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SoftCult | Interview with Ernesto Klar | ISSN 2236-3181

Data: 15 de maio de 2011

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Venezuelan media and sound artist Ernesto Klar talks about digital art in Latin America.

By Cicero Inacio da Silva


Ernesto Klar is a media and sound artist based in New York City. Klar’s works have been presented at Eyebeam, Chelsea Art Museum, BAP Lab Festival in New York City, the ICA in Boston, FILE Festival in Sao Paulo, OI Futuro in Rio de Janeiro, and the CCCB in Barcelona, among others. His awards include grants, fellowships, and commissions from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Klar holds an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons The New School For Design, and a BM in Composition from Berklee College of Music. He is currently a faculty member at Parsons The New School For Design in New York City.



Cicero Silva: What are your feelings about the contemporary art related to this “new” field, not yet established as it should, called “digital art” or “art & technology”?

It depends what do you mean by “established”. I see it quite established as a “practice”–with many artist using and constantly challenging the possibilities, both technical and aesthetic, of digital technologies in their artistic work. This has been happening for decades now since the advent of the personal computer, and with time it has become more sophisticated. I also see that opportunities to present this type of work publicly are increasing globally year after year–from festivals, conferences, and specialized cultural venues/organizations, to unconventional opportunities that explore our relationship with the digital realm in both real and virtual spaces. But if you refer to “established” in terms of the art market, then another set of issues and values comes into the discussion, one that I personally do not take into consideration when having to judge whether something is established and/or valuable as cultural production.

CS: What represent the concept of “art & technology” to your work?

I suppose that my work relates to this categorization because it uses digital technologies. I find categorizations like these (new media art, art and technology, digital art, computer art, software art, etc) partly useful when attempting to map a genealogy of artistic production that relates to digital technologies. But they also show how fragmented such production can be today, and how difficult it is to wrap it all around one concept or categorization. I have no personal attachment to any of the above categorizations in relation to my work, and tend not to think about them when creating work. My work is not about digital technology per se, and I avoid–as much as possible–to label my work as digital.

CS: As an artist who uses technological devices to produce your work, or part of it, what do you think that it is important for an artist who wants to engage himself into this “new” field of art?

I would suggest them not to let the technological implications of this “new field” interfere with their artistic sensibilities and the creative process itself. I believe the latter should revolve around creative experimentation first, regardless of the choice of medium. Technology, in a broad sense, has always been an essential component of art making from ancient times to the current day. The ubiquity of digital technology in our everyday allows contemporary artists–and particularly very young artists–to have a very intuitive and spontaneous relationship with this “new” medium. I believe this immediacy does open up new possibilities for young artist to go beyond the purely technological aspect of the medium, allowing them to fully explore and reveal its poetic potential.

CS: In your work, do you feel that the audience can understand perfectly what do you want to discuss conceptually, even if most of the time they are not familiar with the history of art, but only with the technology itself and this familiarity can mix knowledge of tech with art?

My current and recent work does not presuppose a specialized audience of any kind–it tends to be quite intuitive and accessible. I have certainly gotten very articulated perspectives and readings of it from audiences with knowledge of art history and/or digital technology, but in the end the emphasis of my work is on the act of perception–something that we all do at any given moment with the world that surrounds us. And I am not implying that we all perceive in the same way, yet we do share the same experiential capacities to engage with world. I am interested in this engagement, in the observation of nature and artifice, and in the subtle manipulation of their representation using digital technology. Perhaps representation can be a loaded and misleading concept in art discourse, so another word that I like to use instead is “amplification”–as in increasing the “volume” of the context in which we perceive. And by amplifying this context I do not claim ownership of neither the context not the resulting subjective experience of it. My pieces become an interface through which the observer negotiates his/her own perceptual process in real time. I find digital technology to be an excellent medium to “attune” our perception with the world that surrounds us, and in particular to attune our perception to that which is imperceptible both in nature and artifice. For instance, my installation piece “Convergenze parallele” uses a custom-software system to track, visualize, and sonify the movement of dust particles passing through a beam of light. This piece is physically interactive with the environment, and as a result, it is physically interactive with the observer that is part of that environment. The piece reacts to air movements in the exhibition space, whether they are natural air currents or movements of air created by viewers blowing towards the beam of light. Viewers are immersed in gestural currents of audiovisual movement, allowing them to see and hear the invisible movement of dust particles in real time. The aesthetic experience of the piece lays in the resonance of the gap or discrepancy of what the viewers are actually seeing (the movement of dust in real space) and what they expect to see (the audiovisual amplification of the movement). It is through this resonance that viewers become aware of their own perceptual process, and it is the immediacy of this realization that stays with them at the end of the experience.

CS: What do you think about he digital art in Latin America, since there have been so many festivals in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru…?

It is very inspiring to see that Latin American countries are producing events that promote work in this field. I have participated at the FILE festival in Brazil for the past two years, and I have been very impressed by the organization’s dedication in establishing an international forum for new media art in Latin America. The best new media art works produced globally have been exhibited at FILE since its inception nine years ago. Through FILE and was exposed to excellent work by Latin American artist that I was not familiar with. I am very enthusiastic about new media art currently produced in Latin America.

CS: As an artist from Latin America, Venezuela, is your work influenced by some issues related to this fact?

Yes. Various artistic movements that originated in Latin America have been very influential for my artistic work and research, such as the Kinetic art movement from Venezuela, and the Neo-concrete art movement from Brazil, among others. I do see a direct link between my work and these artistic traditions from Latin America.

CS: Can you describe what are your feelings about the digital art in Venezuela? Do you know other artists from Venezuela that work with digital art?

There is certainly interesting new media art being produced in Venezuela right now. Unfortunately, it has not gotten enough attention in the international sphere. One reason is the difficulty for this type of work to get attention and support within Venezuela. Cultural institutions in Venezuela, both private and public, are going through many changes and are facing many political challenges at this time. New media art is not on the agenda of most cultural institutions/organizations at this time. That will hopefully change in the near future.

CS: How do you see the fact that the first world is used to see our art work (from the Thirld world) as something naïve, sometimes only accepting pieces produced by artists that discussed in their work issues related to “nationality”, “identity” and, of course, about their political position, buying all the time something that we, in my opinion, sometimes don’t want to sell….I mean, if the work is about how “Third world” we are, that’s fine..if it uses technology, should be about the poor people remixing computers that they found in the trash etc……

I think that those attitudes towards Latin American art are being reconsidered. Evidence to this fact, at least from an institutional perspective, are the growing number of exhibits of Latin American artist that have been taking place at major museums of modern and contemporary art in Europe and North America–exhibits that do not relate to the stereotypes you mention. One example is how Latin American postwar abstract art (kinetic art, concrete art, and neo-concrete art, among others) is being “rediscovered” and considered a precursor to well-known and revered art movements that originated both in Europe and America. A quote by art critic Roberta Smith from a newspaper review of one of these exhibits puts it clearly: “The past is always on the move.” And I am optimistic that the ever-shifting past will help rectify distorted views of modern and contemporary Latin American art that still linger around the “first” world.

CS: Can you talk about your next projects and exhibitions?

I have just finished a new piece titled “Microspazi” that will be exhibited at the end of this month at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, NY. This piece falls in-between an audiovisual installation artwork and a performance art piece. It reveals, amplifies, and alters imperceptible topologies of the built environment. A custom-software and a high-resolution microscopy digital camera captures, visualizes and sonifies data from the surfaces of the artwork’s given site. This work continues the current focus and inquiry of my artistic work. But while “Convergenze parallele” focused on the negative space where natural phenomena manifest themselves, “Microspazi” looks microscopically into the physical framework that defines such negative space—the built environment. Looking further ahead–“Convergenze parallele” will be exhibited in late September of this year in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, at the Centrum Kunstlicht in de Kunst (Centre artificial light in art). And I am currently working on two new pieces that might be too premature to articulate here…. updates on these and other events will be posted on my web site — http://www.klaresque.org

Laboratório de Software Studies (Estudos Culturais do Software) (SWS)