Interview by Katharina Galla in Berlin; Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011
Most video artists, video art collectors, dealers and curators alike are reluctant towards enabling the streaming of video art on the internet for a variety of reasons. Be it that they are concerned about the loss in the works’ value which is threatened by its quantification online, or risking the work being shown mis-contextualized. But it goes also the other way around: media art that originates in pop culture is appropriated by the art scene, in spite of ignoring the artificial scarcity dogma, but rather, in quest for new values. The artist Matthias Fritsch cares less about these things. For him, the internet is his studio and more importantly the place where he encounters collaborators for the production of his work. My curiosity about the Technoviking, was triggered during the based in Berlin exhibition last summer. I am sure, many have asked themselves similar questions about the work, which, more than any other in the show, points to an ongoing reconciliation between fine arts and vernacular culture.
KATHARINA GALLA: Your works Technoviking and We Technoviking were shown in the Monbijou Atelierhaus during the summer exhibition based in Berlin. How did you perceive your work within the exhibition context?
MATTHIAS FRITSCH Slightly out of context for what it represented. I guess, it is a good example for something that is going on in the city and in the internet, but it was different to most of the other works, which seemed to be much more conceptual and were kind of arty-farty.
I did see correlations to other works in the show though, for instance Asaf Koriat’s work The Brave from 2006.
True, and even more with Oliver Laric’s copies of the BMW’s [CEO, 2011], which is dealing with the same discourse, let’s say. Only he used another medium giving an economical example of intellectual theft, but it is about imitating and copying, too.
Do you think this show has helped the popularity of your artistic persona?
Actually I do not care so much about artistic presence. Maybe the current developments prove me right because due to the economic crisis the traditional model of being an artist making sellable and collectable objects, is struggling. This is the biggest difference to the works I do, which reflect the community driven culture in the internet. Technoviking is not easily sellable because it was published without a copyright meaning everyone can just use it.
Can you describe a bit how Technoviking developed?
In 2001, the original video was published in the internet, but in 2006 it was published on YouTube, on a platform that is the biggest catalyst and multiplier for video at that time.
Do you know that many people still doubt whether it was staged, or not?
It exists as an art work precisely due to its ambiguity. To raise that question is also the only initial decision I made, everything else came self-generated. There is a follow-up of Technoviking called Buscam that also deals with the different qualities of the perception of reality. I asked myself, how can I makes something real that is not real, and what is the border between reality and fiction. Can this be blurred? Is there actually a difference? And there are a couple of other concepts that emerged for that series of clips, but they have not been produced.
You actually managed to earn money with it through Google, how?
Google has an algorithm that determines the amount of clicks your video gets and if you reach 4 million you will possibly get a proposition from them to put advertisement next to your videos. At the beginning I was reluctant to it, because it could put me in the wrong light. But I do not sell my art and generally do not consider myself as being part of the fine art scene, so I thought, why not. I can always stop it and it financed my rent and health insurance at the time. I did stop it immediately after I received a letter from the lawyer of the Technoviking persona, who really does not want to be famous.
How long did it take him to discover his fame?
It is hard to believe that he found out about it more than two years after the big boost of popularity in cybersphere. I was very surprised. He is not a very old person and does not seem to be disconnected from subculture and really it seems that every other person in the younger generation knows about it.
How does the situation look at the moment? Where you able to settle or will you have to go to court?
I am still waiting for more than one year now for them to go to court, as they announced, because we could not find a compromise.
Does the use of the video for artistic purposes make it more difficult for him to claim his rights?
We should put it the other way around. The fact that I want to use it for art purposes and educational lectures is the reason why we could not find a compromise because they did not want me to do even that.
Did they ask you to remove it from the internet?
Yes, but that does not make any sense. And is actually impossible because there are thousands of copies out there.
Which of your current works is influenced by the experience you had with Technoviking?
In Music For The Masses I focus on recycling strategies that users like to do. They have a lot of fun with simply using existing content and add their part of the creative process.
How is your work divided in the creative process?
Well, it is an exchange of work without money being involved. I am the initiator of the project and I produce all the visual content and then I leave the unfinished videos in the open in the internet accompanied by an open call so that everyone who likes to use them can produce a sound track and keep them. I collect the ones which they have sent back to me and use them for my own artistic use again. For instance, I use them for installations dealing with user-generated versions and variations of the same starting point. Besides, everybody who is working on the project can use the videos for themselves without the context I am interested in, because they are also simply music videos.
Can they use the videos for commercial purposes?
Are you using them for commercial purposes?
No. I am only using them for exhibitions.
Which you get money for?
No, usually I do not get much money. For the based in Berlin show, artists got a fee – I think all artists fees together sum up to the budget used for Oliver’s installation. Everyone can draw their own conclusions from that.
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Katharina Galla is a writer on art and media related matter and bloggs about media art practice in public spaces. She is currently Community Manager for the transmediale festival for digital art and media culture.