Tilman Baumgaertel on Sun, 31 Aug 1997 17:37:35 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Interview with jodi

The following interview with Dirk Paesmans und Joan
Heemskerk, the two artists behind the notorious Jodi-site
(www.jodi.org), was conducted at the Hacking in Progress
gathering in the Netherlands three weeks ago. We had our
brains fried at 30 degrees in the sun, yet managed to come
up with a interview that I find very interesting. 

In this interview I put a special emphasis on the
presentation of their work on the documenta
(www.documenta.de), because I think that the
institutionalization, representation and curating of net-
based art is going to be an important topic in the future.

For those who haven't been to the documenta in Kassel: the
net art pieces are shown in an office-like space hidden
behind a cafeteria, that has only one entrance. The
decoration of the work is not by a designer, as Jodi claim in
this interview, but by the artists Franz West (an
uncomfortable bed and chairs) and Heimo Zobernig (who
painted the walls blue as an subtle hint to IBM as one of
the major sponsors of the show - very "contextual", huh?). 

The computers that show net art are not connected to the
internet, with three exceptions: the projects of Muntadas,
Pocock etc. and Blank/Jeron. Yet even with these works
there are no direct links to other sites, and you can't
surf to other URL's. Apparently the organizers wanted to avoid
that the net art rooms turns into a cybercafe, where people
read their email. While this is legitimate, the way it is now
the data could come right from the hard disk. 

This problem will continue to bug future net art curators. I
nevertheless think that depite the problems with the
presentation the documenta nevertheless served as the one
art event that put net art on the map for the art world.



"We love your computer"

Interview with Jodi

?: How did you get started doing art on the internet?

Dirk Paesmans: We started about three years ago, when we
lived in San Jose, California, which is the capital of Silicon
Valley, the undefined area below San Francisco. Netscape
is based there, and all these other computer companies like
Adobe, Macromind and Apple. We were there as artists at
resicence in the university. At that point the web wasn't
really established. We worked in the art and computer lab
of the university in Joel Slyton's class, and did some things
with Hypercard and Macromind. Then we discovered the
possibilities of the Net and of the Mosaic browser. There
was a site that was very popular, the "Internet Underground
Music Archive" (IUMA.com), where you could download
samples from local college rock band. We visited them in
Santa Cruz, and they gave us space on their server to
experiment with. That was our technical introduction to
working on the internet. To do something on a singular
computer is easy, but in the beginning it was very difficult
to put things on the net. We didn't have a great networking
experience. We were not involved with BBSes or FTP or
email or other protocols before the Web. Although we have
always been hanging out with people doing that. =

?: So you had to go to California to get into this?

Paesmans: Maybe. It's fascinating to just stand on the
parking lot of Apple, and see the building and look at the
cars. Or when you are in the university computer lab, all
the students there want to work with George Lucas. The
area was called "the fruit valley". It was a very green area
that changed into a digital/computer/software landscape.
That's also the joke Apple started with: They replaced the
apricot and apple farming there with the device "Apple",
and now the whole valley growns computertechnology. =

?: I remember that one of you made a remark about the
difference between the European and the American
internet. This seems strange, because the internet is
supposed to be an international network, that surpasses
national boundaries. What do you mean with this, and how
does this difference affect you as artists? 

Paesmans: The Americans don't have to pay for their
connection time...

?: ...because local calls are free in the US...

Paesmans: ...so the internet is just an extension of their
local computer. =

Heemskerk: It suits their geographical sense as well,
because some places are so remote, that they need a means
of communication. Not only the internet, but also the
telephone. If you pick up the phone in the Netherlands and
call somebody in Germany it seems really far. But in the
US they spend hours on their phones with their neighbors.

Paesmans: And it's the same with the internet: home office
workers for example can stay online for hours, because
they don't have to think about the telephone costs. 

?: And how does that affect you as artists?

Paesmans: We cannot explore the net the way we want to.
For example we cannot check the dutch newspapers in the
morning on the net, because connection time is too
expensive. You can look at your email, but you cannot look
around for an hour, because you have to pay the expensive
morning rates for a local telephone call.

Heemskerk: The result is a whole different way of viewing.
If you have to pay for the hour you want to see something
immediately. You are not prepared to look for something
for an hour. But you have to do this on the internet. 

Paesmans: Otherwise you just log into the little areas you
know. It doesn't become this jungle where you go to
discover things you did not know before. But this is just the
interesting part of it. It is fun to find things from the
Phillipines or Marrocco. So you have to get organized and
do your surfing at night, because the rates are cheaper then. 

?: How many hours do you spend online per day?

Paesmans: Not many. Maybe half an hour. If we are
working on something it might be longer. I like to look
around at Japanese sites, which are incomprehensible to
me. The characters are totally unreadable, and they have
beautiful screen designs.

?: Was doing art on the internet a way to get around the art
system, the galleries, museums, curators etc?

Heemskerk: I don't think you really avoid the art world by
doing things on the internet. It was more that we were
already working with computers. And I found that the best
way to view works that were made with a computer was to
keep it in a computer. And the internet is a very good
system to spread this kind of work...

Paesmans: The computer is not only a tool to create art, but
also the medium to show it within the network. And since
the network doesn't have any labels, maybe what little
Stevie is doing is art. It's the same with our work: There is
also no "art"-label on it. In the medium, in which it is
perceived, people don't care about this label. But if we
show our work in a gallery space, the label "art" is on what
we do. And we have to find "art ways" to show our work.

?: How do you feel about the way our material is shown at
the documenta? 

Paesmans: In Kassel, the interface for showing net art is the
office. This metaphor is too much of an cliche. It's meant to
be some kind of joke, but it is not funny. It is vulgar, it's too
easy. It doesn't work. And now it will be repeated over and
over again. 

They did the same thing with video in the beginning. When
video came out of a critique of television, there were
experiments with video art on local American TV stations.
Early Nam June Paik tapes were produced by american
cable stations. When museums or galleries showed it, they
set up little living rooms where you could watch those
tapes. They thought: "It's TV, we can't present it just with
the U-Matic player next to the television set, we need a
home decor."

?: So what is the alternative to the way net art is presented
at documenta? Just leave it on the net?

Paesmans: I personally think that if you have a space and
decide to show net works, you can also present it to people
who are not used to computers. And you could also give the
artists the opportunity to add things to their installation. I
think it is very important for net artists to deal with the
presentation, or they will be re-presented by other people;
for example, designers who are asked to design to
exhibition space. That's the worst. One should avoid that at
all costs. All the different works disappear in the set up by
the one guy who deals with the real space. The real space is
of course much more powerful than all these networks.
When you are viewing the work you are in the real space. If
you only do your work on the net, you become a fragment
of the local situation and you can easily become
manipulated in any direction.

?: Where you approached by the documenta people at all
about the presentation of your work in the show?

Heemskerk: No. At first we heard that the net art works
would be upstairs in the documenta Halle (the exhibition
space "documenta hall"). They changed this plan one and a
half weeks before the opening. Now the room with the net
art is downstairs behind a cafe, and they asked some
designers to make blue walls and strange furniture. There
was never any contact with the artists about this.

Paesmans: Other artists also didn't like the way the internet
room is cornered, next to the cafe, next to the bookshop,
next to the lecture hall. This way you have one gigantic
recreation area, basically. When you enter this cave, you
really have to be curious about net art. The room is not
inviting, it looks like an IBM show room. We talked to
many people standing in the entrance. When they saw the
set-up, they said: That's not for us, that's some computer

Heemskerk: In reality we don't work in a office. A lot of
people have their computers next to their beds. The idea
that computers are only in offices is from twenty years ago.
Now it is fairly common that computers are on the dinner
table or here on the camping grounds. An office space
creates a distance. I don't like to enter an office. 

?: I understand that you had to take links out of your work
for the presentation at the documenta. Which links were

Paesmans: Recently we made this map of the internet,
where we took a diagram with all the big back-bones and
the names of the major providers. We replaced the names
of technical providers with alternative and art sites on the
net, with links to these sites. We put this piece on the site
of the documenta. Every time somebody at the documenta
Halle comes to this map and tries to click on one of these
links, the computer will crash. 

?: Do you think that this presentation damaged your work?

Paesmans: No. We left this link page in the work, even
though it would have been wiser to take it page out. But we
didn't make a concession to the documenta, which feels
good. You cannot look at our work very well, but that's not
only the case with our piece. If you want to see the works
well, you have to look at them on the net. In a way it is only
a symbolic representation in Kassel.

?: But if there is only one page with links to other sites on
your work, in what sense is it net specific? Couldn't it also
be on a CD-Rom?

Heemskerk: The internet is the enviroment where it has to
be shown. We work with the speed of transmission on the
internet, or rather the slowness of transmission. That would
get lost, if it was on a CD-Rom. None of the pages of our
site has more than 30 kilobytes to make it accessible. Yet
we think: The slower, the better. We also change our site a
lot. CD-Rom is a static medium. We probably did 150
changes of our site since we set it up.

?: What kind of changes?

Heemskerk: We replace things, and we add new projects.
Or just update old projects.

?: Do you also have to keep it up to date when new
browsers come out?

Heemskerk: Not that much. We once had a problem when
Netscape 3.0 came out. We used these background layers
that kept flipping back and forth under Netscape 2.0, and
that didn't work with the new browser.

?: Aren't you afraid that your work will disappear at one
point because of technological paradigm changes? For
example, that it can't be viewed anymore because browsers
change overnight?

Paesmans: Fear is not a good condition for work. We have
no fear. We make these things because we are angry.
People perceive this anger when they are on the other end,
at the recieving computer...

?: Why are you angry?

Paesmans: Because of the seriousness of technology, for
example. It is obvious that our work fights against high
tech. We also battle with the computer on a graphical level.
The computer presents itself as a desktop, with a trash can
on the right and pull down menues and all the system icons.
We explore the computer from inside, and mirror this on
the net.

When a viewer looks at our work, we are inside his
computer. There is this hacker slogan: "We love your
computer." We also get inside people's computers. And we
are honored to be in somebody's computer. You are very
close to a person when you are on his desktop. I think the
computer is a device to get into someone's mind. We
replace this mythological notion of a virtual society on the
net or whatever with our own work. We put our own
personality there. 

?: There is this rumor that your site causes people's
browsers to crash. Is this true?

Heemskerk: No. That is not a challenge. You could shut
down anybody's computer with one line of code. That's not

?: My impression is that a lot of people look at your site
briefly, and then go somewhere else, without ever
exploring the details of it: "Oh, there is this site that looks
like your computer is broken", and then it's back to CNN or
Yahoo or whatever. Does that bother you?

Paesmans: No. Media art is always on the surface. You
have to get people very quickly. You need to give them a
karate punch in the neck as soon as possible. And then - of
course - they don't get to the details, and the site will just sit
there for the next five years or ten years, or maybe 100
years. And maybe their children will have the time to
explore the details... (laughs)

?: Do you trace how people move through your site?

Paesmans: We once had a counter installed, but we lost
track of it. We were checking it every day, and it became
this obsession, which was ridiculous: "Oh, only 50 people
today." And than we checked again an hour later: "Oh, now
it's 65 people!" We don't have the counter installed
anymore. Most net artists log everything that happens on
their sites though. Not that they make use of it, but the
artist's ego wants to know how the public looks at their

?: That's one of the specific properties of the internet: that
the public can react to net art works in a very easy fashion.
Do you get any reactions from your audience? And what
are they like?

Paesmans: We get a lot of email. In the first couple of
weeks after we put up the site we got a lot of complaints.
People were seriously thinking that we made mistakes. So
they wanted to teach us. They sent us emails saying: You
have to put this tag in front of this code. Or: I am sorry to
tell you that you forgot this or that command on your page.
For example the first page is unformated ASCII. We
discovered by accident that it looked very good. But we
still get complaints from people about this.

?: But are you only getting complaints?

Heemskerk: No, a lot of people from universities send us
emails like: "Hey, cool, man" ...

Paesmans: Also, people sometimes send us helpful code.
For example, somebody send us a java applet that we
actually used for our site. We are really grateful for that.
Some people really encourage us, too.  They say: "Go, Jodi,
go. Make more chaos. Make my computer crash more

?: When one looks at your site, there is no hint who is
behind this: Is it a company? Is it an organisation? Is it a
gang? Is this a comment on the possible anonymity of the

Paesmans: We decided to put the work immediately on the
screen, without our press releases and without our bio. We
don't use our site to present information. We present
screens and things that are happening in these screens. We
avoid explanations. Look at any exhibition: People are
sniffing on the information plates next to the art works,
before they look at the work itself. They want to know who
did a piece, before they have an opinion about it. As long
as we can we try to avoid that.

?: Is there any hint to your identity at all?

Paesmans: No, just our email adress. 

Heemskerk: It doesn't serve a company or a brand, so we
don't need to put up any information.

Paesmans: It makes the work stronger that people don't
know who's behind it. Many people try to dissect our site,
and look into the code. Because of the anonymity of our
site they can't judge us according to our national culture or
anything like this. In fact, Jodi is not part of a culture in a
national, geographical sense. I know it sounds romantic,
but there *is* a cyberspace citzenship. More and more
URL's contain a country code. If there is ".de" for Germany
in an adress, you place the site in this national context. We
don't like this. Our work comes from inside the computer,
not from a country.

?: Does each of you have a specific task in your

Paesmans: Sometimes we sit together in front of our
computer, and fight for the mouse. But Joan works on
applets and code. For example, to customize a certain piece
of code that we found on the net. Joan is the code breaker.

?: And you?

 Paesmans: Well, I just hang around and serve coffee, and
wait until Joan comes up with a solution (laughs).

Heemskerk: I think it's a total mixture. It's not that I do only
the technical stuff and Dirk does only the graphics. We are
both working on the site.

?: You have no art to sell at this point, only dematerialized
objects on some server computer. What is your "business
model" as artists?

Paesmans: You know that there are the festivals, which
always pay a fee. We haven't been thinking about this too
much, but there is always the so-called "service fee" that
you can ask for as an artist, if you do a workshop or give a

?: What do you get for the participation in the documenta?

Paesmans: We get a fee for the expenses we have when we
put our files on their server. In total we got 1200 Marks. It
is a clear example of exploitation. Which artist would
move his ass for this amount of money? But net art is a
victim of its b-status. It is treated as group phenomenon, as
a technically defined new art form. That is something that
we have to leave behind as soon as possible, because that is
the standard way to do these things: A group creates a hype.
They call it mail art or video art, and it's doomed to die
after five years. I think we are looking for a third way,
because we are not typical artists and we also won't play
the role of the net artists forever.

?: I understand that you worked on a new piece that deals
with hands. Can you tell me about this project?

Paesmans: That's a work for a show at the Postmasters
Gallery in New York. Some twenty artists have been
invited to come up with something for the Mac Classic. It
is a very small, black&white computer. The owner of
Postmasters sent one of these Mac Classic to the artists and
they have to return it before the show opens with the art
work in it. 

Heemskerk: Our contribution is based on the relationship
between the mouse and the screen of the monitor, the
coordinates of the way you move on the desktop. 

Paesmans: When you use a computer, your hand is on the
mouse pad, and the pointer on the monitor is your
representation. So if you continue thinking about it the
mouse pad is a very important tool to access your
computer. You could say that the mouse pad is half of the

Heemskerk: The coordinates of your screen decide what
you do. But the desktop is also very personal. Everybody
puts things differently on his desktop.

Paesmans: And you can almost use your own computer
blind, because you know where things are. It is like the
door to your computer. The mouse pad is the point where
you get projected into the computer. 

Heemskerk: We will continue to work in this direction,
because the mouse is the only physical relation that you
have with your computer. The rest is in close distance.

Interview: Tilman Baumgaertel


>>Tilman Baumgaertel, Hornstr. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
Tel./Fax. 030-2170962, email: Tilman_Baumgaertel@CompuServe.Com<<

Date: Fri, 29 Aug 1997 05:37:09 -0400
From: Tilman Baumgaertel <Tilman_Baumgaertel@compuserve.com>
Subject: Switch off the art
To: Nettime-Adresse <nettime-l@Desk.nl>

They are switching off the net art @ documenta...


>>Tilman Baumgaertel, Hornstr. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
Tel./Fax. 030-2170962, email: Tilman_Baumgaertel@CompuServe.Com<<

---------- Weitergeleitete Nachricht ----------

Von:	S. =3D?iso-8859-1?Q?Lamuni=3DE8re?=3D, INTERNET:lamunieres@sgg.ch
An:	(unbekannt), INTERNET:info@documenta.de
Datum:	28.08.1997 19:14

Betreff:documenta X

will be turned off september 28

1 month left to enjoy


documenta X

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