Josephine Bosma on Wed, 11 Jun 1997 12:57:10 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Ljubljana interview with Heath Bunting

So is hot this year, and the net.artists have ambivalent
feelings about it. In Lubljana the part of the program dedicated
to it was not satisfying the curiousity that the thread
on this list had evoked. What it is or isn't is not the main
question at the moment and it probably never was. There are other
things at play, which unfortunately were not spoken out loud at
the conference. This of course is the righteous choice of anyone
When you read this interview however, I think you will see just
like I have, how more openness could have made the 'secret' part
of the conference, the part where the members of nettime discussed
nettime's future, even more interesting.
Is the list too big? Is it turning into a political platform?
Will art-postings be barred from nettime? Is Geert Lovink secretly
an artist? were some of the questions that came to my mind while
typing this out.

The interview was made tuesday the 27th of may, on the balcony
of Kud, one of the nettime conference meeting places in Ljubljana,
Slovenia. Diana McCarthy, Vuk Cosic and others were working
somewhere in the building on the last remains of the conference work,
Luka Frelih, who had been running around for all kinds of practical
things like guiding guests and arranging technical stuff was getting
some well deserved sleep, Geert Lovink, Pit Schulz, PLWilson, Critical
Art Ensemble, Konrad Becker, Marie Ringler and Linda Wallace left that
morning for Venice to do a press conference and the dutch delegation
was to leave the next morning in an early summer cloudburst.

Q: I haven't spoken to you about your work for quite a
while. Could you tell me what you've been doing from
August/September last year up untill now?

HB: Its probably easier to work backwards: At the moment I
am working on a closed circuit television camera project
across the internet whereby you can watch various city
centres in various countries of the world, for instance
Tokyo, Dublin, LA and London. Each of these camera's is
linked to a webpage and on that webpage you are encouraged
to watch these street locations for various crimes. If you
see anything you can type the details into a text box, click
a button and this information will be sent directly via fax
to the local police station, for instance at Leicester
Square. So its somehow encouraging people to police
themselves and save the police some labour, so they don't
have to watch other people.

A project slightly before that was a project to do with
junkmail whereby you could go to a certain webpage (or
it could equally live just as well on a piece of paper)
and it could be assigned a fake address, so that you could
redirect all your junkmail to this new address. All these
addresses aren't actually made up; They are addresses of
people that send junkmail, so all junkmail will
eventually be transferred from one junkmail company to

I am currently working on an algorythmic identity.
The purpose of a name is to somehow create investment, which
is somehow a definition of civilisation. Your name will
appear on many databases and this will somehow control you.
If a name is algorythmic and changes every time, and if its
used over a regular time period, it defeats any attempt to
track you or your identity. For instance for junkmail
companies, that I mentioned before, after one month my
identity will become obsolete. Therefore my adress will be
obsolete. The form my new official name will be taking now
is the first three letters of the month followed by the
year. My current identity is may97. So if you want to email
me, it will be After one month that
identity expires and all the messages will bounce from that
address. People who know me, human beings, will be easily
able to calculate my current identity, whereas computers and
static databases will not be able to.

Q: What happens to email that is sent to your old adress

HB: It gets sent back. I don't actually get it. The other
day I got fourteen email messages, ten of them were
junkmail. This will solve that problem just in one go. Next
month, for anybody that somehow has my current identity,
will find it worthless.

Q: You organised some conferences in the Backspace gallery,
London, also. Can you tell me something about that?

HB: Backspace is a kind of undefined space with technology
in central London, in the bussiness district. These lectures
and meetings were centered around networking in the broadest
sense. For network politics we had people from road
protesting and mail art and internet obviously. We just
tried to broaden these network strategies. I totally lost
control of the net.religion meeting. The formula of the
meeting went in a way that I had not planned, which is fine,
but it is funny to loose total control of something you've
organised. People enjoyed it, but it turned into a normal
lecture style: someone spoke and everybody listened and
there was a discussion afterwards, which I was trying to
avoid desperately. Peter Lamborn Wilson, Toshyo Ueno, Hari
Kunzru and James Flint were the lecturers. They all wanted a
certain style of presentation, which I tried to subvert. I
managed that with the meeting, I think. The last
one, the net.politics meeting, was the most succesful one
because I got everybody drunk first on free gin. There was a
kind of celebraty atmosphere. With politics, people get too
serious, so that was the idea of getting people drunk: so
they were quite happy to say stupid things and risk
something. Also, everybody was only allowed to speak for
five minutes. There were a few people that broke those
rules, but they were poked in the ribs regularly until they
shut up. Geert Lovink was one of them, also Richard

Q: Why do you not want any discussions?

HB: Its not that I don't want discussions. The whole idea of
the meetings was to create some discussion, but if you
create a certain form of meeting it quite often always
follows the same discussions. For instance here we had a
meeting about the other day and due to the form of
the meeting we got to that age old discussion: what is and
what isn't art. You have to somehow create different forms
of conversation, to avoid that and somehow facilitate new
discussions. With the 'anti with e' format I tried to have
each time a different form of meeting. Every speaker was
limited to five minutes and was branded MTV type
presentation. People were very sceptical about that to begin
with, but once you had sat there for a few hours and had
gone through thirty presentations and everybody knew what
everybody else seemed to work, people were surprised
that it worked. People had to formulate their ideas and
present them very concisely and clearly in five minutes.
Some people couldn't manage that at all. The worse thing is
when you go somewhere and someone rambles on for an hour and
you forget what they said and they forgot what they said and
you're bored and then you want to leave. If a group of
people make an interesting presentation, very short and
snappy, you remember it. I won't say there aren't problems
with this form, but for me it worked very well.

Q: Could you say you are kind of changing territory, from
mostly working on the internet the last year onto other
media now, like junkmail, (that is also snailmail right) and

HB: I am always changing. I have had two major threads in my
work. One is communications or networking or whatever you
want to call that. For years I have been doing things with
sending things in the post or via fax or just somehow trying
to create theatrical spaces in the street and then the other
side to my work is creating meetings, where other people can
do things together. It is just that I became quite well
known at the same time as the net became popularised. In the
city I used to live in, Bristol, I was well known there for
many years for doing these things. But I wasn't well known
in Amsterdamn then for instance, where as i am now. That is
the power of the internet. Now I am trying to retire. I have
been professionalised, I have to think about my future a lot
and worry about money and things: I never did before. So I
am trying to retire from being a professional artist. One
way to do that is run of to Australia this November and not
have a future.

Q: But you are going to do some work there right?

HB: I have tried doing nothing but it doesn't work. I only
get more ideas, so I will certainly carry on doing similar
things, but I will try not to do it in a professional
manner. I can give lectures, but I won't plan them six
months in advance. They won't appear on my CV anymore and
stuff like that. Its a subtle thing, a thing of form. When
you become professionalised you loose the whole essence of
what you were before and what you were trying to achieve. I
am trying to get back to what I was, but obviously that is
not possible. So I will carry on doing the same things but I
will just abandon all the nonosense. Professionalism is seen
as a step forward from amateurism, but for me it doesn't
work. You loose a lot of things when you gain your
professional status. You become totally integrated. This
year I am in Ars Electronica and Documenta X, which is
interesting to go to, but I don't want to become a commodity
artist. I am listed in the top whatever 100, 200 artists in
the world this year, which means I am a good investment: I
don't want to be a good investment. I just want people to
see what I am doing and not think about how much it costs.

Q: You say you wanted to go back to what you wanted to
achieve. What was that then?

HB: I like playing. Yesterday I was walking around climbing
on things, drawing little drawings with chalk. Thats just as
valuable as having a big commission, maybe more so. You
actually enjoy it and you're not stressed. You're just being
yourself (if thats possible). I spent many years just
walking around the streets. For instance when I had no
future at all I would meet all my friends every day. Now I
have a future I have to make appointments and I don't meet
them very often. I got to a stage in London, where I would
fill up my diary with appointments to see friends, and none
of us would be able to keep the appointments. So I have
abandoned that. Now I just bump into them by accident. Its
about this future thing: you can spend all your life
worrying about your future and not living now. Certainly if
you engage with the artworld, you get into worrying about
the future all the time: Is your work going to be ready for
the opening? Are people taking you seriously? Should you do
this, should you do that? I just want to leave that behind.

Q: Lets talk about nettime now. What did nettime mean to

HB: In the past? When I first got involved in nettime it was
a context for things that I did. I seem to remember it as a
small group of people that did similar things but that now
seems to have changed into a very large group of people
which I cannot really consider my context anymore. For
instance, there was somehow a bit of a restructuring, and I
think the original people have realised that they were
missing their context, so we got back together again just by
sitting around eating dinner. With my work for instance, it
is very difficult to say: what do you think is this idea?-
in front of two hundred people. But when you're with ten
people and you've known them for years you can develop your
work quite a lot. Nettime has shifted from the original, it
sounds a bit strong but, its changed. It works for the
majority of people but it doesn't really work for me
anymore. So I resigned about four weeks ago. We will meet
regularly, we won't have a group. There has been some kind
of talk about the conspiracy group, which is totally
not the case. We don't want to take control of anything or
be a faction. Its just important for us to have a context.
For instance Alexei (Shulgin - Moscow WWWART) has just done
a new piece of work, called form art which makes reference
to Jodi's work ( and it makes a bit reference
to mine. We all make reference to each others work and I
couldn't do my work in isolation, so it is important to have
people around you that you can communicate clearly with and
see their work. I thought originally that was the point of
nettime, for people to somehow exchange those things. Now it
seems its a bit too big for that and its intentions are other
than that. I am not sure to what, but they have changed.

Q: Of course nettime has grown and it is still a meeting
place, but there are many more people around, which brings
upon it new problems, along with new benefits and
challenges. I can imagine that for the kind of work you do
its quite challenging to work in such a big group of people.

HB: I would say that for me, nettime has gone from a context
to an audience. In the past I would post something to
nettime and people would respond to it. They would know why
I had done it and they would make comments and take the work
forward. If you post something to nettime now: you get
silence. Maybe you even get an angry message from the
moderator stating that you have made an inappropriate post.
It has gone from something very informal to a very
rationalised, academic textual environment. Most things are
very long. I won't say thats bad, but it has changed. I am
not an academic reader, I like to see short things. People
on the list seem to think short things are not as valuable
as long. I will not fight or try to change it. I will just
find another context or create a new one.

Q: Yesterday someone said to me that is the flowers
on the table of nettime. I wouldn't like to see those
flowers disappear.

HB: It is the flowers on the table now, it didn't use to be.
Maybe my memory if faulty. When we sat down in Venice with
people like Paul Garrin and myself and Pit Schulz and Vuk Cosic,
they are all people that are somehow working artists. Even
when that word obviously has problems. For instance Paul
Garrins project: some people say its a commercial
art project. I think its an art project. He is doing
something now and he is engaging with a real environment. I
try to do the same and other people try to do the same. But
nettime has somehow changed, most of the people on the list
are not that kind of people now.

Q: What kind of people?

HB: It is very difficult to say what kind of people.

Q: Couldn't it be that just needs a stronger
presence maybe?

HB: I could have exerted my presence more forcely at this
meeting but I am not here for a power struggle. For me it is
easier to go away and do something else.

Q: I am not saying power struggle, I am just saying have a
presence. When we meet and you are silent, its like you are
not there. If you engage, join in on a conversation that
means that you are part of the community.

HB: There are things you say internally and things you say
externally. I am quite happy to talk about art and things
amongst my friends, but I wouldn't necessarely say that I am
an artist in a certain public context. Then you bring a
whole group of associations that might actually work against
your work. A lot of the things with, is that it is
an invisible art, it tries to not have that bagage. A lot of
the work is about hoaxing or faking or rewriting. So if you
say: this is an artwork, you've blown the cover immediately.
In a group of a hundred people I won't tell why I do these
things or tell my techniques, because they are now the
audience and not my context. Its very difficult to discuss
your work when you have an audience. I don't say its bad,
but it has changed, we crossed a border. I think we crossed
the border last year in Budapest. The meeting obviously
didn't work for the people I know, but it worked for most of
the people there. It certainly didn't work at this meeting
anymore. Thats why we for instance went off and had dinner
and did not argue with people. We just talked about arty
things (laughs) that a lot of the activists or political
types here would not be interested in or would find maybe
even repulsive to talk about (different colours and things
like that, different forms). Jodi's work for instance, if
you look at the political content of their work, it doesn't
line up with a lot of political theories that have been
discussed here, but their work is very interesting from an
aesthetic background. They are strong formalists. I would
say I am not or very rarely a formalist. There was very
little sense for them coming except for talking to the other
net.artists. What is their interest with the changing
political situation in Albania? There is none for them. And
for me, maybe there is one day. In nettime things like that
seem to be the main thing, to bring all these underground
political groups together that use networking sometimes as a
tactic or to solve their problems. It has shifted.

Q: I have the feeling that you are acting from a prejudice
about other people. I mean you push these 'activists' in a
corner and generalise in a way that you do not want to be
generalised yourself. So I really think, although I can
understand a choice from your being an artist to unsubscribe
(because you think its not a proper context because you as
an artist don't feel like you can expres yourself there),
still I don't think it is completely impossible for you to
work in such an environment. Its a matter of overcoming on
all sides always.

HB: I try not to generalise and I hope I'm not prejudice
about these people. But in a conversation, when we talk
about four hundred people its quite difficult to not
generalise, unless you name everyone specifically and what
they do. That is almost impossible anyway, because I know
some people that you could not even catagorise if you tried
until you were blue in the face. Its not not a question
whether you can work or not in that environment, its about
actually producing the work. It is very difficult to produce
work in a public environment, to somehow mess around and try
things out and fail. Thats what I mean by the context, so
you do that amongst friends and other people engaged with
similar things. After that you bring it to an audience.
Nettime has gone from my context to an audience, because of
its size and also the way it has changed. Obviously somehow,
I am a theorist or whatever, I am not sure. Some of these
things I develop might be very useful for these very real
problems that people have, like in Albania were things don't
work, or maybe they won't. It is very important that people
have a water supply. I would never say that the aesthetics of
a webpage is more important then somebody's physical health.
But it is not what I am good at, I am not working at doing
the plumbing. Sometimes its good to come together and work
together with plumbers, but not always, I am not a

Q: So you are changing to more various networks now?

HB: I am always looking to do that. Nettime is not the only
reason to be on the internet.

Q: I was wondering whether for instance your experiments
with these conferences you organised is connected to
frustrations you may have with this mailing list and the way
things are developing in the net?

HB: Not really, I think I do as much work on the net as I
ever have done. I think once you're known for one thing your
other work becomes invisible. I have been walking around
doing grafiti here but most people don't know that. I also
quite like that, because then this work that I do with chalk
is not really a public thing. People see the work for
itself, I don't do lectures about it.

I would like to say, on the subject of nettime, even the
leaders of nettime, who claim they are not leaders, I like
very much as individuals. You have to distinguish between
individuals and groups and organisations. There has been
some discussion about nettime, and even argument about it,
but I have no bad feelings towards the individuals involved
in that. For instance I am going to Berlin and I will be
walking around the streets with Pit, having a nice chat
about things. But maybe we were bitter enemies here, as our
roles: he was the moderator and I was the bad schoolboy
(laughs). You have to see the differences, what roles you
are put in by other people and not take them too seriously,
somehow subvert them.

Q: What do you think of the whole discussion by
non-net.artists about

HB: I did pose a question to Geert Lovink about this
audience thing. I think it is a valid tactic to say to an
audience you're not an artist. It relieves you of historical
bagage. But then when you are in a group when you are trying
to develop work and exchange ideas, I think its quite often
distracting to say you're not an artist. You have to
communicate with people to develop things. So I challenged
him on this, but he still claims he is not an artist. I find
that quite interesting, since his appearance at Documenta.
Maybe he is not an artist is private AND public, but I
haven't managed to get my head around that yet. These things
of denying and saying one thing and not the other are very
useful, but when you are doing it to yourself or other
people you are trying to include within your secret, to
communicate your secret to, it confuses people, me included.
When someone says: you're an artist? in private, I would
probably say yes, but in public I say no, I am just nobody.
Depends on the context.

Q: But the thread on nettime: there was David
Garcia, Carey Young, Rachel Baker, me, Robert Adrian, John
Hopkins and more...that discussion.

HB: I think this year is a very tricky subject. It
has been picked up by institutions, Its like money, people
want it but when they get it they are still not happy,
because it is a symbol for something else. Money symbolizes
many things. People talk about things, but they are really
talking about something else. I think there are many hidden
agenda's and hidden desires and frustrations that come into
play when something becomes institutionalized or succesful.

Q: You mean hidden frustrations from the people that try to
discuss it?

HB: I think everybody on the list have different reasons to
be on the list. When something becomes hot, they all bring
their bagage along.

Q: But it is not a matter of *hot*ness is it? That sounds
like it is a fashion to me. People react from quite a
primary feeling to what they think is not right.

HB: is hot this year. I remember saying at the first
'anti with e' thing (the secret conf), "this is the
year for and we've got to be very careful. It is
very easy for it to be picked up and hyped and then
discredited and thats the goodbye to our context. So we have
to somehow play it very carefully this year." So I
digressive it back to the list. It is just a difficult year
and with difficult issues. The term for instance for
many of the practioners is a joke and a fake. Somehow it has
been taken seriously though.

Q: It was not completely a joke.

HB: No, but for instance if you talk to Alexei Shulgin about
what he will do next, he is one of the main people to take forward, whats he gonna do next: he's going to
Brazil and photograph children. He is looking for a new
context. He is from Moscow and he is an eastern artist. He
fits perfectly in the nettime rethoric of charity for
impoverished artists. He has succesfully exploited that. He
comes to these meetings, he says very little, just goes out
eats dinner. He is in another country. He never talks about
politics really, he talks a little tiny bit about art issues
and thats that. It has been a good zone for him to use. He
will probably drop that soon.

That is the problem with investment, a lot of people come to
these media just as a temporary thing, just as a temporary
tactic. They devote a lot of energy to that and taking up
investment. Then they stay and then they somehow lost their
original intention. Someone like Alexei is succeeding I
think, he has jumped from many things, from the video art
context to the computer context and he will go to the next
context. Each time being the impoverished Moscow artist.
When he used to sell images, you know, things on walls, it
was because he was from Moscow that he would get them sold.
People go:" O Moscow, that must be a very interesting
place!" "Those pesky soviet union types..." He does the same
now. I am the same as well. People think that I am from
London and that I must be very interesting, because there is
a good music scene at the moment.

Q: I think you have most of your 'charity' built on your
grafiti-past. Or your street artist image.

HB: But I don't fit in the fashionable street art thing. I
don't wear certain baggy trousers. I don't listen to hiphop.
That was the area that was very fashionable. I just walked
around doing little things with chalk. Its a bit of a
cynical comment and a bit of a joke, but there is some truth
in it.

webcam neighbourhood watch project

junkmail project

Anti with E lectures


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