Vesna interview

Posted by Rhizome | Thu Jan 2nd 1997 1 a.m.


Victoria Vesna is a multimedia artist and teacher at the University of
California at Santa Barbara, and was a participant in ISEA96. The
following interview took place via e-mail in late October:

Robert Simon: It seems a commonplace claim of new media art theory that
current digital and networked art is essentially process rather than--as
in "old" media--object based. To my mind such a distinction makes little
sense in light of traditional performance arts such as music or theater,
or when one thinks of the ephemeral site-specificity of an exhibition,
or considers literature and painting in terms of processes of
production and reception. So is this claim to be understood as yet
another instance of polemical, avant-gardist ground-clearing? Or is new
media art truly and fundamentally distinct from what has come before?
And is it useful to make such a distinction? For the sake of whom or

Victoria Vesna: Consider the phenomenal rise of Netscape's stock, which
to date still has shown no profit. Our collective imaginations are
driving this economy--technology allows for "process" and ideas to
become commodity. Conceptual art has moved into a corporate world! New
products replace old ones, good guys fight the bad ones--these binary
distinctions are necessary in a market economy with competition claiming
to have the newest, best, greatest!!! In my mind the same is true of the
art market. What we are witnessing is not necessarily a strictly
philosophical discourse of defining work which has no tangible existence
or value but attracts large audiences and carries with it a significant
amount of hype. This hype is already the driving force of the new
economy centered around technology. The art market is seeing, on the one
hand, grants disappearing, and on the other, large amounts of money
being generated by information technology. So, the real question the art
world is grappling with is how to market this work as art and whether
the places to do it in are museums and galleries?

R.S.: Electronically networked art allows for enormous, nearly
instantaneous accessibility, as well as possibilities of spontaneity and
interactivity that seem to reconfigure traditional positionings between
artist and audience, between producer and recipient. Given the fact of
the Internet, what is the future (or the present) of the new media
museum or gallery exhibition? And what are the actual or potential
relationships between these venues (i.e. the Internet and the

V.V.: Museums and galleries have historically functioned as spaces which
sanction and decide what is considered as high art. The same still holds
true even with networked art. Even if it is accessible from any computer
at any time, there is a very different aura attached if it is also being
privileged to be projected in a museum or established gallery. The
important difference is however, that work may be recognized by the
audience first (a popular site for instance) which then brings it to the
museum. This shifts tremendous power over to the audience and artist in
the selection process which to date has been incredibly insular if not
downright incestuous. Museums could potentially be revitalized by this
media not only by attracting larger and more varied audience but also to
act as community centers offering access to high end technology.
Finally, it is important that the museum itself has a presence outside
its limited geography which helps decentralize the art world still
dependent on major cities in the West.

(One of Victoria Vesna's recent projects is Bodies c INCorporated, which
can be accessed at
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