RHIZOME_RAW: WITH THE NAKED EYE-Interview with Rob Myers (by Manik)

1.The highly developed products of software, net. or web art require a transparent (free) infrastructure and free access to source (code). Your work is connected with Creative Commons, Free Software, Free Culture.

Yes. I was using other people’s work in my own from when I first started seriously making art. When I was at college I asked other people If I could photograph their work to scan in to the computer, and I took photographs at galleries (when you were still allowed to do that in London!). And when I did programming later we were given lots of code and we all looked at each others code.

Free Software/Free Culture is a way of reclaiming that way of working, of protecting and extending it.

How do you feel as an Individual, (after your experience in the collective project SoDa),

SoDA was a group of people who’d been at college together taking what we’d learnt out into the worlds of business and art. In 1996 at the height of the Internet boom those worlds seemed like they were very close, or that they could be.

I didn’t like working on catalogues or websites with other people, with a client and a deadline.

about working in groups, institutions? Differences? Advantages? Difficulties?

Possibly I’m just antisocial but I like the way that the Internet and ‘copyleft’ licenses allow you to build on other people’s work without having to have more than one ego in the room. I like being able to use what other people have made, culture is my nature. I’d hate to work on a project like Art & Language’s early Indices, they had such bad internal politics. I’d rather share and participate in a public culture than get caught up in the problems of a private project.

But perhaps that just comes from feeling such an outsider and feeling so shy and awkward as a child.

“Net” art supposed the presence of many (virtual) people. You said that your work’s connected with other people’s work. But you don’t like “more than one ego in the room”. What is the artist’s ego in the epoch of new technologies?

I suppose the danger of the artist’s ego now is what programmers call “not invented here syndrome”, resisting ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. For example people always want to write their own free/open license for their work, even though that’s a bad idea. And people always want to write their programs from scratch, even though they could use other people’s code. It’s the same for making images.

The potential of the artist’s ego is that individuals’ sense of self will drive them to distribute and seek out work globally, which with free licensing and peer to peer technology means more people can build on each other’s work than ever before. Imagine a global chain of Picassos and Braques.

Less body, more idea?

In films and television the expression of someone’s self is usually through their body, how it looks, how they move and the actions they take, rather than their words or ideas. This is romanticism. But it is not the case that removing the limits of the body removes the negative expression of the animal self. Without physical limits animal minds tend to engage in flamewars on mailing lists…

Could you explain what “ego” represents to you?

I suppose it’s arrogance and self-interest, self-defeatingly so. The negative of the social self, the bit that gets in the way of art being made by trying to make art. Possibly I mean “id” rather than “ego”, but I don’t know that there’s such a clean split, and common usage of “ego” is generally negative; egomaniac, egotism.

2. Once you mentioned “Photoshop fascism”. Could you explain that?

I did??? was probably referring to the use of image processing software (such as PhotoShop) to make people look more like an impossible, Romantic ideal:

    like this.

Fascism loves “perfect” bodies. Beautiful bodies are seductive, they can hide ugly ideology. Technology allows most bodies to be made to look “perfect”, ideal. It is anti-individualistic, it is certainly not democratic. The visual trappings of fascism imposed through technology. Are the ideological trappings hiding behind the pretty visuals?

If we use new technology as a weapons (to rebuild ourselves and the whole world) does that mean that our (supposed) ethic changes the weapon-nature of new technology into something good-natured?

It depends how strong the technology and the user are. Or maybe how strong their aesthetics are? In Surgical Strike I think I assumed that the technology, and the ideology it presupposed, was more powerful. I wouldn’t be so defeatist now. As William Gibson said, “the street finds its own uses for things”.

If it does we have a paradox: weapons questionable by the definition…?

Certainly the weapons can be used to attack themselves. And perhaps with general purpose machines (computers), the definition of what they are is what they are.

3. The aesthetic is kind of your “obsession”.

Yes. It’s an obsession because I feel I understand it so little but that it *must* be what art is about. I don’t believe that a truly ugly art can be made, an art that is un-aesthetic but still conceptually interesting. All art “looks good” to someone if it is art.

I don’t even know what ‘aesthetic’ means other than ‘looks good’. But why does something look good? And what does that mean?

What about a “trash aesthetic” It looks like a rhetorical question, but could “ugly” things become a branch of aesthetics that you could accept?

My work has always had low cultural or non-artistic inspiration. And I like uncool popular music, and films, and television. Including MTV. And I am a big fan of Jeff Koons.

I went to London last week, and I saw a work by the graffiti artist “Banksy” in a new gallery near Denmark Street. I’ve never liked pictures of Banksy’s work, but the real thing was very fresh and funny. It’s not that I’m a snob, quite the opposite: I don’t like the idea of bourgeois artists making authentic low culture inauthentic by appropriating it and doing it on canvas like ‘proper’ art.

I don’t know about really embracing a “trash aesthetic”. I’ll need to think about that. I’d be worried about producing an “urban pastoral” (Julian Stallabrass). I’d rather not use low culture as a ventriloquist’s dummy for my morality or my aesthetic. But maybe it could be liberating.

Aesthetic, ideology and technology in your work?

Every person has an aesthetic, every company or politician or religion does. I suppose that ‘aesthetic’ here means ‘style’, but ‘style’ that links to ideology. And I also feel there’s a deeper sense of ‘aesthetic’, one that tells us how all these little aesthetics work. Like Chomsky Grammars. Aesthetics is to art as linguistics is to language. Maybe.

Ideologies are aesthetic, they are choices are about how things should look. Philosophy is actually a branch of aesthetics, and ideologies are degenerate philosophies. 😉

And technologies are the products of ideologies. In a way they are physical ideologies, they are rules about what you can and cannot do. And technology is aesthetic, very aesthetic, it has to be made to ‘look good’ to the people who use it, not just visually but in its effects, what it does.

The best example of this connection is Surgical Strike, that was about, how the history of a technology (
computing) that has come from a particular ideology (American militarism) may affect attempts to make an aesthetic (computer art). But 1968 and 1969 are about that as well, and Psychetecture was about how architecture serves capital by affecting your perceptions.

4. “Remixing”?

Not all of my work is literally remixing. That’s more an early theme I’ve recently returned to. It’s a theme I’m very glad to return to.

The series that are most obviously remix based are my early Mixes and sampling based work, Surgical Strike, 1968 and 1969, and Canto.

But my work always uses the ideas and imagery of others. Psychetecture was based on the calligrams of Ahmed Mustafah, Titled uses colour diagrams from famous twentieth century artists and I’ve mentioned the designers that influenced me. The only work I’ve made that wasn’t directly influenced by anyone else is San Jose, which I regard as my weakest work.

But your works are formally (“they look like”) Neo-Modern, Post- Hard-Edge. Does that style have a quality of expression that is lacking in more recent work?

When I got to art school there was a Macintosh there for the design students to use. But none of the artists were using it, so I had to look to designers to see how it could be used. The look of much of my work therefore comes from British graphic design in the early 1990s, especially design by the design groups ‘Designers Republic’ and ‘Me Company’. The look of their work was in many ways a result of the availability of the Macintosh and programs like Illustrator or Freehand. The Macintosh was the lithographic stone of the 1980s/1990s. Think of Toulouse-Lautrec a hundred years earlier.

I have no problem with the idea that my art has been so heavily influenced, even determined, by technology. There’s more to Lautrec than lithography and toothbrushes, there’s more to the Impressionists than paint in tubes and state-sponsored colour theory, there was more to the Renaissance than plaster, perspective and archeology. There’s always technology, and there’s always more than technology.

I believe that much of the traditional role of art has passed into graphic design anyway. But some of its content remains left behind. Certainly its most important content. And that content is not caught by conceptual art, performances, or other attempts at making an “expanded image”. Not in the way I personally wish to catch it. So I have to make images rather than any newer form of expression.I feel very awkward doing so.

5. Art & Language are your favorite artists. Your latest works are inspired by Matisse. Could you explain that?

It was an accident. 🙂

Art & Language are interested in the canonical works of Modernism, which means they have based paintings on work by Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and others. They use these works to analyse their social content through their form. So I’d love to be able to say that I read up on Matisse’s work then decided to make work that uses the social content of his work to make a serious point.

What really happened is that I found an image on the Remix Reading website, I liked some of the shapes in it, and I wanted to make work that was a remix. So I used those shapes, without thinking very much about what they meant, just enjoying working hard on the compositions. I think my subconscious remembered the Matisse prints that I sit next to in McDonalds with my children when we go for hamburgers sometimes(!), and that is what guided me.

But I am open to accident and humour (and embarrassment) in my work, so once I realised that the first work (Canto For Evie) looked like Mattise, I decided to make more work from the same source material. And I had to re-evaluate Mattisse, who I didn’t like before. I’m now doing some paper cut-outs.

There is a quality my work often has where I don’t know if I am being very, very serious or very, very silly. I think that quality is present in my best work, and I think it means that the work is doing something that can’t be fully described in words. Which is one reason Art & Language give for making art rather than doing anything else; if it says something that you can’t describe any other way.

6. Connection between theory and praxis? In computer generated art the artist must know so many thing. Isn’t that a paradox in a time of narrow specialization?

But art is made for the ruling classes, and the ruling classes are now managers. Even the politicians are managers. Managers are not specialists, they have only general, conceptual skills. And so these are the skills we see artists using to make art now, to reflect the ego of the manager.

Therefore for an artist to learn a practical skill, like programming, well enough to practice it themself is the real paradox. Even although they do so alongside learning about many other things, such as aesthetics, or drawing, or art history. Specific ability in any area, rather than just general, conceptual, managerial ability is the paradox.

The Modernist artist was not a modern subject: even when they tried to be boring or ordinary they made this interesting and it took a heroic effort on their part to do so.

Your last comment invokes an essential, romantic vision of the artist. Tragic and impractical for contemporary aims. But your activity seems to us like something quite far from that. How do you live with this opposition?

Hacking is technological Romanticism. I am an art hacker (in the sense of a good programmer rather than a computer criminal).

My work is Romantic; emotion projected onto the environment. It’s also tragic, it’s melancholic and it’s dispossessed. But it is a romanticism that finds its excesses funny, like the best Goths do.

A perky Romanticism. My Smileys are the art Munch would have made if he’d had access to a Macintosh and a prescription for Prozac. 🙂