peanutbutter jackson on Sat, 23 Oct 1999 09:08:54 -0700

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Syndicate: Wired interview with AKSHUN art collectiv

Telephone Interview with Wired Online and ?mona? of the AKSHUN
October 22, 1999

This interview was conducted in response to a recent online offering.On
Friday Oct 15, a collective at California Institute of the Arts
in Valencia, known as the AKSHUN group, put the school?s main
gallery up for auction on popular internet auction house ebay.
A controversy has erupted 
within the Southern California art community over the use of
gallery space. This is further sparking a series of heated debates
over the internet concerning censorship, education, and the value
of gallery space. The site continues to be up for bid on ebay
until October 24.

Following is the interview:

WIRED Is it true that absolutely anything will be shown?

AKSHUN Yes, anything.

WIRED Including pornography?

AKSHUN. Yes, including pornographic work. But then we would have
to debate on what pornography is.

WIRED Who controls this space, isn?t it the school administration?

AKSHUN  We are responsible for what goes in the space. We have
certain restrictions about the use of the space.

WIRED What will you do with he money?

AKSHUN  We?re going to buy  champaign, we?ll have  a party!

WIRED Of course-you are art students after all. When will that
take place?

AKSHUN  Thursday December 16 @ 8:00 pm. We encourage people to
attend. The exhibition will be for one week from December 11-16
at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California.

WIRED What is the project about?

AKSHUN  We would like to question the process by which artists
acquire galleries; as we all know, it has little to do with how
good an artist is. It often has to do with who one knows, with
where one went to school, with the salability of the work. This
project is also a response to the intense competition around
gallery space. This competition for real estate goes on already
in art institutions, students vie for the best school gallery

WIRED Then why not use the space to offer your definition of
a ?pure? art, an art unencumbered by the kinds of business concerns
you mention?

AKSHUN  You mean organize our own show of other artists?


AKSHUN Then we would become curators, and would be participating
in the kind of hierarchy we want to call into question. For artists
who work online or digitally, there is a different perspective
as far as exhibition space is concerned. There is an interest
in calling attention to alternative spaces or ways of encountering
work. We want to blur the line between action and object, between
politics and art.

WIRED So in offering this item on ebay, you are making a comment
on its value...

AKSHUN We want to reduce the value to a purely monetary one.

WIRED The calarts people in charge are not happy about what you
are doing?

AKSHUN  There have been mixed responses on the part of the administration.
Some believe it is a crass and incorrect use of gallery space.
They think the galleries should contain only student work.

WIRED I?d like to ask you about the North Korean relationship.
How did the north Korean correspondence come about, exactly?

AKSHUN There are many Korean students at our school, from Seoul.
One of our members as well as 2 recent art school graduates from
Seoul are involved in this. When we began discussing this project
as a vehicle for non-artists, non-established artists, and others
who typically cannot engage this kind of audience, naturally
we thought of those we knew who don?t get this kind of exposure.
 Our Seoul friends contacted North Korean artists they knew:
a cousin and a friend. They are apparently known in North Korea,
they have a following. But they are not artists you would see,
for example,in an official show of North Korean work. Because
of their political beliefs, they are in disfavor with their government,
so they work underground. We contacted them and they expressed
interest in the project and wanted to participate in the bidding.

WIRED Then you found out this type of activity wasn't possible?

AKSHUN Shortly thereafter we got an email tipping us off to the

WIRED From who?

AKSHUN (pause) We don?t know who.

WIRED Anonymously?


WIRED  How do you communicate with those in North Korean?

AKSHUN  Through the people from Seoul. We give messages to our
contacts, and then we are contacted back by various means. Sometimes
we receive emails in response; they travel a circuitous route.
Sometimes messages go out via fax; again through a circuitous
route; we cannot fax them directly.

WIRED  So somehow or another, you?re not sure how, you contact
your people and they contact them.

AKSHUN  Basically.

WIRED  If you really wanted to help those in North Korea, you
could for example arrange to have this space available for them
for a week, couldn?t you? In offering this up for auction in
the west, aren?t you excluding those without means to participate?

AKSHUN  Well, I haven?t checked in a little while, I did not
take on that duty, but the bid yesterday was up to $120. That
is not an exorbitant amount for anybody...but the point is to
allow the participation of those who wish to participate. Perhaps
what you suggested would be another project.

WIRED  There is something not quite consistent about this; on
the one hand you are offering the space up for sale as a commodity,
on the other hand you are ?friends of the oppressed?.

AKSHUN  We are not friends of the oppressed. We do not personally
know them. We do not know if their current work is anti-governmental.
Our beef with the trade prohibition has to do with the fact that
this is not about trade, but instead the exchange of ideas. And
we believe this project must be open to everyone in order to
fulfill our own requirements for the project.

WIRED  Off the record here, you are aware there may be political
repercussions for you from north korea or our government in supporting
the views of dissidents. So... therefore the anonymity on your
part and on the part of the korean students through whom you
are communicating.

AKSHUN  Yes. The practical laws governing e-commerce and e-communication
 are being formulated faster than regulation can address them.
The trade restriction we are talking about is based on a 1917
ruling. This law is  arcane. It should not affect those attempting
an exchange of ideas between one people and another.

WIRED  Are you  really in contact with Madeleine Albright?

AKSHUN  Not yet, but we plan to contact the Secretary of State.
We are consulting a lawyer at this point.

WIRED  She says as....she....slows...down...her...words....(chuckle)
One always has to be careful once a lawyer is called into things.

AKSHUN  Yes, of course. (smile)

WIRED  So you will contact her in the next week or so?

AKSHUN  I would think by then we will have contacted her.

WIRED  You talked about the lack of exhibition space, the competition
for space. Is this a very coveted space? Is this a space that
any artist would want?

AKSHUN  We have students and faculty here from all over the world,
and many famous visiting artists at any given time. So you have
an amazing opportunity as far as who sees your art going through
this heavily traversed way through the school. Southern California
art schools more than any other area attract artists from all
over the country and all over the world.

WIRED  More than Northern California?

AKSHUN  Yes. Southern California in the early seventies was the
birthplace of Conceptual Art as well as the Feminist Art Movement.
It was and continues to be a magnet for artists.
Again, we are not talking about artists, necessarily. We don?t
know who is bidding on the space. All we have to go by is the
email addresses. The joke may be on us, ultimately; we are obligated
to  hang any work and are (implicitly) responsible for the content.

WIRED  Is it true that, let?s see what you have here, UCLA and
USC students are competing for this space?

AKSHUN  Actually, UCLA and Art Center students. 

WIRED  Is that because they can?t get space at their schools?

AKSHUN  These days enrollment is at an all time high. The usual
route today for professional artists is to go through graduate
programs. There may be shortages of exhibition space at their

WIRED  Is there someone I can contact at UCLA and Art Center?
Do you have the names of the deans or something?

AKSHUN  I vaguely recall the name of the chair of the photo program
at UCLA, I applied there. Jim something or other. But you can
call either school and get it, that should be no problem.

WIRED As far as you know, is there something illegal about this?

AKSHUN  As far as I know, no. Our institute explicitly states
that they will not censor the content of our work. And this is
our Art. So it looks like the show will go up.

WIRED Has this ever been done that you are aware of?

AKSHUN  Not that I know of. This sort of thing wasn?t possible
until very recently. E commerce  as a  mass activity is a recent

WIRED And the mass emails  are necessary because...

AKSHUN  This kind of mass contact was also not possible before.
Now you have these email lists that are substantial and there
are a lot of them. We have a way to call attention to the project,
to make it open for anyone interested-

WIRED And to get publicity?

AKSHUN  And to get publicity, this becomes part of the project,
the online activity is part of the project.

WIRED Is this the first time that you are doing this?

AKSHUN  Yes, this is the first time that we are engaging in this
particular activity. 

WIRED Will you do this again?

AKSHUN  I think so, this has been fun! Perhaps next time we will
succeed in getting a  Los Angeles gallery or New York Gallery.
One of us spoke with a New York gallerist about doing this project
there. He was excited about the project, but hesitated to offer
his space. Maybe next time we will succeed in getting an even
more visible space.

WIRED Can I ask your last name?

AKSHUN  With respect to the collective, I would prefer not to
give information about individuals in the group.

WIRED Are you a graduate student?

AKSHUN  I don?t want to give that information either.

WIRED How many of you are there?

AKSHUN  There are....nine of us!

WIRED (chuckle) Let?s just say you won?t divulge that information,
for your sake....

AKSHUN  Too many or too little?

WIRED Well, nine of you, that doesn?t seem substantial.


WIRED Is Mona your real name?

AKSHUN  Well, I have some letters in common with ?Mona?...

WIRED Can I call you at this number for questions?

AKSHUN  Yes, certainly.

WIRED I think this is all we need for now.

AKSHUN  Thank you! Bye.


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