Is September 11 a good example of transmedia creation?



interview published in Strelka, Moscow, 2/5

Being in the avantgarde of New Media art, Maurice Benayoun was the first one to work with 3D imaging and interactive installations. His major scope of interest primarily consists in sparking off the reaction, trifling and even mocking at the audience. Here is Maurice Benayoun’s almost philosophical interview for about how to combine art and computing, why John Lasseter is the modern day Van Gogh; and for what reason social media is the most human phenomenon.

You are hailed as one of the founders of New Media art, how did you arrive at a decision to use modern technologies in selfexpression?

I have been dealing with contemporary art for a long time: back in the mid‘ 70s I did photography, in the 1980s I shot films nextly used in interactive installations. By the end of the 1980s I decided to implement a computer. In fact, I already was not young back then. I took interest in 3D graphics, which seemingly marked a step in fine arts. I was assured that it was more about the ontological mutation, rather than about the technological challenge.

Initially, working with 3D I have managed to establish my theoretical base and the new technologies outlook. They are embodied to the full in the project QUARXS — the fully 3D TV series. In point of fact, I was not interested in working solely with images, I wanted to go further. How a human would interact with images modeled using a computer, not just shot, how the tenor of a work of art would mutate and how to depict this interaction on a real time basis —these were the capturing key points for me.

The QUARXS series appeared at the beginning of the 1990s. As I know, at the appearance there was the opinion that 3D had no future. Did you expect the technology to become boundlessly used?

By all means! Before QUARXS there was only this one minute films with moving 3D cubes and cones, which is not a marker on what we have now. Computers are the industrial technology created to run enterprises and make money; this perception hindered their usage in art. The prototype of an artist within this scope is Van Gogh who dabbed canvas with his instinctive perception of the world. This stereotype curbed the contact between anything computer created and human emotions. But it is not a computer that creates itself; it is a human being that operates it. The first person to get this concept across was John Lasseter (an American animator, film director at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He was one of the first ones to use 3D in animation).

And of course, I did not come from animation, I came from contemporary art; and my idea was to do something conceptual, but in a way that it could be broadcast in primetime. And it has worked. Even twice. The first broadcast on Canal Plus was at Christmas, and the second one in September, at the beginning of a school year. Besides, I wanted to confront the popular belief that television is a devil. Television is what you want to show and see.

You have numerous times referred to Guy Debord and his written work ‘Society of the Spectacle’ speaking about television. Can computer games, which are now exceptionally entwined with 3D graphics, be attested as the continuation of his ideas?

Yes and no. Debord did not fight against fiction itself, he fought against fiction that is hiding reality. Any technology itself cannot be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it can be either depending on how we use it. There are films using one and the same trend to become more grossing. On the contrary, there are people who seem to use identical instruments, however, their films incite thinking, not just ringing a register. As a consequence, I have nothing to say against video games.

I think reality shows are in a strong conformity with“Society of the Spectacle”. They brainwash and people tend to think, “I will be on TV and I will make a lot of money!” And when you ask them “Don’t you need to learn something and do something useful?’they answer, “No need, I just need to be myself”. That is the society of spectacle! In this case they can only be pitied, although after a thorough transmedia study, it obviously creates really dangerous scenarios for the society. September 11 is a good example of transmedia creation. The terrorists used all media at the same time. 3000-4000 people are to be killed to become the lead subject of the scenario.The date 9/11, four strategic complacences (Benayoun mentions the four hijacked aircrafts), the biggest visible monument of the glory of the American dick and then —Bingo! You get media attention and you create a fiction that changes the world forever.

Is your concept of “critical fusion” aimed at avoidance of such tragic scenarios brought forth by the transmedia reality?

The transmedia reality can entail both a tragedy and a benefit. I guess artists should treat this fusion in a way so that it represented both reality and its new understandings. Overall, the fiction should neither contradict the reality, nor hide it.

Is it possible to say that new Internet technologies, for instance, social media have given birth to the generation of people totally indifferent to politics and local social problems, namely, have contributed to the creation of “the society of spectacle”?

Undoubtedly, social media have contributed vastly, but in a completely different way. The reality is now replaced by immense amounts of information (precisely, by what we call information, because the audience appeal outweighs informativeness). Moreover, social networks create a new relationship between people, suddenly rendering them completely lonesome. Social networks are the extremely human invention; only a human could contrive it. Indeed, we cannot help but be reconciled to their existence. What is different about that is the eventual adaptation and mutation and we are to make use of those. About 1520 years ago people were at a loss what recently emerged mobile phones needed text messages for. “Why text if you can simply call!” Concurrently, with mobile communication prices dropping, people became reluctant to discuss certain matters over the phone while at a café or in the street. Few people like being overheard. This is how texting became used all at once. The same scheme is applicable to social networks. Being, frankly, totally unprepared for their intrusion, we should put up with their current status. A couple of years ago, people signed up on Facebook just to post an “I am here! And you?” message; nowadays we witness more sense bearing posts.

Provided that social media is a very human invention, what can we do to save it? I am not inferring decades, I am talking about centuries, back to back like ancient sculptures or Renaissance paintings.

The good thing about brain is that human’s brain can forget. And because we forget, new things are created. Evolution is about oblivion. Animals vanish — new ones appear. Of course, at the same time I’m trying to save my works. Some of my works used to be made on huge 1 million dollar computers, whereas now you can run it on a mobile phone.

Great deal of people work on the digital technology preservation issue, and I consider it vital to also save software to emulate the original form.

So according to you, is the museum of the future a huge database?

Museums have always preserved objects. But the things are that the most of what we create is connected to an object, but is not an object itself. I do not think the museum of the future will be an architectural construction. One French institution has offered to preserve all the videotapes with my works. The questions then arises whether to preserve the tapes or upload them on YouTube?

Your concept excludes such notions as B2B or B2C, suggesting H2H — Human to Human instead. Said differently, will an iPhone be able to become the property of the human race?

There are true ways to make a work of art out of an object. The aim is that this object should establish new connections between people, have them think and feel. Imagine a telephone transmitting other person’s heat. So it’s not about the design, more about the interactivity and interaction.

I was shocked when I first heard these B2B, B2C. That means that the world is divided into people who are making business and consumers bringing money to business. The unconscious consumption. People buy not because they need it — people buy because others have it. Is a destructive path: all forces, fantasy and financial resources are pooled to produce useless things. Thinking in terms of H2H you think in terms of a person. Things are to be produced in a way to be shown gratitude in return. The basic zeal is to have a monument set up in your honour. The goal is to sell and gain, yet to be remembered for. And I do not think of it as of a minor call on my part or of a conviction, this is the only way to save the mankind. Currently we are on the dead end road.