A silent, ironic criticism. Interview with Aram Bartholl

Posted by Domenico Quaranta | Wed Sep 26th 2007 6:07 a.m.

A silent, ironic criticism. Interview with Aram Bartholl
Domenico Quaranta

First published in "Spawn of the Surreal", Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Second City - the show “curated” (reading on you will understand why I use the quotation marks) in Linz by the German artist Aram Bartholl - has been - no doubts - one of the cardinal points of Ars Electronica's last edition, Goodbye Privacy. The show disseminated through the city was highly representative of the “nice side” of surveillance in the age of digital exhibitionism, an issue that was at the core of the Festival. “Showcasing ones customized persona, staging ones own image is the order of the day. Feature yourself or its GAME OVER, dude!”, wrote the curators Christine Schopf and Gerfried Stocker.
As one of the first big shows raising the issue of art and virtual worlds, Second City has been an important show, and a point of departure for further research. In the same time (and for the same reason), it has been an highly problematic show, too. People liked the idea to bring the exhibition to the city and the streets, but there was a lot of mumbling and discussion about an approach that, for many, was superficial and looked like promotion. As you may guess from the previous post, I agree with this criticism, but what Bartholl is saying below made the show more clear to me - and made me more indulgent to the show. Hopefully, it will be the same for you...

DQ.How is the project born?
AB. Ars Electronica asked me this spring if I was interested in doing a concept and design for Second City - Marienstrasse. The idea of going into public space and Second Life as a topic of Marienstrasse existed already then. I was quite excited about the idea and developed several workshops and projects. In the beginning I was not sure which role I should play: curator or artist. I decided to put emphasis on being artist showing several projects at Marienstrasse related to Second Life. Which means I didn't curate Marienstrasse although I brought in some artists in cooperation and had some influence. In the end my name was on top for whole Marienstrasse, which is an honor but also a great responsibility, as I realize now. My interest has been more into developing and showing, rather than “curating”.

DQ. Did you encounter any difficulties in organizing it?
AB. Of course there have been many difficulties in organizing. Very basic elements like electricity infrastructure in Marienstrasse took a lot of time. So in the end when the festival started Marienstrasse was as buggy as Second Life. But also the process of choosing and decisions in developing projects took quite some time. It has been the first time that I worked on a project of this size and I think I learned a lot.

DQ. Are you satisfied of the results?
AB. Good question. First of all I was happy that in the end more or less all the parts were put together and things worked. But with some distance after the exhausting week of Ars I questioned this myself. I think you made a good point in your article on Second City (http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/blog/2007/09/second-city.html), which I already also noticed. I do work in a very simple way of transferring elements or situations from virtual world to physical space. Every single of these projects has its own quality and is contrasted by public space. But adding too many of these transformations up in one spot takes away the effect. I tried not to rebuild a complete scenario. But in the end, yes, maybe we had too many of these virtual elements in Real Life.

DQ. What did you like more in the project?
AB. The moment when a new project comes alive is always most exciting. Does it work? Do people react to it? Testing Chat (http://www.datenform.de/chateng.html) for the first time on the market place was really fun. To see how four trees are build and set up is very exiting. The Synthetic Performances of Eva and Franco I did like a lot. Despite the rain I think the concept of putting an exhibition in a street worked out very well. The chinese restaurant / blumenberg food cooking in the yard was my favorite place.

DQ. What would you change in the project if you could put together a follow-up?
AB. There is a lot which could be done different, sure. Yes right, the in-world part involving Second Life inhabitants and artists was missing. There have been some attempts but not serious enough to set up a parallel program in SL. I concentrated mostly on Real Life interventions developing installations and workshops. I am aware that one general Second Life panel is not enough to discuss all aspects of the development. All my projects involve a critic view on digital worlds including Second Life. But they do it in a silent and ironic way. This is probably not enough in a context like Second City. More criticism and discussion is needed. Next time I'll make sure what position I am in.

DQ. How can we organize a show about virtual worlds without making it seem corporate advertisement?
AB. Difficult. In general this question fits to many of my projects. A giant Google pin is perfect advertisement. Sure, this kind of topic should also involve other virtual worlds than just Second Life. We had the plan for an overview on Metaverses and history for the exhibition but unfortunately it hasn't been realized. On the other hand Second Life polarized a lot this year. People love it or hate it. For me it is just a tool and a new development. I am curious about when Google will enter the market...

DQ.Can you say something about your new project, Sandbox Berlin?
AB. I developed the sandbox concept for Second City, where the beach at Pfarrplatz was realized instead. I think the possibility of creating and collaboration are the most important parts of Second Life. I love the bizarre Sandboxes. These and some very view other places are totally different to what we know or are used to. Quoting from the introduction of the project (http://www.datenform.de/sandboxeng.html): “The Sandbox in Second Life is a place where all conventions are abandoned. It is the real wild west of the already untamed Second Life. The Sandbox is like a three-dimensional sketchbook. Every day, thousands of users leave their tracks here: abstract forms, digital building sites and house-car-plane cliches form a collective surrealistic dream scenario. In a world without rules, inventive users programme swarms of screaming Sponge Bobs which other users pursue. Anti-gravitational bubbles or whole fields of alarm sirens impede concentrated work. The Sandbox is a kind of black market emporium of digital objects and their programs.
The formal chaos and absurd situations generate a particular atmosphere of digital roughness and originality that can only be found here.”
Sandbox Berlin translates this field of experimentation into public space in Real Life. In a three-day workshop, production of custom objects in a spontaneous and collaborative process will be tested in Real Life. Everyone is invited to join us on a deserted area, formerly part of the Berlin Wall, in the Mitte district, to build whatever they want. Tools, wood and other materials will be provided by Sandbox Berlin, so that flexible groups can quickly design and materialize objects.” Everyone can take part in the project, simply registering by e-mail. Spontaneous participation and visits to the workshops are welcome, completely in the spirit of Second Life.

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Links:
http://www.datenform.de/
http://www.aec.at/en/festival2007/
http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/blog/2007/09/second-city.html
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