[iDC] Interview with Eduardo Navas

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Mon Mar 21 16:36:49 EST 2005

Listening To Yourself While Playing With Others

Interview with Eduardo Navas (adjusted by Trebor Scholz)
As part of WebCamTalk1.0

Trebor Scholz:
In February 2003 you founded Net Art Review (NAR), a collaborative weblog
reviewing media art that for the most part focuses on web-based work. There
are several fairly large conversational fora that address media art. New
media researchers and educators already greatly benefit from mailing lists
like Empyre, FibreCulture, <nettime>, New-Media-Curating, Rhizome, Rohrpost,
Sarai, and Spectre. What was your motivation for Net Art Review?

Eduardo Navas:
I noticed that there was debate about technological issues and exchange
about cultural theory, but rarely were there detailed writings focusing on
the actual art in the form of reviews.  Most online artists would release
their own statements, and it would often end at that. Sometimes casual
comments would follow by members of the different lists, and other times
there would of course be heavy exchange of ideas and that was good;
regardless, there was no consistency in how this criticism happened, which
is good for lists but also made it obvious that there was room for other
forms of critical practice online. For example, contributions to Rhizome
were often very good (and still are) but at other times loose and/or ended
in flame wars: people flooding the list with personal insults. There
were/are good articles on C-Theory and Switch, as well as on <nettime>,
which always had very intense exchanges. But mostly these discussions around
cultural issues do not directly focus on specific artworks. And the Empyre
list is also quite strong with its focused, month-long conversations. I
noticed that there was a need for a specific type of criticism, which was
actually being met in part by Neural.it and Random, both in Italy. (See
references for list of online journals.)

Net Art Review was launched early in 2003, a few months after Rhizome became
a membership pay-service. Rhizome was heavily criticized for the
introduction of membership fees. There was the perception that Net Art
Review was developed in reaction to Rhizome's decision, but I never saw it
like that. I had been trying to set up a critical forum for about a year,
but did not get to invest sufficient time into it before the beginning of
2003. The criticism of Rhizome probably gave Net Art Review some extra
attention, but it was more complex than that.

So, to reiterate, Net Art Review offers a focus on artwork, something that I
see is missing in relation to online culture. Rhizome's net art news comes
the closest to that but I was not satisfied with it because their texts are
limited in length. They do not focus on criticism, but mainly on
descriptions of the works with some supportive commentary. Net Art Review
was founded as a small, decisively low-tech, very simple web portal that
focuses on content production without a feedback option. The feedback option
was not a common feature of blogs at the time. A response option would also
demand more time from the administrators: Lora McPhail (Los Angeles), me
(San Diego) and more recently Molly Hankwitz (Brisbane/ San Francisco). It
will also make things more expensive. But when readers contact us we
correspond quickly. Blogging boomed in early 02 (and apparently still is
increasing in popularity)-- a weblog seemed like a good tool to try out the
idea of a review site. However, we hope to develop the site further. The
regular contributors communicate through a dedicated mailing list. Lora
McPhail, our editor-in-chief, coordinates the writings and oversees the
mailings that are sent to us as either submission or concerns. Molly
Hankwitz is contributing editor and is in charge of the weekly features.
Garrett Lynch is working on a new, more efficient set-up so that we can
eventually leave the commercial Blogger service behind. It is important to
note that Net Art Review is open for anyone who is invested in new media
practice and wishes to share her opinion. (For additional contributors see


TS: Some technologists and cultural producers may question the title "Net
Art Review" as they perceive Internet Art as something that they left behind
us. Net Art fortunately rather quickly overcame its initial hype and is now
one option among many others in the realm of "new media art." I use "new
media art" as an operable term with the clear understanding  that, of
course, today's new media will be tomorrow's "old" or "dead media." It does
not statically refer to any particular technology. It's dynamic in its
reference. Reviews in Net Art Review do not entirely focus on Internet Art
but the title of the review site asserts set boundaries. Did you intend this

EN: I ran the name by a few people who have been part of new media art
communities for a long time, some of them said that the title was limiting,
referring to something that was left behind, or that it could place a label
on things that were not related to net art. Net Art Review addresses art in
the networks. It is about net art without the dot. It was odd that when I
mentioned the term many referred to the net.art group specifically, which
demonstrated their influence. For me, net art refers to activities that
function online and challenge the borders of web-based practices. We can
include online hypertext literature, early blogging (starting about 1997),
e-mail art, and online activism just to name a few areas. If you notice, the
description on the website reads: "Net Art Review focuses on net-art and its
crossover to other fields in new media." A lot of the featured work uses
online technologies as both medium and tool (Christiane Paul uses this
approach to consider work in her book, see list). Reviewers write about
anything that is considered creative online practice. They also address
offline exhibitions and conferences, which I think is appropriate. Once
people start to look for specific definitions, it becomes obvious very
quickly that even terms such as "netart," "net art" or "net-art" are not
that easy to define. This is something that Julian Stallabrass does a good
job in explaining in his book Internet Art The Clash of Culture and Commerce
on the Internet. Here he shows that even among the early Internet artists
and critics there was debate about what "net art" could be or what it should
do. So, I do not completely understand the ambivalence to the term by some

At this point the term "net art" is becoming more widely used. When I
founded Net Art Review I considered it a good "bridge" to those researchers
not yet familiar with net art. Net Art Review is usually listed among the
first ten hits for the search term "net art," which gives it a wide
audience. Once the surfer arrives we provide links to all kinds of new media
resources, not only "net art."

I want to further comment on this idea of not using certain terms, or
wanting to leave them behind; it might have to do with artists being
somewhat aware and ambivalent of the regressive listener, as described by
Theodor Adorno in his ideas of modern music.  The regressive listener, in
general, wants to be served new material, which in reality is what they had
already been served in the past. We, of course, see this in Hollywood
movies, but this phenomenon really permeates throughout all specters of
society. Artists' practice is often driven by the ideology of constantly
moving forward, trying new things. But in order to achieve this, it appears
that some would like to destroy or dismiss the past. They feel that the past
limits them from exploring the new. This is not too far-off from how Adorno
sees the regressive listener trying to destroy the old demanding something
that is new. The new in the end is a reconfigured version that makes them
feel progressive. According to Adorno, they are "regressing" to that which
they already know. I understand that artists might not want to be related
with certain terms because once they or their work are recognized as a
paradigm this starts to limit the artists' options to experiment due to the
process of historiography that is put into effect. However, if we consider
Adorno's position (which I know is quite difficult for many, including
myself) the tendency for artists is to often change the tools and the name
of what they do, but they are re-using the same ideological model--the model
of the avant-garde, which has been repeated and re-proposed several times in
different forms either as "myth" of something that only happened in the
past, or as something that is always in action.  This depends on whose
history you read, of course. But this is pure regression either way. So, I
think worrying about terms is a way to dismiss something that will only be
reconfigured to make people comfortable.

I propose a listener who does not try to destroy the old, but one who
actually moves forward with it. If it gets old and people want to move on,
it is because the ideology of innovation is demanding this of them. "We are
past net art"-- that's regressive listening. This starts to sound a lot like
"painting is dead"- an art world cliché that has been brought up too many
times, yet painting is alive and kicking.
In the end, it is useful for people to be able to latch on to terms, and
reinvest in them.  If we consider Guy Debord's theories on the festival, we
learn that we live in a "spectacular time," and that in the past people
(mainly prior to invention of the clock) lived in what he calls "cyclical
time." Festivals demand that people reenact their "history" at the moment of
the gathering. However, this does not really happen in contemporary culture
today. Even though it appears it does when people gather for different
holidays- those meetings are dependent on the clock, on a measurement
striving for perfection, asking us to move forward linearly and not in a
circle. "Progress" is defined on linear terms, even after the
self-reflection postmodernism supposedly made possible. How many times can
you ask the same question? Or actually wait for nothing? If this sounds
boring it may be because the ideology of regression is deep inside of us. I
am not saying that we should go back to cyclical time, but we should
understand what we are proposing when we try to move past a term because it
has had its day.

Guy Debord. Society of the Spectacle (see chapters V, VI)

TS: Earlier you mentioned that accessibility is a large part of what draws
you to net art. When talking about access to technology we cannot leave out
the vast discrepancies between the digital have and have-nots. How do you
take this divide into account?

EN:  This is actually an issue I am very aware of. Through NAR I collaborate
with people in different countries to make new media more accessible for as
many  people as possible, by providing material in various languages. We do
not use translation tools mainly because they are unable to translate the
subtleties of language. Translation is not just about exchanging the proper
terms, but about considering the sensitivity running in between the lines of
text.  By also presenting texts that are not in English we show the real
limitations on the web: the politics of language barriers.

TS: In your recent text "The Blogger as Producer" you draw a parallel
between Walter Benjamin's observation of the popularization of printed
media. According to Benjamin readers became "collaborators" as their tastes
and desires dictated the emergence of new columns in newspapers at the time.
This way the reader felt in touch with her culture and became an author of
sorts. In your essay you say that Benjamin suggested the inclusion of news
writing into the history of literature. We are currently facing a similar
challenge in which many online forums struggle to achieve the same kind of
legitimization that more established peer-reviewed scholarly print magazines
have developed. New media researchers find many different forms for their
work and weblogs are extensively used. Was this struggle to legitimize
online content part of your founding idea for New Art Review?

EN:  Net Art Review (NAR) was founded with the idea of legitimization in
mind. The site would need to contend with its perception by different
communities. In the end, I realized that the online resource would position
itself based on the rigor, seriousness, and shortcomings of the site which
is grounded in the commitment of its collaborators, its authors. Our
investment is the delivery of material online. Academics may look at our
work not so differently from the way Axel Bruns observes online activity; by
the way, I am very much interested in his anthropological approach to the
blogosphere that I read in one of your recent interviews in this series. He
has a fascinating scholar-eye view on blogs. But to answer your question,
the type of writing we do on NAR would not be possible without blogging
technology. The people who write for NAR could be considered producers in
Benjaminian terms.
However, I wrote "The Blogger as Producer" with a more open idea in mind.
The original essay was 25 pages long. This short and general online version
only introduces my proposition.


TS: Much of the inspiration of self-organizational cooperative art projects
is founded in their extra-institutional vitality, in finding collaborative
formats for unlearning and foster performative, experimental, and engaged
research that has agency. Their research output in some cases exceeds that
of some small brick and mortar universities. Net Art Review is an online
forum. Are you interested in the creation of networks of discourse also
EN: Yes, we try to negotiate the online/ offline divide. As it was
previously mentioned some of the writings on events are not always
immediately related to online practices. Local and global activities are
becoming more connected. Web cams conversations (like this interview) allow
for things to get more physical. We see each other-- things get less
disembodied. We are about to enter a time where the physical will become
even more emphasized through new technology. GPS devices are an example of
this. I am invested in trying to meet people in person whenever possible.
This does not have to be at a professional event like a conference; it could
simply be a meeting with somebody who happens to visit the city I live in,
or vice versa. The interpersonal bond makes cultural connections much
stronger in the long run.

TS: You are a media artist, a facilitator and writer. Currently, you are
writing your Ph.D. with Lev Manovich. You create linkages between people.
You produce artwork. Online you facilitate community around discourse. Is it
easy for you to bring these different parts of your cultural practice

EN: The artist as writer is by no means a new model. Just take Art in
America, New Art Examiner, October, and Art Forum. Some of their writers
play the very defined role of the artist/ critic. Our role as new media
artists is more blurry. The culture of new media requires artists to
function as curators, writers, critics and producers. Slowly this is
changing though-- I saw this when I studied at CalArts where I met Natalie
Bookchin, and learned about Alexei Shulgin's work. Natalie curated shows,
wrote about net art, produced artwork-- all in parallels. Amy Alexander
worked in a similar way. When I met her I mainly knew her piece "The
Multi-Cultural Recycler." But Amy Alexander became more active as a
multi-tasker. She is a founding member of runme.org, an initiative grouped
around software art.


This multi-tasking was and to an extent is born out of necessity. People who
create challenging work in whichever medium (be it music or code or
concrete) most often have an understanding of many of these areas.
Especially in earlier online art practice, you had to create the exposure
for your work or that of others. This is where a network is useful.

Now we see increasing levels of specialization. Here at the University of
California San Diego, new media art is now taught in the art history
department-- it is recognized as an art historical field. However, new media
as a field of art history requires a breadth of practical knowledge.
Somebody who has no practical understanding of coding will not be able to
fully integrate theory with the work. You cannot develop a historical
narrative about a piece without a real understanding of its back-end. You
need to get your hands dirty for new media research. You have to be willing
to wear many hats-- it is almost like a foundational paradigm. The critical
distance expected in other fields falls apart in new media research.

TS: What is your take on networking-- between a mafioso-like pulling of
strings to get ahead with ones career and the establishment of networks for
discussion there is a big difference. How do you understand this term?

EN: New media scenes can function removed from the mainstream art worlds,
although the lines are becoming more and more blurry. It is common knowledge
that some artists who have a history as online practioners are now
represented by galleries. In any case, I believe that networking is a
necessity and can be productive if one does it with a good attitude. I,
personally, become suspect when I sense dishonesty, and in fact I dislike
people who are dishonest in their intentions. I have met people who try to
"network." But it becomes quite obvious that they are not really interested
in sharing ideas. They simply want to belong to a network. In the art world
that means meeting the right people to get that "show" that will break you
in. I do understand this as I experienced the politics of art school. I see
it at openings, which, at this point in my life, I try not to attend unless
a friend is having one. I am quite social and I want to meet people because
I learned from experience that it gives me an opportunity to share my ideas.
And ideas is what I consider my "product."

In the end, I want to share, and I think that networking needs to be about
topics, it needs to be honest, it needs to be about the other person. If
networking focuses on the creation of work, or about research. I think the
term networking may have a dirty connotation offline sometimes because it is
often related with a straight-up business practice. But online it is a
necessity at this point.

TS: Maybe the word shmuzing better describes the type of art world social
behavior that you refer to. When thinking of arts publications the Austrian
magazine Springerin demonstrates that one can think of art by focusing on
issues instead of the hegemonic star system with its brand name recognition.


Networking, in its positive sense, has changed with the new technological
possibilities for cooperation, online or off. With more possibilities for
interconnection through technological channels from wireless enabled devices
to the Internet-- the question comes up how all these options are used. Do
open publishing, open archives (e.g. encyclopedias), or social software
foster civil society? Networks can build small temporary platforms zooming
in on otherwise overlooked or purposefully ignored topics. Networks can be
powerful 'collaboratories' of people with diverse backgrounds who organize
around a single topic in which they all have an investment (as Ernesto
Laclau describes). However, I do not suggest that all networks or
collaborations are successful.

EN: In the art world it is implicitly accepted that if you want something to
be art it is always about self-interest. Artists want to survive. They want
to be recognized. The question is how to make this self-interest productive
for others. The term "self-interest" may be a bit too negative. I would
suggest the term "personal interest." I can offer an analogy that relates to
your concerns.

I think of collaboration and networking in terms of an Afro-Cuban rumba. In
a traditional rumba, like the Guaguanco, you need at least four members. One
plays the Tumba (the bass in the conga drums), another the Conga (the
mid-range conga drum), another will play the Quinto (the drum which
improvises), while someone else will play the clave sticks (for keeping the
rhythm). One of the performers will sing or they will all sing depending on
the particular tune. Each drum has a specific rhythm that contributes to the
overall groove, and even though the Quinto is designed to improvise, the
other drummers have a chance to express themselves from time to time. They
perform sporadic accents to support the soloist. Each drummer has to keep
her own rhythm tight, and swinging, while others flow in different
directions. Each drummer has to know and not know simultaneously where
everyone is going, this is possible because they will always keep the clave
within their timing. When people are introduced to rumba improvisation they
learn the basic patterns. But once the group moves to a more advanced stage,
they may at times become confused when they listen to how others are hitting
the drums. They often want to listen, while they are expected to keep
playing. Rumberos think of soloing in terms of "talking" with the drum. It
is not about a specific pattern or perfected licks. It is about forming
complex phrases, which include several moments of silence. The best drummers
literary talk with the drum, and this throws-off even experienced musicians
who are new to Rumba improvisation. Musicians in general are able to listen
and play at the same time, but rumberos do it in a very particular way that
is really different from the paradigms of traditional Western music. It
really is a  philosophical approach. Most importantly, rumberos must learn
to listen to the improvisation of others. They learn to appreciate it as
listeners in a traditional audience. We could dare say that they listen with
a certain disinterest, while playing their own groove. This is not easy to
do because people are not used to "talking" at the same time that they are
"listening." Each performer must learn to be an individual at the same time
that she/he contributes to a collective. The drums must sound like one
inseparable rhythm.  Western culture is not brought up to function this way.
We either listen or we speak- even trained musicians do this ideologically.
Once we start to play and listen simultaneously, like the rumberos, we may
be getting somewhere; then terms like "self-interest" might not have a
problematic connotation, or maybe they will not be used at all.

Eduardo Navas thanks Carol Hobson and the Center for Research in Computer
and the Arts (CRCA) for providing an iSight camera. http://crca.ucsd.edu/


Online Journals:

The NetKru:

Daniele Balit (Rome, IT/Paris, FR)
Ana Boa-Ventura (Austin, TX, US)
Linda Carroli (Brisbane, AU)
Nicholas Economos (Alfred, NY, US)
Peter Luining (Amsterdam, NL)
Francesca De Nicolò (Rome, IT)
Ignacio Nieto (Santiago, CL)
Kristen Palana (New Jersey, US)
Isabel Saij (Cologne, GE/Paris, FR)
Ana Valdés (Sweden)
Ocassional Collaborators:
Furtherfield.org (London, UK)
Evelyne Rogue - artcogitans.com (Paris, FR)
Rumba in context:

Afro-cuban Music:
Los Papines


Amy Alexander:

Natalie Bookchin:

Blogs and RSS Feed Search Engine

Blog Directory

Latin American Blogs

Theodor Adorno
The Culture Industry

related links:

Richard Barbrook, "The Hi-Tech Gift Economy," First Monday, 1999,
(10 May 2004). <http://firstmonday.dk/issues/13_12/barbrook/>

Relevant Books:
Net ARt 2.0 by Tilman Baumgärtel

El Tercer Umbral by Jose Luis Brea

Internet y Despues by Wolton Dominique

Internet Art by Rachel Greene

Digital Art by Christiane Paul

Internet Art The online Clash of Culture and Commerce

Net_Condition: Art and Global Media by Peter Weibel and Timothy Druckrey

Information Arts by Stephen Wilson

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