Perl is My Medium--An Interview with Lisa Jevbratt

Posted by Rhizome | Fri Feb 2nd 2001 1 a.m.

[Lisa Jevbratt is an artist and teacher based in San Jose, California.
She is a member of C5 (http://www.c5corp.com/) and has created several
Internet artworks including the Stillman Project hosted by The Walker
Art Center web site. On Thursday, February 8th, Lisa gave a presentation
at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for "Rhizome Remix," our
travelling event series.]

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Perl is My Medium--An Interview with Lisa Jevbratt

Alex Galloway: Your work "1:1" (http://c5corp.com/1to1) was recently
acquired by the Altoids Collection and is now owned by the New Museum in
New York. How did the piece come about?

Lisa Jevbratt: 1:1 came out of a project by C5 for "Shock of the View"
at the Walker Center. We realized for that project that we needed a
database of IP addresses. We need a numerical way of accessing websites.
You can't just pick a number, an IP address, at random, and see if that
address corresponds to a web server because it will take forever to find
something. So then I started to make this database, and realized that
the database itself was interesting.

AG: Do you do all your programming yourself?

LJ: I do all my programming myself. I've never collaborated with a
programmer. There's an enormous shortage of programmers too, so I don't
know if I could fine one if I needed one. For me, that's my medium. Perl
is my medium. I love Perl. I wonder why I fought all these years to make
an interesting picture or an interesting installation--I'm such a
romantic when it comes to these things. And then I found Perl and it all
fell into place. I recall something that Friedrich Kittler said once in
an interview that to understand contemporary culture you have to know
one natural language and one artificial language. I was excited because
I thought to myself "I understand Kittler!" It's so true. It's
disappointing to me when I see artists who think that they are only
responsible for the "visual" elements, and then have a programmer do the
programming. But programming *is* the language. For me it's not every
interesting to have other people producing my code--other people can
help me with that, but I have to know it too.

AG: So a robot makes the art for you?

LJ: The *system* is the art, not the output, not the visual screen, and
not the code. I want to let the data express itself in the most
beautiful possible way.

AG: Is your work political?

LJ: Well yes, I think so. I think it's important to show the back drop
or the infrastructure of the network. To empower people, I think. To
show people that the Web is not about corporate web pages; it's not
about pornography. But that it's a very open environment that you can
use. In that sense I'm very utopian--political in a utopian fashion.
It's important to act as a counter weight. You can do something utopian
that shows the possibilities. So much of the work on the web uses it to
define one's own personal identity, focusing more on the individual.
Which is a strange thing to me because if you look at the network
protocols it's all about the little autonomous parts where each packet
knows it's own way across the network. It's not a singularity, it's not
about identifying one entity. Some years ago people were very concerned
with identity politics and the Internet and how you can find and express
yourself or selves there. Luckily that does not seem to be a major issue
anymore. When I did the "Stillman project"
(http://cadre.sjsu.edu/jevbratt/stillman) it was very much about showing
that it's not about *you*. What is interesting is to look at what
everybody is doing, the collective behavior. So I think my work is
political in that sense. And then with "1:1," I didn't even care about
the individual at all. It's just a network. I only care about the
network, nothing else. There's no narrative. There's no attempt at an
expression outside the network. This, I think is political. The Internet
was developed as an autonomous technology that works by itself, it's non-
hierarchical, and so on. But then you have a nation (the US) that's
completely absorbed by the dream of the individual. There's a
contradiction there. It's import to continue to show the possibilities
of the network, the way the protocols work, as the part of the network
that makes it interesting. The human factor in the network--the
corporations, the government, people wanting to express themselves--
makes it not so interesting. Someone here, in this country, came up with
this infrastructure which goes completely against the American dream in
all kinds of ways, and I think it's extremely important to continue to
focus on that. So that's why I think it's political--I'm *not* making my
homepage.

AG: What's your favorite color?

LJ: Right now it's bright green. Just plain green--like "255" green....
You know, 00FF00.
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