Conversation with net.artists Olia Lialina (Russia) and Igor Stromajer
(Slovenia) which took place on October 1st, 2000, during La Biennale de Montréal 2000. Lialina’s net.artwork Will-n-testment and Stromajer’s b.ALT.ica were part of the net.art exhibition L’autre monde / Out of this World, curated by Sylvie Parent. Addressing a larger audience, this conversation with the artists was televised and aired on CJNT TV, the Montreal multilingual station.
Rossitza Daskalova : You are two of the first net.artists from the former Eastern Bloc. How did you start your careers on the Net?
Igor Stromajer : I transferred from theater to net.art. Usually, people transfer from visual art to net.art. I found the theater at some point not intimate enough, not interactive enough. Then, I discovered the Internet in 1996 and said to my self that's it. Maybe I didn't know how to do it in the theater, maybe I was not able to do it, but, the fact is that, when I discovered net.art, I decided to move there. At the end of my theatrical period in 1995, I did a last performance with only one actress and for only one spectator. This for me was analogue Internet because it was very intimate communication. The situation in the theater space was not set up and pre planned in the usual manner. There was room for improvisation and the performance came out as really spontaneous and interactive. From there, I couldn't move any further in the form of theater. It was the last station. I was in some ways 'forced' to move to the Net and I am glad of course.
Olia Lialina : I started quite unexpectedly in the year 1995, when I decided to make a home page archive for our experimental film club in Moscow, CINE PHANTOM. I became so much involved into making Web pages and thinking how to put film online that at that moment I decided to make net.films. I started to create net.stories, stories which exist on the Net and which are about the Net.
R.D. : Would you go back to film?
O.L. : I think that I would go back to film together with the Internet. Once I made this transition from film to the Internet, I want to work next with film online because now the technology allows working with streaming Beta and to achieve good quality when you are using film, video and audio material. Then again, I don't want simply to put film and video files on-line but to integrate them in interesting and unexpected ways.
R.D. : Much interesting and thought provoking net.art has been produced by artists from Eastern Europe or to be more precise from the former Eastern Bloc. These artists are very present on the Net. They influence the physiognomy of net.art and they set new directions for its development . How do you explain this phenomenon?
I.S. : First, of course, it is a question of the definition of Eastern and Western Europe and of the ways in which the border can be defined. It is also very hard to speak for all the artists because we are very different, very individual. If I speak for my self, it depends. Sometimes, I feel very happy, I sing, I dance, I drink and this is me being Eastern, and Sometimes, I feel very exhausted, very tired, even democratic, and this is how I see my self being Western. So, it always depends on the situation and on the question of where is the border. If you think of the use of the Internet as a medium for art in one area which is still called Eastern Europe, and why not, is the fact probably that technology and computers (that is ordinary computers, not special, ultra fast and speedy machines) are affordable. They are not expensive. There are also many multimedia centers, where people can go and create. For a professional film or theater production you need quite a lot of money, but, for net.art you just need a computer. Yet, to go to the beginning of my answer, first, we have to define Eastern Europe. Is Canada Eastern Europe or not? I don't know.
O.L. : I think that there can be one very simple answer: in the beginning of the 1990', there was this big interest toward Eastern Europe and much attention was given to Eastern European artists. But this is one, maybe the most primitive answer. Concerning Eastern European artists and Russian artists in particular, I can make a parallel between the ways in which the Internet emerged in America, in Western Europe and in Eastern Europe. In America the Internet appeared one day and the next, let's say, it was in every house. It was suddenly available and it became immediately a useful tool, very comfortable and accessible to every body to work with it. In Western Europe, the process was a little bit slower. Finally, in Eastern Europe, Russia in particular, the way in which the Internet was spread was very, very slow. In these respects, Russian artists had more time to think about the medium, to work with it in creative ways and to make experiments. The Internet was not immediately like a comfortable chair on which you can sit. It was perceived as something extraordinary and not common. In some ways, it was like one had to work around this chair, maybe to look what is under it, to understand it. I would say that in this area of the world there was a room for play with the Internet medium.
I.S. : Also, there is another direction in which we could search for the answers, because there are many, for sure. Eastern European countries, except Russia or Poland, are not as big in comparison with the United States or Canada. So maybe, the communication between these countries went faster, that is the network between artists and curators, considering also all the media centers, festivals and events that became available. On the other hand the Internet is international in the beginning and it is very hard to be local when working with it. It also depends from country to country. Our country, Slovenia, is so small and there was no theoretical background for contemporary art and net.art. Many artists went out into the world to work and receive critical feedback, the Internet being one of the ways in which this became possible.
R.D. : Thank you very much and I look forward to seeing your further work on the net and being surprised by it.
O.L. : Thank you.
I. S. : Thank you.