Interview with Jodi
Dirk Paesmans en Joan Heemskerk collaborate as Jodi since 1995. They were interviewed at the 'secret' conference on net.art, organised by Heath Bunting, in the Backspace gallery, London, in January 1997.
Q: You've tried to auction some web pages at this conference.
How was that, what did you think of the response from the audience?
D: It was allright. One was sold to Kathy Rae Huffman, who is a
net.art promoter from the States who lives in Vienna. She is in this
alternative net.stuff completely. She bought one screen for ten pounds,
so, that one will go to the Huffman-collection.
Q: You weren't exactly a salesman that gave obvious cues on when
something was for sale. It was a bit unclear to people when exactly
they could jump onto an offer.
D: It wasn't meant to start a large sale there in fact. What is
happening now in art and net.art is people talk about what is
alternative and what is normal, mainstream. We see our work in a
material way. It could simply be sold. There is a lot of nonsense
talk around art. There should be no shame when you make something
that is good; be it on a computer screen, videotape, an etching,
whatever, to sell it.
J: There is this discussion in the net.art scene that 'it could never
come into to normal art circuit because it would not be possible to
sell it, probably because of the digital and immaterial side of the
Q: That is not the only discussion of course; there is also the fact
that some do not want to be institutionalized. You are not afraid of
J: Depends on the institution.
Q: Do you think you will have a choice? Do you think you can manipulate
the outcome in this?
D: In itself it would be good when a gallery picks us up and supports
us in the kind of work we do. Ideally it would be fantastic for us.
One should not run after them of course. There are all kinds of
commercial art venues on the net. One of the central places now is
New York, the äda ‘web, where more than ten people work. They have Jenny
Holzer and Lawrence Weiner as big names in their websites with some
small works, but next to this they start this promotion of young
web.artists. We too are going to do a project there soon. It is all
without obligations and there are no deals, nothing is sold really.
That is why it is funny for us now to try to sell something ourselves.
The work we put on äda ‘web we give them for free. We are not in the
position to ask for much at this moment.
Except maybe sell a screen for ten pounds.
Q: You are not thinking about more sensitive matters, like for
instance what to do when a gallery picks up the net.art group
and some of the artists are being hyped up to become famous and others
disappear into nothingness? These kind of things happen all the time
through art history. Do you not have any thoughts about this or do you
not care? This is the image you give me a bit now. You said in your
presentation that your web pages are no content pages. Are you no
content too when it comes to these kind of questions? Are you not at
all busy with more political questions maybe?
J: The work we make is not politically oriented, except that it stands
in the net like a brick. The relationship with the net and other works
on the net is a strong one. It is not 'about' something political or
D: We use certain elements, like a virus, whether a virus is present,
or whether things go wrong with somebody's 'cache', somebody's
personal computer. A lot of these elements are collages of things that
are found on the net. The natural environment of us, of Jodi, is the
net and you can find a certain condensed form of the net in Jodi.
It is comparable to the kind of work I used to make for Zap-TV. This
was a very one-dimensional way of recycling TV into a new channel. So
in this whole rubbish, Zap-TV I mean, you could find a condensed form
of television. With Jodi it is not that simple. There are also projects
in it, which are not so much downloaded from the net as gifs or jpegs,
but certain techniques are used that are the order for the day on the
net. They are 'hot' so to say. These are technical matters, like how
for instance instead of using words as links, like in hypertext, you
can use certain kinds of buttons. We have a big problem with hypertext.
To us hypertext is of no use at all. There are hardly any words in our
website, except for the hot list. It’s a battle really. As hypertext is
useless to us, we have to find other ways to make people navigate, or
have the navigation happen as if by itself. Solutions for this can be
things that are new in a Netscape version, or buttons that by clicking
there you DO make a link. So you don't have to invent a letter A, B, C
or whatever, but you simply use what's in the computer or Netscape or
so. This is Joan's territory a bit, I must say. Joan does a lot of
investigating in how to use Java, new techniques.
We have some separate projects. There is a bit of Zap-TV, a piece of
Dirk project in a Beta-lab part of Jodi. In this Beta-lab there are
also Joan Heemskerk projects. A series of photographs of pigeons with
buttons over it: that’s just Joan’s.
So we don't enter into that big battle with the net, even though we see
it is there, because we get an enormous amount of mail from people that
complain, that send us large question marks. They say: what is this crap?
Q: Really? Why is this, because there is no text with it?
J: This is because we transverse the way to make webpages. People think:
‘A virus gets into my computer..’ or: ‘What’s happening to my screen!’
This is because it cannot be grasped. You get these short, direct
reactions from panicking people.
Q: That is beautiful, a compliment, it means you created something
completely new, doesn't it?
J: I don't know whether it is completely new, because it always contains
elements that have been used before. It is collage. It is a new collage
D: The carrier, the Netscape carrier has of course never been used
before. It is starting to be used now. The technique to create confusion
and to mix things up has been used often before, but with this specific
medium we made an early start. A reason for this is that we left the
Netherlands on our own for San Jose, California. Silicon Valley. We
went there to see how all this Apple stuff and all software and
applications, Photoshop, Macromind, Netscape 'lives' there. What kind
of people make this. This is very interesting to us. In some way we feel
very involved, it is a bit of a personal matter to turn Netscape inside
out for instance. I have a picture in my mind of the people that make it.
And not just how they make it, but also of how they view it themselves
within the States and Canada. How they see their Internet.
'Their' Internet, you can say that for sure.
Q: Your work is very radical, that we can conclude from the reactions
you get. You say it has no content. It is only form, when you judge it
on appearance only. It passes on this radical feeling though and you
just said: We want to see who makes it, it is an American net, we
overturn it, we turn Netscape inside out. Aren't you making choices to
create your own space, to get things in your own hands again? This is
quite unusual in the net, isn't it. People create something small at
home, according to certain rules and it quite resembles each other.
Your work is innovative.
D: One thing we have not done from the beginning is base our work on
lay out. The page. We are dealing with screens. What we can learn from
of how to organize a screen as TV, computer games and other software.
Not from lay out, not from a way of creating an order that puts this fat
title and then a chapter, another gif and two gifs next to that,
etcetera. A magazine on the net. We can do nothing with this.
There are choices imbedded in software, that are thought about on
mailing lists of designers in California, like which features should be
put in Netscape, how can you make tables. They think it is important to
be able to put two columns of text next to each other and stuff like that.
Sometimes things slip in like in Netscape 2.0 (for the specialists).
There you could have this background that would change all the time,
background 1, 2, 3 etc. You could make great movies with that. You could
let it run ten times in a row. They took this out in Netscape 3.0.
It was used a lot on the net. The first part of our Binhex was based
quite heavily on it, we used it a lot. They thought it was a bug.
I can't see the bug here, it was just a free animation effect that was
in there. It was threatening the stability of a certain type of lay out,
it was disturbed too easily. So they took it out. We find other things
to play with then. There are some basics of html that will never change,
with which you can still avoid this classic approach.
Q: I heard there is a battle between designers that used to do the
lay out of magazines and artists about these matters. How software
develops, but also about what is correct and what not.
D: Every now and then there is a big panic about it. Like with these
new plug-ins, where you are told: you cannot watch this if you don't
have this or that plug-in. We are quite frugal with this.
Q: Of course not the whole world uses the same software or is even
able to obtain it. Large parts of the world can only receive text.
They have only very simple software. Do you think about this?
D: In mosaic you will still see a version of our site, but I don't
think there is any reason to say: Lets make a text-based version of this.
We can’t possibly make a text-based version of ‘Who is afraid of red
yellow and blue’. An ASCII version or so. We are no development-aid
Q: I do want to get back to this question what you will do when the
commerce, the art world gets a grip on the net.artists and picks out
some of them. It looks like a nice group now, which has a pleasant
J: That group has already split itself up. There are groups in New York,
groups in Europe. There are very small groups of two or three people in
certain cities that work together. That division is allready here. Not
all net.artists are mixing, seeing eachother regularly.
we are also seperate from this group here in the sense that a lot of
these people we have never seen before or only once.
Q: So you are not concerned with matters like this?
J: Yes I am. But as I said, I see a kind of sectarianism already on the
net. Not just with net.art, but also in other groups. The viewers have
their own little circuits in which they watch, their hotlists. For me
personally I think every group happens naturally, but the idea behind it
is what counts. Why does the person that looks at something on the net
choose that certain part of the net, and maybe has visit one or two
sites made by people present at this net.art conf? The viewer makes the
choice, there is always this filter. It is artificial to keep people in
a certain group, because in reality on the net this is not one group.
Its different sites.
D: I think it is good we are not in an art.net context. We are not the
kind of people that adjust. We don't want to be in a new corner. You
will not find this in our site either. I will not say it is art. That is
not what matters. When we started it was of no use to drag those kind of
things with us. That is what we did NOT want. Of course a certain form
of knowledge and what we are occupied with we put forward through
Netscape, but we do not want to repeat what we know too well. It’s nice