Katherine Wills' anti-interview with Mark Amerika about Internet art.
Art Disturbs, Science Reassures
Internet artist Mark Amerika's oeuvre distinguishes between an aesthetic of Internet art that marks class and an aesthetic of Internet art that demands political participation. To force political interaction into the artistic experience, Amerika constructs hypertextual works that require the audience to participate by making choices: to click or not to click into the virtual. Amerika's art embodies the advice of the late (h)activist Kathy Acker: "The only reaction against an unbearable society is equally unbearable nonsense." To dramatize art's servitude to bourgeois values, Amerika morphs himself into a commodity to be bought and sold. His entrepreneurial fervor pervades his art ad nauseum as he anticipates that the most astute members of his audience will resist the surfeit and begin to question their subjectivity as consumers of art: this is his purpose. Mark Amerika resists art enervated by its status as a commodity for the highest bidder. While Warhol iterated motifs of soup cans and starlets, Amerika uses the New Media palette challenge to pirate and replicate Internet art. He challenges audiences to situate art as an interactive, ongoing, political process, not only as an aesthetic commodity.
Internet art's immateriality and simultaneity challenge longstanding notions of art as a static marketable commodity in the service of the hegemony. How thingish museum art was before the virtual: mummies, Louis XIV chairs, structural steel sculptures, and dour portraits. Amerika counters thingification with an art of process and participation. Artists and critics have just begun to formulate digital aesthetics. The classical Greeks situated aesthetics in the mathematical certainty of the Golden Mean; da Vinci situated aesthetics in the visceral by dissecting cadavers to reveal the underlying sanguine beauty. In order for emerging Internet art and the aesthetics of informatics to move beyond pandering to the hegemony, artists through their work and audiences through their political participation need to counter the culture industry as described by Adorno. The culture industry openly promotes false needs and commodity fetishism. Needs are created in people that can rarely be satisfied. The need for fetishes increases as the price of those objects grows. Need satisfaction comes to those who have more purchasing power. To date, most Internet art can be accessed freely by audiences by computer.
At the intersection of informatics and aesthetics, Amerika seeks to resuscitate cultural production and distribution in at least three ways:
· recast cultural production and distribution of art as an interactive process that utilizes the mutability of hypertext instead of the fixity of consumer exchange. In doing so, Amerika reconstructs social subjectivity through hypermediation of the text;
· counter the capital-driven concept of intellectual or artistic property and the authoritative text by reviving notions of textual or digital remix and theft;
· revive subversion in art. Amerika, through his electronic network Alt-X and the Avant Pop movement provides an aesthetic of informatics - interactive and political - for audiences and artists who have succumbed to consumerism and wish to escape.
Vlaisslav Gordic, a critic of Amerika's work, notes that Amerika's Avant-Pop movement combines Pop Art's focus on consumer goods and mass media with the avant-garde's interest in subversion. Amerika foregrounds the subversive by reformulating himself into an entrepreneurial Internet art brand name - Amerika. He combines recent expressive forums such as hypertext, e-books, palm pilots, print texts, and books-on-demand with extant expressive forms such as the word, icon, event, and the party.
The danger remains, however, that the New Media, like the Old Media, will be in the service of the same masters. Note his recognition in the mainstream: recipient of the Whitney Biennial American Art award for GRAMMATRON; cited as one of Time Magazine's "100 Innovators;" Creative Writing Fellow at Brown University; faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and much more.
The following email interview with Amerika reads like a cyborgian interview slam. If the interview is challenging, it was meant to be so because this print interview resists conventions, commodification, and authorship. Amerika's art is exclusive in that it solicits a critical audience that questions artistic expression as measured by cash price. Amerika's art is democratic in that it is accessible by click-thru technology worldwide. The interview might appear like an imitative fallacy. In other words, in attempting to delineate aesthetics of fragmented information, fragmentation is produced. Yet, the interview holds together with snippets of linearity, code, idiosyncratic vernacular, enjambment, the human voice, and what seems to be non-sequiturs - if viewed from the perspective of print conventions. The interview does not explain who is the interviewer and who is the interviewee: readers confront uncertain attribution. The medium is the message. Form follows function. The play is the thing. Amerika says, "I am intrigued with the idea of exploding the standard model for narrative construction." New Media demands its own aesthetics of Informatics situated in the political to disturb complacency about artistic production, distribution, participation, and purpose.
ready...aim...[texting 1, 2, 3... texting 1, 2, 3...]
texting the machine
authenticating the silence
the subject of communication
"we are all cyborgs"
<<<...read yourself into me and then translate it back into an on-the-fly decharacterization of what you want to become>>>
<<< "The self is a grammatical fiction" or: the writer as pseudo-autobiographical work-in-progress.>>>
<<<Every time I hear the word culture/ I reach for my checkbook.>>>
<<<In the 1999 Steve Dietz Interview you say "Works that challenge the corporate aesthetic's "illusion of control" can cause the user to reflect on the nature of the medium he or she is using and perhaps point the way to a more proactive model of cultural production, instead of passive consumption.">>>
<<<How does altx serve as an antidote to informationalization?>>>
<<<"by defamiliarizing what commerce has made common">>>
<<<How have you escaped the managed and regulated space of governmentality with its seminal/ovo/blood links to ARPANET?>>>
<<<"we have not escaped. we are trapped in the prison-house of email.">>>
<<<Have you hybridized altx into offline work?>>>
<<<"all the time...altx is a social network more than anything else...an always reconfigured/reconfiguring social network with major nodes in Boulder, New York, L.A., Chicago, San Fran, Rome, Berlin, London, Sydney, etc. we throw the best parties...">>>
reconfiguring the author
I link therefore I am
the ends of man
<<<What changed when you changed your medium from the print of Sexual Blood and The Kafka Chronicles to GRAMMATRON? How did your authority change? Did it?>>>
<<<"I became liberated. First, I was free to escape the posture of copyright maximalism that attaches itself onto intellectual property laws. I was free to leave the distribution bottlenecks of the book world. I was free to say sayonara to the politically correct book review mechanism and its pseudo-liberal pretensions. Of course, for some cultural critics, this is the worst thing that could happen - a total disaster. All of a sudden, you don't have the mainstream publishing world or the conservative literary academic world pulling on the reins, trying to keep you in what they would like the culture-at-large to perceive as an irrelevant avant-garde ghetto.">>>
<<<"This all changes in a networked environment like the WWW. What you do is you put your work online and let the people decide if they want to engage with it or not. I did that with GRAMMATRON and in its short 3 1/2 year history, it has attracted over a million visitors. Can you imagine a million-plus people taking your book off the Border's bookshelf? I released GRAMMATRON as a "public domain narrative environment" - what we might now call an "on-demand ebook" or "cluster of interconnected copyleft documents" that were always already published and - this is essential - exhibited in the electrosphere. GRAMMATRON also enabled me to start challenging what we normally think of as the 'author function.'">>>
<<<"Perhaps we should look at writing as a kind of network performance that lives in the moment. Gertrude Stein conceived of this before I did, saying it was 'the business of art...to live in' a 'continuous present' and that we needed to immerse ourselves in 'the complete actual present and to completely express that complete actual present.' I think that's very well put. Successful creative writers and literary/social critics who have invested a great deal of time and energy in the development of their own, authoritative, book-centric network-value, have a terrific problem with all of this, and who can blame them? They have created their own network-value by successfully marketing their stories and ideas via a bottlenecked distribution system that not only favors the social elite who control the publishing establishment, but also helps them all locate a consumer-audience that guarantees mainstream visibility and myriad ways of electronically streaming revenue sources into their bank accounts. Their network-value is intimately connected with a production/distribution model that is totally dependent on the past while losing touch with this 'continuous present.' They perceive real threats from this simulated social world of internetworking, a world that has consistently challenged their ideological foundations. Watching their ideas becoming instantaneously appropriated by the collective web-self for its own uses isn't easy and they won't take it lying down. In fact, as roaming dinosaurs trouncing through the intellectual landscape, they are by far the ones best positioned to defend the past they still live in.">>>
<<<"one last point, in this, my longest answer: why do all of the hypertext critics, electronic theorists, and cyborgian feminists still find themselves attached to the book? do as I say, not as I do...">>>
Informatics.of.Resistance.a.remix.of.copyleft.surf-sample-manipulate.writing.as.hactivism.and.strategic.pla(y)giarism.language.strings.right.from.the.start.let's.see.how.the. ascii. text.performs.in.unix.space.essay.as.attempt.at.social.cyborgian. fiction/e-mail. genre.re:sourcing.telnet.data.into.critifictional. network. discourse. translate.it.back.into.an.on-the-fly.decharacterization.of.what.you.want.to.become/// subjectively.
.think.deep.this.is.a.little.scary.talk.to.me.talk.me.down.take.me. now... >>>>>>>>>> >><<< <<< << <~~~~~~~~~~~~>>>>>>>>> >>> >><< <<<<<< <>o o > > / > > </man> > > > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
<<<*I agree to do whatever you want. I am here for you to do as you may* - who said that?>>>
<<"could you elaborate?">>>
<<<*We're like machines. Only by pppppplaying out these phantasies that sharpen the faculties in our imaginations can we even begin to breakdown the structural unity of the State-machine that controls us. The machine is machining.*>>>
<<<"machining is ___. the social-cyborg texting other social-cyborgs in an endless feedback loop...an edified conversation...">>>
<<<It has not been definitively proved that the language of words is the best possible language. And it seems that on the stage, which is above all a space to fill and a place where something happens, the language of words may have to give way before a language of signs whose objective aspect is the one that has the most immediate impact on us. Considered in this light, the objective work of the mise en scene assumes a kind of intellectual dignity from the effacement of words behind gestures and from the fact that the esthetic, plastic part of theater drops its role of decorative intermediary in order to become, in the proper sense of the word, a directly communicative language.>>>
<<<"There you go texting me again. what sort of social-cyborg do you think I am? a reconfigured subject that not only undermines the concept of human subjectivity but threatens and promises to transform the very subject matter of the study of human communication?">>>
<<<¥¥¥yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes¥¥¥>>>
<<<what sorts of questions does my texting raise for you?>>>
<<<"are you a passive reader or do you prefer to interact with the text? how is texting like making love? how is making love like making history - or making history up? are you culture-jamming the Unknown? does mere textuality make you wet or must there be a synchronized subjectivity informing the reconfigured author who texts you? is this even possible or is authorship vanishing in a blur of manipulated and manipulating data? if so, then who is doing the manipulating? who is the Other? is this feeling of "being manipulated" mutual? how does this effect our understanding of use-value and how can we even begin to take these arbitrary traces that find their way into this communicative space at their *interface* value? or is the interface disappearing too?">>>
<<<¥¥¥I eat POWER. POWER Eats me. Power eating itsef...¥¥¥>>>
I did not like that last e-mail
I did not like that last e-mail
I did not like that last e-mail
I did not like that last e-mail
<<<self-questioning: "what is literature's exit strategy?">>>
<<<or: "who am I this time?">>>
<<<"To each being, several other lives were due.">>>
ready...aim...[clicking 1, 2, 3... clicking 1, 2, 3...]
<<<So tell me, Amerika, who has authored YOU? Who do you read while fingering authority?>>>
<<<"right now, I am being rewritten by many, most notably Celine, Stein, Acker, Beckett, Flusser, and an emerging avant-pop writer named Lidia Yuknavitch - check out her new novel 'Liberty's Excess.' who do you read?"
<<<I read the electronic conversations. I read bodies, Z, The Nation, In These Times. I read fiction from Sun & Moon, Dalkey Archive, and FC2/BIB presses. Like Curtis White I want to include those from alternative journals who leftist intellectuals seem to be exclude from their critical studies. I read Dick Grossman, Cris Mazza.>>>
<<<"oh, I see: a collectivist. me too (I think). where were we?">>>
<<<The first time I saw you you were at Computers and Writing 2000 Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. You and the other speakers were textulating about copyleft, open code, Unix, the subversion of leaving text, flooding text, dropping text all over the place to subvert, well, I guess the old print authority, the dominant hegemony stuff, the old in-out. What DO you do as a copyleftist? When does it happen? How does copylefting operate on a significant cultural level and not just a witty semiotic or discursive jerking-off?>>>
:----- © *
["copy machine," R. Mutt]
<<<Who is MA? If we were to clone you, what experiences must your clone have to be a writer/cyborg/editor/professor/artist/hactivist? Is there anyway we can understand your politics thorough your personal?>>>
THE LAST THING HE WRITES IS THIS:
HE WOULD BECOME A TERRORIST: HE WOULD FULFILL HIS OWN DESIRES AND START RANDOMLY ASSERTING HIS CREATIVE SELF WHEREVER HE FELT LIKE IT: HE WOULD BECOME AN ARTIST CYBORG EDITOR WRITER PROFESSOR HACTIVIST: THE ALL-IN-ONE OCCUPATION CURRENTLY UNDER SIEGE AS BEING THE MOST CRIMINAL IN ACTIVITY: HE WOULD TRANSPORT AN UNHINGED PRIMITIVE FLOW INTO THE UNDOMESTICATED WILDNESS OF HIS BODY SO AS TO DELIVER THE MOST FRENZIED STATE OF TRANSGRESSION EVER CREATED:
BUT: IN ORDER TO SET THIS RADICAL AGENDA IN MOTION: THE FIRST THING HE WOULD HAVE TO DO: WOULD BE: TO BECOME:
<<<That's the opening passage from your second novel, Sexual Blood. As a feminist, the rape scene of Danielle toward the middle of SB reminded me of a suede 60s/70s sex orgy. Mario Puzo on steroids, misogynist Kerouac rehash. All this "undress," "touch yourself," "spread your legs" and she obeys - agrees,..Even then you were deconstructing notions of power and authority through the power metaphors of sexual politics.>>>
<<<"Yes, a close reading of this scene in SB will reveal, first of all, that this scene was for the most part written by a woman, a woman who has gone on record saying that she wrote these words to try and seduce a man she desperately loved (she succeeded). But even more than that, structurally, within the narrative of SB, this same exact scene repeats itself, almost word for word, 20 pages later when Mal is being seduced by the hip, young, African-American "feminist-goddess" who has changed her name to Zulu. Same words, different context - or maybe not so different depending on your reading. Also, don't forget the final passage of the book where Mal encounters the virtual Madonna who, as telerobotically controlled machine, starts ripping pieces of her body off in acts random violence against what can only be the "self," and then, as if unaware, begins forcing these body parts into all of Mal's open orifices. Who's controlling the virtual Madonna and why is she being so - emotional? These power metaphors you refer to are being refracted all throughout the story's discourse.">>>
<<<I see cadres of hactivistas organizing under a blinking banner of MA! MA! How do you teach your compadres resistance to tired authorship? How do you counter web authority? What is the music of resistance? Even a cyber-movement needs a beat, maybe.>>>
<<<"Oh yeah, definitely. Right now I'm continuing my recent investigations into the interrelationships between DJ remixing and cyborg texting. There was some of it in GRAMMATRON, but my second Internet art project, PHON:E:ME, which was commissioned by the Walker Art Center and nominated for a Webby Award in the Art category, is all about taking writing into remixable sound space. With PHON:E:ME, I started developing relationships with artists from various backgrounds and disciplines and I continued exploring the potential of reconfiguring the writing practice into something else altogether different, an expanded concept of writing, and in so doing envisioned an mp3 concept album about concept art, where the author function becomes something more in tune with network conduction. The Author as Network Conductor has many implications and possibilities, which I won't get into here now, but the change is significant because it means that writers must make (h)activist cultural production a major part of their practice. I think this gets overlooked by too many intellectuals who are looking for the optimum comfort-zone for their theoretical musings and, needless to say, creates discomfort for many traditional writers who are bound by the book, intellectual property rights, and the big mainstream publishers and their publicity machines.">>>
<<<"The first step in problematizing this notion of an "authoritative voice" [i.e. composing a counter or contraventionist art work that would challenge authorial control] was to digitally record my voice saying all of the phonemes in the English language. These digital recordings then became source-material for DJs to experiment with in their unique studio environments, taking what was supposedly the voice of the author, his utterances, the basic sound units that form sensible language, and manipulate them for their own (DJ) uses. I'm reminded of what my friend the late Kathy Acker said when we were doing a radio gig together and the M.C. asked her to talk about her voice. 'What voice?' she asked, incredulously. 'I have no voice: I just steal shit.'">>>
<<<"In addition to these sound manipulations, there was the creation of the hyper:liner:notes which accompanied and soon became a central feature of PHON:E:ME. The textual patterns that emerged and became the hyper:liner:notes were also heavily manipulated. Each text chunk was some form of manipulated writing that came from pre-existing sources. The *way* each source gets manipulated is what keeps the narrative - the rhetorical flow - constant and somewhat interconnected, no matter what order they come up in. You can see them as hypermediated text chunks that then become randomized within a Shockwave interface. In fact, we tried to limit the so-called 'hypertextual' element as much as we could, reconceptualizing online narrative space as an anti-link (and thus anti-consumer) environment. We became more interested in what we started calling 'openings,' 'wandings,' 'conducting,' etc. How to make narrative something more akin to digital rhetoric - that was the experiment - and at times it was music to my ears. Other times it just came out noise.">>>
<<<"My new project [it has multiple namings and renamings] will be a live network performance featuring streaming audio, live vocals and sound-manipulations by various DJs and myself. I'm interested in the way writing, sound, music and noise all work together in network-connected social environments. The world premiere is to take place in Switzerland (and simultaneously on the Web) in April. Some might even call this kind of networked sound-writing performance a real-time publication...">>>
<<<Nicky Hager's article on Internet surveillance (Telepolis http://www.heise.de/tp) reviews New Zealand's attempts to "hack covertly into individuals' computers [thus]forcing people to hand over computer passwords and encryption keys so that e-mail communications and computer files can be read." These interception methods could dam up the liquid architecture in the electrosphere.>>>
<<<yes, it's amazing what governments will try to do in an attempt to dam up our workflow. Our utopian pla(y)giarism. we're fighting our own battles here in the USA too. I just filed my fourth or fifth affidavit in the last two years against yet another conservative state Governor trying to limit free speech in cyberspace. Fortunately, my lawyers at the ACLU and I have yet to lose a case nor have we had to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court. At least not yet, but who knows what's possible nowadays with the legislatures and executives trying to bully their way around the laws of the land.">>>
a NEW and IMPROVED
<<<Revisit your utopian days. How would you (would you?) qualify that utopianism?>>>
<<<"actually, I'm living my utopian days. my you-topian days are happening now...">>>
<<<"But she was different like all single American women travelling are different. She had an open-endedness that came as a result of her wanting to escape. Everyone here was escaping authority. Mal knew this and wanted to be the beacon of anti-authoritarianism." That's also from Sexual Blood. You made the intuitive leap from page sex to cybersex and informationalized the body in GRAMATRON. Where can you take the post-novel-network-narrative while still cutting the edge of authority?>>>
<<<"I think it's going to have to be live performance in globally-connected social networks. A kind of site-specific environmentalism that creates momentary utopias for those who want to participate in this kind of experiential reality. It need not happen on a mass scale. Most people I know are quite happy with their houses, SUVs, kids, and 24-hour TV-sedatives. But there are alternatives and there now exists a distributed community of social-cyborgs who are experimenting with their life-design in ways too cunning for elaboration here. The key thing is to begin using the emerging forms of digital rhetoric to augment one's experiential reality. This kind of (h)activist practice would be a tonic to the vaporware logic of Virtual Reality. I'm reminded of what Allen Ginsberg asked me, off the top of his head, while we were discussing so-called Virtual Reality - he said, 'yeah, but can it make you come?' Good one, Allen."
<<<You must have read Artaud. I watched a play about Artaud where he is sitting on a toilet and dying of rectal cancer. Artaud, the actor playing Artaud, covered with stage blood, jumped into the audience and began to drag horrified spectators onto the stage. What do you find most absurd about your work and the work of asking questions?>>>
<<<"I told you; no works, no language, no words, no mind, nothing. Nothing, except fine Nerve-Scales. A sort of impenetrable stop in the midst of everything in our minds.">>>
<<<"The truth is, the explosion of the World Wide Web into the mainstream culture has radically altered the way we give and receive texts. Writers can reconstitute social subjectivities.">>>
<<<"Hyperrhetorical gestures. How to be patient in a world that's moving so fast you always feel left behind.">>>
<<<You are a writer native to the medium. What exactly is this new communication spawned by the WWW? I still see many of the issues of authority as in print technologies. And someone can always pull the plug or bug the cyberline.>>>
<<<"I guess it was Burroughs who said a paranoid person was someone who has all the facts at her disposal. Really, though, the bug is up our ass. The question is: who's listening?">>>
<<<This is not how I expected this to go.>>>
<<<Are expectations a form of authority - an anti-interview?>>>
<<<Has the medium taken over the message?>>>
<<<DEFANGED_Meta meta meta****&***.>>>