CS: Postmasters is just a gallery, not a big museum. And institutions usually try to do so. From what I have seen, curators really do think about how they can make net.art installations happen in a space that makes sense. That is a crucial point for all shows in 'a white cube'. On the other hand, I think there are works which simply demand that you just sit in front of a computer screen, especially if it is about the interface and about the screen and nothing else.
I: Did you go to that show in Orange County "Control Shift"?
CS: Where is Orange County, first of all?
I: It is south, between here and San Diego. It is a really Repulican area. That's where Disneyland is. It's an extension of the huge conglomerate which is Los Angeles, just further south. So this place, University of California at Irvine, had a show called "Control Shift", which curated work and various new games and gaming networks. It was very gallery hipster. The show had these orange kidney-shaped stations with wall-to-wall white carpeting that made it look really cute and IKEA. So you sit down on this white carpet in front of a computer monitor, right? But you can't really get beyond that, can you? Isn't it interesting that you can have the same kind of presentation in a museum that you can have in your own house? Why don't they simply give you a list of websites associated with the show and send you home? Why even charge admission to the museum? Yeah, bingo.
CS: I was part of this show called "Tenacity" at the Swiss Institute in New York, which was about 'stubborn practices in the information age'. But it was not simply a net.art show. I think we are in a phase now where net.art projects more and more become part of larger theme oriented shows. And this makes sense, not just to put the focus on the medium all the time but also to try to find other references in the works. And making it all together an experience in a real space, which is worth visiting a gallery space is the actual task of a curator - which was nicely fulfilled in the given exampel.
But there's also negative examples. Did you see the Whitney Biennal this year in NYC? They also showed net.art, in a very ridiculous and funny way. There was one space, a dark room with several benches, like a movie theater or a church, and people were sitting next to each other in rows and watching the projection while one person in the back, another, very courageous visitor was operating the single computer in the space...
I: That's very much what 'Control Shift' was like as well. They had seven or eight stations in the beginning, with massive projections that someone could operate with a joystick. It was like flying the Starship Enterprise. The set-up was more about being wowed by the technology where the technology is more seductive than the underlying concept. And that is my problem with the "Control Shift" show, that you were simply looking at really pretty graphics. Or that things are so interesting because they are 3D and come out at you - it still lacks any content! But there is the flipside where often times work which is "technical" immediately gets marginalized. People won't look at the content because they can't get past the technical! The first time net.art was included in a gallery show was in Documenta in 1997!
CS: What they did was another exampel or curatorial cluelessness - they had one room which contained all the terminals and these computers were not online because the curator was afraid that the visitors would check their email. There's real dangers coming along with the internet!
I: Have you always used the net as a venue?
CS: I am using different media like video, photography, performance, installtion, writing, computer... all the time. Depends on what is best for the purpose. But I am proud of a really old CompuServe email address. I think it is from 1991.
I: You mean like 100111.1111?
CS: At the moment they have a dot and then four numbers behind the dot. I have one with two numbers behind the dot.
CS: I still keep this email because it is an antique, it is very cool. And I got online because a friend of mine had moved to New York, and we were looking for a cheap way to keep in touch. So I got a modem for my laptop, which was this really strange machine - a Toshiba with no hard drive!. My very first contact with the internet was through email and communication, and it stayed like this for many years.
I: Your work lends itself to the idea of networking, right?
CS: Yes, I basically think that art has a lot to do with exchange, communication, with 'information processing'. This is the case for any artist, but working in artist groups, collectives and networks is a more formalized way to live and pratice that kind of exchange. And it fosters an image of the artist which leaves the idea of a lonesome genius behind.
I have been doing collaborative work since 1990. The first group I worked with was called "Frauen-und-Technik" ("Women and Technology") which is also a saying in Germany. When, for example, a woman makes a mistake in driving or something similar, people will say "Oh! Frauen und Technik!"
I: That women and technology don't go together.
CS: Exactly. But we did not much refer to our name contentwise, but put the focus on issues of representation. Our work was based on reflecting marketing and advertising strategies, which had gained big popularity in the late 80s. People had started to talk about 'Logos', 'Corporate Identity' and 'Corporate Design'. And we used all such things to promote the group. I mean, that was our work - communicating our existence.
I: Did you fabricate things, activities that the collective was doing?
CS: For exampel we made a brochure about ourselves, and we produced all kind of merchandising products, bearing our logo which were spread all over, also in the art context as art products, and in our performances we were wearing uniforms made ourselves available and gave autographs... Much to our surprise these techniques worked also well for our group, and we were able to generate a certain publicity. During the production time of the shows we did for the documenta art TV 'Piazza Virtuale' in summer 1992, we started to realize how hard it was to stay with the concept of not producing any 'content'. It is mega hard work just to stay at the surface of things all the time. What we did there was a series of game shows titled 'envy of penis games'. We sort of played penis envy games, based around this interpretation of "Frauen and Technik", like why a woman would want a big computer, motorcycle or whatever. I think the best thing about these shows was the title. And the group also was too large - we were 10 - to work together for a longer time; after two years or so we split up into two smaller groups. The one I continued wo work with called itself '-Innen'.
I: What does that mean?
CS: In German the ending 'in' indicates a female person, and 'innen' is the plural. If you say a male teacher, you say "Lehrer", for a female teacher you say "Lehrerin". We included the dash to indicate that we are ready to connect to any existing structure and situation. We can come in and add
"-Innen", the female ending, to anything. So that was the concept behind the name "-Innen".
I: And the work you did, was it a continuation of 'Frauen-und-Technik'?
CS: Very much. For example we exaggerated the uniform principle by dressing up the same way. We absolutely wanted to look the same. And with "-Innen" we continued to work on TV and about TV.
In the year 1994 we produced shows, and during the production process we developed a television theory which was a mixture of Lacanian theory and writings on media. We even developed a kind of own media theory about TV. One could say it was extremely eclectic, and actually, quite absurd, but in itself it was coherent. The theory concerned the individual sitting in front of the TV - what happens to him/her from a psychological or psychoanalytical point of view. We used the concepts of the "real" , the 'imaginaire", and the "symbolic" and attempted to adapt them to the medium of television. First, we experimented with a performance piece using a technique of Lacan, who came up with the idea of using mathematical formulas for philosophical content. Since we liked this approach we designed mathematical formulas that would explain our theories about television. We had a huge heartshaped screen on the stage, and the four of us sat next to it wearing white lab coats in order to make us look more scientific and serious. On the heart screen we projected our mathematical formulas, and one of us would stand up and explain to the viewers what the formula meant. We also incorporated excerpts from daily soap operas and explained how our theories and formulas worked within the context of the soap opera. Another part was soap operas where we dubbed the audio so that the characters in the show would be talking about our television theory, which was really funny. For example, we dubbed the voices so that they were talking about narcissism in the media. After these performances, we wanted to continue our experiment by doing the game shows in TV.
The first game show was called the "Narcissism Game." It was a multiple-choice test where we read the question to the viewers and listed three possible choices. The public called in and tried to pick the right answer. Of course the correct answer related to our theory. That's how we trained the audience to give the right answers: they had to learn about our theory in order to correctly answer our questions. The more they participated the more they began to understand what we were getting at.
I: Was it hard to captivate the audience? Was it hard to get an audience response?
CS: We always had people calling in.
I: Did people realize that Lacan was the father of your absurd theory?
CS: Of course only people who are familiar with Lacan, they realized, but they didn't have to know his thought to understand what we were getting at. Our game shows really made sense in themselves and you could understand most of what we were saying simply by watching. The second game show we did was called "Self Ideal," where the callers could design a new self, an ideal self, an ideal image of themselves by answering several of our questions. Depending on the answers they gave we calculated and generated a new self image for them. Then we read it to the callers and that was the prize they could win for themselves. People really loved it! I think we were really on to something with that show because the questions and constructed selves were seriously based on psychological theories. Certain types of people who answered would give certain types of answers to our questions, and we, "-Innen," could decide from this that the caller must be a type like this, like that, like the type that would give an answer such as they did. It made sense.
I: It sounds therapeutic.
CS: It certainly was fun for the participants, ... and maybe in that sense therapeutic. The third game was even more therapeutic. We called it the "Trauma Game." People could send us their traumas, and we would attempt to overcome their traumas live and on the air.
I: What were some of the traumas?
CS: They were great! We loved the traumas! For example, one guy was allergic to feathers, and he told us an anecdote about how he developed his traumatic allergy. When he was a little boy he had to vacuum his room. One day his mother went shopping and by mistake he sucked his little bird into the vacuum. It died of course, and since then feathers have traumatized him.
I: How did you fix his trauma?
CS: We didn't. Of course, we never fixed any of the traumas; we just said we would. That was the point. A caller would choose from a set of envelopes that contained different trauma stories. Then the same person would choose a candidate in the studio. We were the candidates, and we all looked the same. Once they chose one of the women from "-Innen" she would stand up and have the trauma read to her. Then she would stand there for thirty seconds in a meditative state of mind, with a watch, tick tick tick, in time with the music. Afterwards the modeartor asked her, "Did you overcome the trauma?"
Published in net.net.net, CalArts and Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles, 2001