«Техношаманы и медиапророки» / Документальный фильм о цифровом и технологическом искусстве в России
What is digital and technological art? Chirp-chirp Digital and technological art are different things It’s art on masking tape. Let it be this. Digital technological art is the art that uses modern technologies as a means of expression. Artists who take not canvas and oil paints but computers, chips, robots.
It’s augmented reality, virtual reality, work with artificial neural networks. When you come to a museum, you see something shining, making sounds, spinning, and it's not clear what it's about and maybe it's from the future. Yes, this is most likely technological art. Is Internet meme also digital art? An Internet meme is flesh and blood, the Internet information and the way it spreads through it. In general, no, it's not really art. Like NFT, probably, yes No, definitely no Yes, definitely No, it’s not.
Under certain circumstances it seems to me that it can become digital art. No, it’s not. Internet memes can be different, some of them can be art. Anything can be a work of art. No If we consider a broader idea of art, then yes, because Internet memes are a type of modern creative activity.
Nowadays, of course, if you want, you can call anything anything. And moving in some direction depends on what your task is, what you want to prove, why you want to prove that a meme is art, or why you want to prove that it is not art. Techno Shamans and Media Prophets (History of Digital and Technological Art in Russia) There is an experience to put complete garbage on the curbstone, to say that it is art and it will become art. But this is some kind of miserable meme, although the truth.
An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them. (Andy Warhol) In general, all art is quite technological and if we rewind back to the 14th century, the invention of such technology as oil painting on primed canvas was a breakthrough in the art of that time, it was a certain technology that had to be mastered in order to become a modern artist of that time. If art were canvas and oil, it would be strange because this technology does not correspond to the spirit of today at all. Technological means gave radical experimentalism to visual culture.
It was once photography, then cinematography, and what we now imagine as quite classical cinematography. For example, the works of Eisenstein. Yes, they were absolutely unique, avant-garde and radical for the time when they appeared. Since the 19th century you can trace some experiments and everyone sated each other. Scriabin with his color score, theremin and so on. Engineers who made very complex interactive, musical, sound, all sorts of complex machines.
All contemporary art in Russia, in one way or another, relies on the experience of the early 20th century and the experience of the avant-garde artists. I mean, first of all: Malevich, Rodchenko, Filonov those people who thought of something completely different from what was at that time and was not considered a tradition in a bright and bold manner. They saw a new dimension - both in painting and in life. They decided that this should be the only truth. And, in general, the influence was such that it still shakes, and not everyone agrees that these artists did something really special then. It was such a serious shift that after 100 years people still argue whether a black square is art or not.
Our approach to media art wasn’t originated from European galleries of the late 80s, but from the 60s and 70s of the last century, when in Soviet scientific research institutes there were people who worked and created a lot of interesting things. And it has come to us. It is just such a craze for digital art. It has been going on since the beginning, probably the 90s, and it is gaining power to this day.
And the diversity that exists today is a direct consequence of the fact that each of us has a smartphone in our pocket, each of us does our work at the computer. Well, art also tries to express this rapidly changing world. And since there is an explosive growth of technologies now, you know, it is difficult not to be a media artist in general because all these technologies are around.
Even artists who work with traditional media are experimenting with artificial intelligence in one way or another. No technology has escaped the fate of being in the hands of an artist for some time, and with almost every technology, you can find a work of art in which this technology was somehow comprehended or used. Media art was for a very long time, let's say, not that taboo, but there was little of it, and large institutions were almost not interested in it at all. At the beginning of the 2000s, after all, the stage was not so developed, and there was even less access to it. And people exchanged DVDs by mail to see something of the kind. And it was exciting, delightful that you witnessed the birth of something new.
I think it was roughly comparable to what, for example, modernist artists experienced at the beginning of the 20th century. The birth of a new world, the birth of new technologies, new ideas, and, in fact, how could one not take part in this? Vladimir Seleznev There was no YouTube and video art then, it was something not so profane. With the advent of YouTube, of course, this border was very blurred, the technology was still so bad.
We shot our first video on a regular VHS camera, which we used to film weddings, the birth of children, BBQ trips and literally everything else. Our first video, which, by the way, is one of the most famous of our group, is where birds are eating our faces made of seeds and laid out on the snow. It is called "Visualization of Domestication" or "The Casus of Modern Ornithology." This is such a long name We used to be very proud to invent one like this, though now it seems to me it could have been simpler.
For us, it was a game. We mastered the technology on our own, we ourselves were interested in making videos, and it seemed to us that the future was somewhere beyond technology. In Nizhny Tagil, where I come from, there is such a monument called "Lenin on the Globe". These are the book folios folded into some strange, slightly Masonic sign.
The globe with Lenin on it stands on these open folios. Volodya Potapov created the Internet community called either “Not Graffiti”, or something like that where he took a picture from the Internet and with a Photoshop spray changed it. So, he took a picture of this monument and wrote “Volodya, why the f*** have you climbed it?” It was presented just like a real graffiti.
The Internet users fell for it, although it was just some kind of a pure meme It was the time when it was possible to do practically everything, which, of course, did not violate the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Now, it seems to me, there are lots of boundaries that you, as an artist, can no longer cross. No one asks us for permission to shoot wherever we get on the camera But on the other hand, the use of this footage is illegal And we, for example, had a whole video called “The All-Seeing Eye” where we just filmed people on the streets and made up some stories about them.
Sergeenok Pavel Antonovich, born in 1997, is the only child in the family. At 11 o'clock he was released by his parents to ride a scooter until lunch. The motive is to complete the process of self-affirmation by demonstrating the ability to control a scooter. Vershinin Yuri Alexandrovich, born in 1956, married, no kids. It is 10:35. After waking up he felt an urgent need to do something, so he went into the kitchen.
The goal is to throw the gas stove out of the window, the motive is the desire to commit an extraordinary act. These are individual techno shamans and media prophets It seems to me that they were in all cities, but conditionally one at a time. It must be said that digital art in St. Petersburg is less developed than, for example, in Moscow, but at the same time since the 90s it has existed in St. Petersburg and Olga Tobreluts, whose works are in our collection, has become a pioneer of media art. She worked just in the 90s, in the 2000s.
These are objects that are close to video art, and the first computer collages, photo collages include, for example, the film “Woe from Wit”. She shot it with the help of collage and computer graphics. The members of the art group acted as actors, and now the film is already perceived as an artifact of the 90s, because in addition to some new technological features of that time it also contains elements of such home cinema, because all this was filmed with the help of amateur video cameras. Since the beginning of the 90s, there has been a very strong stage of network artists who practiced exclusively in the Internet environment, and among them, “Electroboutique” itself, for example, our national duet, or Olya Lyalina, who left for Germany quite early but she is one from the classics of network art. She continued to experiment in 2000 and, in fact, created one of her most legendary projects called “Digital Folklore”.
Olga Lyalina The late 1990s is the time when some people tended to think everything would be possible in a few weeks, and others strongly believed that soon there would be no web. I hoped that soon it would be possible to watch movies on the Internet. But, on the other hand, the more HTML pages I made, the more I wanted to create a work specifically for the Netfilm browser. Then I made my first work called “My Boyfriend Came Back From The War”. The Russian phrase “My boyfriend returned from the war, and now we were left alone” was spinning in my head for a long time. It was almost a poem.
I made my first piece based on these lines because they suggested a complex conversation that could be transmitted in a browser If people meet after the war, it is difficult for them to talk and it all comes down to pauses and misunderstandings I translated the conversation into English, hiding behind a foreign language to make it more formal, because it was an experiment, not a personal story. It also helped me reach out to a wider audience. It was a successful experiment, and the work drew attention to me, so I started doing the following web projects and gradually lost touch with the cinema. I collected a lot of GIFs and used them in my projects, so I decided to become a model myself so that others could use my pictures too. I decided to make three of them: where I play harmonica, hula hoop and spin around in an over-sized dress I wanted to make them perfectly looped, so I chose such movements. Also, I tried to make the background transparent and crop the image so that the legs weren't pixelated.
My gifs could be posted on any page. I didn't know where they were for a long time. There was no Google Image Search and it was impossible to find out what was going on with your work. It’s funny how the hula hoop GIF was used on diet, fitness and dance websites. In addition, my works were included in the collection of Internet art. But the most important thing for me is that they were useful for those who still make homepages.
Of course, Aleksey Shulgin and Olga Lyalina seem to be the most important Russian authors. Aleksey is one of the key closing figures who simply creates on a different level here but has also enriched a lot all over the world. I just managed to travel, plunge into the Western art world at a fairly high level.
Yes, I worked with very famous gallerists, exhibited in super museums and places and I looked at the whole system from the inside out, and, frankly speaking, we didn’t really like it. Because I saw corruption there and I thought I should give up my career as an artist. Well, but I still needed to do something. And then I saw the Internet. Shulgin and Chernyshov were at the core of digital media art.
In general, then there were few people who were engaged in this, and they are just such a unique fusion when they are both in the Internet topic and in the topic of contemporary art in the art community. “Electroboutique” is a group of me and Aristarkh that was organized in 2003. We had been thinking about the name for a long time. Finally, we came to the conclusion that there must be some kind of a wild name which would blow everyone’s mind.
So, we decided on “Electroboutique”. When a new technology emerges, artists don't know what to do with it, they actually start using it to repeat what they already know from a past life. And I was no exception. Lesha had an idea to make glasses that would show everything in ASCII symbols.
We have different categories: media art falls into the category of misuse of technology. If we use technology incorrectly, we somehow hack it from the inside, we do hacking, and a new aesthetic is obtained. Naturally, the use of technology for other purposes is, in general, a criticism of this technology, because you can’t just use a normal technology for it . The project “Super Eye Glasses” was made in 2003. These glasses had several modes. A psychedelic one And an inverted negative one with underlining the contours and, in fact, ASCII symbols, and this was our first collaboration.
In those years, there was practically no media-technological art in Russia, and we were like white crows. Both of us were interested in this art from different angles. And there was no such environment where one could get an education in media art, and in general in contemporary art, at all. I was not in it, all the artists were self-taught, amateurs, like us in some sense. Once we made a big green head - this is such a big gas mask in front of which you had to undress. The interactivity lies in the fact that the people had to get at least the upper part of the body naked in front of this head, and then changes took place in it.
So, we worked on it for a long time, we spent a lot of money and effort on programming, and all sorts of specialists were passionate and very hard doing this work, having a very limited amount of time. We didn’t have time for reflection. And when we brought it, hung it up, looked at it and thought - this is probably some kind of nonsense, some kind of nonsense we have created it, now everyone will come and say, “Come on, guys, what the hell you’ve made, this is some kind of nonsense to undress in front of some kind of gas mask, what the hell it is”. And we started to fuss, we were already thinking of calling a car to take it off and take it away not to crap ourselves. I’m sorry, not to screw up in this system in general. Though the car was not found, this head remained hanging, and it turned out that it was quite a good piece Nothing really terrible happened.
Well, we haven’t gone very far away from them. Yes, we have more tools, but it's not like we're using them properly. Though everything has become available. When we organized our “Electroboutique” with Lesha one of the central ideas was reliability. We decided to create art that does not use computers but uses the most reliable motherboards that do not have operating systems and can live for a very long time And by the way, super-eye glasses still work.
I took them out yesterday and turned them on, and they work. In any case, you need to strive for some kind of maximum stability because the museum sells tickets for showing freaks, so the freaks should run and amuse people, not just stand and cry. We realized that modern art, media, technological eternity will never disappear simply because it will crumble there, it will no longer be possible to somehow restore it. So what? This is the eternal idea of the artist to perpetuate themselves. We subjected it, inquired why eternity is needed here. You yourself are not eternal, why should you become eternal? We just need to accept that psychological art is a very unstable medium and a painting degrades for 1000 years and fades.
Well, of course, if the priests don’t take it away from the museum to church to pray, where it can live for another 1000 years. The reliability of these works was the key to the success of “Electroboutique”. And they are relatively inexpensive, they cost several times less than some kind of painting but had a much greater effect. “Electroboutique” had a commercial focus. Commercial and critical media art is quite rare, so we were also stuck between different contexts, because traditionally progressive media art is non-commercial.
It is critical, it is against capitalism, and we actively participated in various fairs and cooperation with the XL Gallery in London. I remember one corporate collection of one very large PR agency, and I was shocked because I came and saw our work. It was a “Wow-pod”, it’s like a curved iPod, if you remember, an interactive thing. And it was among the works of top contemporary artists such as Banksy, for example. And there was our thing hanging among all other works of art.
If you had a computer with some kind of media thing in your house, everyone would think, well, some new computer game. And if you transfer it to the museum space, then everyone understands that the artist made it specifically as art. We were such an eyesore of the art community, and it constantly blasted us and angrily denounced that we were the conductors of the neoliberal regime, the designers of the neoliberal regime, that we were selling some kind of televisions. And whenever something new appears, a large number of people from the art system begin to resist it because they understand that they are losing power. After all, the art system is arranged vertically. And the ones who had been climbing it for a long time and held some position, they control and own it.
And when they see that something is out of their control, they say, “this is not art, this is nonsense. Let's not do it here”. That's one problem. Another problem is that without fresh forces any art institution will rot altogether.
This is how progress happens that there are some uncouth rebels who protest against the way of life. Yes, and at first the system denies, expels, and then it is forced to accept them in order to be updated. How come, they got out, some weirdos, some commercial ones with incomprehensible trash, and we are pushed aside from the public attention. And all this happens through sometimes irony, sometimes a rather undisguised critical message. They were just trying to do something with this new access to the network and its ubiquity, to explain that you can’t accept everything ready, you always need to figure out what’s inside, that is, how it works and what it leads to. One of our blockbusters, for which, by the way, we were given the Kandinsky Prize, is called “3G International”.
This is a tower like Tatlin or the Tower of Babel, a huge iPhone twisted into a spiral. There was a reference to modernism and ancient myths in general, and also a reflection of the fact that modern technology is the Babylonian pandemonium. This is a mixture of languages and everything, because in this phone you have everything: the whole world, all languages, everything is mixed up in some kind of heap. It is very difficult to organize this and is it not leading us to the collapse of civilization? Yes, that’s exactly this situation. Simply because they say that you can’t blindly use technologies, you must understand how they work, well, ideally, in order not to be dependent on them, but to be on the contrary, above what they offer.
The world is changing very little, by the way, this is noticeable in technology. Smartphones have been made but they are not very essential for people. And something which our progress or the improvement of the lives of one million people could depend on is developing very poorly, automatically.
There are farmlands in Mongolia where herds are monitored by drones. You can achieve much greater efficiency if you do this. There is another energy industry, a thermonuclear reactor is being made which is already a dozen years old. And there are very few people doing it. And there are a lot of people in Apple, but you can’t eat the apple, that’s such a philosophical thing.
Gradually, my interests simply moved more to another area, to the area of teaching, to the area of supervision, so no Decision was made by Lesha and me about separating, we simply stopped working in 2014, and that was it. But this is normal, I think, there was no particular drama here and it's simple - everything has its time, so to speak. “Tajiks-Art” was, perhaps, the first art-and-science project in Russia, because one of its members was also a biologist by training. One of their works seems to be very strong.
In general, the top masterpiece is when they made vodka of the blood of those migrants, they took blood from them, then somehow fermented it, distilled it and made vodka which was offered to drink to the audience members at the opening. This really was a representation of the place of these migrants in our lives, that we actually live off of them, but we don’t think about it. We take it all for granted that they live somewhere in the basements, a crowd of people in one apartment. They sweep everything, clean, do the washing up and we don’t seem to notice it.
And all this in such a rough, maybe, but at the same time art-and-science form was revealed and shown. Petersburg’s Arena, 2009, drew public’s attention with the “Tajiks-Art” project. 12 copies of famous paintings were made by migrant workers from Tajikistan. Why? What for? Who made it up? We went to find out.
Since then, labor migration began in Russia, with people from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and other countries coming to Russia. They were guest workers, they worked in some low positions, were engaged in menial work, cleaning, working at construction sites and so on. And the guys just decided to apply this idea to art. Well, why don't they really do art? Here they are – the copies of famous paintings by Warhol, Rothk, Paul, Kabaska and Harring. Their works go under the hammer at auctions for a fabulous amount.
Guest workers, Edik and Ruslan, definitely can paint very well. Maybe it's not that bad. I have no idea. Warhol tried to tell us about it.
We can endlessly reproduce things, make them replicated, and this will be quite an art.It will get a response. It was also a media project, of course, because it was in different channels. Firstly, they had a website, a page on LiveJournal, that's what they started with, and they didn't like our institute. Art is what the art community recognizes as art. Several directors of the museum, gallery owners and some artists have agreed to call one work art, and the other one an Internet meme and nothing more.
And so it is. It’s artistic community bias. It is the key point here. Because it is not clear to anyone why this heap of dubious substance is art, and that one is not art. Art critics who have been working in museums for many years are engaged in contemporary art, being in different parts of the world, working in different institutions, choose the same things. And it turns out that, probably, the only factor that influences this curatorial selection is observation, experience and reliance on the history of art. Distance is essential for art and for its understanding.
We didn't think that we were making art for the ages, that it would end up in a museum or else. I mean, it was for fun. You're just in awe of what you're doing. It’s just that the 2000s were generally such a surge in the art market which lasted literally until 2011.
Already in 2011, somehow everything went into decline because negative trends had already appeared. The Internet became available, computers became available, and a huge number of people began to use them, but now, over the years, over the decades, a huge amount of trash has been generated on the Internet which is rather sad to dig into. In general, it all developed and in particular, media art is finally coming out of some conditional underground and from some more marginal sites to the main museums, to large galleries. All this was formed just in the 2010s.
Everything has happened in the last 13 years. I was never sure what I was doing would suddenly become so popular. But you see times have changed and digital art is now in great favor and everywhere at all events they ask for digital art. You see, even now, in our difficult era.
People need art and digital art is still in demand. But now there is still such a trend about prestigious cultural capital. Yes, it’s cool to understand art now, and technology is such a trend of the generation. Now they are everywhere, they will be. It's like a new religion - it's technology. The time of heroes, of individual guys, was replaced by time, by an institution.
The formation of some more rooted and, in fact, more solid projects is what we’re having now. Approximately in 2005-2006, media art began to move from substance-faceted spaces to the territory of modern museums and galleries and connect with festival practices in Russia. My impulse and my desire were to be new, to create some kind of context for myself. So that what I did, what I do would resonate abroad, in the West, but would not be read by the art system here And we came up with such a moment that at the time when the exhibition halls of Moscow were organized, we suggested curating one of the galleries there. Just imagine we were given two.
It is difficult to work without an institution at all, it is difficult to be a spherical horse in a vacuum, you know, because one way or another you have to get some kind of platform for broadcasting your ideas and for, so to speak, showing these works to a wider audience. “Electromuseum” In 2014, a new art platform called “Electromuseum” appeared on the basis of the Rostokin’s exhibition hall. “Electromuseum” Why “Electromuseum”? Because we mainly show media art, figuratively speaking, art that runs on electricity. It was awesome. I guess “Electromuseum” was probably mentioned by both Aristarch and Aleksey and maybe someone else. In general, it was an important place for 8 years, and it was super-logical because the founding fathers of the gallery were the same adherents of the approaches there. It was cultivating, multiplied by the location itself.
I don't know if you've ever been there or not. We were just perhaps the first platform on a permanent basis which showed media art and developed its contexts. A gallery that is difficult to access is perfect because it shows the location of things because in museums the entire multimedia art museum is there, maybe in its area some kind of garbage is shown endlessly. There was also a house of photography or something like that, they always had a limit of multimedia, well, I don’t judge them. And here it is a place for such a technological media of the art of the country, a gallery of five-floor buildings in the basement, well, not particularly in the basement, on the basement floor, it was just awesome.
The wall presents, firstly, the headliner of our exhibition called "On the Edge of Art": the cultural meanings of Internet memes, photographs of an anonymous author, such a Photoshop collage that we downloaded from the Internet, also slightly improved by means of a graphic editor, printed on canvas, framed, and it turned out to be a completely museum-like work. And it is precisely the work that is important for us because it clearly illustrates the theme of our exhibition, namely the inextricable relationship of this near-artistic Internet culture with the so-called professional institutionalized world of art. Memes are the most striking manifestation, the process of mutual influence of the Internet and art. By selecting for professional art not only themes and visual images but also the audience, Internet culture forces the art institution to rethink itself and its tasks in society.
All memes shown in the film were exhibited at the state art institution, therefore they can be recognized as works of digital art. And if we talk about who is the most influential and popular, I think this is the “Where Dogs Run” project. I have infinite respect for our Yekaterinburg artists from the project “Where Dogs Run” project, because it seems to me that this is their artistic thinking, it is absolutely unlike anyone else’s quality of performance and surrealism. The quality of execution and all the realism, some huge amount of complex thinking is invested in it. It's amazing, it's very cool.
It's very difficult to comprehend how they come up with some of their projects They are just so ingenious that you think how one can even make create it. Well, the most progressive is “Where Dogs Run”. Of course, their level of technology is very high and the context is artistic, for my taste, too quite deep and interesting. but here I would say to observe their art you probably need to be a little bit of an engineer. Then you can feel the quality of this thing. That's the fact that some kind of organism can exist, for example, “Electroboutique” does not exist anymore.
And “Where Dogs Run” brings 20 years of stable cool art. They are very ironic, and irony is actually something that will always save us all. Therefore, “Dogs” in this regard are amazing, of course.
The level of irony and seriousness, two poles, is filled with in the full spectrum in each work. “Where Dogs Run” They... Art is not a goal, but a means, only few people know what for. (Leo Stepanov, a media artist) To be continued