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BIACS3: Interview with Peter Weibel

Peter Weibel

The Biennial of Seville represents the most outstanding initiative performed in the city in order to bring it closer to the international contemporary art scene. The aim seems ambitious, as the city remains pretty bereft of top-level contemporary art proposals (almost completely limited to the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo) and, maybe for this reason, not much receptive to them.

For its third edition, expanded to the city of Granada, the biennial has counted on the curatorial direction of Peter Weibel, media artist, art theorist and CEO of ZKM Karlsruhe (Center for Art and Media), institution which promotes the interdisciplinary research aimed at developing the connections between art and science.

In this interview we talk about the new approaches and qualitative changes in art production and reception, as a result of the exponential technological development that we are experiencing nowadays.

AfN: The region of Andalusia has suffered for years a serious lack of Contemporary Art proposals. Did you find it difficult to connect with the Andalusian art scene?

Weibel: No, I didn't. I have been in several galleries in Seville and I found the level very high. I have met people from institutions, from the university, I have met some students and I find the level very interesting and very high. When you look at the biennale, I think there are about ten artists, painters, media artists and architects from Andalusia out of 150 artists: that makes a very high percentage.

AfN: And do you think the cities of Seville and Granada have connected with the ideas proposed in the BIACS3?

Weibel: I don't think Granada has connected, neither the city, nor the people, because the exhibition is mostly seen by the tourists, I guess. I think in Seville there is a great public success, many visitors, and I think although BIACS is not accepted yet, it starts to be accepted. The people who have seen the biennale liked it very much, but there is not enough advertising and not enough communication, so many people in Seville still don't know this biennale.

AfN: Mr. Weibel, the title of this Biennale is youniverse, what is the name referred to?

Red Eyed Sky Walkers, by Jenny Marketou

Weibel: This is a typical post-modern media feature: it makes a play on words. 30 years ago, we started making an experimental use of language, like poetry; when you said for example "Seville for", you used instead the number four, and then everybody said this was not possible because it was too experimental. But slowly, after 30 or 40 years of using experimental poetry in advertising it has become more and more accepted. The title in this edition is youniverse: you as a person, you as a user, you as a part of the universe. The universe does not exist without you, you are part of it; you are part of the system that you observe, you are an inside observer. You have the chance to change the universe through your interactivity, through your participation. This is the deal: you are the universe, you are part of the universe, you participate, you interact, you act, you change the universe.

AfN: Is that why so many interactive works have been selected?

Weibel: Exactly. This is the reason why I selected mostly interactive works. Digital work is always interactive, it can be mechanically interactive, manually interactive, computer agent interactive... but we also have some analogue work, normal photography, normal painting, normal sculpture, artworks which already show some of the ideas of this universe. I would say not only very contemporary, very modern media but also classic media can participate in the discussion of what youniverse means. Even analogue sculptures like photography or painting can stress the idea of participation in the universe.

AfN: Right now, every person can have relatively easy access to very powerful tools of creation; which effect can have the current democratization of art in its own development?

Weibel: What is very clear is that technology has always been and will always be an amplifier. It can be an amplifier of our voice: with the microphone you can speak much louder than with the original voice. With a microscope you amplify the horizon of the vision; you can see smaller things that you can't see with the traditional eye. With a telescope you can see much further than with the natural eye. So it is very clear that this technology is an amplifier of our senses and intensifies our faculties. It is finally an amplifier of our brain and our mind: computers can calculate faster and better, and they can do many things we can't do by ourselves. Finally we can see that technology is also an amplifier of our talents, of our competence and creativity. Normally you have to learn a lot to compose music, but now the composition techniques of music, what they call algorithms, can be implemented into technology. So now it is easier just to handle some devices, to press on some buttons, or to move some objects and then you initiate the music creation, which is generated by an algorithm in the computer. This means that even if your creativity cannot be amplified, but you have the machine to support you, and therefore you have much more artistic output than ever before.

For hundreds of years we needed great experts, the painters, who had the capacity to make a picture. Today, with a camera, everybody can make a picture. So that means that this exclusive class, the professional artists, had the monopoly of creativity and now, with those machines, they are losing it. Now this monopoly is migrating to the audience. You can try to defend the monopoly, but the artists of the art market will lose because technology is pervading our earth and more and more people have tools to be creative. At the moment we have in youtube and other internet platforms such massive creativity of the masses.

Before, we created art for the masses: we lowered very much the level of painters and singers to get the art to the masses; we had to globalise the level. So art started functioning just like entertainment. Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are the best examples of artists as Las Vegas' entertainers. I think Frank Sinatra has been a much better artist than Hirst and Koons in this way.

But now it is not art for the masses as an entertainment; now we have a new idea: masses themselves make the art. They have a platform which is internet, a global net. So we have to think how we can conserve this platform, and we have to make museums more flexible: a museum is a public opportunity to be creative. The museum is here to protect the artworks from vanishing; museums are a kind of Arch of Noah. Now they have expanded this idea to prepare a platform for the audience to protect the artworks done by the masses. Since we changed museums politics, we also changed the position of the artists. Many people now have the chance to be creative and it means that, even for Hollywood people and for television people, it will become very difficult to survive in this competence because many normal people from the masses can make a much funnier programme than the professionals. So the professionals who have lost their skills, who have surrendered to amateurish entertainment, these professionals will lose their battle against the amateur who is acquiring a new kind of knowledge and competence, who makes a better choice and makes even finally a better art. So the future will give us a different picture of art, artists and museums.

AfN: Mr. Weibel, do you think is there a danger that the works based in new media can lose their relevance with the upcoming technological progress?

Weibel: No, I don't. Paul Valéry called it, in an essay written in 1921, "the conquest of ubiquity". I think we are just at the beginning because maybe at the moment only 30% of the people have access to technology, so 70% haven't. I think technology is always a contribution to democracy. It can become a very difficult economical battle since we have to fight against the industry of the software providers, who deliver this technology and make enormous profits. People realise that the people from SAP, this German company that makes a book keeping programming language, are billionaires; and Bill Gates is a billionaire: it is very clear he makes enormous amounts of money because he is selling his products too expensive. If this industry and the network companies sold the products at correct prices, they would not become billionaires. So we have to fight against this industry, this is the only danger, the greed of profit which is governing any industry. But technology is always a tool, visible or invisible, to help to democratize and civilise people. Everybody, each individual has a chance to learn individual freedom, and they have to learn that this individual freedom, this individual mobility, can only operate if they accept also the individual freedom of the others. If it is a mobile phone, I can telephone from everywhere but the other person has to have an open telephone, so I need another person to accept my telephone call. Thus, I learn I also have to be open and to accept telephone calls from others. My own liberty only works when I also give liberty to others: my telephone is useless if other people close their telephones, if I closed the telephone it would be useless to other people; we always have to be open to communications, otherwise technology would be a waste. People will slowly learn to take responsibility, to take care of themselves and their technology and also to take care of the technology of the others. By the use of technology people will learn the qualities of a kind of community, technological communities, and especially technological communities interested in art. Art communities always make the greatest contributions to democracy and to civil community and civil society.

AfN: But it looks like the current technological progress comes by the hand of some kind of fear of progress.

Weibel: This is a phenomenon that affects not young people in Europe, but old people in the printed media: they fear technology. Young people are eager to use this technology, so old people are defending the monopoly of the mobile letter, of printed letter. But this is wrong, because modern technology is just continuing the task of writing. The experience of the mobile technology, the mobile media started with the mobile letters of Gutenberg. Gutenberg started the mobility, the motion, by inventing the mobile letter. After Gutenberg's mobile letter came the mobile phone; it is very easy, now you can move around, you can print anything you want, you can see and hear anything you want, and it is fantastic! You can make a photo, a text or a movie and send it to anybody from anywhere. This is a kind of total mobilization, starting with the mobile letter of Gutenberg. It has a lot of consequences for progress, and people who want to keep the monopoly won't accept this idea.

AfN: Historically, the advent of new media has forced to redefine the artistic paradigms; for example, the invention of photography is said to have had a deep impact in the development of painting from the end of the 19th century on; in which way are the current new media changing the development of the -let's say- traditional media?

Weibel: You are completely right: the paradigm of photography changed 19th century essential art. Painting and sculpture have all the correspondence to photography as a medium. So even if you look at some very famous painters like Warhol or Gerhard Richter, they do not make use of painting; Warhol didn't do any paintings in the classical sense because he just took photographs and printed them. It was a printing process, not a classic picture. He didn't invent one single image in his whole life. He plundered images from mass media, and it is the same with Richter, who has an archive of hundreds of thousands of photographs; he is taking them and painting them, projecting them on screens and paintings, etc. All visual artists from sculpture to painting are referring to the media, from Hollywood films to photography; media images are already in dominant power, we will experience the change from the photography's paradigm to the global net's paradigm. Like photographing in the 19th and 20th century, the net will be the paradigm of art in the 21st century.

AfN: But in your opinion, in which way will this new paradigm of internet influence our perception processes?

Weibel: All I can say is that it will change our perception of colour, like Impressionists did; people will realise there are different ways of perceiving the colour of the sea, for example. Nowadays, people love Impressionism, because they look at the Impressionists with this experience of photography. In 20 years, when people look at the Impressionists with the eyes of internet, they won't like them any more, they will say: "this is a very bad, a very incompetent painting". But I think they will then look at works by Velázquez and Goya and say "these are true masters", because the quality of these artists can be seen much better with the experience of the internet, and you can experience how good it is to have a microscopic painting, not a macroscopic painting like Impressionism. So people will realise there is a new base for painting, but also for sculptures, and finally people will make different media works, but these kind of future media works based on the paradigm of internet are difficult to see because they are not done by people who teach art. The Art Academy is not a place for future artists: Internet itself is the Academy of future artists.

Interview: Raúl Molín López
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