2019 – 2016 – 2013 – 2012 – 2010 – 2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001
Ruy C. Campos interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
How has been doing the curatorship of these works as the refugee crisis evolves since 2015?
For example, the first collection was released just a few days before the events of new years eve’ in Köln and in the following years we noticed the spread and growing rightwing attacks on the refugees in terms of discourse and also physical violence.
How does the evolution of the events affected your perception of the project evolution?
What would you highlight as a general perception of the particular videoartist approach to this matter, or, in other words, what would you consider specially relevant about the approaches of videoart to the crisis?
I am glad to respond, and thanks for the opportunity, but I will not answer the individual questions individually.
Firstly, it is good to know, that I am curating since 1990, new media art since 2000 and video – art & moving images – since 2004. Curating was always understood as a networked interaction between the artist, curator and the audience, the curator as a kind of mediator between artist and audience, curating as installing a kind of social (mutual) responsibility between the three involved parties – and it is and was aimed in my case as a curator mostly related to essential questions of human existence.
The year 2015 can be understood as a year when certain essential characteristics of human existence became obvious for everybody, at least in Europe, the migration as that essential impact on the human evolution. Politicians were forced to make decisions after they had made wrong decisions for many decades based on ignorance, and the German Chancellor, Ms. Merkel, did the only proper thing according to our German constitution and international law, to receive the refugees in order to prevent an humanitarian disaster in the centre of Europe. But afterwards the actions to be taken were typically inconsequent, because it was forgotten to integrate these people seeking protection. You mention the New Year’s Eve in Cologne, what happened was typical, because the local and federal politicians were not aware of the position of young males in Arab countries, these incidents were foreseeable and – therefore no surprise.
The so-called refugee crisis currently in all its contemptuous dimensions is in fact a permanent crisis of human civilization on Earth since the colonialization and later industrialization, thus the result of the evolution of human civilization in all the positive and negative impact, and current phenomena like civil wars in Africa, Middle East, South America and Asia, thus outside of the “peaceful” Western , so-called civilized, world, or climate change as a global phenomenon are actually symptoms only for that crisis, they made the current crisis visible in its complexity, but in fact, it would be wrong to speak of a crisis, at all, because a crisis is representing actually an exceptional state of emergency, while there were always reasons for migrating during all times as long as the human species is spreading around the globe, thus the “state of emergency” in shape of crisisous circumstances have been always present – a permanent crisis is no crisis anymore, but represent the usual living circumstances – representing the usual, thus, nothing exceptional.
Migrating was additionally always also an act of human curiosity, of exploring what is hidden beyond the horizon, it is the genetic human condition which made any migration only possible and is therefore overlaying the actual various reasons for migrating, nowadays, as well…… Only the Western people living in prosperity (by the way, not all live in prosperity, there is a lot of growing poverty – wide parts of the Western society live in poverty, even if that kind of poverty cannot compared with the poverty in the developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America) – so, the Western people were losing and forgetting the awareness for these general conditions of human existence – being afraid to lose their own privileges.
Certainly, the Refugee crisis as it is experienced in the media and in Europe particularly, was the initial spark to start 2015 the Refugee Film Collection, but from the beginning it was my curatorial intention to view beyond the horizon of the current incidents und face migration as what is factually, the actual motor of the evolution of the human civilization offering chances not only for the migrants, but primarily for those people receiving migrants refreshing additionally ancient genetic structures. In historical dimensions, migrant streams were always symbolizing a big change, the end of the current era, thus, the beginning of something new to come, causing naturally fears of the Unknown, these changes were representing steps forward in this evolution even if the price was sometimes very high causing countless victims, nowadays the victims are not only human individuals, but animals, plants and planet “Earth” as a whole as a living habitat for all of them. Without the refugees, without migrating, the European, Asian, Australian, US American and South American civilizations would not exist, because no human individual would ever have left Africa, and from a curatorial point of view it was challenging to focus on the human dimension of any migrating and the reasons and motivations for the current migration and escape from persecution and expulsion or the changing living habitat, and how the current society and the individual is dealing with that.
The artist himself in all his/her creativity is a migrant between time, space, form and colour and the environment he/she is living in and reflecting. So, the open creativity of the artists is making him or her to experts in the field of migrating, in so far it was no surprise how many artists submissions arrived, after I released the 1st open call for contributing in 2015 – to be followed by further annual calls.
My curatorial point of view is and was always to demonstrate my openness and transparency, the contrary to the usual authoritarian position of a conventional curator, by presenting no restriction, but the diversity of aspects and artistical concepts, and motivate the artists, on one hand, to reflect the current world and transform the cognitions (political, social, cultural etc) into an individual language of art, and sensitize the viewer, on the other hand, by giving him the chance to become a kind of curator himself/herself through reviewing and reflecting this diversity – leading to a better understanding of art and the general circumstances and a new level of humanity.
Of course, for me as a curator the works to be selected for participating in the Refugee Film Collection had to meet certain artistic, technological and conceptual criteria, but beyond that, it is my position as a curator to activate both, the artist and the viewer to leave the consuming position and enter actively an inspirational dialogue via the art works, and moving images have generally a particular potential to start such a dialogue – so, one might even speak of a kind of pedagogical mission of mine.
However, video (a technological term) as a medium in art has a completely different meaning than the mass phenomenon “video” as it can be experienced on YouTube and other Internet platforms, Television, Cinema or Advertising. For the viewer, being overwhelmed with moving images, sound and noise, and special , but vain effects, the individual image has lost its relevance completely and is therefore not recognized anymore, as such, at all, but art (using video/moving images as a medium for representing and transforming processes into an individual language of art) is standing in contrary to that. Therefore, the audience to be confronted with art videos has to learn first to see properly and recognize the relevance of the previously seen – (like young people who would like to enrol in an art school have to learn to see properly first which only allows to approach art, at all) – in order to be able to re-recognize the relevance of the individual image or, in terms of the medium (video) – the individual frame in the series of linear following frames of filmic sequences, but exactly the lack of this knowledge is causing permanently misunderstandings, also among the artists.
So, it is part of the curatorial concept to provoke the artists and the audience a like and in different ways, of course – and demonstrate, in terms of the Refugee Film Collection, for instance, the variety of different reasons for migrating focussed on the individual, and individualize the “mass” phenomenon (of the “overwhelming” refugees) – and different artistic positions, how artists deal with the creative challenge – leading consequently to a differentiated point of view of both – the artist and the audience.
The curatorial concept goes far beyond the usual main focus on aesthetics, and therefore, the Refugee Film Collection was from the beginning much more than just a compilation of art works on a certain topic, but the framework for a kind of political statement in a social responsibility – including the creator, eg. the curator/artist in my person, as well as the artists and the audience.
The evolution of the project with its meanwhile 4 editions since 2015 was, whether intentional or by coincidence, progressing simultaneously with the political, social, ecological, cultural conditions worldwide, which were changing within just a few years really dramatically. For me as a critically thinking person who is accompanying and practicing art since more than 50 years, it is and was not understandable that citizens nowadays allow Populists to manipulate them and falsity their living reality, generating an horrifying degree of violence – to be read daily in the news in all media, so in terms of the evolution of the film collection, the videos of the different editions transport already a certain change in the artistic perception and work out, and in society and politics the refugee issue became more and more a topic of rightwing Populists misusing the misery of the migrants for ideological purposes. It seems to be a similar situation when Hitler came into power 1933, when people lost their humanity for the following 12 years of the 1000 years Nazi Empire. So, mankind is currently highly endangered to do the same fatal mistakes, by following the authoritarian Populists wherever on the globe – remaining in a passive position is generally a wrong way.
And therefore it is no coincidence, that after the release of the fourth edition of the Refugee Film Collection in 2018, as a curator, artist and above all, human individual, I recognized the need to dedicate the Refugee Film Collection to higher-level objectives – by transforming the complete collection into the basis of a new “platform”, eg.“The Refugee Memorial” in which the film collection and the incorporated videos got a new purpose and relevance as a cause for commemorating.
By being transformed into a “memorial site”, the project received an advanced status of public relevance, by leaving the rather “private” area which art is representing, it becomes therefore recognizable “political” – political in terms of public presence and relevance. Commemorating can be understood as an advanced and, additionally, collective form of perception and the contrary of consuming in which the aspect of time is receiving generally a particular relevance – stimulating the “audience” permanently or at least regularly to be activated again and again and reflect and re-reflect – and, in the given case, also as a higher goal of art which goes far beyond the visual or sensual sensation.
In addition, “The Refugee Film Collection” and “The Refugee Memorial” were not standing alone in my curatorial/ artistic work, but in the context of a major curatorial/artistic complex of time based art, I was working on since 2000, and particularly since 2010 in different individual projects, which however were like The Refugee Memorial not planned for such advanced purposes.
It was that radical change of the environment we World Citizens currently are living in, which made me initiate the idea of “The 7 Memorials for Humanity”, consisting of 7 individual artistic commemorative contexts – The Refugee Memorial, The d/i/light Memorial, The Wake Up! Memorial, The Cambodia 1975-1979 Memorial, The Hiroshima//Fukushima Memorial, The iTERROR Memorial and The Sonic Memorial, each of them differently aimed and based on individual (audio-visual) time based art collections – each one with a similar message, however from another point of view: Never More! – commemorating as a motivation to initiate a change to the better – no more war, no more persecution and expulsion, no more genocide, no racism or intolerance, no more terrorism, no more nuclear threats, no more destruction of the natural habitat for human individuals, animals and plants and the entire biodiversity etc., thus, no more reasons for migrating.
This “platform for commemorating” – to be understood as a kind of multi-dimensional virtual sculpture – is working in an exchange between virtual and physical space. While the memorial sites are located online for permanent – accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days of a year, there will be temporary locations in physical space hosting a manifestation of one or more memorials to be complemented by interventions like screenings, a symposium, lectures, discussions, artists meetings, exhibitions, performances etc in order to reach a higher degree of sustainability.
While the Refugee Film Collection is incorporating currently about 120 films by 100 artists, The 7 Memorials for Humanity include in total about 500 artists and about 600 individual artworks.
Was the context of The Refugee Memorial and its incorporated film collection already a curatorial challenge, it was much bigger, of course, concerning the 7 Memorials project as a whole.
It is a plea to the contemporarily living people to keep and defend humanity as the highest human value also for future generations.
It is said, that art cannot change world as it is, but this is not completely true, art as the most human of all human expressions has that particular potential to sensitize people and change awareness, this way. However, it lies in the responsibility of the individual what he/she is doing with this awareness.
The Refugee Memorial – http://refugee.engad.org
The 7 Memorials for Humanity – http://7mfh.a-virtual-memorial.org
A Virtual Memorial Foundation – http://a-virtual-memorial.org
The New Museum of Networked Art – http://nmartproject.net
Agricola de Cologne, founder, creator and programmer – http://agricola-de.cologne
Peter Gyselick interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Some questions would be – Feel free to share your thoughts if you want to: Is there a way you selected the sound art?
>Curating sound art is just one field of art I am curating, and, generally there are as many ways of curating as curators are. Since one never knows, what might be expected, in terms of soundart, an honest way of curating is certainly to listen and compare, thus, extracting the works to be selected, also for a certain topic, by listening and comparing. That’s how I was curating soundart.
Do you have any rules of standard to which an artwork must comply?
>I do not think it is helpful to have (dogmatic) rules, because one would miss the soundart piece to be valued completely. If one is accepting, that any soundart piece is potentially an experiment, then the curator needs to be open for it. He will always follow certain internal rules depending on his personal skills and experiences. While I have personally a multi-facetted musical education, from my point of view, for judging and curating soundart it is not requested to have such an education, it is more relevant to recognise the creative potential by using the non-visual sense, whether they were made in the musical or any other artistic field. From a child, I was always interested in experimental forms of art, and when I was learning musical instruments like violin, experimenting with the instrument as a tool for creating something new, found my main interest instead of studying classical repertoir, so when I was listening for the first time to a soundart piece, it was nothing new to me. Even if soundart is defining itself not as a musical form of art, but in the recent musical history, especially after World War II, there were a lot of composers who were úsing “sound” as essential components for composing musical pieces. Sound art is not soundart, I do not think it is possible or that it would makes sense to set up such rules. Many people always want that art can be (scientifically) measured, but it can’t. But such rules also block the freedom of perception, the curators’ perception, as well as the perception of the listener, they cause dogmas, and the death of art.
Is subjectivity very important?
>Judging art is always a matter of subjectivity, since there is no objective in art. It would be horrible, if there would be objectives, since there would be no art. So each curator is following his very own subjectivity according to his professional background and personal preferences. This does not only give the guarantee for a diversity in art by also a diversity in judging art. While it is possible to find criteria for estimating classical music, it is nearly impossible concerning classical contemporary music, and even less possible concerning soundart.
– What would you consider to be the role of a curator of sound art. Is it the same as curating other art?
> I think curating as such is generally following similar rules, i.e. taking responsibility. While curating “art”, if art is understood as a visual medium, is using the dominant visual sense, curating music and sound is using a non-visual sense. Another kind of imagination is needed therefore, to be able to give the sensually perceived a meaning and judge it. So, the conditions for curating especially soundart are fundamentally different than curating “visual” art. As a kind of “primus inter pares”, the soundart curator has not that kind of dominant role.
– From all the soundclips you received, are they mostly just self-educated home-cooking sound artists or rather all academics?
> I did not make a poll, but according to my experiences most sound artists have their roots in music or dealing with music, and soundart is either a certain consequence of their doing, or they do soundart in a complementary way, eg as an activity complementing other artistic activities.. Most sound artists work in different art disciplines, and, from my personal point of view, the interdisciplinary approach is a most relevant aspect in doing and judging soundart. Like music, using sound as a basis for an art creation it is a non-visual way of art creating. According to a new understanding in using one’s creative potential, many visual artists feel the need to express themselves also by addressing to the non-visual sense. It is then an interesting question whether artists from different disciplines use sound differently. The merging of the arts via the new technologies is causing new types of artists whose artistic output is not restricted to one discipline only. I do neither believe in the “home-cooking”, nor the academics.
Do you believe in a kind of general study for education potential sound art curators?
> I think a good soundart curator needs skills is using and judging all senses in a creative way, very likely a good soundart curator would be a practicing soundart himself. Probably, a general study would make sense, if the future curators would be educated in the basics of many art disciplines, and recognize their artistic potential. But, one must not forget, a good curator needs to be talented, like a good artist needs to be talented, as well. The education may be an occasion to train the skill for using one’s talent, and I do not think that one can learn to be a good curator without any talent.
But how can the talent of a soundart curator be measured?
If you are curating, do you have a kind of theme that you use?
> It depends, some times yes, sometimes no. It is more complicated to have a theme, because one needs to listen more carefully, if a submission is hitting the theme. A theme might be a problem, if curators and artists would perceive the soundart piece in terms of illustrating the theme.
The Scientist – Videoart festival Ferrara/Italy – 11-13 October 2013
Vitaliano Teti interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Interview with the curator Wilfried Agricola De Cologne, creator and curator of the “nomadic” video‐art festival “CologneOFF”, who selected an international section exclusively for the seventh edition of “The Scientist”.
What are the reasons why you choose to start a collaboration with “The Scientist”, in 2012?
Firstly, let me thank “The Scientist” Video Art Festival very much for collaborating in 2013 and the interest in doing the interview with me. As the director of Cologne International Videoart Festival, I was in 2012 looking again for new partners in order to extend my networking activities, and by chance I visited the website of the “The Scientist”, and by exploring I got the idea the festival might have similar ideas concerning “art & moving images”, and a possible collaboration might be very fruitful.
Knowing that your selection was destined to an Italian exhibition, influenced your choices in gathering the material to be shown in Italy?
No, not at all. But I was aware of the fact, that in Southern European countries not all people speak English, and Cologne International Videoart Festival is a festival based on English language. So, I did what I had done before in Spanish speaking countries, preparing a program without dialogue and spoken words.
Why the title “Poetry of Yearning”?
Yearning is actually the little sister of “desire” ‐ the subtle kind of point of view including a sort of romantic and non‐verbal communicative components like gestures or the body language. I found this non‐verbal aspect particularly challenging when I prepared the compilation for the festival.
You define the artworks of your selection, CologneOFF‐Italy, as “audiovisual poems”. Suggesting that the audience should “read” video‐artistic works in these terms, would generally help media art appreciation and fruition?
At first, I need to state that the term poem in “audio‐visual poem” is not used in a literal, but figurative sense. It describes a particular senses driven position in perceiving life and art, this is good for the artist and audience, as well, it has therefore the potential to reach and touch really many people all over the world, no matter where and under what kind of cultural, ethnic, social conditions they live. It is understandable, perceivable and acceptable as a new form of art for many people, who otherwise have probably no affinity to the often mind‐orientated, over‐intellectualized media art as it is presented in museums and galleries.
Cinema accustomed us spectators to appreciate an opera as a whole, in all its sensory complexity, still screenplay remains the strongest narrative component in a film. The videos you selected don’t use tongues at all but leave room for a different kind of communication, a more complex language which at the same time is more universal. Do you share this interpretation?
Yes, of course. videoart as a “genre” in contemporary art is not “cinema”, the concept is completely different, even if it may have sometimes a kind of narrative component. In my selection, I was avoiding the spoken or written word, in order to let the moving images and the movements speak for themselves. The subjective perception of the images opens doors wide for one’s own approach and interpretation; different kinds of non‐verbal languages are establishing a new communication between the art work (artist) and the viewer (user) following unexpected rules. These works enable and enforce a kind of meditation during the process of perceiving, which has an universal character.
For the “The Scientist” festival you’ve been asked to select works of Under35s. Is there any difference between the imagination depicted by young authors and the one drawn by older artists?
What is an older and a younger artist? Age is neither a criterion for the quality in art, nor the maturity of perception. Personally, I do not care about age, at all. A young person of 18 years old can be much more mature in mind and emotion than a 70 years old person, who probably did not learn anything during the long life. Of course, young persons have a different point of view according to their location in life and set, of course, other priorities than older people due to the different life span, but these points of views are not less relevant than the ones of older persons who probably have already a life behind based on a rich variety of experiences. I even would say, limiting age has rather a discriminating effect, which should have actually no place in art.
In Italy authors struggle to find funding for the video‐art production. What is your opinion about it? Seen your wide experience in different States of the world, do you think that in other countries the situation is different?
Firstly, I agree that finding funding for videoart is a complicated matter, but it is not only like that in Italy, but anywhere. One needs to consider that videoart as it is known nowadays, and I do expressively not speak of that type of classical videoart from the past century using an analogue technology, is representing a “young” genre in contemporary art and it is still not yet accepted widely by the art lovers, and funding structures are always conservative, it takes too much time, until the bureaucrats accept the change of time, and in the given case, the changed values in art. Since video is representing a mass medium, there are many more artists on the market practicing video than funding possibilities are available. Another aspect is, however, most important, there does not exist an art market for art using moving images. There were attempts to establish a kind of art market, but as a medium, video will be never “exclusive” like painting, so nobody can make a fortune by selling video. Video is perceived as a cheap medium, and this not only in terms of its monetary value, but also concerning the artistic concept behind, which is quite fatal, of course.
Video is more accepted by a young audience where generally the monetary value is playing a minor role than by the older generation, which often is also not flexible enough to start learning perceiving new kinds of advanced forms in contemporary art like video.
But let me say also expressively, a real artist who wants to use video as an artistic medium uses video, he is not waiting until funding structures allow him to execute an art work. Nowadays, the technology for creating and producing video is affordable to anybody, it is not requiring the most expensive hardware and software. A creative person can make the best artworks also without working under the ideal conditions using the “perfect” equipment.
An artist having many skills and being accustomed to work interdisciplinary is able to create, produce a video by his own without using an expensive staff which needs to be paid.
A real videoartist, however, should have many more skills, than just being able to hold a video camera in his hand or using an editing software, and probably the actual problem lies in a proper art education, where artists do not really train their skills and being creative in real practice, and the fact that there is no art education for those people who run funding structures. So, I am not sure, whether the funding for creating videos should have such a relevance, at least for most video creations. Nobody would get the idea to ask for funding for doing some drawings. Video is representing an artistic medium like any other artistic medium. Of course, I do not speak of “cinema” and producing cinema films, because there is a completely different concept behind.
What do you think of the collaboration with the association Ferrara Video&Arte, which for seven years now has been promoting video‐art coming from academic context and rising authors as well as well‐known artists? Do you think this relationship to be profitable and destined to last?
I hope and I wish it will be like that, of course. But collaborations depend on so many factors which both parties have no influence on. I think, not only the professional context counts, but for a lasting relationship primarily openness, communicating and exchange are needed, which I think is there at both sides, in so far I am very optimistic, this could be a longer lasting collaboration.
Intervista al curatore tedesco Wilfried Agricola De Cologne, ideatore e curatore del festival “nomade” di videoarte “CologneOFF”, che ha selezionato in esclusiva per la VII edizione di “The Scientist” una speciale sezione internazionale.
1.Quali sono le ragioni per cui ha deciso, nel 2012, di iniziare una collaborazione con il festival di videoarte “The Scientist” di Ferrara?
Innanzitutto mi permetta di ringraziare il festival di videoarte “The Scientist” per aver collaborato con me, anche quest’anno e per l’interesse dimostratomi nel propormi un’intervista.
Come direttore del Cologne International Videoart Festival, nel 2012 cercavo nuovi partner al fine di ampliare la mia attività di network e per caso ho visitato il sito web di “The Scientist”, esplorando il quale ho capito che il festival condivideva alcune mie idee riguardo le “art & moving images”, e che una possibile collaborazione sarebbe potuta essere vantaggiosa.
2.Il presupposto che la destinazione della sua Curatela sarebbe stata una manifestazione italiana, ha influenzato le sue scelte in merito alla selezione delle opere da mostrare in Italia?
Affatto. Ma ero consapevole del fatto che in Europa meridionale non tutte le persone parlano inglese e il Cologne International Videoart Festival è un festival basato sulla lingua inglese.
Quindi ho fatto ciò che feci tempo fa in Paesi di lingua ispanica, ho preparato un programma senza dialoghi né parole.
3.Perché il titolo “Poetry of Yearning”?
Yearning in effetti è la sorellina di “desiderio”, un tipo di punto di vista che sottende una sorta di componente romantica, comunicativa, non verbale come il gesto o il linguaggio del corpo.
Ho trovato questo aspetto non verbale particolarmente stimolante quando ho preparato la compilation per il festival.
4.Lei definisce le opere della selezione CologneOFF‐italy “poesie audiovisive”. Invitare il pubblico a porsi nei confronti delle opere videoartistiche in generale, nei termini in cui lei le descrive, aiuta ad una più facile fruizione della videoarte?
Innanzitutto ho bisogno di precisare che il termine poesia in “poesia audiovisiva”non è utilizzato in maniera letterale ma in senso figurato. Descrive una “posizione”, da cui si percepisce la vita e l’arte, raggiunta attraverso i sensi, e questo è un bene per l’artista e per l’audience poiché ha il potenziale di raggiungere e toccare davvero molte persone in tutto il mondo, non importa dove e in quali condizioni culturali, etniche o sociali essi vivano. É comprensibile, percepibile e ammissibile come una nuova forma d’arte per molte persone che altrimenti non avrebbero affinità alcuna nei confronti della spesso cervellotica, iper‐intellettuale media arte, così come si presenta in musei e gallerie.
5.Il cinema ci ha abituato ad apprezzare l’opera come prodotto composito da accogliere nella sua completezza sensoriale, ma la sceneggiatura resta la componente narrativa più forte nel film. Le opere di videoarte da lei selezionate non usano affatto la componente linguistica ma lasciano spazio ad una comunicazione diversa, probabilmente più complessa e allo stesso tempo più universale. Condivide questa interpretazione?
Si, certo. La videoarte come “genere” di arte contemporanea non è “cinema”, il concetto è completamente diverso, anche se (la videoarte) può avere una componente narrativa. Nella mia selezione ho evitato parole scritte o dette, per permettere alle immagini ed ai movimenti di parlare per sé. La percezione soggettiva delle immagini spalanca le porte all’interpretazione e l’approccio di ciascuno; tipi diversi di linguaggi non verbali stabiliscono una comunicazione nuova tra l’opera (l’artista) e lo spettatore (fruitore), seguendo regole inaspettate. Questi lavori permettono e attivano una sorta di mediazione durante il processo percettivo, che ha carattere universale.
6.Per il festival “The Scientist” le è stato chiesto di selezionare opere di artisti Under35. Crede ci sia differenza tra l’immaginario proposto nelle opere dei giovani videoartisti rispetto alle opere degli autori più adulti?
Cosa significa artista giovane e artista vecchio? L’età non è né un criterio di qualità dell’arte, né di maturità della percezione. Personalmente non mi importa dell’età, affatto. Un giovane di 18 anni può essere molto più maturo intellettualmente ed emotivamente rispetto ad un settantenne che nella sua lunga vita non ha imparato nulla. Certo I giovani hanno diversi punti di vista, a seconda di dove si trovano durante la loro vita e impostano priorità diverse rispetto alle persone più vecchie per il diverso tempo vissuto, ma queste prospettive non sono meno rilevanti di quelle di chi ha probabilmente già una vita alle spalle e una ricca varietà di esperienze.
Io direi addirittura che limitare l’età crea un effetto discriminante che non dovrebbe trovare spazio in arte.
7.In Italia si fatica a trovare i finanziamenti per la produzione di opere di videoarte. Qual’è il suo punto di vista a riguardo? Viste le sue numerose esperienze in diversi Stati del mondo trova che in altri Paesi la situazione sia diversa?
Per prima cosa sono d’accordo che trovare finanziamenti per la videoarte sia una faccenda complicata, e non solo in Italia ma dappertutto. Bisogna considerare che la videoarte come si conosce oggi, e intendo espressamente non parlare del tipo classico di videoarte del secolo scorso che usava tecnologie analogiche, rappresenta un genere “giovane”di arte contemporanea che non è ancora completamente accettato dagli amanti dell’arte, e le organizzazioni che finanziano sono sempre conservatrici, serve troppo tempo ai burocrati per accettare il cambio dei tempi e nel caso dato, il cambiamento dei valori in arte.
Dato che il video rappresenta un mezzo di massa, ci sono molti più artisti sul mercato che sperimentano con il video rispetto alle fonti di finanziamento disponibili.
Un altro aspetto, ancora più importante: non esiste un mercato per questo tipo di arte che si serve delle moving images. Ci sono stati dei tentativi di stabilire un settore di mercato specifico ma come mezzo, il video non sarà mai “esclusivo” come la pittura, quindi nessuno può arricchirsi vendendo
video. Il video è percepito come mezzo “economico”, e non solo in termini monetari ma anche rispetto al concetto artistico che vi sta dietro, e questo è fatale, certo.
Il video è maggiormente accolto da un’audience più giovane per il quale generalmente il valore monetario ha minore importanza rispetto alle generazioni più anziane, le quali spesso non sono abbastanza flessibili per iniziare a percepire nuovi tipi di forme avanzate di arte contemporanea, come è il video.
Ma mi lasci dire, un vero artista che vuole usare il video come mezzo d’arte lo usa, non aspetta che una struttura di finanziamento gli permette di eseguire un lavoro, oggi la tecnologia per creare e produrre un video è alla portata di chiunque e non richiede l’hardware e il software più costoso. Una persona creativa può produrre la migliore opera anche non lavorando nelle condizioni ideali e senza avere la perfetta “attrezzatura”.
Un artista molto abile e abituato a lavorare interdisciplinarmente è in grado di creare e produrre un video da solo senza dovere pagare uno staff.
Un vero video‐artista comunque dovrebbe avere molte più abilità rispetto alla mera tecnica di ripresa e di editing e probabilmente il vero problema sta in un’appropriata educazione all’arte, laddove gli artisti non educano la loro abilità e creatività nella pratica reale e nel momento in cui non esiste educazione all’arte per coloro i quali governano strutture di finanziamento.
Quindi non sono così sicuro se il finanziamento debba avere o meno tanta rilevanza, almeno per la maggior parte delle opere video. A nessuno verrebbe l’idea di chiedere un finanziamento per fare dei disegni. Il video rappresenta un mezzo artistico espressivo come tutti gli altri. Certo, non mi riferisco al cinema o alla produzione di film perché dietro ci sono concetti molti diversi.
8.Cosa pensa di questa collaborazione con l’associazione Ferrara Video&Arte, che da 7 anni ha promosso tanta videoarte sia di giovani delle accademie e delle università che di artisti affermati? Ritiene che sia un rapporto fruttuoso destinato a durare?
Spero e mi auguro che sarà così, certo. Ma le collaborazioni dipendono da fattori sui quali nessuna delle parti ha influenza. Io credo che non conti solo il contesto professionale ma per una relazione duratura servono apertura, comunicazione e scambio, che credo ci sia da entrambe le parti, fin’ora sono molto ottimista, questa potrebbe essere una lunga collaborazione.
Intervista a cura di Rossella Conte e Vitaliano Teti
Traduzione dall’inglese Rossella Conte
Interview with Agricola de Cologne
Crowdfunding Campaign –
start: 11 June 2013 – end: 22 July 2013
on Indiegogo http://igg.me/p/434062/x/3589375
A Virtual Memorial Vilnius 2013 –
SFC – Shoah Film Collection in Lithuania
Help me to realise this international initiative for Peace and Reconciliation
1. Why ist it so relevant to you to deal with the Holocaust artistically nearly 70 years after the end of World War II?
2.Is it the first time, that the Holocaust is standing in the focus of your artistic activities?
3.What can do art to keep vivid the memory of the individual and collective trauma?
4.Why do you choose the field of “art & moving images” for developing your artistic ideas?
5. What is the meaning of the interventions complementing the presentation of films and videos, for instance, in Vilnius?”
Why it is so relevant to you to deal with the Holocaust artistically nearly 70 years after the end of World War II?
It is indeed like that, that the increasing distance to the historical period of the Third Reich is marginalizing the true dimension of Holocaust to a mere historical phenomenon, while World War II as a tool for executing the Holocaust beyond all existing boundaries, changed the world in a dimension like nothing else human-made before. The world we live in today is the result of World War II and the Holocaust.
As a German, who was born and raised after World War II, I grew up protected from any negative influence with the best values parents can give to the children. The Nazi Past and the Holocaust was never a topic in family or school. My father never was talking about his experiences of being persecuted by the Nazis, only after his death in 1989, just a few months before the Wall in Berlin was falling, which my father was desperately yearning since its erection in 1961, my mother reported from her point view about the persecution of my father through the Nazis and the effects on the young family and the three little children. Much too late, I recognised that I knew actually nothing about my father and there was no chance left to change that. But the memory of my parents’ traumatic experiences were probably transferred to me via the genes, because it came out of me unconsciously and automatically when ever I was making drawings as a little child, and also later when I started to deal intensively with art.. It remained more or less unconsciously until the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist systems. Travelling in East of Europe in 1990, visiting the memorial camps on Polish ground like Auschwitz, Majdanek and others was causing a tremendous shock when I realised the dimension of the Nazi terror and the unconsciousness of my previous life became consciousness and reality, as something which was determining my life from the moment when I was born.
There was no question, I needed to start an artistic project dealing with this new consciousness and prepare it on occasion of the 50th return of World War II in 1995 as my personal contribution to a reconciliation with Jews on one hand, and Polish people on the other hand, however, not knowing that I was starting a process of a kind of suicidal self-experimenting causing at its end my own death caused by a terror attack in 1998, a re-birth in 1999 and the start of a new life in 2000.
This described consciousness of mine, which is representing also the basic condition for Shoah Film Collection, is considering the Holocaust to be the worst possible manifestation of the dark side of human nature, one might call it the absolute “evil”. Under certain historical, political, economical and cultural conditions, which were given in the 20ies and 30ies of the past century not only in Germany, but worldwide, the Holocaust may happen again at any time at any place in the world, if we ( as one people and citizens all over the world) are not very careful. The fact that crimes against humanity are executed before our very eyes, daily transported via the media, and I do not mean just the genocide in Rwanda or the war of an insane Syrian dictator against the own people, but also all the human rights violations in our so-called democratic countries, intolerance and discriminations anywhere on the globe, this fact is indicating that the human nature is completely out of any balance, and each of us has fight that in one’s individual way.
There are millions of people who demonstrate the need for change, for instance, in the Islamic countries, or Latin America. Always present, the Holocaust is standing visible for all, as a fanal, what will happen if the dark side of human nature is overpowering us.
Art, respectively what we perceive nowadays as art in the process of human civilization, was not only always transporting individual and collective memory from Past to Present and Future, but by touching emotions and spirits, it is the nature of art to sensitize people and change awareness.
After the Liberation of Auschwitz, the Holocaust made the people speechless, intellectuals and artists were stating in the beginning that art after Auschwitz (Holocaust) would not be possible any more. Nevertheless during the post-war years, many visual artists tried to visualize the Holocaust and its dimensions on many levels, but mostly failed by showing just horrifying curios.
Although during the decades until these days, there were some single visual artists who continued dealing with the Holocaust, and some even did it successfully in an artistic sense, dealing with the Holocaust artistically is representing widely a kind of “TABU” settling a kind of eternal, never changing dogmatic view on the Holocaust. The institutions dealing with the historical aspects of the Holocaust claim to be only ones being eligible to deal with the Holocaust, at all, and defend their property, respectively this dogmatic, even totalitarian position.
The contemporary art scene is going even further by punishing artists who are dealing with such heavy contents like the Holocaust through intimidating, discriminating. stigmatizing and excluding those artists.
In fact, other media than visual art, were much more successful in dealing with the Holocaust, like film, literature and theatre, because they are able to show and transform processes into an artistic language, which the static media of contemporary art are not able to.
However, the new media and technologies in art changed the situation in contemporary art profoundly, because the linear digital video technology, which is available and affordable to anybody nowadays and the non-linear new media technologies, offer artists countless tools for a contemporary artistic approach via the moving images or interactivity, and allow a direct user (viewer) involvement and, in this ways, also an immediate self-identifying.
That’s why I think, these days and the change of perception through a personal involvement
represent much better conditions to start dealing artistically with the Holocaust, respectively the evolutionary processes which were leading to the Holocaust, and sensitize people actively via art.
Is the Holocaust standing in the focus of your artistic activities for the first time?
No. While I would not consider the unconscious attempts as a child under influence of collective memory as artistic projects, I would speak of the first real project, but when I started working many years later “consciously” on the artistic memorial “inspired” by visiting the memorial sites in Poland in 1990, dedicated to the victims of Holocaust, but the Holocaust was actually only a topic indirectly.
Like many artists before, I came to the conclusion myself, that it is not possible to visualize “Hitler’s final solution”, but as long as the Holocaust was understood as the final result in form of an anonymous mass of millions of dead humans, it is just a like a “black hole” eating anything around, leaving to the artist and the viewer – no space for anything creative, and above all, not any space for a kind of self-identification.
By visiting Auschwitz, which, in comparison with Majdanek, for instance, is quite completely preserved, it became particularly obvious, that the victims were forced to pass a long process of humiliations, loosing their humanity before they were deported, during the deportation and after they had arrived the camp, before they were killed. From my point of view, the Holocaust is representing rather the collection of millions of individual life stories which all have no happy end. These stories and the human dimension is giving the anonymous individuals a face, and in this way, the Holocaust will not remain that “black hole”, but becomes even a most brightly coloured super-volcano of incredible emotional eruptions, experiencing persecution and torture, living between hope and despair.
The mere historical view, however, is marginalizing the human aspect and superelevating the roles of the perpetrators and honouring mass-murderers, while at the same time, the victims are punished to keep the role of being victims to become again and again victims in a kind of vicious circle.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was changing history, writing and perceiving history profoundly. The years after the fall were marked by an uprising Neo-Fascist movement not only in Germany, but in many European countries. During many years, daily Neo-Nazi manifestations took place in the cities and the country-side, which were trying to manipulate particularly young people with the insane ideology.
While looking for references which might affect people nowadays, I found my personal key for realising my artistic project in juxtaposing these Neo-Nazi manifestations with the individual and collective memory, the historical and human dimensions of Hitler’s Third Reich and gave my new project the title: “1000 years, 50 years and still so terribly young” – 1000 years is referring to Hitler’s “Thousand Years Reich”, the 50 years refer to the distance of 50 years to end of World war II in 1995, and “terribly young” is referring to the freshness of Hitler’s terror ideology via the Neo-Nazis nowadays. The project was realised during many years for 1995, the 50th return of the end of World War II especially for Poland, where it was presented at 10 Polish museums
No artist was working on such a concept before, I need to confess, many people were disappointed or even shocked because I was not representing the widely known stereotype horrifying curios in grey and black, but was using a most extreme bright colouration, causing sometimes even pain to the viewer.
How did you start?
In a lifetime, certain years have a particular relevance. For me, 1989 was such a year. A certain artistic period was finished, my father was dying just a few days after his birthday in spring. Looking for new horizons, I founded together with some friends the charitable organisation ARCHA Society – Archives and Research for Contemporary Humanism and Art. When its registration at the court was confirmed exactly that day when the Berlin Wall was falling on 9 November 1989, I took it as a signal for focussing the activities of ARCHA Society on a cultural exchange between Western and Eastern Europe – a very far-sighted decision, retrospectively seen.
For establishing contacts with potential collaboration partners in the East, I was visiting after East Germany, in spring 1990 Krakow in Poland at first. The Jewish quarter, the Jewish cemeteries and learning more about Eastern Europe as a traditional settling area for Jews, was extraordinary fascinating and irritating, because it was a kind of culture which was vanishing just a few decades ago, a culture I was never confronted before, but I felt very familiar with, nevertheless. Visiting Auschwitz, just a few miles from Krakow, had a most strange shocking effect on me – it was not just facing the true dimension of Nazi terror, but I felt as if I would be visiting as a former victim the place of my own extermination. After staying overnight at a guestroom on the area of the concentration camp, I was told that the fall of the Berlin Wall was that fortune not only for Auschwitz, but all memorial camps in Poland, because there had been plans to close all memorial sites due to the lack of finances. Being very curious to look for further traces of Jewish culture, I took Krakow as a starting point for exploring other places in Eastern Poland, many of them had a Jewish majority of more than 70%, of the population before World War II while when I was visiting these places not any traces were left, that just one single Jew was living there ever, at all. The only monuments of Jewish culture left were old Jewish cemeteries hidden somewhere outside of the settlements. I liked the strange “exotic” aesthetics of these wild and chaotic places very much. I started there documenting Jewish cemeteries in Europe with my camera.
From all places I was visiting, Lublin left the most lasting impression. Once an important Jewish religious centre, called Jerusalem of the East, Lublin is hosting the 2nd largest concentration camp on Polish ground, Majdanek.
Differently than Auschwitz, Majdanek was widely destroyed by the Germans when the Russian troops conquered Lublin 1944. Planned for 500 000 prisoners, the concentration camp covers the incredible area of a metropole. Besides a few remaining barracks, the main camp is an empty field until far beyond the horizon. For my personal perception at that time, Majdanek was offering much more space for imagination due to the lack of all the details Auschwitz is presenting. As a guest of Majdanek State Museum , the director asked me whether I would prefer to stay over night in a hotel or probably accept a guestroom on the area of the concentration camp. Spontaneously, without knowing what I was actually doing I decided for the guestroom, situated at one of the few surviving barracks.
Here in Majdanek, I got for the first time the idea about an artistic project dealing with the experiences of visiting the memorial camps. When I was talking with the museum director about my new ideas of such a project as my personal contribution to the reconciliation between Germans and Jewish and Germans and Polish people, he enthusiastically proposed me to consider the realisation for the year 1995, the 50th return of World War II and Majdanek as the first of several venues in Poland, and he invited me to stay in Lublin for research or “inspiration” whenever I want. I accepted this invitation, and was visiting Majdanek several times, once I stayed even 2 weeks at the same guest room. People I was telling about that place where I was residing were considering me to be completely crazy, and retrospectively seen, I agree. When I stayed just one night, it was no more or less than any other accomodation, but residing there for two weeks it became obviously already during the 2nd night, that I was actually a prisoner of the concentration camp. During the hours when the museum was closing at 19h and the re-opening at 9h in the morning next day I was requested to stay at my room, because there was no official possibility to leave and return to the memorial camp.
Someone told me, I should try to climb the barbed wire, which I did even several times, feeling like a jailbreaker or criminal. When I tried it the first time, I did not know how to return inside of the camp, until I recovered after some hours finally somewhere a hole in the barbed wire, and I returned in panic, but anyway safely to my room. Those who have been in Majdanek once know there is a gigantic monument containing the ashes of all the burned victims. The barrack containing my guest room was a few meters far away. The nights were clear and silent, an unimaginable kind of silence, a kind of absolute unearthly silence, not even the noise of a bird or cricket. It did not need much imagination that the spirits of the dead came alive. So it will nobody seriously surprise, that I became overwhelmed by many strange spiritual experiences – capturing me when I returned to Germany, causing deep depressions which were even leading me close to death, I was feeling as if I could get rest only when I was visiting old Jewish cemeteries. Only many years later, after an hyper-traumatizing attack, the therapist told me, that my decision for the guest room at the concentration camp was a kind of suicidal self-experiment. The human soul would not be made for that, it would be even a kind of miracle that I survived.
What was the concept of your artistic memorial project like?
Firstly, I need to confess, that it is hardly possible to recollect all artistic processes more than 20 years ago, so what I do is representing a kind of retrospective interpretation.
My desire to create an artistic work related to the Holocaust was not easily to be transformed into a concept, because I was aware of the impossibility to identify myself with the Holocaust and make people (the viewer) identify themselves with this heavy matter. But for an art work, it was a basic condition to touch and affect people positively or negatively, make the viewers identify themselves with what they perceive through the art work.
The Holocaust and dealing with the Holocaust is always a mere provocation, objectively and subjectively, it was like that at the historical times and it is these days, in so far, it is affecting people profoundly but in a way they absolutely dislike. The Holocaust is a weapon accusing permanently people only through its existence, and it is used as a weapon for many ideological purposes. It is the nature of the Holocaust to produce guilt to anybody, and in a vicious circle open wounds that cannot heal. It reminds people of their own human weakness and “evil” side. I ask you who would like to be confronted with a piece of art which is not displaying grace & beauty and producing positive feelings, but instead of this making people feel very miserable and depressive.
In the best sense of art, I wanted people to be open for the unexpected. I was doing a big experiment, which people, however, often did not understand as such.
My concept was to create an installation consisting of 2d and 3 d objects juxtaposing the reality of the media with the reality of the artist, the reality of the viewer and the historical reality by using different type of footage executed in different media, people know already from TV or press and other footage which was original, authentic and not yet known.
During the preparation process of the exhibition, “1000 years, 50 years and still so terribly young”, I was changing my concept daily because by doing new perceptions raised and it became obvious, that this exhibition would not become the final result of an artistic process, but the beginning of something completely new, a kind of artistic mobile memorial to be installed at places to become temporary art spaces through the installation. The title of this future project was “A Living Memorial Spaces of Art” – Memorial Project against the Forgetting, Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism –extending the exhibition still under construction through different new aspects according to the described goals.
When in January 1995, shortly after the inauguration at the Historical Archives of the City of Cologne, Ignatz Bubis, the President of the Central Jewish Council of Germany took Patronage over this project, its was a signal and encouragement to me to start working on the new and extended mobile memorial when the exhibition would return from Poland to Germany as the Polish Version. or Brown Space to be complemented by the new spatial installations of the Red Space, the Green Space and the Blue Space.
But this Patronage was catapulting suddenly my project and activities into the spotlight of public relevance, causing one of the most unpleasant periods of my entire life.
It started escalating with threatening anonymous phone calls and anonymous letters, in times when it was popular that people of public relevance received letter bombs from NeoNazis. I went during the following three years daily anxiously to my mailbox expecting all those strange parcels I was receiving to be letter bombs.
When I was telling earlier, that staying at the memorial camp Majdanek was causing a deep depression afterwards, it has to be considered to be the starting point of a process when fear in most different shapes tried to overwhelm me, already soon something really horrible would happen. During more than 3 years, I was in the absolute state of war in times of peace, until the anticipated “horrible” happened in autumn 1998, while every 4 weeks another part of my memorial exhibition project was inaugurated at an another place, in total my mobile memorial was installed 43 times in Poland, Czech Republic and Germany.
I was condemned to be silent during these years until 1998 and afterwards even more, because it was not possible to express my deep fears to anybody, and when the horrible really happened, it must be understood as the climax of a very long and escalating process which was finally leading to my death when I was falling into a coma.
What was happening?
Looking at the list of venues where my mobile memorial installation was exhibited,
these authentic places became art spaces only through the temporary installation of my work,
they changed their actual identity and mission to become a space of art for a limited period of time. So, people visiting the places were confronted with the unexpected.
Some of the locations were former synagogues in Germany, once religious and holy places which were not destroyed during the night of broken glass, 9 November 1939, when the Nazi destroyed in an act of an unimaginable vandalism most synagogues in Germany. But especially on the countryside, not all of them were destroyed, but some survived as haystacks or in another function, and are now used, reconstructed and preserved as cultural centres or museums
My creative project turned them again into spiritual and holy places reinstating their former dignity. One of these synagogues, located at Wittlich on the country side of Rhineland –Palatinate was supposed to host the ”Blue Space” installation to be inaugurated on 9 September 1998. During 7 and 8 September I created a new installation especially for the huge space of synagogue. I tried to transform the spirit of this space into new levels of awareness to be experienced by the viewer as a visual and spiritual provocation, when I created a new space within the existing space catapulting the viewer into another sphere of perception. I was completely exhausted when I was finishing the installation on 8 September at night, but was very happy to have mastered this challenge.
Next day, the day of the inauguration, the director of Wittlich synagogue took me on a sight seeing tour through the city of Trier, the oldest city in Germany. It was a very lovely late summer day, the sun was shining brightly and the villages of the countryside were lying in the innocent light of the early autumn, when we returned to the synagogue in order to check my installation again. When I climbed up to the synagogue’s women gallery from where I was expecting the magnificent view on my installation, I couldn’t believe was I was seeing.
My installation was vanished and the space was completely empty. I needed to look there several times, until realised I was not dreaming. When we heard downstairs some heavy noise we left both the women’s gallery and saw some people escaping satanically smiling. Looking around I recognised at the farthest corner on the opposite wall a heap of chaotically lying objects, which I identified as the objects of my installation, now damaged and thrown down to the ground as if it would be garbage. Some objects were still wiggling back and forth, and it became obvious, that the destruction was executed by the people who were just leaving the space.
The news of the attack spread in lightning speed, and countless members of the municipality were running around like chicken while I was sitting in despair in corner of the synagogue within the ruins of my destroyed installation. I wasn’t sure whether I was physically injured, but I was so tremendously shocked that my breath stopped, my heart stood still, I felt being placed in another dimension of time and space, at a place where I could not orientate myself anymore. I felt horrible pain and heard myself asking the people who came along continuously – I would need urgently a doctor, but nobody cared. I do not remember, how I managed the long way back to the hotel, but obviously I lost there my consciousness , and I remember only when I woke up in the hotel bed, I was shouting out loud. I do not remember, how I returned to the synagogue, but I remember that when I returned the employees of the municipality where manipulating the scene of crime destroying the evidence. I heard me shouting out load, Stop! What are you doing? Where is the police? Only now, the police was called, and when two policemen appeared they handled the case, as if a cat would have thrown a vase to the ground.
I heard myself explaining to the police what kind of force was needed to throw the heavy installation objects more than 7 meters from one corner to another, from one wall to another, and what kind of noise it must have caused, only rage and hate would be able to. Where had been the guardians? Why did they not prevent the attack? The head of the cultural department even told the police, she would have got the announcement that this very day an attack would take place, but nobody would have taken this announcement seriously. Everybody was assuming that this was a terror attack by Neo-Nazi. But the police did not seem to be interested, it did not even secure the evidence so that afterwards the scene of the crime could be manipulated by anybody and was worthless for any investigation.
The policemen left shaking my hands as if they would be leaving a birthday party, when the mayor of Wittlich arrived, who was supposed to open the inauguration of the exhibition.
Obviously also shocked not knowing what to say and how to behave, I was treated as if I would have a deadly disease, nobody dared to look at me, nobody got in touch with me, nobody showed any empathy or solidarity. The exhibition space was slowly crowding with people to celebrate the inauguration, a whole delegation of the Jewish Community of Trier arrived, the mayor did not find the words to explain the situation and he behaved, as if it would be normal, that the inauguration took place on the ruins of my art installation. Then I was requested to hold my introducing lecture. How could I? I do not remember, how I got the power to stand the situation, but it must have been a shock to anybody present, to see me completely stunned and out of order, I only heard myself saying, this attack would represent the end of my project, the end of my career, it would represent the absolute climax of the past hyper-traumatizing years, it would be the end of my physical and spiritual powers. I remember how I was leading the members of the Jewish delegation through the ruins of the destroyed installation as if the destruction of my art work would have been the result of an artistic performance. I remember the mayor trying to have some small talk with me, as if he as the head of the municipality would not be responsible that the attack was taking place. I remember how the mayor, the members of the municipality were leaving the location without any word, leaving me standing completely paralyzed in this debris field. I do not remember, how long I was standing there, but I felt helplessly as if I would be in a wrong film, which certainly sometimes would stop, but it did not. I did not understand what had happened and why people were leaving me standing alone in my despair. I do not remember, how I returned to the hotel, but I remember I was taking next morning the train back to Cologne. Afterwards there were neither any contacts to the host of my exhibition nor to the so-called investigating police anymore, no excuse or apology, no empathy and not taking any responsibility or investigation results. But the shock continued, when none of the lawyers I visited wanted to be involved in this explosive case, when my family and friends were laughing at me as if I would be a fool, not understanding what was and is happening to me. I could not stand it any more, that all people were leaving me standing alone, and I cut in sequence all contacts besides those to my mother. The shock, or better the never ending series of shocks had an effect on me as if I had been hit by an acid attack. Slowly the acid was eating the layers from outside to inside. These first weeks after Wittlich, I was lying in a dark room feeling as if I would be dying. In November 1998, again several inaugurations were scheduled, which I managed with the last energy left, but afterwards….. I do not remember. The next time I remember, was when I saw my mother crying when I was opening my eyes, tears of joy, an expression of an incredulously surprise. I was back to life!
Only later, I was told that the owner of my studio had opened the door, because neighbours hadn’t got any signs of life from me for many days.
I was found lying in my bed without consciousness in a coma. After many weeks at the hospital, my mother decided to care herself for me, when no hope was left, I would ever wake up from the coma. And when she wanted to move me to her place in Southern Germany in May 1999, the miracle happened and I opened my eyes. I would not know how I would have survived without my mother. She gave me for a second time my life. But the real challenge was to come, yet, because like a baby I needed to learn all vital functions like eating, drinking, walking, and when little by little my memory returned, becoming aware that I was not able any more to work as an artist the way I did before, was causing another new shock and a deep depression. When I understood, I would sooner or later die if I would not train my intellectual skills, I got the unusual, but anyway ingenious idea to learn programming languages, something which I never had done before, and when I recognised my strong affinity to the logical structures, these were the first achievements giving me new hope.
What kind of perspectives were rising?
Learning the programming language of JAVA was not only showing me that I was able to recognize logical connections again, but the fact how very quickly I was learning, as if that was just made for me, was causing perceivable positive results stimulating my self-confidence, and this way to continue. I did not only feel like a pioneer in nobody’s land, I was really a pioneer in many concerns, I was curious for the “new”, the new and unknown were my only chance, because there was no Past which could serve as a reference. All the memory before I fell into the coma was absent, the links were broken or lost, a disadvantage and advantage at the same time.
Dealing with the organisation of data, e.g. learning JAVA had that kind effect, that it was re-structuring the data organisation of my memory. When in August 1999 the war in Kosovo (former Yugoslavia) was escalating and the Serbs were about the execute a genocide as a “master race”, it had an initial effect, because some basic memory of art and awareness for art returned, I felt the need to become active as an artist again and to make my artistic contribution, but I did not know how.
While the coma is actually representing a kind of final evolutionary survival strategy of the human organism, falling into the coma was protecting me from the process of destructing which started already in Majdanek. It became slowly visible after I returned to life in subtle, but anyway horrible ways, for instance, I lost the affinity for the material. Material values lost any meaning. For instance, when I visit a museum, I recognise the aesthetic value of an art work, but the physical artwork as such has no relevance to me. For me as an artist was representing this loss a disaster in any concern, but another thing, which may call a disaster, is what one of my therapists called the destruction of my psychological immune system, causing high fever even at the smallest emotional stress. After my return to life everything was emotional stress and already after some days I was physically completely exhausted and down.
Now, I felt the need to become active as an artist, but there was nothing I could refer to. I am happy, that the creative structures of my personality were not lost, as well, because I started again to become creative, getting suddenly the idea why not use my starting skills in programming JAVA for using the programming language for creating a new work of art. Although I was no expert in programming, yet, experimenting with JAVA in terms of art was showing already soon, that it would take really too much time for programming an art work from point zero, artists who did that once needed 3 until 5 years before a substantial artistic result became visible, but the war and the genocide were now and there was no time to loose. At the same time in 1999, the Internet started to became popular, and immediately I recognized its potential in terms of art.
After I established an Internet connection, at that time using a 28K modem, and by looking for ways how to use the Internet in terms of art, I found first software based on Java whose development however was stopped very soon, but later die multimedia software FLASH, at that time the early version 3. Flash was abbreviating development and processes profoundly I was looking for my artistic creation. Learning the programming of FLASH and HTML was easily compared with JAVA and after a lot of experimenting, how an artistic concept might be transformed into such a work of interactive art, I got the idea to represent collective memory via the Internet based project, retrospectively seen the continuation of my project “A Living Memorial, entitled “A Virtual Memorial, which was not devoted to certain kinds of incidents, like the war in Kosovo, but it was addressed against the Forgetting, the loss of collective memory in a global context, it was local and global at the same time and addressed to people on all continents. After I established my own server, I re-created on 1 January 2000, at first not only myself as the artist brand “Agricola de Cologne” and the virtual artist of the same name in a symbolical act, but published also my first Internet based art project “A Virtual Memorial Foundation” to become in sequence the mother of all following projects, including Shoah Film Collection and its event context “A Virtual Memorial – Commemorative Interventions”.
It is certainly no exaggeration to state that one of the most unusual artists’ careers started. Without the traumatic memory of the Past on my back, I was able to explore new fields of art as a pioneer, I became a curator by exploring the Internet as a medium for art. My experiments were honoured immediately with an unexpected, but desperately wanted success, which was manifesting itself at first in the collaboration with festivals and institutions in the field of electronic art. While I was focussed exclusively on the Internet in the beginning, about 2004 I got the perception, that the Internet as a virtual space would get its actual meaning only when it was juxtaposed with physical space. The field of “art & moving images” was drawing more and more my attention, which was underlined when I founded Cologne International Videoart Festival in 2006. While I was dealing with memory in most different ways – the Internet as such is representing a gigantic memory – dealing with the memory of my own history, was remaining always a problem, as it was not clear, whether the memory was completely lost or the links were just broken and might be re-established one day probably.
When I was dealing with the Holocaust in 2000 in my project “A Virtual Memorial”, it was neither connected to my traumatic experiences between 1989 and 1998 nor the memory of my art works before 1989. There was nothing left to refer to. Over more than 10 years I was not able just to face or touch any document of text or art created before 2000, but some day when I was ready, I was opening documents from before 2000 and opened at least some of packages containing art works I created in my former life, something which I was obviously very afraid of, but I liked them, at first from an enormous emotional distance, as if I wouldn’t be the artist, at all.
Starting in 2000 a new life from point zero was actually also the starting point to return once to the status of a physical artist and this process is still going on, even if it is stagnating.
When at the end of August 2001 my first therapy after the coma had come to end and there were some optimistic perspectives for the future, being confronted with the terror attacks on 11 September 2001 was causing within a few seconds through self-identification again a complete break-down at the highest fever and again nobody knew whether I would survive the following 8 weeks the daily ups and downs.
While the memory of the family trauma and the Holocaust were a kind of genetic condition deeply rooted inside of me, which was not touched by the destructive processes causing the coma, only in 2009, I felt physically and spiritually strong enough to confront myself with my own traumatic Past, and when I was able to accept it, a small door was opening which I took as a chance to start a new initiative e.g. SFC -Shoah Film Collection.
There is some very tragic moment in this project, because one might consider it as a kind of essence of my artistic life. Dealing with the Holocaust and collective trauma caused by totalitarianism, the project as such and the involved artists and films have such an enormous relevance to me, again I take enormous risks, this time not just for me alone, but the responsibility over a whole community of artists, and now the chances are so big, that this project will be completely failing and my heart will break definitely.
It hurts me physically to face that it is now the community of artists which are leaving me standing in the rain and the crowdfunding campaign is about to become my personal disaster in 2013, how little my work, where countless people had benefit since 2000, how little my person as an artist, curator and cultural activist is respected, and I will be forced to stop this project in order to protect myself.
I am not sure, where the perspectives could be to continue after this campaign.
What can do art to keep vivid the memory of the individual and collective trauma?
This question actually makes only sense, if it would be the nature of art to deal with memory, at all. But is it like that?
If art is not handled as “l’art pour l’art”, e.g. “art for its own sake”, describing art as an autonomous entity which has no connection to its human creator existing through itself like GOD, but perceived instead as what it is, the most human of all human expressions which becomes human due to its human creator, then there is no doubt that it is the nature of art to deal with memory, e.g. the PAST, the transformation of memory into a language which can be perceived by the human senses, it is even like that, that art is representing that medium, at all, for keeping vivid memory through its sensual manifestation. As a kind of communicating system it is transferring reflections of individual or collective memory from a sender (creator or performer) to a receiver (Present and Future). this might be even the sender himself or third persons (the audience)
From the contemporary point of view, during the development of human civilization from the early beginnings of the stone age, when art had basically a cultic function to transfer collective memory (knowledge) from one generation to another, until theses days, when art had lost, at least in the Western societies, any privileges of its previously cultic status, art did not only change its meaning through the times permanently and in each culture differently, but the definition of what is perceived in which way as art changes additionally every few years, like fashion is changing each season. There is nothing more subjective than art & dealing with art. There does not exist a binding definition of art, this makes it difficult to discuss about art, at all.
But art is also not representing one single uniform field, but it has many faces touching different human senses differently. Art is divided into different “arts”, categories consisting of creative arts like visual art, literature, musical composing and performative and reproductive arts like theatre or dance. Depending on the personal connection to a certain field, art is defined most differently depending on the respective point of view.
Additionally the colloquial language is using art in completely different ways, describing art as a certain kind of higher standard, quality or ability, the art of cooking, the art of motor-biking, the art of gardening etc, so that one can even speak of a kind of Babylonian confusion concerning the use of “art” in daily life, when currently nearly everything which would like to increase its prestige or reputation adds art as an attribute.
But when people speak about art, they mostly actually mean visual art to be viewed in galleries and museums, to be hung on the wall in the living room, while music or theatre are mentioned as what they are having hardly anything in common with other forms of art.
Coming back to the initial question, art and its different forms of manifestations have the potential to touch people emotionally and make them change their awareness by sensitizing.
After the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of World War II, intellectuals declared art after Auschwitz to be dead. That it is not true was showing the same people later on and the following artist generations. But it was also not true that the Holocaust was causing a final loss of humanity. This perception would falsify the reality and neglect all those brave individuals in Germany and other European countries who saved Jews and other persecuted people by taking the highest personal risk of being persecuted and killed themselves. Despite the millions of victims Hitler’s final solution was not successful in the end!
It is also not true, that the Holocaust wouldn’t have been a topic in the arts, but it’s true that it’s not visual art. Certain artistic expressions are more predestined than others to deal with the memory of the collective trauma, especially those using non-visual communication like music or literature and others using a live performance of humans like dance or theatre which make a self-identification with the sensually perceived much easier, while due to its static character using the dominating visual sense visual art has a natural problem to deal with the visualization of the Holocaust, respectively transforming reflecting the Holocaust into a language of visual art.
It would not be true to state, after Auschwitz were no visual artists who wouldn’t have dealt with the Holocaust, but they were mostly not successful, neither in an artistic sense, nor in the sense that they would have touched the viewers, nor they would have kept vivid the memory, they were using stereotypes in representing the collective trauma and created new stereotypes, causing a dogmatic, never changing view – dealing with the Holocaust in another way became a kind of TABU. The contemporary art scene is punishing all those artists who try to make the Holocaust a topic in art by excluding, neglecting, discriminating and discrediting, and the institutions dealing with the historical aspects follow also rather a dogmatic view on the Holocaust, and do not allow new and alternative approaches. The artist is perceived as a hostile intruder in an occupied territory which needs to be defended.
Of course, there are exceptions, but the exception proves the rule.
Where are the artists who would change this status quo?
Why do you choose the field of “art & moving images” for developing your artistic ideas?
I would say the “moving images” were choosing me. I grew up and were studying art under the influence of the classical art forms of the 19th century and early 20th century, this was not really old-fashioned in this sense, but the development of technology was in its starting phase only and time was not mature yet to dynamize contemporary art. Although I liked always cinema especially those films by the legendary Hollywood directors, it was never my desire to become a filmmaker or create a feature film. I can definitely say, that it was not cinema which was generating my interest for movement in art, rather the need to include processes of time and intensive colours, but using the conventional static visual art media, I was always unsatisfied with the results which made me search for my “holy grail”. Because the technology was not available yet, to include movement as an attribute of an art medium, I chose another way making the associations interact generating a kind of non-visible, but emotional and virtual interactive film raising inside of the viewer.
The media of film and film making do not only also belong to the creative arts, but were also transporting the Holocaust as a topic successfully to an audience. Mostly based on visualizing literature, the stories made people identify themselves with the characters, but people were reviewing films for “fun” and not for being educated. Differently than static images moving images are made to visualize processes. While visual artists were already experimenting in the early 20ies with film – videoart as we perceive it these days has its roots rather in these early experiments than in the analog VHS video – the moving images entered visual art via the technological and conceptual disadvantages and restrictions of VHS video technology. . Really popular became video only after 2000 when the advanced technology of the communication media made the use of the video technology affordable to anybody.
This digitalization changed and extended visual art profoundly in its substance, because for the first time the arts got closer removing existing limits and restrictions between the “arts”. Including the computer and software as tools was causing consequently a democratization opening the doors for a new universe of a networked interdisciplinary self-determined art creation. Only now, video became that universal audiovisual medium, which gave a creator the tools for keeping complete control over the artistic and production processes.
Consequently also the technology of the classical film making changed profoundly so that nowadays for artists and filmmakers the same tools are available. The difference between art and cinema remains in the different concepts of moving images, the different use of the tools generating different results, but the boundaries between the categories and media are vanishing.
When I was creating the mobile memorial project in the 90ies, I had already nearly the same ideas like when I started 20 years later SFC – Shoah Film Collection about the initiation, visualization and perception of processes in terms of dealing with the Holocaust in an artistic way, I was only simply some years too early
Although using VHS video would have been an option – I neither liked the aesthetics, nor the use of analog video ever, it was simply not my medium – for integrating movement in my mobile memorial, I was requested to generate movement in another way. Already the idea of the mobile art installation was already incorporating a dynamic movement conceptually, the viewer was now requested to interact, to become active and move himself, while the objective of exhibition of the installation remained static. The viewer’s movement was generating not an objective, but a kind of subjective and virtual film inside through this activation. Although the idea of interactivity was not really new at that time, it was not expected in any way in the very conservative context of the exhibition venues and was therefore causing irritations and dissatisfaction.
This artistic concept made sense, if the viewer was open and accustomed to take this active part, which generally visitors of exhibitions were not accustomed to at that time.
Shortly after I acquired my first digital video camera in 1998 – one of the first on the market – the earlier described attack causing a months lasting coma was destroying all hopes and perspectives for using moving images in my art work.
Only after I re-created and re-established myself as an (virtual) artist in 2000, working on the multi-media contents for my Internet based projects was demanding the use of digital video. I remembered now my digital video camera and also some of my talents I was training many years ago. The audiovisual character of video was corresponding with these needs and talents of mine, the musical talent – I was studying about 15 years violin and afterwards singing, I wanted to become an opera singer -the performing talent – I was doing an actors school learning to use the spoken word – two talents which were now very helpful for becoming completely independent and create and produce my videos as total art works without any external assistance. This interdisciplinary approach was also very supportive when I started curating in 2000 and founded in 2006 my own festival – Cologne International Videoart Festival.
In my projects, collective memory, totalitarianism, violence, a positive globalization and identity were playing since 2000 a fundamental role. By starting the first project, simultaneously I initiated the development of an international network which is representing now the fundament of my professional (artistic) activities.
But it took a long time of dealing with “art & moving images” until I felt the need to make the Holocaust a topic of a curatorial art project, and even more time until I was overcoming my fears to take again the non-predictable risks after the earlier made experiences with my own death.
There were some milestones which had an encouraging effect, for instance the collaboration with the Argentine artist Raquel Partnoy. Of Jewish origin, she was one of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo surviving the Argentine military dictatorships. The result of the collaboration were my interactive multi-media projects “Women: Memory of Repression in Argentina” (2005) and “Family Portrait” – spotlighting the diasporadic life of the Partnoy Family, a project which received in 2005 the MOZAICA Award on the topic of Jewish Diaspora given by York University Toronto. I was invited to present both projects in Argentina (Buenos Aires, Rosario & Santa Fe) in 2005.
When I felt strong enough, the ideas for a project dealing with the Holocaust took shape, entitled: “Draft Title: Shoah”. It was expressively an open concept, because I did not know, yet, whether I would receive any positive response nor where my way would lead me to.
Actually, I had a kind of interactive multi-media project in mind, when I released in 2009 an open call addressed to artists. But the kind of submissions, which were in the majority videos were pointing in the direction of moving images, resulting the idea for “SFC – Shoah Film Collection”, to be published later on 27 January 2010 – on occasion of the 65th return of the Liberation of Auschwitz as an international initiative.
As a typical project of mine starting as an experiment, I needed to find out first, what could be the meaning of this project, at all. In any case, the films were supposed to be presented to an audience. Being very successfully active in the field of “art & moving images”, I started in 2011 to include selected videos from Shoah Film Collection in several screenings in Russia, Poland and Romania, but I found out without a major accompanying thematic context the screenings made conceptually no sense. So, I remembered the ideas from the 90ies to activate the audience and incorporate movement actively, not just passively from a kind of consuming position, and created the event context, entitled “A Virtual Memorial – Commemorative Interventions” placing SFC – Shoah Film Collection into complementary interventions like lectures, exhibitions, a symposium, artists talks, discussions and much more, in order to activate the artists, as well as the audience.
Now; I only needed to find partners for hosting Shoah Film Collection.
What is the meaning of the interventions complementing the presentation of films and videos, for instance, in Vilnius?”
At the beginning needs to be stated that the manifestation of “SFC-Shoah Film Collection” in the context of its own event structure “A Virtual Memorial – Commemorative Interventions” is representing an experiment of art and, as such it is the meaning to break the walls of the existing dogmatic views on the Holocaust, and open instead doors for new perceptions.
As an event A Virtual Memorial is not representing another forum for confirming or discussing historical or scientific truth or research, or establish a kind of alternative truth, but confront the audience including the artists and experts on any scientific field with another sensual, spiritual and emotional approach that touches people’s senses and heart.
Without it, the Holocaust will loose its universal relevance for mankind and perish as such like the millions of its murdered victim did.
Thus, keeping vivid the memory of the Holocaust is keeping vivid its fundamental relevance for mankind, independently from any personal affection.
The only problem is that there is no general consensus that the Holocaust might have such a relevance, at all. So, finding ways to people’s hearts wherever on the globe, that’s the challenge.
But SFC and A Virtual Memorial have themselves also only a kind of complementing character, and do not intend to replace any existing structure dealing with the Holocaust, but would like to expand the existing spectrum with some new aspects and components which has been neglected or not be considered, at all.
As an artist’s initiative, A Virtual Memorial” would be completely overwhelmed if it would be considered to be a kind of global campaign to change that kind of perception, as an art project transporting already an universal message of art it is predestined to transport that universal relevance of the Holocaust for mankind.
While “A Virtual Memorial “ is not standing alone, because collaborating partners are needed hosting the event structure, finding these partners does not only belong to the interventions but represents also already a crucial point because an interdisciplinary collaboration between different types of institutional partners is requested.
In order to find out, how the artistic ideas of the interventions might be realised, I started in 2012 the pilot project “ A Virtual Memorial Riga 2012” – http://riga2013.a-virtual-memorial.org . Considered to be my collaboration partner, Riga Ghetto & Latvan Holocaust Museum insisted justly to involve another partner who would be more competent in media art, so Cultural and Art Project & Latvian Video Archives NOASS Riga joint the collaboration as the executive partner in Riga running two extraordinary art spaces in Riga, the floating art galleries NOASS and BETANOVUSS, which were supposed to host “A Virtual Memorial Riga 2012” – 1-30 June 2012. as a part and partner context of the 1st International Conference of Holocaust Museums, organised by Riga Ghetto & Latvian Holocaust Museum 4-6 June 2012 @ Latvian Academy of Sciences.
It was an experiment for all partners, none of them had experiences in realising such an interdisciplinary project on such a short notice (March-June 2012). In the final phase, two week prior the event I was personally present in Riga, driving my partners with a kind of moral whip, otherwise we would have never succeeded. All actions and initiatives started during this short realisation phase have to be considered as interventions, as well. The project partners were requested to mobilize people on different fields and levels.
In a country which is standing only at the beginning to bring the topic of Holocaust to a public perception, one might even speak of a kind of pioneer’s work in the Diaspora.
The interventions can be seen as any activity in the process of realizing “A Virtual Memorial”, which are individually different at each venue due to the different conditions.
During the realisation process, one essential intervention is to bring artists participating in Shoah Film Collection to the venues, in the given cases to Riga in 2012 and in 2013 to Vilnius. The embassies of several countries supposed to fund the artists’ travels become additional partners, in this way it was possible to welcome 8 artists in Riga, ( see also the photo on the campaign page), and hopefully even more to Vilnius.
No better than Shoah Film Collection itself and the currently 60 included works can demonstrate the conceptual idea of diversity, each film or interactive work is based on another artistic concept and approach. In terms of complementing Shoah Film Collection, the interventions have the meaning to go deeper down to the artistic concepts and the making of of the videos through lectures, exhibitions, artists presentations and talks and discussions, but on the other hand to present to the audience additionally a wider spectrum of contemporary art creation dealing with the Holocaust by presenting performances, soundart performances, photography and digital media, for instance.
So, the fundamental meaning of the interventions is to encourage and enable an activation of the attending artists, as well as the audience, which can be happening in different ways and different levels during the realisation process.
In Riga the actual event interventions took primarily place during the 3 event days 1-3 June 2013 when the invited artists were attending. They included not only on 1 June the private view when the event as a whole and the divers exhibitions were opened on different galleries and the final performance by Doron Polak, but an very important intervention took place directly afterwards, when Rabbi Menachem Markahan, the head of the Latvian Holocaust Museum was guiding the artists through the former Riga Ghetto and the Holocaust Museum , which is still under construction, so that the artists were visiting the authentic places of Jewish living and persecution in Riga, and in the evening opened the event officially to the audience including the screenings of selected SFC films, the artists presentations and the discussions afterwards.
The 2nd day, started with a special artistic action by the Israeli artists Doron Polak and Eitan Vitkon at the Rumbula forest, a historical place close to Riga where a massacre took place killing 25000 Jews on one day, and the attending SFC artists were invited to participate actively, followed by the screenings, artists presentations and discussion in the afternoon and the evening, the event was finalized on the 3rd day with another screenings, artists presentations and a final discussion. After the artists had left Riga on 4 June, another essential intervention took place, when I was presenting Shoah Film Collection as an international media art initiative in the context of the Conference of Holocaust Museums. A complete documentation can be found online on the project blog – http://ateamartistsforchange.wordpress.com/category/latvian-category/
The essence of the pilot project in Riga was that the type and quantity of interventions can not be predicted or scheduled, due to the complex organisation. While Shoah Film Collection as such can be handled quite easily, its manifestations based on a wide range of interventions are sitting between many chairs. Much more than just one pilot project is necessary to develop structures which can be the basis for future project realisations, and this actually is making them quite unlikely. So, if Vilnius is taking place, it will be the next pilot project.
Like in Riga, each event has its own rules, the “Unexpected” is marking the character of the interventions. What I was describing in a few words, was really very Riga specific, and according to the conclusions I was drawing, it is exactly also the proper concept to create just an open frame.
As for Vilnius, compared with Riga the conditions are similar and at the same time completely different, because Vilnius has completely different historical and local references. While Riga was realised in a kind of “tour de force” within a few weeks, in Vilnius the collaboration with the Lithuanian host – the Jewish Cultural Center started already in November 2012, and after more than 7 months it is still not yet clear, who actually will be the attending artists. In this way, it is also not possible to start any programming. Since also in Vilnius there was from the beginning just a small budget available, the hopes were lying in a project funding from Germany, but the German embassy in Vilnius, as well as the Ministry of Culture of North-Rhine-Westphalia declined the applications, which I would not like to comment due to the scandalous circumstances, so that one of the most fundamental interventions was starting on 11 June 2013, e.g. the crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo in order to raise the missing funding for the project realisation. The crowdfunding campaign, as such, is representing a combination of countless individual interventions intending to activate and mobilize as many individuals and instances as possible to support the campaign on different levels. As such, already the campaign can be considered to be an event for itself.
Like it can be observed on the campaign page, however, these attempts to mobilize people were until now not successful, and this does not represent a positive signal for the preparations in Cologne and the actual project realisation in Vilnius. The type and quantity of interventions to take place in Vilnius are depending on the money available, and since the end of the campaign is about two weeks ahead, nobody can tell at this very stage how much money might be available. But it can also not be excluded, that the whole event would be cancelled.
By starting the campaign, I was confronting myself with my own traumatic past, which I was describing in my answers on the interview questions, supposing I would have overcome the trauma meanwhile, but unfortunately it is not like that. It is again a kind of self-experimenting, which I probably better wouldn’t have started.
Observing my campaign failing is like a kind of ongoing torture, facing how artists and partners let me standing in the rain, how much heart blood, time and energy I was wasting, while nobody cares, neither the majority of the involved artists nor anybody else. I am confronted with discriminations of different kind, which only can be interpreted as a kind of anti-Semitism. Like after the terror attack in 1998 and when I woke up from the coma in 1999, since weeks I have the same type of fever attacks which cannot be stopped, my immune system is meanwhile completely out of order, and sooner or later I need to give up due to physical weakness.
I am waiting for a kind of positive heavenly signal from anywhere, which might stop the fatal process of the fever attacks. So, actually I should stop everything immediately in order to protect myself.
I am really sorry, but I am currently no able to say anything about Vilnius, as long as the campaign is not finalized and my physical conditions stabilized. The fact, however, that I did not give up, until now, is indicating that I believe in my project, and surely, I also would not like to disappoint all those wonderful people who were supporting me until now.
If I would give up, those people would have won who try to kill the project and prevent its realisation since months.
Interview with Le Cube Paris
Agricola de Cologne
Artist brand launched in 2000, new media artist, new media curator, director of Le Musee – di-visioniste – the new museum of networked art & Cologne International Videoart Festival
The Loss of the Evolutionary Motivation
The question :
« Even though the Homo Urbanus civilisation must confront large scale crises (economy, environment, climate, health, demographics etc), could the combining of physical space and the virtual sphere help us rethink the world in order to go beyond our horizons and spark the emergence of new “Utopian societies”? »
The question I am supposed to answer assumes that the solution of all the crises would represent just outlining some new Utopian societies by combining physical and virtual space as a kind of intellectual game.
In fact, the mentioned crises are actually just symptoms for a deep fundamental crisis of the human race as a whole which is seriously threatened with exstinct by itself for the first time. All the mentioned and many more crises are all human made, actually they lie in the consequence of the civilisatory development particularly since the industrialisation, which can be characterized as evolutionary, but at the same time also as a dead-end since it is excluding any survival strategy, although the problems, and also the processes of evolution are recognised as such since decades. All reminds of ancient civilizations which were vanishing suddenly from the globe without any trace. The technologically feasable, the scientification and intellectualization are standing in the foreground as a purpose for itself, but less how new perceptions, the technological progress can be used as tools for designing evolutionary survival strategies and influence the processes of the dramatically changing conditions on the globe. Survival as the essential motivation for the evolution is out of function.
A central key is representing the destruction of the traditional social structures caused by the civilisatory and technological development, the individualization and the economical independance of the individual, which seems to make the social structures of any community needless and obsolete, on the other hand there seems to be the human need for another type of community controllable like a button to be switched off when needed requiring not any personal responsibility– the virtual, immaterial and non-physical instances like social online networks are replacing the community as a survival instrument causing however mere mono-dimensional illusions, empty substitutes, like drugs, which make people easily to be manipulated.
The virtuality is perceived as a value for itself, but not what it really is – just a technical mono-dimensional tool, which gets it real meaning only when it is recognised as such and juxtaposed with the physical. So, the combination of both does not represent an option, at all, but a mandatory necessity.
The sciences use the simulation via virtual reality successfully for increasing the speed of research, investigation and production and enhancing the results, but from my point of view, not ideas of new Utopian societies are needed, but actually rather the contrary returning to the values of ancient Utopias, which actually are not unreachable and in this way also not really Utopian, i.e. rethinking of human values, whereby the aspect of solidarity from the individual directed towards the community was marking the ancient types of society is not oldfashioned, or obsolete, at all, but needs to be given a new relevance and direction we are one world, we are one people and we all are sitting all in the same boat – the new strategy of solidarity is directed from a smaller, but destroyed and non-existing community to the entire human race as a global society without limits and national borders, and in this way, a responsibility for the whole instead just for the small living circle in ancient times.
Neither this idea, nor its dimensions are new, but for an individual it seems to be still Utopian and nearly an imaginable challenge in the globalized world. Probably a simulation may be helpful to recognise one’s real responsibility in the new/old global society.
Agricola de Cologne, 2012
Cassandra Naij (Phnom Penh/Cambodia) interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Agricola de Cologne – A Virtual Memorial Phnom Penh 2012
‘Wilfried Agricola’ died in 1998 in a terrorist attack. Can you tell me more about this event and the subsequent ‘rebirth’ of Agricola de Cologne?
This is really a very complex matter and I have not the time to explain things again in detail, therefore I would like to point to following links which may give you at least partially an answer http://downloads.nmartproject.net/commemorating_victims_by_AGRICOLA.pdf
How has the brand changed since 2000?
Launched on 1. January 2000, “Agricola de Cologne” became alive as a brand and virtual artist in a symbolical act. A brand gets its meaning in the context of a corporate design. The brand “Agricola de Cologne” is standing for a wide range of cultural products and his artistic program,which does not exclude, that “Agricola de Cologne” would be used once as a brand like “Eau de Cologne”. The brand symbolizes also, that the virtual artist is actually a product, and everything which is visible or perceivable is representing just an image, the image. The physical person behind does actually not exist, but is manifesting itself just a few times a year in physical space. But the brand and the meaning of the brand did not change. That’s also the meaning of a brand.
Would you describe yourself as a performance artist? No, not at all, such kind of categorizations do not fit. One may consider me as a multi-disciplinary artist, but in fact, I am a virtual artist, this is including also the virtual curator and festival director, and all the other roles I am playing, like the programmer of all my websites and webprojects, the multi-media developer and much more.
Who were you’re inspirations, artistic or cinematic, when you were starting out? One needs to differenciate my different lifes, the first one until 1998 and my death as a physical artist, and my second life as a virtual artist since 1.1.2000.
My first life started when I was 15 years old, and at that time the perception on contemporary art were completely different than today, of course, the inspirations came from the visual artists movments of the 19th and early 20th century and some after World War II. My second life as an artist was inspired by the urgent need for exploring the unknown, i.e. Internet and new technologies and an immaterial view on life and art. In the context of this exploration also the strong affinity for art and moving images came into the foreground and the perception, that this was actually what I was always searching for, in times, when the civilisatory and technological development wasn’t so far, yet.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic as artist? And as curator?
I always wanted to initiate processes, as the result of people being confronted with my art, this was good already when I was starting, but I was following always my own rules searching for the non-experienced, the unknown and new perceptions., I never wanted to be an artist who is administrating a status–quo, i.e. his own death.
All this is good also for me as a curator, where, one needs to understand, that I consider curating as one of my basic current artistic expressions.
How can aestetics of diversity be described? What’s your creative process?
When I have an idea, I start simply. It is not my way working out endless concepts. Learning by doing. Experimenting, getting inspired by new perceptions. I do never ask, whether I am allowed to do anything, I simply do it. Of course, one cannot generalize, sometimes I have a certain goal in mind which I want to reach, sometimes, just a vague idea, or no idea exists, yet, where my way is leading me to. Once a creative process is initiated , one can speak of a consequent development through itself. I am acting instinctively, sometimes like in trance. I follow a kind of internal voice. Mostly, I even even see this process as as the actual art work. Most of my projects are works in progress.
Where did you study? Has video-art and film always been your passion or did you start out working with more traditional forms?
I am a kind of dinosaurus, threatened with extinct. When I studied art in Stuttgart, Munich and Amsterdam between 1969 and 1978, nobody knew anthing about new media or digital revolution. Technology as a basis for artistic media did not exist, at all, something which does not exist cannot be one’s passion. I was never really happy and was looking for movement in the static art media, but I had many different artistic talents and my parents made it possible to me to explore all of them, so, for instance, while I was studying in Munich history of art, I went at the same time to an actor school, had singing and dancing lessons for many years, just to find out that I was not made for that kind of reproductive art and returned to the creative visual arts by starting again studies in Amsterdam. The word computer did not even exist, yet, and nobody could forsee, at all, the revolutionary technological developments later on. I studied, of course, old media, like painting. or the printing techniques like lithography etc. Even when VHS video entered the art scene in the seventies of 20th century, I never liked that type of video art, and I still do not like that. I do not like the medium of analogioc video, nor its limited artists use and expressions and aestetics. I always liked cinema, but as a consuming amateur, I had never a secret dream to become a film-maker once, because I never saw filmmaking as a medium for me. As I described earlier, I came to digital video via the multi-media programming in my artistic Internet based projects, which all are interactive.
You term ‘Agricola de Cologne’ a brand; is there any problem with using the language of commerce in reference to art?
There is probably the misunderstanding, a brand would be necessarily related to commerce. A brand is a part of a corporate design, and so it is my case as well, only that my corporation is not representing a commercial instance, but a cultural immaterial instance, consisting of different cultural and above all, virtual aspects. However, it includes also an option to expand to the physical commercial area, it may happen, when time is mature, or not, at all.
You discuss Renaissance practices when explaining why you chose the name Agricola. Why are humanist values important to your work?
Humanist values are important to me, and to someone who is identical with his work, these values are not only part of my identity, but represent also the motivation to do what I am doing. One aspect of the humanist idea is representing the universal mind or personality, so a person who is carrying everything inside. In our times this is a kind of utopia, but in Renaissance times it was possible to collect all knowledge of mankind in one person, think of Leonardo da Vinci. My broad interdisciplinary artistic background makes me think in other, more universal terms and contexts. In terms of art, the humanist ideas manifest themselves in different ways, for instance in the contents, i.e my interest in humanitarian issues, but also in practice by dedicating my activities to an audience, by activating people, using art for creating social contexts etc.
You have spoken about modern-day Utopias; do the Renaissance Utopias of Thomas More and Martin Luther have any relevance today? Do they have any relevance to new media artists?
Of course, one cannot transfer these utopias 1:1 to our times, but their essence placing the human being & the Creation in the centre, as someone who as the ability to take responsibility over the progress of the CREATION. In this sense, these utopias are nowadays more contemporary and more important than ever, since mankind , generally, is standing at a crossroad, not just one crossroad, but many crossroads concerning essential decisions about the future of mankind of our planet. It is really one of the basic questions how we humans deal with ourselves. I think, these ideas have particular impact on new media artists, since many of them think about their actual purpose and the purpose of their use, such artists form a new type of artists, who practice new forms creativity in a network, who feel that art as one of the most relevant human expressions, at all, has to be shared among all of us a, not only as a common value, but also in the sense that the artistic language is a universal one. Since many new media artists can be characterized as activists in most different ways, activists also, in developing new artistic concepts in networks, which have a social relevance and do not practice art for its own sake. Art not as a elitist issue or a kind of luxury, but as an essential human expression for communicating on different sensual levels.
Virtual media and downloading pose a grave threat to many artists’ livelihoods; what led you to embrace these democratic (and often financially unprofitable) forms of art?
One of the lasting “negative” results of the terrorist attack and the coma has been the loss of the sense for the “material”, especially in art. I have no real connection any more to physical art, and in most forms of physical art I see no sense, any more. That’s also one reason, why I do not visit museums, since they are filled with physical art.Turning to the virtual, which was only possible at that time, when the Internet became popular in 1999, was the only way to survive as an artist, but also as a human being, and this became my very special own way. But dealing with the Internet as an artistic medium, was bringing automatic all features into the foreground, like participatory , collaborative and networking activities, forming a community of two or more artists, in this sense I was developing since 2000 my own artistic community or network which is representing the basis of all my activities. To these very Internet specific features belongs also curating, as special form of taking responsibility in such networking contexts The basic idea behind all these activities, is sharing a common pool of information, acting on an equal non-hierachic level and not related to one’s own “ego”, but to the higher goal of taking responsibility in the framework of the community. This has very much to do with practicing democracy in the early primitive forms of society, when the community was forming the context and the tool for surviving. As for art, it is not any longer elitist, but becomes a commom value of sharing information, knowlege , emotions etc, so also art is going back to its roots. I am very happy, that the new technologies were really forcing us to return to the essential of human existence, where art is and was playing always a most relevant role as a medium for transferrring memory to the future.
“A Virtual Memorial” You have used the term ‘project interventions’ in reference to “A Virtual Memorial”. Do you see art as having such a determinedly therapeutic social role?
I think, also in terms of art, we are at a cross road. How art, how contemporary art is perceived nowadays, is dominated my ancient views by art historians, art critics or so-called experts, who have for themselves no idea of any artistic process. But, even they were speaking of art as a medium for communicating in times, when no new technologies were existing, yet. Even they speak of art haven an essential social role. Whether it is playing a therapeutic role, it is a matter to be discussed, yet, but art was always playing a kind of therapeutic role, When people feel well or miserable, emotionally or mentally affected, while being confronted with art, it has even an therapeutic effect if people collect art just for making profit, since when they are making profit they feel satisfyied in one or the other way. This way, art is leaving completely its path of being elitist.
The collective trauma of the holocaust has had a huge impact on the creation of the modern Jewish identity. Do you see any similar sort of effect in Cambodia? Does this collective memory unite or divide young Cambodians?
I think, one cannot compare Jews and Cambodians as peoples. While the Jews were leading a disporadic life for many hundred years, it was just this diasporadic aspect, which were forcing the Jew to develop such a strong identity orgetting lost completely by assimilating on this diasporadic tour around the globe. Persecutions and progroms expulsion or killing people were part of this diasporadic life, so the Holocaust must be seen in this context, since one might even speak of a kind of driving power which was enabling the Jews to create a state and territory of their own. The people in Cambodia have obviously a completely different history and the condition for the genocide were completely different. But the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide have much in common on the other hand, both started from totalitarism, and all type of totaliatrian systems are the same, all over the world, since the human character is the same, no mater how different the cultural, religious or ethnic context is. The way, how perople were persecuted and killed were completely different, but the effects caused by these genocides and traumata and the human issuses , in general, are again similar or identical. It depends on the mentality of the Cambodian people and how open and offensive they are dealing with the collective trauma, whether it will unite young CambodIANS:
How did Riga audiences react to “A Virtual Memorial”? What have the reactions of Holocaust survivors been?
It was a kind of new issue, since only since some years, the Latvian started to overcome their national trauma, which is not only the collective trauma reated to Jews, but the occupations by the Germany and Russians, causing also countless victims among the non-Jewish Latvians, especially during the Stalinist times So this is a very complicated and sensitive matter, but it was indeed like that, that the event in Riga had an activating effect opn the people, who suddenly started talking about issues which they were not taklking about before In the memont when the event, the artists talks and discussion took place, and afterwards, of course, the project cannot be more than a mosiac stone in the context of a big puzzle, but a most relevant little stone accoding to all feedback, I received. In Latvia, there are hardly any Holocaust survivors, since nearly all Jews were killed as the result of the Hiolocaust. There may some very old people still living, but I did not meet any. The currently Jewish Community in Latvia is consisting basically of Jews returning or emigrating to Riga, for instance from Russia.
What are the differences between Cambodian trauma and that associated with the Holocaust?
This is really a difficult question, since actually the differences concening history, geography, economy, culture, religion etc,are too profound to be compared with each other. A big difference were the idealogies of the totalitarian systems. While the Nazis were practicing the industrial extermination of humans, thus the latest civilisatory developments in technology made this type of extermenation only possible, in Cambodia the Red Khmer were rooted on a kind of stone age communist ideology which wanted to erase the intellectual elite from its roots and create people of an equal level of uneducatedness and barbarism. Although completely differently structured, the Nazis had something similar in mind.
Can the same art works be equally valid in such different cultural contexts?
Are there any statistics about this question? I think an answer is only possible after having presented such art works in different cultural contexts. I have no idea about Cambodia. So, I only can hope, that my ideas are equally valid there, it is an experiment.
Aren’t younger artists presenting an interpretation of past events rather than a memory, per se?
I think all people who are not directly witnesses of incidents, are interpreting information about such incidents from the media or other sources. Concerning young artists, the distance of time, can cause a more “objective” point of view, also in dealing with the sources of information. On the other hand ,young people, do not feel bound to conventions and stereotypes related to such traumatic incidents and have a more open and creative view on the circumstances, which allow new approaches.
In the intro to “A Virtual Memorial Phnom Penh” it says that ‘freedom of memory is the only true freedom’, as it is unbound by convention. Does this imply we are also free to forget, if we so choose? If so, is a freedom to wilfully forget in contradiction to the pieces in “A Virtual Memorial”?
Usually after having experienced such traumatic incidents the mind of affected people is switching off any memory automatically, as a kind of survival strategy and self-protection. This is really no conscious decision, but also later such a conscious decision is not possible, since memory remains always alive in the unconsciousness. Repressing actively memory, which is not impossible, however may have most fatal effects, for instance, in form of a deep depression. After lying in an coma for several months and returning to life, any memory of the terror attack on me was like erased, and after more than year, this memory returned in form of a post-traumatic depression, which was leading me close to death over a longer period. Only after a therapy lasting more than two years, I was able again to deal with the traumatic memory, but only because I accepted the terror attack as a an active part of my life and I did not repress memory. It is not possible to forget and it is not possible to heal the damages caused by the trauma, thinking it would be possible to forget or having that chocice, at all, it is just an illusion, so “forgetting” does not represent any alternative.
“A Virtual Memorial” is aimed at ‘activating’ audiences; what kind of action do you envisage the exhibition catalysing?
In Phnom Penh, activiating the audience will be basically done by presenting in my programs a diversity of artistic approaches via the videoart works, moderated by my person. I would wish if local artists would form a part of the audience, open for a discussion and talks. The workshop on Sunday is representing an intervention aimed to activate the local artists, also in terms of a furture collaboration to be established.
Why is film/digital video an appropriate medium for collective memory?
The moving images are able to represent processes the audience or people can identify with, processes of human existence, a universal language.
Renaissance art made use of the memento mori, a reminder of death; does the video-art of “A Virtual Memorial” contain any modern interpretations of this trope? Or are they more reminders of life?
The programs of videoart to be presented in the context of A Virtual Memorial in Phnom Penh are compiled especially for Phnom Penh, showing a diversity of how artists from all over the world deal with memory. If there is a relation to Renaissance art, then in the diversity and universality. There are certainly also some examples of reminder of the death and life, but it is up to the audience give this issue any relevance.
Have you worked with any Khmer film artists to put this show together? If yes, can you tell me more about this process?
Collaborating with Meta House in Phnom Penh, is representing the first collaboration in Cambodia. There were no contacts to Khmer artist before, but it is one meaning of the event to change that and establsih collaborations in future.
What’s your opinion on the Cambodian shorts which will be shown on the final night?
Unfortunately, I do not know, since I will review the films only when I am in Phnom Penh. Sorry.
General Does virtual space offer more opportunities for artistic creativity than limited physical space?
According to my understanding the virtual and the physical are complementing each other, this is good for virtual and physical space, as well. The virtual space is expanding the existing limited possiblities of physical space. By using both options, unexpected possibilities come up.
What is an ‘experimental documentary’? Are documentary and expressive art contradictory in any way?
My activities around “moving images” are only related to art, but not cinema, even if “film” is used as a technical term. Experimental documentary refers to art as an human expression which is transporting memory, and in the given case in an experimental way. In terms of “art & moving images”it is representing a new format and an extension of art.
“A Virtual Memorial” poses the question of how to transform living memory into moving images. Are there any visual motifs which you find particularly effective in conveying the concept of memory?
Being as authentic as possible concerning the aim and mission to be transported through the images, this is certainly most effective and successful.
You have described industrialisation as a ‘dead-end’ because it excludes a survival strategy for mankind. Cambodia is currently industrialising and developing quickly; do you think technical advances in art can offer a survival strategy to counteract other advances in technology?
No, I do not think so, at least not on short notice It would require a completely rethinking of all values in society and much time this way. I have no idea, whether the Cambodian society would be able But it is surprising how new technologie in art take influence on alternative economical concepts in Western societies. The industrialisation in China, for instance follows ancient capitalist ideas and is enormously destructive in many ways.
Are virtual communities as valid as the physical social structures they are replacing in modern life?
I think they are as valid, but both are complementing each other. My projects consist of a dual system consisting of equal virtual and physical components.
Art is often seen as the pursuit of individualism (in Western conceptions). Do you try to counteract that view via your participatory and multimedia approach to curating?
Videoart Festival Miden Kalamata/Greece Interview with Gioula Papadopoulou
Ana Peraica (LAB for Culture) – interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Ana Peraica (question) interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne (answer)
Most of your projects are having a commemorative character. What is the difference of your project and other projects of the kind, like governmental projects?
In a democracy, governmental or public projects have mostly the intension to deal with history in a most objective way and spotlight most thinkable aspects from most different point of views, by using a variety of sources in order to underline this objectivity. Statistics play an important role, since they are said to represent a most objective way to tell facts. Even if this is not completely true, in statistics the human factor is nearly completely eliminated. They become often this way rather an expression of inhumanity..
On the other hand, the view on history and the ways how people deal with history is not a static or constant value, but is different in each generation and different periods of history, so even if people have the best intentions even under the most ideal circumstances, just a kind of relative objectivity remains, since it is always human made.
In a totalitarian system, governmental or official projects are made to justify and underline the position of the current political ideology, and nearly in all cases they are more or less neglecting humanity completely.
An art work, not matter what type of subject is used, whether commemorative or not, has never the intention to be objective, but the contrary to express the (most subjective) artistic ideas of an artist.
So do I, and my personal point of view, the way how I face the things generally, and its not different from my position as an artist, whether I deal with commemorative aspects or not, my measure is always humanity.
It determines the way how I approach such projects which have never any ambition to cover all thinkable aspects, but reduced as they are, they go down to the essence of Being and a level which has the potential to touch people and motivate them to reflect the sensually experienced.
What is the main motif for making such projects on the Internet? Is there a certain extropian practice inscribed in making people that have gone, for any of reasons, constantly present on-line, an effect of balsaming a memory?
The first part of the question cannot be answered just in a few words. In the family I grew up, humanity had been always the basic measure for all, at school the ideas of humanism had further lasting influence on my view on life, so when I started dealing with art at the age of 15, there was already the focus on the essential of human life, but I got the awareness for history and historical contexts only when I was about 35. When in 1989, the wall in Berlin fell, this forced my life into a new direction. While travelling in the East of Europe, especially
Poland, I was continuously confronted with the Nazi history and the Holocaust. The following eight years I dedicated completely to a (physical) artistic memorial project dealing with this thematic context, a period which was on one hand extraordinary touchable since I was confronted with the personal history of countless victims, but this represented also a most violent period since I became a victim myself, highly traumaticized not just once, but over a longer period and on different levels. That all was highlighted by a terror attack which did
not only destroy a part of my artistic work, but it finished my life and my artistic career at that time.
As a result I fell for some time in a kind of coma, but when I waked up, nothing was it the way it had been before, I had to learn the essentials of life again, eating drinking, walking, everything was blocked, but it returned after a some time again, but really frightening was actually that I had lost the sense for the material and physical, in this sense I was also not able any more to work physically as an artist the way I did before.
In order to train my brain and intellectual skills again, I started sometimes a kind of therapy by learning computer programming languages.
When in 1999, the war & genocide in Kosovo was escalating, I felt addressed again to become active as an artist, but I did not know how.
At that time also the Internet became just really popular and I got the idea to find out whether I could use the new knowledge of programming languages for something ompletely new in concern of creating art. And soon the virtual artist was born!
On 1 January 2000, I started a new life from point zero without any money and without any idea what eventually might come, my big life experiment had started, which still is running, by publishing online the mother of all future projects “A Virtual Memorial” as a kind of continuation of my previous physical memorial project “A Living Memorial Space of Art”, which was by the way installed at 43 places in Poland, Germany and Czech Republic between 1995 and 1998, among them Auschwitz, Majdanek, Dachau and Theresienstadt, but also Krakow, Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg etc.
So, actually one can really not speak, at all, of a motif which was driving me to work as an artist in Internet and/or one who is executing commemorative projects online, for me there was no alternative for becoming active as an artist again, and without being dramatic, without the Internet I would not have survived, since over a longer period I was highly endangered for committing suicide.
The second part of the question sounds a bit polemic, but the first part is actually also answering the second one, since I did not open a kind a funeral for balsaming memory.
What is the difference of those memorials and pages of daily newspapers that are daily announcing who has died on the Internet http://www.slobodnadalmacija.hr/20071122/osmrtnice01.asp?
What do you think of the concept “collective trauma”?
We learned already, the difference between my type of (art) working and public commemorative contexts and governmental memorials.
Your question is mentioning a third party, i.e. the families or relatives of died victims.
These memorial announcements in a newspaper or Internet have again another goal, they follow the need of the affected families They represent forums for collective mourning, and this way a tool for overcoming an individual and also collective trauma, for instance.
A collective trauma comes up, when many persons who are, and/or others who are not affected identify themselves with the victims.
There were already collective nationwide traumata, because the charismatic leader of a political party was killed, or simply dying.
The massacre of Srebrenica, and the mass-rape on Muslim women for instance, had the goal to produce such a collective trauma, to paralyze people, to throw people into despair, to destroy living structures, social contexts, the consense among nationalities and ethnical groups etc, in so far they represented highly symbolical acts for the perpetrators, as well as
much more for the affected families.
By announcing on such forums, the families and relatives demonstrate also, the victims are not forgotten, in fact the goal of the perpetrators failed in the end.
Somehow the tone of each project doesn’t appear shocking, but rather peaceful. What do you think, from the perspective of your work, on works by Tarik Samarak http://www.fabrika.com/en/?id=1&j=87&t=&m=444&media=mov who has recorded a travel to Srebrenica making photographs of parts of people’s lives on the way? Or posters by Anur Hadžiomerspahic’ of branded clothes from the exhumation of Srebrenica massacre?
Those artists who were dealing with the Holocaust thematically, know that it is not possible to visualize something which is blasting human imagination, something which the human brain is principally refusing.
The massacre of Srebrenica, for instance, belongs also to a dimension which is blasting human imagination in its own way, like war, violence on children and women, and much more, is blasting the mind of those who are not affected, and those who are affected even more.
An artwork dealing with such exceptional human experience has to go other ways than repeating the horrifying curios, we all see daily in the news on TV. or newspaper. One type of people is continuously consuming such visualized pornographic violence which becomes a part on their perception of life, another type of people is principally refusing the continuously escalating visualization of violence.
Massacres like Srebrenica have a very difficult position, since they stand in direct competition with other horrifying events, from the Past, as well as the Present.
As long as they are in the news, people pay attention, but as soon as the matter is through it becomes more and more a problem to motivate people.
It is the best certainly to document such event scenarios the best way possible, at best by erecting types of multi-purpose documentation centres, so that they can be valued and interpreted by the coming generations from distance of time and affection.
Artists like you mentioned above can help to give the public also another point of view, but like in the case of the Holocaust, time will show which is the best way to approach, since whether artistic or not, it has to be one goal of all projects to initiate a better understanding for the dimensions (human, cultural etc) of such events.
Like the photos documenting war in all parts of the world, the aesthetics of the images incorporate the big danger of romanticizing the situation.
People who did not experience the situation of war, for instance, have generally no idea of it, and such aesthetical views gives a completely wrong idea.
It is a difference whether people see reproductions of horrifying curios of the Holocaust or they visit Auschwitz or Majdanek, the same is good for Srebrenica.
My personal position is by presenting the audience a variety of projects, approaches, events etc to motivate people to become active via reflecting, The projects I was creating stand all in a common context.
If it was ever my intension to produce the impact of a shock, at all, then certainly not a “horror vacui” lasting just the second until it is replaced by a next following shock, but a long lasting shock through reflecting.
What do you think is the impact of those projects on victims of same events you are focusing your attention to, tsunami, violence against women, holocaust… that have survived these events? Do you think forgetting these events would be better for them? And do you think that remembering of violence can produce another violence?
I never made a survey among the visitors who were victims, and what kind of impact my projects might have had to them.
As art projects, all projects are made for the art community and this may include victims potentially, as well. All these memorial projects, you mention above, were active for a certain period, but are now completed and/or are not updated any longer.
All projects have a lot of good feedback, sometimes one gets the idea that deeply affected people write, many of the projects are used for educational purposes by universities or schools, the site statistics give evidence, but there is one special project which gives evidence of an enormous impact on survived victims—>
“Women. Memory of Repressing in Argentina” – http://argentina.engad.org-
The project is about the “disappeared ” people in Argentina during the military dictatorships in the 70ies and 80ies of 20th century, which were leading a war against the own people by terrorizing the families of so-called different minded people. Sons and daughters, but also
husbands of families were kidnapped and disappeared mostly without leaving any trace, and from the 30 thousands of disappeared just a few survived in the end. The remaining mothers and grandmothers better known as Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, do not only belong to the surviving victims, but they eliminated also these dictatorships in the end through
the ritual of weekly demonstrations which were going on until these day also after the political system changed s.
I had the privilege to collaborate with one of these mothers who is also co-curator, her daughter and son in law and her son were kidnapped, whereby the son died, while the daughter survived and collaborated also in this and other projects.
Realized in 2004, this project had a strange deep impact on the Argentine activists, i.e. the Mothers and associated organisations, since it was created and produced outside of Argentina. In 2005, I was invited to Argentina for presenting my project at museums, cultural centres and universities, and I met many of the still living initiators of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo which was an extraordinary touching experience.
Even if it is not possible that an art project is causing revolutionary changes, but my project was understood as a signal for all those who never gave up fighting for research and recovering the matter of the disappeared, which had as a result, that the Argentine president
Kirchner ordered the exhumation of countless mass graves and many of the disappeared could be identified by name meanwhile. The process of overcoming this national trauma after so many decades is still going on, and the horrible dimensions of this “state affaire” becomes really visual just these days. I am happy and most satisfied, that my activities were able to have such a kind of impact on people, at all.
“And do you think that remembering of violence can produce another violence?”
It is said, that violence is producing violence. And it is also known that people who became a victim of violence got a violent behaviour as a direct result of the violence. Personally I doubt, that just the memory of violence can cause violence, and for a better understanding it
is good to know, actually, what happens to a victim of violence.
Physical injuries can be cured, but psychological injuries are not visible. Healing a psychological trauma needs much more than the self-healing powers of the human vital system or a therapy. If we understand that besides a physical also a psychological immunity system as a genetic survival strategy exists, the destructive powers of a trauma do not only destroy this immunity system in parts or as a whole, but the personal, social, cultural, political or religious circumstances or living conditions can potentially cause that a victim
becomes a victim again and again resulting even the collapse of the immunity system.
My personal course of the described traumatization were leading to such a collapse in form of a coma, but when it was over, I became aware that my psychological immunity system did not exist any longer, since my vital systems identified words or reactions of other people as direct attacks I had to fight against.
One result was that my physical immunity system went crazy, since it reacted on anything directly with high fever, and at the same time my direct re-“action” became very aggressive towards other people, basically verbally, since I do not tend to physical aggressivity, but also
aggressive against myself.
In first place these “reactions” happened automatically, without a chance to take immediately influence, only afterwards I became aware what happened.
Of course, also memory of violence plays a certain role. I hated the fact that there had been people who dared to take such a disastrous influence on my life and made me a victim while I had been never a victim before, then I hated myself, my inability to understand properly
what actually is going on inside of me, I hated my helplessness.
I think, such personal situations have the potential to drive people completely crazy, and depending on the individual personality, dealing with oneself and the situation can lead to a general violent behaviour and the use of violence on other people, I am sure.
Do you think forgetting these events would be better for them?
It would be better, if the traumatization would not have happened, at all. But it did. It is just hypothetical to dream people could simply forget everything. Fortunately, there exists a kind of genetic emergency strategy, causing a kind of sleeping state of the trauma.
The outside world might even get the idea as if the trauma of a victim would be healed, but in fact it is just that the human vital system is developing individual survival strategies. From time to time, and mostly in the most inappropriate situations the memory is reactivated showing a victim that the trauma is as fresh as on its first day.
In my case, the traumatic course of events caused a complete change and direction of my life, I would have never started working with electronic media and art the way I do, I am sure, I would never stand where I stand currently. Forgetting the events is not possible, but also
not wanted, since they are part of my history.
This fact is manifesting itself in my answers on your questions.
Do you think that victims of the past have a special treatment, as being institutionalized by history, than those of the present time in our culture?
My projects refer actually to different types of victims, so it is really the question which kind of victim you mean.
Perceiving the victim as a person of relevance, was a development of the 20th century, when the mass media came up and human rights entered the general awareness.
This caused also a kind of revision of ancient views on history. In the public perception, of course, such mass phenomena of victims like from World WAR I, World War II or the Holocaust received a highly symbolical status, also because these events are and were the expression of unimaginable inhumanity. If certain groups of victims are and were institutionalized it is/was not caused by history, but those people who deal with history
It does actually not matter, in which time or society people live, in contrary to the perpetrator the victim who is always identified as being a looser, gets hardly any sympathy. In the end, it is the victim himself who is to blame on his situation. But society separates also good from bad, privileged and less privileged victims depending on their social, political, cultural or religious position and context.
There are dozens of reasons why people institutionalize victims from the Past or Present, but since the view on history is changing from generation to generation, also the view on the victims and the perpetrators and the values generally change.
Luca Barbeni interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Streaming Festival The Hague
Who is Wilfried Agricola de Cologne?
(everything you want to share with the festival visitors about your age,
background, education and career)
A multi-disciplinary media artist, but I am not a film maker in its classical sense, making films represents just one among many other disciplines,. Since the terror attack on me in 1998, I have two lives, one before the attack and one after when I started in 2000a new life from point zero and an extraordinary professional career until these days.
Basis of this new life is the development of [NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne www.nmartproject.net – the experimental platform for art and New Media, a very successful award winning project, a hybrid between an art project completely Internet based and ongoing, a research and curatorial project, a virtual and physical network and a multi-facetted new media event. In this framework I realize all the numerous media art projects in a global context, many or them incorporate collaborative components, and this is most important, all functions are concentrated in one single person, i.e. me, the programmer, multi-media developer, the producer, editor etc, organizer of global competitions, curator of projects in this framework, but also external media art exhibitions, co-curator and co-organiser of festivals in different parts on the globe and much more, and last but not least the director and creator of an increasing number of moving pictures – (short films), which are included in many festivals and media exhibitions.
More details on
Why filmmaking? (what was it in life that inspired you to make films?)
Filmmaking came just into the focus when I acquired my miniDV in1998 camera which is still in use. Until the attack later in 1998, the purpose of filming was just documenting my art shows, making films the way I practice now became relevant only after 2000 when I started creating interactive and non-interactive movies for use in my Internet based projects. For this purpose I produced a lot of film material, and I found out that the process of filming, and in the same way the creative process of editing formed a unity in which I could express my artistic ideas better than in other media.
I would actually prefer to speak rather of moving pictures and less of films. The term film is already occupied by a history of the classical feature films, but I do not create films in this classical sense, these “moving pictures”, instead have their actual origin in the analogue art works I created before the attack: I was always interested in processes and movement in psychological conditions and the development of dynamic metaphorical image languages, but the old analogue media had their limits. When I started it was also very supportive, that the (digital/electronic) equipment for film making became such affordable for everybody, and I saw the chance to work with film like with any other art related medium, which was unthinkable before.
Your work is about… (what is your movie really about? And is it linked with your life, somehow?)
In fact my films can be characterized as allegories, a type of representation which does not seem to be really timely, as they need much more than just a passively consuming viewer, but one whose mind and perception is awake, open ready to reflect. The films are also quite short, and actually need to be viewed more than just once in order to recognize its deeper sense.
The participating movies use such metaphoric languages, the visually perceivable stands as a symbol for something else and has another meaning than it seems.
The works are linked to life not only because they show scenes from life, but basically also my life, as I invite the viewer to become a voyeur, and see the world through my eyes. The moving pictures turn my inside to outside, which produces a non-linear movement in addition to the filmic linear movement. The image language, as well as the filmmaking as such is based of certain philosophical ideas causing a wanted abstract effect.
Financing your movie?
(did you try to get subsidy? Who participated in your movie and did you have to
pay them? How did you finance your movie?)
If I would not deal with the production of a film in the same way I do with any other art work, I would not be able to create any film. The productions of my films are not based on any budget, therefore.
Differently from the classical film making, when a story is mostly known from the beginning until its end, when I start I do not know the final result yet [I do not use scripts it a classical sense], as I start mostly an experiment, I make spontaneous decisions, follow rather my intuitions and follow the process from an holistic point of view. Holding all film relevant functions, I want to be independent, not depending of people who decide what I am allowed to do or not. It is obvious, this type of working cannot be compared with the production of classical films, and it does also not fit in the usual categories.
The basis of the films form material I film basically during my travels around the globe, in this way an essential part of the production is financed via my travel budget, and until now the situation was not yet given, to pay anybody for eventually participating.
These films are no low budget, but really no budget films, and also made for another type of audience which has different expectations than in the classical film productions.
New Media; a challenge for film makers?
(Share your thoughts on new media with us. describe how you use new media like
internet, mobile tv, tv on the internet etc for film making. What are the
potentials of the new media, or do you think new media is overrated ?)
Through New Media I did not only survive, but it allows me also to do the work the way I do.
The type of filmmaking I follow currently, developed in fact since I am working in and with the Internet, I created and produced movies for the Internet based on a non-linear programming . These are really great works which were presented on many festivals, but since they are non-linear they cannot be converted into a linear video format
and can therefore non used so universally. So, I made the next step and entered the linear film/video making more intensively.
Generally can be said, the digital media changed not only the type of filmmaking but also the space of its presentation. The conventional cinema is reduced to a specific type of space, via the new media films can enter any space. The interactive component allows to change the viewer from a passive consumer to an active user, but one has to be realistic, not everybody wants to become active, most people want to relax and love the position of being captured by sensual sensations.
For a creator of films however, new media are offering great options for using new languages of storytelling, for producing such sensation, for being presented in different environment and spaces etc.
The more advanced the computer based films are, the more extended the visual effects and the technological refinement, the less are the chances for a low budget director to enter the competition on this level, and a no-budget director has not any material background to compete with, at all. His chances lie on different fields and in following different and probably new paths, the path I am following belongs to that.
Do your films have style, just as some painters have? If so, how would you describe your style? (describe how you use camera, editing etc for style)
I think it is not up to me to speculate over my style, I leave it better to the viewers of my films. Following one’s style consciously includes the danger to follow the path of manierism, of l’art pour l’art, a beautiful but empty cover without substance, it represents also a kind of dogma, and as such a final state, which I would not strive for.
Of course, as a kind of universal filmmaker I have my specific way of perceiving things, how I deal with certain contents, image and technology, how I use sound and music etc, and this might express itself in a certain language, but for me is style nothing to think about, I try to do each film differently and not repeat myself, which might be recognized as a style as well.
Can you name one particular influence that really had a lasting impact on you,
and why? (name your inspiration; in film, literature etc)
I think everybody who becomes a film maker, was close to film already from a child in one or the other way. When I was young, I viewed nearly all films I was able to see. Generally, I like Hitchcock films very much but his way of creating films has certainly no influence on my work, it is simply too different.
When people see my films (short films not longer than 15 minutes), I receive sometimes the feedback, they would remind them of films by Peter Greenaway. Personally, I do not see this connection, as his films do not belong to my favourite ones. But, it can also not be excluded that I have a similiar approach in finding image solutions and we both use obviously metaphoric languages in a way, which are not practiced by too many other film artists.
If anybody really influenced me, then it is myself through artistic visions and philosophical ideas which were growing since more than 30 years.
Which film related websites do you frequent? (name some of the podia for filmmakers and information on filmmaking you like to visit on the internet)
Although I am dealing all the day with the Internet, I do not visit specific sites for filmmakers regularly, but I keep myself updated concerning deadlines for festival submissions, for instance.
Individual film making or co-operation? (Tell us what and why you prefer; do the whole process of film making on your own, or work together in a team of specialists? What is your speciality? Camera, editing, concept, directing etc…)
As I practice until now an individual filmmaking by executing all film related functions,
[only a few times the music came from an external composer], I have no opinion about co-operations and working in a team of specialists, because I have no experience.
Of course, the general conditions for making films under such different conditions cannot be compared with the individual filmmaking I do.
But I am sure it might be a challenging experience to work in such a team, but then I would see my function rather to be a director, than to be another specialist.
Your plans and dreams… (What would you like to make someday? What is your ambition in film making?)
I have currently several film projects in process, but they are quite complicated. I would like to complete them, but I would need to spend more time on filmmaking than I currently do. So my wish would be to have more time.
I also would like to overcome the 15 minutes limit, and even create a situation when I do nothing else than filmmaking, but this is again rather a financial question..
Did you ever had another ambition in life than to become a filmmaker?
Digital or classic? (about the techniques you prefer. Super 8, mini DV or HD? Do you have your own equipment (which))
I always wanted just to be an artist and earn my living as an artist. This really came true.
I never had the ambition to become a filmmaker before 2000. But filmmaking the way I do became increasingly relevant meanwhile……………
Like the term “film”, also the term “filmmaker” is occupied by a lot of more or less famous names who made feature films, I would currently not identify with that.
While filming I enter a social context and become a more or less distant observer in a process.
Filming brings me very close the essence of people, it represents a kind of social act and it gives me an enormous pleasure to use my miniDV camera by entering processes. It is further a wonderfully creative act to compose the unexpected via the editing, which is for me as relevant as the filming itself. Of course, I have my own equipment.
View other work of (Tell the festival visitors where they can find other films. Perhaps on your website, other film sites?)
A good selection of my moving pictures can be accessed on
Agricola de Cologne Moving Picture collection
All other remarks Wilfried Agricola de Cologne (what ever is left to say…)
I was not pointing expressively to my specific talent for organizing, yet.
I deal with film not only as a filmmaker, but also as an organiser/director of a film festival and the curator for a platform of video art. I would not like to miss this type of work.
CologneOFF – Cologne Online Film Festival
the curated project environment, I created online and offline, many selection were presented on festival of media art exhibitions.
Gaby Barrionuevo interviews Agricola de Cologne
Emilia Ukkonen interviews Agricola de cologne
Emilia_Ukkonen_interviews_Agricola de Cologne_2007.pdf
@ Universitá degli studi di Napoli L’Orientale – Vito Campanelli – Tiziana Terranova – Agricola de Cologne
An interview with Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
by Diana Marrone
December 4, 2006
Net art is the new form of ultrapop communication tools. Is it the victory of graphic designers versus fine arts researcher/artists, or, in a more strategic view, is it a new current in which signs of the times are more evident?
I am not sure if this question is just an ironic way to describe the current situation of “netart”. In any case, it makes a certain problem visible, as there does not exist a binding definition of “netart”. For answering this question seriously , I think netart should be not just measured how it is practiced currently but take also a view on the comparingly short history of art on the net, which is on the other side quite dramatic and not short at all, while facing the rapid development of technology and its continuously changing use also in art since the start of the Internet, but in this historical context also to take a longer view on the art works which belong to this new art genre, and then it would become obvious, that the different phases of technological development cannot compared with each other. So, indeed the signs of the time are more than evident. But this is only a little part of the truth.
The viral and networking vocations of ‘internet based art’ represent rather the situationist and relational art of the Dada. This is the most precious value in a non-talkative and violent world. If you agree on this viewpoint, are these two vocations the product of the display (internet, i.e. the excellence of the public domain) that is able to produce the changement of preference of the artists on relation versus production? Or is this era with all the new software production that widened the preference for tech artworks that are able to communicate..?
I would not reduce “internet based art” just to these two vocations, as I do not think that they are exclusively representative for Internet based art. What you call “viral”, I would interpret as specific characteristics of the net, that information, respectively countless copies or clones of it, can be spread in a few seconds in real time to any place on the globe, and this represents indeed a relevant point in the consideration.
I think artists may have different reasons why they feel a need for networking, and why they choose a form of artworking which has as a result of creating not a final product to be sold on the market. I think both vocations depend on each other and may certainly have an imminent influence on the decision why artists choose the development of a relational art creation, but as I see it there are actually many individual reasons, (and there are quantitatively not too many artists worldwide) to do such a radical step from the general commercialization and de-socialization towards its contrary.
When I became active in the field of Internet based art in 2000, I had no idea what might result from this indeed visionary decision to start this experiment. And as the essence of this experimenting and exploring, consequently (I would said today) the networking aspect came into the foreground which again leads automatically towards a de-materialized field of art. I would say, the Internet had in my personal case a kind of catalyst effect, but if I would have not been ready or willing to follow such a relational (communicating and networking) path, if I would not have seen perspectives in it after I started, I would not have done so, I am sure. The software aspect belongs actually to the spectrum of these two vocations and forms rather a condition than an alternative. In my case, the rapid development of software and technology has a stimulating effect even if I do not try everything just because its new. It challenges me continuously to rethink what I have done, and in the given case to modify, optimize or erase
So, all is connected to each other and depends on each other, and the values – what is more relevant – are changing continuously.
Violence, memory, identity: 3 icons of our times and also hot topics in a very instable era. These icons are underlined by your new media projects and seem to fill the net also in a talkative perspective (blogs, videoblogs, chat). Is internet a place for memory even if to erase and to build a new page is easy and without any guarantee of creation date? Is internet a place to speak of identity if there you maybe 1, no-one or one-hundred-thousand, just to quote the very famous Italian author Pirandello?
For me the Internet represents an ideal memorial space and I use it as such intensively in different concern. It reaches a wide audience which is sharing this memory. But the type of memory posted on the net is one-dimensional and cannot be compared with the complex structures of human memory, for instance,
which is from its structures multi-dimensional. As a memorial space, the Internet is containing just a specific type of memory in form of the information, people post on the net, thus this is strongly subjectively selective, but in its totality also unselective, as everything can be published. It needs a critical brain to separate the subjectively useful form the useless information. In fact it does not matter, for how long information is posted on the net and whether it is partially or completely erased now and then , as it would be an utopia and is not the basic goal of the Internet to preserve all information or knowledge of mankind or document all steps and processes, this would be an illusion all the more, as the majority of world population has no Internet access at all and is not able to share any information; and one aspect has not to be forgotten: one of the main purposes of the Internet is of economical nature. The Internet is a temporary memory for those who have the possibility to use it, and the user is receiving just a snapshot of this memory according certain filters each time he is visiting the Internet. Art on the net has the potential to give the Net an additional dimension of memory. How I see it, sometimes it gives, sometimes not.
It is not wrong to face the Internet as a space of identity as well, while memory and identity depend on each other and are sometimes even identical. Although this memory has gigantic dimensions and a really large and continuously increasing quantity of users is surfing through the net, in contrary to what one might expect, there is in fact just one type of identity, the virtual identity, even if this may have most individual expressions.
How many screenings of R R R, your festival, have took place in a physical space? How many people were standing to see and how were the virtual contacts? Which were the more suitable for the media, according to you?
The [R][R][F]200x—>XP project is focussing on global networking the thematical aspect of “memory and identity” and a specific presentation form, i.e. the exchange between virtual and physical space via physical installations. As a project which is entirely Internet based, it contains automatically divers interactive components, and the physical installations were also basically interactive. So, this project has not been screened in the sense of the word, even if it includes potentially also a screening component. The project was presented in most different forms partially or in its totality more than 50 times in physical space between March 2004 and December 2006.
But it would have been frustrating if people would have just stood and see instead of taking another position and exploring actively the gigantic project environment.
The virtual contacts were in fact the most prominent ones, as the process of the project development forms a relevant aspect in its realisation, of course , and the installation of the networking structures of this globally operating project were exclusively based on virtual contacts, not to mention the contacts to all the hundreds of artists, curators, institutions and organisations and finally the audience as the most important networking instance, and it does in fact not matter whether there was a physical audience or not, the audience which was exploring this project and communicating was also always virtual. There are no statistics which were counting all the visitors in physical space or all the countless virtual contacts which were necessary to develop and run the project, and the intensive communicating is still lasting. The site statistics of the RRF project makes it however obvious, the project is and was raising really many online visitors. Also, it really cannot be said which kind of contacts were more suitable, both were very suitable due to or despite of their difference.
De Cologne stands from your present domicile. Agricola stands for what? Nature, the very beginning of the eras?
Is identity such a light predicate for the virtual world that you may do not need a true name? Do you have had other names before this?
Agricola de Cologne, does not represent just an artist brand, but it is also and basically my artistic program.
Agricola is a real name which is listed in my passport. In fact, Agricola represents the Latin word for the German “Bauer” or English “farmer”, but in Renaissance times educated people changed not only in Germany often their family names into a Latin as Latin was the language of the educated people, there exist numerous humanists, philosophers and painters by name of Agricola. At the high school, I learned ancient languages like Latin and Greek, and I have a close connection to the Greek philosophy and the humanism. So, Agricola stands for the humanist and humanitarian ideas behind my artistic work, Cologne is not just the place where I live since 25 years. Founded by the Romans, the city is more than 2000 years old and was during the centuries until these days always an important centre for the arts.- Cologne nowadays, stands basically also for the city of the media, it is hosting a very important film industry, most TV stations in Europe are located here and it is an important place for art and media, think of the famous media art academy KHM. So, Cologne is standing for awareness for history and but also the future. – in concern of art and Media. Combine “Agricola and de Cologne!”, then you have an artist brand based on a certain program as it is manifesting itself through my art working. Indeed, the brand “Agricola de Cologne” is existing only since the year 2000, before that my name was just Agricola. In fact, it was this virtual existence and the possibility to use the virtual environment of the Internet as the basis for experimental artistic creations which let me survive after the traumatic breakdown before 2000.
Seth Thompson interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Interview with Agricola de Cologne
By Seth Thompson (Wigged.net)
In March 2006, Seth Thompson from Wigged.net
made an interview with Agricola de Cologne which was planned to be the basis for the article
RECONFIGURING THE SYSTEM: RTMARK & AGRICOLA DE COLOGNE
By Seth Thompson
Originally printed in the July-September 2006 issue of Afterimage
Since you began creating Internet based work, which project has had the most meaning for you and why?
For a better understanding it is good to know that all projects I ever realized Internet based (i.e. since 2000) stand in the context of a superordinated whole in form of [NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne, a project which is basically a hybrid between and art project, a curatorial and research project, an virtual and physical network and consequently not to be undervaluated, a social context, as well, and it may even take shape of something else which is not thought, yet.
For a non-initiated, the variety of aspects and the diversity of projects realized in this global context
may be looking confusing, especially because the social aspect has a complexity of facets in form of collaborating, participating and networking on different levels.
By facing this, it may become obvious, that the projects which seem to be realized individually or even separately, stand in fact, and got a specific meaning in this global and very dynamic social context,
and above that potentially in one or more subordinated contexts, in addition.
Not all of the projects have a key function, of course, but they might also not replaced or removed
since my working context is based on evolutionary processes, and even the smallest work
represents a relevant result of a creative process, and may form the basis for something new.
One psychological condition for this kind of working may be seen in the variety of my personal talents and abilities, whether art or non-art related, which mostly cannot manifest themselves in just one single art work, but many different art works and contexts, and in fact best through the entire networking context of the superordinated whole.
Coming to the point of the question, I think this all encompassing whole has the most meaning,
even if there is no real alternative which might have more or less meaning.
The alternative might only be facing single projects, but all of them spotlight only partial aspects and are more or less equally meaningful from my point of view.
This does not exclude, that I would not have one or the other favourite project.
A very special project represents the “Family Portrait” http://familyportrait.engad.org
which received 2005 the Mosaica Award on the theme” Jews and Diaspora” – www.mosaica.ca.
This Internet based multi-media work is portraying several generations of the Jewish family Partnoy,
which had a typical diasporadic course of life.
I met the main protagonist Raquel once via the Internet and during the years we were working together on this project a remarkable intimate relation developed, as it normally happens only among very good friends, but I never met her, nor any other family member ever in person.
This project is as Internet specific and as human as it can be, it is far from any anonymity and meaninglessness, but most personal and very touching.
It represents a type of Internet based work which I would wish more projects of that kind would exist,
as it is transporting important messages of human existence through the technologized net.
The project was completed especially for the MOSAICA Award, but the substantial exchange with Raquel via the net is still ongoing.
How do you measure success with your online projects?
How does an artist measures success, at all?
For some, only the material component counts, how many works are sold for the best price,
to receive the best ranking on the market etc.
For some other artists , success means the realisation of certain visions or utopias, so basically
the immaterial counts. And between these extremes many other positions can be found.
The Internet cannot be compared with the physical world, as it is not simply its simulation.
In concern of the situation of an (Internet based working) artist, there does not exist a market, yet (probably it will never exist) and besides some individual exceptions, the material, .i.e. making money directly through the Internet based art working, does not play any relevant role for measuring success. So, success has to be measured differently, then.
For being successful with Internet based art, one has to recognize first, besides the technological and some other aspects, the Internet represents basically a social context through linking, exchanging, communicating with other people, being part of a community, creating an audience, all this produces completely different conditions for an artistic working and for measuring success, chances which are not commercially orientated.
In the physical world, it is basically not the artist himself, who is creating actively the context for his professional success, but mediators like galleries, curators . museums etc. determine mostly the course of an artistic career.
Of course, the Internet is not completely innocent, but there does not exist one clear hierarchic and dogmatic system, but a lot of options asking for communicating, collaborating and networking and what is resulting from this.
How successful, I have been in this concern of creating such social contexts and my specific audience, can be simply proved through the very extended activities themselves, the quantity and quality of the realized projects & collaborating instances and the way how people show their confidence by collaborating during many years, speak for themselves..
The excellent results of the site statistics underline that impressively. In return, the quantity of projects I am realizing is also indicating that what I am doing has to be successful, otherwise, I would do not do it.
This described success again forms the basis for a lot of resulting consequences.
My projects and my person as such do not act just within this gigantic, but anyway limited framework, but through collaborations and networking I am present in many external social contexts, as well.
I am participating in numerous festivals around the globe, where not all, but really many of my projects are presented.
A participation can be measured already as a certain success, but if a work is participating in countless festivals or was involved in numerous media art exhibitions and the best venues over a longer period, for instance, like some works do, considering success may get another dimension,
although this certainly would not automatically indicate also extraordinary quality, but mostly it does, of course.
I am increasingly invited to be presented in smaller or bigger (physical) media art exhibitions,
to curate, consult, hold lectures etc and I receive fees for these kind of activities, and this way, I am able to earn my living through my art working not directly via selling, for instance, but indirectly.
For me personally, exactly this means probably the most success, while facing how I started once without any money and only a vague (not even artistic) idea.
This again gives me the freedom and independence to act the way I do. A privilege and another success in the totality.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
“hope” would take for granted, that a conception or plan would exist facing concrete goals or probably even final results. But it does not.
By considering, how I started in 2000 an experiment from point zero, and facing now in 2006 what is currently visible as an intermediate result of all those activities, I initiated during these years,
for me it is rather question, what might be the future perspectives based on what I have accomplished already.
The way how I work is following evolutionary processes, the life concept of internal structures
rather than strict intellectual concepts, which in the end cannot be realized and do not succeed. It is no way of “l’art pour l’art”.
Working this way, means also analysing continuously the field of activity, i.e. the Internet, and adjust and correct positions and perceptions when needed.
What did I accomplish already? What is perceivable? A confusing construction named [NewmediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne,
a dynamic network including countless projects, artists, curators, institutions and organisations,
without them my comprehensive work would not exist.
Its value speaks actually for itself, not only due to its qualitative and quantitative substance.
It does not only show what I was able to do, but basically also how all those involved networking instances estimate
what I am doing, otherwise they would not have joint and remained for so long time.
But it may be estimated even higher, as anybody involved is taking part on a volontarian basis without any direct material benefit, for instance by receiving a fee.
Who ever could have expected something like that, such a strong social context, and above related to art!
While facing this, my position nowadays is profoundly different than at the start, of course,
and it is really the question in which direction can this networking construction develop further on.
Through the increasing relevance, also the kind of responsibility, I am automatically taking, changes whether I want it or not, and consequently also the structures of the project as a whole and subordinated projects to be realized change.
Regarding the perspectives, “hope” would be the wrong term again, as it would take for granted I might know now the direction of development which would be the best to be followed. But I still do not.
Hope would produce expectations and consequently pressure, which would have generally rather a counterproductive effect.
In fact, I am glad, that I recognized in time, that any form of institutionalization, i.e. the development into an new direction by covering the project with an ideological, inflexible and dogmatic concept, would destroy the unique informal character of an art project, this superordinated whole of the [NewMediaArtProjectNetwork]:||cologne is representing. By excluding this option, this perception might be also the key for anything following. So, I would say, let’s be surprised what will come next.
Isabel Aranda Yto interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Interview with Agricola de Cologne by Seth Thompson
Jeremy Hight Interviews Wilfried Agricola de Cologne
Interview with Agricola de cologne
By Jeremy Hight (binary catwalks)
Agricola de Cologne Moving Picture Collection
an interview with Agricola de Cologne
by Jeremy Hight (July 2005)
1. who are your influences?
Most influence had my parents because they always encouraged me to become and to be an
artist. For me as a very reflecting person already from a child, it was actually my experiences in
life, forcing me to find during all the years continuously new survival strategies ,
which caused reflecting and the need to transform the results or processes of reflecting
into actions or documents of art.
My kind of working, respectively the way of representing is strongly influenced by certain
naturally born characteristics of mine, i.e. to express myself via a metaphorical language, which turns situations, things, persons etc into symbols of a specific meaning and “encodes” them this way, resulting a kind of allegorical representation like its principle is also known from 15-17th century
In contrary to this old art, which was based on a clearly defined and fixed pictorial language and terminology, my pictorial language is in its actual sense no language, because it uses metaphors which have a specific meaning only in a specific, but beyond that, in no other work or context,
Each work is individually “encoded”, and for each work the viewer has to find the proper
“code” for being able to decipher, decode, interpret and follow the course of the narrative.
This type of allegorical representation is used in my work “En [code]ed”, for instance.
2. What about new media tools draws to utilize them in your work?
In first place, I use exclusively digital computer based components.
Everything belongs to New Media from its substance, but I use actually only a few tools
as the type of components are also only few.
My computer is a PC, minDV and a digital photo camera deliver the digital image & video
material, and for the rest I use specific software, basically Adobe Photoshop for image
processing, Adobe Premiere for video processing, the sound processing uses Soundforge
software, and for animation, the general project development and the integration and
composition of different media I use the Flash software environment. The use of Flash has
in the case of “En [code] ed” a very special meaning, as it allows to program the work in
a non-linear way. This special “encoding” has not only particular relevance in concern of
the general conception of the work, but basically also of optimizing it for the online
presence and streaming.
3. What layers of correlation do you see between “code” and
data, programming, social structures, language and narrative?
Firstly, can be stated that the mentioned terms can be defined as “code based”, in so far
the correlation is generally given, further starting with “data”- and ending with
“narrative” there is a line from the “objective” to the “subjective”, which may give also
an idea of the general problem of “code”, as there is not one single universal code which
would serve as a key for the understanding of anything being.
The digital code can be generally defined as “objective” code, as the coding, encoding and
decoding are exactly defined.
It is more difficult to face “code” in the analogue field, as it is mostly less obvious.
The type of code as it can be found in “social structures” is principally different from
the digital code, because in this case neither the code, nor encoding and decoding can be
exactly defined , but even from a more scientific (more objective) point of view, there
are different ways of decoding and interpreting, because there are different options to
define the code. The more the field (or term see above) to be viewed turns to the
“subjective”, the more options exist, and the last term on the line, ie. “narrative”,
represents the most “subjective” one – the more it becomes difficult to give an objective
interpretation, at all. The “narrative” incorporates already too many types of codes
implanted by the “narrator”, and countless more by facing all the readers( viewers, users)
who follow the narrative, as each of them follows the course of the narrative from a
personal and individual point of view and decodes, deciphers or interprets the encoded
contents individually. So, in the most extreme case, countless interpretations of the
“encoded” might be possible. My work is visualizing this.
4. Your title…how many resonances of encoding do you see it referencing?
The title already points to the meaning and function of “code” in the context, generally
and not just in this work. The code lies protected as the basic condition in the centre of the work and the viewer has to search for it. This can easily be done concerning the form of the title, but difficult in concern of its contents, as in a figurative sense the viewer has to dive deeply into the complex work.
Not even for me, who created the work and viewed it more times than everybody else, is it
possible to say how many resonances would exist, as neither the programming of the work
nor its narrative follow a linear, but non-linear course, consisting of components which
even all may have a different type of encoding.
5. What interplay and tension do you see between filmic language, flash
animation, and static image interplay in terms of subtext and concept?
In the concept of the work, two movements play a basic role, i.e. the movement of the
narrative which describes the turn from the objective to the subjective and at the end of
the work also the reverse, and the visualisation of the function and purpose of a code and the process of encoding, which does exactly the contrary – the turn from the subjective to the objective, and has
the reverse, the decoding, the re-subjectivation as a basic condition already incorporated.
The filmic language is only able to deal with this controversy between both positions in
a non-linear way, and the non-linear programming of the Flash animation forms the formal basis and
equivalent for that. The static image or better the space it is showing, forms the scenery of this controversy, makes space available, but in the sense of the controversy it undergoes also the process of alienation and subjectivation starting from an objective type of space to a systematically deformed one via continuously new appearing filmic elements.
The film has actually no real end, but the end represents rather a kind of new beginning,
as the work itself turned into a code for what will come.
6. Your work is visually stunning as well as layered; what layer of reading and resonance do you see in the beauty in tandem with the fragmentation and narrative elements?
You ask me question, which is addressed actually to somebody who has more distance to the
work than me as its creator. Not all works of mine use an allegorical representation, but a principle for those who do, is always to find extraordinary aesthetical solutions, showing beauty in different concern
in order to invite the viewer and give him a key for an easier access to the otherwise complicated seeming work.
The function of “beauty” can be defined as “code”, it does, however, not represent a general key,
but only the key to what is following next in the narrative.
7. What schools of art are you most influenced by ?
Of course, there is no artist who is not influenced by certain art schools whether contemporary or historical.
I do not feel influenced by any contemporary art school nowadays, because I am looking for the experiment, the unknown, the future, my future, not only in the contents, but basically also in the kind of representation, in any concern.
Of course, there is no future without referring to Present and Past, but as I stated earlier already, my life experiences took the part of an influencing instance and the competence on many also not art related fields.
When I studied art, the academy was rather old fashioned and the artistic concept behind
hardly definable. The workshops, however, were excellent and represented good places for learning the craft.
For a person like me who was always an individualist, this lack of conceptual substance was not bad at all, as I was forced to look for a place where I belong to in terms of art, elsewhere, inside of me.
After a turbulent course of life, I am, since I started in 2000 working exclusively with New Media,
for the first time in my professional life content with what I am doing, and what I am doing incorporates from my point of view wonderful perspectives in most different ways.
Finally, I would not like to forget to mention,
that ancient Greek philosophy which became in Renaissance times also the basis for “humanism”
(I learned at the high school ancient languages) has generally a strong lasting influence
on anything I am doing and particularly in art. One can see in that also the intellectual
basis for the type of allegorical representation, I am dealing with, like it is used in
“En[code]ed”. The humanist ideas and humanitarian contexts manifest themselves in really
many art works and art related activities.
8. how do spaces between and empty spaces play into narrative?
Talking about specific types of “space”, one has to recognise that “space” plays a general
key role in the aesthetical development and determines fundamentally the course and speed
of narrative via a progressive deformation, so “space” represents a basic code for the narrative of the work. “Space” becomes a metaphor for “non-linear” time and the “unexpected”.
In fact, the objective space, as it is shown on the first frame does not change at all until the last frame, it is the perception of space that changes until the end of the film to the extreme subjective.
The narrative is taking place in the “internal” and the visible space is internal space, as a psychological condition different types of “space” appear and vanish as filmic elements and tools to speed up and slow down motion. The spaces between offer the viewer new “stages” as starting points for exploring the narrative from another point of view and speed up the race between the narrator and the viewer. Empty “space” – spiritual “space” – forms a kind of regulative which is slowing down the speed.
“en [code] ed”
digital video created in Flash by media artist Agricola de Cologne,
inspired by a visit of Thessaloniki.
The work describes the principle of “code” or “coding” in form of an allegory, a metaphoric story
as a ritual of meeting, dominating and resigning. The code is identified as a state of the static, dogmatic and conservative, which asks for obedience, but gives no chance to escape.
In technological concern, the work is non-linear programmed in Flash and integrates different digital media, created, modified and remixed by the artist.
Voice and sound performance by Agricola de Cologne.
The movie is edited, directed and produced by Agricola de Cologne.
vidéo numérique créée dans le flash par l’artiste des médias nouveaux Agricola De Cologne, inspirée par une visite de Thessaloniki.
Le travail décrit le principe du “code” ou du “codage” sous la forme d’une allégorie, une histoire metaphoric comme rituel de la réunion, dominant et démissionnant. Le code est identifié comme état du statique, dogmatique et conservateur, qui demande l’obéissance, mais ne donne aucune chance de s’échapper. Dans le souci technologique, le travail est non linéaire programmé dans le flash et intègre différents médias numériques, créé, modifié et remélangé par l’artiste.
Exécution de voix et de bruit par Agricola De Cologne. Le film est édité, dirigé et produit par Agricola De Cologne.
vídeo digital creado en flash por el artista Agricola de Cologne de los medios, inspirada por una visita de Thessaloniki. El trabajo describe el principio del “código” o “codificación” en forma de una alegoría, una historia metaphoric como ritual de la reunión, dominando y dimitiendo. El código se identifica como estado el del estático, dogmático y conservador, que pide obediencia, pero no da ninguna ocasión de escaparse. En la preocupación tecnológica, el trabajo es no linear programado en flash e integra diversos medios digitales, creado, modificado y remezclado por el artista. Funcionamiento de la voz y del sonido por Agricola de Cologne.
La película es corregida, dirigida y producida por Agricola de Cologne.
In 2003, the video was created, programmed and produced non-linear in Flash for the Internet streaming online as version I.
In 2007, the video was reconstructed, reproduced and reprogrammed and released as a linear digital video as version II.
Year of production: v.1 2003, v.2 2007 Duration: v.1 5:40 , v.2. 5:30
Format : v.1 Flash/html , v.2. video PAL Aspect ratio: v.2 4:3
Sound: yes Colour: yes
Exhibition format: Internet, CD-Rom DVD , miniDV (PAL)
Director, producer, editor, script/concept, cinematography, programming, sound/music
Agricola de Cologne
Digital Subjects – Fonlad Coimbra/Portugal 2007
Fonlad – Digital Art Festival Bissaya Barreto’s Foundation Coimbra/Portugal 2006
Digital Art Festival – Museum of Contemporary Art Maracaibo/Venezuela 2005
Cyberpoem 2.1 Festival Barcelona/Spain 2005
Videoformes International Video & New Media Art Festival Clermont-Ferrand (France) 2005
Binary Katwalk – Binarykatwalk.net 2005
Digital Art Festival Havanna/Cuba 2004
FILE – Electronic Language Festival – Sao Paulo/Brazil – 23 Nov – 12 Dec 2004
AVANCA – Festival for Video and Multimedia (Portugal) 21-25 July 2004
MAEM 2003 – Electronic Art Festival Mostoles -Madrid (Spain) – 4/5 November 2004
Feria Estampa Madrid (Spain) –>MAEM – 26-30 November 2003
Centro de Arte Moderno Madrid (Spain) 2003
Version I – Copyright © 2003 by Agricola de Cologne. All rights reserved.
Version II – Copyright © 2007 By Agricola de Cologne. All rights reserved.
Polvo Magazine Chicago
Polvo: Tell us the history behind the New Media Art Project Network and its projects with the JAVA Museum.
Agricola de Cologne: To describe the history in a few words is complex. The project was started in January 2000. For a better understanding of why I
began focusing on new media art, and to learn more about the project called [NewMediaArtprojectNetwork]:||cologne, visit this link–>
From the beginning, it was an experimentation with dynamic structures which would allow me to engage myself with all my art related talents. It was never my intention to use the Internet for commercial purposes, for instance, not even for creating art related Internet portals, as there exists a lot of them. Rather, I was interested in finding my specific way of Internet art working via communicating and networking, and by developing my own language for complex net based multi-media works, and all of this, of course, is an ongoing process.
As an experimental platform for net based art, [NewMediaArtprojectNetwork]:||cologne represents a dynamic experimenting and networking structure, and also a kind of gigantic virtual sculpture. It holds the framework for a number of corporate networking sites or art projects in which I practice experimenting and networking in a variety of functions. Examples of these corporate components are: A Virtual Memorial (www.a-virtual-memorial.org), Violence Online Festival (www.newmediafest.org/violence/) le Musee di-visioniste (www.le-musee- divisionsite.org) and others. Finally the project functions as a framework for internal and external networking with physical institutions, organizations, professionals and artists.
JavaMuseum -Forum for Internet Technologies in Contemporary Art (www.javamuseum.org) belongs to this experimental enterprise as a corporate
part. It functions simultaneously as an art work, as well as, a kind of simulation of a physical instance (museum). In the beginning stages, it was not clear what direction the work on JavaMuseum would develop, because at that point, it was unclear what the dimensions of net based art were. So, this was then the basis for developing long and short term structures, such as organizing an annual competition, which honored outstanding net based artists. Later in 2002, JavaMuseum started a series of showcases featuring net based art and artists from different cultural regions on the globe in order to get a kind of overview over what net based art might represent.
JavaMuseum has published netart from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, and the UK. It features art from Northern European countries. Eastern European countries, the USA, and Asia are soon to follow later in 2004 and 2005. Through these various enterprises it became evident that net based art is redefining contemporary mainstream art, and not simply through “interactivity”.
Polvo: With your work history of having organized many exhibits in the physical realm, how has your curatorial practice transformed or been modified within cyber space, in particular, the results of your NetArt exhibition series?
Agricola de Cologne: A curated exhibition at a physical location is an environment where art works are embedded in. Space is never neutral. It always has an influence on the sensual perception of an art work. There are different curatorial positions, to reduce or enforce the influence of physical space on the art work. For instance, virtual space of a website displayed on a computer screen, in front of an online user, has such small dimensions that it is difficult to create a spatial situation in relationship to the viewer. Not even a 3-D simulation would bring the desired effect. In the curatorial process of web art, often the virtual space is filled with links, listings and information about the artist and his work. This is not necessarily the solution, because the virtual space looses much relevance as a curatorial component. When I am curating exhibitions of net based art, my position is completely different, as I create specific exhibition space which can be used as a curatorial component. This space defines very clearly that the visitor is entering an art space based on my personal subjective curatorial view on art and artists, and that I take a special responsibility for both. The online exhibition as a curatorial art work has communication as a basic element and represents a real Internet specific way of curating. Such a curator, must have more skills than simply being able to select a group of art works, but also be able to create curatorial space in order to communicate with the visitor/user, and simultaneously be a real mediator between the art and viewer.
Polvo: Why is it important to promote net based artists with online exhibitions or projects?
Agricola de Cologne: In the first place, net based art needs promotion because its location, the Internet, is not yet widely accepted as a serious environment for contemporary art. The more opportunities for online shows, collective, participatory projects, and the promotion of these artists, the more likely they will gain acceptance from a larger audience, and the general art scene. It is easy for a single art work to be lost in the gigantic virtual space which is continuously expanding. Online exhibitions that function in a community with other works and artists, collaboratively, and utilize ,promotion can be successful. These exhibitions can also enforce communication, the basic element of the Internet.
Polvo: Within the New media genre, what are the needs of support for net based artists? Funding sources, education, etc…?
Agricola de Cologne: Actually I am not the right person to talk about the
needs for funding art. I do not know the answer in relation to net art. I am in an advanced age and have my own philosophy of working, in which funding or support do not play an essential role. I am independent from the structures which funding or support represent, as one has to follow certain rules. In this way, I only create projects which can be realized without any funding. This enforces creativity and allows us to think in varied directions. When I receive funding I see it as a welcome addition, but not as a condition to start a project or work. In principle, the structures of funding, the art market, but also education are more conservative, and these structures determine the rules.
Polvo: What are your thoughts about the development of net based art work or New Media genre in other countries outside of Western Europe and United States?
Agricola de Cologne: Although I think I have good overview, I am far from estimating the situation in all its dimensions, so, it is difficult to make
a general statement. Net based art is principally dependent on technology for its general acceptance. In the rich Western countries, this acceptance,
is not really advanced yet. There are many stereotypes and often a principle misunderstanding exists –>net based art would be identical with some
Internet related design aspects, on one hand, but on the other hand that any Internet related activity has mainly commercial and economical components. The Internet is not recognized as an art environment.
The Internet is based on communicating, and an essential aspect of net based art is communication. In Eastern Europe, for instance, people are not
accustomed to communicate, as it was forbidden for decades during the Communist dictatorships. Another major problem represents language, as
English represents the basic language of programming and the Internet related technologies. So, the conditions for practicing net based art
outside of the Western or English (language) dominated countries, are really difficult.
What can be observed, however, is that many net based artists are active in Latin American countries. The idea of being part of one world in the global
context, are stronger developed than in other parts of the world. Also, the fact that many emigrants from Europe are living there, probably plays a
Polvo: With your own artistic practice, do you see these curatorial projects as a part of it? What are you currently working on or developing at the moment?
Agricola de Cologne: Yes, from what I described in my previous answers, it becomes evident that my curatorial projects are definitely a specific part
of my art working –>”networking”.
Currently I am working on another very experimental project – which practices “networking as art working” – the global networking project
[R][R][F] 2004 [Remembering-Repressing-Forgetting] – www.newmediafest.org/rrf2004, which, beginning in March 2004, will be at the
National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucaresti / Romania (www.mnac.ro), the Bergen Center for Electronic Arts Bergen/Norway (www.bek.no), the NewMedia Art Festival Bangkok/Thailand (http://thailand.culturebase.org), and will be developing and operating until the end of 2004. The exchange between virtual and physical space becomes more relevant in my current and future art related working.
Polvo: On behalf of Polvo, thank you again for participating with this interview!
Agricola de Cologne: Thank you for the opportunity to explain some aspects of my work in detail.
Agricola de Cologne, is a virtual instance, a multidisciplinary media artist and creator and founder of NewMediaArtProjectNetwork. As an artist, he has
had more than 100 solo exhibitions in cooperation with more than 70 museums throughout Europe. As a curator he has organized several cultural projects in Europe between 1989 and 1994. Since 2001, he has founded and run net based New Media projects of NewMediaArtProjectNetwork. He is participating in a variety of media exhibitions and festivals around the globe with his online and offline multi-media works. His net based works have received several prizes.
A Virtual Memorial
le Musee di-visioniste
Engaged Art Directory
Agricola de Cologne Moving Picture Collection
Violence Online Festival
Agricola de Cologne site
Evelyn Rogue interviews Agricola de Cologne
Evelyn Rogue interviews Agricola de Cologne 2003
These are the 10 questions:
You started working on digital art following a personal traumatic event that was, in a way, linked to ‘traditional’ visual art. Is this break definitive and total? How much of your past has come with you in your new artistic life?
The break is and was profound, currently totally, but I do not think definitely, as nobody can foresee what will come. Any physical art has lost it actual meaning it is just like a relict from ancient times. But actually the inability does not make me feel really happy, as this break seems to be rather a kind of blockage I have no influence on. It is very likely that sometimes this temporary break will vanish. But I do not know whether it will happen, nor when, and how the new situation would be like.
As the trauma, your were talking about, did not produce a kind of amnesia, all my Past came with me in my new life, hidden as a kind of data base, however, it has a different meaning than it had before. From the structures of my being I changed so far, as I perceive anything clearer and sharper than before, and I continuously wonder if I actually like the human society as such.
The different meaning of the Past, however, produces also continuously problems. My feelings and my visions also in a philosophical sense did not change, my deep sympathy for suffering and repressed people, the strong social component, which became even much stronger in my new life, also as a kind of reaction of my traumatic experiences.
But nearly anything connected to the “physical” past seems to be lost forever. It is difficult to explain.
Changing not only your approach to artistic creation, in terms of media and tools, but also your name, your identity, you created a sort of avatar for yourself. How important is for an artist the chance to be virtually anybody, to start all over again from zero?
I can speak only for myself. It is really a hard decision to start from point zero, physically and psychologically. It was a long process until I recognized that there is a way to work as an artist again, and a high risk to start the experiment and not knowing wither this experiment would succeed or not.
When you are twenty, the future lays in front of you, when you are nearly 50 like I was, how can future look like, if there is any. For me it was only possible to start again as an artist from a virtual position and a virtual identity, as this was a much more secure level than the physical one. But for me it was one way, to define myself again and in a new way, and above all as a kind of experiment. At the time, I chose this way, I did not know yet whether I would actually like to return to the physical world, in an artistic but also existential sense.
How does it was, practically, the passing from ‘traditional’ to ‘digital’? Was it hard to learn using the tools of the digital artist?
Passage from one level to another would be a wrong idea, as the break from the “traditional” took place, when the new level of “digital” was not thought about, at all. But it was not hard nor produced any problems. It was a big surprise how the digital structures corresponded to the internal structures of mine, and how easy it was to handle anything in the new “digital” field.
Everything seemed to be so easy that I had not to learn anything, I did it simply. However, it was this way, when I found out that my artistic future would be in the digital field, that I am rather and too much an artist than a programmer.
In a interview you gave to Seth Thompson on January 2003, you say “Agricola de Cologne is a ‘brand’ (…)”. What are your thoughts about globalization and the no-global scene? What’s your idea of brands, copyright and freedom of expression in the electronic era?
Of course, it is a difference whether an artist or a commercial company uses a brand. In my case, the brand contains a lot of information about my artistic background and philosophy.
My name as a brand, has certainly a completely different meaning than the brand of a mayor company. My brand has rather a philosophical meaning, but also in the sense of a brand the creating of a corporate identity, my specific way of thinking, my specific way to approach art, my specific way to see the world and how I transform my individual visions into art . My brand is my artistic program.
I think as a term, globalization describes a process which is neither positive, nor negative. However, mostly this term is used from ideological points of view, and depending on the respective ideology it is positive or negative. The way how globally acting companies try to dominate economy in the third world countries and exploit the natural resources in these countries belong the worst examples of globalization, but there are countless positive ones.. Personally, I see many chances in the globalization, the Internet has a big share, however when people follow the way of the globalization, they have to take also global responsibility.
I know you do not like categories and categorization when talking about art, but don’t you think this time we need something to start with while trying to draw a map of the digital art scene? Talking about this topic, do you agree that the term net.art has won the race? [see in particular the text: ‘Net art, web art, online art, net.art?’ by Andreas Brogger – http://www.afsnitp.dk/onoff/Texts/printerfriendly/broggernetart,we.html]
First, there is no binding definition, at all, what “netart” represents. It would be also stupid to look for one, as the media develop so fast and so the entire environment does.
So, what has to be defined in a new way, is art, as such, as the new electronic media go far beyond anything the traditional definitions of art allow. But this will take a lot of time, until everybody accepts the new way of art.
You are right, I do not like categories. When I use “netart” then only as an abbreviation for the term I more frequently use “Internet based art”, as this defines exactly the respective field this art genre belongs to.
In your text ‘A Memorial as a process – A Model of the world’ [link will go here] you say about ‘A Living Memorial’: “The fast increasing volume of the project makes it nearly impossible to judge what comes exclusively from the author and what are collaborative elements and what is definitely the work of an external participant.” How important is the role of the user, the consumer of an artwork? Is the user the final artist?
First, art does not exist autonomously. Art is a phenomenon which is connected to the human existence. No human, no art.
Art was and is a certain form of communicating, between the artist and an audience the art work is addressed to. The art work which cannot be perceived by any human individual, does not exist at all, even if it is physically present anywhere on our globe.
Much more than the viewer of physical art, has the user in virtual art a key position. In first place it is him who switches the computer on or not. No user, no Internet, no net based art. While the viewer of tradition art has mostly rather a passive or inactive position, the user has to become active before he can deal with anything on the net. Interactive works enforce this active status, which means that the user uses the material which is offered by an author (of any kind).
The same is good, in case the author is an artist. The artist has to accept that he is only a kind of mediator who offers options or possibilities in order to motivate and activate the user.
The user will remain the user, even if he has to be creative as well, but the artist remains the artist as he is the creator of the concept. The position of the traditional artist is actually the same. Only the view on art and artists changed during the times. Artist and user are bound to form a kind of network.
Even if now and then there are attempts erase individual authorship completely, in case of an artwork the result is mostly just irrelevant, not more than an experiment which confirms, that the right on a work is always connected with taking responsibility. No authorship, no responsibility, but also mo motivation.
You are at the Venice Biennale’s 50th International Art Exhibition with your ‘Wandering Library Project’. What’s the project about? What you think about the proliferation of events as the Venice Biennale (see the brand new Prague Biennale)?
Yes, I participate with a small object, by the way . The idea behind the “wandering library project” by Doron Polak is and was to point on one hand to the founder of book printing in Europe Gutenberg and point to the meaning of printed books in the time of New Media and the problems how to preserve intellectual property.
My object has the title the book of violence and refers to violence against the spoken and printed word, also connected to the structural problem caused by the digital media. And this object is the second example of a physical art work, I created since 1998.
Actually, I do not like events like Documenta in Kassel or Biennale in Venice. But from the point of view of a visitor, such a kind of events offer the chance to be confronted with art and artists they would normally never confronted with, even if sometime the artistic or curatorial quality is really missed.
Yes, there is an inflation of gigantic art events, and this is really a wrong development, as all financial public and private funding focus on such kind of events. Smaller initiatives or artists’ initiatives have really lost any chance.
In December 1997 in an article called ‘The Artist of the Future Is a Technologist’, Steven Holtzman says: “[digital sensory experiences of the future] are already being created in research labs – elaborate virtual worlds powered with half a million dollars’ worth of reality engines. Ten years from now, we’ll experience the same on the Web, and it will really knock our socks off.” [WIRED 5.12 – page 257] Three years divide us from the ‘ten years’ date predicted, do you think the Web has taken that kind of direction?
No. I do not think so, also because only a minority of people on the globe participate in the new technological possibilities. In addition, while facing how many people who are nowadays in power in culture and art and many other fields are still afraid, and this way against technology and technological progress, I believe the web will never take such a direction, also because it basically commercially driven.
You have been the curator for many net.art exhibitions, what’s your approach to this kind of curatorship? Is there around a new generation of ‘net.curators’?
I do not know, whether there is a new generation of “net.curators” (what’s that actually). Most people who are busy in this field have either no idea about technology or if they have no idea of art, or if they have both they are blinded by a certain ideology. While there are certain aesthetical measure in physical art, in virtual art the aesthetic cannot be measured., as each of the numerous technologies produces it own aesthetics which cannot compared with each other.
My curating is not based on a certain ideology, but depends always on the concept of the respective project to be curated. Sometimes it makes even sense, to accept each submission and let the user make the choice about the position and quality of the participating works.
My work, curatorial, as well as artistic is always addressed to the audience. However, it does not mean, by any means, I would follow the taste of the audience, as I do not know the audience, nor its taste. The curator in Internet is not principally different from the one who is active in physical space. The Internet curator has to deal with virtual space, respective the space which is available on a computer screen, the other curator with physical space. The kind of space is different, but both need to be designed, the type of artwork to be curated on the net cannot be compared with the physical work. It is also not sufficient to list just some links as it happens in many cases.
Talking technical, you said that your favourite software is Flash (Macromedia Flash). Do you write the code (actionscript) yourself? What’s your favourite version of that software? Do you collect previous versions of software as an old brush, or a (physical) palette?
It really depends on what is more effective. Mostly I write my actionscript by myself, sometimes I take one from online resources.
I started with Version 4.0 of Flash and have since then all original software versions. However, I like most, the latest version ; Flash MX.
soundtoys by STANZA
Interview yourself on Plagiarist