Interview with Deb King
Deb King is a new media artist whose work concentrates on net work and computer installations. She is living in the industrial city Detroit, worked in fine arts, studied in various dance studios while working with different conceptual models. During the last years Deb King focuses in working on digital art projects.
An interview with Deb King on her digital art works by Evelin Stermitz, May 2008.
ES: In your art practice you are creating interactive web-based projects. How did you come to using the internet as a media for your artworks and what is your general approach to new media art?
DK: It's really hard to come up with a specific timeframe. I was involved with performance-based work in the mid to late 70s when a friend of mine, who was a mime started using this program for working out routines on the computer. It was very basic and choppy, but enthralling and opened up the performative ability of digital media. Previous to that, I had worked with Basic and a little assembly language at different jobs, primarily at a utility company. I really enjoyed the process, and it was sort of exciting, the computer took up a half the floor of this building and it was all new. But that was way before the internet.
I actually didn’t get my "own" computer for a couple of years yet and initially concentrated primarily on publishing books, playing with Photoshop and doing some basic scripting to accomplish different tasks, but my concentration was still dedicated to realtime performance. Then around the mid to late 80s, I started looking at the entire process in a different way, not as a path to a prescribed destination, but as a series of destinations in and of itself, a sort of in line with the conceptually-based Happenings of the 60s.
ES: How is your previous engagement in performance work influencing your formal concepts of your digital works, is there any connection?
DK: Undoubtedly the idea of "staging" and narrative exists in the work. I implemented notions of randomness into performance work – influenced by Cagian/Cunninghamesque, fluxus and fuzzy logic. I think traces of all that remain in my work. I used to develop movements or spatial destinations, write them up on cards, shuffle them and perform them as they were "dealt". Every once in a while I still do that, because it offers some surprises.
ES: How would you describe the situation when creating your works, what is important for your conceptual approach and research on your projects?
DK: I have had a VERY small room that I worked in – off the kitchen, that's sort of a cultural statement of its own. Hours are erratic, anywhere from 4 to 14 hours a day in front of the screen … and then, of course, I'll leave it all for a week or two. Sometimes I think working in a small space really effects the density of the work. I'm currently moving into a larger space and am looking forward to getting some more equipment, seeing what effect working in a larger space has on the work - and on me. I spend a lot of time alone going over the history - or multiple histories - of a subject, before I'm comfortable working with it, that seems as allow the subject to speak for itself and disperse any personal "statement" I might bring to the table. I do most research online but also like to spend time in libraries to answer questions or find additional information that's only touched upon in online sources, and I like the physicality of the printed page.
I've been publishing mark(s) - http://markszine.com - a literary/fine arts journal since the end of 1999, it's turned out to be very important for my own work, has been a series of dialogues with different artists that I've really enjoyed. It was a quarterly, but I've recently switched it to twice a year because of time restraints. Recently I began developing a social networking project with Marcia Yerman that we hope will be very interesting and bring together artists whose work embraces different political visions.
ES: You created some main projects on feminist related topics, e.g. venusConstruct, chronaMora, function:feminism, gender[f} and have a different series of e-cards about the travels of a woman you refer to as MOAH, just to mention some, - what was the impetus for these projects?
DK: Different specific cultural factors figured in for the different projects. gender[f] is more aligned with collateral assets – an online peace project – in that by directing a multitude of different "voices" towards an important issue (the unrelenting murder and rape of young women factory workers in Juarez and the aftermath of 911), you gain a broader audience and stronger show of commitment towards an issue. function:feminism and chronaMora both look at opposing, different histories of "woman" in two different global venues, the constructive aspects of feminist art and the destructive effect of war on women. venusConstruct was a response to how I was invited to be in "The Feminist Figure", at the Forum Gallery in New York that Marcia Yerman curated and looks at media representation and definition representation of woman and beauty. MOAH - the Mother of Al Harlots - is a character lifted from Revelations in the old testament, I always thought she was pretty amazing… the only female figure that could really scare the old patriarchy.
On several occasions people mention a claustrophobic sensibility to the work, and I sort of shrugged it off, I mean I do work in small spaces. But I think all the work is placed in and responds to a sort of cultural structure and the expectations and/or accepted definitions created by and within that structure.
ES: In your recent work dreamSweeper you are investigating the high incidence of abuse suffered by Native American and Native Alaskan women. How do you deal with this important issue in a game-based piece?
DK: dreamSweeper was made for "The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces", a traveling show organized by Jennifer Heath as a visual response to cultural and political aspects of veils and veiling currently on exhibit at The Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, Colorado. Given this broad concept, I wanted to present the situation of Native American / Native Alaskan women, a situation that has been obfuscated by an interweave of judicial, social, historical and economic deprivations that exist within the american capitalist patriarchy.
Using the Native American "dreamcatcher" - protector of children in their sleep, as the active field of the "game board" made sense. The environment of the game is a random layering of Native American / Native Alaskan women, landscapes, and text "harvested" from Native American lore about the first women. The openings in the dreamcatcher comprise the tile-based game, akin to Minesweeper, the pc game that shipped with the early windows OS. Winning doesn't really occur. If you spend a lot of time with it, and figure out the games, you realize that you just have to start over again before losing… there's no celebratory win. But there is loss and a randomly composed loss scenario.
ES: How did other women influence your works on feminist topics?
DK: Even though I was a teenager at the height of second-wave feminism, my feminist practice has always been intertwined with issues of racism and peace. Rosa Parks was an extremely important figure to me growing up, as was Viola Liuzzo – the courage of their actions greatly inform my world view and my attitude as a planetary citizen. The civil rights movement here was followed by the anti-war movement, which was primarily male-directed, but a lot of women were involved. So, my view of feminism was always colored with a broader view.
Looking to women artists, I immediately turn to Hannah Wilke as my greatest influence, for her honesty and the strength of her parodic statements. I think she was absolutely incredible, steeped in identity politics of course, but very succinct. The drawings I've done for MOCAD here in Detroit were undoubtedly inspired in part by the work of subRosa and The Critical Art Ensemble.
ES: What do you think about cyber-feminism in relation to art?
DK: I embrace cyberfeminist practice as an artist, believe it offers an holistic intellectualism. Cyberfeminism is such an inclusive non-theory. So whether you are talking about the identity or representation, global unity or poverty, a view informed by cyberfeminism allows a broader perspective. subRosa is amazing in that respect and has really enriched my world-view.
No matter what the genre, art informs … the cyberfemist practice informs my work and the work of many other artists in many ways.
ES: How do you view the impact of feminist new media art on the society? Is there any impact, is it important to have an impact at all, or do you prefer to view the art work as l'art pour l'art?
DK: The intersection of media and art is very powerful, whether or not it's within any school of feminist thought. The methodologies in and of themselves project us into the day to day issues of current thought. The effect is very clear when you compare second wave artists, whose work honed in on identity and representation to the work of younger artists who take a more inclusive view. At the same time, I totally embrace the idea of art for art's sake and the value of it's existence unto itself.
ES: In your art work Rosemarie and Paul, you created an art project as an exploration into the meaning and placement of disability within social and cultural contexts. What was the background for this work and how did you transfer this topic in the digital world?
DK: Rosemarie and Paul grew out of a workshop with Carla Harryman's class on media and activism at Wayne State University here in Detroit. The project explores a virtual meeting between feminist disability scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Paul Virilio based on the first section of Virilio's "Open Sky" and Garland-Thomson's "Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminism" which I happened to be reading when Carla asked if I would be interested in subbing for her. Basically, I created the structure and characters of a play and made a deck of cards specifying a character (Rosemarie, Paul, 3rd person and narrator) and an 'act' (body, identity, representation and activism) to allow a collaborative writing project. The students then randomly selected a card and wrote a segment of the conversation based on those parameters.
ES: As the digital world is changing rapidly, do you view your former works different now? What are your future interests in creating works and how will the technical approach be?
DK: Of course tech advancements have amplified some differences, particularly speed and software advancements that enhance delivery and add efficiency to development, so there were technical challenges and work-arounds that may make the older work seem simplistic but you know, you work with what’s available. I wonder more – because of the political content of the work, if it is still valuable today. I don't really view them any differently. I used to want to return to them and change, expand or update them… particularly a piece like collateral assets or gender[f], but now I'm content to let them be whatever they are out there.
As to future works, I have had one specifically planned for a while that I haven't been able to develop, because of time and money restrictions. I hope to be able to get through it soon, having a larger space will help. It will be video heavy and use a couple different consumer technologies, but I don't want say anymore about it yet! Conceptually I'm looking at a couple of subjects that are of great interest to me, that I also think are important - different juxtapositions of privacy, capitalism and technology (specifically genetic research) … and how that sort of sneaks into our everyday lives.
ES: How do you view the future of digital art / new media art connected to feminism?
DK: I think work in new media art, specifically net work, has been an impetus for feminist practice to evolve within this much broader construct, creating a richer and more globally responsible system of studies.
ES: Are you also creating non-digital works, if yes, how do they turn out?
DK: I work almost completely with digital tools, although they don't end up being computer installations or web-based. I'm doing some digital drawings right now, not sure where they're going but are an offshoot of a previous series on genetics, ownership and privacy with dark humour in pretty pastels.