part 2
Iliyana NEDKOVA in an e-mail conversation with Klaus-dieter MICHEL about Porn Trapdoors, Blinkfaces and Other Webart Virtues

part 1

Iliyana NEDKOVA in an e-mail conversation with Klaus-dieter MICHEL about Virtual Heatwave, solid cultures and cyber sandstorms
edited by Amos TAYLOR
February/March 1999

IN: After revisiting your earlier VR work, called Virtual Heatwave, I have realised again that webart is very demanding and energy- consuming. Your work seems to be one of the fine examples of the very heavily time-based webart. It was my research-oriented mind that made me run through the diamond pathways cut through it as if it was a summer's maze or a field of corn [ if I am to appropriate Jeff Noon's metaphor recurrent in yours and Predrag Sidjanin's VR collaborative projects]. What do you consider would make people's regular span of attention of 19 seconds stretch beyond this time slot and carry on running through the corn fields of Virtual Heatwave?
K-dM: That depends on what you want to reach with your website. In my case, I try to build the web-pieces firstly, with a truthful motivation, with a set of an idea and form in mind and secondly, with some kind of a narrative structure tempting people to relax from the force of swapping the channels. The rest evokes the 'butterfly-effect of poetry' as known from the chaos theory; where metaphorically speaking one wing`s stroke of a butterfly in, let's say, Zimbabwe can cause a landslide somewhere in Ireland.

IN: 'Virtual Heatwave' is a crossbreed between a day by day web diary, an edited e-zine and a collection of about 20 web shorts. It is also a register of your personal experience of going through the final VR 4.0 residency in Manchester/UK. Looking back to those late summer stories, is there something you left behind unpublished on the Virtual Heatwave pages? Are you tempted to self-edit yourself and rework some of the entries from the privileged position of the time and space distance?
K-dM: I have published nearly everything I wanted to initially which covers what I have done during that VR 4.0 period. Maybe one or two pieces which were in my mind didn't find their way into the Heatwave. Nevertheless, when I look back to my very first concept, the general theme has obviously been shifted to something else through a range of circumstances on the spot. Also, I do not plan any further changes of the entries now. Concerning their positions in time and space, I think that the pieces have got enough timelessness to stand for themselves. However, I remain open for recharging the Heatwave again at some point.

IN: What I find very respectful of the VR initial goals in this project is its collaborative nature, just as VR was set to be from its inception. This aspect seems to be very important to you as well, for you are foregrounding that Virtual Heatwave is a co- production featuring other VR participants [like Predrag Sidjanin, Luchezar Boyadjiev and Iliyana Nedkova] and non-VR people [like Jeff Noon, Wyane Cheetham, Emrys Morgan and Nico] on your first welcoming page. To my mind this project of yours is a success story within the VR movement, which was always very open to spontaneous collaborative enterprises but somehow fostered individual exposure of VR artists, instead. This diverse manner of workshopping and the lack of curatorial pressure to me were much more significant than any centralised, controlled collaboration. Can you reflect on that with reference to Virtual Heatwave?
K-dM: I experienced the VR in Manchester and the virtual communication of VR people on the mailing-list. I mention this because I gather that VR 4.0 was something like a megaVR in the context of ISEA98 in Liverpool, the presence of VR people of three former workshops and the activities in the Revolting Lab - all this was an impressive cluster of events and moods, maybe too extreme as a point of reference to reflect on the entire VR history. You see, when I came first to Manchester I was very irritated when I realised that the work-in-progress will develop differently from what I have constructed in my head chamber as a plan. Now I believe and I refer to your words about individual exposure that it was hard for some VR people to find their personal rhythm in this slip-stream of happenings. People like to spin some kind of safety cocoon around themselves, everybody with their own personal touch. Virtual Heatwave, for example, was planned as an open work field for everybody but I discovered very early that nobody you haven't known before will spontaneously participate. And here I include myself explicitly. But after a couple of days some people found the mood to react on aspects of the work or the people around. This kind of slow development of creative relations was luckily possible through an open way of curating without forcing anybody. Nobody said: "Come on, you go now into this heatwave group, hurry up!" And that I consider as positive although it needed of course more time to reach successful collaborative levels.

IN:It is probably no coincidence that the boiling hot summer of 1998 in your closing text [Memento of Nico] is referred to as the 'summer of Virtual Revolutions'. However, it is not only the emotional frame of mind that builds the core of the concept. You have provided some background knowledge around the concept construction in the fictive phone talk with the VR coordinator. In your initial vision you seemed to have been interested in exploring the physiological, political, sociological, physical and intellectual steady spread of heatwave. Do you consider VR 4.0 such a heatwave or 'unbroken period of unusually hot weather' ?
K-dM: Oh no, it wasn't an unbroken period of unusually hot weather, do YOU think so? If we have started now to use weather metaphors then I see VR 4.0 more as a sandstorm, which could be an enormous heatwave, too. Maybe it's because of the image of surprised children rubbing sand out of their eyes or it's simply because of the Sandbar that we used to hang around, I don't know. But seriously, the Virtual Heatwave in its artistic and scientific approach as I planned it before VR 4.0 would have needed a very structured way of creation what wasn't really possible during the sandstorm of VR 4.0.

You have extended your stay around the VR 4.0 meeting places for another 2 weeks before going back home. Then, you have abruptly closed the e-zine and pronounced the end of the heatwave on October 16, 1998. You have only once indicated a later revisit on December 11, 1998. What would be the on-going audience-drawing power of Virtual Heatwave now that it has burned down? Is it only the documentary, story-telling power that will drive people from near and a far to travel back in time with Virtual Heatwave?
K-dM: Yes, that's the big question. But I do believe, or better, hope that when somebody slips today into the heatwave and walks through the diverse time steps that he/she finds something will touch their interests or feelings. Heatwave is not just a report or documentation of a bygone event, it is also a progress-step of my net-art project 'the BLINKFACE' and it handles its subjects in a manner as I often use for my creations. And when you see pages like 'The Sink's Plug' - British vs. Continental then I don`t think that this statement has lost its value because ISEA98 is over.

IN: I can't help thinking that we are going through a 'deja vu' some few months later. I am now no longer this virtual and vague personality from the fictive phone talk you have reproduced from 'the original written transcription'. Talking to you via the e-mail back and forth, feels like weaving thoughts around in the cool cyberspace. My role in your fictive/original scenario wasn't very flattering with all those one-liners and 'hmms'. I am sort of catching up now and my questions tend to get longer and longer. Well, let's get back to your concept as argued in your monologue, indicative of certain VR expectations. One of the major concerns of Virtual Heatwave [and possibly of VR] is how to improve the connectivity of virtual and solid culture. This is what you have managed to do in your own web style highlighting hot topics and hot headlines from our immediate media-ted reality. This is always very risky because the hot item of yesterday doesn't necessarily make it to the headlines of tomorrow. Hence, the feeling of a 'web archaeologist' when browsing through such once-hot zones. How are you sustaining the burning fire inside you when looking back at a fellow-artist web-based project? How can a web artist cater for the interest of the on-line audience in the so called attention economy of today?
K-dM: It is in fact the finest side of the VR story that we, the people of VR, still have the chance to test the connectivity of virtual and solid culture. All is a crossover between electronic communication - maybe we can call it virtual - and solid places, events and personalities. Indeed, when I think of you today doing this virtual interview then you are both to me, a cyber space human being and a real woman with her eyes, hair, skin and voice. I would say this is one major challenge to me to practise electronic art on virtual channels: to work on these diverse and mysterious relations between physics and virtuality. And here, virtual means of course more than Internet or VRML. It is the force field between those opposite conditions like seeing and believing, sleep and wakefulness, conscious and unconscious. I consider that I always try in my work to synchronise somehow these two spheres driving to points where both become an unity. If I see this topic in a more sociocultural sense then I would say, that the cyberspace has got this name only because they are social groups with skills in electronic communication and there are others with no experience who are even scared of it. This mutual relation helps to keep the myth of the cyberspace. And that cyberspace is today mainly seen in the myth of the world wide webs. Endless communication and information, entertainment and pleasure is promised. Naturally these new 'lands' have become an object of desire for commercial exploitation. Now the big players are smoothing the broad data highways straight into their spheres of influence, i.e AOL is advertising in Germany with a maximum effort and their messages are so incredibly mainstreamy and lifestyled just to tempt even the last consumer. ['Switch on and you are in! Just that simple. A apropos I have met my actual lover there!']. They are no more than adverts for basic instincts. From this drastic point of view somebody could say that the independent communication concept from the early days of the nets is dead now. Is it? I don't think so. I still see enormous chances to go beyond that attention economy and to stand for different concepts of communication. So, I myself have got no problems with slow developing artist's sites. I know places in the Internet where I cannot find many modifications or hot topics but I am nevertheless glad that they exist. One significant example is 'The Place' which makes me feel comfortable every time when I revisit the site. Or who has ever seen 'BINGE' the site for meat-art? This amazing project disappeared 2 years ago and I'm still unhappy about that fact. This should describe a bit my ideas of appearance, sense of time and structures of fellow-artist web-based projects and of course, of my own.

IN: Concept wise, I gather that Virtual Heatwave is a more elegant buzzword for the technological revolutions of the last few decades for in your vision movement and speed equate heat and heatwave. Furthermore, you express your willingness to design a research project, called Virtual Heatwave that will connect different Internet sites with real space events like Marilyn Monroe's hit Heatwave, El Nino, dramatic hot spots in the societies of East and West, massive increases and crashes on the international money market. To me, all this is worth of an on-going research project or a series of heatwaves. Therefore, I can appreciate highly your current project as a research stage employing the best of the database stylistics of the Internet. However, what is not entirely convincing for me, is the overall graphic design and the representation of each entry. Would you be inclined to make this Virtual Heatwave more concise and sophisticated in the long-run or would you prefer to point people visiting the site to its rough, spontaneous, unpolished nature of a research-in-progress?
K-dM: Virtual Heatwave was a time, location and event based project and it will remain in unpolished condition. This concerns basically the 17 web shorts which were published during this entire 8-weeks period. From Fictive Phone talk to Memento of Nico. these are all genuine works. However, the overall design which you mention will possibly be removed either when I reactivate the Heatwave or when I rework the entire BLINKFACE site. Because this overall portal-mentality of websites including my own is really annoying me and I want to set myself free from this functional constraints to have a homepage or an index for each part of the project. Here I try to find new ways for the entire work presentation and so is another VR participant- Predrag Sidjanin from Den Haag. We are planning to collaborate in a new web-based project with a navigation concept which will be an experiment in this area. With regards to the continuation of the Heatwave research I am happy that I can report from a further upcoming VR co-operation. Only recently Perry Bard and I have decided to co-operate on a concept 'Where Were You When - History Starts Now'. This web-based project will work on the subject of 'people's diverse perception of events and their meanings' in such a way that people will easily submit topics and entries. It is in progress and all people of VR will receive a call for participation when we are done with the preparations. Along these lines I think about the possibility of initiating a weather and language topic within 'Where were you when' project which means to continue the heatwave idea.

By mapping the people of Greater Manchester on its project pages Virtual Heatwave stands out with its openness to other communities beyond the VR network. You have liaised with fellow artists based in the North-West of England or commemorated celebrities like Nico who once lived in Manchester. There is also a blur of the M6 road map reading Manchester and Salford on the right hand side of nearly each project page. It somehow takes the position of an ever-watching eye. It turns that the VR workshop locations are of great importance to the final framing of the VR works. Mare Tralla [Grey Word Game a la Sofia] and Amos Taylor [Other Sofias], both from VR 1.0 in Sofia/Bulgaria have adopted the same translocal strategy of observing today's history and demythologising the current local revolutions of another VR city. Are you about to adopt Manchester for a home city or will it be your virtual domain only?
K-dM: It must have been 10 years ago when I came to Greater Manchester for the very first time. Since then I would comeback regularly, experience some of the aspects of social and cultural life in the North West of England and make some very close friends. Somehow I feel very inspired and comfortable in this region and I hope to move physically to Manchester very soon. The English version of North-South conflict in particular and the specific sociocultural and historical position of England within Europe interests me a lot. So for me it is no wonder that my VR experience and work have been influenced by the local people and environment beyond the ISEA or VR community. Just these two coexisting realities - the congress going society versus the regional societies - challenged me to confront the virtual revolutions with translocal or general British phenomena. In addition, I thought that it can be only positive to reflect beside the cyberspaces the diverse local realities too when the VR really wants to 'go beyond the former East/West divide of Europe'. And this concerns not only Eastern capitals like Sofia or St. Petersburg. No, it's also important in Western areas with some critical sociocultural backgrounds like the North-West of England.

Let's talk about a few of your web shorts that constitute 'Virtual Heatwave'. 'Memento of Nico' is the last entry and it bears the fascination of rewriting histories and repositioning art projects and personalities. I find that this revisionist endeavours are not so much the end of the millennium nostalgia but an open land for varied ways of coping with the gap of generations and artistic agendas. For the sake of drawing parallels, amongst many other projects full of insular anxiety, is one of Chris Hill, artist/educator/curator/writer, based in Yellow Springs, OH/USA. Her project is called 'Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the U.S.' Do you think that in the over-hyped revolutionary 'heatwave' it is important to reconsider the body of work produced in the late 60s and 70s which also had radical aspirations? Do you have a lot of visitors lighting up virtual candles to Nico?
K-dM: Yes, I am satisfied with the number of people who have visited the Memento of Nico. Moreover, I have received a number of e-mails where people express their gratitude that I have made this quiet place for her. And of course I am convinced that an open minded manner of dealing with all modern art concepts of this century is helpful to define our current aesthetic positions. I often find that the cultural period of the 60s and 70s doesn't have that big an influence as other historical relations on media-based art in particular today. You are more likely to follow links to Radio theory of Brecht or Russian Avantgardists, Italian Futurists or DaDa-Movement or whatever but surprisingly less to Joseph Beuys or Andy Warhol. Although to me Beuys as theory and social practice, is immanent in every contemporary virtual community. Could it be that the mental pattern of the ideas of that time with their strong belief in evolution of aesthetics, technics and politics appear to us nowadays as too naive for the social and cultural situation of the world after the breakdown of the communistic sphere of influence? Do you remember for example the English architecture project called Archigram? This is a typical case. Six architects gathered in the 60s and produced fantastic projects about how people would live in cities in the future. I remember 'Walking' or 'Instant Cities' or portable one-man-houses called 'Cushicles' built to enable a maximum of human independence and mobility. They were really visionary but today their concepts appear to us in their total overconfidence in technology and future somehow unrestrained optimistic. Archigram's concepts has felt almost into oblivion.

Just a brief reference to two of the e-zine sites dealing with global politics issues: Tomahawk Aid & US Cruise Missiles... The tension around the conflict zones - bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan and also around African orphanages - transmitted by the world media is just a signal for you to start a virtual campaign of electronic disturbance in the manner of the initiatives. The most shocking for you seemed to be the result of your campaigning: not that many critical voices reached out to the self-loading discussion page of Virtual Heatwave. I wonder whether you have shared or would like to share your discontent with Ricardo Dominguez, US/Mex artist, based in New York/USA, activist and VR participant?
K-dM: Well, to be honest, I did this virtual campaign from a very spontaneous and emotional position and in expectation of the VR 4.0 workshop to share a discussion forum for political standpoints of the international VR community. But it was obviously not very well organised and it didn't work. It's usually not my favourite work to organise political campaigns. But I do respect very much the engagement of people who use the virtual space for the political struggle for independence and integrity of the human mankind in general. And so I follow with much interest Ricardo Dominguez activities and the Electronic Disturbance Theatre. I still like to remember Ricardo as a kind and brave man. Yes brave, because the way he stands for his ideas impresses me. So, I hope that one day maybe there will be a chance for a closer collaboration. Anyway it's promised, Ricardo, if you read this, next time when you call for participation in a campaign on US-american politics I will join your FloodNet.

A few of the other web entries in Virtual Heatwave are somehow related to other VR works or artists. There is a series of at times direct or at times subtle visual appropriations as comments on ISEA98, Revolution98 and on the British versus Continental culture attributes. In your laconic and witty Language Terror series you are dealing with the neo colonialism of standard Internet English and also with the Manchester branch of ISEA98 branded as Terror and Liverpool one - as Revolution. The Babylonian cluster of languages, mastered by the VR participants, has been picked up by other VR works- in-progress like the ones of Perry Bard, Sera Furneaux, Daniella Sneppova and Nives Kreuh. Furthermore in your new book of rules for Internet culture you embark on the language of road signs and restrictions only to say: You are not allowed to smoke in front of this web page' or 'Eat dangerously'. The self-importance of being British is also critiqued from the perspective of the observant cultural visitor in your snapshots-based Northern Windows, British Readymade, Dale Farm Milk Bottles. Another very pertinent VR observation point is implied in the zooming trip into the Withworth Park Hall Residency . It is whereabout Luchezar Boyadjiev, VR participant spotted the plaque commemorating Friedrich Engels temporary place of residence which only 100 years later turned to be the temporary home for a bunch of virtual revolutionaries. Is there something you would like to add on a second thought about the above bizarre collections of images and bits of texts?
K-dM: To refer to this self-importance of being British I must add that most of the people I have met in the North West of England have got a very ironic and distant opinion about the British Empire. What I have tried to point at with my critical comments on British culture was to show that this self-importance is more like a heavy burden from the land's history and sometimes for governments and politicians a way to cover today's problems or to support a conservative national identity. I am aware that England will go through radical changes when I think about Europe, about education, welfare and monarchy, about more independence for Scotland and Wales and peace and political agreement in Northern Ireland. And I hope that the centralistic attitude of British politics and economy can be softened up in the future.

Again, more from the position of a web archaeologist, I am quite satisfied with the time I took after the VR 4.0 frenzy, to read through other non-VR events overlapping with the busy VR agenda, which you have managed to witness and comment in Virtual Heatwave, i.e. two performances by friends of yours - Emrys Morgan and Wayne Chetham. Few months later I can appreciate 'Suspended Belief' project of Emrys and read beyond the immediacy of the news report: 'Christ was crucified in Rochdale, Lancashire, yesterday' [The Observer, 23/08/98]. One can slip into another recent art scandal with Andre Serrano and his Pissing Jesus photograph reported to be blamed for the collapse of the alternative arts infrastructure and governmental arts funding in the USA in the early 1990s. Franc Purg, Celje/Slovenia is another 'bold' artist who has worked in the similar aesthetics of the living art sculpture]. Moscow artist Avdei Ter-Oganian who is about to go to prison for his performance 'Young Anti-Christ' accused of profanising the mass-produced copies of Orthodox icons, provides yet another example of a scandal-driven art action, sensitive to two symptomatic events - the comeback of another dominating ideology [this time - Christian Orthodox] and the public/state paranoia curtailing the freedom of artistic expression in Russia. 'Celebrating Differences' was initially a reading of poems by Wayne which in your documenting effort goes across various media - cartoons, realaudio recordings, poems in text and hypertext. You have also collaborated with Predrag Sidjanin on his VR research around the fictional world of Jeff Noon. What have we left unquestioned around these few mini-works of 'Virtual Heatwave'? Perhaps, you can come up with the final question and provide your answer, as well?
K-dM: [i am sorry, Iliyana, but this interview was so wordy that I am now simply speechless]



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