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June 23d.: Interview with Andreas Broegger

[June 23rd 2003]

6 questions about digital art
Interview with Andreas Broegger

Andreas Broegger is a significant source of knowledge on digital art forms in general, and net art in particular. Thomas Petersen has asked Andreas six questions about digital art, which has resulted in an extended journey through part of the topics and problems related to the digital art forms of the present. The interview is stuffed with links to new and old works and can be used as a platform for doing some serious net art surfing. The interview was translated by Sofie Paisley.

On a daily basis Andreas is a PhD. and teaches classes on digital art at the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen. He is visual arts editor of Hvedekorn and contributor and former co-editor of (among other things he was curator on the net art project ON OFF 2000-2001). Since 1995, he has been an art critic for Information, Weekendavisen and Politken, and has published articles in amons others: Kritik, Øjeblikket, Periskop, SIKSI, Flash Art,, You can catch up with Andreas at this email address:

See also Andreas Broegger's introduction to software art.

See also Andreas Broegger's interview with Mark Napier: 'The Aesthetics of Programming'.

See also Andreas Broegger's excellent survey text: 'Net art, web art, online art,'.

We could begin by establishing a focal point in the multitudes of net art strategies - can you mention a recent work which has had special meaning for you, and which sets out an interesting course for net art?
As a 'focal point' we could take a work, which's readers might have experienced, namely Victor Vina's work Flux exhibited at Electrohype in Malmoe in October 2002. This work combines several different features which I find characteristic of net based art at the present, in relation to the earlier net art all the way back from 1994 and most of the end of the decade.

Victor Vina: Flux from Electrohype 2002. The images were found at and

Described briefly, the project attempts to visualise and make palpable the network's information flow in the shape of small, perfectly done metal boxes with green displays, on which an eye can be kept on what people around the world are searching for at the moment. Search words and data are collected from a well-known search engine. Vina discretely stated which search engine, but he does not want this information made public, as it is illegal to hack into it, so why not respect that. By touching the metal boxes you can then further the searches appearing on the individual displays. Flux contains traits characteristic of a lot of net art in recent years. Flux looks rather good, data is encapsulated in sort of miniature-minimalist metal boxes, there is an excellent idea behind it, i.e. checking the pulse of our use of the internet by tapping into a search engine, this takes place through a physical interface designed by the artist, and finally there is a typical pointing to something secret and border breaking (the illegal) as part of the role of net art.

On the negative side, I see it as symptomatic that Flux does not want to do very much with the data gathered and displayed. It is a bit like WAP-ing from your mobile phone combined with monitoring other people's searches on MetaSpy. As far as the visual expression is concerned, Flux can be compared to Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin who, however, make more of their data by incorporating the exhibition space. Contents wise, I will place it within the context of works such as Common Reference Point by Mark Daggett and Jonah Brucker-Cohen, which (according to plans) similarly to Flux gathers and visualises the net's flow of data, but simultaneously also deals with the content plane of these data, first and foremost in a symbolic connection (as a changeable virtual memorial of the 9/11 acts of terror) but also as an analytical tool offering something else and more than Flux's rather abstract picture of a flow.

MetaspyCommon reference point
Images from and Mark Daggett and Jonah Brucker-Cohen's Common Reference Point.

It is thus possible to create links to texts regarding 9/11 found by the project's search engine, and Common Reference Point can tell us something about for example searches and locality, geographical concentration, and the like. For comparison, Flux is not particularly functional as "search engine". Even though simplicity is a virtue especially in relation to the WWW, I feel that there could have been one more level of reflection in Flux. You might think that this is symptomatic of a lot of net art in comparison to other visual art, but I do think that net art or any art utilising telecommunication technology has and will have a lot to offer in the present and in the years to come.

You write about the many genres of net art that have emerged. I would like us to touch upon a couple of chosen 'types' of net art and the different possibilities inherent in these.
Instead of talking about different types of net art it might be better to talk about different 'dimensions' in the individual net art projects - such as tactical media, data visualisation, design, telerobotics, physical net interfaces, etc., as the majority of works have by now become a mix of several of these things, as opposed to being pure entities. The projects I mention here are all examples of this. Some mourn that net art is already 'over', mainly because the net looks a bit different today, is regulated and used in other ways and because the art institutions and others empowered to give grants, are beginning to influence this form of art in a particular direction. In one way this is true when you compare it with the early phase within net art. I am, however, not sure that going beyond this phase is purely bad - it is also a new situation, a new challenge.

In general, I think that one of the most important things currently happening to net art is that its borders are substantially widening. Net art's early eagerness towards defining itself (being e.g. strictly net specific) is giving way to a looser defined practice which can include elements of a physical installation, and where the whole concept of the net is expanded as e.g. visually based mobile telephony becomes more widespread, and wireless internet connections in the public space becomes a reality. I think this will change the perception of what making art 'on the net' means - i.e. a convergence of WWW, GSM, BPS, SMS, AM/FM, TV, and what else you might think of.

Images from Chaos Computer Club: Blinkenlights and's VOPOS.

As an example see projects such as Chaos Computer Club's BlinkenLights and Jonah Brucker-Cohen's various web and telephone projects such as Audiobored & Audiobored Machine, Phonetic Faces and Musical/Devices.'s VOPOS is also a clear sign of this reflection on 'convergence' in relation to the earlier 'purism' with a clear focus on HTML- and pc-based net art. And it does not have to be about the "disappearance of the body" or a technologically extended body, as in an artist such as Stelarc in the 1990s. I think art has moved a bit away from this area, which especially grew out of the Virtual Reality discourse. Instead, for example data visualisation, monitoring, access and alternative software development has become the code words, in the same way as we also see more works of a more traditional, purely aesthetic character within net art, with stories not necessarily about the network, the code, etc. As an example of this see David Clark's a is for apple.

A is for Apple
Images from David Clark's a is for apple

Quite a lot of net art has, more or less, the characteristics of technology as its content. Is there any reason why net art should be about networks, information flows and computer code?
Both yes and no. In the early phase of net art - the one often termed '' with persons such as Alexei Shulgin, Jodi, Vuk Cosic, irational etc.- focus was on exploring the new media as is typical when a new media emerges (compare with e.g. photography and video art). The flickering browser windows and blinking codes (Jodi), the hacker mentality and the tactical use of media (Critical Art Ensemble, rtmark, etoys, Toywar etc.) and the pseudo-avant-garde experiments with for example Alexei Shulgin's Form Art meant that the net's processes and building blocks were put at the forefront, at a time where exactly that kind of realities were being covered by a sleek, commercial frosting.

Today when encountering code, information flows and the 'technocratic' use of language on different sites (the tendency still exists in different forms, see for example Florian Cramer, mez, jimpunk) a distinction should be attempted made between a deconstruction in this original sense, and a more 'poetic' use of code (see e.g. Graham Harwood's Lungs and some of the works from Whitney's CODeDOC), a focusing on the creative dimension of programming itself (as promoted by John F. Simon Jr.) and finally that which is merely show off with a technological style.

jodiForm Art
Images from jodi's and Alexei Shulgin's Form Art.

LungsEvery Icon
Images from Graham Harwood's Lungs and John F. Simon Jr.'s Every Icon.

Apart from a certain fetishist approach to codes visible in some parts of net art (code for the sake of code), the reason for the latter stylistic showing off is supposedly that the language and apparatus of computer technology - in step with its development through numerous generational changes - appears as historical. Computer technology has therefore joined the general 1990s' retro- and nostalgia-trip - the old ZXSpectums and C64s are brought out from their hiding-places. This is why retro-technical expressions such as 'syntax-error' and Atari logos emerge on T-shirts, as likewise pixellated symbols are seen in printed materials and music videos. All because the computer iconography appears as historical. This kind of meta-stylistic playfulness does not really have much to do with the technical side of the code, which is still reserved for the specially selected (most widely spread within hacker mythology).

The Matrix films are typical of mainstream cultures fascination with the equilibrists of the computer subculture, the glorification and the turning into myth of the code aspect itself (cf. Link and Neo's ability to read 'reality' directly in the stream of code. In that universe the code equals truth - at the same time as the film's many special effects are in themselves a deception created with code).

Excerpts of work and code from W. Bradford Paley's CODeDOC-project: CodeProfiles.

There are thus many different motives and strategies at play when speaking of this interest in the code. This year Ars Electronica is choosing 'Code' as their theme and very apropos, connects computer code with genetic coding. An exhibition such as Christiane Paul's CODeDOC at Whitneys Artport was an attempt at, in a concrete way, to put the program at the foreground instead of the result of the program, and at finding the auteur-like grips in the artist's way of programming.

In recent years, certain net artworks have received awards from art institutions while the creators do not really see themselves as artists. I am here thinking of for example some of the Ars Electronica centre's granting of awards. Some of the creators even deny that the awarded projects are art. Why do you think this occurs so often precisely among the computer/internet based arts - and what does in mean for the perception of the works?
Speaking about the granting of awards which have had a social or political dimension, such as Ars Electronica's award for GNU/Linux in 1999, they are an expression of a general tendency I think, rather than something specifically characterising computer/internet based art forms. With the contextual art, interventionist art and the relational aesthetic, and what else it has been called, we have seen a marked interest in art's social function, art's ability to create alternatives, a better way of inhabiting the world, as Bourriaud wrote.

If we, on the other hand, look at Ars Electronica giving Joshua Davis' PRAYSTATION an award two years later, then we are dealing with something quite different, that is, an interest in the creative development within for example web design.

Linux PingvinPraystation
The Linux-penguin and an image from Joshua Davis' Praystation.

The two examples sketch a quick picture of what is going on: i.e. the widespread perception that the most advanced digital art might not be created by those calling themselves artists, but by programmers and product developers who in an open collaborative way create software alternatives. In regards to what these granting of awards mean for the reception of the digital art, I think that they are most interesting and important from the viewpoint of art. I do not think that it profits GNU/Linux noticeably that they have received a Golden Nica award at Ars Electronica, neither ideologically, financially, nor in relation to the productivity of the product. But within the digital art (and art in general) that kind of decisions can contribute to moving some borders.

Do you have any tips on current exhibitions, media art festivals or other places where computer art or Internet art ca be experienced outside the net?
As we do not have a distinct forum for it here, you have to travel around quite a lot. Even though net art generally can be experienced from a computer anywhere, it is interesting to see what environment people work in, and its also not a disadvantage to have exchanged a few words with the people behind it.

But apart from festivals, conferences and exhibitions I have gotten a lot out of studying the subject from some other perspectives. Last year I had the opportunity to follow the mounting of a large exhibition, ABCDF, at Museo de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, where I during several weeks followed the people (some of them my friends and not least my wife Isabel) who were down there to program and create interactive installations for the exhibition. In spite of the fact that we are talking about the leading interactive media company in Mexico, it was a bit like being in the engine room of a ship - we were wading around in cables, burned out chips, soldering irons, laptop computers and pizza boxes, and worked from 8 in the morning until 2 in the night.

ABCDFTekken Torture Tournament
Images from the exhibition ABCDF in Mexico City and Tekken Torture Tournament at c-level in Los Angeles.

It was a far cry from the trendy offices in SoHo where a couple of years earlier, several of the same people sat around with their smoothies, getting massages, while cashing in $200 per hour on Flash. Good for them though - the day after they were unemployed. In Los Angeles, I several times visited a small artist-run place named c-level, where exhibitions and lectures are arranged, and where artists can also receive training in constructing works with digital technology. This place existed alongside conventions such as SIGGRAPH and Electronic Entertainment Expo at the same place. For me, this kind of contrasts are also a part of the picture of digital art.

By now it seems that every country in Europe has a media art festival - are there any signs of something on a larger scale happening on that front in Denmark?
There have been initiatives of a certain size. 'Media art' not only mixes with visual art but also literature, films and music, as demonstrated by e.g. Lab, Datanom,, the new interactive documentary and feature films from Filmværkstedet, and a couple of years back, Van Gogh's really good CD-ROMs not to be forgotten. Electrohype in Malmoe is an example of the effort made to establish something that could be a permanent forum.

Within net art, in connection with Denmark, we have amongst others, and why not also mention By the way, these are all admirable precisely because they keep going. It is decisive that things are both created, and that a discussion can be continued. But I am not sure that for example the festival form is the right thing. It is insane to mount interactive installations and then dismount them three days later. At the same time, I think that it is problematic to ghettoise the digital art in separate festivals or exhibitions. It is too important for that, it should reach a broader audience, and I think that it would also at the same time become better by being challenged by the 'non-digital' art. The digital art is important because it often comes close to (and has a deep insight into) the processes that increasingly control our culture and society - from graphic effects to digital surveillance and globalized communication. But, as for example Geert Lovink has pointed out, the digital art is lacking behind in other areas, both aesthetically, politically and culture analytically speaking. Paradoxically at the same time as the digital technology is culturally gaining influence.

The question of if we will get - or should have - a special forum for media art, is connected to the problematics characteristic of photography: should photo art be shown separately at exhibitions and museums, or should it be mixed with the other visual art? It is a difficult question. Something might be better understood within a more narrow genre, tradition or media discourse, while something else might do far better without this specific frame of understanding.

I would therefore rather answer your question with a new question: In what frame would we prefer to see the digital art?


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