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nettime: Interview with Peter Weibel
THOMAS BASS" (by way of pit {AT} contrib.de (Pit Schultz)) on Fri, 1 Nov 96 03:06 MET


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nettime: Interview with Peter Weibel


Computers do what?
------------------

Gabriella Bartha interviews Peter Weibel on the opening of his new
exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest, *Beyond Art*, that will
move to Graz in the upcoming year. Gabriella Bartha is a freelance
critic to specializing in new media, conceptual, performance and
non-art. Peter Weibel, as the former director of Ars Electronica,
does not need to be introduced at length. This interview will appear
in the November German-language issue of Balkon Contemporary Arts
Magazine in Budapest.  

GB: Since this is an interview preceding the opening of the 
exhibition curated by you, I would like to ask you about the
concept and the idea of the show. 

PW: I would like to give a survey of what these two countries, 
Austria and Hungary, have achieved in this century in the cultural
field. Therefore I have called it Beyond Art. It is not only an art
show, it is not a show about single masters, but about different
movements. The idea was that you cannot strictly separate between art
and science. A scientific product is different from an artistic
product, but the method is similar. The method is perception. And what
happens when you perceive something,? That means the next step is that
you observe something. And when you observe, you influence something.
I am interested what are the conditions of  perception, of obervation.
What are the material conditions, the cognitive, the social
conditions? So my approach is very different from the normal art
historical approach, according to which one artist follows the other,
one master another, which is a WRONG conception of the evolution.
Evolution is done step by step, in microsteps. One artist adds to the
other artist, and they all follow the same method. The method for
example in the 20's cubism was abstract geometrization. Or you could
also say, that the object started to become more abstract. The first
step was geometric abstraction, and from this abstraction we went to
more abstract stuff Suddenly there were only lines and colours.. Then
Op-Art started and then the three dimensions came, so we have moving
machines and so on. So what I do here is to show a movement, and to
show a kind of microsystem, which has done specific steps and has
changed the direction of this movement. I have selected ten movements.
Game theory, for instance. There is a famous book about game theory,
it was written by a Hungarian, Johann von Neumann, and by an Austrian,
Morgenstern, together. What I was looking for was fields. I have
selected ten fields, game theory, systems theory, evolution theory, on
one side, and method of science, method of art, cybernetics,
information theory, quantum physics, these fields, on the other side.
GB: What was the criteria for this selection? You have selected ten
things, but there could have been more or less than that. PW: Not
easy. Not easy, because the criteria was: there must be a contribution
to world culture. So the first criteria was to select fields in which
both countries have developed something. So if there was a field where
the only contribution was Hungary, I could not take it. But in
psychoanalysis we have Freud, and we also have Ferenczi. So I always
needed contributions from both countries. Then the next criteria was
that the achievement must be really world class, it must be one top
achievement in this field. And you do not find many others in the
field of culture. I did not go into engineering, I did not go in the
field of physics, nor into medicine or biology, because the third
criteria  was what is called formal science and formal art, and not
normal art, or normal science. Besides I was taking something which
has a philosophical meaning to it. 

GB: And then how did you render the artists to the ideas you have
selected? 

PW:I have selected already existing work. I did not ask artists to
make new works, because this would be a wrong approach. I made
research myself, and then I had coordinators, who helped me to find  
something in Hungary and in Austria, I had scientific coordinators,
like Kampis, and Stoeltzner from Austria, I had coordinators here in 
Hungary concerning art, like Miklos Peternak and Dora Hegyi, so
actually I had a little team of experts who helped me to make this
exhibition.  Many things are new for myself, although I have been
working on this subject for already 20 years. I wrote my first paper
about Constructivism in Hungary and the relationship of the Austrian 
and Hungarian avantgarde 20 years ago together with Eva Bajkay, who is
the chief curator at the National Museum. They are the subjects from 20
years ago. This is not an exhibition you make in a year, this is
something you need one year to organize after the research is done
in 10-15 years.  

GB: Going back to the criteria of the selection of artists. Were they
doing something similar to what was going on in science or they used
the scientific discoveries in their work or they anticipated some
later discovery in science? 

PW: All three things. Some things were discovered earlier,
for example the mathematical modelling of Groeschl. It is Beothy, a
Hungarian artist living mostly in France, who makes sculptures with
Fibonacci numbers, i.e. mathematical modelling of growth. Sometimes
artists are earlier, sometimes artists are later, it is the mutual
dependence and the mutual influence. It does not mean that the
scientist does not influence the product as much as the artist, but
both are influenced by the method, that's important. Let's take
Rubik's cube for example. How does a country produce a person who
makes the Rubik's cube? This does not come from the toy industry. He
has a background of mathematical, formal thinking, Constructivism,
symmetry studies about rotation, all fields which were done on high
level, I would say world class level mostly in Hungary. Rubik was
from an art school, not a science school. So Rubik's invention was the
influence of science and art together. This background explains why
his product could only be made in Hungary, and nowhere else in the
world. So this is my thesis. These countries have made very specific
contributions to world culture.. 

GB: Do you think you can demonstrate this theory through this
exhibition? 

PW: I can demonstrate it together with a catalogue. There is a 
catalogue of 600 pages, where many many artists, many many writers are
writing about this and show these connections. 

GB: I am not sure that the exhibition is the most proper medium to
this theme. You need more texts, essays to support the ideas... 

PW: There will be many visual objects, with many tables with
books, explanations, models, drawings, diagrams in between. So we try
to mix it: on one side the scientific information, on paper or even on
a computer- as demonstration, and on the other side there are the
links, the art objects. And obviously an art object is also a
theoretical object - when you look at an art work and you do not have
any information, you do not really understand it. So let's see how is
somebody like Gaetano Kanizsa (whose father was Hungarian, but he
lived in Trieste), who was one of the fathers of the Italian
experimental psychology represented in the exhibition. He came up in
the 50s with a famous article about a kind of optical research,
published in Scientific American about the subjective contours, about
how do you see a square which does not exist. There will be paintings
by him accompanied by his famous article. So I show his scientific
approach on how we perceive abstract figures, and at the same time I
show a painting. So people have the chance to study it. This is a show
one could spend a week to read all through what is spread out. 

GB: I guess the concept of subjective contours also applies to this
exhibition. They are not well defined. 

PW: Yes. It is a different kind of show. It is not an art show. I
would say it is an approach how a show would look like in the future.
It is a kind of three dimensional CD-rom. The CD-rom would be the
ideal medium, because then you could see and make your own links, and
you could build it like a pyramid, from a top information down to the
bottom information. So what we are doing here is a three dimensional,
real life CD-rom, but you have to walk around. Later you will have
just a mouse click and you could get also some information. I think at
the same time since always technology influences the shape of real
things, the future shows will be similar to this one.  Probably people
are tired to see just a masterpiece after another, and not
understanding what is going on. 

GB: But you were talking about a kind of slavery and the change of the
function of art and technology in a paper submitted to the Helsinki
conference on Media and Ethics. 

PW: Yes, I was.  Referring to the media artist. The media artists are
in danger to just being experts of legitimation of the power in the
era of the electronic industry. But actually this does not mean that
you cannot find a way to subvert it. Generally I see many media works
being done today where the artistic use of technical media is a way to
legitimize commercially the media. But this does not mean that I am
against the media themselves. That means that I'm against what I would
call the political economy of media. I'm not against the media
themselves, but against the political economy, what you have to pay
for it and things like this. But the CD-rom actually is a kind of new
learning tool. I've recently written an article for the Centre
Pompidou about CD-roms, and there will be a book about the history of
catalogues. And if we remember, in the beginning the catalogue only
consisted of the name of the painting and the price. Later there came
the need of legitimation and writers had to be found to explain why is
this painting so important and to justify the price. So there is
always a kind of legitimation in theory in art on economical or
political basis. But later the catalogues became even independent from
the shows. They were not only a supplement to the show, they could
even substitute the show. 

GB: Hopefully the catalogue won't substitute your exhibition here. 

PW: There is the danger that a CD-rom would substitute
the show, and then a real show would not be necessary, because you
could make it only with telematics. What we are doing here is a step
before the CD-rom. This catalogue will not substitute the show, but it
could be very independent from the show, and it makes it easier to
understand what's going on. The advantage of the exhibition is that
you have an arranged visual path of learning. You are walking from one
picture to the other while learning and experiencing. This is not
something I could achieve using electronic media. It is really
necessary to have a real object in real time and space, and to walk
from one to the other, and when you are in front of it, you see the
others from different angles, in different rooms... I would say this
show is a kind of teaching machine which makes pleasure. 

GB: Is there any new media art exhibited here? 

PW: Yes, we have a lot of computers between all the papers, 
sculptures--very complicated-- 

GB: Computers do what? 

PW: For example you can play games with computers. There are
computers which simulate artificial life, we have cellar automatas, we
have computers which control film projections, we have computers which
show so called cyberspace or virtual worlds. We are also collaborating
with the Soros Foundation, C3. There are more advanced pieces with
internet and telenet and even for the first time we have a quantum
physics experiment which is done in an art context. It is called
delayed choice, and it is done with the most famous scientist from
this field in Austria. He is one of the world class contemporary
quantum physicists. So I could say in each section of these ten we
have one, two or threee computer works. We show media works within the
field. 

GB: How do you concieve the two countries the show focuses on?

PW: This is not the real Hungary, nor the real Austria. Speaking only
about Austria, I present a much modern Austria then it actually is.
The actual and real Austria is very conservative. Most of the great
artists have been thrown out from Austria, and very rarely do their
ideas come back. So what I am reconstructing here is the idealised,
optimised Hungary and Austria. . But this is what culture is about. I
am not speaking about geographical Hungary or Austria, nor about
political Austria or Hungary. I speak about the culture of the last 80
years, emerging from Hungary and Austria, and then going to America or
France. But I look at their origins. It's a kind of cultural
cartography of Hungary and Austria, optimised and idealized. 

GB: This looks a little bit like claiming back these people. 

PW: I don't claim them back, because I state in the introduction that
they are not living here. Culture is not something within geographical
boundaries. It is something that transgresses geographical, political,
national and ethnic boundaries. This is an aspect of culture which I
stress very much, to show that Hungarian culture is not Hungary,
Austrian culture is not Austria. Austria doesn't even want to have
this culture, it throws it out. Politics is normally the enemy of
culture. So when Freud wrote his famous book, The Future of
Illusion, he was talking about religion. According to him the
individual single being is the enemy of culture. That's not corrrect.
The enemies of culture are mostly the political systems. Nation,
culture and politics are not convergent things, they are different
things. So if people are thrown out from the political system, they
are still part of the culture. This is something I cannot make a show
about, I have to write about it in the catalogue. I want to stress
that political, economical and cultural systems are not the same
territories, they can be even opponents. They are different
cartographies. This is a more complex idea of nation. I wanted to show
that borders are permeable, you can't draw a strict border between
Austria and Hungary, because there are a lot of influences. This idea
could be expanded, but now I only show these two countries, and show
how complex the mapping, the cartography, is.

Gabriella Bartha can be contacted for questions and comments         
c/o: basstom {AT} sirius.ceu.hu


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