Josephine Bosma on Tue, 5 Aug 1997 11:50:09 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Olia Lialina interview Ljubljana

Olia Lialina is a net.artist. She lives and works in Moscow.
She is also a filmcritic and filmcurator.
We talked in Ljudmila Media Lab in Ljubljana in May '97, on the first
day of the nettime conference, while the conference was in progress
with an American history lesson of the internet in the main room.
We were sitting between other escapees that were doing mail
or surfing and the friendly kitchen crew.

*                                                             *

     "They must feel like strangers, those people who make
     their homepages representing their products."

*                                                             *

Olia Lialina: It is complicated to be a net.artist in Moscow,
because there is no context where you can appear as such. You first must
explain what it is for an hour or two hours. I have different
identities for different places.

Q: Isn't that normal with 'net.personalities', that you are more of
a personality far away then close by? Being a net.artist you are
recognised more by people that are online and often far away and
not by your neighbour?

Olia Lialina: Yes, but also it is difficult to understand who is
the nearest neighbour, because when you communicate a lot through the
net, it seems that your nearest friends and nearest neighbours from
abroad are much closer. Now I feel since a year of this intensive
net.communication that I have more friends which I have never seen.
On one side its a problem, on another side its a reality.

Q: A reality can also be a problem. Is it pleasant?

Olia Lialina: Its pleasant. As far as I have different identities I
don't feel this problem. If my friends don't know what the internet
is in Moscow, they do know what film is, what a critic is, what an
experimental filmclub is. They know and still love me.
Also I don't have so much problems with these different activities
because a year ago I didn't stop this filmcurating in order to make
net.projects. I started to make an experimental filmarchive on the
net and so it was a very soft transition from one field to another.
I started to make this archive, so I started to search the net this
I started to make net.films. At first I thought how I could represent
film on the net. After some time I understood that its not necesary
to represent film itself, but if you can put your filmic way of
thinking in the net, in this environment, it is more useful, more
interesting. You can do more with both. So I tried to experiment with
language, to combine film and net.language, but now I am more concerned
with developing net.language itself. I want things to speak their own
language. For me for example net.reality is not only the cyberideology.
I think that many things from real life can exist in the net, many
feelings, many thoughts. But they should speak the language of where
they are. If something is in the net, it should speak in net.language.

Q: I understand you are exploring what net.language is. Is it a
language that is developing?

Olia Lialina: It seems to me that I am a person who develops this
language. What I am thinking about, I am trying to defend the internet.
That is my attitude. Not by special ideologies, not by proclaiming
something, but by developing its own language. If artists develop and
give a life to the language for this environment, it is more difficult
for commercial structures, for people who just want to represent their
works in the net. It is more difficult for them to feel comfortable in
this world after it has its own language. They must feel like strangers,
those people who make their homepages representing their products.

Q: How do you work on developing this language?

Olia Lialina: Difficult question. What is the structure of my work,
the process? I just think what I want to do in general. If I have
something in mind, the only thing I try to do is doing it in the
net. I don't have restrictions. I don't look for a special topic which
fits the net. Its absolutely intuitive.
My english is quite poor. I stay far from discussions and articles from
theorists written about net.ideology and economy. Especially when I
started I knew absolutely nothing. When I made "My boyfriend came back
from the war", it was a pure experiment with frames and html language.
I didn't expect it would 'sound' in this context, that there was
allready this context.  After I heard all these theories about
"My boyfriend came back from the war", only after I started to think
about myself. I worked out my attitude.
The main thing i can say is that the net is a place for self
expression and nothing can restrict it. Of course it is not just
that, but it could be a place for self expression.

Q: When you talk about developing language I thought you were
talking about filmic language in an image kind of way, but you are
talking about words, about prose or poetry?

Olia Lialina: You know, this frase netfilm for example appeared
when I thought about films. I can say that I don't make netfilms, but
more netstories. Some kind of narrative. Narrative in my works is
everywhere. It can be with words, with pictures, but its always
dialogue or monologue. I think because the russian tradition is quite
literal in art and  mostly in Moscow, I can't stand outside of it.
It is somewhere in me, this desire to work with words, with sentences,
with paragraphes and so on.
But at the same time, which might be interesting for you: I can't do
anything in russian. "My Boyfriend" or "Anna Karenina" or other
projects I didn't think about in Russian first. Everytime I start to
do something in the net, my mind switches to the english language. Its
a very poor language, more poor then net.english, my english. But for
me it is enough to express in the net. I thought about why this is so.
I speak very good russian, I make excellent jokes (laughs) in russian,
I always experiment with words. I have a very rich russian language.
I think that if I would start to make my projects in russian, it would
be another game. It would immediately be a game with the russian
language, not with net.language. I think these are two very different
and serious things for me, they can't be together. They start to fight
with eachother inside me.

Q: How does your communication with all your friends through the
net influence the development of your net.language?

Olia Lialina: I can't say that it works, because this communication
is more a personal one. I can't remember we discussed problems of in our letters. Speaking about the english language again, you
must remember this story when I asked what is the word "ditched", when
David Garcia wrote that the term must be ditched. People
appreciated the irony, but it was a real question, I couldn't find the
word in any dictionary.

Q: Can you give examples of projects you did on the net?

Olia Lialina: I made "my boyfriend"...It was just a desire to tell
this story on the net using html language. After I made it, I realised
this story can exist on cd-rom or you can make a video out of it and
show a video-projection. Its my most succesful work, but it is not a
real net project. The fact that it can exist on cd-rom, that you can
put it on a floppy and go to any computer and show it offline, makes a
After this I decided to make another project that is as close to
the internet environment as possible. I made " Anna Karenina goes to
paradise ", which can't exist without search engines. Three
searchengines simultaneously. This project can't exist either without
one french server, where you find a lot of pictures of trains. So it
was not only the story. It was a story again, but a story which
contained sentences not written by me, but that existed allready in
the net. It's a net.comedy in three acts. Anna looking for love,
Anna looking for train, Anna looking for paradise and an epilogue.
Anna is looking for love through Yahoo, for trains through the Magilan
search engine and Anna is looking for paradise through Alta Vista.
After the epilogue there is a conversation between Anna and the three
searchengines and two browsers: Netscape and Explorer.
Also I spoiled the search engines, I captured and spoiled them.
They are all bit maps, black and white. They look absolutely not
commercial, but they work as real search engines.

Q: You mean you changed them?

Olia Lialina: (laughs) No, really spoiled, but they still work. I only
prepared an interface. All links, all cgi script exist on their servers
and they work in the normal way.

The project which is in progress now, "Heaven and Hell", is a
dialogue with Michael Samyn, a Belgian artist. For some years he
pretended to be group-Z from Belgium. The famous project of group-Z
is "love". Its on Adaweb.
After our communication through email, we decided not to go to this
stupid level where men and women who never met eachother start to
write to eachother: "Why do I never see you in real life, I want you to
be here.." and all those kind of stupid things, we decided to do
something more constructive. So we started to write articles and make
this "Heaven and Hell" project, which is a dialogue between two servers.
The structure is two frames: I am in Heaven, he is in Hell. He makes
something in the lower frame and makes a link to my not existing yet
site. I make the answer in the upper frame, and make a link to his now
not-yet-existing site. This way it goes on. Its not in realtime. If you
look now for this server, you will now see the complete work. All upper
and lower frame sites are on their places. They appear one after the
other. Yet now the end is for example his not existing site. After now
allready 20 pages you will see an empty page. There is written: No such
file on this server. I didn't check wether he put up his last
contribution yet. This work is more interesting inside maybe, because
when we send  the names of the not existing files to eachother, they
say maybe even more then the allready made files with this name.

Now the princip  of this work is not so simple: I am in Heaven, he is
in Hell. Now sometimes I go to the lower frame, to Hell, he sometimes
is in Heaven...Everything already is confused. He used to be a
professional designer. He is very skillful with all this Java, with
applications like Shockwave. I have a more conceptual tradition.
That is why I try to involve sites of other people into my frame. There
you can see American Vietnam Veterans warpages and the Chechen
governement page. I try to involve all this into 'Paradise'.

Q: Are you influenced by the work of other net.artists?

Olia Lialina: No, I am not influenced.

Q: Do you feel connected to them?

Olia Lialina: Yes, I feel connected, and I am very happy now that
my first meeting with the internet itself was in a situation where
Alexei Shulgin showed it to me. The first things I saw on the net was
not homepages of different companies, but work by Jodi, the nettime
mailinglist..Thats why I was influenced in a very good way. I am
very happy I knew before what were works of not-commercial people. Only
after the BMW site and so on. I knew what was before I knew
what was webdesign, that is what I wanted to say. But I can't say that
in my work I am influenced by other net.artists.

Q: What do you think of the whole discussion about what is?

Olia Lialina: Maybe you allready know that I don't like this
discussion. And I don't like it when Robert Adrian starts to talk
about After the discussion he said: hello Olia, I know
your name but never saw your works. Not only mine. It seems he doesn't
know many net.artists. Yet he was the main person in the discussion.
Now the best critique is for example what you do. The best addition
to recent nettime discussion was your interview with Jodi. It gave much
more then all these answers to questions like : What is I think
that the double interview we did with Michael Symon is also not a bad

I had an idea: to stop with presentations of our works at this
conference and start to analyse works of other artists. Maybe I am going
to organise something in Moscow in December. I will try to make not a
conference but more an educational meeting for Moscow young people. I
want net.artists to meet with Russian students for example. I think it
will be more interesting when we analyse works of eachother, not show
our own projects. Its a more creative situation during the presentation. It
is more creative for yourself. You not just recreate your feelings of
artists to words of a lecture.


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