Josephine Bosma on Sat, 23 Aug 1997 21:47:56 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> CAE interview pt 1: CAE

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) was interviewed about the text 'As Above,
So Below', which they wrote with Faith Wilding. The collective
includes 5 people: Steve Barnes, Dorian Burr, Steve Kurtz and, (not
appearing in Ljubljana) Hope Kurtz and Beverly Schlee. I cut the
interview in two, the first part you have here. It deals with the
history and methods of working of CAE.
The second part, which digs deeper into the text I mentioned, will
appear as a part of the Documenta Workspace block on technoscience
on the workspace site and here on nettime as well. For those of you
that want to get into the matter

Q: Have all five of you been together for ten years?

CAE: Almost ten years, a little over nine. This fall it will be ten
years since the first CAE event. We met at university, and shared
the usual dissatisfaction with the art program and the cultural scene
in general. We were interested in addressing political issues and
constructing a different style of art practice. We were all looking to
participate in cultural production and trying to find the most efficient
way to do it. We decided a collective was the best approach.

Q: What was the first thing the collective produced?

CAE: It was a multi-media event at Club Nu--a disco in Miami. The up
side was that we got to experiment with communicating with a party
audience. We've always been looking for different ways of intersecting
different aspects of cultural production and social activity. The
downside was that we were fired the second night, and had to sue the
club owners to get the money they owed us.

Q: What kind of media did you focus on first of all?

CAE: We never focused on any one media, that was part of our whole
point. In the early days of the collective we would work any site that
was open to us. Every event was site-specific, and hence we would use
whatever media seemed to be best for that place and audience. We still
follow this strategy to this very day. Early on we developed a number of
tactics, which was possible for us because all the members of the
collective had different specializations and skills. When we pooled our
talents just about any medium was available to us. So we did performance,
film and video, computer work. I can remember using mac classics
(laughter) in some of our early works toward a hypertextual poetry. We
were using photography and slides...whatever we thought would best blend
with the culture; whatever we thought would have the greatest impact on
the people that were most likely to look at it.

The performance that you saw here in Ljubljana was a work designed
specifically for a very intellectual festival circuit. But we are just
as capable of doing more guerrilla style work on the street. We've done
community art, museum installation, gallery exhibitions, telepresent
actions. We have used pretty much any cultural model that you can name.
If there is a good place for a medium, we'll use it. When it comes to
different media or social space, we have no allegiances. Our only
consistent pattern is resistance against authoritarian culture.

Q: In these ten years, has there been a shift in the media that you use?
Have some media become more important then others?

CAE: There have been a few shifts. One of the shifts has been that we no
longer produce our own events. In the early days, we did that a lot.
Now we are primarily content providers to different situations, as
opposed to having to build everything from the ground up. Total event
production was very representative of our first five years, but has not
been so characteristic of the second five.

I think another thing that changed (for all multi-media artists) is
that the computer has become a much more significant tool in the
production of work. After all, it's synthesizing all the various media
into a single work station. This has had an impact on our production
process. However, in terms of the finished product, our practice is
still very diversified. And the means for conceptual production has
remained consistent.

Finally, some new options for addressing the public have emerged.
For instance, when CAE first started, there was an internet then,
but the audience was so small and the artistic possibilities were
so limited that we did not see it as a very attractive place to work.
Now with the WWW and the great amount of people that are on-line,
there really is a significant audience to address  on-line using a
variety of communication and production options. If access and
bandwidth problems are ever solved, artists are going flock to the

Q: You seem to work very strongly from, let's say, political issues.
Has there been a shift in that also? What kind of issues did you start
off with and if they changed, how did they change?

CAE: I think our issues have remained reasonably consistent. This is
because cultural production in and of itself has never really been our
core interest. Looking at an art work, especially under western
aesthetic systems, is a process in which you look at the object, then
reflect on it, and hopefully something good happens (aesthetic
experience, intellectual insight, etc.) from that process. We were
activities that engaged the immediate. Generally, such occurrences do
not emerge out of art. They come out in other ways. We like Andre
Breton's aphorism: "Beauty will be convulsive or not at all." Art has
very few characteristics that are convulsive. Going to a gallery is
more like going to
church, since it's such a repressive environment. Now there are plenty
of activities in the world that have to do with immediacy, direct
sensuality, and extreme pedagogy; unfortunately, most of these
activities, particularly in the US, are illegal. CAE's question was,
how do we create situations through the use of cultural production that
would somehow make cultural activity exciting and fun, while at the same
intiating a radical political perspective? Of course standing in our way
are the authoritarian structures of culture. This blockage led to a body
of work aimed at either exposing or disrupting these structures, and to
the creation of environments or situations in which authoritarian power
(domination) would be diminished. So in a general sense, our mission has
remained the same. In a particular sense, specific issues change as
culture changes.

Q: And what do you call culture then?

CAE: Culture is the sum total of ideational and material social
components such as values, norms, language, and artifacts.
Unfortunately, specific forms of these categories become hegemonic.
In turn, other categories are marginalized or eliminated. To act as
agents for cultural anarchy (that is, maximum diversity) is another CAE
goal. We want to either reveal and promote alternative perspectives or
to produce a situation in which they can reveal themselves. For CAE,
culture is a grand term that encompasses everything from the social
to the political to the economic. We mean it in a very grand sense,
not just in the sense of highbrow music, art, and literature.


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