Andrej Tisma (Novi Sad, 1952)

by Şebnem Baran, Bogazici University

Having become interested in the notion of networking, Andrej Tisma had explored this notion via his mail-art work long before the internet introduced the concept of “networking” into our lives. Therefore, unsurprisingly, Tisma welcomed the internet into his art back when the idea of “new media art” was still unknown. Besides being an experienced web-artist and net-artist, Tisma is also renowned for his performance art. As a prolific artist and a well-known art critic, Andrej Tisma remains involved in all aspects of art.

Şebnem Baran: I would like the start with your mail art project. You started it back in 1970s and the idea of mail art was already known, but in an article on mail art, you wrote that the emphasis on the idea of networking in relation to the mail art was new. How did the project begin and how did it evolve? What was your starting point? Do you intend to continue it further?

There is no sharp dividing date between mail-art era and networking era, but it can be said that in 80s of the 20th century the emphasis of mail-artists' activities became more and more about organizing collaborative events, performances, personal meetings, networker congresses and "tourism" as form of art. It was not just about exchanging of art pieces as in classical mail-art, but more and more about collaboration and creating of a huge mental network encompassing the Earth, which I see as forerunner of the Internet phenomenon. It is symptomatic that some of the most prominent networkers of that time like Ruud Janssen, Cracker Jack Kid, John Held or Charles François became the pioneers of internet communication and art in mid 80s and early 90s.

In 1985, I have formulated that “international mail-art network is an immense collective work of art; pulsing spiritual sculpture”. My activity was mostly meeting international mail-art networkers in my country and abroad, I called it “encounter art”, making rubberstamps commemorating those meetings and expressing common ideas of the network, so some of them became used by all networkers as their own stamps. I also organized many international mail-art shows with specific world-wide actual themes as were “Mail Art Olympic Games” (1984), “Private Life” (1986), “AIDS and Paradise” (1987), “Nature Gives…” (1992), “Shared World” (1999), also I have organized several networker congresses in early 90s in my country and abroad where networkers discussed their activity and the future of the movement. I also wrote much about mail-art network phenomenon publishing hundreds of essays and articles world-wide.

Since 1996, when I bought a computer that could go online, I left the mail-art network and started very vivid and dynamic internet art activity. I changed post-office and letter-box for computer and since then I am active in web-art or net-art. It has its advances in speed, multimedia, nonmateriality and size, and it keeps me tied to it almost all of my free time. In the meantime, I started making digital graphics, websites, videos and music that widened the field of my creativity. All of that is present online 24 hours a day and that makes my mail-art networker’s dream come true.
Şebnem Baran: How do you evaluate the project retrospectively now that there is a widepsread internet use? How would you position your project in light of Manuel Castell's work, which defines our contemporary world as a big network society?


Mail-art network was for sure the embryo on Internet, the ideas and goals were the same, just the technical means are different. And that idea and need for networking is characteristic of the modern era, since the invention of radio, TV, satellites, the Internet was the logical next step. And mail-art community which included creative people from all continents, regardless of nationality, race, religion, political or economic systems in which they lived was a great historical achievement on the road of modern civilization. In that sense I am very glad that once I was a part of that and gave my high contribution. It was a visionary artistic movement free of all rules, in which everyone could take part and in which the power of artwork itself was the main criteria. No established galleries, museums, curators or money decided who is good and who is bad. It was really a revolution in art against the established art system, art market and the glittering entertainment industry which dominated the cultural scene. Motivation of mail-art networkers was not fame, money or position (which mail-art could not obtain to anyone) but it was pure creativity, communication, linking with others, with much love, compassion and fun.

The Internet art communication started with the same enthusiasm, but lately the commercial corporations have more and more influence on it. But the need of networking is obvious in our global contemporary society.

Şebnem Baran: Besides being an early proponent of the idea of utilizing art in order to connect people via networks, you also welcomed the web art quite early. As an early comer to the scene of the new media, how would you define it? What is new about it?

I started using Internet as means for art in January 1998, but already in 1997, I took part in the Kassel Documanta X project Hybrid WorkSpace. Internet was still a new and interesting field with many surprises and new projects almost every day. So I plunged into it and dedicated all my time to get new contacts, visit new websites, and make my own sites and online works. It was a very enthusiastic time of Internet; some call it heroic. I wrote a lot about it in daily newspapers directly from experience of many online projects I took part in. It was a great thing to sit in ones own room and be connected to the whole world, taking part in discussions, mailing lists, getting comments from others about your own works, making works in collaboration with others you never met in person etc. There were many new possibilities that classical media and ways of communications didn’t offer. The interactivity of Internet art was on the first place, then it was its speed that annulated time and space, and the huge territory it encompassed. The advance of new digital media is also in technical possibility to make visually rich and attractive works in no time, using sound and animated images that in the classical art was not possible. The distribution of works was much faster and massive, their archiving much easier. So everything was faster and easier, and you could produce works literally  
with speed of thought.

Şebnem Baran: How did the internet change the art? How did it change the human life?

It changed art in sense of permanent connectedness, interaction, inherent multimedial expression, speed and variety. Photography as media finally got its deserved dominant place in art, but also a fresh combination of different media without any rules. Human life was affected a lot too, with possibility to have all your daily activities in front of computer screen; get food, plane tickets, information, knowledge, entertainment, even sex without leaving your home.

Şebnem Baran: Do the new media also require a new understanding of aesthetics?  What do you see in the future of new media?

New media, I would say, has its own esthetics. One should be accustomed to it, like previously to the esthetics of film or video etc. It needs a lot of time of browsing, surfing, watching and thinking in order to get familiar with it and enjoy it deeply and completely.
New media is a man-made extension of human brain, nerve system and mind, and is a predecessor of future art when people will be getting it by brain waves on long distance, like some telepathic and clairvoyance manifestations thanks to technical aids that will be constructed. Art should become more and more part of everyday life, being transmitted into our minds, voluntarily of course, so we as society could get richer and more creative lives.   

Şebnem Baran: As a performance artist, you had performed in your city, Novi Sod, many times. How does the city influence your art? What are the other components of your artistic stance?

It is true that most of my performances took place in Novi Sad, from 1984 till 1999, but they make only 12 of about 60 in all. I made performances countrywide and also in Kassel, New York, Paris, Milano and Amsterdam. Novi Sad is a nice calm city on the Danube river with a huge cultural history, so it gave me a very good bases for creation. But I was not so much influenced by the city itself, but more by entire world. I had many contacts trough my mail-art activity since mid 70s, and through Internet since mid 90s, I traveled a lot through Europe from the north to the south and United States - East coast, then also North Africa. I’ve seen many cultures, met many people, so it all influenced my art and my way of thinking.

Şebnem Baran: You call the performances you had been doing since 1984 as "(spi)rituals," rituals of spiritual exchange. You also work on what you call "Spirit Art" with Arleen Hartman. How would you define it? What did draw you to the notion of spirituality?

From 1984 I developed my own way of making performances, in which my main goal was radiation, influence, conveyance of my own psychological state, inspiration, emotions and experience to the audience, but also to a broader environment. It was rather unusual, a real adventure at a time when, generally speaking, performances here and elsewhere have become choreographed shows, pantomime, acting and costumed spectacles, with music and light show.  I did not dress specially for my performances, I wore my everyday clothes. I had not rehearsed my performances or acted them out according to some scenario, because I “impersonated” my own self. I did not make any physical preparations either because in my performances, I mainly talked and simultaneously radiated spiritual energy towards the environment.  Speech was the basic method of breaking the mental barrier between me and my audiences, also a way to prepare them for what followed, by communicating my own stream of thoughts and finally, if needed, conveying the conclusions. In my performances, which I called (spi)rituals – rituals of spiritual exchange – I used some objects, sounds, I distributed printed materials, earth and water, and I placed stamps…all with the aim of breaking the communication barrier and getting closer to the spectator and not in order to cause visual or any other sensual effect. It was more of an impact of surprise or the joy of receiving, which psychologically incites attention and establishes the spectators’ concentration on the performance itself and the content it carries. It was more of an opening up of the spectators’ psyche for an easier acceptance of the message, or establishing mental resonance.

I think spirituality is in the basis of everything, because before you do something in the material world you first have to plan it and imagine it in your head. Strong visualisation and will are conditions to realize something. Also paranormal and parapsychological phenomena through history tell us that human beings have much higher abilities hidden it their brain, which they use in only very small percent. So spirituality is a very wide and exciting field to research, and developing one’s own spirituality is perhaps the main task during the life time. Because only mental and spiritual contentment gives person a real peace of mind and possibility to love and be loved, which is the highest manifestation of existence.

Şebnem Baran: You give examples of art with many different media. When you pursue an artistic idea, how do you decide on the right medium for the idea?

This is not a rational issue, it comes spontaneously. The inspiration itself is the main moment of creativity, then comes visualisation and intuitive realization of idea. I work in fields of visual, moving pictures and sound, so I have many possibilities to articulate my inspiration. The audience is also an important factor when creating a work of art, and I have them in mind when I think which way of articulation would be the best and most powerful.

Şebnem Baran: You are an artist and an art critic at the same time. How do you define art and beauty? Does your definition of art and beauty change when you position yourself as an art critic rather than an artist?

It is hard to give definition of art, but I used to give it as capturing the sense of existence.  Getting inspired is getting in contact with the essence, enjoying it and then formulating the way to show that feeling to the audience. So I see art and artist as mediator between the essence of existence, its sense, and the living material world. Because as we know from recent scientific experiments plants and all living beings are sensitive to art. Also water, and that means all existing things, changes its molecular structure depending of communication and mental content they are exposed to. Beauty is something inherent to the nature and we see and enjoy beauty because we are part of that nature. All that is natural is beautiful.

As an art critic, I am searching for all those things that make art in one’s creation and try to explain or describe them to readers. In a way I see my art critic’s position as mediator between artist’s inspiration and audience’s perception. I try to evaluate it and put in historical context.

Şebnem Baran: Lastly, as an artist, what do you think about the role of art in the future of Balkans? Do you believe in art's healing capacity?

Art is an important factor of developing of society and of every individual. It has its healing power for sure. Balkans is an interesting and inspiring area and I am happy I was born and raised here, because in Balkans one can feel the clash between the natural, which is deeply inherent to the life and tradition of this region, and artificial and unnatural coming from the technologically high developed western world. So the artist as a very sensitive being can articulate this situation in works of art, sending warnings but also healing the existing situation.