An Interview with JSG Boggs on the e-Canvas
Canvas Ephemeral, Pandemic & Gallery Transcendent
All too often, Boggs is identified as the money man artist, the guy who caricatures national currencies. No doubt, his oeuvre is engaging, a mix of performance art and traditional art. Boggs exchanges his bills for goods and services with shopkeepers and restaurant owners who accept his notes as works of art with their own intrinsic value in lieu of official government-issue specie. People who collect Boggs’ work try to obtain the notes he has used to make a purchase and any change and receipts handed back to Boggs (He keeps them especially for collectors). The ideal is to own the complete work, the bill as well as the receipt and change, although sometimes the shopkeepers won’t let go of their Boggs bills.
Still, there are dimensions of the man that are often overlooked, as an artist with a powerful command of electronic media tools and as a business realist who deeply understands the commercial implications of the World Wide Web on the life of the artist. Here, Boggs sits for an interview to discuss the role of the World Wide Web and electronic media in the development of the fine arts and its impact on artists’ businesses. In this sitting, Boggs ranges far, discussing digital media’s place as a communications medium, a storefront, a canvas and a palette for a new generation of artists.
Blue Spike: From the artist's perspective, what is the World Wide Web?
Boggs: I see it as part of the evolution of the social fabric. If you look at the way that the human body is held together, essentially we are a water bag and what we’re held together by is snot. The web is very interesting if you look at in the way that the body holds itself together with this mucoidal material. As it coagulates, it forms a boundary that holds the body in. I see the web as being very similar. Before the web there was this universal consciousness or universal subconsciousness. There is evidence that there is one. On so many occasions, people keep inventing the same things at the same time – wholly unbeknownst to each other. One example: two men in America in different parts of the country before radio wrote a song, the same song. And the notation of the song – it was two and a half pages – was identical, absolutely identical. And it went to court, each of them suing the other for rights to the song. Each was awarded copyrights by the judge.
Alexander Graham Bell got a patent for the telephone because his lawyers filed an hour before the other guys did. That universal conscious is the place where I can connect to an idea . . . This is one of the areas where what Blue Spike does is very important as one puts ideas on web. What I think the web is, is the more concrete version of universal subconsciousness. Once your ideas are out there, one is exposed to having one’s ideas purloined. The trouble is that the necessity of communicating over the web is an absolute. The amount of collaborative effort, the dialogue which is taking place and the speed of communications cannot be replaced by any other media. You can’t rely on snail mail anymore and, of course, we all know the web in and of itself, is not a secure place, never intended to be a secure place and the US government has done everything to keep it from being secure.
Artists are addressing this issue. Some of us are very concerned about government intrusion into social speech in general. This is not a healthy thing. The government has seized all my property and denied me a trial. This denial of constitutional rights is frightening. They’ve taken things from me, calling it contraband and saying it was being used for counterfeiting. And, also, it spills over into issues of what art is given a full airing in public, without the issue of the NEA being disposed of. Clearly, it’s a way of government exercising a degree of control of who is getting a public airing. Beyond government subsidies, what the government may do in the future to restrict materials over the internet is a frightening thing. I know that my communications have been intercepted legally and illegally by the government. I know this from things that are mentioned in court papers and from (Freedom of Information Act) FOIA requests – most of which blacked out. They [FOIAed documents] indicated knowledge of my life that they could have gotten by intercepting my private communications.
Blue Spike: How has digital media developed and become accepted?
Boggs: What was called “computer art” is now art that employs computers. Originally, we had people playing with the media as a novelty but novelty is, of course, temporary. You’re going to get beyond that, into meaningful employment of medium . . . Lithography started out using stones and then we discovered plate lithography. That was first used by commercial people and the first people to really use it were engineers and scientists so the first examples of plate lithography are novel but don’t say much except about the media itself and what you can and can’t do with it. We’ve passed that phase in computer part. There are thousands of serious fine artists working in the digital environment in all sorts of ways and gotten past the fascination with the media into the mastery of the media. The first computer art was generally very geometric – and colorful. The very first was actually black and white but the real blossoming came with color printers. It had a geometric quality about it I can only describe as “Hey, look at what we can do! I don’t know if they’ll print this but I liken it to the first time a child of any age discovers its genitalia and then later addresses the issues of making love. It is certainly thrilling to discover your genitalia but that is hardly as deep and wide and rich as making love.
Blue Spike: Is there a lot of art being produced and placed on the Web?
Boggs: Yes. More and more, yes. This is a developing genre which will come into its own in this decade. There are actually collections of digital art at museums like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is also giving out $50,000 awards for Web projects. . . There are a lot of them collecting tech art these days.
Blue Spike: How is digital art authenticated?
Boggs: Hey, this is why I’m hot on Blue Spike. This [authenticating digital art] is a pain in the ass. This [Blue Spike’s technology] will absolutely revolutionize how tech art is authenticated, distributed and handled. I dunno what the term is – but when we came to America, someone somewhere set up an office and gave out parcels of land: yes, King’s Grant. . . Blue Spike is the equalivalent of the office that gives out the King’s Grants in the virtual world. It allows us to go out into digital environment and stake our claim on huge chunks of property. Unlike America there is no physical place. America had an existing size. This is like having a space station and you can build more and stake your claim on it and get your King’s Grant.
Blue Spike: How has digital art surprised you or delighted you?
Boggs: This media is so flexible. It is almost infinitely versatile. In traditional media, it is more three dimensional and linear. If you are going down the road and come to four directions all on the same plane, those are the directions you can take. . . In digital media, it’s like you are coming to the end of your synapses and you can go into what seems like an infinite number of directions and in every direction you come to new endings at another infinite fork in the road. It is always surprising.
One thing: I do not believe in time or space. They really don’t exist. They are a fabrication of sorts that make it easier for us to comprehend the reality of existence. The digital media is better suited to addressing time and space as subject matter and there are certain images that I have made which are successful at speaking to the concept that everything that is – is – it always has been and always will be and has always been there. When you pass through the moment, it is almost as if you are illuminating a single frame of celluloid in a movie as it passes though a projector. That frame was there before you got to it and it was there after you passed though it and see it on the screen.
Blue Spike: Are there personal ways it has changed your art?
Boggs: Yes! Digital media has allowed me to express ideas and emotions in different ways. Ways that traditional media don’t quite allow . . . When you talk about the money work, for example, it allows me to work faster and allows me to work with a greater degree of accuracy because you can go right down into pixels in very high resolution files. And if it’s not right the first time, you can go back and redo it, very easy compared to trying to erase india ink from paper. There is something that happens with physical media. When 90 per cent complete and everything is just about right, it puts enormous stress on you which is distractive and sometimes destructive. With digital media, you can try this and try that, and if you don’t like it, you can undo it. There has got to be a similar effect on writers. . .
It also gives me more room to explore emotional dimensions in my work. Right now, I’m involved in still digital photography, and I like to think I mastered this camera – [Nikon] CoolPix 950. I give it camera settings it is not supposed to have and then I manipulate the camera in ways it is not supposed to so that I am able to capture – what is not really a still image and not really a multiple exposure. It really is an extended smear exposure. This allows me to capture and create images that are highly emotive and, I think, better express the personalities of the people that I am depicting and the ways that I feel about these people.
Blue Spike: What kind of art does the Web and digital media provoke?
Boggs: TV is a hot medium. If TV is a hot medium, then the computer is fucking nuclear atomic media – it is way hotter. The computer and digital media in general act as a vessel which more accurately conveys human thoughts and emotion because it is more dynamic, because it moves and can have accompanying sounds, and because it can address emotion or thought throughout time, whereas traditional media is a frozen moment – or strives, as through cubism, an event over time but it is limited. It is more limited in many ways than digital media. I am not in any way saying that traditional media is obsolete, just that you are able to accomplish some things with digital media that you cannot with traditional. You can have a very different relationship with a still image than one moving and making noise.
I ask people if they can only have one work of art – for the rest of their life – would it be a painting or a movie. Most say movie, but after they think about it for a while, they come back and say painting. A movie is linear too, in the way that it moves. A good painting – it takes you places in a different way and transports you in a different way. It allows the dynamic nature of your mind to take you somewhere. A movie takes you on a journey that is predescribed. Once you’ve taken it three or four times, you’ve been there.
Blue Spike: How different is digital art on the Web in terms of the relationship between the artist and his audience?
Boggs: The Web itself is a much more connective and social space. It makes it possible for an artist to address a large number of people in vastly different geographical locations and also address this time issue because it is asynchronous in nature. It’s not like watching “I Dream of Jeannie”. It changes that relationship. This addresses my comment that time and space don’t exist. The Web is becoming a medium that overcomes time and space.
Blue Spike: You speak of stewardship in art, could you elaborate on the concept in the context of the Web?
Boggs: There are those of us that make a distinction between ownership and stewardship, and the largest difference is consumption and conservation. I buy a sandwich, I own it and eat it and it’s gone. I buy a work of art – that’s another thing. I consider myself not an owner. I am only owning it as the viewer, not the one with the right to physically possess it. When I buy something I have to take care of it and share it with others. That whole issue of sharing with others becomes very important and Blue Spike comes into play because we are human beings with limited resources. We live in a world where things can be consumed so those resources have to be protected.
Blue Spike would allow us to have the situation where stewardship can be exercised on the web in similar ways that it is exercised in physical media. What it effectively does is it allows the limitation of access and expansion of access at the same time. The problem of the web is that it’s on or off. You see it – or not. With a physical painting you control access to that painting by choosing when and where it will be exhibited and appear on TV or in magazines. You have some control over it. You don’t let people come in and take a photo of it.
With Blue Spike suddenly you have a subtler control mechanism – like going from an off-on switch to a dimmer switch. And those who should have access, those who support the arts will have access and those who don’t – won’t. That doesn’t mean to say artists won’t choose mass dissemination – but that is the artist’s choice.
Blue Spike: If watermarking becomes a means of policing content use on the Web, do you think that it will dissuade artists from appropriating images and links in their own work?
Boggs: No, I think artists have, as a whole, a proven history of disregarding those sorts of issues in fairly responsible fashion. . . Like Mona Lisa with the goatee. This is an appropriated image but in a manner that is fair use – part of the social dialogue.