Let’s talk again about Marc Garret and Ruth Catlow , two people that don’t need to be introduced in the context of networking and mailing list about new international media art. Marc Garret and Ruth Catlow promoted many on-line debates, through not only their channel, NetBehaviour , many art networking projects, and they’ve been working for ten years on their project Furtherfield.org . They already wrote an important text of reflections and theories about art, that was published on Digimag 33 April 2008 . And they promised us to be interviewed; let’s see what they answered.
If you didn’t read the article, my advice is to read it: now I don’t want to digress too much. The text you’ll read is a long description of their art activities, their thought and their experiences. The Furtherfield project is obviously as crucial as other few on-line projects. And now we can talk about it at Digicult, and this discussion was really interesting…
Marco Mancuso: When did you start the ten-year-old Furtherfield project?
Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow: Furtherfield started at Backspace ( http://bak.spc.org ), an informal cyber-lounge based on the Thames near London Bridge , that existed between 1996-1999 . We all shared the spirit of free-networking, collaboration and a dynamic passion for Indy media and peer oriented exchange, which we ourselves still promote and explore to this day as Furtherfield. Backspace as a creative framework, inspired many individuals and groups involved in Net Art, Media Art and technologically orientated activism.
Marco Mancuso: It seems that you think Internet is the ideal ground for networking, collaboration and sharing. You think art is created on the basis of networking dynamics. In this sense, for many years you’ve been interested in arts for the Internet, such as Net Art. What can you tell me about all this and which was your best experience with DIWO project?
Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow: We have been interested in artwork that is specifically created for the net for a while now and deliberately make a concerted effort to review net art on Furtherfield all of the time, and will continue to do so in future. We have always been interested in those who are making work which does not fit into already accepted art frameworks and that which does not rely on and emerge from hegemonic culture. Net art is one those forms of creativity which finds its strongest expression when it is connecting across differences of culture, background and specialization; especially when it connects and activates artists and audiences in new ways. It is an art form which is still being assessed by the fine art world and its institutions.
Many of Furtherfield’s projects have come from an experience of using the Internet and making an effort to deeply understand the nature of new types of connectivity, to observe the processes and behaviours of other artists and digital networks as well as the social contexts that have evolved. As an artist-run community, with a D.I.Y. attitude to
technology it is a natural thing for us to share information and collaborate with each other, bypassing many of the more traditional cultural gate-keeping structures. In this way we share an artistic impulse with movements such as Fluxus and Situationism, as well as the D.I.Y culture of early net art.
We see that collaborations offer a sidestep from the cultivation of individual creativity. This is not to say that individual art forms are not interesting or valid, but we found that by breaking away from the restriction of ‘individual genius’, that exciting things begin to happen that transcend the singular ego and bring about a wholesome and nourishing experience with art. We feel that many people can learn from collaborating in all walks of life. Media art and Internet art is just one place where such collaborations can occur.
In respect of your question about DIWO. Our experience with the project was very positive and other groups from around the world have taken on the term themselves to reflect their own creative practice for collaborative, collective or group activities, which is a positive outcome that we did not expect to happen.
We wanted to see whether people were really interested in taking part in collaborating with each other. Not only that we wanted to use the Internet framework for engaging in the making of art but also wanted to see if it could also materialize and be physical at the same time. So we initiated the (DIWO) E-Mail-Art project to “subscribers” of the
NetBehaviour email list ( www.netbehaviour.org ) and asked the users if they were interested in taking part in the project. About a hundred individuals took part. We also invited people from outside the list to join and collaborate on the project as well. ‘Do It With Others (DIWO) E-Mail-Art’ ( http://www.netbehaviour.org/DIWO.htm ) was playfully
developed from the Do-It-Yourself ethos of early Net Art, which used the early Internet as an experimental artistic medium and distribution system, as well reflecting upon activist culture.
During February and March 2007, 90-100 people contributed, sending there work to the list and remixing other’s work. Participants worked across time zones, geographical and cultural distances with digital images, audio, text, code and software; they worked to create streams of art-data, art-surveillance, instructions and proposals, and in relay to produce threads. All the artists and participants involved in DIWO were also invited to co-curate the exhibition at Furtherfield’s HTTP gallery. About 15 people participated in the co-curation of the exhibition. We invited people to come to the space and couple did. We also put up a web cam so that he co-curators could share and have a choice in how the their own and their peers artworks were to be presented in the space. The way that the Internet curators communicated was via a chat room facility called Gabbly. The exhibition itself at the HTTP Gallery
( http://www.http.uk.net/docs/exhib12/exhibitions12.shtml ) was a success with our local audiences.
We also had a networking party ( http://www.furtherfield.org/diwo_networking.php ) which worked quite naturally as an extension of the DIWO project. called ‘Don’t just Do It Yourself (DIY) Do It With Others (DIWO)’ which was held at the space October 07.
Marco Mancuso: How do you work on a project? Where your ideas come from? And do you work with other artists? You usually follow the artists, so how was your experience with them? And what about the feedback from your on-line users?
Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow: Our shared approaches consist of being playful, messing with and challenging existing hierarchies and top down behaviours. Finding ways around things creatively, this kind of thinking could be on par to
cultural hacking and using the same mental skills. For us the world is our medium, not necessarily just the technology. Technology for us is also a medium as one of a collection of ingredients towards a greater whole. We are relational thinkers understanding everything as shifting places in a scale free network with regard to how things connect with
each other. We work with art, technology, social contexts and alternative forms of expression that exists on the edge and between different practices and cultures. We have always reflected upon our processes and this often becomes part of the art work.
We collaborate not just on our own projects but also with many other people. One good example is a rather large project called NODE.London ( www.nodel.org ) which started out in 2006. A collaborative project that incorporated a festival, conferences and events involving any person who wanted be part of a media art activity around London and beyond. NODE.London was and is an experiment in structures and tools of cooperation as invented or adapted by artists, activists and technologists, many (but not all) of whom are committed to ideas of social change through their practice. It was a “season of media arts” throughout March 2006; a distributed festival by a number of individuals and groups in London , England . In March, there were around 150 media art projects organized in over 40 locations ranging from exhibitions, screenings installations, participatory events, performance-based work, to other forms.
Marco Mancuso: One of your projects is Visitors Studio. I love it, for the exchange of multi-media contents that are remixed and recreated by artists for their live performances. Would you tell me something more about this project, the live events and the communities’ feedback?
Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow: The mail art projects of the 70s and 80s demonstrated Fluxus artists’ common disregard for the distinctions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, and a disdain for what they saw as the elitist gate-keeping of the ‘high’ art world. They often took the form of themed, ‘open calls’, in which all submissions were exhibited and catalogued. Like mail art, VisitorsStudio (http://www.visitorsstudio.org) is concerned with open communication, between artists, sharing ideas and experiences from all over the world. And the communication is not just between artists, anyone can use the tool.
It is a real-time, multi-user, online arena for creative ‘many to many’ dialogue, interviews, networked performance and collaborative polemic. Various artists, programmers, writers, curators, musicians have worked with Furtherfield in collaborating on various projects and some have become part of the organisation. One collaborator is artist/programmer Neil Jenkins, who worked with us as the programmer and lead interface designer on VisitorsStudi . It started in 2003 and has already had a dynamic history online and is used by many different users from around the world.
It is simple and accessible facility using a web-based interface allowing users to upload, manipulate and collage their own audio-visual files with others’, to remix existing media with their own files. It is an exploration of collective creativity for both emergent and established artists from a diverse array of geographical locations and social contexts. Participants upload sound files and still/moving images (jpg, png, mp3, flv, swf) to a shared database, mixing and responding to each other’s compositions in real-time. Individuals can also chat with each other and are located in the interface by their own dancing-cursors. Users are able to schedule and promote their own networked performance programmes. These can be recorded, archived, rated, downloaded and redistributed as screen savers to users’ own desktops. VS has a large community of users who regularly use it, we also have events where people collaborate and project their activities on the studio at venues.
There many examples of notable artistic collaborations within VisitorsStudio but one that might be worth mentioning here is, the now well known project that we collaborated on in 2004 called Dissention Convention
(http://www.furtherfield.org/dissensionconvention). Visitorsstudio events were projected at Postmasters Gallery’s RNC NODE, which served as a physical node of an ad-hock public broadcasting, a system of online, real time protest performances and alternative news actions. All online streams were also output in local bars and projections from windows. Coinciding with the Republican Convention in New York , about 20 international net artists and digital artists broadcasted an art-polemic with a focus on how Bush and the US Republicans negatively influence every locality around the world. This real-time multimedia protest jam was projected at RNC NODE and in local NY bars.
Marco Mancuso: From a project like Furthertext.org to Furtherfield Blog. What is your experience with on-line writing? How did it change in the last years? How is the blog phenomenon changing? And what could be its potential? How is the information system and exchange changing?.
Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow: These are interesting questions. In respect of the Furtherfield blog
(http://blog.furtherfield.org) we wanted to create an online space for those who practice in media art to reflect upon their ideas without feeling pressure of coming up with official, finished, polished or self-conscious or promotional texts. We realized that there were not many places online where you could just relax and talk about everyday things as well the latest project that you were working on and the problems people experience around them. It is a relaxed blog that is not trying to impress anyone, it is a place where you can explore vulnerabilities on your own terms, it is human. You get a mixture of people on there such as media artists, curators and others.
Collaborative writing on the Internet has been well appropriated by Wikipedia to some degree. Although we feel that wikis in general have been an excellent facility for people to work together, in collaborating in re-editiing their shared ideas. We collaborate ourselves when we write press releases, articles about Furtherfield projects, which is fun and can be quite interesting and challenging, because we question each other regularly. Email lists via discussions are in a way going through the function or act of collaborating. There have also been some interesting takes and theories around collaborative text such as Florian Cramer‘s idea about free software being collaborative text, which he discussed in Berlin in 2000. Then you’ve free software like Gobby that is a free collaborative editor supporting multiple documents in one session and a multi-user chat. Where you collaborate on writing text in real-time.
I think that blogs potentially offer the choice and the facility for collaborative writing but it seems that many blogs are much more about individuals declaring their own voices rather than true collaboration. Although, if we are thinking about collaborative forms of distribution in respect of openness with information, delicious seems to be a perfect model. One project that we began a while back was Rosalind ( http://www.furtherfield.org/rosalind ), an upstart new media art lexicon. Users feed Rosalind with their own words and definitions to express and declare what they do, their practice. In early September 2004 we agreed a name for the lexicon, and named it after Rosalind Franklin and launched it to the world to be influenced and mutated and helped to maturity by all who interact with it. We found that certain historians were claiming terms for themselves when those who were practicing themselves could not relate to the terms given to them. So we thought that it would be great to collaborate with others to claim territory on the labels and definitions that relates to our own creative culture.
Marco Mancuso: You’re also interested in the Internet and free software. You curated a retrospective about Andy Deck and you started the project nonTVTV as a reference to TVTV by Raindance Group in the 1970s in New York. So, how do you think the Web could be used by contemporary artists, in the era of Web 2.0, social networks, blogs, vlogs and free software?
Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow: One project that we will be collaborating very soon on is called ‘The zero dollar laptop’, James Wallbank from Access space( http://access-space.org ) came up with the idea first. We met each other and thought that it would be great to work with each other on the project. The zero dollar laptop is powered with free, open source software. Users can get involved as deeply as they want – the software packages available include easy to use graphical applications, more complex professional applications, and expert level programming languages. Both of our spaces, their venue in Sheffield and our in London will set up centres where people can come along and get a free Linux laptop and do workshops on how to use the software. Access Space uses recycled computers to support a range of creative and learning activities. They depend on donated computers which they then restore to life using Free and Open-Source Software.
We are also setting up a project which is called ‘Eco Media Art X Change’. This will be a 3 year project that focuses on art and ecology, that will include a kind of friendly activism that allows anyone to be part of it. We are just working on this one, so will get back to you another time once it is all ready to go.
I think that one of the main positive things about Web 2.0, social networks and blogs is, that everyday people are connecting with each other locally through using blogs such as Ning.com. I am part of a social networking blog which is part of a Ning network, we get together locally after contacting each other on the blog. Lots of local issues are discussed on their such as ecology, litter on the streets or sharing information about local farm food and collective bike rides. We also challenge the local council on various issues which is very empowering for all concerned.
The proliferation of lateral, digital connection mechanisms associated with Web2.0 such as SMS, social bookmarking and RSS, subjects the contemporary networked human-being to a deluge of information and expressive culture from all directions, not just from on high or merely authorized channels for information, such as news and culture, but also rising up through the grass roots. I think that it is essential that we take on open source materials and ideas to progress out of the typical, shallow and hegemonic frameworks that bind us all. We are more often these days managing to incorporate much of what we have learned from networked culture into our every day lives. We think that many of those who have grown out of making work on the Internet, or hacking and similar processes have an alternative perspective that can be extremely effective when introduced into physical environments.
Marco Mancuso: On of the main items in the digital art worlds is how to create a link between in the real world and the virtual one. In this terms, is also important the item about how to show the digital art pieces in the real world spaces, mainly the ones of galleries. Would you like to tell me how do you work on the project of HTTP gallery?
Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow: When we first set up the HTTP Gallery, some curators were saying ‘how can you show virtual or Internet related art in a physical gallery context’? We did not think that this was a problem at all. We just did it, it is important to take risks and explore how to make things work as part of the learning process. We also the value of creating a public space where people could meet face to face to experience the artwork and each other’s ideas. The other thing is, we wanted to highlight much of the excellent talent out there that was not being shown in the UK . We tend to always have something physical in the space as well as something which is networked. A good example is our recent exhibition called ‘Open Source Embroidery: Craft and Code’, facilitated by Ele Carpenter (http://www.http.uk.net/exhibitions/OSE/index.shtml). This exhibition explores the connections between the collaborative characteristics of needlework, craft and Open Source software. This project has brought together embroiderers, patch-workers, knitters, artists and computer programmers, to share their practice and make new work.