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    unstable art forms and media lab in Norway

    | 2006-12-21 | 11:36
    temos: ENGLISH

    Interview with Atle Barcley (artistic director of Atelier Nord) on videoart, media lab, media art and its scene in Norway. Atelier Nord  is not only project space for unstable arts but it also supports innovative artists as well as magazine “Balsas” with hosting services. This interview was made at the place of Atelier Nord in Oslo in the end of August 2006.

    Atelier Nord Vytautas Michelkevicius: We would like to have a short introduction on your activities and your goals. What is Atelier Nord and how do you position yourself in the art scene of Norway?

    Atle Barcley: We now define ourselves as a project space for unstable arts in context what we were ten years ago, when we defined ourselves as a centre for electronic arts. It means that we slightly change our goal: we were quite specific since we were working with technology and electronic arts ten years ago; now we are looking a little bit different. We are forty years old (established in 1965), so we have changed a lot during the years: we started as traditional print making workshop and then people started to make animation, and then especially in the 90s – video, and in the 90s Atelier Nord was quiet important for video production, especially it was an important “school” for women video producers and I think influenced and actually dominated the video art scene in Norway.

    VM: So you are even older than the festival Ars Electronica?

    AB: Yes, we are. In Norway we are obviously very well known and established in the minds of the artists. But I think couple of years ago people and I am getting more confused what we were, because we changed then. Around four years ago we took away the media lab and now it’s only one computer and one electronic video editing station, and that’s it. So that makes us to reread and redefine ourselves a little bit again.

    What we are doing, is to work with unstable art forms and we say unstable arts, we mean art that needs special support for production and special support for distribution, and also art forms that theoreticians and art historians doesn’t really get yet maybe (experimental face, when it’s not really placed in the art scene), and art forms that established art institutions like galleries don’t work with yet really. We are trying to take these art forms, help artists to experiment and try to bring them into the established art scene, in such a way that these art forms retain their specific qualities. The established art scene is extremely hungry, it eats everything. You can state that almost everything is art and art scene eats eat, but it always makes it into fine art, so in many cases the specific quality of the experimental practice is lost, at the moment it is included into fine art theme. I think video is a quite good example: we worked a lot with a video in the 90s, when artists didn’t have their own computers and needed a help to produce video, we had video editors working here with artists to produce works. Now when most artists have their own computers, they produce their own videos, they don’t need that help anymore; critics, art historians understand video art, museums and galleries buy video art and exhibit it So the only thing that we are doing now, is to work with establishing online video archive for previous works and works to come, and we consider that to be the missing point. If we do that, then work is finished. So we are not working anymore with video art now, because it is no longer unstable art form.

    VM: So when art form becomes a stable one, you leave that in order to work with forthcoming unstable art forms?

    AB: Exactly. And also video art is a nice example how the fine art scene destroys and eats new art practices. Video art had enormous potential of mass distribution like music on the CD, some of the lower video art is in the United States particularly, very much concerned about this potential, they didn’t want to be in the art galleries, they wanted to have TV stations. And actually one museum that was built in the beginning of 70s into New York area was ripe to include their own video station – video TV, to broadcast video art to community. Unfortunately this whole museum was not realised, because of some rather economical reasons; anyway we see, that at that time artists were concerned about distribution of video art, they wanted to use this special quality. And now it is lost, video art is almost exclusively in galleries. It’s really stupid, because it could be in everybody’s home.

    VM: But now via internet video art is distributed more widely – it is in everybody’s home.

    AB: Exactly. So now we can again try to activate this quality of video art. But when new art forms are introduced, I think this is often the case that you have to be careful that established art scene is not just eating it and making it into an ordinary art practice. This is one of our goals. Because distribution system is like that, artists have to use distribution system that is available. But I think that is quite important to bring these new practices into established art scene. Sometimes as part of this is long term strategy: we need to have special like ??? exhibition for new media art or any new art practice. But in the end I think the goal should be to develop to fine art scene.

    Project spaceVM: As you already told, previously you supported artists with expensive equipment. It means that you had rather big and up-to-date media lab. Do you also produce art works?

    AB: Ten years ago in the Electronic Art Center we had equipment, and now we still have two deals with commercial firms, we make equipment available for artists some percent reduction. And we have also internet service, which is free, and we still have one video editing machine..

    And on project office spaces: now we have Oslo Open art festival in Norway, we have Electronic Art Festival, where we have new space for sometime. All kind of projects that need office space can be here for a while, and we sometimes also help them with administration or resources, e.g. do their accounting and to keep them advising how to raise money…

    But when we changed our strategy and got rid of the media lab, we got some free money, and these we are using to produce art works and workshops. Such workshop as “Interface and Society” is an example of everything what we do. It builds on a series of nine workshops, going trough the last couple of years on sensor technology (what was done then); it consists of four workshops and one conference, performance and exhibition in November. And for this exhibition we produce together with artists here locally three new works; an exhibition also consists of four works that we are not in touch to produce them and they are outside from Norway. With those three works produced locally: it’s different from other projects, but we do things like we give money, we give artistic advice, accounting, space, equipment etc. We try to customize or protect support for each individual project. We actually work in contest to the Arts Council in a way; the Arts Council in Norway gives money for projects, and we give them everything else. The Arts Council wants to have a distance to projects, we do not want to have a distance, and we want to go into the project – not interfere but to help them. And when we do work with artists this way, it’s always the artists that are artistic/theoretical directors of their project, even if we adopt them, so we never take control over artistic content of project, this is quite important. For example, interface and society project builds on formal series of workshop that have been initiated by an artist named Erich Berger – actually the workshop was made by me and E. Berger, but Berger is an artistic director of the project – so he remains in artistic control, because he is kind a prime initiator of this project.

    VM: Can you now introduce yourself a little bit? How do define (if you do) yourself as an artist?

    AB: I don’t have time to produce art in the professional level when I’m here. I studied in Art academy in Trondheim and I started my art education quite late. And then from the Art academy I started to work in something called Kunstnet Norge, which means Art Net Norway, and there I started as a net art editor, I was managing the internet services for the organization. And later I started working at Atelier Nord. So here I have no time to develop the professional art career. The website consists mostly of works done in last couple years at Art Academy (between 1995 and 2000). But that’s not problematic for me at all; I think it’s super-exciting to be director of Atelier Nord. What is nice, at least for me, while producing art is a kind of nervousness, insecurity or ability, the notion of being on insecure ground. But I do experience the same as a director of Atelier Nord; I think this change from electronic art space to space for unstable arts and all projects we’re doing is making me nervous. It is a feeling if we are on unstable ground, so I still get a kick; if I’m not getting a kick, I think I will leave.

    VM: How do you see the situation of media art education in Norway?

    AB: In the beginning of 90s English artist Jeremy Welsh was building up an Intermedia department in the Academy of Trondheim; that was the first moment in Norway and that’s very important. I think almost all of the generation that are working with media art and are also internationalized, are from the Academy of Tronheim. Now he is moved to Bergen and is building it up there. In Oslo they had video art for sometime, so they worked very nicely in the video art field. But all the forms of new media art was not focused on at all, and then I heard Laura Beloff, which was the right person to do this work at the Academy in Oslo, but there was some trouble for her to continue, she did not fit herself to the new development structure. So they don’t have a professor that is working on new media art in Academy in Oslo now; there are couple of nice artists working here, that are really skilled in this field, like Peter S???, the Czech artist. After Laura Beloff quitted, they will now hire sound artists to work at Academy in Oslo; of course a lot of students do want to work with sound art, but they do not have now a strategy to work with new media art in more general. They do in Academy in Trondheim, in Bergen, but not in Oslo. But anyway, I think the situation is quite well and they have a base – computers etc.; I was in Chelsea College of Art and Design in London when I was studying at Academy, at 1998. And at the time I was working a lot with net art and always following mailing list, I got a huge amounts of mails each day. When I was were, I was standing a queue I think for one two hours before I could access the computer and when started to work than, there was a queue behind me waiting. And the system couldn’t even hang an amount of emails I was getting; it was impossible for me to work there. So being in London, in a kind of the centre of the art scene, I was totally isolated; when I was in Trondheim, quite obviously the province of the art scene, I was actually in the center, because I could follow anything what was new founded.

    So I think that educational situation in Norway is quite well in new media art scene, maybe not in Oslo, but Stol Stenslie is a Dean at the Academy in Oslo, and he has been worked with new media for sometime, so we have to expect that he does important things on new media.

    That might be very exciting what is happening in Oslo art scene right now, Quite important change. We see the tendency that there are not many new media artists in Oslo anymore. There are so many artists that are not using new media as part of their vocabulary, they are artists, and they sometimes do video, sometimes performances, sometimes interactive installations, sometimes net art. Which is actually a dramatic change for just a couple of years and for us is extremely important to consider and take notice, and also very good.

    VM: Yes, you can see the tendency all around the countries, also in Lithuania. For example, Transmediale Berlin, which previously was the festival for media art, now changed the under-title to “festival for art and digital culture”, since according to the director Andreas Broeckmann, the media art is no longer special format for art and it is already integrated into the general art scene. Maybe next year they will remove "digital" aspect as well…

    AB: But what is interesting that, when new media art is discussed in Norway, we are discussing it as if we were a group of media artists. We are not discussing it as if new media art actually was already integrated in the art scene.

    And this is also why we define ourselves as a project space for unstable arts, what was before "electronic arts”. When we took electronic art away, of course one of the possibilities was to call us as something with new media art or media art, but we found that the term "unstable art” would describe the situation better.

    VM: Yesterday I had a meeting with Per Platou (from motherboard) and we were talking about his exhibition “net.art archeology”, curated in 2003 at Oslo Museum of Contemporary Art, devoted not for net art as such, but for museum type objects from environment of net art creators (like slippers that were accompanying Alexei Shulgin while making the most famous his net art works)…

    AB: Yes, I remember that. It was actually very nice exhibition of net art, I think.

    It seems that technology is no longer the goal at least. One thing what happens when new media art is integrated into the common art scene, that technology will no longer be a focus point; it will just be a tool. But still I think it is important to use the opportunity to criticize or rethink how technology influences our lives, culture and art scene. And I think to do that, to have the critical approach to technology, it will need to know technology quite well, to understand it. Of course I see a lot of examples of artists that don’t understand technology at all, but want to use it anyway, and they hire somebody to do the technology part and the work is not integrating technology into the content at all; so the technology quite often gets to be a barrier.

    Traditional media artists, even if they used to work in a group, what was common, they did understand technology. For example, I say, I do programme in php and I now some technology, because I developed some service thing in Kunstnet Norge etc. And this makes it possible for me to have a simple type of communication with a skilled programmer. Of course is it is totally different thing to programme a stable nice piece of software; so what I am talking about is rather the artists that can’t even have a simplified communication about these things.

    Let me show you a work that we are showing in “Interface and Society” exhibition in November. I think it’s outstanding in a way how it is integrating and using technology. It is called “Aphrodite Project: Platforms”. And it ?? from Aphrodite culture from Ancient Greece: the priestesses of Aphrodite did have shoes that were engraved into the sole “Follow me”; so when they were walking in the sand, they left a footprints with inscription “Follow me”. They were giving sex as a sacrifice to other Aphrodites. Cassandra Marshall, the author of the Project, is building on this idea, she is making shoes for prostitutes that have LSD screen on the one side, which can show, e.g., price information, contact information, or it can play stimulating music etc. And the other side of the shoe consists of interface to control the LSD screen, but also sound alarm buttons: obviously prostitutes often become victims of violence, so by these buttons you can get a really intense sound like a car alarm, or by pressing other button you can call to prostitute resource centre or to police. In Norway, for example, old people do have such alarms, so if they fall down and can’t stand up, they can push that and the aid comes. The other project part is website, where prostitutes can post information about clients that where violent or didn’t pay etc.

    Into this shoe it builds kinda reality, it shows quite well how the situation of prostitutes is. And maybe that should be the focus on end-discussion of the prostitution: how is actually the situation for the prostitute? For example, Christian moralistic perspective would be that it’s amoral; but here we talk about the other side. And also the technology here is not a barrier at all; knowing and understanding technology like GPS etc. helps the project and its understanding. So I think it’s and outstanding work in this new practice. And it is functioning: all this technology is readily available and in use, e.g., the panic buttons are already in use, just in another setting.  

    VM: Thanks for the interview and nice example of media art.    


    This interview was made possible by the support of The Nordic Council of Ministers Office in Lithuania.

    temos: ENGLISH |

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