their concussion, their test, their shift." (293-4)

12. The hypothesis put forward here is that the parasitological aesthetics described by Michel Serres is, at least in part, applicable to the net.artistic practice. The latter's cheerful dependence on and exploitation of the technological dispositive, the mild irritation that it causes at the cost of the apparent functionality and rationality of the network system, and the transgression of its symbolic system of sites and homes, suggest that the parasitic might be a useful metaphor with which to describe the gestures and interventions of Net.Art.

A final example to underpin this hypothesis. As we saw earlier, the host has a home, it is a home. The parasite, on the contrary, has no home of its own, it chooses temporary homes, it is always a lodger. If one goes to the websites of the WWW Art Centre or of, the first page offers links to a whole list of homepages for these sites, made by different net.artists. These websites do not have an individual face, a homepage and logo that would make it possible to identify them, but they have multiple entrances and multiple faces. Deleuze and Guattari, in their monumental study Milles Plateaux (1980), introduce the concept of 'facialisation' (fr. visagŽitŽ) to describe the process of subjectification 'in the image of' a face. In short, the subject emerges from the abstract machine of the facial surface which reterritorialises a multiplicity of diverse forces around a 'facial' pattern and brings forth a recognisable and self-recognising individual. The multiplication of entrances, the multiplication of homepages and 'faces' of the Net.Art websites, then, produces a multiplication of selves, an acknowledgement of the multiplicity of the technological subject. Like the parasites, net.artists are never one. The net.artist is a collective that becomes stronger and more beautiful the further distributed and discretely interconnected it is.

The gesture means neither: this is my home, this is my face, this is me, nor: be my DoppelgŠnger, but it means: be my triplegŠnger, quadruplegŠnger, my septuplegŠnger, and then: visitor, guest, parasite, be welcomed, enter the machine through the passages of our multiple selves. What we witness is not a dissolution of borders, but a distribution and interconnection of potentialities. Friends inviting each other to their homes, getting together in conviviality for festive meals and the distribution of gifts, forgetting who is the host and who is the guest.


1. For a more extensive discussion of these aesthetic parameters, cf. my 'Art in the Electronic Networks', in: SCCA Quarterly, Autumn 1996, and Nettime ZKP 3.2.1, Ljubljana 1996 (cf. below). 2. The concept of the Techno-Parasites has been elaborated in a text by Erik Hobijn and Andreas Broeckmann, 'Techno-Parasites: Bringing the Machinic Unconscious to Life', in: BE 4, Berlin, October 1996, p.91-7, and


Hakim Bey: Immediatism. Edinburgh: AK Press, 1994 Gilles Deleuze, FŽlix Guattari: Milles Plateaux. Paris: Ed. de Minuit, 1980 Michel Serres: Le Parasit. Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle, 1980 (quoted after the German edition, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1987) Nettime ZKP 3.2.1. (Ed. by Vuk Cosic & Heath Bunting) Ljubljana: Ljudmila, 1996 Toshiya Ueno: 'A Preliminary Thesis (...).' In: Nettime ZKP 3.2.1, p.21-3


Rachel Baker - Cybercafe (Heath Bunting a.o.) - E-L@b (Rasa Smite, Raitis Smits, Jaanis Garanc, a.o.) -
Jodi (Jodi) -
Olia Lialina - Ljudmila (Vuk Cosic, Luka Frelih, a.o.; incl. NAPS) - Moscow WWWart Centre (Alexei Shulgin, a.o.) - NetLab (Pit Schultz a.o.) - Techno-Parasites (Erik Hobijn) -

Net.Art conference - Nettime -
Refresh - (multiple entrances; a.o.:)

Rotterdam/Berlin, January 1997

* distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission * is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism, * collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets * more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body * URL: contact:

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Introducing Mail Art: A Karen Elliot Interview with Crackerjack Kid and Honoria

Hubener: Karen Elliot is the founder of Plagiarism and the 1990-1993 Art Strike. Crackerjack Kid has been active in mail art since 1978 and is the editor of Eternal Network, an illustrated mail art anthology scheduled for publication in 1993 by University of Calgary Press. Honoria, a.k.a. Mail Art Kisses for Peace, Touriste, and Fake Picabia Sister, hails from Austin, Texas where she is the MailArt editor of ND Magazine. All three artists are active networkers who use both the international postal system and electronic mail links to distribute information, concepts, and sometimes a surprise wrapped in an enigma.

Karen Elliot (hereafter KE): Well, Crackerjack Kid, they say you compare mail art to Crackerjack candy--that you like putting a surprise in everybody's mailbox. Who have you surprised lately, and who in turn surprises you most often?

Crackerjack Kid (hereafter CJK): I could say that nothing in mail art surprises me anymore, but it does. D. Peepol of Akron, Ohio once mailed a lunch bag of black, sooty, perfumed dust and while I was opening it, the contents spilled over my lap onto the furniture and floor. A small tag remained in the sack with the startling announcement: "These are the last mortal remains of my dear aunty Sarah." Shmuel in Brattleboro, Vermont is only an hour down the road from me and yet s/he regularly sends add-on objects like driftwood, pistachios, walnuts, cryptic coded postcards, and most recently, a 3-D paper monoplane which arrived in an official plastic USPS "body bag." Among the most unusal items I've mailed are navel stamps and a sourdough bread baguette I carved into a phallus. I stuffed it into an oversized Crackerjack box for the John Bennett and Cathy Mehrl mail art marriage show.

(H) One of the weirdest pieces of mail I received was a pop-up hand made splatter-painted paper sea skate from Kevin in Atlanta. Somehow our correspondance evolved into sending each other fish. It became pretty challenging after the first dozen or so fish images. He even sent me some cut out ads for efficiency apartments. I sent him a photo of dried out, ugly as sin, cat-fish heads hanging on a Texas barbed wire fence. I found a souvenir of Florid, a wooden paddle in the shape of a fish, the toy kind with a rubber band and ball attached. I haven't sent it to him yet because our corresponding fishing hole gradually dried up. I still send him a bait fish every now and then and when he's in the mood (maybe now, after artstrike) he'll get a reel and flop some more fish on the postal scales. Another long term correspondent in Indiana sends naive brightly colored drawings on envelopes with each letter. One of them was called mother bar-b-ques the cat. These don't have the verbal shock value of Cracker's examples but if you saw them you'd agree on their dramatic weirdness levels. But let me tell you about the most relaxing piece of mail I ever received. It was from a correspondent in Oregon, a liscenced massage therapist. He suggested flirtatiously that he and I engage in a mail fantasy. I told him I was a prude but would have a fantasy as long as it wasn't a sex fantasy. I told him I could use a licensed massage fantasy. He wrote back asking what scent of oil I wanted and what music. I answered rose with a hint of citrus and that Mozart clarinet thing and he sent me a full body massage description in anatomical detail ending with a secret for turning on the parasympathetic nervous system and a $5 off coupon.

(CJK) Both Honoria and I could go on forever about wacky mail because the sacred and profane are so commonplace in the mail art mailstream. There aren't any rules guiding what can and can't be sent. Short of mail fraud, mailing bombs, drugs, or dirt from Canada, most everything gets posted. There was a mail art show in California with a conceptual theme titled, "Test the Post Office." Objects mailed included an addressed water filled balloon. Someone sent a fifteen feet long garden hose with over a hundred one cent stamps on the hose surface. A sly mail artist tested the honesty of the postal system by laminating and addressing a ten dollar bill; it arrived safely for the show in Los Angeles.

(KE) You're planning on opening mail art here in this studio loft in SoHo. So am I right to assume you're having a "mail art opening?"

(H) Oh, most definitely! The public will open the mail that's accumulated at this address over the past three months. We decided to let the public take the unopened mail art off the walls and replace it with their own offerings. There are tables all over the studio with materials for making mail art. Our show, is just one of several dozen other mail art shows and projects which simulateously carry on every month. You can get the newest mail art show listings by writing to Ashley Parker Owens (73358 N. Damen, Chicago, IL 60645). Her "Global Mail" is a newsletter of international mail art events that's published three times yearly in January, May, and September. There are numerous other trade zines, bulletins, and mainstream magazines which regularly post mail art show listings, but I'm most impressed by the sheer volume of projects and shows in her publication. By the way, PMC readers can reach CrackerJack Kid via email (see list at end of interview). He also edits a mail art zine entitled Netshaker. Annual subscription is $12.00 payable by check or money order at PO Box 978, Hanover, NH 03755.

(KE) But where are the people you invited? Aren't mail art shows supposed to be public events--places where mail artists can have a "coming out" and expose their secret, intimate, hidden mailstream corresponDANCES!

(CJK) Well Karen, I like how you accented Dances because that's just what mail artists do, they DANCE to an off-beat, underground chant called "Gift Exchange." Someone once said mail art was Christmas in the mailbox everyday of the year, but we're here to let the public cut in on the dance. Our show in part recalls the first mail art exhibition, The New York Correspondance School Show" curated in 1970 by Marcia Tucker at the Whitney Museum. That show incorporated the work of 106 people, all individuals who had mailed art to Ray Johnson. The irony was that Johnson's work wasn't present because he asked his correspondents to submit their work to him instead. We've invited everybody in New York City to this show who has the last name Elliot, or Johnson--in honor of you and especially Ray Johnson who is the father of mail art. Of course anybody else is welcome to send mail art too.

(KE) Holy Akademagorrod! Didn't Ray Johnson do that once--I mean, call everybody named Ray Johnson in the NYC phonebook to a New York Correspondance School Party?

(H) Not exactly Karen, but Ray Johnson did have a "Michael Cooper, Michael Cooper, Michael Cooper Club." There were two Michael Coopers who knew each other, and there was a third Michael Cooper that Johnson knew. Johnson arranged to have all the Coopers meet each other. Johnson has arranged a lot of meetings. His mail art goes back to the mid-forties and quite a few people in the art and non-art world have had at least a mailing or two, fragmentary riddles that add to his mythic legend.

(KE) What does he mail?

(CJK) Cartoon characters like his bunny head, correspondence, mailings from previous works, and multilayered collages. Ray Johnson is a pun shaper who finds words within words and he's a master of wit who often mixes images with texts. But the best way to experience Ray Johnson is to interact with him by dropping something in his mailbox. His address is 44 West 7 Street, Locust Valley, New York 11560.

(H) Also, a lot of pictures of Ray Johnson are sent throughout the network with invitations to intervene upon them. I received Ray Johnson's high school picture once from Italy. I cut it in half and put it in two TV sets and sent it back. How many Ray Johnson bath tubs are there? That's a very popular project. You usually add yourself to the zeroxed pile of networkers taking a bath with Ray Johnson. One imagines the rubberstamp pad ink dissolving off the artists making a colorful bathtub ring.

(CJK) Ray Johnson is also notorious for his institutional inventions. In the 1973 "Death Announcements" section of The New York Times, Johnson announced the demise of his New York Correspondence School, which was shortly thereafter reborn as Buddha University. Numerous Johnson inspired Fan Clubs grew under the rubric of the NYCS. I mentioned the Michael Cooper Club, but there was also the Shelley Duvall Fan Club, Marcel Duchamp Fan Club, the Blue Eyes Club and it's Japanese equivalent, "the Brue Eyes Crub." Johnson's network of mail art contacts has expanded in recent years to include phone calls which range from informative to mysterious. Ray called me one evening two months ago to say that the first New York Correspondence School meeting took place in a Manhattan Quaker Meeting House. I was telling Ray how spirited mail artists interested me, mail art that shakes, rattles, quakes, and rolls--artists who I'm fond of calling "netshakers." Johnson said his meeting at the Quaker House was just a meeting of friends, but he hoped that the people whould go into religious convulsions and do Quaker shaking.

(KE) I understand Johnson's importance to mail art, but is there an association between Ray Johnson and the selection of this space for your mail art show?

(CJK) Yes, in an oblique way I chose the NYC location over the Emily Harvey Gallery and Jean Depuy loft because this is where Fluxus master George Maciunas lived for awhile. Maciunas and Ray Johnson knew one another. From 1960-61 Maciunas ran AG Gallery at 925 Madison Avenue, a performance space not far from where we are now. It's been said that SoHo started due to Maciunas's establishment of the first SoHo cooperative building at 80 Wooster Street. Johnson performed a "Nothing" at Maciunas's AG Gallery just before it closed in July 1961. Maciunas is credited as one of the founding members of Fluxus.

(KE) What's Fluxus?

(CJK) Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, George Maciunas and a small group of artists started a new "tendency" or intermedia perception--George Maciunas named it Fluxus. Fluxus implies "the state of being in flux, of movement, ephemerality, playfulness, and experimentalism. This fluxattitude resulted in numerous publications, feasts, and Fluxfests. One of those performances occured here when Maciunas married Billie Hutching on February 25, 1978. Wedding guests and the "wedding train," performed Flux Cabaret.

(KE) So Maciunas and Johnson were both Fluxus artists?

(CJK) Yes, although if Maciunas were alive today, I doubt he or Johnson would agree on any close interconnection through their work. Neither Mail Art or Fluxus are movements as much as they are tendencies. Maciunas, unlike Johnson or most of the Fluxus artists, had an anarchistic, utopian vision whereas Johnson's mail was actually correspondence art, an intimate, personal exchange between an individual or small group of people. It was the American Fluxus artist Ken Friedman who took mail art out of the personal realm and into the international paradigm in which Fluxus artists were engaged. Friedman's 1973 Omaha Flow Systems established the mail art ethic for shows like this one we're having. Friedman brought his Fluxus background to mail art in the pursuit of open, democratic, interactive exhibitions which encouraged viewers to participate. Interaction with audiences has always been a Fluxus characteristic.

(KE) Let's return to mail art shows for a minute. What shows have you entered, Honoria?

(H) My favorite mailart activity is entering mail art shows by submitting small pieces of art at the request of another networker in response to their chosen theme. I ended up painting hundreds of postcard sized figures and skeletons in response to the shadow project(s) commemorating the people vaporized by the WWII atomic explosion on Hiroshima. I put some of them on a black poncho and wore them to a Day of the Dead celebration in Austin and danced to cojunto music. You never know where mailart will go or send you. I used to work in an isolated and local competitive market (fine) art environment. Now I feel the flow of art & ideas in and out of my studio room is part of a huge global art studio where we get together to gossip, philosophize, show each other new unfinished work, and communicate fresh ideas. The mailartist to mailartist communication uses all kinds of shortcuts that artist-to-general public, or even informed art historically astute public will not get. Our jargon, in-jokes and creative playfulness are as slippery as freshly licked glue on the back of a 50 cent stamp about to be placed on a recycled envelope bound for Japan. For instance, everyone I know outside the network thinks plagiarism is a naughty deceit. Within the network Plagiarism is an art movement. In fact, there have been festivals of plagiarism. Recycling other artists images is a basic concept in mail art.

(CJK) Appropriation, sorting, and shuffling written texts is also a very corresponDANCE kind of improvisational jazz you'll find in the mail art network. Indeed, name sharing and detourning strategies began surfacing in mail art back in the early 1970s. Dadaism, Nouveau Realisme, Futurism, COBRA, Fluxus, and Situationalism have all played varied influential roles in the mail art mailstream.

(H) Now Karen, just between us girls, I want to know if you've been catching this drift? I've noticed a renewed interest in the actions and representations of women in the network. Jennifer Huebert (POB 395, Rifton, NY 12471) just collected mail from women networkers who attended congresses in 1992. I'm looking forward to reading other people's views. In a huge network full of pseudonyms and correspondents who don't speak each others languages I think it's odd, but fun, to examine the yin/yang aspect of it all. One networker is named manwoman.

(CJK) Yeh, I know ManWoman! S/he's a Canadian Pop Artist, a musician, poet, and a shaman who has an on-going project to restore the sacred, mystical significance of the ancient swastika--before it was denigrated by National Socialism. S/he believes in dreams and can analyze their symbolic significance. When I told ManWoman that Cathyjack and I were trying to have a child, S/he sent me a fertility chant which, low and behold, WORKED within a week after I received it in the mail. That makes ManWoman more than just a charming individual--S/he's a very kind, gentle soul, a sage. There's a certain charismatic aura and mystery in meeting such people through the mail--pseudonyms like ManWoman and Michael VooDoo help to create an unpredictable, unusual postal pantheon.

(H) I have deduced from my correspondence that some mail artists perceive Honoriartist as a male. Maybe it's due to my fertile imagination (although to my knowlegdge my mail has never been responsible for a pregnancy) plus my connections and art collaborations with transvestites. Then there's all this collaborating going on between many artists. However, in the process of the historification of mailart someone will get interested in who is actually who and what sex they are. I am quite content 2 be both or more.

(KE) I can certainly understand reasons for creating fictive monikers, but judging by both of your comments it seems that fact is often stranger than fiction in mail art netland. Now, on to a final question or two. Readers of PMC have seen sporadic Networker Congress and Telenetlink Congress listings in their electronic forum throughout 1992. You (C.J. Kid) and Reed Altemus have called attention to yourselves as facilitators of these congress events. What's this congress biz all about?

(CJK) 1992 was the year of the World-Wide Decentralized Networker Congress, otherwise known as METANET, or NC92. The Networker Congresses were first proposed by Swiss conceptual artist H.R. Fricker in "Mail Art: A Process of Detachment," a text presented in March 1990 for my book Eternal Network: A Mail Art Anthology (to be published in Dec. 1993 by University of Calgary Press). In early 1991 Fricker met with fellow Swiss artist Peter W. Kaufmann and together they drafted an invitational flyer entitled, Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congress 1992. The congress call went out to anybody, "Wherever two or more artists/networkers meet in the course of 1992, there a congress will take place." The Networker Congresses, like the Mail Art Congresses of 1986, grew into a huge forum of 180 congresses in over twenty countries.

(KE) Sounds like an enormous project. How was it organized?

(CJK) H.R. Fricker and Peter W. Kaufmann sought active, creative input from networker artists on six continents. American artists Lloyd Dunn, Steve Perkins, John Held Jr., Mark Corroto, and I joined Fricker and Kaufmann early (summer 1991) in the development of the NC92 concept and served as active "netlink facilitators." Final drafts of the Networker Congress invitations included netlink contacts from Africa, South America, North America, Asia, Europe and Australia.

(KE) Is it fair to assume that the networker artist has grown out of the mail art phenomenon?

(CJK) I think so. The Networker Congresses were based on the acknowledgment that a new form of artist, the networker, was emerging from international network cultures of the alternative press, mail art community, telematic artists, flyposter artists, cyberpunks, cassette bands, rubberstampers and stamp artists. The year-long collective work by networkers of NC92 represents the first major effort among artists to cross-over and introduce diverse underground networks to each other. Until this moment countless marginal networks, often operating in parallel directions, were unaware of one another. Mail artists that network have a sense of what intermedia and interactivity involve--it's a consciousness which branches outward. One could say that mail art's evolution was based upon intermedia--the mailstream merging of zines, artist stamps, rubberstamping, correspondence, sound sculpting with audio cassettes, visual poetry, and artists' books. Communication concepts have been the medium and message that mail artists use to bind together these divergent forms of expression. Today, forms like stamp art have become genres unto their own, with proscribed criteria often veering towards normative art standards more than the spirit of a process. I read somewhere in Lund Art Press that the most successful intermedia forms eventually cease to be intermedia. These creative forms evolve into the qualitative characteristics of techniques and styles and will finally become established media with names, histories and contexts of their own. Indeed, the rarity of mail may come to pass with the continued escalation of postal rates. This may encourage more qualitative standards within the mail art network.

(KE) Well Cracker--Can I call you Cracker? (Crackerjack nods his head)--what's wrong with qualitative standards?

(CJK) Hey Karen, didn't you know that when you're really good they call you crackerjack? Really though, for me, the thrill of the process is being inventive, taking yourself somewhere you haven't been before. It can certainly go stale if you don't know when to let go, when to hold back from too much mail. Burnout in mail art is rampant. I'm not a statistician, but to get a focus on what my mail art activities involve each year, I set about tallying all my in-out going mail for 1992. It revealed some startling figures to me. Not including hundreds of email message, I've sent out over 1,150 mail art works and have received 1,250 pieces in return. These figures state that I usually answer most of the mail that I receive. It also shows that with all of my international mailings, I spend, on the average, about $1.20 postage on each item of mail art I send. That makes for an expensive passion! I might want to cut back. I might want to reconsider the investment of my time and energy, or I might decide to conserve the time, energy, and money for those I feel return the same intensity, joy, and playfulness of dialogue. The bottom line is that there are personal criteria for entering and leaving mail art. You definitely receive what you are willing to give and you quickly find out what your threshold for tolerance is.

(KE) Let's return to the networker congress concept. What kinds of congresses were there in 1992?

(H) I was invited to a place I'd never heard of called Villorba, Italy by a long time correspondent, Ruggero Maggi, who sent me some wonderful kisses when I did my kiss show. I went to congress with the Italians and wow, am I glad I did. Long philosophical talks on the lawn of the beautiful Villa Fanna, videos of many networkers, performances, poetry, hours of exchanging, making, sending artworks, food, wine, joy, laughter, howling at the moon, walking barefoot in mudpuddles.... Well, you can just imagine it took the wind right out of my mid-life crisis. This congress was dedicated to the great mail artist A. G. Cavellini and they just made his archive into a museum. We just don't have time to get into Cavellini and the philosophy of "don't make Art make PR" and self-historification etc..

(CJK) Among the scores of other congress themes were John Held Jr.'s Fax Congress, Jennifer Huber's Woman's Congress, Miekel And & Liz Was's Dreamtime Village Corroboree, my own Netshaker Harmonic Divergence, Rea Nikonova and Serge Segay's Vacuum Congress, Bill Gaglione's Rubberstamp Congress, Mike Dyar's Joseph Beuys Seance, Guy Bleus's Antwerp Zoo Congress, and O.Jason & Calum Selkirk's Seizing the Media Congress. There were also numerous, on-going networker projects including Peter Kustermann and Angela Pahler's global tour as "netmailmen performers." Throughout 1992 Kustermann and Pahler travelled, congressed, lectured, recorded a diary, and hand-delivered mail person-to-person. Italian mail artist Vittore Baroni helped create and record a networker congress anthem, Let's Network Together, and American mail artist Mark Corroto produced Face of the Congress networker congress zine.

(KE) So how do you think all these NC92 congresses worked? Did they succeed or fail?

(CJK) I think they were remarkable! Most of the organizers of NC92 congresses have been active international mail artists. They have emerged from the networker year of activities with a deeper awareness of intermedia involvement in global network communities, and a realization that "I am a mail artist, sometimes." While many mail artists visited friends in the flesh, others, unable to travel, "meta-networker spirit to spirit" in the NC92 Telenetlink Congress, a homebased telecommunication project conducted with networkers using personal computers and modems. Serbian and Croat mail artists established networker peace congresses, one such congress taking place in a village where a battle raged around them.

(KE) Our on-line readers would probably like to know what your Telenetlink Congress was about. Can you briefly state your objective?

(CJK) My objectives were to introduce and eventually netlink the international telematic community with the mail art mailstream. I began forming an email list of telecommunication artists which I compiled from responses to my numerous NC92 Telenetlink postings on internet, BBS', electronic journals, and Usenet Newsgroups. I began Telenetlink in June 1991 by participating in Artur Matuck's global telecommunication project Reflux Network Project. There I served as an active netlink between the telematic community on one hand, and the mail art network's Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congress, 1992. Where these two projects intersected there were informal on-line congresses in which the role of the networker was discussed. Conceptual on-line projects such as the Spirit Netlink Performance drew in crowds of participants at the Reflux Network Project link in the Sao Paulo Bienale.

(KE) Haven't mail artists and telematic artists interacted through collaborative projects using mail and e-mail?

(CJK) It comes as no surprise that pioneering telematic artists like Fred Truck, Judy Malloy, and Carl Loeffler were once quite active in mail art's early years, but efforts to combine both mail art and telematic forms were never fully approached. My Telenetlink project was the first home-based effort to interconnect the telematic and mail art worlds. By netlinking both parallel network worlds, I found many common tendencies; internationalism, interest in intermedia concepts, respect for cultural diversity, humor, ephemerality, emphasis upon process art rather artifact, humor, global spirituality unencumbered by religious dogma, utopian idealism, experimentalism, and interest in resolution of the art/life dichotomy. Prior to Telenetlink there were mail artists such as Mark Block (U.S.), Ruud Janssen (The Netherlands), and Charles Francois (Belgium), whose efforts were aimed at introducing mail art through their own private Bulletin Board Services, but netlinking mail art and the telematic community through mainframes on internet hadn't been explored. Fewer than four dozen mail artists are actively using computers to explore communicative art concepts, but that number is rapidly changing now that computer technology is more affordable. Still, some mail artists view their form as more intimate, tactile, expressive, and communicative than telecommunication art. Other mail artists regard computers with mistrust, suspicion, even fear. Likewise, I have heard telecommunication artists view mail art as a primitive, slow, outmoded, form of expression. I prefer to think of telematic art and mail art as useful tools for creative communication. It's not a matter of one form being superior to another. I think the time is right for mail artists and telematic artists to get acquainted--to netshake--to telenetlink worlds. Here's a list of telecommunication artists who use mail art and email as intermedia forms. I think this is the best way Honoria, Karen Elliot, and I can help PMC readers learn about mail art--to experience the direct contact.

(KE) Well, I think that's a good way to come full circle in this discussion. To know mail art and telematic art is to experience it. Thanks Honoria and Crackerjack for opening up some possibilities to interconnect network communities.
Copyright © 1992 Honoria

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