Interview published on my exhibition catalogue at ArtLounge gallery in Lisbon in 2006.
PB: We have tried to frame you in some sort of art historical context, which is important for questions of legitimacy. Can you pinpoint the place of Internet Art in a wider historical context?
IL: The Internet is like a big flea market for me. The Internet is also a space beyond the flatness of the screen where many aesthetic activities take place. I think it runs parallel to some art historical contexts of appropriation, dematerialization of the art object, information and other hybrid forms that have emerged in contemporary art. Artists have always been seduced by technical innovation and have always looked for a way to express the present reality with these innovations. This is recurrent in the art of all ages – to express the present with the tools of the present. So I use the Internet to talk about the present, it is quite simple actually.
PB: In your work you seem to address your place in the mega-urban centers and embracing the mobile narrative as a modern global citizen. We narrow to you as a sort of expert navigator in the telematic geography, which we could compare to a sea or large landmass. It is inert and daunting to those unfamiliar to its navigation. What are some real guides through this geography?
IL: The Internet allows me to travel from universe to universe, whether it is travelling between physical points, between points of commerce, or between points of affection. In this sense, it is a kind of third geography. I believe that geography and nature are a complex play of forces acting on each other.
I do assemblages or photomontages because I don’t believe that the Internet can be summarized in a simple stroke or synthesized into a simple and pure form. How do we shape a rhizomatic structure? How can we talk about the compression of time-space, about the concept of windows and framing when faced with a multiplicity of all that exists there? We cannot see the Internet, we can only experience it. What we see in it is a result of the experience of being inside it or exposed to it. You can’t put a frame around it and hang it on the wall like you would like at a painting. Anything derived from the Internet will somehow be a construction of sorts, a codification, an effort in understanding complexity.
PB: Mickey Mouse, Barbie Doll, and Michael Jackson is sort of banal American anchoring in this new telematic sea…. could they point the lost home?
IL: I think they are good characters as any other…these three fictitious characters have images related to them that make me laugh my heart out…the whole Internet world is contained there: the world of branding, merchandise and commerce, celebrity, fame, impostors, pastiche, parody, art. I like this link to pop culture in a context after post-modernism. Yes they are American, but they are so much a part of the life of anyone growing up in the world. The reason why I chose those three, however, is that I think these characters have an obvious iconic status as well as a real problem of identity and copyright, and the manipulation of their ‘image’ is interesting to watch as a phenomenon.
In the face collages, I sort of tap onto the same thing. Cutting these seemingly happy faces from society magazines gives me a sense of the human zoo and what people do or don’t do in order to become a piece of information on a magazine page or on a website. It really comes down to exposure – how much you choose to give, and what you expect from it.
PB: Are your selections (photographs) evidences of living – as in acting – or a witnessing?
IL: They are a witnessing. I wanted to establish a dialogue between the images that are ‘floating’ online and the history of photography. I look at the original photograph from another time and the content of the photo gives me a clue as to how I will recompose it with the image search mechanisms. What is at stake here is my relationship as an image hunter-gatherer trying to capture shots of the web through keywords that trigger a search command through this enormous database of images on Google. In the case of the building façades, the keywords I insert on a search engine have an indexical relevance to the original image and the title of the piece is exactly that. This is related to photographic theory where the title of a photograph gives it a sense of truth, or gives the author’s intended reading of the image. We see a photograph, we read its title or its caption and the meaning is a construction of these two parts. There is another parallel to photography which is important to note: when the search page tells me it took 0.05 seconds to do the search, it is the same speed of a camera shutter, in very much the same way as a camera button that will cause the diaphragm of the camera to capture light. Therefore the search mechanism becomes a photographic device. However, these images become an image of ‘living’ when one assumes that the Internet is an organism constituted of millions of monads, the digital images being one kind of these monads.
PB: If they – your photographs – are a witnessing, why is the medium important? Journalism or even a surveillance camera does this much better.
IL: This is the age of the day-to-day chronicle – as opposed to the great existential novel of the 20th century. This medium proposes a time and space shift, and an obsession for archiving anything that can be digitized. With the possibility of instant and free communication, the potential of the image is multiplied. More than the asynchronistic archive, which is continuously being populated, the Internet is now the place of the synchronistic.
So it is more than witnessing – it is in fact a way of living. In my case, for example, the web cam is how I maintain my dearest affectionate ties – to my lover and to my distant family, even through an unstable and fragile connection. The images of the series “Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse” are exactly that, a visual witnessing of the presence of the other on camera through a bad connection that corrupts the image and sound and creates the ‘noise’. The presence of the other becomes ghostly. And strangely, these online connections can sometimes be stronger than the local ties. The difference is that the ones who are talking to you on computer can’t suddenly pull a knife and kill you, while your neighbor can. Every connection is extremely fragile.
PB: Art is a reflection of a basic reality, it masks and perverts a basic reality, it marks the absence of a basic reality, and it bares no relationship to any reality at all…. this is paraphrasing Baudrillard in his discourses on the simulacrum. The digital photograph in the hands of the average world consumer creates a sort of hyper-reproduction that is singular and not industrial expanding Benjamin’s view of the object in reproduction. If the questions of reproduction were problematic even before the ‘telematic sea’ how do you address the nature of reproduction?
IL: This is the world of the ‘fatherless’ and ‘motherless’ image and my work is an intense collage made of downloads, copy and paste. If in Benjamin, the aura preceded the reproduction of the image and was something that could be lost, in the digital image there is nothing left to lose. Reproduction is in the nature of the digital image. Benjamin points to a separation between the original and the copy, but today that issue isn’t as clear. The digital image gains power as it is reproduced and gains importance as it is being continuously accessed. Isn’t this also the very nature of the network? If we don’t access it, it ceases to exist. Naturally, the issue of authorship comes to mind. Copyright of the digital image is still very controversial – who can we sue: those who post the image on a website? Those who copy that image? Those who gather those images?
PB: So can we say that there is there a relationship between the aesthetic and the ethical?
IL: Is there anything unethical that looks good? The computer cannot guarantee purity in anything because the computer can theoretically transform anything. So the act of manipulation becomes ethic more than aesthetic. If you manipulate an image, there is a clear intention of how and why it is being manipulated. For me, it is interesting to understand what is the agent of change – and it better be more than a Photoshop filter, in order to reach a metaphoric level that puts an apparently simple image into a symbolic level through which we can maybe understand something about contemporary society – or better even, raise more questions.
Also, there could be an interesting art historical parallel of this so-called “Internet Art” to the experiments of the 70s. After conceptual and process art of the 70s, there has been a rift between art that is precisely ordered and follows through a strict process and art that is indulgent and expressionistic, such as the painting in the 80s. What I see in many of my peers today is a concern with the ethical, insofar as the process that engenders a work of art is ‘traceable’ to a genuine intention, sort of like a contract that the artist makes with his own work and which confers it with a certain credibility and legitimacy. This is coupled with a deep aesthetic concern – we have no longer the need to be super conceptual to the point of eliminating the visual and sensorial aspect of art. It is difficult to escape the conceptual legacy, especially in Brazil. But we must remember that this conceptualism also suffered a rupture here as artists early on turned to the streets and popular culture and formed a discursive dialogue with physical and cultural landscapes in order to trace new territories as possibilities for art, but never forgetting conceptual precision and acuity.
Today, I think we have been following a practice of ‘inclusion’ – we seem to paying attention to concept, adding the component of ‘real life experience’, delve into the particular and the universal and the historical for content, with a renewed attention to formal precision. It is a search for the balance between the ethic and aesthetic, which I think, is where we should be after the excesses of post-modernism and its often pointless negativity. We are more concerned with deciphering new codes, new media, and new ways of perceiving the world rather than deconstructing history per se. I would like to have a healthy relationship to history.
PB: Do your personal selections speak of a trajectory? A vector? Or an assemblage?
IL: I try to select images online that relate to things that puzzle me in my experience from living in a large and very problematic city and from impressions gathered by travelling. When I see a large apartment building for instance, I wonder what it is that makes people have to live like in an ant farm, or why it has become one of the few options of living today – how did we end up like that?
The same thing happens when I am flying somewhere and I see the city from above. All human movements from the air become so apparent, how we ‘scratch’ the world’s surface with our roads and our factories and our houses. I am intrigued by the complexity of man-made and virtual geographies. And somehow I perceive these constructions as a result of intense negotiations that end up as information or a recording in the landscape. So I reconstruct these landscapes with bits of virtual information.
PB: How do you distance yourself from this environment or how do you get close to the narratives of others or of information in connected space?
IL: One day I ran into a site that ‘sells’ Russian girls as brides to American businessmen. These women are beautiful, college-educated and sometimes speak more than 2 languages. A few days later I saw a documentary on how this female diaspora represents the largest migration of people in the last decade -women who move because of marriage and work, often those two combined. So how do these women make themselves attractive through something as cold and depersonalized as a website? I have also looked at many dating sites and I always wonder at the mystery behind every contact made through these ‘tools.’
PB: You are, though, about the ‘new’. The telematic has ancient discourses: Plato in The Republic writes of a painter who can paint fruit so well birds attack the flat painting to make a meal of them. What do you think of the posing of sincerity… a sincere emotion-even lust? Are you a sort of an artistic mole on blog and date sites who presents a portrait of themselves as a ‘meal’ to hungry telematic navigators…. much of your work has to do with live sex web cam sites ‘luring’ the bird in for a meal… does verisimilitude still attract? Can that ‘meal’ be fulfilling even if ‘flat’?
IL: In one dating site I posted a profile as a perfect woman just to see what kind of men are attracted to the most stereotypical female – tall, blonde, rich, etc. – maybe I wanted to paint those perfect fruits and see what birds I could lure to it. The response was incredible. I like how these connections change the way we relate to the other. I am intrigued by the shallowness of the electronic medium where there is the necessity of an interface beyond the body to mediate sensation and that motivates important decisions. I definitely intend to use this information for a future piece. The satisfaction of a sex-webcam may be restricted to voyeurism and exhibitionism… so where is synesthesia? I think the so-called electronic art acts on the absence of the body, this “lack” which could satisfy. It seems to be a discourse in libido.
PB: Are these ‘contrived’ or ‘real’?
IL: We tend to call anything intangible and electronic as an illusion or simulacrum, or some other name to distinguish it from the real, the tangible, the concrete. Sure, the means are virtual and indirect, electronic, but the presence of the message through the absence of the body is very real.
PB: Going back to your work: what is the legitimacy of the artist making these?
IL: The world of information is real and is not a collective illusion. It changes the way we live and operate in the world and extends far beyond the screen of your office computer. Naturally it becomes a field of action for the artist. This has been true for 50 years now, since the first so-called new media artists began using television culture as a source of inspiration for art. With the computer and later the Internet, the possibilities of appropriation as well as critique of media is amplified. To me there is no question surrounding the legitimacy of electronic or new media art. We don’t know if they represent a durable process within a larger art historical. But the experiments are important.
PB: The computer is sort of a camera obscura for our times, how do you compose your ‘studio shots’ as a Vermeer, Caravaggio, or even a Canaletto would do?
IL: My process derives from a constructive logic as I follow a series of steps I make for myself in order to justify a certain composition and to get away from the boring and indulgent computerized art, which does not interest me at all. Since I am interacting with a system of information that has its own rules, it makes sense to me to create a system around it, so in this sense the computing aspect of my work does remind one of the framing functions of the camera obscura. What is not predictable, or what cannot be framed, is what the large database of images will turn out at my command. My first work of the series was an image-search of my own name, a pretty common name, “isabel”. It was really fun to discover that college professors, prostitutes, a canned tuna brand in Spain and even a Japanese green poodle all correspond to the file name “isabel.jpg”. How many wonderful definitions for such a common name? Fantastic.
PB: Is the webcam a sort of film without the contrivance of preconception? Is the asynchronistic dead?
IL: I think the web cam goes back to the live television broadcasts of the 50s that occurred in real time. But unlike early television, the emitter and receiver are taking turns and reacting to each other – it is like a conversation happening inside a frame, therefore its filmic quality. The web cam transforms from spectators to actors in a film with no pre-established narrative.
The asynchronistic is not dead, but the possibility of live feeds, either to an audience of one or many, as is the case of paid sex web cam broadcasts, presents with enormous questionings surrounding connectivity, narrative interplay, and how people are living through their affections simply through an electronic interface. It is fascinating even how lovers can fall in love with each other through a web-camera without ever having felt each other’s presence. That has a lot to say about how powerful our brains and hearts are in relation to the virtual imaging in ways that cinema or the telephone have not been so far.
The web cam ring in the exhibition, even though it is made of still photographs of web-cam broadcasts, offers one thousand glimpses of the world seen through 1000 ‘eyes’ capturing images out there. It is interplay between public and private narratives played out in cyberspace, for free, for anyone to watch at any time. It is like the continuous loop of Warhol’s “Empire” film. You just want to watch to see what will happen next – with the off chance that nothing may ever happen. I mean, what can happen in a sleepy town square of a small German town? or in a glacier in Greenland? or in the entrance lobby of a non-descript suburban office building? At the same time, in another point of the network, a college girl may be making money out of taking her clothes off on camera to a vast audience of voyeurs. The expectation of the ‘event’ changes in the Internet and I like it that there is no preconceived ‘event’.
PB: …Ambiguity or clarity? Modernity had approached an idea of complexity. With clarity, yet blog-culture reveals in the ‘emotional’ world… how do you navigate?
IL: I navigate through the ties of affection, through subjectivity. I see a world that is getting increasingly mechanized but the young are no longer interested in these vertical structures that no longer suit their needs because the economies are enslaving. I wonder what the way out could be, but I don’t have an answer for it. I keep searching.
New York/Rio de Janeiro via webcam