Contemporary Art @ Boğaziçi - Interview Project, 2010


Alper Güngörmüşler,

I have a special interest in Computer Art. That probably is why I have chosen a Net Artist to interview with. Even though I only communicated him via e-mail, I surely can say that Andy Deck is a friendly and intimate person. Since he has taught in -my hometown- Izmir before, we could talk about many interesting issues going on in Turkey. He also inspired me about programming and creating new ideas especially in such interactive works. I am glad to know him and follow his works closely from now on. Andy Deck is a media artist who lives in New York. He interrupts regular network programming to announce a general sociocultural emergency in progress. His aesthetic program seeks a cultural break from the modernization of passive consumerism. Applying techniques of détournement, parody, and defamiliarization, he engages both the politics and semantics of interactivity. Combining code, text, and image, he demonstrates new patterns of participation and control that distinguish online presence and representation from previous artistic practices. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and New York University, presently teaches in the School of Art at Hartford University and in the graduate program at the School of Visual Arts.

Alper Güngörmüşler: First of all, could you please tell me a bit about your background? What was the inspiration for you to choose the path to be a Net Artist?
Andy Deck:
In college, I began writing software to represent aspects of my painting process that were inaccessible in a static painted image. From there I began making short films, except that I was using a pen-like digital input device and experimental software. There was no film involved and that was one reason I began to distribute my work online. Because the physical copy of the work I was doing in that era was unsatisfactory (video tape), I became interested in the possibility of sending clearer digital versions of the work directly over the Internet.

Alper Güngörmüşler: As one can see, you really are interested in creating interactive networks in your pieces such as Screening Circle and Open Studio. What makes this concept so attractive to you?
Andy Deck: In the period when I was finding my creative path using computers in art, before the World Wide Web, my work was digital but painterly, inspired mostly by modernist artists. I was initially intrigued by l'image de synthese, but working with the early 3D animation packages drudgery. Besides, at a visual level, I was more drawn to a lo-fi aesthetic, informed by what so-called "computer artists" had been doing since the 1950s. Then a strange thing happened on the way to my new dematerialized medium. For a variety of reasons, some of which have been well articulated by Walter Benjamin, I began to think of my work not only as a visual practice, but also in terms of concepts and politics. Rosalind Krauss has written about the aesthetics of narcissism in video art. As I surveyed what others were doing with computers in the arts, I think I sensed a similar disengagement. While some made obtuse reproductions of Mondrian paintings with software, and others churned out vaguely surrealistic digital photo compositions, I didn't want to recycle hackneyed modes of art and artist roles. I wanted to make art that had not been possible before and that reflected contemporary social circumstances. Rather than pursuing a formalist practice inflected with random numbers - an ethereal algorithmic sublime - I saw before me a dawning potential to let other people act as unpredictable elements in my creative practice, using structures of social power as a point of departure rather than mathematics.

Alper Güngörmüşler: One other thing which attracts my attention is that you use Java in almost every pieces of yours. Do you consider using any other languages? If not, what are the main advantages of developing projects using Java?
Andy Deck: Actually I have used a wide variety of languages; Java is just one of many. When deciding which languages to use I am most concerned with two things: the technical accessibility of the work produced, and the way my use of tools and languages contributes to what might be called the "software ecosystem". Open source software is the foundation of my work, so I don't like using software like Flash that is corporately controlled and often poorly supported under free, open source operating systems. With online media, it's difficult to avoid dominant technologies like Windows and Flash, but that is what I try to do because I think there's virtue in resisting the seductive tyranny of corporate software.

Alper Güngörmüşler: Looking over your quite new project, AntiWar404, I can say that you are not only an artist but also an activist. Could you give some more information about this project?
Andy Deck: I've been unimpressed with the justifications for war that have been marshaled by a series of American presidents dating back to my childhood. So it is no surprise that I've used online media to inveigh against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of other people have, too. American establishment media consistently underestimated the scale of the anti-war rallies that took place in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Fortunately independent media has been an important counter-balance, informing people and exposing the public to sentiments missing in the corporate media. Without the explosion of independent media activity in the past decade, the scope of the wars could have been even worse. That is why, as I've seen the many online projects disappearing one after another, I felt it would be a good idea to memorialize them in some way. AntiWar404 is an archive. It contains capsules that reflect the efforts of hundreds of people to resist specific wars and warfare in general. Without projects like this, it is strangely easy to lose touch of how things were even a decade ago. Abandoned websites silently disappear from Google and other search engines, so we need other ways to remember.

Alper Güngörmüşler: AntiWar404 was recently presented in WebBiennial'10 which has a theme of "anti-censor". What do you think about all these censorship of the government?
Andy Deck:
Censorship differs from place to place. Suppression of ideas operates in various ways in the US, despite its vaunted freedom of speech. The US military engages in a lot of censorship - to such a degree that it's an integral part of the contemporary model of warfare advanced by the Pentagon. But in the US a lot of the censorship is the soft censorship of omission: news programs reframe facts and feature other events, the more spectacular the better. In Turkey, where I taught for a year in 2005-2006, there's a different history and culture of censorship. At the university where I taught, the information technology department blocked Internet domains and web sites that contained words it deemed unacceptable. For example, a article was blocked because the word "nude" appeared in the text (about the art of Spencer Tunick). When I tried to gather faculty support to oppose this suppression of information, I was surprised that nobody replied. Although most of them had studied outside Turkey in the US or UK, and clearly appreciated the comparatively open, free flow of ideas in those places, they nonetheless went along with the censorship program at home. So I think that to know censorship is to experience it in its many forms in varying social contexts. In understanding how people reconcile themselves with limitations of their freedom and awareness, you can go a long way towards understanding culture and ideology.

Alper Güngörmüşler: Since there are various definitions of art, do you see yourself as an "artist"? If so, could you describe "art" in your own words?
Andy Deck:
Clearly the prudent answer here is "no", but I'll admit that I do self-identify as an artist. My aspirations to be an artist began at a very early age and, although I can appreciate the anti-art sentiments of the many people who resist the label, I'd rather be involved in reclaiming the term, - making it mean more than producer of aesthetic objects, servant of power, decorator for the rich.

Alper Güngörmüşler: Apart from your artworks, what do you like to do in your free time? Do you have another job as a source of income or a hobby to spend your time?
Andy Deck:
Free time? Last year I spent a lot of time looking for decent jobs and affordable housing (in New York City). Although I'm doing okay, it's not easy to maintain a career as immaterial as Net.Art while at the same time teaching and engaging in social pursuits like activism. Many of my former hobbies have suffered. There is a new one, though: gardening. Over the past four years I've been growing food in New York City. It's a way to lessen my carbon footprint. I also look forward to delicious tomatoes and pesto later this summer.

Alper Güngörmüşler: Lastly, as a New Media Artist, yourself, what do you think about the future of media art? Are you hopeful or concerned?
Andy Deck:
To be honest, when I think of the future, I think about the collapse of the world's ecosystems, the perils of global warming, and warfare. Without some startling influx of wisdom, these problems will do a lot to undermine the future of art. At the same time, humanity needs artists more than ever because our futures have always been largely anticipated: we imagine our futures before they arrive. So artists, I think, could help to inspire a different vision of the possible, a better version of ourselves.