Currently you are developing a concept to contextualise Internet-based Art by recording users in front of their screens as they interact with the artwork, which is then documented. This seems to offer a brilliant way to shift the focus from the technological condition of Internet-based Art to its use in everyday culture—can you explain the aims of this project more in detail?
I was often asked to advise institutions on archiving Internet-based Art, and I never knew what to say. There are so many different kinds of works, and only a very small percentage of the works are static enough to archive through copying or backing up the data. Also most of the works are very, if not fully, dependent on the context in which they are viewed if they are to function as intended. Think of works in domain names, works that exist on video or blogging services, generative works etc. To draw the comparison with Performance Art again, I felt as if people were trying to archive the body of the performer to be able to archive the work. As if you would freeze Marina Abramovic. In collaboration with Robert Sakrowski, art historian, former head of the Netart-Datenbank.org at TU Berlin and currently running the initiative Curating YouTube, I am making a template for how to document your own private usage and viewing of Internet-based Art.
This would include filming the person using the computer with an over-shoulder shot and a screen recording, even including audio commentary. I am talking about the users in their natural setting, at home, in private, with all kinds of stuff on their desks, or watching in bed, doing and looking however they want. Alongside that we will collect these documentations on YouTube and create curated playlists. We will initiate the documentation of old art works that are still online ourselves and hope to find partners in archiving this documentation footage next to putting it on YouTube. We decided to use YouTube because we don’t have to run extra servers and the services are a safe and easy bet in archiving video for the future, easily accessible by other participants, including the possibilities for tagging and managing playlists. Although I am worried about their censorship issues, so we will always make back-ups and keep our eyes open for other options. At the moment we are discussing with the Netherlands Media Art Institute, NIMk, and looking for other interested institutions and people. The most important part is the template, so other people can participate in this subjective guerrilla archiving. By documenting pieces they have made themselves, which they love or they hate, and putting the documentation of art works online.
Annet Dekker: Capturing a cultural aesthetic: documenting net art.
Interview with Constant Dullaart & Robert Sakrowski / 26 April 2011
A: What started your idea to document net art and / in its surrounding?
S: The problem, and often also the idea behind, many Internet artworks has always been the instability of the work. In 1999 I started the netart database as a way to collect and surf net art. The question at the time was how to make it possible to save and migrate hardware. I thought the best way would be to save the perspective of the time and the reception of the works, and to transfer the question of conservation to future researchers.
A: What happened to the netart database in the past ten years?
S: It is in a permanent transformation process, at the moment the database by it self is under maintenance and we are looking for a space to permanently present the archive.
A: And what are your plans now?
S: There are still no real solutions for hardware’s obsolescence. Also time is progressing fast, so we wanted to start to document these works now and also those from the past that are still available online. In some way what we are trying now is close to an outsourcing project. We are setting up a video channel and use this as a platform where people can use the channel to describe and tag the content easily. Instead of making our own platform we decided to use the existing platform of You Tube. Mostly because everything is already in place there, you can annotate the uploaded videos easily through description, categories and tags. The whole templates are already there, so why make something new. We think it will be easier for people to participate and it will also be easier to create a community interest in order to keep it alive.
A: Have you thought about bringing these ideas to non-commercial organizations, art museums or galleries? Because commercial platforms are often not too reliable, they might change their policy from one day to the next.
S: Yes we thought about it, but in my experience commercial organizations change slowly. The problem with many of these non-commercial organizations is that often they have budget problems. At first they are eager to start and might generate some funding for the project, but at a certain point funding will stop and then the project is put on hold or worst ceases to exit at all.
C: Also non-commercial organizations just don’t have that many followers. It would be much harder to reach a large audience of possible co-archivers, let alone have them participate.
S/C: And, in a way, it is also a provocation saying that Google has a responsibility for this content. They receive so much input and information from everybody, now it is time to payback.
A: In terms of participation, your crowd sourcing idea really gives something back to the audience, they are not only asked to supply information, but more importantly they get authority to decide what is interesting and what is not.
S: Yes, we think the audience perspective is particularly interesting. There are many perspectives on what and how to keep net art. Now people can easily give their own vision. We also wanted to keep initial initiative away from the seperate institutions – avoid the elitism in art and let the audience who experience the art decide what is interesting. The institutions can use a template already in place.
C: We don’t want to follow the rule of the artworld. We want to look at how people use the work, show how they the watch it, in what environment, at home or at the office, on their laptop or mobile. In a way this is very much a time-based project, we want to capture certain moments and the aesthetic of the time. Not just of the work but also how it was experienced. It is not just a living archive but also an open archive, in which the audience, those who use the works, are deciding what they want to keep for the future and how.
A: How much freedom do people have to document their experience?
C: We provide a template on how to make a screen capture and also on how they can document the whole environment (example).
A: Why a template, why not let people decide themselves how they want to capture their experience?
C: To provide a small amount of consistency, so in the end the emphasis is still on the documented artwork, and not necessarily on a distracting documentation. We are still looking into the different possibilities. In order to give people some idea on what we are after we wanted to set an example, a template. The template we have now is an over-shoulder shot that shows how someone is using the work / computer. We tried using a webcam and desktop video that captures the expression of the user, but decided not to go ahead with that because it gives a very hard view. We are not necessarily interested in their emotions but we want to see how people are doing it. For example, what happens when it takes a long time for something to load, what do people do in the meantime? Do they walk away, are they doing something else in between? In the end we want to encourage the subjectivity of the documentation.
A: Traditionally objects like paintings or sculptures get exhibited and the artist can go and view the reactions and space where and how it is set. Aren’t you also, as makers, just curious what happens to your work?
S/C: Sure that is one side of it. But it is more than that. We also want to make people more aware of changing values, create active watchers. By documenting old works in ‘old situations’, recreate history by running old programmes in emulators and then capture with new desktop video, we want to document our future history in order to later be able to understand history. We want to lift the work out of the temporariness. This seems to be the perfect time. There is more documentation of our life than there is real life. People are with mobiles documenting everything all the time in real life. It is the age of doing and documenting at the same time. Documentation is production, and now also distribution.
A: Why did you decide to make a video document instead of using specific software that also documents the interaction, which makes it possible to keep using the website and all its interactions?
S: There are interesting tools in the making, screencapture is one of them that we like to show. And yes, there are also possibilities to document the interaction and replay that, but what we are interested in is to show how people are interacting with it. And it isn’t our call to show a total solution for archiving netart. We choose this format because it was possible for us to deal with it. In this case we don’t want to preserve the whole work and its interactions, we believe it is interesting and helpful for future audiences or researchers to see and experience net art through how people at the time were interacting with it.
C: To publicly interact with a work is always been problematic for something that is normally only watched at home in privacy. You can see that when you go to an exhibition where they tried to present net art. It is easier to see someone do and interact with the work before you. I think you can compare it to earlier performance work, which you most likely also only know through video documentation.
A: What is your planning? What are your first steps to attract the audience?
C/S: The idea is to make some examples and ‘curate’ a show of old and new works to show that it works on all kinds of systems. The website will be running this summer, where we will encourage people to upload their documentations, which we will add to our youtube channels, and we will show on the website too. We would also like to curate a few shows in which we present this in an exhibition setting. Most importantly is to show the importance of participation of everyone interested.
Source: Annet Dekker: Capturing a cultural aesthetic: documenting net art. Skype Interview with Constant Dullaart & Robert Sakrowski / 26 April 2011
Source: Presentation at Pecha Kucha Berlin Vol. 25 presented by robert sakrowski & ute Fischer / 13. September 2011 at Festsaal Kreuzberg
slides from: Presentation at “Archiving Media Art-Politics and Strategies II: The Future of Media Art” at the Ars Electronica 2011.