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<nettime> interview with Alexei Shulgin
Josephine Bosma on Wed, 14 May 1997 17:52:30 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> interview with Alexei Shulgin


This is a short interview made with Alexei Shulgin made in Januari
1997, at the secret conference on net.art in London. We were both tired
and distracted by the surroundings, sitting in a corridor of a pub,
people passing, talking loud... Still it contains some information
that might add to the net.art thread here in nettime. Quotes from it
will be used for a piece on net.art later.

**

JB: What do you do in general?

AS: In general I do various actions, almost all of them are somehow
related to what is known as art. Almost all last year I was involved
specifically in the net, but I work outside the net as well.
My background is more traditional artforms. I started with photography,
then made installations, objects. I curated exhibitions in real space.
Little by little I moved towards the net. Still I am considering I have
to have some way out of it and that I must keep my contacts in the real
world.

JB: You posted a kind of manifesto against professionalism on nettime,
was that against professionalism in general or only for the artscene?

AS: Actually it was not against professionalism, I even don't know
whether it was against anything. I wrote it in the form of a manifesto
to be more clear about what I was going to say, though some statements
look or seem very strong, they were not meant this way. It had to do
with this form. What I wrote is an appeal to artists not to become too
sofisticated in their skills, not to become masters, because since you
become very devoted to what you are doing you turn into a slave of your
medium and the picture of the world you have becomes very narrow.

JB: You wrote the manifesto came from your heart, that it was not an
academic piece..

AS: It was a reflection of my mental and spiritual state at the time.
In general I would never make strong statements and strong expressions
because how can you be sure that you are right. You can never be right
in what you're saying and what you're doing. Sometimes if you want to
say something you have to temporarily forget about this dilemma.

JB: It seemed a bit of a paradox that you ask people not be skillful
when they have to work with new media, with technology that needs
quite some skills.
What do you think of that?

AS: I can't agree with you because pc's or what people are working
with today have very nice interfaces and the software we are using
can be very simple. Of course many artists go into very complicated
stuff like Shockwave or RealAudio. They go into software that really
requires a lot of skills and knowledge, but my general idea is what
we have with net.art is we have a sort of shifting paradigm in art
from the idea of representation to the idea of communication. For
communication you don't need a lot of skills. You can use very simple
software, which is widely available. To create webpages you should
just know the html language which is very simple. You don't have to
know a lot, its not necesary.

JB: Lets just move on to net.art then. So on the one hand you have
this simple technology that people can make beautiful artpieces with.
On the other hand there is this sofisticated artworld that is in need,
that is hungry for new talent, and which of course is also hungry to
show that it knows what is new and what is the freshest. And it wants
to get some net.artists into their galleries. What do you think will
happen?

AS: You never know what is going to happen. But I think this year will
be sort of crucial for what is called net.art, because now we see
allready a lot of attention coming from  traditional art institutions
to net.artists. This year we will see a lot of exhibitions and projects
realised in the traditional gallery and museum spaces. On the other
hand what we have with the net and what we never had before, is that
you can not only produce your work, but also distribute it without the
third side, without somebody between you and the audience, because the
net itself is a global network. I think we will have two trends in the
development of net.art. One is that some big stars of net.art will be
emerging, having expensive exhibitions in galleries, selling their
works.
On the other hand we will have a lot of, I would say, underground
net.activity, which is at the same time not underground anymore because
it can be distributed worldwide. I have no clear idea what we will come
to in the end, but I think it will go in these directions.

JB: So something from the underground that in the old situation would
most possibly disappear into oblivion after a while now will have
global reach.
What effects could that have?

AS: First thing I see, is that its now really interesting and makes
sense to make some kind of independent and underground activity,
because you in the end publish it on the net. Through the net I see
a lot of cases of people finding somebody with similar views, similar
ideas and creating international societies, international social groups
according to their interests. It not just happens in the art scene,
its with everything. The problem of inclusion or exclusion is not so
important today, also because of the general decline of the traditional
art market system. Of course artists want money, but besides money
they want to bring the result of their work to people and now this is
possible.
I can say that when I started to do net.works, for me it was kind of an
escape or way out of the traditional artsystem I was involved in for
some years. I had really very bad experiences in it, not only as an
artist but also as a representative of a national or international
minority because I am living in Moscow and things are different there.
Whatever I did as an artist was always contextualised as something
specific russian, coming from Russia. The artsystem is very strong and
everything is very much fixed in it, so there are special niches for some
minorities. I would have to move to the west and start some career again
or I don't know what I would have had to do. To always be treated as a
russian artist was not interesting at all.
The net appeared to be a temporary good solution. In what I am doing on
the net nobody cares if the signal comes from Moscow or from whereever.
I can put my files on an Amsterdam server or in NewYork, it doesn't
matter.

JB: What kind of things do you do?

AS: I first started with a adaptation of my previous video and media
works to the net, so net.versions of what I was doing in video before.
This was also connected to my net.curatorial activity. I worked with
some other Moscow artists and realised their projects on the net. Little
by little I got involved in some international communication around the
nettime list. I have become aquainted with other peope who share some
of my ideas and who do some artwork that I personally like.
What we have now is some group of net.artists that apreciate eachother
personally and like eachothers works. We began to do things together.
 Last year we did some projects of this kind
and I think the project that received the most attention was Refresh.
It was initiated by me, Andreas Broekman, who works at V2 Rotterdam
and is not an artist, and Vuk Cosic from Ljudmila Media Lab, Ljubljana,
Slovenia. The idea of this project is to create a loop of pages that
automatically switch from one to another. Its possible to make because
of a specific function of html language for creating webpages, which
allows you to program pages which can jump or be subsituted by some
other page without your intervention. The idea was that all these pages
are based on different servers through the world.
Its a very ambiguous project because when you look at it you see one
page coming after another. The idea that the signal always comes from
some other point on earth may be the content of this project, but what
was interesting for me specifically.. I was sort of the administrator
of this project, I was responsible for its functioning. It was
incredibly interesting to work with the people, to force them to do
something for the benefit of the whole project. The general idea of
course is that this thing should work. It should not stop on somebody's
page because of too much data put on it or because of some sofisticated
scripts people would use. We had to find some compromise between peoples
egoistic and creative ideas and the sake of the general thing.
We first started between the three of us: Rotterdam, Moscow and
Ljubljana, and now we have about thirty pages in this loop.
What also is interesting, since most of the information is placed on
other servers which I don't have access to, I can't really control it.
So we just initiated it and now it grows according to its own rules.

JB: Yesterday you said you are very emotional. What kind of art do you
like, do you like emotional art?

AS: No. I think here we have a difficulty of definition, because I think
that, say, early conceptual art is very emotional or: Fassbinders films
are very emotional. So what is emotional in art? You don't have to see
some manifestations of strong emotions, direct, but I think all good art
is emotional, because it is about energy. When you see a good artwork
you always feel the energy that comes out of it and the energy of its
creator.
Maybe its a little bit a romantic idea about art, but I can't find
another idea. Just a manifestation of creative energy.




*


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