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« Tout ce qui bouge sur un écran est du cinéma. » (Jean Renoir)


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mot-clés :


Wolfgang Staehle, Entretiens

http://www.wolfgangstaehle.info/

http://www.thing.net/~humbot/


In 1996, Staehle began to produce an ongoing series of live online video streams. The first of these works was Empire 24/7, a continuous recording of the top one-third of the Empire State Building that is broadcast live over the Internet. Staehle has followed Empire 24/7 with online streams of other buildings, landscapes and cityscapes such as Berlin's Fernsehturm, the Comburg Monastery in Germany, lower Manhattan before and after 9/11, and a Yanomami village in the Brazilian Amazon.

The projections - a visceral experience in synchronicity - offer an instantaneous compression of time and space.
Non-relative terms like "here" and "now" attain a new meaning where the literal and the metaphorical converge.

In today's ever-present, frenetic networking of the the globe as a way of experiencing anything anywhere anytime, Staehle offers the antidote of a reflective slowdown of beautiful images, close and far away, static and changing at the same time.


In Wolfgang Staehle’s work, the live surveillance of buildings, monuments, cityscapes and other locations raises questions about time, representation and the significance of simultaneity. According to the author, the works’ seemingly uneventful nature leads to comparisons with the films of Andy Warhol, especially Empire, yet the use of real-time video recording and projection also harbours the potential to witness unexpected occurrences. This article discusses Staehle’s exhibition, “2001,” which registered such an experience when his camera documented the entirety of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Dans le travail de Wolfgang Staehle, la surveillance en temps réel de bâtiments, de monuments, de paysages urbains et d’autres sites soulève des questions concernant le temps, la représentation et l’importance de la simultanéité. Selon l’auteur, le calme apparent qui caractérise les œuvres de l’artiste amène à faire une comparaison avec les films d’Andy Warhol, particulièrement Empire. Pourtant, l’utilisation en temps réel de l’enregistrement et de la projection vidéo accroît aussi le potentiel d’assister à des événements inattendus. Une telle expérience est discutée dans cet article avec l’exposition “ 2001 ” de Staehle basée sur l’enregistrement complet de l’attaque du World Trade Center.

(by John Menick)


Real-Time Futures: Five Notes on the Work of Wolfgang Staehle
Published in Parachute 113. by John Menick

1. Two Quotes, a Failed Regicide, and a Coincidence

When the farthest corner of the globe has been conquered technologically and can be exploited economically... when you can simultaneously "experience" an assassination attempt against a king in France and a symphony concert in Tokyo; when time is nothing but speed, instantaneity, and simultaneity... there still looms like a specter over all this uproar the question: what for? where to? and what then? (1) (Martin Heidegger)

Heidegger's "question" (actually three questions) is excerpted from the lectures he delivered in the summer of 1935 at the University of Freiburg. The lectures were published in 1953 as Einfuhrung in die Metaphysik, a sort of supplement to his much more forbidding Being and Time. The same year of Einfuhrung's publication, a mostly forgotten American mathematical journal printed a term that would become, by the late 1990s, one of the most popular buzz phrases in the English language. The phrase was "real time," and five decades after its initial printing, these puzzlingly paired words are associated with the transmission of today's this moment's rumours of scandal and catastrophe. But real time's origins are less spectacular. The Oxford English Dictionary locates its first usage in an article appearing in Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation:

With the advent of large-scale high-speed digital computers, there arises the question of their possible use in the solution of problems in "real time," i.e., in conjunction with instruments receiving and responding to stimuli from the external environment. The criteria for satisfactory operation in such real-time service are different from those generally encountered. (2)

It was not an auspicious beginning for real time, but somehow it managed to outgrow the narrow confines of computerese, its meaning becoming more expansive, if not all-encompassing. Today, real time is used all of the time, which means it is used far too often. An entire phone book could probably be filled with ambitious companies using "real time" in their names or slogans. A headline celebrates, "Paying Your Phone Bills in Real Time." A tech journal confusingly boasts, "Real-Time 'Movies' Will Predict Wildfire Behavior for One Hour." HBO disingenuously offers, "Real Time with Bill Maher." A business guru publishes, "Real Time: Preparing for the Age of the Never Satisfied Customer." One reads of real-time stock quotes, real-time futures, real-time decisions, real-time playback, real-time risk management, real-time clocks, real time for the real world.

A fashion or not, real time will be around for a while. Real time shows no sign of declining, especially when considering that it is only one manifestation of the mania to obtain a completely accurate representation of time. The atomic clock, or cesium clock, was invented in 1955; it greatly raised the standard of horological accuracy, losing only a few billionths of a second every day. The second would become the most accurate standard, helping to generate a more perfect metre, and thus all spatial standards, from the threading of screws to the size of cargo containers. Space travel, all scientific research, and eventually the entire edifice of international standards would rest upon the second's refinement.

The reason for all this is well, somewhat hard to determine. Marxists might point to international capital's need for quicker transactions, and they are probably more or less correct. When in doubt, look for the profit motive. But this still leaves quite a bit unanswered. The desire for real time stretches far beyond the managers of international finance. Not only is real time familiar to a society addicted to the instantly obsolete, it has also augmented the anxiety to do everything at once, now, this moment, yesterday. Real time is neither satisfied with being a symbol of an impossible demand to remain current, nor with being an approximation of the present. It wants to become the present itself.

2. Wolfgang Staehle's Work in Five Simplified Steps

  • 1) Select a subject. The subject should be a building or landscape. Examples of previous subjects include: The Empire State Building; Berlin's Fernsehturm; Comburg Monastery, Schwebisch Hall, Germany; lower Manhattan; and a Yanomami village in the Brazilian Amazon.
  • 2) Install a video camera in a permanent or semi-permanent location facing the subject.
  • 3) Stream the footage recorded by the camera via the Internet to a server. Server provided by The Thing, Inc., Staehle's new media non-profit located in Chelsea, New York.
  • 4) Archive an image every couple of seconds on the server and stamp with a time code. The length of the interval is dependent on available technology.
  • 5) If exhibiting the work, relay the captured images to a video projector located in the gallery. Any scrims, screens or large constructions should not accompany the video projection. A clean, white wall will do as a projection surface. Proper orientation of the image is not necessary. For example, the Empire State Building can be shown horizontally, i.e., on its side.

General Note: Whenever possible, only use "live" images, reserve the recorded images for secondary presentations (panels, grants, studio visits, articles) or for instances when it is technically impossible to get an Internet connection to a gallery.

3. What For? Where To? And What Then?

In 1996, Wolfgang Staehle began Empire 24/7, his first project using an Internet-based projection. This work is an ongoing, round-the-clock video recording of the top third of the Empire State Building. Empire 24/7 was recently on view at the City University of New York's Graduate Center Gallery, located across the street from the grand, gray Empire State Building itself. Anyone entering the gallery saw the building, or at least its massive foundation. Within the gallery, a viewer saw the Empire State Building again in Staehle's projection. Although this was the building across the street, in real time, or just a couple seconds shy of real time, what one saw seemed to be another building. One had difficulty trusting the work's fidelity to reality. The light was not right: too brilliant, too artificial. The Empire State Building was present but disembodied, abstracted, cropped a monumental digital double.

Despite its monumentality, Staehle's projections are all surface. Buildings become erased and remade under divergent weather conditions, sunsets, atmospheres. A fog blots out the Empire State Building, filling the screen with a ghostly white haze. Twenty-four hours later, it is lit by a smoggy sunset, streaked with red luminance.

Unlike much of the "live" video work of the 1970s, one cannot enter Empire 24/7 in order to test its veracity. It pushes us to one side, renders viewers remote. Whether it was in fact showing an audience that building at that exact time was difficult to determine. One became aware of distance but not a literal, spatial one. It was the distance of representation, of the digitization of space. Eventless.

4. Nothing Special

"We'd just sit there and wait for something to happen and nothing would." (3) This is Andy Warhol in 1969 describing the format, or non-format, of his never-realized television show, Nothing Special. Warhol thought he could get it produced by a major network, but Nothing Special never materialized. Warhol would later star on Andy Warhol's TV, but as for nihilistic late night, the world would have to wait.

Instead, we have the films. The most well known of which is Empire (1964) Warhol's eight-hour recording of a day and a night in the life of the Empire State Building. It is doubtful whether anyone has watched Empire from its beginning to its conclusion. (Most, including this author, have not, and assume it should not.) Empire remains mostly unviewed, though much reviewed a guaranteed theatre-clearer, but also a frequent page filler.

Like the solipsistic diary of a self-possessed movie star, Empire's implied narcissism doesn't concern itself with the interests of an audience. If Warhol's film is the stuff of Hollywood hagiography, then Staehle's video is that of security state surveillance. In Staehle's work, there is an understanding that the video can continue on its own without being watched; it is a mechanical, digitized exercise in endless recording. As with any digital surveillance, the image can be screened and reviewed when necessary, but it is unnecessary to watch it all from beginning to end.

Not unlike Warhol, Staehle has made cinematic projects emphasizing time: an almost one-to-one, linear time. Staehle avoids "real time" by seconds, replaying his images on a purposeful delay. Due to the slow refresh rate of Empire 24/7, the image is overlaid with a slithering pixellated surface, at times the only clue that it is in fact a moving image.

Warhol's film also incorporated a similar delay: Empire is projected at 16fps, thus giving the film its required eight-hour length.

Staehle's video literally records the time on every image; unexpectedly, Warhol's film did as well, albeit in an analog and accidental way. According to Callie Angell, archivists discovered that since Warhol had included the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building in the lower edge of the frame throughout Empire, he had also captured the blinking clock at the top of the building's spire. Flashing its crowning light every fifteen minutes, the Met Life Building could tell the hour of day, and thus help archivists correctly order the almost completely dark reels of the film.

The supposed absence of an event in Warhol's Empire leads inevitably to an otherworldliness, a comatose removal from the everyday that helped the artist escape from unfashionable political commitment. In contrast, the lack of event in Staehle's work has led in a very different direction. During his exhibition, "2001," the difference would become grimly evident, if not paralyzing.

5. "2001," a Failed Metaphysics, and a Coincidence

In a slightly different form, Heidegger's "question" was included as an introduction to "2001," Staehle's solo exhibition at Postmaster's Gallery in New York City. The show opened on September 6, 2001 and presented three video projections: the first depicting the Soviet-kitsch Fernsehturm in Berlin; the second, the Comburg monastery in Germany; and the third, a wide-screen view of lower Manhattan with the World Trade Center. Like Empire 24/7, each projection was shown in medium resolution and on a slight delay. On September 11, the camera focused on lower Manhattan recorded the entirety of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

When it came time for reviewers to determine the exact effect the attacks had on Staehle's work, they diverged, digressed, grasped for meaning. Although all reviews of "2001" evidenced some shade of praise, the responses were mixed equally with ambivalence and indecision. Something had obviously happened, but for reviewers that's about as clear as things got. The Heidegger quote seemed to provide some assistance for them, but where do his what-does-it-all-mean questions leave us? The quote is cryptic enough without adding the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history into the mix, and as expected, Heidegger's musings illuminated little. An 800-word review could hardly clear up the muddy depths of Heidegger's politics. A subject for a thesis? Surely. But a quick explanatory fix? Probably not.

One thing should remain clear: from the beginning, the work's nature left it open to an intrusion. The attacks did not force the work to depart from its initial program; an idyllic philosophic Eden was not marred by catastrophe. Real time differentiates Staehle's videos from Warhol's films, and with Staehle's "2001," there is no luxury of editing; there is no room for feigned naiveté. It could not anticipate a murderous attack, but it also couldn't provide a protective irony to shield itself. The work waited for something to happen, and something unexpected did. If most real time technology attempts to dominate the world, then Staehle's work was subsumed by the world. This is true openness, and it leaves little room for comfort.

Notes

1. Martin Heidegger, "The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics," in Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2000), 40.

2. Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition, prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner, 20 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), entry for "real time."

See also H. J. Gray Jr., H. Rubinoff and H. Sohon, "A Technique for Real Time Simulation of a Rigid Body Problem," Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation, 7:42 (April 1953): 73 77.

3. The Warhol quote and much of the information in this section can be found in Callie Angell's indispensable The Films of Any Warhol: Part II (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994).


The methodical determination with which Wolfgang Staehle tests the boundaries between reality and representation recalls two quite different traditions: conceptual art and the classical aspiration to achieve literal truth through mimesis.

His exhibition at Postmasters, which closes this weekend, consists of four photographic landscapes displayed in different formats. Dominating the main gallery space are a pair of large-scale projections: one of Midtown Manhattan viewed from Brooklyn, the other of the Hudson River Valley - a shot that recalls the magisterial vistas at Frederick Church's estate, Olana. In a smaller display in the foyer, there is a view of the Teton Range in Wyoming. In all three projections, still images unfurl every 10 seconds to a new shot within the same frame.

In a third space, Mr. Staehle screens a film of Niagara Falls from the same vantage as a Church painting (not the better-known panorama in the Corcoran but the version in Scotland's National Gallery). While the movie adds sound to the installation, it is not enough to brighten the pervasive monotony.

The still images look as if they could be a Powerpoint presentation of slides; they are, in fact, being transmitted live from the actual sites over the internet. A similarly conceived project, staged in September 2001, with simultaneous views of Lower Manhattan, the TV Tower in Berlin's Alexanderplatz, and the Medieval monastery of Comburg, captured the destruction of the World Trade Center, catapulting the New York-based German artist into the limelight. An earnest essay on representation and time turned into eerily riveting documentary footage-or, as the artist himself put it at the time, "my landscape painting became a history painting."

Faint trepidation that lightning might strike twice gives a slight twinge to the otherwise banal, dutiful postcard view of the Empire State Building and Midtown. The image also gives a knowing nod to Andy Warhol's notorious 8-hour, 6-minute 1964 "stillie", which showed nothing but the tower in real time. The irony of Mr. Staehle's exacting experiments with duration and presence is that you don't have to be there to get it, and it takes very little time to do so. Like a Powerpoint presentation, the conceptual "bullets" are all lined up.

Knowing that these images are "live" underscores the enervating realization that, aesthetically, they aren't. Mr. Staehle's projections are only painterly to the extent that looking at them is like watching paint dry.

You can spin metaphysical meaning from this: that emptiness of intention is a truly contemporary experience of the sublime, comparable to the nineteenth century sensation of intimidatingly vast geological phenomena. But just as postcards and mass tourism robbed nature of its power to excite terror, reality TV might have done the same for literalism-not to mention reality itself.

(by David Cohen, A version of this article first appeared in the New York Sun, October 14, 2004)


INTERVIEW (Edit)

(Journal of Contemporary Art)

- Klaus Ottmann: When did you get involved with video?

Wolfgang Staehle: That happened about ten years ago.

- Ottmann: In Germany?

Staehle: No, I was here in New York. I wanted to get out of my studio. I was tired of being alone with my paintings.

- Ottmann: You studied painting?

Staehle: Yes, but not exclusively, also some sculpture and experimental film. It started around 1980 when I got involved with COLAB (Collaborative Projects). They had that slot on cable television, on Channel C, and two friends of mine and I decided to do a television magazine, called After Art. We did about four issues in 1980 and 1981. It reported on the downtown scene, the arts, the clubs, the performances. In between, I started making these short video collages of television material as fillers between segments.

- Ottmann: Did you go to art school in Germany before you came to New York?

Staehle: I studied in Stuttgart for two years at the Freie Kunstschule.

- Ottmann: What made you decide to come here?

Staehle: A combination of reasons. First of all, it was coincidence. I met a musician who invited me to come to New York. Once I was here, I met somebody who had friends studying at the School of Visual Arts. At the same time this book came out, On Art, published by Dumont, on all these conceptual artists, Huebler, Kosuth, Andre, and so forth. I read some of that and when I went to SVA, Kosuth was teaching a class, and Marshall Blonsky was giving a semiotics class. I started getting interested in semiotics, when I saw a show in Berlin called "Welt aus Sprache" (World Out of Lan-guage) which was dealing with semiotic phenomena. But there was no way in Germany to really have that all together at one university. So I found it more interesting to come here.

- Ottmann: Today you show paintings either separately, combined with sculptures, or even inside the video, generated electronically. Do the painting and video inform each other?

Staehle: I hope that they enter some kind of correspondence, that one comments on the other.

- Ottmann: Do you see your paintings independent from the video or do they share a common discourse?

Staehle: Well, they are different media and, in that respect, they are independent from each other, but in combination, as an installation or arrangement, they can contribute to or share a common discourse.

- Ottmann: Do the paintings also echo the visual experience of the electronic media?

Staehle: I suppose so, because I'm exposed to that experience all the time. When I go back to a more traditional medium, it is certainly informed by that experience. I sometimes even use a computer to make sketches.

- Ottmann: Well, they are all information in a way, a semantic system. The painting as well as the video. Especially when looking at this new painting which incorporates an illluminated General Electric logo.

Staehle: This is really about things like sponsorship in the arts. You see these catalogues: The Museum of Modern Art, whatever, sponsored by Philip Morris, something like that. And so this in a way becomes cartoonish, because in this painting the sponsor is inside it. It raises questions about this so-called autonomous art object.

- Ottmann: Your work seems to focus a lot on the influence of the media or the synchronicity of the media and art, like the Beuys piece where you have Beuys advertising whiskey on Japanese television. Is that an important concern?

Staehle: It's just that the media, like television, are so pervasive in our culture. A lot of people watch it all the time, and then you the snobs who say "I don't watch television." I think, either way you're deprived culturally, whether you watch it or you not, because it informs all the people around you. To understand how they think and what's going on, you should go to the source and try to analyze the source. I ran into an interesting quote recently by Duhamel who said in the 1930s: "I can no longer think what I like. Moving images substitute themselves for my own thoughts." In a way that kind of thought also informed those light boxes I made with the ready-made subtitles.

- Ottmann: Where are the subtitles from?

Staehle: They are the translation of the original dialogue. Usually I look for some that have a certain resonance and the kind of fictional mood I want to create in the exhibition, but it's not my voice that speaks, it's the voice of an actor reciting from a script. There is a lot of discussion today about what is originality. For some it doesn't exist anymore and everything is just a chain of empty signifiers and there's no more meaning. And there's no more originality and everything has been said and thought and etc. I see my role as an editor in a way. Like when I'm sitting here making these video collages I'm sifting through the whole mess of visual debris and junk and then pick certain fragments from all kinds of different genres news, fiction, documentary, commercials which I then edit and recombine into a new context, and suddenly you have a brand-new story.

- Ottmann: After you did that television program with COLAB, you showed your video collages at Danceteria nightclub. When did you decide to incorporate the video into sculptural settings?

Staehle: Well, all these things were on separate tracks. I was still painting in the mid-eighties and somehow I couldn't get all these things together. So at one time I just decided to throw it all into one. It was my first show at Daniel Newburg (Gallery) where there was one piece that had a monochrome panel and then there were two small media pieces that were kind of sculptural. When I made those collaged tapes I was very frustrated with the distribution system of those ideas. I thought at the time that the ideas were valid and I sent them to these video festivals. But the resonance was always disappointing. They somehow couldn't distinguish that from a kind of visual chewing gum that relies on effects and pastiche, the stuff you could see in abundance at the time. Only the people at Danceteria who usually came in at three in the morning understood my work, strangely enough. They could read it. They could make the jump from one genre to another without a problem. They were more visually literate than the art bureaucrats and the academics.

- Ottmann: Why did you switch from collages to tape loops?

Staehle: First of all, you can watch a loop as long as you want a great advantage in a gallery. They came at the end of some kind of distillation process and for me in a way they work allegorically. If you have that George Jetson on the conveyor belt, and combine that with the title taken from a book by Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-garde, then it becomes something else, something caught in a certain discourse without having any way of actually escaping from it.

- Ottmann: A commentary on the postmodern condition?

Staehle: That's one issue, but I want to keep it open. I love it when people are coming and saying, "Oh that's just how I feel today, being on this treadmill," and they identify with it and at the same time it's humorous enough, so it gives relief also. At the end you laugh about it, and laughter is the best response to our existential dilemma anyway.

- Ottmann: You probably would not see yourself as a video artist.

Staehle: No. Just as an artist. That's trouble enough.

- Ottmann: Are you interested in traditional video art at all, people like Viola?

Staehle: Yes. I like to watch Bill Viola's piece, the one with the animals. One night I turned on the TV and there was this owl staring at me, without any sound, and I thought "What's going on? That's not television!" In some context it works better than in others, and some of that work works best on TV.

- Ottmann: So your work is not a critique of traditional video art?

Staehle: Not at all. I use the medium much more like any other medium, like painting. It's just that people have these categories. and then they make these exhibitions like "Video Art in the Federal Republic of Germany." That's actually very problematic. I can understand that in the beginning, when the medium was brand-new and there was a certain thing about knowing the technology, it was something special. But now, the way I work, any amateur can do it, except maybe on the editing console. About fifteen or twenty years ago, when the term video art was coined, it was something very special. At the same time people had to watch all these boring tapes, like an ant crawling over somebody's breast for half an hour. I remember when Daniel Newburg first showed my work, he wanted to call it "video works." I said: "Don't write that on the invitation, nobody will come, they all will drop it in the waste basket."

- Ottmann: Do you feel like you are becoming type-cast into the video genre?

Staehle: There is definitely that danger. When I started making stripe paintings. I sent some to Europe, and my dealer told me that people come and say, that's not a Staehle. They don't recognize it. They see a certain body of work and they want you to do the same thing over and over again. But then, in a couple of seasons, it's dead, because they can't see it any more. And I get bored in the first place. I get bored before they get bored. So you want to move on and sometimes you make mistakes, sometimes something doesn't work the way you want. But I feel I have no obligation other than to myself.

- Ottmann: Is the situation in Germany in regard to working with media better now, with private television and new schools like the Institute for New Media in Frankfurt?

Staehle: Until now there was a kind of situation where you had the gallery world and then there was this kind of media art world. They had their own circuit and did their own shows. In a way it was like a ghetto. It had its own discourse, its own distribution system and criticism, and it didn't really relate, with a few exceptions, to the discourse in contemporary art. When people in Germany see a television set in a gallery, they still think, Okay, it's video, it's not art.' So there's that big prejudice, and that's a bit harder to overcome in Germany, while in France people don't care, they love these new gadgets, they are much more open and interested in what's behind it conceptually.

- Ottmann: You work on a rather modest scale, using small, portable television sets, etc.

Staehle: It just goes better with my work. Nam June Paik, for example, relies on this overload, flashes these images on, uses all kinds of effects, whereas I cut them out. I isolate a certain image, its more like strategic bombing, focusing on one person, one to one. In a way those small TVs work better with that kind of surgical procedure. You have to get closer, also somehow they are much more designed and adaptable to the other hardware I use. I don't want to rely on that heavy bombardment. I don't want to club people to death.


INTERVIEW (Edit)

(by Jan Avgikos)

JA: You are an artist, and you also initiated an interactive network known as The Thing. One immediately thinks of John Carpenter's film of the same name, but instead of horror perhaps we should talk about the future, cyberspace, and forms of interactive technologies that we can conceptualize but not yet quite imagine. Why The Thing?

WS: I was tired of the regular channels for disseminating information in the art world. To obtain real inside information you have to participate in strange migration patterns and follow the crowd to Documenta, this Biennial, that Biennial, SoHo, Friesenplatz, wherever. The Thing is an attempt to set up another kind of network, one much more freely accessible and free from specific sites and temporal locations. Hopefully, its effect will be to decentralize and broaden information exchange.

JA: When The Thing first started, there was some discussion about identity-how people would identify themselves. Part of the appeal of any on-line network is anonymity. No body, no face, no gender, no context. Nothing except glowing words on the screen.

WS: Well, that's a two-sided story. If people really insist, they can be anonymous or use code names, but it' s discouraged on The Thing. I, for one, would like people to stand for what they say and take the consequences.

JA: Well, that's your desire....

WS: Sure. People can always go to America On-Line, where you can take any name. Ever talk to Perfume?

JA: The Thing is art-specific, which means the discourse is centralized in relation to conventional ideas about art. How do we identify a discourse as an "art discourse"?

WS: There are forums where people can talk about what's happening on the gallery circuit. But the main focus is on trying to define how discourse and transactions on a network like The Thing actually alter our relationships, and what kind of socio-cultural effects this brings along. It's a very efficient and immediate way of exchanging information. Speed is of the essence.

JA: That term "immediate," or "immediacy," certainly is popping up a lot these days. On one hand, we could say that interactive media is immediate in that it supersedes problems with physical distance and thus facilitates a direct and spontaneous type of discourse. On the other hand, it certainly displaces the "immediacy" of the body.

WS: Behind each voice there is a person, but the body is distant. This absence brings something else into the foreground; the voice, the idea, the social construct evolving from the interaction. My main interest is in the sociality that evolves, a sociality quite different from the one which exists in the art world.

JA: And how do you see that new social order differing from prevailing ones?

WS: Social relations become very fluid as subject/object relations shift constantly. Author/reader, producer/consumer, the distinctions blur. No more static hierarchy and predefined roles.

JA: I know that you advocate a type of egalitarianism over the elitism which you consider rampant in the art world at the present time.

WS: Art used to be much more issue oriented. Now the social part is more important than the work itself. The art world takes itself so seriously!

JA: And why not? Aside from the fact that very few people outside of the art world take art seriously, quite a lot is at stake, philosophically, intellectually...

WS: Yes, but how do you preserve those qualities? To avoid further marginalization art practice and discourse must be brought into information/theory space-the most interesting cultural discourse now.

JA: Cyberspace. Information/theory space. How would you describe that space?

WS: As John Perry Barlow once remarked, "Cyberspace is when you're talking on the telephone." I don't know, if I try to define it today I laugh about it tomorrow. It's developing so fast.

JA: Yes, but it could also serve as a type of document of where we are right now in relation to it. Look at technology at the end of the 19th century and the claims that were made with respect to utopianism. Hasn't the information "superhighway" space of interactive media materialized as our new utopian horizon?

WS: The future has already arrived. Suddenly I find myself working with software designers and telecommunication engineers on projects and in "spaces" no artist has gone before.

JA: It's a bold new frontier, yet one without a whole lot of pictures at the moment. Or bodies either. Yet, it's a space animated by thousands of voices. I see this as pertinent to contemporary interest in, and desire for, and anxiety over "the real," which echoes Hans Haacke's work in the '60s in introducing social systems and real time into art. It' s current code name is "contextualism ." Many claim that an art practice grounded in social contexts and structures obviates the problems of artifice, and object-oriented production. When we introduce the notion of art into a network, or transpose it in terms of interactively, or transactivism, or immediacy, aren't we treading old ground? The lingo might be new, and so might the technologies, but aren't the impulses quite similar?

WS: The problem I have with much so-called "contextual" work is that it treats the status quo with so much respect. It's bogged down in the vain attempt to reconcile "social practice" with the "event" in the gallery. It's analytical at its best, but it always remains system imminent. The Thing on the other hand attempts to create a whole new infrastructure for the production and dissemination of work.

JA: Yes, but when you make art and send it into the network, as Peter Halley has done on The Thing, in a way it exists as a surrogate because it is rendered in relation to his painting and constitutes the absence of the art object.

WS: I do not see Peter Halley's piece as a surrogate. It has finally arrived in the circuits it was merely depicting until then. It has now come to a full circle.

JA: Whether objects, or bodies, I think that what we refer to as information/theory space is one constituted by a profound absence. I return to the idea of absent bodies. Disembodied voices. Elimination of gender. The text becomes the half-life of the body. The voice without a body. The image without an object. It is a surrogate, a surrogate of that which it is not. Is it this concept which will serve as foundation for a new theory and practice of art for our emerging information society?

WS: The objects absent. But the absence of the object allows for the presence of the idea, the concept, the sign. For Beuys the object was a "vehicle" which connected the owner to the mind of the artist. Why the detour when you can access the mind of the artist directly?

JA: In the press release for a symposium entitled "Transactivism" recently conducted on The Thing, it is stated that new technology stimulates desire for a new theory and practice of art. It also mentions "the oscillation between natural and constructed spaces." What do you think about this polarity? Isn't the play between the natural and non-natural another way of talking about the natural body and the non-natural body? Isn't this, ultimately, another form of Romanticism? (I feel like we're on the verge of Carpenter's version of The Thing.)

WS: When you go out to have dinner and charge it to your credit card you arc in information space. Distinctions like natural and constructed space-they don't make a whole lot of sense anymore.

JA: I don't know. It does for me in that the idea of immediacy is one that we acknowledge as relevant to interactivity, yet the body hovers just outside the chain of communication-it is the very "thing" which is not immediate. It's digital. It's text. It's a terminal. Maybe that's how we should interpret the phrase "natural and constructed space" and references made to new theory and new art and new sociology.

WS: Whatever happens in-between, there arc still real bodies sitting at the terminals.

JA: Right. And maybe that's what is most intriguing. Suddenly, on the network, we all find ourselves like Lasher, Anne Rice's character in The Witching Hour. He's immediate, he's decentralized, he's very powerful and communicative and all that. He just doesn't have a body-and that's "the thing" he wants most.


"|H|U|M|B|O|T|" http://www.humbot.org

Voilà. Le monde dans la tête, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris France 15 June 2000 - 29 October 2000.
Daniel Burckhardt, Roberto Cabot, Elena Carmagnani, gruppo A12, Udo Noll, Philip Pocock, Wolfgang Staehle, Florian Wenz with Andrea Di Rosa.

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