Creating and manipulating the Infome (code-ecosystems, computers and networks). Interview with Lisa Jevbratt

August 2004, Interview with Lisa Jevbratt by Lourdes Cilleruelo Published with the title “Creando y manipulando el infome (ecosistemas de codigo, ordenadores y redes)” in BAIGORRI, L. and Cilleruelo, L. (2006) Net.Art Practicas esteticas y politicas en la red Barcelona: Brumaria and Universitat de Barcelona

1. About net.art

How would you define Internet art /net.art after 10 years of its birth?

While it might had make sense to give it one label back in 1994 I don’t think it makes sense today. I still do work with, about and on the Internet but I feel more connected to minimalist and conceptualist tradition than to a net art or even to a New Media “tradition”.

In your opinion, what is the most important contribution of net.art to the artistic context?

One important contribution are the new types of collaborations that have emerged – the type of inexplicit collaborations that was born on email lists and as a result of the nature of the medium. Examples range from Natalie Bookchin’s homework project to RSG Carnivore project.

Your artworks move among net.art and software art. How would you define your artworks? Are you considered yourself an net.artist?

I never did define myself as a net.artist. I am just an artist that got really excited about, and interested in, programming and the Internet.

2. Artists or programers? about software.art

Olga Goriunova, Alexei Shulgin in their article “Artistic Software for Dummies and, by the way, Thoughts About the New World Order” (READ_ME FESTIVAL 1.2 May 2002, Moscow) defines the artistic software as “software created for purposes different than traditional pragmatic ones. Such programs are not seen as tools for the production and manipulation of digital objects – from online bank accounts to works of art – they are works of art in their own right. Are you agree with this definition? Why? Why not?

Some parts of the definition seem right, others are more problematic.Software art is for sure art on its own, not a means of producing art. My software typically produces images but I don’t consider the images art, I consider the software, or the system, art. However the purpose of the art software can be a pragmatic one. It can be a tool and, I think you could make a tool for online banking as art. Just as you could make a bank as art (just as you could make a restaurant as art the way Les Levine did in the sixties.) As long as the tool knows it is a tool it can work as art. One of the necessary conditions for something to be art is that the ‘something’ has to be aware of how it is what it is – how it is and functions as painting, sculpture, performance, restaurant etc. So software that is art needs to be aware how it is software, and software that is too busy producing things might not be able to do so, but it could.

Pierre Levy argues interestingly in the early nineties in the text “The Art of Cyberspace” that artists need to shift their interest from the content, the products of processes, to the machines, tools and processes themselves in order to maintain some control over the meaning generated from their work. I.e. in order to maintain the traditional modern authorship role, artists should produce tools, something that in the modern tradition would per definition not be art at all.

What is the role of programmers in the art context? Artist or programmer? Is this question relevant? how do you understand the relationship between a artist and a programmer?

I am an artist who creates with programming. Just as people in many other fields spend most of their day programming. While the widespread usage of programming is one of the reasons for why it is an interesting art medium, it’s such an omnipresent “tool” nowadays that the term “programmer” might not mean much. It could almost be as meaningless as calling everyone that writes in a natural language on a daily basis, which is most of us, a ‘writer’. But the concept of an artist-programmer can be important in defining various types of computer based art. There are artists who work with programming as their medium and there are New Media artists who have no interest in engaging with the technology on that level. I belong in the first group and I might not even be a New Media artist at all (or at least I am rarely interested in what is labeled as New Media art).

Do you think that software is a “transparent” tool for the creation? if not, what is or in what of consist its influence at the artwork.? Why are you personally attracted to ‘software art’?

Of course no medium is transparent. A painting always talks about ‘painting’ on some level. However, because computer programming, networks and software are not isolated art mediums, because their specific history and diversity of usage, it is possible to immerse yourself in these mediums, expressing the mediums themselves, and be political in the same time. Even the formal level of these mediums is loaded with cultural significance. Writing code is a perfect medium for me, it allows me to be simultaneously formal, political and conceptual. In an interview in a Swedish news paper the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler said that in order to understand contemporary culture one need to know at least one natural language and one artificial language. I do believe there is something in that.

2. Searching for a context for your artwork…

In his famous article “Generation flash” Lev Manovich says “This generation does not care if their work is called art or design. This generation is no longer is interested in “media critique” which preoccupied media artists of the last two decades; instead it is engaged in software critique. This generation writes its own software code to create their own cultural systems, instead of using samples of commercial media. The result is the new modernism of data visualizations, vector nets, pixel-thin grids and arrows: Bauhaus design in the service of information design”

Are you identified with this description and, so that, with this generation flash?

Lev Manovich is correct in that there is a group of artists that do focus on the remixing and sampling abilities of computers. However, some of the work he is describing is not about that. What makes computers interesting for me is not how you can combine and simulate any other medium. I am not interested in the possibility to sample and remix, not in computers as universal machines manipulating symbolic abstractions of thoughts and natural languages. What fascinates me are the networked and layered aspect of these technologies, the protocols constructing them and what emerge from these protocols. What the unintentional sampling and remixing taking place in them is saying about us as a species and the world. I think code, computers and networks are forming a whole new entity in themselves. Not like any other before. It’s ontology is somewhere between an organism and a geology, an eco system of some sort. (I call it the Infome.) And that is probably not only modernist but a supermodernist stance.

5. About your artwork

Internet is a medium very popular, many people access to Internet everyday, however most of them don’t know its real essence, technical infrastructure and its strategies (I am thinking in Jon Ippolito’s article “ten myths about Internet.art” ) Do you think that projects as 1:1 (data visualizing and internet cartography) and Stillman (collaborative information filtering) are necessary for this reason?

Yes, I do want to make people aware of the cultural assumptions inherent in computer and network technologies and I do want to show that we have access to these technologies on many levels, not just as consumers and “content” providers.

What does the aesthetics of code consist of?

I don’t think most artist-programmers are as interested in aesthetics of code as they are interested in the aesthetics of systems. The system of course reveal the code in some way but the code could typically have been written many different ways to produce the same system. Art is inherently concerned with the perception and use of the work, and what is experienced is the system, not the code. Personally I believe that the choice of computer language to use is a more important aesthetic decision than how you actually write your if-statements and loops in that language.

What are you working in now? What are your new art projects?

I am still doing various data tracing projects. One project I have been working on for some years, The Infome Imager, is a collaborative tool allowing users to create Web crawlers that collect and visualize behind the scenes data from the Web.

4. Free.software

Why do you think there is so much interest at the moment in free software? Is the free software movement important for the art? Why?

One of the most interesting aspects of network and computer technologies is that they create and emphasize new, inexplicit, modes of collaboration and that they allow us too look at us as a collective intelligence, as a species, an eco system or possibly even as one organism. The free software movement simultaneously facilitates and thrives on this fact.

Full text : http://jevbratt.com/interviews/cilleruelo.html