A.L.: A central node of your artistic work is undoubtedly the nag (net.art generator) software developed in five different versions together with different artists/ programmers such as, Ryan Johnston, Luka Frelih, Barbara Thoens/Ralf Prehn and Richard Leopold. With the first release its' own scope was probably sublimated in the Female Extension action with a Perl script that generated 289 (female) virtual artists that collected and reassembled material on the web, submitting them to the Net Art Competiton EXTENSION of the Hamburger Kunsthalle in 1997, 'hacking' it in the end. The museum press releases emphasizing the high woman participation was the result of the action, with the curators acknowledging every name+submitted work as real artist+work of art. This fitted in the artistic tradition of questioning the critics' real ability of judging and selecting works of art, and, even more important, questioning authorship and genre, a hot topic in feminist art. Which consequences have you noticed after Female Extension? Are you still investigating feminist art?
C.S.: I have to make a small correction: the script did not generate the artists - it was me, inventing all the names, but the script actually generated the works which I submitted to the competition under these artists' names. It was the first and very rough version of the nag, but the basic principle was already there: an easy-to-use computer program, which is accessible through a website, which collects material from the Internet after a user has typed in a search term, and which by copy and paste merges the text and visual material together, using additional filters and random parameters.
Of course, the whole routine of juries and judging in the art world is a real problem, but questioning this was only a side effect of Female Extension. The focus, for me, was the shift which net.art was about to take in 1997. For the first time, big and powerful art institutions (like the museum in Hamburg, but also documenta e.g.) wanted to participate in the Internet hype by showing net.art. This was a change because net.art had up to then mainly happened independently; it had created an own context and had nothing to do with juries and curators. Those early days, sometimes ironically referred to as the "heroic times," were over in 1997. From then on, the former net.art context fell apart and people followed their individual careers in the art world. Female Extension was about marking this historic shift. The fact that all the extra net.artists in the competition were females was another nice side story. Of course, nobody expects a large majority of females in a techy field: surprise, surprise!
A very personal consequence of the project is that the curators from the museum won't talk to me to this day. This most likely means that they really hated my intervention; and it looks like they still even hate me, now. Very sad. I can't say that I am sorry about the intervention, but it would have been nice if they had taken it a little bit more easy. Maybe their irreconcilable reaction shows that I seriously hit the target.
Last year I started a new series of works which explicitly engages with feminist art again. Revisiting Feminist Art looks back at 40 years of history. What were the pioneering and radical works in feminist art of the late 1960s and early 1970s? I have selected five works and repeat these works today. The thrilling moment is the repetition, doing the same thing again, which, of course, never will be the same. For example, walking Monty Cantsin as my dog on a leash in 2007 in a gigantic suburban shopping mall is different from Valie EXPORT's performance in 1968. Apart from the personal experience of reenacting the works and taking all the risks involved, it is part of the work to investigate social changes regarding the role models. What does the same action mean in a changed context? And did the context really change, and if yes, in what respects? These are the concerns of the work.
A.L.: The actual striking step of the net.art generator is to produce quantities of 'unique clones' of the 'flowers' series by Andy Warhol. He incidentally, produced a series of hundreds of 'variations' and was even sued (losing the legal dispute) for copyright violation by Patricia Caulfield, the photographer whose picture is the basis of the Warhol series. You algorithmically encoded his pop strategy, playing in the same way with changing the parameters defining a work of art. Did you face legal problems because of that? What thrills you most in changing the possibilities used to develop a work of art?
C.S.: The legal problems only occurred recently, in the last years, since many people have started becoming hysterical about copyright. When I started working with the generators 10 years ago, nobody cared about that aspect. Almost all material, the nags are reworking is copyrighted. But the programs do not use the material 1:1. It gets reworked and alienated. That's the whole point, that machines make new work by reworking existing material. The work is not about copyright, but it is about shifting the creative process away from a human to a machine, in this case a computer program. But if the copyright paranoia keeps up growing, I will have to close down the project soon.
You referred to Warhol and his pop strategy before. I think I am going a step further than he did, because with the generators, people can make their own images. If you take some time and make experiments, series, you get a feeling how it works, then you can make really beautiful images. And everybody can download and get their own images printed, or go to the archive and download stuff that others made before them. Art from everybody for everybody, isn't that pop?
When I recently got large prints of the Warhol flowers made for an exhibition, the guy from the printing studio was very excited about the images. As he had the data on his machine anyway, I said to him, that he could easily make some extra prints for himself. I would not care. He became a bit embarassed and admitted, finally, that he had already done so. He was afraid that I would get angry at him, but instead I was amused by the fact that he liked the images so much that he even 'stole' them. In 'exchange', I asked him to send me a photo of the prints hanging above his sofa at home. Actually, I think this is a much more interesting installation than having the images exhibited in a museum.
A.L.: You perfectly short-circuited this process in the video I don't know where you plausibly simulate a conversation between you and Warhol, cutting an old interview of him with your questions. Focusing on automation, authorship and copyright, the conversation is sarcastic but very well balanced exploiting the very Warhol spirit, which is completely denied by the superrich Warhol Foundation. So, are you then affected to Warhol as an unnoticed pioneer of the controversial copyright debate, or would you prefer to metaphorically be the woman who shot him in the sixties?
C.S.: Good question! There are a lot of paradigmatic ideas and strong characters in art history one has to work one's way through, and Warhol is certainly one of them, for me a very important one. What fascinates me about him, is that on the one hand, he radically undermined the rules of the art world via (uncontrolled) serial productions, by offensively using reproduction technologies, and by totally refusing the idea of personal, artistic expression. This totally denies the traditonal 19th century idea of the male genius, and there I see a link to emancipatory and feminist approaches to art. Additionally, he was perfect in creating his image; probably this was his most important work of art, escaping from the authenticity dictum, refusing essentialism and constantly performing roles. Another link to feminism. On the other hand, he got seduced by power and money; in many ways he was very affirmative, even became reactionary in the 1980s, supporting Reagan's election campaign for example.
Certainly, he had gained a lot of power himself, fame and money, and thus influence! He offered many people space to work in the factory (another early platform for people to express themselves), where he supported and at the same time exploited a whole scene. Although he probably was not the most typical representative of the hierarchical male-dominated art world, I can imagine why Valerie Solanas shot him. He had become an icon for success in a society which she hated. I have to admit that I am also a big fan of Solanas. Her SCUM manifesto still is a good read - for me it is the best medicine against depression. Again, I can see myself on both sides!
A.L.: You also said that you consider your journalistic activity as art, obtaining information usually inaccessible to everybody. Do you think that this would be considered the most polite kind of social engineering, one of the hacker's most specific practices?
There is no need to be polite as an artist! And that's not the point of social engineering, but sometimes camouflage is the only way to get access to things you need. Sometimes I am even performing as an artist - if I need to get access to the art world, for example. I would say I am using my journalist identity to get access to information which I think might be useful for my artistic practice. So, I am occassionally performing as a journalist. Generally, writing is part of my artistic work, writing fake interviews for example... Mixing facts and fiction is a good way to generate productive confusions. In that sense, I am certainly still a hacker.
A.L.: You're also quite active locally in your city (Hamburg), often coordinating and promoting cultural production and dissent with many partners, such as the new THE THING Hamburg. Which initiatives did you contribute to in the last years and how important is it to be active on a local level?
C.S.: For about 8 years I have been actively engaging in local cultural policies, mainly trying to fight neoliberal tendencies that cut the small budgets for individual artistic production and small organisations, only to shift the money towards big representative events and buildings. At the core of the activities, I am running a local mailing-list called [echo] which loosely organizes around 500 people. A mailing list is a perfect way of organizing a large number of people, especially for a local context, as well. You can stay in touch, build a kind of community by sharing information, and if there is urgent need for action, you can send out a call and organize real-life meetings. That is the advantage of local networking: you are referring to the same context and can regularly meet people. Virtual communication turned out to be a very powerful tool for a local context.
One example I would like to mention is the artists' initiative TammTamm. TammTamm is an ongoing protest action by more than 100 artists against a planned maritime museum in Hamburg. This museum will be run by a private foundation, containing a private maritime collection, but the city funded it with 30 million Euros. Apart from the formally shocking contracts which leave all the decision making power to the director of the foundation (the collector), this person is a known right-wing media mogul, an anti-democrat, who celebrates in his collection mainly the heroic past of the First and Second World War navy. Just as the large number of small artist run spaces are working almost without any public money, large sums are going to that kind of project. In our initiative each participating artist adopted a member of parliament and discussed the museum project in a personal dialogue. All the discussion results and lot of extra information are published on the initiative's collective website, tamm-tamm.info. One of our most recent projects is the launch of THE THING Hamburg. Inspired by the idea of the first THE THING network from 1991, we pursue the idea of artist-driven discussion about art and society by applying theoretical discourses to our local environment. The two thematic issues we have published so far were on 'self-organisation + existence' and 'art + publics'. For the end of April we are planning a relaunch with a lot more forum features. It would be nice to reenact the early idea of THE THING: to build local discussion platforms in different cities and connect them. One of the most challenging demands for artists in the future could be, to develop spaces, forms and structures which enable emancipatory practices.
Thanks to Michel Chevalier for proofreading.