Turn On, Tune In, Zoom Out: An Interview with Kari Altmann

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DREAMCAPTCHA #006 from blackmoth on Vimeo.
Video: Dreamcaptcha #006, 2008

Kari Altmann is a Baltimore-based artist who initiated the collaborative project Netmares and Netdreams. She agreed to do an interview ahead of the project's residency on Sunday March 15th at Capricious Space in Brooklyn as part of the program In Real Life. - Brian Droitcour

Netmares and Netdreams is going to be featured "in real life" at Capricious Space in Brooklyn. How is this going to be different from the first incarnation of Version 3.0, at Current Gallery in Baltimore? What were some of the challenges you encountered when displaying an online project in physical space?

The opportunity to do version 3.0 of the show arose very suddenly. Current gave us just two weeks to put everything together. But I knew that if we didn't accept that challenge, we might never do the show at all. It wasn't ideal, but it was also perfect luck, because it needed to happen in a space like Current while we had some momentum. We just said yes and pushed through the limitations, which is how we do a lot of things.

Some netdreamers were confronted with the question of how to present things offline for the first time, and they needed to experiment with the options. We didn't have computers for the show, which I was okay with, but we also had zero budget and very limited gear. We wanted to make it the most “real” show we could without all the resources. A lot of things ended up as prints or videos. We debated over whether or not certain pieces still functioned in the way they were presented. If someone didn’t answer an email or send their piece in time, it would affect the way everything fit together and we would have to reassess. Every piece of material absolutely relied on the others. We found ourselves pulling a lot of our own work into the mix or even creating pieces at the last minute to make the show more structurally sound. Luckily, the staff at Current let us figure it out as we went along and we continued to edit until the end. We were also lucky that the artists involved were so understanding about the process and its limits.

I realized that, given such a short timeframe, the ideal situation would be to ask the artists to handle their own installation, which is what we’re going to try at IRL. This will allow us to focus on the actual production of the show, and how everything can fit together in various ways and be experienced.


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Image: Netmares and Netdreams logo

How did Netmares and Netdreams come about? It seems like an attempt to find a way to collect and share found media with more flexibility than a group blog / surfing club. Have you participated in any group blogs before you did this? Do you think that they have any flaws or limitations that you were trying to address in a new format?

Netdreams started as a bad pun which became the concept for a blog by Mark Brown. He invited me to submit to the blog, but instead I started a counter-blog, Netmares. It was just this lame joke that kept evolving and involving more material. When we ran out of steam with the blogs (which happened pretty fast) we created groups in a lot of media sharing networks. In most cases, we just put the titles up and let user-generation define it from there. Some of the groups never really took off, which was to be expected, but the Flickr pools hit a kind of critical mass, and the thumbnail views of those groups became very rich networks of their own. This is why I wanted to try a version 2.0, where the collected experience of several things became one specific netdream.

A lot of what people were posting was similar to surf club stuff and we have some official surf clubbers involved, but I’ve never belonged to one. I grew up on message boards and social networks and have always been involved in my own blogs and online/irl communities. By the time surf clubs came around I was actually in a self-imposed internet hiatus due to burnout and was pretty clueless about whatever was going on in bigger netpools at the time. A lot of people online seemed to arrive at the same methods simultaneously, though. Originally I think Netdreams meant to make fun of itself and its post-club/no-club status, which allowed us to do whatever. We keep it very casual.

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SOFT 404 from blackmoth on Vimeo.
Video: Soft 404, 2008

Many of the works that you present on your site are small in scale. It seems like younger internet artists are making fragmentary work, and teaming up in networks (like Netmares/Netdreams) to make bigger, more layered works. Do you have any thoughts on this?

There are a lot of things I don't put online, especially more sculptural things that remain undocumented or unfinished. It’s easier to present pieces where the auto-scaling of the medium is congruent with the idea. I make things that network with each other, but it’s an open system, always in progress. It moves in several directions simultaneously and re-groups on its own. I think that is pretty common in any artistic practice, though, and everything is already part of a referential network to begin with. Even the simplest gesture can reveal the artist’s entire personality or idea, but it helps if the audience already knows the artist, or if the idea is experienced among a group of other ideas. Both of those are more possible than ever before because of the web.

I can only speak for myself, and I identify more with the ideas of post-network art or internet-aware art. As we’ve expanded our view of the relationships and voids between everything from databases or networks to dataclouds and holograms, we’ve arrived at a better realization of the virtual and physical properties inherent in everything. Everything becomes matter, energy, and representation, and is connected to everything else. This idea isn’t new, but I’m sure that the experience of growing up with the internet has affected the way that many artists my age approach it. We’ve had an unprecedented accessibility to a more “zoomed-out” and multidimensional understanding of our environments.

If you have an understanding of this infinite matter you can also learn from it and interact with it in infinite ways. The material we deal with everyday moves back and forth between virtual and physical form so fluidly. Each seems both tangible and imaginary. You are always interacting with matter “through” other matter. This is where processes like hacking, aggregation, modulation, disembodying and many more come into play, through surfaces and intermediaries. We are simultaneously sourcing from this ecosystem, interacting with it, and creating it.

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Image: Third Eye Blind, 2007-2008

You do live videos for shows of bands in Baltimore. How did you get involved in that? Do you feel like your collaboration with musicians and the music scene has affected your approach to your artwork, or vice versa? Do you work in tandem with musicians to determine what the visuals will look like, or do you have total independence in what you do for them?

Well, the only band I really work with at the moment is Beach House and that’s an occasional thing. Other than that I’m involved in the scene in Baltimore in very casual ways, like making videos or set lists for parties, dancing when no one else is, etc. This requires very little effort on my part. I grew up as a musician and have always collaborated with music scenes around me, so my participation in Baltimore is just a continuation of that. I haven't made my own music in years, but in a way these things give me a similar satisfaction. What I make for other people is usually very specific and has little to do with my own art practice, which can be very refreshing. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to feel like I could collaborate with anyone who I understand, because I have my own creative identity that isn’t formed by those projects, only enriched. It’s just a type of conversation. I feel lucky that some of my favorite music comes out of Baltimore and it would be silly not to support that while I live here. Plus, as long as I am contributing to this scene I get to rave for free and join things like tours when it's convenient, while still being free to pursue a separate art practice.