public01: save before it's gone
talk with darko fritz
thursday may 25, 2006
Rebekka Would you like to situate yourself in the vast field of Media Art to begin with?
Darko In 1988 I started working together with a group of friends, coming from different artistic backgrounds, on computer installations without really knowing what we were busy with. At that time there was a strong tradition of video art. Then, through experimenting, we found out that there also was a strong tradition of computer art that had been completely interrupted between 1960 and 1980. Computer art and video art were then completely separate fields. Worldwide the computer art scene has been rigorously cut down due to anti-technological statements rising in the generation of the sixties late seventies, as a response to the Vietnam War. Those fifteen years of ‘amnesia’ in the history of computer art had the effect that everything that had been achieved in the field had been forgotten. It’s like having forgotten what has been done in 1991.
In the beginning of the seventies there was a strong video scene in Croatia and since this area was part of former Yugoslavia it was a very free art. This in contradiction to many other East European countries, where this was quite a different story.
So, when we were doing these computer installations in 1988, factories produced special chips for us, we borrowed from an artist, Vladimir Petec, a slide projector that we then connected to the media signal that we controlled. It was kind of asking other colleagues for help. Multivision, Extended Cinema, Video art and Conceptual Art were present in this time. But Media Art in that time meant Video Art and not Computer Art.
Rebekka What is your personal background?
Darko I studied architecture and I consciously decided not to study on a art academy. When I was young, eighteen about I studied communicology which contained psychology, sociology and this kind of things. So I got very early in contact with writings of Marshal Mc Luhan, Roland Barthes etc. My end paper was about ‘the application of mass media in architecture’. I cited Andy Warhol and the idea of reproduction etc., Conceptual Art and Video Art.
Then I went to Amsterdam to the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten to the Media Department and was happy to find it very prosperous. It was to my knowledge the only art school in Europe that had one at that time. Finally a place that was busy with what I was doing. The approach of the Media Department included everything but traditional media. Installations, Photo, video, one little computer work but nothing really in that way yet. But that rapidly changed from the beginning of the nineties until now. Now its video editing all over, then it was only one little computer work. Every Academy has got a Media section nowadays.
Rebekka It is surprising to see how your use of the computer gets translated into your work. In the works ‘204_ no content’ and ‘302_moved temporarily’ you create a complex paradox between organic and inorganic elements. You apply an inorganic element, a error message in internet communication to an organic shape since you plant the text with flowers.
Since ‘302_moved temporarily’ is stretched over 40 meters you need to get into a machine, the privileged position of a helicopter, to get an overview of the text. Overview in public space is a very closely linked with surveillance. How would you define the political dimension of this work?
Darko This particular work is a site specific work. You are right about the fact that the passer by cannot see the work fully, although it is situated in a public space. That’s consciously made. The site lies on the entrance or exit point of New Zagreb. The roads connect to the airport and the railway. The site is on the middle of this crossroad and is aligned with one of the street axes. Croatia is essentially a country of transition where capitalism rules in the worst possible sense. The culture of commercial billboards, their omnipresence, and their cry for attention is counterbalanced with my work. It is much bigger in size than the billboards but is flat on the ground. It doesn’t correspond in content to the billboards but is a formal incision in the urban texture.
Rebekka But what you ‘advertise’ in your silent ‘billboard’ is a failure message of communication...is it a criticism on real communication in society?
Darko In Home_ Search_ Home I used the home icon from Netscape navigator browser. There I used this very universal pictogram that means ‘home’ on the medium of the billboard. The billboard stands next to a road. According of fraction of light the pictogram is more or less visible. There is no further explanation to it. So, it’s really very open for interpretation. But that is of course a very risky way of making art in public space. The content is advertising itself.
Rebekka So like the work we talked about before it is also a proposition to create like a void or a silence or an empty formula in the city that allows people to think about their identity…
Darko Yes, visitors can fill in their own interpretation. If someone asks me -what does ‘302_ moved temporarily’ mean- I say, sorry, nothing. It’s an error message…My work cannot be defined as a target, like they do it in marketing. Target-zone, simple and clear messages… I am not using that sort of strategy. My work is more like internet art of today. It doesn’t necessarily happen on the net anymore.
Rebekka It is nice to see how you manage to transpose a content of computing into our everyday space without recurring to a machine.
Darko Yes, quite often there is this ‘problem’ with interactive media art. There is often the illusion of interactivity. If you look closely at those ‘open systems’ they are really not that open because they are just parameters that you can plug in and combinatory systems that give you the illusion of freedom as well as political systems do.
Rebekka The beginning of the web was based on a military invention. If you as an artist use those commands again, don’t you revitalize this way of thinking? How do you subvert it?
Darko It has to be said that most technology is made for military purposes. In the USA academic military and corporate structures merge for that purpose. Fortunately, in Europe it’s quite a bit a different story. As a media artist you always deal with technology that came, after having been secret knowledge, into the public domain. But the question you asked is a question that every media artist has to solve. I am using this metaphor what concerns myself. It’s basically like adopting a child from a very, very evil family…
Rebekka What is the social impact of your work?
Darko No art can escape the political dimension…. The problem of Media art is that it is marginalized in reference to contemporary art. Although everyone will focus on conferences on their merging points, in reality they are separated circuits. The fundraising system, the galleries, the critics… it’s a big gap.
The mission for my own work that I put myself a long time ago is the very utopist mission of filling this gap. I get lots of problems that way because for Media art my work is too traditional and for contemporary art my work is too technical… so that’s that…
Rebekka I still have a question about your relation to the artist book in Eastern Europe and Russia. There was a form of illegal private publishing known under the term of ‘Samizdat’. The book form was then used as radical tool to subvert the political and artistic agenda of the regime. With the graphical approach you have in your work do you in any form link to this phenomenon? And does Media Art have this same kind of revolutionary potential as Book Art had then?
Darko ….My very first works was actually Copy Art. I used slide projections that I copied, so the Xerox was my first tool to fabricate collages based on cut- copy- paste, appropriation of materials like quotations, use of typography. So, with based on that I made fanzines, ‘ Samizdat´. I made one book in an edition of seven and distributed it to people I learned something from. So ‘ Samizdat´ is a great form and I think internet covers that function now, and that’s great…Self-publishing is an issue that stands at the very beginning of the discussion around electronic media.
Artist appropriated this concept in the seventies in the Artist Book using text and copying as well. It triggered off other approaches like Mail Art and Fax Art and so on….Actually it touched everything that tried to make the old medium of paper transgress into the electronic medium of the Internet…