by Juliana Brunello
I have been running some interviews with the speakers from the conference and posting it on our blog. I was going to make only
individual interviews, but by researching about the works from Patrick Lichty, Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kidall, I saw a
connection and thought it would be interesting to make a common interview with the three of them.
I believe most people think of art as something ‘mona-lisish’. So, can you explain to me as an artist-layman, why the project ‘Wikipedia Art’ is called art?
Patrick: Here’s a good metaphor. Wikipedia Art ist to art as was Duchamp’s LHOOQ to the Mona Lisa. The meterialist, antiquatioan view of art is certainly valid, but what is it to take conceptual art into a user-driven milieu like Wikipedia, and then what is it to take it tactical by leveraging the reaction in order to bring attention to its cutlural practices? This is especially important as Wikipedia is positioning itself to supercede institutions like the OED and Encyclopedia Brittanica, when it is closed to Encyclopedia Dramatica…
Nathaniel: I prefer to think of Art as “Research and Development for Humanity” (I’m stealing this line from contemporary digital artist, Zach Lieberman). Artists no longer simply make images, they make discourse – they ask us not only to “look,” but to “look again,” to re-examine. For me, Art and Philosophy bookend all of culture. This “work” that is a “work of art” asks us to look again at epistemology, power, and information, and how they relate to each other. It does so on both a micro level – evidenced by the behavior of Wikipedia editors all the way through to the figure head and his lawyer – and on a macro level – speaking back to how people relate to information online.
Scott: Contemporary art projects in the last several decades have increasingly looked at systems and structures of power, such that the definition of “art” has expanded to mean things that are not only art objects, but ephemera, documentation, text itself, concepts and much more both in and outside of the gallery. Wikipedia Art could be said to derive from the post-minimalism period expanding upon art ideas of Kosuth, Barry, Smithson and many more. In the same way that “Land Art” was an escape from the gallery and manipulating space itself, Wikipedia Art works with an information landscape, manipulating elements that comprise much of our daily existence.
What were the underlying motives for launching the Wikipedia Art project?
Nathaniel: I’d like to point you to a few links to answer this question, and you can feel free to cite/quote as you see fit.
Scott: Same links as Nathaniel. It’s all in the original Fireside chat interview.
Patrick: I’ll let Nathaniel and Scott fuield this one, but my understanding it was that of a bit of an “exquisite Corpse” project on Wikipedia, but by the time I came on as a cohort, I felt that it had become something that could make visible the internal structures of Wikipedia and show it’s cultural specifficiies.
What can be ‘read between the lines’ in this particular piece of art?
Nathaniel: Actually, we were quite forward about our intentions – what the project is and does – and it was more successful than we ever imagined it would be. Our paper goes into more detail than we ever have before, but there isn’t a need to read “between the lines” – it’s all there, and cited!
Scott: We were very careful to be transparent about our motives behind the piece.
Between-the-lines, were the various responses: in blogs, comments, print publications, all resulting in what the piece “is”. We wanted to emphasize the collaborative process involved in Wikipedia Art and that this artwork is comprised of all of the discourse surrounding it.
Patrick: That Sometimes a work of art changes from its initial intention; that properly contextualized, a work of art can have a great deal of impact.
Can one learn something from it?
Patrick: Yes. This is self-evident.
Nathaniel: The most important thing this work did, in my opinion, was bring to the fore how information and power influence one another, how people-powered democracy still breeds hierarchical structure, and the kinds of cultures that make important decisions about our perceptions of reality, often without our awareness. The work does this both explicitly – by bringing debates, arcane rules and how they are (or are not) followed on Wikipedia, to the surface – and implicitly – as the debates trickled up to falsehoods and name-calling by some of the power brokers at Wikimedia. We said nothing; they made our point for us.
Scott: Hopefully, there is much to be learned from Wikipedia Art. It depends on what you choose to read about it and believe. There have been many contradictory opinions about the work, and in these varied opinions lies a “non-consensus,” that the artwork resides in a zone of the indeterminacy. It succeeds because the work was designed to produce dialogue.
How is it different from other art intervention projects?
Patrick: It is on Wikipedia.
Nathaniel: I’m not sure I want to get into the specifics of what makes this project “different” – it misattributes value to “the new.” More important than it being different, it is successful.
Scott: This is the first significant art intervention into Wikipedia — an encyclopedia.This makes it unique in venue. There are many small details that differ, but in terms of intervention works, it is similar in that it uses an existing structure and the loopholes within the structure (in this case the citation mechanism) to assert its existence.
I see Wikipedia Art continues to exist in a remixed way. But can it still be called Wikipedia Art, if it is not taking place in Wikipedia anymore?
Patrick: Does a work about Wikipedia have to be ON Wikipedia? That would limit discursive portential immensely.
Nathaniel: We tend to refer to these works as Wikipedia Art Remixed. The intervention is over, but the piece lives on in its discussion, and in projects like this.
Scott: Same as Nathaniel; these works are Wikipedia Art Remixed.
I understood Wikipedia Art as being a form of re-constructing the social reality of Wikipedia, so that, in this way, the social reality constructed by the community is made more visible, facilitating its understanding. Am I right on that?
Nathaniel: You’ve got the spirit of it, yes. Less re-construction, though, and more of that accent / making visible. We all know the mythical wonders of Wikipedia, but the flaws go well beyond the standard debate around fact and fiction – POWER is of huge importance.
Scott: I think the reconstruction or as Nathaniel aptly puts it, making visible occurred mostly outside of Wikipedia. I’m not sure exactly how much the Wikipedia community was affected, but I do know that many non-editors began to reconsider the mythology behind Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation itself.
Patrick: More than the social reality of the community, it also shows how that social reality and hits history is trying to reshape the global conception of the construction of knowledge.
Apart from the Wikipedia Art page, have you contributed to any articles, bots or software improvement in Wikipedia? Which one(s)?
Nathaniel: We both often add to Wikipedia pages on art, digital artists, and our regions. Most recently, for example, Scott fixed a mistake on the page about the Digital Dark Age, and I added a page on the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
Scott: The Wikipedia Art project stemmed from our direct experience on adding and editing articles on Wikipedia. Here is where we found a surprising lack of arts coverage and began to wonder about the invisible layer of editors that were behind the consensus-driven site, and thus began the idea for an intervention.
Patrick: I have, but cannot remember.
What other projects are you currently working on?
Patrick: I am curating two shows, one on mixed realities between the physical and Second Life, and the other being a remix of the popular viral site “YTMND.com”
Nathaniel: I’ve had two solo shows of work in the last month. Both are much more invested in discourses surrounding the history of images than Wikipedia Art was, but I see them all as part of the same practice.
For Distill Life, I permanently mount translucent prints and drawings directly on top of video screens, creating moving images on paper.
And Given Time activates and performs two permanently logged-in Second Life avatars, each forever and only seen by and through the other. This one is a dedication to my wife.
Scott: I am working on a variety of new projects. The one most related to Wikipedia Art is an individual artwork that I developed as a resident artist at the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center called “After Thought.” Using brainwave testing with flashcards, I produce a custom video for each subject that reflects their emotional mind-state.
Link is: http://www.kildall.com/artwork/2010/after_thought/index.html
This artwork is a sort of “subjective science” — where interpretation and meaning become murky the more you look at it. The notion of a video that truly reflects your consciousness has been echoed in popular culture in ways that are both appealing and disturbing.
Anything else you would like to add? Comments, ideas, thoughts?
Nathaniel: This isn’t a simple debate, a gag, or trolling. We see Wikipedia as an important project with enormous potential – some of which it already meets. That in mind, it needs to be critically examined. Like CPOV, Wikipedia Art began such a discussion, and we’re very proud of that fact.
Scott: We’re both quite pleased with the success of the work. More than anything, it’s been amazing to hear polarized opinions about it — the controversy of Wikipedia Art itself has revealed that Wikipedia hit a critical point, which requires an examination of structural bias around obscure rules when an open system essentially closes itself off. This contradiction in the ideology behind a structure that is supposed to be open is of utmost concern: how our culture transmits knowledge itself.
Patrick: I think it’s interesting that something like WPA continues to resonate so much with