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An interview with Gerfried Stocker

Valérie Lamontagne and Pierre Robert

During the recent Cartographies conference organized by ISEA in Montreal Gerfried Stocker, the director of the Ars Electronica Festival in Austria was invited to speak about the new territories defining new media production and distribution. We had the opportunity to interview him on his views concerning the approaches that new media artists must now adopt in order to function in this global economy as well as the controversy concerning the Net Art prize that was award to Linus Thorvald at the last Festival.

Gerfreid Stocker

Valérie Lamontagne - I am just going to pull a few things that you said (during your conference) and perhaps you can elaborate on them. You spoke about a movement "from document to event", can you talk about what this shift has meant to media festivals and organizations like Ars Electronica?

Gerfreid Stocker - First it is important to understand what "from document to event" can really mean, because on the one hand it is this transformation from an art that is object oriented, an art that is aiming to produce originals and has the artist as the sole genius, to a movement from this position to a new position where the object is no longer relevant.

You have a process where you don't have the artist as individual but you have interdisciplinary teams of technicians, designers, architects, artists and musicians working together. This is one development that is very strongly driven by this new technology and artists are reacting to it and this is, I think, a very important transformation from object oriented art to process oriented art, from the individual to the collective.

There are also more theoretical implication of "from document to event" because even within the media arts we have faced a kind of transformation, or transgression, from a media art that is producing a product (which is of course no longer the art object but is production oriented) to now being more driven by network artists with people who work on the Internet where it is [now] a production of relations, or the creation of relations and relationships.

Artists are dealing much more with managing relations between different communities, and between different types of users on the Internet and I think that this is a very big challenge for the art market. Art markets and festivals like ours, museums, and galleries are facing a challenge where they have to face that there are no longer objects to exhibit.

This [problem] is rather easy to answer. We can say "O.K. we have to go from presentation to production.". Because if artists don't produce objects we cannot collect them, store them and exhibit them, then we have to find a new collaboration with artists in supporting their productivity, their production process.

But we are more and more facing a situation where artists might no longer need art institutions, might no longer need festivals because as we have seen it in the music industry (which is having big difficulties right now with MP3 and all these independent possibilities of production and distribution) the same thing can happen to the art industry. Starting with the governments, who are thinking of how they can create new models of financing art, how they can fund art in festivals, museums, and galleries we all have to think of completely new models of collaboration in the field of art. Until now I think that there have been very few places where this challenge has really been taken on.

One of the things that you brought up was the artist as "entrepreneur". I was wondering if you could talk about the "business" of the artist and where commerce meets the artist from production to distribution and all the level which the artist has to deal with. Even when talking about issues of where the art object becomes an event, this idea can be linked to consumerism - where there is no longer any permanence (in the object) and where it (the object) is something which is perpetuated by capitalism in a constantly moving economy. This would be one example, but maybe there are other ways in which you can relate these ideas.

G.S. - I think that this phrase of the artist as entrepreneur, which is a very provocative phrase of course, has a lot of different sides. One implication of this encounter between art and business, has come up mainly in the field of media art because it started to be necessary to raise more money because the traditional funding from the government was not enough to really fund the technology necessary to do high-end computer graphics, virtual reality and all this stuff.

So this is one point that I think we have to discuss very deeply in trying to arrange this meetings between the business world, the corporate world, the sponsors and the artist.

But the artist as an entrepreneur means much more, it is a kind of metaphor for this new corporation model that I was talking about in my speech, of these strategies that are necessary in order [for artists] to organize themselves. Artists need to organize themselves in different ways because the art market is not really changing fast enough to adapt to the kinds of new practices by artists. It is slowly getting better but if we look back 3 to 5 years, there were very few or almost no art institutions, museums or universities (or even when you look at the education of artists) that were reacting to this new work by artists, in the new technological infrastructure and circumstances under which artists are working.

So, artists had to start organizing themselves. They suddenly had to face a situation where it was no longer enough to be the artist - you also had to be the theoretician, because there is no media art theory out there that is explaining what we are doing, so you had to become your own theoretician. Then of course you had to become your own technician because even if you were able to get a few friends who are programmers or electronic engineers to help you, as an artist you had to know a lot about technology in order to understand and to know how to talk with technicians and how to negotiate with technicians. And of course artists had to become more and more the marketing person because they had to think on their own and develop strategies on their own to sell what they were doing.

And so all of this is kind of subsumed under the phrase of the artists as entrepreneur. In some ways it has a lot to do with new business models that are coming up now also in traditional business in commercial areas. People more and more recognize that in a situation where you are suddenly able to control your production environment and also your distribution environment you have to organize yourself in a new way.

This model of entrepreneurship as the artists, the theoretician, the marketing person, the sales person, the technician and all these things together I think can be seen most strongly in the music area because this was the first area where artists were able to control the production environment.

It is no longer necessary to go into a sound studio and pay a lot of money to record your music, you can do it on your laptop and meanwhile it's also no longer important or necessary to produce CDs, spend a lot of money and time to negotiating with labels and record stores. You can just do it on your own and I think that this is really a very interesting paradigm in the way how musicians, composers, and sound artists have managed to arrange their own complete environment from the production to the distribution.

This can be a very good model for a lot of other artistic fields like visual arts, cinema, and also theater. I think that theater is very behind. If a company is doing video on stage they think "Wow we are great media artists" but they don't recognize that they now have a new situation of what the public means. You have a new audience, and you have a new area where you have to meet your audience.

You used the metaphor of music and also the music business in your talk and a lot of the music industry is in many ways shaped by a much younger generation than those who are participating in new media festivals as artists. Do you think that there are generational differences between older and younger media artists and the way that they function as media producers? Could you also relate how artists are working to how musicians are working and the ideas and structures that have been borrowed from musicians?

G.S. - Absolutely, I think that it is a generation problem, maybe not a problem, but it is a generation issue and of course we have to face the situation that every year hundreds of thousands of young artists finish their university education and then have a paper that says "I am an artist".

For these people this means "O.K. now I am an artist, I have the right to be exhibited in galleries, I need my environment". And of course most of these people are completely unable to deal with this situation. It's not just a question of age, it's also a question of what kind of approach you have.

In the music field, for example, you see people who drop in, who don't come from a traditional art education because the traditional education as a composer is not the way you go when you want to become a media artist or when you are working as a musician with Internet and sampling and all these things. The traditionally educated composers and musicians go in one direction, they have their own niche and their own market but artists in fine arts are facing a very big crisis right now.

There are more and more unemployed artists being produced by our universities because they are not really educated and they are not really trained in even using the computer as a tool efficiently. I mean most of the young people who just started to design Web pages are much better in using the computer as a tool than those people coming from art universities are.

They [art students] are often not educated and prepared to deal with the new paradigm that new media also means new public situation, that it is no longer the gallery that you are looking for. I think that on the one side it is a generational problem but on the other side it is also this educational problem. In the music field it is also much easier, musicians always had to work in teams, not necessarily, but it occurs more often that musicians work in teams because they play together and even in the tradition of music, musicians are much more familiar with situations where they have to arrange themselves and find ways to present their work.

Following... (Pierre Robert asking) 



>>> Valérie Lamontagne: A freelance art critic, curator and artist, her work is concerned with the loss of innocence and the recuperation of childhood imagery in art. She is presently (11/1999) the Programming Coordinator at Studio XX.

Transcription: Valérie Lamontagne



Pierre Robert - 11/1999 Cartographies - Les États généraux des nouveaux médias


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Cette publication a été rendue possible grâce au soutien financier d'Hexagram, du groupe de recherche des arts médiatiques (GRAM), de la Faculté des arts de l'UQAM, de la Chaire du Canada en esthétique et poétique de l'UQÀM (CEP), ainsi qu'à une subvention, pour une quatorzième année consécutive, du Conseil des arts du Canada (CAC).