Don Foresta Interview 2003

"OUTER SPACE: The Past, Present and Future of Telematic Art - 05"
BY JEREMY TURNER (Conducted by e-mail, December, 2003).
JT: I was wondering if you could recollect details of your collaborations with Robert Adrian in Vienna, Bill Bartlett in Victoria and Norman White in Toronto? If a new project were to come up similar in spirit to Interplay and ARTEX, would you be interested in working with these people again? And if yes, in what capacity?
DF: I have no memory of working with Bill. I may have indirectly through one of our many exchange projects. Bob and Norman were partners in some of the exchanges. Bob was the most present and I participated in one of his publications on the network very early, Art Telecommunication. Heidi is the person who proposed Roy Ascott, Tom Sherman and myself to the Venice Biennale where we did a whole section of art and telecommunications in 1986. It was an important moment for me since I moved from slowscan technologies to computers for the first time and never left.
Of course I’d work with any of them again. In the early days, they understood, like I did, the importance of interactivity as the central idea.
JT: Is there a current appreciation of Telematic Art in Paris and France in general?
DF: No. There is a general official resistance to the idea as there has always been in France for any new artistic tool or idea. The Ministry of Culture has been out rightly hostile to the idea. People here are trying to connect, either as individuals or institutions but it is extremely complicated and costly. The Government policy for connecting the country is wrongheaded and is assuring that France will be behind the rest of the world both technically, culturally and artistically.
JT: In my interview with Robert Adrian he mentions how the WorldPool Collaboration in 1977 was at a time when experiencing the fax medium back then was equivalent to experiencing "magic". I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who felt that any good science was "indistinguishable from magic". Do you feel that there is still "Magic" left in some of the newer technological experiences out there? Or in other words, do you see Telecommunications Media as having metaphysical properties?
DF: We’ve only begun. Everything we have been doing up until now has been preparation. The technology, while interesting, was never up to our ambitions. Each event underlined the limitations. While the magic was there, we quickly could see the next step to come and strove toward it. The magic was in discovering new possibilities and seeing a whole new world open up. It was very parallel to science in that sense. Every new discovery has the feel of magic to it. It is something that changes our perception and that is always "magic". I began to see other implications in it that I would not call metaphysical. I understand the functioning of the network as the paradigm replacing the machine model of the universe we inherited from the Renaissance. Our society rejected that model at the beginning of the 20th century and we haven’t replaced it with another yet. The network is, for me, that model and we will more and more understanding that things work as networks work. This is philosophical, psychological, cultural, social, artistic – metaphysical, I don’t know. Maybe the metaphysics is in the sum of all those things.
JT: Can you tell me more about projects such as ARTEX? How did one acquire such proprietary software at the time? How has email based art changed (if at all) since you were first experimenting with it alongside the ARTEX crew?
DF: Norman managed to get email addresses for people early on which he distributed to artists. I came a little later to all this. For me it was in 1980-81 with MIT. Thanks to Norman, I had an email address the year after. As for the machines, artists always find them. Check out your McLuhan again.

JT: What is your opinion on the current state of telematic art and/or emailed art?
DF: I think most of it is terrible. The interactive side of it was lost once everybody moved to the web. It was no longer real communication but simply one-way sounding off about one’s person and one’s art. I don’t consider that to be very important. The nature of the network is interactivity and that is the only art that interests me. It’s that form of art that differentiates network art as something new and important and justifies its presence in network space. It is what is specific to network technology. Art is there to explore the network and make it habitable. I don’t consider popping off as necessarily useful.
JT: What kind of future do you envision for telematic art and/or emailed art?
DF: Interactivity and a synthesis between all the arts.
JT: Are you actively interested in the increasing trajectory towards video-game environments (avatars and bots) and software emulation as an art-form?
DF: Another technical detail. We loose the sense of the whole thing by focusing on small aspects of it.
JT: With regards to the list you are currently compiling about the history of Telematic Art - is there a certain bias you expect to see as to the way in which these collaborative efforts to be remembered in history? Do you feel that the major world centers will still earn the basic credit for what has transpired in the 1970s and 1980s?
DF: My bias is obviously interactivity. The list we starting putting together is around interactive work. It’s far from being complete. That’s why we send it around every so often to make sure other people’s knowledge get incorporated into it. I’m not saying it will be definitive but I’d like it to be as complete as possible.
JT: Do you have any advice for online artists of today's generation?
DF: Stay open and don’t loose sight of the forest for the trees. This is an open-ended system that will not be finalized for some time. Everything should be considered as temporary. Each discovery is only a step to the next. Go back to what art is originally all about and look at the network from that point of view. That kind of questioning is essential in these circumstances, a new space for art, new tools, new ideas, new languages, new production and collaborative formats, all this means redefining what art is in the network space.
Don Foresta is a research artist and theoretician in art using new technologies as creative tools. He is a specialist in art and science whose principal work in the field, "Mondes Multiples", will soon be reissued in English by MIT Press. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Wimbledon School of art in London and professor at the Ecole Nationale Supèrieure d’Arts - Paris/Cergy. He has been working for over 20 years in developing the network as an artistic tool and is presently building a permanent high band-width network, MARCEL, for artistic, educational and cultural experimentation. He began the network while invited artist/professor at the National Studio of Contemporary Art, Le Fresnoy, Lille France. It now has 65 confirmed members 20 of whom are connected permanently. His first on-line exchange in 1981 was between the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT where he was a fellow and the American Center in Paris where he was director of the Media Art program. He was a commissioner to the 42nd Venice Biennial in 1986 where he built one of the first computer networks between artists, an effort he has expanded as the technology has grown. Foresta holds a doctorate degree from the Sorbonne in Information Science. He has both US and French nationalities and was named "Chevalier" of the Order of Arts and Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
Jeremy Turner is the current Digital Archivist working on contract at Open Space. He is also an interdiscplinary artist, writer , composer and curator. He is a Co-Founder of the 536 Media Collective in Vancouver. In addition, he is a Co-Producer of the very first Machinima Documentary, "AVATARA". To date, he has conducted interviews and written articles about innovations in New Media for: C-Theory, Shift, Intelligent Agent, Extropy, Rhizome, Offbeat and Front Magazine. He is on the Board of Editors for the Digital Salvage Online Journal hosted by Trace Reddel at the University of Denver, Colorado.