Annie Abrahams is a net artist,
interweaving net art with collective writing, performance,
video, as well as installation. Annie Abrahams works are
structured on both digitized hyper and on site realities.
She constructs forms of collective writings on the net
and reconstructs them into offline perceptions, which
leads to creations of net-operas and other web based interventions.
This interview offers insights in her artistic practice
and in her being human behind a collective intelligence.
Annie Abrahams was born in Hilvarenbeek, the Netherlands,
and since 1985 she lives in France. Annie Abrahams holds
a doctorate in biology from the University of Utrecht
and is a graduate in fine arts from the Academie voor
Beeldende Kunsten, Arnhem. Her works are widely discussed
and have been exhibited international at institutions
such as the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, Armenian
Center for Contemporary Experimental Art, Espai d'Art
Contemporani de Castelló Spain, and New Langton
Arts in San Francisco. Annie Abrahams performed her net
pieces at Skuc Gallery in Ljubljana, La Centrale Gallery
in Montréal, Centre Pompidou, National Opera of
Montpellier, Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki and many
other venues. www.bram.org
afraid of ? Life in a collective intelligence",
Montpellier, 2005. photo: courtesy of the artist
Evelin Stermitz: You were one of
the early artists using the computer and the Internet in artistic
means, how did it begin? How did you experience the Internet as
a public space for artistic interrogations?
I started using a computer around 1991 when my friend made me
a program to organize the installations in space I made with my
133 chaos painting at the time. When in 1996 I was asked to do
a show in a gallery in Nijmegen Holland I quite naturally used
email exchange to be present at a distance in the meeting place
I created in this gallery. It was at this point that I realized
the potential of the Internet for an artist and that I started
to create work only accessible / apprehensible via the Internet.
At the time I considered the Internet
as a public space of solitude. A place where one isn't meeting
the other person, but the image one makes of this other in one's
imagination. One contemplates the other in one self. Most of my
net art pieces center around computer mediated relations to this
only have my name are among the most striking examples
of this approach.
As fields of thought spaces, you forged the collaboration on "collective
writing" which turned to an immense outcome, how did you
conceive this artistic textual relations and how did you transform
the text material into a digitized hyperspace?
My experimentations started in 1999 with Wishes
/ Voeux. This first collective writing project was just
a collection of wishes, that I proposed to "stocker, déposer,
entreposer, deposit, lodge, gardienage, mise en forme, entretien,
surveillance, keeping, conservation, maintenance, caring, storage,
stock, shaping". Some of these wishes were chosen to be html-ized
either by me or by other volunteering net artists like [anachroma],
Takuji Kogo, Tiia Johannson, Christophe Desgouttes, Elise Lefevre,
Ted Warnel, Mildred Pierce or Tamara Lai. As html-izing at the
time was writing code, this htm-lizing was the second writing
layer of the project. A third existed in the possibility to write
a personal email, unseen by the others, to an unknown wishing
person. Later on, when I learned a bit of perl and php, I started
to integrate different constraints in the writing process and
to develop time based experiments that resulted not anymore only
in collections, but were texts changing over time.
The collective texts, I noticed,
are very present at the moment of the participation but become
only data on a server or light on a screen afterwards. I wanted
to reinvest them with affect and so I started to read them in
front of the public, which immediately made evident for instance
their oral quality.
E.S.: Since indefinable masses
of textual material are existing on the net, do you think that
we are able at the moment to cope with all these data and how
do you view this mediated artistic work, also in relation to a
virtual performative aspect, since your work is interwoven?
People hardly ever read the collections. When I talk about them,
most people don't even want to consider them as text, let
alone literature or poetry. But I am convinced of their intrinsic
quality. We just don't have the right tools to judge them
by, but this doesn't mean they are not valuable. It is the
same as with a lot of new behaviour that develops around computers,
networks and virtual reality. We will have to develop new sensibilities
and even a new vocabulary, not necessarily textual, to be able
to understand these. My performances tend in this direction and
try to act out these sensibilities. For instance The
Big Kiss, done with Mark River at OTO in New York in
2008, highlights the fact that computer mediated kissing might
also be exciting but is, as an experience, much closer to drawing
than to actual kissing.
What interests me in my collective
writing projects is to unveil the existence of a multiple voice:
a voice made up by words of people of all classes and ages. I
love watching this stammering beginning of the creation of a language
of the multitude.
Reading a collectively written text aloud, passing this text through
the body, triggers an increased sensibility for this multitude
and is for me the best way to appreciate it.
E.S.: You performed at various
festivals, institutions like the opera and also in public spaces,
how would you describe the field of your performance pieces and
in which aspects are they net performances?
A few days ago I was thinking about my actual performance projects
and I was struck by it's resemblance with my activities
as a scout leader in the sixties. This might make you smile, but
actually it makes sense. I was inventing situations where people
could discover something new about themselves, for instance when
I made a labyrinth for blindfolded scouts, or when I created games
and plays I already used protocols to have people interact and
pay attention to the other.
For some time I considered all my
acts on the Internet as performances in public space. I considered
the space as a field of research, as the best place to study human
behaviour in its most intimate expressions available to me outside
my personal life. Sometimes I got emotionally so involved that
I had to find a twist to accept its failures. When the French
group of net artists Lieudit (1997 – 1999) were unable to
agree on their future for a second time I decided to rework the
text of their email exchanges in to a piece of theatre called
"Who's afraid of ? Life in a collective intelligence".
Of course then again there was no agreement on the rights to this
text and I had to do the sole and only reading of this piece behind
My performance pieces often have
a personal experience that triggers them. Oppera
Internettikka Protection et Sécurité done
with Igor Stromajer in 2006 started because I joked in a mail
to Igor (who started the Oppera Internettikka series in 1998 as
a way to present net art in public spaces) about wanting to hear
him sing html code life and by the time we were preparing the
performance for the opera in Montpellier there were violent outbreaks
in the suburbs. The
All Star Girls Band presenting Peurs / Fears was meant
to impress the overall male participants of the E-poetry2007 festival
la poupée de l'autre with Nicolas Frespech can
be seen as a gesture that unveils the play, and the perversities
that result from it, between proximity and distance in Internet
relations in a rather literal way. The performance was done in
two tents on the scene of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The tent
and its form, spherical, were important to me because it symbolised
my way to produce my way of being in the world. Its protection
and its possibilities, but also its fragility and its instability
determine my relation to the complex and uncertain world I live
E.S.: How do you view your own
role as persona in net performances and how are your experiences
in collaborations with other performers in one piece, also related
to a coded structure?
In my performances I have found a way to artistically explore
my frustrations, to search my limits and possibilities and to
share this with others. Nowadays we can act our fantasies on the
Internet with the result that, because they are acted, they stop
to be fantasies. We are changing. Our imagination isn't functioning
the same now as it was a few years ago. How are these and other
changes influencing our way of being?
There is a lot of utopic phrasing
about enhanced collaboration via Internet. In my experience it's
not that simple. I don't want to decide if it's true or not, I
want to experiment its nature, because I am convinced that machine-mediated
collaboration dynamics are different from regular ones. In Huis
Clos / No Exit, a networked performance project investigating
collaboration, I see shifts, interruptions, cuts, flux variations,
temporary vacuums and coding errors in and between the images,
as the aesthetic materials that will translate the possibilities
and the limits of our capacities to be together in a cyberized
E.S.: Another aspect in computational
art is the double bond disparity of human being and technical
device, could you outline your project "Being Human"
and interrelated behaviour of human - machine experiences in your
"Being Human" is no really a project. It's more a
container word for my net art activities between 1997 and 2008.
When I started working on the net, one of its most attractive
features was the absence of a contextualising intermediate person
between my art and its public. My work was addressing someone,
not necessarily looking for art, in front of his or her own computer.
This situation made it possible and necessary to ask myself questions
as: What do I have in common with this unknown other? What are
the common dividers of the human being? The theme stayed with
me for some time, but the Internet changed and me too. I became
more focussed on the limits and possibilities of especially machine-mediated
communication and its consequences on our behaviour.
With hindsight I see that human
behaviour was also at the centre of my net art pieces. Suzanne
Langer in Feeling and Form (1977) wants the third dimension
to be the object of the esthetical contemplation of paintings,
and movement its object in sculpture. Arjen Mulder in Understanding
Media Theory. Language, Image, Sound, Behavior made me think
that behaviour could be the object of esthetical contemplation
in pieces of Internet art. "Every art object contains a virtual
feeling, a feeling given form, which through being given form
is virtualised and can thereby be actualised again - if not as
experience, then as something it is possible to experience",
Mulder concludes (UMT, 2004, p. 191).
E.S.: Recently you created a piece
/ Folie, how did you formulate this social issue and
how did you merge it with a non-virtual and virtual space?
In 2000 I spend 7 weeks in a psychiatric hospital and I was stunned
about how one's attitude towards such an institution can change.
The moment I crossed the doorstep the environment changed from
a hostile into a securizing one. I made the video The
Green Oaks about this place that I characterized as one
where there are no norms only rules.
When at the beginning of this year
I was invited by the CNES La Chartreuse to participate in their
lecture performance series during the Avignon theatre festival,
and when, while visiting the place, I was proposed a cell where
they formerly jailed "crazy" monks as the place for
the performance I immediately jumped on the occasion to work again
on madness. I started an Internet collection Madness / Folie
? that I used later in the performances If
you not me. In this performance I invited the visitors
inside a cell to read aloud the text written by the webpage visitors.
But as they were entering this space where there were no norms
but only rules, I asked them to obey certain rules and to tend
to certain activities as card playing, producing papier maché
grips, watching a reassuring video or reading a journal "Tout
va bien" (All goes well). Once inside I wasn't leading the
game any more, so besides assisting in a reading of a text we
also participated in an exercise of auto-organisation.
As to the question "Does madness
exist on the internet?" I guess the answer is "no".
Internet is a universe with a lot of rules, but no norms? To give
a more subtle answer I would need to perform an English spoken
E.S.: Your work as a net artist
unfortunately affected yourself in bodily diseases, how did it
happen that online work and virtual collaboration caused serious
I don't think online work made me sick. It was more complex. But
it is true that my urgent hospitalisation in a psychiatric department
was the result of RSI problems, not recognized by the medical
corpus. And it is also true that at least partly these Repetitive
Strain Injury problems were due to excessive working in front
of a computer. I think it had a lot to do with my natural inclination
to forget my body. I panicked when someone told me I could forget
about working on a computer in the future. The computer and the
connexions it made possible were almost all my life and so I became
seriously ill. Fortunately this person was wrong. It took a long
to time to recover and to learn how to take care of myself, body