Interview with Igor Stromajer

published: 
August, 2000

 

   

Igor Stromajer is a Slovenian artist. I interviewed him in Moscow in 2000. Stromajer talks about how he moved from making art purely for the Web to doing net art performances at the end of the nineties, whereby he would sing or dance the HTML code his website was built from. Nowadays Stromajer mostly does online performances uses robots. Interestingly also his work with robots still shows great sensitivity and the robots are easily given human or emotional traits as they dance, battle or fight for survival.

JB: How long have you been making net art?

 

Igor Stromajer: Since 1996. That is when I first saw the net at a

friend's appartment. I am a theatre director by education, and at that

time I had been working in a theatre for three years. I found out that

theatre is not the right medium for me. I wanted my work to be more

intimate. I wanted to be very personal. I wanted to go one to one in

artistic communication and I couldn't do it in the theatre. Maybe I did

not know how, or the theatre is just not the right place for this. When

you are part of a theatre audience you are sitting in the darkness

usually, depending on the type of theatre, and nobody cares about you.

If you would not be there at this performance, then someone else would

be at your place, but the performance would be the same. When I

discovered that the internet is much more intimate then the theatre I

knew it was the right medium for me. Here I can talk one to one: me as a

creator of something on the net, and the person sitting behind the

computer somewhere is usually sitting there alone.

 

JB: Does it in this case matter then who is behind the computer, who is

the audience?

 

IS: It matters that the audience is a single person. As a single person

you can go through the project as you like it: with the speed you like,

the options you like, you exit the project and come back the next day...

you very much decide how you watch the project. As a group audience you

do not have this opportunity.

 

JB: What do you think of internet art works exhibited in larger spaces

then?

 

IS: As far as I have experience it I do not like it. I think that

virtual or digital art should stay on the net. There is no need to put

it in a gallery or real space, because it has nothing to do with it. You

can -translate- the work though. I was trying to translate a net art

piece into the real space when I was singing the HTML structure of one

of my projects. That is what I would call a translation of one medium to

another, but you have to keep in mind it is just a translation: you then

have two seperate pieces which are completely independent.

 

JB: That is how you see it: that they are independent. It does not sound

very independent to me...

 

IS: A net art piece or any other art piece could be just an inspiration

to do another work of art. The translation made the project so different

that only the basic topic was the same: a kind of intimate

communication. Otherwise all the structures I used for the singing and

everything else was completely different.

 

JB: Can you tell me more about this particular work in which you sang

HTML code?

 

IS: It came out of the form of presentation at all conferences and

festivals. It is always: if you click here you go there, if you click

there you go there.. a technical explanation of what is going on. This

is very uninteresting to me. I decided I would just try to draw some

attention. That is why I printed the HTML source, the structure, and

then I sang it the way it was written. It was a presentation of my

project called 'Baltica'. I did it in Skopje and in Berlin at

Transmediale 1999. The next thing I did was asking the artistic manager

of the national opera in Ljubljana if he could give me the stage for one

night, so I could sing the theory of the internet. It was possible, and

the ministry of culture agreed to pay for it. The title was 'Opera

Theoretica Internetica'. The realaudio is on the net.

 

JB: How do you work towards this intimacy you mentioned inside a

project?

 

IS: It is my wish to create a project on the net that the visitor can

emotionally communicate with. The project would have to inspire an

emotional response, so he or she would not think about what is on the

screen or in the speakers. I feel like a sculptor. It is really

emotional for me to write HTML code. I do it manually. I do not use

special software for this because I really feel so romantic creating

something with my fingers. I put a lot of energy in it and sometimes it

comes out also (laughs). It depends on the user or visitor how he or she

approaches the project. Many times there are several possibilities what

to do inside a project. It is up to the visitor how far to go. There is

of course also the feedback communication like emails, ftp or different

protocols that are included in the project. It is not just someone

sitting behind a computer watching something, it is always a two way

communication.

 

jb: What is the background of 'Baltica'?

 

Baltica is about a virtual state or country, on the other side. It is

something about the line between the living and dead world. It is about

what happens after death.

 

JB: But why call it 'Baltica' then?

 

IS: There is no logical explanation.

 

JB: Do you see the Baltics as a place of death?

 

IS: I have been there once after I did the project. It is not meant as a

real geographical place, but the word Baltica sounds for me like

something that is not of this world. I did it in 1997, when my father

died. I needed a place to put him, somewhere. So that I could imagine:

where is he now? There. I chose Baltica because it sounded emotional to

me, far away. I later discovered a beer is called 'Baltica' in Moscow

(laughs), I bought it. They have a light version and a normal version.

 

JB: What was the project that you wrote to Rhizome about, where people

could not navigate? It caused some discussion about good and bad web

design... What was your impression of the discussion that followed, and

what was the title of the project?

 

IS: The title was GPS art. I try to use different machines now,

especially mobile machines, to transfer art. I do not want to quite the

internet, but I want to try other possibilties. I did a GSM project with

mobile phones, and WAP art (wireless application protocol) for mobile

phones as well, and I experimented with this GPS (global positioning

satelite navigation) art. It is about realtime data processing and so

on. It started like an idea, how to navigate with satelites in a global

community. I discovered that the main moving force is the mistake. We

discover new things and we progress by making mistakes. A GPS system is

of course used for navigation: you have it in your car, in your yacht.

The basic thing first time users on the net have to deal with is also

how to navigate. We are used to click on words or images to go

somewhere. If you remove this option, if there is nothing to click on,

you have to think about exploring other ways of navigating the net. That

is why I removed all the links and I put some suggestions how to

navigate there. You had to find the names of the files. It is always

structured like this: you have a map, and then there are several files

inside this map. They are connected usually so you can get from one file

to another. There is also another way, which is when you type the name

of the next file manually in the location bar of the browser. This

turned out to be problematic to some. When I published this work on

Rhizome I got many emails saying: there is nothing to click. People were

also looking into the source code if there was a link, but there was

nothing.

The discussion helped me a lot. Some of it went into a direction I am

not interested in. Like 'good and bad design'. I don't think that has

anything to do with me. I will of course use this discussion in the

further development of the project. The ministry of culture bought me

this GPS machine now, so I have it at home. I have to learn how to use

it for this realtime data processing. Now I have some simulations inside

the project, there are six options what to do, and there is an open

section where other people can contribute their content to the project.

It is a work in progress. It is the first work that I have done that I

have created online from the beginning though. Everybody can see how it

is developing. I used to finish a project and then I put it online. That

is much safer: you can remove all the mistakes, you can polish it and so

on. If you do it in an

open way everything hurts: people have the opportunity to see inside the

process which can be very painful. This is good. I learned a lot this

way.