Tilman Baumgaertel on Fri, 22 Aug 1997 18:39:00 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Interview with Heath Bunting


The following interview with net artist Heath Bunting was conducted at
the opening of the documenta X. A german translation is published today in
the german daily "die tageszeitung" (www.taz.de)



"Just stand around on the streets"
Interview with Heath Bunting

?: I understand you used to do graffiti, before you
started to do work on the internet. Can you describe
how you developed from painting on walls to writing

Heath Bunting: It's not a progression really. It is very
difficult to make your life linear. I still do graffiti. I
was arrested with Rachel Baker the other day in
London for doing graffiti. 

? Could you describe your graffiti?

Bunting: We generally use chalk from the River
Thames. I like chalk, because it is temporary, and also
somehow escapes the labeling of hip hop. You can be
chalking somewhere, and people can't tell necessarily
that you are doing something illegal. Whereas when
you have a spray can or a pen, they know immediately
that you are being rebellious. 

?: Why graffiti? Why not some other medium, like

Bunting: Because I could never afford those things.
Chalk is very cheap. A box for 40 pence can last you a
week. Accessibility has always been a big issue for
me. And also, I am not looking for recognition from
the art world. I want to do things that have an effect
on everybody. Graffiti is on the street, and everybody
sees it, wether they pay attention or not. 

?: But the concept that the streets are public space at
all has become questionable in the last couple of years
with the emergence of shopping malls and private
ownership of public space...

Bunting: By going out on the street and doing things in
public, private spaces will be reclaimed. Rachel and I
went out and made some of this private spaces our
own again. The "London" internet project is a bit like
that. It is about things we did in the city of London,
that we took those spaces, and made them our own for
a while. I could tell you a story about every place that
is in the photographs in "A Visitor's guide in London",
about things we have done there at that time. 

?: I noticed that a lot of net artists travel around all the
time. Is this inherent in the medium with which they

Bunting: For me it is the most viable funding method.
I get paid for giving talks. At the moment it is very
boring for me to have an apartment. So for me this is a
way to travel around without having to sleep outside
all the time. I haven't had an apartment since
September, I have been traveling continously since
last June. And I enjoy doing it, it's very challenging. 

The internet is a technology that makes that possbile.
Maybe ten or twenty years ago, there would have been
a different way of networking. Maybe a hundert years
ago, it would have been a name. If I was a certain type
of aristocrat, I could have turned up in a court in India
in rags, and I would have just said my password, and I
would have been admitted and treated very well. In
those days it was your name. There are other
passwords now, that give you access to certain things. 

?: In the subtitle "The visitor's guide to London" is
called "psychogeographic". What do you mean by

Bunting: The work was six month of walking around
London with no particular aim. I found myself going
to the same places, on the same routes. I was trying to
find out why I would walk to the same places, and I
discovered things like underground rivers and roman
walls. So these things are known as psychogeography. 

?: Are these drifts though the city related to surfing the

Bunting: I don't really surf the internet. I take great
pleasure in wandering around cities, and see what
happens, and London is a good place to do that. If you
ever get bored, you just go out your door, and within a
few minutes something interesting is happening.

?: Do you think that "Visitor's guide to London" is a
"net specific work"? 

Bunting: No. I originally did it on a floppy, but it
translated easily to the Web. I was working in
multimedia at the time I did the piece. People around
me were thinking hard what they could put on a CD-
Rom: colourful images, audio, video, whatever. The
"Visitor's guide" was made on these very big
computers, but it looks like it is low-tech. You can put
it on one floppy disk. So it is a like an anti-statement
against multimedia. 

?: One of the characteristics is that people can "take
you work apart", which makes net art different from
traditional painting or sculpture. Does it matter to you
that people can look at the source code, how a piece is

Bunting: My work isn't very complicated to assemble
in the first place. I use very simple things. I have been
experimenting with a self-assembly web site. I
removed the index page recently, so you could see all
the files. There is a Read.me file that suggest where
you can start. 

?: I recently send you some email, that was returned,
because your adress has changed from your name to a
number. Is this another art project?

Bunting: I was trying to find a way to cut down on
junk mail to my email account, and I came up with the
concept of an algorhythmic identity. I change my
email adress now every month in a way that is very
easily predicatable to humans, but not to a computer. I
chose the date, the month and the year, something
most western humans would know. So my email
adress currently is jun97@irrational.org. Every month
the previous adress will be deleted, and if you send
mail to this adress, you get an auto-reply saying: This
identity is now expired, please reformat in this form.
Since I've done that my email has gone from 50 a day
to just about five. I don't get any stupid messages

I will also retire as a professional artist in November,
and I will go into hiding for a while. Than I will come
back, and charge more money. Because I have become
professionalized, my work load is a lot more now.
And I don't have time anymore to walk around the
streets and play, and I have to act in a proper manner
in certain situations. I want to retreat from that. 

?: Did doing art on the internet help your career as an

Bunting: Oh, yes, it helped me a lot. My name became
very well known. As the internet hype took off in
London, every day I would get two or three journalists
wanting to interview me, because I was doing things
on the internet and was prepared to talk about it. At
that time most of the people doing things on the net
were hackers, and they were very shy with the media.
My art career has risen a lot because of that. I didn't
intend to have an art career, but I allowed it to happen.
Being at the documenta is very problematic for me. I
never intended to be here. This is my forth exhibition
ever. So it is all new to me. Now galleries are offering
to do things with me. And I have to think hard about
this. I probably won't become a commodity artist,
because it will upset my work and what I am trying to
say. That is one reason why I want ro retreat from this

?: What are you going to do?

Bunting: Oh, just stand around on the streets. Maybe do
some things on the net. But then again, there might be
a new medium. The thing with the net is that in the
last couple of years it has been a new religion: the
virtuality religion. And if I see something like that, I
try to bust it. I try to break things. That's my secret
agenda: To break down civilisation. (laughs)

?: Do you see your own projects on the web as

Bunting: I try to do things that provoke discussions of
issues or ideas. For example I am doing something
with search engines now. Several years ago, people
would register names of large corporations like
McDonalds, so if McDonalds would want to go on the
net, they had to buy these domain names from them.
That time is past now. And there won't be active
censorship. The real issue now is visibility or
invisibility, and that is made possible with search
engines. So people will buy their way into the ranking
of search engines. I do that with programming tricks.
Right now, if you go to Web Crawler and type in
"Nike", the first ten adresses will be my pages, and all
it says there is "This URL is for rent", so Nike can rent
it back from me. 

At least half of my projects could be turned into a
business, for example my begging project: I did
begging on the net for one week, and got send 1500
pounds. I made a form where you can send Mastercard
or Visa donations to myself, and then I inserted it into
corporation's or government guestbooks over the
period of a week. A lot of people found it entertaining,
and sent me money. But I didn't actually cash that
money. I assume that most of the credit card
information that was send to me was from stolen
credit cards anyway. It's not so interesting for me to do

?: Do you mind that projects like that don't noticed
very much?

Bunting: I suspect that 90 percent of what I have done is lost,
expecially things I did on the streets. Documentation is really
a way to commodify your work. A documentation can
be sold, and that's what I am trying to avoid. I have never sold
any of my works. It used to be a policy of mine, never to make
things that could be sold.

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