Miyö Van Stenis is an artist and curator currently based in Paris. Through performance and coding she explores Internet interfaces, operating systems, softwares and computational devices. Her interest is in the error and the limit in the human and machine interactions. A number of her projects focus on the socio-political crisis in Venezuela. Her curatorial practice engages critical approaches to post-internet aesthetics and new media/technologies and includes livestream channel DeOrigenBelico (since 2010), Beautiful Interfaces: The Deep in the Void as part of The Wrong Biennale (2014), and Beautiful Interfaces: The Privacy Paradox (co-curated with Helena Acosta, currently on view in Reverse art gallery as part of Creative Tech Week New York, 2016). She is a founding member of the activist group: Dismantling the Simulation.
Michaël Boras aka Systaime is a French net artist and the founder of a movement called French Trash Touch (1995). Originally a video artist he uses social media platforms and available data, such as Facebook pages, videos on YouTube and similar, to create pop artworks, webfilms and Facebook art (see ʞooqǝɔɐɟ on Facebook). He was one of the first contributors to Dailymotion an early video channel. He regularly creates works through collaborations with other artists such as Asia Argento, Charlelie Couture, Sporto Kantes, Bianca Jagger, Miyö Van Stenis. More about Systaime on Wikipedia.
This conversation took place over email and Facebook messenger in April 2016. The starting point was Miyö and Systaime’s collaborative online performance Internet Lovers ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Naked Flux (2013) which I came across some time ago. I was especially interested in the performative qualities of the work which brings together internet tools, social platforms and interfaces, digital practices with their social histories, as well as different artistic practices and post-internet aesthetics, all performed within the few hours of a live stream that took place online and in the gallery in Bogota. I have only known the work from its recording and to me it has been a particular realisation of certain intimacies where humans and nonhumans are involved. These different elements enter relations that make the work while also making more explicit material qualities of how we engage with our lives on/offline and the tools and practices that are part of that life making. Below our conversation wich starts with intimacy and explores its relevance for digital practices.
Magda Tyżlik-Carver: Let’s start with the question about your individual practices. How would you describe your relationship with your digital tools, materials, environment? would ‘intimate’ be at all a fitting way to describe it?
Miyö Van Stenis: My relationship with the digital, is definitely ‘Intimate’. I’m pretty sure that I share this feeling with most people of my generation. We were born with the internet or saw its birth. We have a close loving relationship, and we are dependent on the currents technologies.
Michaël Borras aka Systaime: I was born 1973
Not With internet
I discover internet @ 25
My First computer @ 25
Before I only Knew IRL (In Real Life)
MvS: Yes, but you played with videogames saw computers born, and their evolution. I guess we’re the lucky ones, we saw the evolution so in a way we understand that the internet is not intimacy. I refuse the idea of internet = intimacy. It can be more of a romantic perception, or deception because in reality the internet is completely public. There are many people who are completely fucked by this idea of internet as intimate.
MBakaS: In my work I ironically play with the idea that the internet is intimacy. A lot of people don’t understand that internet is public and they expose everything of their private lives. I think intimacy has disappeared since the introduction of the possibility that everything can be captured …
MTC: could you define what intimacy is for you and how (if) it is in any way present in your work?
MBakaS: Intimacy is what we do not show, what we do not expose. It is our secret life … It is our protection … so I think we live in a world of (ex)timacy … that is to say that we show false intimacy and so we choose a false life. Real life is personal and it is important to protect it. We expose too much of our private lives which is pretend intimacy.
Certainly many people do not protect their intimacy. They don’t realize the scope of scrutiny and surveillance that internet facilitates. This is the danger of the internet since the beginning. On the one hand it provides a secure space for people to reveal and to follow their most intimate desires. And as these desires are satisfied they engage more and more intimately with internet as a medium, they become more intimate with it. But what happens is that this personal intimacy becomes public and in result fake.
In my work, I try to show the dangers of these practices and this attitude. We must protect ourselves and learn how to play with this medium. Our intimacy is valuable; it is what helps us breathe. Intimacy is breathing in a superconnected world. We invent lives on the internet but the trap is to believe that our lives are on the internet. More and more people live their lives through their digital identity, performing lives in the space that is a game, nothing more. We have to realise that.
MvS: Intimacy for me is the quality of being private. I explore operating systems and software and the Internet by testing their limits. But also, in this software and machine-based environment my everyday experience has a big influence on my work; that’s where I see its personal attributes.
In my work I create/share/make archetypes related to my femininity, my political standards and attitudes, my life; all as a hyperbolic reflection of my existence on the web. I illustrate this with my facebook profile. It is a kind of personal diary. I am not an avatar there, what is there it’s me; it’s real and exists in the public. This means that my relationship with the media I use is ‘intimate’, it is personal. I don’t think that something that touches the internet stops being intimate.
For example, we now know that privacy doesn’t exist in this space. Everything there is available to surveillance: it can be tracked, leaked, exposed. So the ‘intimate’ conversation on gmail I have with my lover or my friend hacker regardless of its intimate character, it is/will be read. The woman with 60 million followers on Instagram who shares her naked photo on the platform, gives up her privacy at the moment she uploads that pic. In my work I test the possibilities of privacy and intimacy while being aware of the conditions that define the internet as a surveyed space.
MTC: is it possible to experience intimacy while there is no escape from exposure? Michael you said earlier that ‘internet is intimacy’ – can you explain?
MBakaS: I think intimacy online has disappeared since the introduction of the possibility of online capture of everything… Intimacy is what we do not show, it is the secret life … It is our protection … so I think we live in a world of (ex) timacy … that is to say that we show a false intimacy that is constantly exposed. We create intimacy for our pretend life on the internet whilst our real life has to be protected.
This is the danger of the internet since the beginning. We still have to realise how public and exposed the internet is. People like to engage with the internet and the connection with the world that it offers, from the security of their home, privacy of their bedroom. They feel intimacy, they experience being closely intimate with the world and so engaging more… In my work, I try to show the other side of these practices and this attitude. And so as much as being close with the world we also must protect ourselves. We must know how to play with new media and the internet and not just let it play us. Internet is a game, nothing more.
We invent lives on the internet but the trap is to believe that our lives are on the internet.
More and more people live their lives through their digital identity, capturing their everyday and only then feeling it counts as life. People today spend more time to capture their life than they give attention to their real lives.
MTC: Why do you think that happens?
MakaS: Maybe, because we want to forget reality. Intimacy and reality are related in a strange way. Even though intimacy is part of reality, it is not reality. It is a kind of dream reality. By that I mean that it is a reality that we choose to create for ourselves. For example, in my work I engage with intimate online spaces like sex webcam site where I look for an empty window and wait for the model to come back. It is a work of patience, not just waiting for the model but then also talking to her for some time. We talk about everything and then I ask her if she can say ‘Systaime I love you!’ I take my time and create intimacy through conversation and with love. Still it is illusion of intimacy, it is a kind of game. My reality is not a game, but I like to play with it. So if I want something to exist I must play with my reality. But my intimacy has moved to another space now (of art and money). It is positive attraction and at the same time a critique of art and money.
MTC: what is the link between positive attraction and intimacy? Or love and intimacy?
MakaS: it is a conviction and projection; it is a form of creating reality. My dream is my reality; my reality is my dream; I am what I want to be. If I want something to exist I Must Play With My reality.
MvS: Love is related to intimacy and passion; As an artist yes, I create from my love and passion for my subjects: new media and art, internet, political matters, etc. But I don’t take “love” as a framework for my work because I want to investigate conceptual and semiotic processes behind production of certain state(s) of mind. But of course, if you don’t love what you do or who you’re, unhappiness will be your guide, it will be reflected in the experiences and feelings that the artwork is able to produce.
MTC: Your works are very playful and ironic. And that is the case too in your collaboration. I suppose Internet Lovers is an example of this playfulness accompanied by certain vulnerability… Could you tell me a bit more about this piece?
MvS: Internet Lovers ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Naked Flux (full name of the performance), is part of our collective ACNLRYS – A Creepy Night Light Reflecting on Your Screen. After working together for a few years (almost 6 years) on the internet without knowing each other IRL, Systaime and I came together with the idea to create an open stream performance. We wanted to produce an online flux performance that would allow us to generate and combine experiences, feelings, moments between users inside the tinychat room and others IRL where the performance was projected. It was a realisation of a romantic fact that we also enjoy working together, and we wanted to acknowledge our method of working together remotely. This time it was between Paris-Caracas-Bogotá as the work was commissioned for Contemporary Museum of Bogota by its current director Yolanda Dugarte. The images and sounds were selected randomly by us and the users on the chatroom, so it was never controlled, everything was generated by the impulse of being Internet Lovers and that we were doing an open stream party.
The streaming was pretty much 4 hours, the main tools to produce that performance were Tinychat website and facebook to connect with other users. All images, videos or sound displayed were founded on Internet or created by the users. I can’t remember exactly who joined the stream but mostly they were people that for the moment were connect to facebook from our friend list and decided to join us. Yes, it was definitely open, it was a party! An Internet Lovers Party.
Internet Lovers, was firstly an online manifestation of the impossibility to travel to Bogota from France (Systaime) and from Venezuela (Miyö van Stenis). And secondly, because we wanted to create an online experience where content can be randomly generated with the help of other users. That’s the amazing part of creating an open performance, or an open streaming: it’s impossible to control or modify what is going to happen. At the same time there’s perpetual catharsis between all the people involved, creating this into “affective space”.
MTC: You talk about perpetual catharsis which, you suggest, leads to creating affective space. Do you think this is a shared experience more generally? A kind of danger, or risk that artists have to accept and carry out? can you say more about it? and where do you see the so called ‘public’ in this?
MvS: This idea of perpetual catharsis is very common in performance. It is a device that allows the public to be active. Mostly people are not immediately aware of it, but when we participate in a jamming session, a play inside a theatre or something that is simply impromptu and improvisational, our bodies and our minds start to focus only on this moment. With this experience we create affective space that is personal, intimate and sometimes inexplicable.
As artists we give the public tools to be involved in such experience, to be part of something that at the start seems out of their control and something that they might feel they wouldn’t be able to create. But if we look at art history and examples of Fluxus Art, Happening, Dada… the desire to give the work away and open the process is never dangerous if artistic aim is to open it to the unpredictable. I think the risk of the artist would be if nobody cared and even this result would be an acceptable response
MakaS: I make a difference between the artistic work and catharsis. Catharsis is personal and I think the artist should not invite the public to settle their own problems. Too many artists make art to heal their neuroses. I think that art should be generous. Obviously when working with internet and computer glitch and the bug these are all an integral part of process.
I personally do not conceptualize my art, I do things, I play … I play … I think an artist must transcribe his time with the tools of his time.
MTC: There is a common aesthetic that characterises your work, yet your work and the way you use digital tools and materials are very different.
MvS: Yes, our work is completely different, we can use the same elements of this post-internet aesthetic but the structure will be the opposite. We’re like yin-yang but our common interest is to create a type of art that can be accessible, easy to read and clever.
For me it is very mixed it depends of the project and the final intention. But mostly all my creative process starts with a .doc or .jpg file as a storyboard and ends with mixing different software, digital techniques or rebooting my computer because it doesn’t work anymore.
MakaS: For me it is a new language, the internet, mash-up remix is a form of new language
We speak without words by remixing. I love searching the limits of networks but with fun and happiness.
I do not like intellectual art, nor the concept art. I think the viewer must remain free to see whatever they want to see without imposing other ideologies. I certainly do not want to impose my inner life on the viewer either. There is a big difference between my life and my art. Art is not a medicine, it is a gift to positively influence the viewer so they too want to make art. That’s why I attach little importance to the technique, so that the viewer feels that they can create and that this creative process is in their reach.
I work with my intuition, I have fun, I do not prepare anything. I work with my masculine side and my feminine side. Art for me is a Game and it is a Joke!
MTC: Regardless of these differences your work is very stimulating. It generates tension and it feeds of it but in a very subtle way… It seems to be motivated by a desire to generate experience of this very lively space that the internet is.
MvS: For me, creating this type of works/performances/net-art like Internet Lovers is needed as a response to what is now defined as the post-internet era. Indeed, the work is attentive to what the internet is but I also want to push the limits of technology, software, and social network platforms. For some time I have been doing these live performances on Twitter using bots, tinychat, live streaming, Facebook etc., but also from my desktop. These kinds of performances are idiosyncratic and relate to hacking techniques. Yet, they all have the same purpose: to create experiences and feelings through actions, errors or glitches and data.
MTC: Your need to ‘push the limits of technology’ is present in your work. Based on that experience can you say where technology’s limits are?
MvS: I started as an artist with glitch even before I knew that this technique has a definition. I found the definition after coming across the work of Rosa Menkman with her theoretical statement about this. And so the desire to break things settled down after that.
I’m a coder, that’s my work and what I do best. The present interest to push the limits is to find the error or the unexpected. It is to produce the meeting point between human nature and machines. But it is also the effect that I’m against how the market and big companies decide each year what is obsolete or not, even when technological devices can have a longer live.
This has a big cost to our society and ecosystem. Think, for example, that Steve Jobs is considered a hero even though he built his industry with cheap labour, created cheap devices that cost hundreds of $ and are synonymous with luxury and they are all about status. It’s so absurd to me. But I’m not alone in recognising these issues. More and more people question this and similar business practices and they push the limits too.
If you look at the history of the internet it is interesting to recognise how competition for online control has been always part of it. You can see companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, etc (just to name the companies that control the western culture) compete with each other for technological domination. For me one of the most amazing and public examples of this battles was the so called “Browser War”. Browsers are the tools that control who can access the web and what can be seen through them; They’re the main interface for the Internet. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Browser_wars
So to close your question, I push to the limits of how long the devices are destined to live, their original functionality, and I am inspired by pushing the boundaries defined by copyrights.
MTC: In your work Bitches b Like for cloaque, among others, you explore female sexuality and its public appearances. Can you say a bit more about this connection with explicit imagery, or imagery that pushes particular kind of ideas related to female presence online?
MvS: All my work is related to the female energy, mostly because those experiences or feelings that I try to share are extremely personal and intimate. My life is an open book through my work… Some of the pieces are related to toxic relationships, breakups, etc. that I couldn’t erase from my system and I had to heal with my poetry and other kinds of communicative expression (see Tumblr Breakup, or the gif Raw Meat). This type of work is half poetry, a little bit of crying at night and a big part of healing of my deep, intimate feelings. I also explore sexuality through poetry. I write erotic poetry, so it is very natural that this sexual, erotic or very explicit imagery leaks into my work. All is connected.
Bitches b Like, http://cloaque.org/tagged/bitchesblike is a particular mix: I bring together the devices I have used in my life from the Comodore pc, Cell Phones, usb adapters, RIO mp3 player with the contemporary archetypes that I think pop culture has created with the tumblr aesthetics, into a kind of memorial totem. Personally, I think Tumblr has changed completely how we conceive and create internet culture, especially for and by the young generation connected to the internet. When Cloaque.org ask me to collaborate with them on this project, in 2013 the new stream of feminism as a post-internet sub culture was just starting. This piece is an interactive and very hard coder work inside the Tumblr platform, all the animation that you can see there has been programed, there’s no gif and even there’s the 3D object as a Tumblr post.
MTC: You both talk about error and the unexpected. Is this the place where you see human and machine meet? Is this what you want to express through your work, that ability to experience the machine through relations of failure? Glitched relations? Why?
MvS: From the philosophical position I believe that “the error” or “glitch” is the clearest meeting point between humans and machines/technology. We need to acknowledge the fact that there is nothing more human than failure; it makes us evolve individually and as a society. Technology reflects the fact that humans want to create perfection, something that works in harmony with our commands and no matter what it always is expected to look and work perfectly to our satisfaction. If Nietzsche and Hakim Bey questioned the need for God, why can’t we play to destroy the proud son of human beings, the extensions of our senses and ironically what controls us. This glitched relationship, is a perfect dialectic, see beauty when all fails.