Geert Lovink on Sun, 27 Jul 1997 15:22:49 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> interview with catherine david by marleen stikker

Bandwidth in the Context of Contemporary Art
An Interview with Catherine David
By Marleen Stikker

At Hybrid Workspace, Documenta X, Kassel
July 15, 1997

Catherine David is artistic director of Documenta X. Marleen Stikker is
co-director of the Society for Old and New Media in Amsterdam.

Marleen Stikker:  We have been doing quite a bit of research these last
days on the topic of bandwidth. Being here, it is nice to see that our
type of work fits very well into this Documenta. Lots of projects here
seem to be works-in-progress, not so much finished, fixed art objects like
paintings or sculptures. Is this particularly your taste or it is a
general development we all have to get used to?

CD: If you look at the old articulations of the exibition, it is not so
new to be attentive to certain phenomena and to articulate this
esthetically. On the other hand, it is the task of Documenta to be
attentive to contempory developments. If I were asked to work for MoMa
or Beaubourg, it would be a little different. Some people who are
deeply against the absence of what they used to identify as paintings
and sculpture, are not very aware of the tradition of Documenta. Those
artforms are existing as a phenomenology. I am still able to recognize
what is a painting and what is a sculpture. But I am afraid that it is
not relevant if want to understand the cultural articulations of many
artists to-day. This Documenta is in good timing with the moment. If we
want to consider the state of the world, to name things, before making
final decisions, it is interesting to deal with what the world is like
now. Of course this speaking of the world, what you do here, is a
position, a priority.

Globalisation is not a dream thought, it is not a fashion, it is a
reality. It is a collection of economic, political and cultural phenomena,
which have certain positive and challenging aspects and other ones which
are negative and dangerous. The whole idea of the Hybrid Workspace,
connected to the 100 days program, and sometimes in polemical relation
to the exhibition, was to speak more openly about the world, and not to
use globalisation as an alibi.

MS: I understood that Workspace was asked not to put artworks on the
walls. It was set up as a workspace, not as an exhibition space. Is
this an important distinction for you?

CD: My position was clear, to have no art on the walls and not to use
the art alibi as an authorisation of the Workspace. I know some of my
collegues are not sharing this position. I don't care, because if you
look carefully at young artists' works, the radicallity stops
when they are confined to an art space. The space is now articulating the
notion of information and discussion, in connection with contemporary
research and positioning. I did not feel the necessicity to have
artistic alibis on the walls. We have enough images, we have enough
text and information. It did not turn out as a the design showroom. But
the way the groups are now using the space speaks for the designer and
the understanding she had of the project.

MS: We, at the Society for Old and New Media, work a lot with artists and
designers. But we do not consider ourselves an art institute anymore.
Many people have left the art discourse because they do not know how to
cope with the art discussions. Would you like them to return? Should
the art discourse be reanimated?

CD: It is up to you to decide if you are in or out. Most of the works
in this Documenta are testifying in favor of an antropological approach of
the world. It is not necessary to be anti Beaux Arts. The Beaux Arts
corresponded to a specific historical moment. Many of the artists have
been preoccupied by a radical critique of hierarchies and specific
connoisseurs of competence. If people are so preoccupied by making a
strict definition between art and non-art, one answer could be a
sentence by Fahlstroem, probably thirty years ago, "When Tosca is
dying, it is not on stage." We are very busy making critical
distinctions. I am surprised that people are not a bit more attentive
and faithfull to the tradition of Documenta, which had never been to be
an art fair or a consensus hall space, where anything goes.

MS: Never before (at a Documenta) have there been so many different forms
of presentations: lectures, films, video, radio, internet and here, the
Hybrid Workspace. Yet at the same time you are having a clash with the
media. Some have made very personal, violent attacks against you.

CD: People are disappointed, they do not have the usual eagerness. It is
difficult to think for themselves, to consider phenomenas with their
own tools. We have never worked with media, to answer your question.
It is stupid to see new media as the devil or as the panacee which will
solve all problems. In this Documenta, we did not privilege at all the
'exhibitionism' of media. We do have heavy-duty techno-logistics, but that
is not the first thing you see in the show. The question is not new. We
could go back to the historical debate about photography, around the
turn of the 20th century. One could mention Walker Evans or Rossellini,
who did a lot for the reinvention of the human body, as much, or even
more than many painters. Or Jean-Luc Godard, or 'Level Five' by Chris
Marker. This film is all about computers, human memory, and it is one of
the most powerfull contemporary works on the notion of crime, the crime of

MS: In the Documenta-Halle, the 'Kino', the works of some Net-
artists are presented. Normally, this work is viewed within
a Net-context, but here they are presented of-line. So they have
become frozen artworks. Has this been done on purpose, in order to stop
visitors surfing, reading their e-mail, or looking at Playboy? You
wanted them to stick to the context of Documenta. But some of these
artworks are indeed organisms, which are functioning best within
their 'natural' environment, the Internet. This type of communication art 
is not ready yet?

CD: First, this was the decision of the curator, Simon Lamuniere, to
have frozen screens, and not to have people using the computers as
telephones. This was an esthetic and also an economic decision.
Secondly, there is also a problem with artists working with the Net: why
are they so easily restituting the museum and the object imitation in
such a mobile medium? The most complex and challenging work on the Net,
and the only one which is not frozen, is the 'Equator Project' by
Philip Pocock and others.

MS: The Bandwidth-project here is trying to make power structures
visible which are invisible to most of us. Saskia Sassen spoke in
her lecture about the privatization of public space. There is no
accountability anymore. Do you see the public space being more and more

CD: The bandwidth problem is one example of this global phenomenon of
the privatization of public space. I can't come up with a solution. Yet I
am not too anxious. Maybe, the figures shown here about the economic
power behind all this are surprising to many people, especially here in
Germany, where one is so used to the Habermas distinction between
the public and private space. But it is no longer helpful to extend to the
outside the bourgeois distinction between the pubic, which is salon,
and the private , being the bedroom. People are surprised if you
tell them that the atrium of a bank or a shopping mall is privatized
public space, occupied by private police. The same hols true for a street
full of advertisements: it is not a public space anymore. You can discuss
this space, being invaded, both ideologically and physically, which is
becoming invisible also, dealing with virtual qualities. This is what
makes the art of the seventies problematic, because it was done by people 
who believed that because they were acting outside of the museum walls
they were automatically critical, succesfull or efficient.

MS: The sphere of the private, the livingroom and the bedroom, is now
also being invaded by home shopping channels. Your home is becoming one
big push button, saying 'Buy!'. This is the cyber-orgasm of people who
are now putting money into these new technologies. So even your home
will not be private anymore.

CD: Yes, but people are developing ways of protection, barriers against
this. At the same time you can discuss what kind of public space the big
American museums are, since they are completely controlled by trustees.
What kind of  public space is this? Who is deciding about the collection,
etc? This is one of the most complex phenomena at the end of this century,
this permanent renegociation of private and public space. Related to this,
are many recent, social phenomena where people are creating new forms of
intimacy, sometimes under severe circumstances of deprivation.

MS: New technologies also give people the possibility to become
broadcasters themselves. Artists also want to be producers and 
distributors themselves, and not be dependent anymore on the 'sacred' art
institutions. We here demand more bandwidth, but what effect will this
have on the art industry?

CD: The art scene is full of symbolical and imaginary order. And I am
afraid that the fetish is a very strong component of this scene. The
disappearance of galleries and museum will not happen overnight. I am
not so mechanistic, but I do believe that a more open and accelerated
circulation of information and activities could diminish the priviliged
place of certain institutions. Again, this is not new. Works from the
sixties and seventies have this dimension of the activity, the
development of a process, which has been, at the best frozen, at 
worse completely erased by a certain way of presentation. The
reproduction/registration of these works are sometimes more
understandable, more accessible in the form of tapes and pictures.
With the development of the culture industry, it became more and more
obvious that the museums became places of cultural consumerism, without
quality, quality in the meaning of Robert Musil. Without the power of
imposing a specific quality. As an alternative, the phenomenology of the
place could answer the phenomenology of the work. This is much more
challenging then going on building boxes again. Museums today tend to
become a space of order and power at the very moment all this is
vanishing. As far as I know, a museum means a permanent space which is
hosting a collection which has been put together by a group of persons
according to a set of rules. You now have many places which are called
museums, but where nothing is permanent. The building was so expensive
that there was no money left for the collection.

We should perhaps going back to the first idea of the museum, the one
in Alexandria, which was well known as a meeting place of the Muses. I am
afraid we do not have Muses anymore, but the concept of the museum as a
meeting place, which is a little distant from the immediate resolutions,
which is for me the definition of a critical space, could be, again, a
very interesting possibility.

MS: A last question: would you like to have more bandwidth yourself?

CD: Is it very important to have more bandwidth, but we should also
think of alternatives, of ituations where there are no computers at all.
To take a step back, and asking also for more "bare feet-technology". And
again, not being mechanistic. Access might be a human right, but we
should also be able to articulate the dialectics of those without

(transcribed and edited by Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens)
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