Certified Virtual Artist--interview with Shu Lea Cheang

Alex Galloway: Your project Brandon (http://brandon.guggenheim.org)
which recently openned at the Guggenheim museum has certainly captured
the interest of the new media art world. We're all very excited about it
over here at RHIZOME. What's your reaction? Are you satisfied with how
this project has crossed-over into the mainstream (i.e. offline) art

Shu Lea Cheang: The proposal for Brandon as a one year web project was
first drafted in 1995 for the museum. I have been making installations
since 1990 in the museum setting… so there's really no cross-over in
the web-offline terms. Rather, it has taken the museum a few years to
catch up with the web as an art medium.

AG: Although net.art has been around for a few years, Brandon might very
well go down in the history books as the first net art project. Do you
think 1998 is the year net art broke? Will you be spending a lot of time
on Brandon in the upcoming year?

SLC: Brandon was first conceived as a feature film and developed into a
web narrative project. I have approached Brandon in a film production
mode and taken up the time-based video installation concept for the one
year duration of Brandon on the web. Brandon as a multi-artist,
multi-author, multi-institution endeavour is a case of its own in my own
desire to "hack" the very institutionalized, structured net scape.

I am hoping to take some time off Brandon this Fall. I trust the
museum's effort to enlist curators and artists to upload Brandon
narrative over the course of the upcoming year.

AG: How long do we have to wait until a net art project makes the cover
of Art Forum?

SLC: The language of web art critique has yet to be developed. I am
amused by the New York Times recent write up (August 9, 1998) on
installation art. It is curious that a web work does need a print
media's approval stamp.

AG: The other day you wrote: "I am up at Harvard this summer to develop
the virtual court system for BRANDON 1999." tell me more about what you
are working on at Harvard. I heard you're also working on more movies,

SLC: This summer, I was invited by the newly established Institute on
the Arts and Civic Dialogue (Anna Deavere Smith, Artistic director) at
Harvard University to develop Brandon's second installment, "Would the
Jurors Please Stand Up? Crime and Punishment as Net Spectacle,"
scheduled for May 1999 as a net public event (the finale of the one year
undertaking) at Theatrum Anatomicum, Society for Old and New Media in
Amsterdam. In collaboration with theatre director Liz Diamond, we have
developed Brandon into a courtroom drama with a cast of five actors and
six legal scholars. A multi-site public event for a test trial
(http://brandon.guggenheim.org/virtualcourt_test) held on August 5th at
Ames Court, Harvard Law School, was quite successful. It's likely that
the Center of Internet and Society at Harvard Law School will be
involved in further developing a virtual court system.

In the meantime, yes, I have a sci-fi porno feature with the Japanese
porno industry that I am hoping to get it off the ground this Fall.

But first, we'll be netlinking the first installment of Brandon for
September 17-21. "Digi Gender Social Body: Under the Knife, Under the
Spell of Anesthesia" will introduce interface/intervention and host a
forum (moderated by Lisa Cartwright) on binary code and digi-processed
techno social body. The forum is co-presented by the Guggenheim Museum,
Society for Old and New Media (DeWaag Amsterdam) and the World Wide
Video Festival scheduled for September 20th.

Alex Galloway: Can we talk about cyberfeminism?

Shu Lea Cheang: Sure.. Alex, but I have to warn you that I am a closet
cyberfeminist.. and as of yesterday, I declare myself a certified
virtual artist.

AG: So… you're a "a closet cyberfeminist" but also a "a certified
virtual artist"?! does being a closet cyberfeminist mean that you *want*
to be out, or that you *were* an out cyberfeminist and now you're
closeted?! ;-)

SLC: Being closeted only means that I am not aware that I am one or I
have not particularly associated with a declared movement. Being a
"certified virtual artist," endorsed by an art museum, I take on a
self-imposed exile in the digital domain.

AG: It seems that "cyberfeminist" had a rather short life–maybe
1991-1997. Do you consider this term still relevant?

SLC: I came to know VNS Matrix's [cyberfeminist] manifesto in 1993. The
Auzzie girls traversed in spiral space cracking the source code.
Fearless and gorgeous. I believe that The Old Boys Network is taking up
cyberfeminist in a big stride. In claiming access and visibility, this
term would always be relevant for the involved.