CODE, ART& AESTHETIC
Txt: Elena Ravera
He is programmer, graphic, vj and experimenter. He is hedonist of the visual environment, lover of colours and organic forms. Editor of the Generator.x project (between conference, exhibitions and live concert) maybe the most known and qualified platform for the diffusion of the generation art and the sharing of the knowledge tied to the open source processing code and of Code & Form one of the most important resources for whom is interested in the computational aesthetics.
He is Marius Watz, he comes from Norwey but is adopted by Berlin , one of the most representative and authoritative person on an international level of the alliance among art, experimentation and communication, which many artist and professionals of the world of electronics and digital culture are searching today. His graphic tables, his generative settings rich of colours and shapes, were exposed in the main expositive centres and also used to accompanied the most important international festivals of electronics, how it happens this year at the Club Transmediale Festival.
Tied to the techno underground culture from which he comes from, also the human side of this unique artist reflects this background; who is able to dialogue with intelligence both with institutions and clubs, art and market, codes of programming and the aesthetics deriving from them. Born as a graphic designer, today he is a code artist and aesthete, a live artist and lecturer, blogger (his visiting card demonstrates this) and expert of new media communication. He is a professional and artistic hybrid tipical of our age and indicative of what will happen in a future we hope will be very soon.
Digicult waiting his participation at the second edition of Mixed Media, interviews therefore one of the most important alive generative artists: Marius Watz.
Elena Ravera: If you had to explain a children what it is, how do you explain it? For example Fabio Franchino used a beautiful image. He answered: “I would make him observe a group of children playing. They are a system of agents, everyone with specific rules in a system of common rules. Imaging that every child has dirty shoes in a room with a teacher who tries to control them, the floor would become a generative work. If we had 100 available rooms, some of them could be also interesting”. Now it’s your turn: how do you explain it?
Marius Watz: That’s an excellent question. How to answer? I guess I would explain that it’s like making a drawing but only being allowed to use straight lines, because this drawing has rules. When I was little I remember drawing like that, making rules for how I was allowed to join one line to another. No wonder I ended up a programmer.
Elena Ravera: Among your many exhibition, performance, workshop and lectures, few events took place outside Europe : the resonance of the European artists of generative art remains intra muras, as it happens for some festivals of new media?
Marius Watz: Even though it is popular with the public, media art is expensive to produce and exhibit, but difficult to sell. As a result it hasn’t caught on as much in countries without public funding. The European scene is supported largely by an infrastructure for publicly funded art, which is largely missing in America. Asia has an increasing number of festivals and exhibitons, but even in a global scene there are national limits. If you look at the rise of generative art in the last 10 years, it has functioned as a subset of the larger media art scene. In Europe it has been linked to electronic music, VJ culture and experimental design. In America the scene is slightly more academic, with a strong influence from John Maeda’s work at MIT. The American artists also have a stronger history to draw on, since computer culture saturated American society much earlier than it did in Europe. Interestingly, the European artists have been much slower to find their own history in the works of artists like Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely or other Europeean pioneers.
I see the European media art festival scene paradoxically as both a benefit and a problem – a ghetto that protects but also limits its participants. It embraces a DIY culture and enables emerging artists to show their work, but it is not taken very seriously by the mainstream art world. As a result electronic artists can have a hard time living from their work. I think it is good to question the traditional models of commercial art, but to be a professional artist you must make your work put food on the table. Living on fees from festivals is hard. It’s even harder to find funding to produce new work, which is one of the reasons media art installations today tend to be less monumental than in the mid-90′s. A lot of the artists working in the scene are now looking to find a way to commodify their work. But to do that they have to cross over into the mainstream art world, away from the media art ghetto. I believe it is necessary to “speak both languages” – to make one’s work relevant in the media art scene as well as in the general art discourse.
Elena Ravera: I think one of the main differences between the traditional forms of art and the generative one is that in the last one the artist has in comparison with his audience, the same possibility to astonish himself in front of his work. Maybe today working on the code to make art and everything it involves is the only way for an artist to be sincerely and total surprised by his works. It doesn’t occur with traditional forms of usual art. What do you think about?
Marius Watz: I disagree. Art forms like painting and drawing have always stressed intuition combined with skill, so that the work is created as a flow. In that sense, surprise is certainly an element. The creative process is usually about an irrational moment of transsubstantiation, an amazing moment indeed.
I think what is different is the way that generative systems are chaotic, meaning that the artist does not control them completely. They are created and choreographed by the artist, but once set in motion unforeseen properties emerge.
Elena Ravera: It is said that generative art belongs to street culture and pop culture. I think it is the opposite. If we must give a definition of it, I think it would be included in the cultured art, to understand it, it is necessary a specific background without it we can risk to see the product of generative systems as mere decorative speculations. I mean, the generative art isn’t conceptually accessible as a seriousness of a soup in can. What do you think about it?
Marius Watz: Understood as a method, generative art lends itself equally to pop culture and high art. It all depends on the artist’s intention. Some artists do invoke the conceptual aspects of generative art, such as the removal of the author and the use of logic systems. There is plenty of high art historical precedence for this kind of work: LeWitt, Fluxus, Riley etc. But more commonly, generative systems have recently become popular because they simply make sense in digital media, where code is an integral part.
Historically, artists working with generative art in the 1960′s and 1970′s were typically professional artists, working within the art world. The movement from the mid-1990′s was dominated by autodidacts, coming from fields outside of art (design and music in particular) or taking up code by accident. Supported by a strong electronic music scene and an emerging VJ culture, many artists found a home outside the mainstream art world and hence felt closer to the pop culture. The 1990′s also saw a rise of the designer as author, with free experimentation becoming popular. With the emergence of tools like Flash and Director and new media like the web, such experimentation was the only way to find the boundaries of what was possible. As a result, publishing web sites with formal sketches was the starting point for many of the artists who are now popular in the scene, many of whom supported themselves by designing web sites.
Lately generative art has become more accepted by the art world, being shown in galleries and even sold to collectors. As a result, some artists are moving away from the pop culture and describing their work in high art terms. For many of them, the media art scene with its political and academic bias never felt like home anyway. I think generative art should be understandable without any prior knowledge of the process involved. If not, then the artist is either making art for artists, or needs to work on her presentation skills. As for the complaint that generative art is simply decorative, fit only for screensavers or wallpaper patterns, it is hardly worth answering. Such a position would invalidate most of art history.
Elena Ravera: Do you imagine a scenary where generative art can assume a social value beyond the aesthetic such as it happens with software art?
Marius Watz: Apples and oranges. Software art is concerned with social and political mechanisms of software, generative art is concerned with possible formal relationshops that arise from procedural systems. Most generative art is abstract, not referring to anything outside itself. That’s not to say that it would be impossible to create generative works with socially relevant content. See Jason Salavon’s “Every Playboy Centerfold” or “76 Blowjobs” as examples.
In my own work, I do not pretend to imbue it with any explicit meaning. Instead, I am interested in the spontaneous perceptual experience that occurs when the viewers meets the work. Since the work is abstract and contains no explicit semantic references, this is a higly personal exchange. But I would argue that it is still of social relevance.
Elena Ravera: Where will the use of the code arrive?
Marius Watz: Code, being the building blocks, does not have limits in itself. The hardware and the imagination of the creator impose the real limitations. I am expecting to see more different coding systems in the near future, with different focus for different tasks. One interesting development is visual programming environments like VVVV, which has potential particularly for visual thinkers and live performance.
Elena Ravera: How much it is important for you the open source as the source of the resolution of technical problems?
Marius Watz: In recent projects, I would say that 20-40% of the development process has been finding Open Source solutions to certain problems. Why invent the wheel, when you can use tools generously provided by others? In return, I try to publish pieces of code that I know will be of use to the community. My Code & Form blog is all about that.
Elena Ravera: Say us the name of a newcomer who you think is doing a good job, someone who is stimulating.
Marius Watz: I’ve been enjoying the work of Daniel Dessin (www.sanchtv.com). He’s coaxing some amazing results out of VVVV, using shader coding to great effect. Sometimes the results are a little slick, but his color sense and composition are excellent. I’m interested to see where he takes it.
Elena Ravera: The next projects?
Marius Watz: For me, 2007 is the year of products. For the last 4 years I have been creating a series of works that have been shown as projections. While I like the aspect of creating an immersive visual space or an ambient environment, I am becoming more interested in tangible products again. On the one hand it means that I am planning to produce art prints from my works, as well as software installations for a more intimate setting. I also recently created my first-ever physical object using Rapid Prototyping, an old dream come true. It brings back an interest in virtual objects with an almost sculptural approach. That is definitely something I will follow up on in the near future.
Elena Ravera: There are two types of artists. The ones who know to be an artist and the ones who don’t admit it even under torture. Those who belong to electronic art usually belong to the second group so I ask you: are you an artist?
Marius Watz: I resolved that some years ago, when I realized I would be at loss for answer at parties when people asked what I did. But then I realized that I was in fact working as an artist full time, and that it was not just some part-time hobby. So these days I answer that I am an artist, prepared for whatever comes. I have been accused of stealing money from honest tax payers and had otherwise unwanted attention, but mostly it’s been just fine.
Besides, living in Berlin makes it painless. Here everybody you talk to is an artist.