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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  May 2007

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING May 2007

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Subject:

interview with Regine Debatty from we-make-money-not-art.com

From:

Sarah Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Sarah Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 30 May 2007 22:28:25 +0100

Content-Type:

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Dear List
please find below another CRUMB interview... it will be up on the  
website soon! Her interview with me is at:
http://www.we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/009560.php
Sarah
----
Rťgine Debatty is the powerhouse behind the hugely popular blog we- 
make-money-not-art.com. We sent each other interview questions after  
meeting on a freezing cold evening in May in Newcastle, and spending  
the following morning walking around the east side of town in the  
drizzle looking at how the city is changing through cultural  
regeneration Ė her dressed in yellow, me dressed in red (when we are  
usually in green and orange respectively). Her interview with me is  
on her blog, and mine with her is here on CRUMB.

Sarah Cook: What made you want to start wmmna?

Rťgine Debatty: It started by chance. I had tons of time to kill at  
the office and met this guy, Max, who had crafted some artistic  
application for mobile phones that he used in performances. It was  
totally new to me: "What? You can make art with some tech device?" So  
I decided to investigate and find out who else was using technology  
in a creative, unexpected way. Max suggested I archive my research in  
a blog. You know the rest.

SC: How do you choose what to cover and what not to?

RD: It all depends on what Iím interested in at the moment. It used  
to be interactive installations, now Iím more into bioart, critical  
design, and sustainability. It's totally personal, there's no  
strategy, plan nor willingness to cover extensively a particular topic.

SC: How do you balance the pressure from your readers that you cover  
their show or project with your own personal interest (what you want  
to cover)?
RD: I'm a totally selfish person. I care for artists and designers  
but not enough to write about any project that I wouldn't find  
exciting enough. So I ignore the pressure, I just have my own way.  
That doesn't mean that the method is the best nor that Iím perfectly  
happy with it: I make errors of judgment, I hastily discard projects  
which are interesting, I agree to post something I don't really like  
just because the artist seems to be such a kind person, etc.

SC: Is the fact that you do it for free / no monetary reward a kind  
of filtering criteria (i.e. if you were paid to do this you might  
have to write about things you didn't care so much for)?
RD: I would never write about something I wouldn't feel comfortable  
about. Well, I guess I could if I were offered tons of money but it  
just wouldn't work over a long period of time. Iíve been paid to  
attend and blog a conference once or twice but the programme was  
really good so it was a pleasure to do it and it fitted perfectly the  
spirit of my blog so there was no discrepancy. However receiving  
money means that I have to write about the whole conference, not just  
filtering and posting the talks of one or two speakers as I normally  
would because Iím lazy or in a hurry. I always get better feedback  
from the readers when I do some extra effort and post as much as  
possible. But hey, I was wondering the other day whether I am getting  
too old for that. I used to be a real blog-machine. Now I still  
attend the talks, write down religiously as much as possible what's  
being said, go to the hotel room to blog instead of joining the  
parties, but at the end of the day I manage to post only a tiny  
fraction of what's been going on.

SC: How do you sustain the blog (and your writing life) financially?  
Where are the compromises? (For example, do people pay your expenses  
to come and see a project, and do you like it when they do, or does  
it imply you write in return?)
RD: There's a bit of advertising, sometimes it works great, sometimes  
it's just pitiful. So I write for magazines and catalogues in order  
to be able to pay the rent. I don't like that. I'd rather focus on my  
own thing. Besides, English is not my mother language so I feel  
handicapped by my ignorance of the grammar and vocabulary; it's okay  
on the blog because I feel that readers know me and might be more  
tolerant. On the other hand, it would be mean to complain. Iím quite  
flattered when someone asks me to write for them.

Now the travels are covered. Sometimes. If the festival is good,  
organized by talented people with empty pockets, I don't mind, I pay  
my plane ticket, give a talk, blog the event. Conflux in New York is  
such event. There are other festivals or conferences that I feel I  
have the duty to attend like Ars Electronica. I save a bit of money,  
go to Ars and enjoy as much as I can. Otherwise I can't afford to  
travel and get a hotel. Most of the time Iím asked to give a talk so  
the organizers cover my expense and give me a speaker's fee like they  
do with any other participant of the event. Sometimes, Iím asked to  
come and blog a conference or festival, I don't even have to give a  
talk or workshop but all expenses are covered.

If the event looks interesting and the programme is good, bliss! Iíll  
go for it. If the programme doesn't rock my boat then I decline the  
offer.

Very often though, people would contact me and ask, "Why didn't you  
come and cover my festival in Canada?" Some just assume that Iím a  
big organization with loads of money and contributors all around the  
world. But, hello!, it's just me writing from my kitchen table. The  
blog is not a business, it's a platform I use to share with others  
what Iím discovering every day.

SC: Because you write about what you want, for your own personal blog  
(as you described it to me earlier) do you ever get accused of not  
being critical enough? (I.e. that you rarely write bad reviews of  
projects because generally you're writing a review in the first place  
because you liked the project)
RD: Yes, sometimes. I try to stay neutral because I don't want to  
influence the opinion of readers. Iíd rather think that they approach  
an artwork without any prejudice and if they have any, I don't want  
to be the one to blame for it. I used to be a reporter, staying  
neutral was something I was "trained" to be and I never felt that  
there was anything wrong with that. Besides, I don't think my own  
opinion is worth that much. I'm not an expert, just an amateur. There  
are enough vocal amateurs on the web these days so I don't feel like  
adding my pinch of salt. I do believe that I still have so much to  
learn before daring to utter any well-argued thoughts. I am also  
aware that declaring that Iím an amateur is a very comfortable, not  
to say cowardly, position. The only way I express that I don't like a  
project these days is by not writing about it. It won't mean that a  
project is bad, just that I didn't find it exciting and compelling  
enough.

SC: Youíve done a terrific number of really excellent interviews with  
artists and new media cultural producers all over the world - and in  
many of them ask them the same questions Iíve just asked you about  
sustainability of practice. Do you think there is a financial  
volunteerism and precarity at the heart of most if not all new media  
practice?
RD: No. No, because I don't want it to be like that. It shouldn't.  
But yes, sometimes new media practice is a question of volunteerism  
and precarity. Not everywhere. I know that the situation in Europe is  
better than in the US and that within Europe there are huge  
differences within countries (The Dutch, for example, are better off  
than Italians.) or regions (Flanders in Belgium is far more generous  
with new media art than the French-speaking community of the country  
is).

But then Iím not sure it's just new media art, I guess many people  
involved in art have to struggle too. New media art might be in a  
worse situation than any other kind of art because not everyone is  
ready to give it credibility, thus funding.

Or maybe the problem is us? We just believe in what we do, are  
passionate about it (I sound like an ad for an insurance company  
here) and put the need to pay the rent after our own desire to see a  
project succeed?

SC: You have a few other contributors listed, how does the workload  
break down between you? Have you ever worked with other freelance  
writers / reporters for wmmna, and if not, why not?
RD: There's no rule. I write my posts every day and if the others  
have time to write something once or twice a month that's great. I  
find it extremely hard to find people who can write for wmmna. And do  
it as well as Sascha, Alejandro and Konomi do. I love you guys!

SC: How do you see the field of new media art has changed since you  
started blogging? (In relation to fine art? in relation to design? In  
relation to technology / computing research projects?)
RD: Now is time to be pretentious. I think that the blog has allowed  
some works or fields of art and design to get more recognition. Three  
years ago when I started writing about interactive works, widely read  
gadget blogs would just laugh at the blog posts. After some time,  
they stopped laughing and regularly featured some art works in their  
column. There's still much hi-hi-ha-ha! in their comments but there's  
some fair amount of respect too. I also get emails from people who  
write for New Scientist or Wired magazine that thank me for pointing  
them to artists, designers or other people whose work they would  
otherwise never have heard (thus written) about.

I can also see that because of the exposure many people now want to  
be part of the interaction design or new media art crowd just because  
they see that it's "cool" and would allow them to get their name in  
gizmodo or boingboing (I looove boingboing, don't get me wrong). I've  
seen that reflected in some recent and badly curated media art  
exhibitions: gimmicky, shallow and flashy pieces that entertain  
everyone. I don't know how much good it does to the discipline; they  
get more coverage but not always the good kind. Do you see what I mean?

SC: (Given the work I do at CRUMB about how museums and galleries  
take new media art on board), from your perspective, are the projects  
you write about, or artists you interview, any closer to being  
considered a part of the mainstream of visual art and contemporary  
culture than before, or are they still in a ghetto (self-defined or  
otherwise)?
RD: I can't really talk about museums. I have discussed this with  
gallery owners and they have to make a living, don't we all? So some  
rare pioneers sell screen-based works. Selling a 3D piece is more of  
a challenge; it's expensive, can look rather unassuming when the plug  
is off and needs some fixing once in a while. But coming back to  
screen-based works, there's some light at the end of the tunnel.  
Several net.artists are now finding a market for their pieces.  
They've been waiting for 10 years but it seems that things are  
finally looking brighter for them. There's even a rumour that when  
one of the New York galleries started framing the computer screen  
works in nice frames and hung them on the walls, sales got much better.

Now one positive area might be magazines. Most of the time they  
simply ignore new media art but some of them have started to show  
some interest for "digital" art, they've even asked me to write  
columns or report. I repeat: I hate to write long pieces for papers  
but I also get a big pang of pride when I think that some artists  
whose work I admire are finally featured on those glossy posh pages.  
That doesn't mean I don't have to struggle sometimes when the editors  
tell me "Oh, please can't you just write about something a bit more  
related to the topic of this magazine this time. You know... art!"

SC: Do you see what you're doing with wmmna as curatorial in any way  
(filtering or selecting or linking)? I think the introduction to your  
interview with Vuk Cosic, for example, embodies some of the best  
things about curatorial practice Ė being able to select works from a  
body of practice, describe them in detail but in plain speaking  
English, and get readers/viewers excited to find out more with the  
Q&A that follows.
RD: I guess it could be regarded as a kind of curatorial work. I make  
a selection and exhibit the work in my little art gallery. Olia  
Lialina said at Transmediale this year that some artists would rather  
have their work exhibited on websites like rhizome and wmmna than in  
galleries that no one visits. http://art.teleportacia.org/observation/ 
flat_against_the_wall/ I'm not so sure about that but it sounded  
flattering.

SC: How does your consulting work fit in to your practice - is that  
curatorial?
RD: I call it consulting to make it short and easy to grasp. The term  
includes some curatorial work, being part of a jury for commissions,  
and spending plenty of time discussing Ďonline or notí with students  
who need advice about their own projects or the best schools to  
attend. On the other hand, writing on my bio that I "consult" leads  
to some rather unpleasant emails from people who just "ask my  
opinion" but in fact hope that Iíll do the job for them. For example,  
Iím regularly asked to recommend some "cool" art works for  
exhibitions that other "experts" are paid to curate or set up. But if  
you're a student and you need some help with deciding which school is  
best for your interests and expectations or if you're looking for  
projects that engage with the same topic that you're exploring, I  
don't mind giving a hand at all.

SC: If you could teach new media art critics one thing, what would it  
be?
RD: I'm not sure I can teach them anything; Iíd rather ask them to  
give me some of their know-how. I think my only talent is that Iím a  
good "vulgarisatrice". It is a French word that can be used in a  
positive or unflattering light; it means that I can make things  
easier to understand for a bigger number of people. I make media art  
more pop. By doing so I give it more visibility but as I mentioned  
earlier there's always the danger of making it look like something  
just cool and shallow.

SC: You studied the classics (Latin and Greek), which is a nice  
counterpoint to your work in new media. Who are some writers you  
admire (whether bloggers or not)?
RD: I read and eat so much art and design that all I want to read at  
bedtime are crime stories. I like Ian Rankin and Minette Walters  
particularly.

SC: Iíve often thought Iíd like to be you, or at least have at least  
as cool accessories and hair clips! I really mean that Iíd like to do  
what you do. Would you recommend it? How do you stay inspired?
RD: I recommend it for the feeling it gives me to be the luckiest  
person on earth (right after Paris Hilton). On the other hand, I find  
traveling so much tiring and I work a lot.

There's a lot of effort behind the scenes, like reading a lot (new  
media art essays, art and design magazines), trying to see as many  
shows as possible, writing articles for mags and catalogues in order  
to pay the rent, preparing the talks and workshops, etc. None of it  
is too taxing though, who am I to whine "oh, gosh! I have to see an  
exhibition!" I love it most of the time, but my boyfriend complains  
(rightly so) that I don't spend enough time with him and when I do I  
just talk about work.

What keeps me inspired is that I just follow my interests and they  
tend to change. I guess it would be better for my blog if I had stuck  
to (yawn!) interactive installations. Instead, I only write about  
them once in a while and dedicate more space to other types of works.  
I also write more about non-techy art. There are two reasons behind  
this decision. The first one is that new media art had a strange  
effect on me: it rekindled my interest in art which might be a good  
thing, as it allows me to keep my distance from the tech fads (not  
all that interacts and blinks is art) and look at a new media art  
piece with a more critical and aesthetics-seeking eye. The second  
reason why I write more about non-tech art is that I feel it would be  
good if "traditional" art and new media art could mingle more often.  
It doesn't happen much in festivals and exhibitions so I just make it  
happen on my blog.

SC: How much harder is it now that you've won 2 Webby awards?

RD: Not harder at all, I just keep on doing my own thing. I'm very  
happy that they chose me but I don't feel that I deserve the award.  
I'm not fishing for compliments, I mean it. By the way, should I  
change anything because I received 2 Webbys?

SC: I donít think you should change anything; I wondered if the  
pressure to keep at it, or do more, had increased with the greater  
popularity of the site. Which leads me to ask at last, what are you  
thinking about doing next?

RD: That's the problem. I'm spending so much time visiting  
exhibitions, talking at conferences and trying to write about those  
that I never take a few days to just sit there and think about where  
all this could go.

Thanks for your interest, Sarah.

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