This article / interview in seLecT
with the amazingly insightful Juliana Monachesi has been out for a little while, so now I am going to publish the English version of the Q&A that led to the article.
In addition to the well-researched and thoughtful questions posed by Juliana, the spread has my favorite 2011 picture by far and, it should be noted, I am not very vain when it comes to looking at images of myself (quite the opposite, really). But this image captures the spirit of my life (style /practice) since about 1999 when I first started regularly (post)producing new work in Hawaii :)
J: You have described the web as a “public domain narrative environment”, but people engage in this environment very differently and in various degrees of narrativity: how would you say the advent of this new world scenario has changed our narrative forms, be they fictional, historical or journalistic?
M: Yes, in 1997, almost fifteen years ago when I first released GRAMMATRON (grammatron.com), I was imagining a near-future world where online, role-playing personae used network technologies to teleport themselves into open source narrative environments. This was an intentional experiment in creating a pseudo-utopian speculative fiction that took William Gibson's notion of "cyberspace," one that he developed in novelistic forms, and expanded it into what then felt like the wide-open hypertextual spaces of the World Wide Web. I imagined these online, role-playing personae as artist-agents who created on-the-fly posthistorical narratives in the sense that Flusser uses the term. This meant that writing your story was not going to be about developing a setting, a character, or a plot, but would be more about performing an image of yourself in the social media network.
Back in the mid-late '90s, the idea was to create your multiple role-playing personae by linking them through different hypertextual spaces. Because things were less corporate back then, I was intentionally trying to produce a temporary or even semi-permanent autonomous zone for artists to collaboratively build their shared "storyworld" (we did this at Alt-X, now a living archive at altx.com). We still surf these hypertextual spaces today, but that's just one aspect of a more robust networked and mobile media arts practice. Things have changed dramatically in the last five to ten years. It's less about hypertext and more about embedding the mobile network into our daily rituals, or what Michel de Certeau, in a different context, referred to as the practice of everyday life. Net 2.0 artists, for example, are not trying to figure out the Internet, at least not the way the early Net artists had to spend so much time doing fifteen ago. Now you could say that we are all Net artists, or at the very least Internet-aware artists who remix multiple narrative threads via social, web, and mobile media systems. These are not traditional linear narratives. In electronic environments, our multiple and hybridized personae flow through various multi-linear, multi-dimensional, and super-atomized narrative streams, and they all run parallel to each other. Playing these roles comes naturally to The Artist 2.0. I do this too. For example, I role-play different personae on my Twitter stream @markamerika where I am at times an artist, a serious foodie, a poet, a professor, a comedian, and a beach philosopher (to name just a few).
J: I saw an excerpt of your work for the Montréal Biennial at CIAC’s electronic magazine. “Glitch” and “remix” are two of the concepts and aesthetics you keep rehabilitating through all your practices. In your opinion, is everything really and definitely just a version of something else?
M: Seriously, for me, it's not an opinion, it's just a fact of life. For those of us who create our lives out of what, in my new book [remixthebook.com], I call the Source Material Everywhere, we are always versioning the next manifestation of what it means to be an ever-morphing, digitally networked persona, what my friend Paul Miller [djspooky.com] refers to as "a cut-and-paste as-you-go" multiplex consciousness. This may seem unnecessarily "deep" but really, if you think about it, activating your Net presence means you have to start seeing your conceptual personae as shareware, something that lives in the social fields of distribution. For me, this is just life in the 2010s.
J: As a constantly touring VJ and constant VJ-theorist, how do you describe this art practice at the beginning of a new decade? In Brazil, even though there was a cutting-edge VJing scene mainly at the beginning of the 2000’s, it is sort of a no-scene nowadays (as with de DJ-boom, actually, that today is in the hands of pitch-and-sinc-accommodating-software-aided-iPod-celebrity-DJ’s…); how have things evolve elsewhere?
M: Believe me, I know what you mean about no-scenes. Just because you start a lot of scenes, and are lucky enough like I have been able to fall into and out of many different international scenes, does not mean you have to stay stuck in something forever. This is definitely true of VJ culture. I was heavily involved with my international VJ tour during the years 2000-2005. It was great because not only was I able to travel the world and remix my digital video artwork in front of live audiences, but it also informed what came after my VJ tours, which was a series of large-scale, digital video and surround sound installations in various museum spaces. The aesthetics of VJing is what most appealed to me when I started playing live gigs around the world. First, it enabled me to expand my remix practice into something like "live cinema" but even more importantly for me -- and to my surprise -- it also opened up my creative potential as a visual artist and I started rethinking the relationship of my work to the history of painting, especially abstract expressionist and color field work from the 20th century.
My feeling is that you have to keep moving, to change direction or else you will end up where you are heading. So I stopped VJing in 2005 although, like what happened when I stopped making hypertext and my early experiments in Net art, these practices still resonate with what I am doing today. Having spent a great deal of time working with multi-linear narratives, Net art, live A/V performance, experimental sound art, and postmodern novel writing, has really set the stage for my latest series of transmedia artworks like Immobilité (immobilite.com) and my new work in progress, The Museum of Glitch Aesthetics, a project co-commissioned by the Abandon Normal Devices festival in the UK in conjunction with the London 2012 Olympics, and hopefully the State of Bahia too.
J: Collage, appropriation, intertextuality, cover, remix, bootleg, sampling, mashup, assemblage, combine painting, recombination, remediation, pastiche, postmodernism, postproduction, avant-pop, bastard-pop… Is the century-old (and sort of peripheral until the 1990’s) art practice of collage finally the protagonist of art history? And whatever happened to creativity?
M: Creativity is in the mix! It's inseparable from remix practice. In fact, this is the core principle that I explore in remixthebook (remixthebook.com). The book opens with a remix of the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead who is generally considered the main philosopher, with the possible exception of Bergson, to really work the whole concept of creativity into a philosophical platform that reveals how we are all creative entities, creatures who intuitively generate new versions of life by continuously remixing the source material we find ourselves immersed in. The one Whitehead phrase that continually loops throughout remixthebook is "Creativity is the principle of novelty." What I do in the book is string together a connection between Whitehead's notion of creativity, and its relation to novelty, with what it means to be avant-garde (no longer a dirty word), and how being a remix artist who is always ahead of ones time is a kind of necessary condition if one hopes to visualize the next version of "creativity" coming.
So the protagonist of this historical trajectory is not practice-based collage per se, although I see where you are going with that, but the medium itself. In this case, the artist is the medium is the message. The creature as remixological animal.
J: I couldn’t find much on remixthebook, but cannot imagine it’s a theory book, considering the way you work – never dissociating fiction, theory, art and cyberpsychogeography. Is it too written in the form of “action scripting” and by many of your “flux personas” at the same time? Would you tell a bit about this project and how it differs from your other books and projects?
M: This is because I am doing things to theory that are very rarely done. I bastardize and/or compostproduce it so that it comes across as something other than academic theory. One of the main premises of remixthebook is that theory per se has been hijacked by the academic elite who spin their own jargon-laden remixes in very specific scholarly styles that try to shut out everyone else, even innovative theory-artists, so that they can maintain cultural authority over what is and is not considered preordained theory. But why try and maintain the theory status quo even as the world around us has gone through such radical changes and essentially challenges us to invent new forms of theoretical discourse that are relevant to the technological times we live in? Most of the academics who teach theory have, for some reason, chosen not to accept the challenge to reinvent theory for our time, and it's this cultural elitism that makes it impossible for them to maintain their cultural authority. Anyone who pays attention to what's happening, who is actively engaged with networked and mobile media communication technologies, and who reads and composes their own DIY forms of theoretical discourse, is quite naturally remixing theory back into their practice-based research (which is exactly where it belongs).
In the various versions of remixthebook that appear in both the print book and on the Web at remixthebook.com, what you get is the ongoing performance of theory as practice-based art research. The project samples more from artists like Allen Ginsberg, Nam June Paik, Kathy Acker, Ad Reinhardt, and Robert Rauschenberg -- or even comedians like George Carlin, Stephen Colbert and Steve Martin -- than, say, the tantalizing post-structuralists, although I do borrow from them too. I should also mention Vilém Flusser since, to my mind, he is a unique theoretical figure, a kind of fictional artist and media theorist hybrid. He once said that he viewed his media theory more like science fiction than media theory per se. In this regard, I see my own media theory more as avant-pop performance art.
J: Is it something of an in-depth research on the “space of engaging co-conspiracy” that you like to call “the world wide web as collectively self-generated collage remix machine”? Do you still see the web that way? Do you still design your Net art works acknowledging the participant a huge role? I mean, reading about your interest in long length movies, I tend to think that you somehow got frustrated or suspicious about the collaborative, crowd-sourcing art making process. Is that so?
M: This is a really good question because I would not want to leave anyone with the impression that I am or have been, for some reason, totally enamored of the concept of an "anything goes" participatory art, especially the kind that champions computer interactivity as some kind of "art form of the future." For me, participation is and always has been less about the user-generated content side of things and much more about the intimate social connectivity of people. When I make a work like Immobilité, it's very transmedia in its design, and so, yes, there is a longer, feature-length version of the work that has been exhibited internationally as a large scale installation, but it has also been remixed into other distribution, exhibition, reading, and screening contexts including large-scale public screenings, an iPhone app, various remixes playing on urban screens across all seven continents, an elaborate Web site with video and audio remixes, and a downloadable artist e-book, etc. For me, the making of the work is where the intimate participation, the social energy, manifests itself. It's really about the creative process, of making things intimately, among close collaborators or even people who I have never met but who are open to taking the shared source material and postproducing a version that is part of their own revolution of everyday life.
J: And would you tell a little about the site of remixthebook? Is it really the entire book remixed by other artists?
M: It's fantastic. Vernacular video as digital theory, e-book as conceptual art, Net art as performance writing. The artists and theorists are all amazing in their own right and what they are doing is remixing different chunks or excerpts of source material from the written text or my audio recordings reading the text remixes or even videos of me faux-lecturing the text as "course material," etc. There is also an entire section that we call The Course where the idea is to look at the history of collage, appropriation, literary cut-up, détournement, DJ/VJ and live audio visual sampling and remixing, activism, and what Nic Bourriaud calls postproduction art. The idea is to take what we used to think of as A Book, and recontextualize it for social media art and culture. This is not that unusual. The 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé was trying to do something similar in his own intermedia way (Mallarmé: "Everything in the world exists in order to end up in a book." My remix: "Everything in the world is Readymade Source Material that exists so it can end up being remixed.") My hope is that students as well as random web visitors to the site will also remix the book.
Keywords: Mark Amerika, theory, select magazine, remixthebook, contemporary art practice, experimental writing, net art, détournement