Jeffrey Shaw

[I am cleaning up my mailboxes, and this is one thing I stumbled on. It
is an old interview with Jeffrey Shaw that I did at Transmediale 2000
(so last year). This is an excerpt actually, not the whole interview.
This part focusses on the net art browser he designed for the
net_condition exhibition at ZKM end of 1999. It was about four meters
wide and had work of well known net artists which you navigated by
moving a square on that strip by using a keyboard. You might know the
content of this browser was curated by Benjamin Weil and that some
artists refused that their work was presented this way (Olia Lialina,
Jodi). Jeffrey Shaw is an artist, and is currently mostly connected to
the ZKM (Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medien) in Karlsruhe, Germany. His work
consists of rather immersive installations usually.]

+ + +

Josephine Bosma: Wasn't the net art browser a bit too much out of your

Jeffrey Shaw: In what way?

JB: It is not immersive… it limits you to this little strip on the

JS: The browser uses an interaction paradigm that I've been
working on for many years and used in many works - in for instance The
Virtual Museum, the Golden Calf, EVE, and PLACE - A USER'S MANUAL. It is
a strategy of the interactively mobile viewing window which embodies the
viewers changing point of view, in contrariety to the static windows of
painting, cinema and the monitor screen which binds the viewers point of
view. Of course the browser is not an art work in itself - it
was just an idiosynchratic design strategy for presenting net art web
sites in a new format in a museum context. When Peter Weibel and I were
planning the NET CONDITION exhibition at the ZKM we discussed the
incongruity of asking visitors to come to a museum location to look at
monitor screens when these people could just as easiliy (and probably
more comfortably) look at the web sites on their screens at
home. With the browser I wanted to offer the visitor a new and
engaging environment in which to explore these web sites - one that was
scaled up to a larger audience, and one which hybridized the customary
museum/gallery presentation of pictures on a wall with the notion of a
linear wall mounted browser whose images came directly from the net. I
also wanted a mechanism that embodied and expressed the functionality of
a curatorialy chosen set of web sites (in contrast to the ubiquitous
computer monitor which is a portal into the universe of ALL web sites)

JB: Did you discuss it with the artists also?

JS: That was not my task. It was Benjamin Weil's, because he was person
invited to be the curator of the works presented in this
browser. And indeed he found that some artists did not agree to present
their work in this way. They took the position that net.artworks should
only be embodied in the internet connected generic
monitor/mouse/keyboard formats for which they were designed…

JB: The whole navigation set also…

JS: Yes - there is a restriction of navigation possibilities offered by
my browser - it restrains the open ended connectivities of the
web to a linear arrangement of selected artist's web sites. But this was
felt to be an appropriate (and interesting) strategy in a context of a
curated presentation of a specific set of web sites in an exhibition
space - and I should add that if the web sites themselves opened links
to other sites, this functionality was still maintained. Of course there
is some irony there in the browser - the unlocated immateriality
of net space is forced to linearly reside on a museum wall. But one
could argue that computer screens and the commercial browsers are also
places and devices (produced by technocrats) where cyberspace is
contained and contaminated. So isn't it a special challenge to explore
new artistically motivated strategies of visualisation and interaction
for the net? I do feel that alternative presentation mechanism are
viable, and even necessary for such special circumstances as public
spaces. The browser is simply one experimental approach to the
question of how to locate in a museum.

JB: It had a very strong curator's focus though…

JS: This question opens a much broader issue - the role (if any) of the
museum as an appropriate location for media art. And the nature of those
new museums (like the ZKM) that set out to design themselves as such an
appropriate location. Traditionally the museum is a space of
museification, a space that while heralding and celebrating the new also
signals its institutional absorbion and reduction to commodity. But
media art needs a public forum, and there is a special challenge now
from an architectural, scenographic and curatorial point of view, to
finds ways to exhibit, collect and conserve media art that does not
museify and choke its radically experimental nature, but instead
celebrates and stimulates its instability. is a new and special case because for the first time there is an
art practice that contains within itself a universal mechanism of
presentation, dissemination and intercommunication. This makes the
question of the desirability of a museological intervention even more
pertinent - it would seem at first sight to just be a reduction of a
much more precious freedom. But an exhibition like the ZKM's
net.condition does something that domestic distribution cannot do - it
creates a location of collected intensity of works and concentrated
variety of experiences for a mass public - an alluring zone of social
curiosity, excitement, consumption and reflection.

J.B: Aren't you too easily making a comparison between exhibiting media
art and exhibiting this art for/to a -mass- audience? Should one not be
in the first place concerned with exhibiting works as much in their
original spirit? It seems to me that creating for a mass audience is a
different thing all together, which easily corrupts subtle or sensitive
details or spirits of artworks.

JS: The integrity of the original artwork is only fully intact in the
imagination of its creator. Even its translation into the physical is a
depreciation forced by the contraints of materiality, and exposure of
the artwork to the social leads to the complete
degradation/reconstruction of the 'original' by its intepretors and
manipulators. On the other hand it is only in this social vector that
the artwork becomes a cultural artifact and assumes a historical
significance. The 'original spirit' must always dance on the edge of the
volcano of the social, a destiny of both discriminating and mass
consumption. Museums are built on this edge, they are locations of
trans-actions between remaining glimmers of the 'original spirit' and
the social. But media art has (at least) two unprecedented capabilities:
it can create a virtual social that includes the social as a function of
its 'original spirit', and it can build virtual museums that are
themselves architectural incarnations of the 'original spirit'. So the
'Art of Life' now seems so proximate!