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Mark Cooley - e-terview



1. What was your first experience with digital art/new media?
How did that experience shape your view of the world? Did it inspire you to change you art/practice?

I guess my first conscious experience with digital art / new media would have been RTmark, Negativeland and Critical Art Ensemble. At the time I was in school and studying painting and becoming increasingly frustrated by the paradigm of modernism that dominates the study of painting in many schools. I was interested in political economy, visual rhetoric and popular culture and was unsuccessful introducing these interests into my painting work. Maybe I didn't give it enough time but painting seemed somewhat restrictive because of the immense academic and historical baggage attached to it. In addition, the form itself seemed somewhat detached from the popular visual culture I was interested in reaching into. It wasn't a difficult switch since I was already making mixed media work that relied quite heavily on photography. Getting a computer and scanner seemed quite logical.

2. What books are you reading now? Are they related to digital art and new media? Are any of those critical books written about new media, digital art, art theory? If so tell us what you like about these books and what you have gained from reading them.

I've been reading A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn and I've just picked up an interesting book by Erich Fromm (of the Frankfurt School) called The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology. The People's History is essential reading (I think) for anyone interested in dealing with U.S. politics. The book assumes that the course of human events is a collectively created endeavor (not created by great and benevolent individuals) and furthermore history is written from a perspective to ensure the survival and hierarchy of social, political and economic classes. One could boil the book down to two perspectives of government and democracy that have been battling each other since the eighteenth century - and both of them expressed by the founders of the U.S. government -
1. that all people should have equal participation in government.
2. that those who own the country
should run it.

The Fromm book is a good argument against techno-utopianism and things like the singularity movement (if you can call it a movement) The basic premise is that technology should serve humanity - and the argument is that currently it does not -
humanity serves technology. In this context biology is seen as inferior to technology - and there's only one way to go if you assume that posthuman - or more accurately the death of biology
- the death of ecology and the death of us.

3. Describe your personal practice. How does you art/practice relate to other works/ other people working in your field?

I see some of my work as related to artists like Martha Rosler or Hans Haacke or Andrea Fraser -
my strongest works have an element of institutional critique.

4. What do you believe are the most interesting ideas being investigated in your field. Tell us how your personal practice integrates, relates or extends those ideas.

5. What are the most negative aspects of new media? If you could create great change in the field what would you do? How would you like to see new media develop in the near future?

The negative aspects relate to the connections to the high tech industry and more recently the war machine. High tech industries and the war industry are largely one and the same, yet there is virtually no recognition of this by new media artists. Many artists are too busy being high tech cheerleaders rather than looking critically at the fact that their work essentially functions as advertising for high tech and war tech. I also wish there was more recognition of the negative social aspects to electronic communications and network mentality.

6. In the general discourse of contemporary art as it exists today, what interests you the most? What interests you the least?

Relational aesthetics and criticisms surrounding it are interesting. I'd like to see relational aesthetics more often informed by recognition of where art practice fits into political economy -
especially in an institutional context. I'd like to see a resurgence of institutional critique and an abandonment of the individualist conceptions of art.

I find the lingering modernist assumptions of big art institutions boring and counterproductive to looking at art as a socially relevant and created affair.

7. If you could alter the course of ideas and practices in contemporary art what would you do? For example would you create virtual archives? Would you set up a lottery system to fund artists? Would you start working with sociologists to expand your practice etc...

The death of the ideas of autonomy, transcendence and universalism of art in favor of interdependence, cultural recognition, and specificity of practice for a defined audience. The
abandonment of spirituality and religiosity in favor of political economy and conscious cultural function.

8. Do you have a question you'd like to ask yourself? Do you have a question you'd like to ask other people for a future e-terview?

what is your/my art doing to stop the war(s)?

mark cooley
assistant professor
art & visual technology
george mason university