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Tamas Banovich, Postmasters Gallery, NY.
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Tamas Banovich, Postmasters Gallery, NY.

10.05.2001
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Speakers:>  Tamas Banovich

[...] in '85 my partner, Magdalena Sawon and I started Postmasters Gallery. I think the concept of an art gallery is a little different in the United States than here. It is a commercial gallery, representing a group of artists. It is a business. Its only income comes from the sale of art, or from various art activities. Ninety-nine per cent of it is from the sale of art objects. So this is framing and defining what we do, what we can and cannot do. But the obvious advantage of it is that since it is a private enterprise we really can do whatever we want. [] Originally our program was focused on what we called "thinking art". []

In 1994 or 95 I was struck by the fact that there was this huge cultural change going on - that technology changed how people interact, work and how they perceive the world - and this somehow wasn't reflected in art of the time. As much as I was ignorant before to that kind of work, and I didn't understand how those kinds of works made sense together. And I certainly wasn't involved with the beginnings of media art (what was happening in Ars Electronica and Siggraph and all these places). I think it was because I was following this obviously ignorant rule of thumb that everything connected to gadget technology detracts, and releases artists from concentrating and boiling down to their essence their concepts and ideas. So I became interested, and the first incident was very weird. [] So I separated myself from the NY art world and was exclusively trying to find these people on the web. And so the next challenge was to present this. I was looking for a unifying form that could represent this medium - and at the time I had the idea that it was the screensaver - a short work that had a random structure, some were interactive, but all had introduced the loop. []

So obviously there were serious challenges there - how to represent it and how to represent to people who are interested in art that it has a lasting value. How to get the idea through that they should support this kind of activity and participate in creating a different economy through these things. That was one part. The other part was that suddenly we were faced with a different set of people in many ways - the 'new' artist. One was that they were totally isolated and they had no clue about the structure of the art world because they were basically excluded from the system, so it was a reaction. They were ghettoized into these festivals and had no interaction with artists who worked in other mediums. And also there was this thought that basically they do not need the mediation that the artworld provides because their work is available on the web. And it sounded to me very seductive at the time and I almost believed it. But the history and progress of the web changed the whole situation very fast. So the works were lost in the sea of other things. when you set aside the technological aspect of the work, then you realize the issues they are dealing with are issues which were very often already dealt with and it had a history and they didn't really relate to this history very well. []

So I finally decided that I had an overview of the area and that I would form this project. And that's how the show 'Can you digit?' came into existence. I created this ship-like shape from these monitors and on each monitor there was one work. In a practical sense it was also important because all of these were experimental works so they weren't very stable and also I felt that if I put several works on one computer it wouldn't be just to the work. This way I could create a stable environment because there was nothing else on the machine but that work. From the technical standpoint at that moment it was quite an undertaking to figure it out for a gallery which used to hang paintings. the other point which emerged after this experience is that it is not a special challenge to deal with digital art because essentially you have to go through the same process as with any other work - that is you have to understand the work, understand the ideas, understand the intention of the artist and then find a specific way to exhibit it without forcing a curatorial idea on it but in trying to communicate these ideas through the way you exhibit the work. And the result of it was that after three shows I realized the period of introduction was over and that I had to go back and to represent individual artists. the role of the space diminished to a large extent and we had to think about what kind of environments, what kind of context existed in which to exhibit this work, and follow that thought process.

The other factor was in dealing with a different kind of artist. This can sometimes sound trivial, but in a practical sense is very important. One is that not only were these artists removed from the art world, but also they had a valuable skill. Again it is probably different here, but in the USA artists are not supported by the government (or very few of them are). There are very few grants, it is very difficult for artists to live from their artwork. One group were artists who got into the commercial world and became very successful and overburdened with commercial work and their success was very fast and very tangible, and there my main work was in trying to keep their focus on their artwork and pull them back and talk them into keeping making work. On the other hand there were very few artists who were able to find a balance.

what I call the first generation of media artists - Perry Hoberman, Ken Feingold, Ken Goldberg - all these people who were mostly doing their work in Europe (ZKM) and Japan (ICC) and a few other centres - they objected that all the works were on their own computers and that I had ignored the physicality of it. I disagreed with them but I wanted to address this thing and to see how I could approach it differently. So I came up with the idea of the 'Mac Classics' show. The idea was to deal with the physicality. So I proposed the 'Mac Classic' which is a sort of icon of the personal computer and the whole cultural phenomena people came up with very varied propositions. Some people treated it as an object they were basically made into backpacks. Some people painted them. Some of the early Macs had no hard drive and were working from an 800k floppy disc and they did art work within it. One person was doing one pixel animations. Jodi did what was their first iteration of their inaccessible computers when they created this operating system that was impossible to crack.

[Tamas Banovich also talks about the installation work of Jon Klima]

Audience responses:

Sarah Cook:

I wanted to start by asking you to comment on the relationship between the gallery as a commercial entity and how the museums are dealing with new media work. For instance Netomat is now on view at the Whitney though you had shown an earlier version in the gallery, and I wanted to know if museums had come to you about that? []

TAMAS BANOVICH:

They didn't only not come, they ignored it. For a very long time they ignored it. It was a totally disjointed process. Its not a complaint and there is nothing personal, but I found it interesting that for years we were the only people in New York who showed consistently and comprehensively, new media. And the curator from the Whitney wouldn't even come to the gallery. This is changing now. And Data Dynamics, not because three of the five artists I work with at Postmasters, but because the curator knows the whole area, is very thoughtfully put together.

I wanted to mention Netomat. We had to rethink how we operate and one of my ideas was to depart from the fossilized system of selling art and being supported by selling objects. And commissions and all of those variations are basically not consistent and it is not a viable, at least for us, source of income. And my original idea was that since all these people were incredible skilful and many of their artworks were based on software that had other applications than to drive a particular artwork. This largely for a while was just theory, but two years ago we showed the work Netomat by Maciej Wisniewski. It was called a meta-browser or an anti-browser. But the underlying technology is an incredible technology which he later expanded to be this whole platform which allows you to speak with this new language of the internet. We tried to find a different metaphor for how to present this in the gallery. So we didn't make an exhibition we made a launch of the software. It was downloaded over a million times. And we concluded that to achieve this we had to vigorously pursue it and the only metaphor for it was the business metaphor and so we have to approach it as a commercial project. And what we want to do is bring out these tools that anyone can use and that is a huge undertaking to create something that is industry strength in terms of software. Within two years we got to the point that we formed a corporation, we raised a seed investment with investors and we formed with two other partners a corporation that now exists with six employees, designers and software engineers. This is our art activity at this point. We produce all the art shows and we do commercial projects based on this technology. And probably by the end of the year we will release this software. This is for me the first grand experiment to propose something different, a new economic model.

[re the 'timelag' for museums to take on new media]

CHRIS BYRNE (NEW MEDIA SCOTLAND):

I think we've been here before. This is one of my bugbears. If were talking about the Tate specifically then we should remember it took them a long time to accept video art as a practice as well and it something to do with the relationship of media art to the art world or the art market, and levels of acceptance of certain kinds of practice. It was rare for video art, apart from video installation to be show in the Tate Britain (as it is now) until relatively recently, say the early 90s, although the practice had been going for some time before that. Maybe the catch up time has been less in terms of internet practice but perhaps there is a similar phenomenon now that it has crossed into certain mainstream perceptions in the art world therefore institutions can step in and show this type of work because it is deemed to be of interest. [...]

KAREN ALEXANDER:

In relation to this question of a lag in terms of the time it takes an institution to take on work, I wonder about whether new media practice is challenging in other ways in relation to classification, and the fact that it is difficult to define and while we may be talking about the Tate we could be talking about a whole range of cultural institutions because obviously the nature of the media is that it crosses a range of boundaries. I suppose my question is about if it is challenging classifications in the way we classify practice, in relation to curatorial practice if that is what gives context.

TAMAS BANOVICH:

A few weeks ago in the Guggenheim there was a symposium which touched on this. I'm not sure if the solution is to classify it; forget about this idea. I could mention 50 different areas just within this medium. Its insane because how do you deal this work if each one falls into a different category? I'm not an academic, but I guess the idea of classification is to compare works and if there are more categories than work then it is hard to compare them. [...]

 

 
Keywords:

  net.art
  installation
  media art
  animation
  design
  time
  space
  interaction
  software
  video
  festivals
  museums
  technical
  lag

People:

  Sarah Cook
  Tamas Banovich
  Magdalena Sawon