Olia Lialina and Michaël Samyn interviewed each other when they were doing Heaven and Hell. The result was published on the Nettime mailing list.
olia: After i made "My boyfriend came back from the war" i get messages which could be easily divided into two groups: "war" and "frameset". So, I get questions (reaction) to the story and to its language. It once again ensure me that net (web) is a proper place for story telling and that it has the language which is nice story itself. Your projects (LOVE, FFF...) prove the same to me. How do you see it? What are key words of your internet feeling (perception)?
michaël: I have never given it too much thought. It is unclear to me whether my works are born out of the necessity to communicate something or out of the necessity to communicate as such. That probably has something to do with one of my motto's: "The metaphor wants to be free". It is not that I'm opposed to metaphors, but I dislike metaphors that are used to explain something. In those cases I'd much rather hear/read/see the thing itself than use the metaphor to 'navigate through its content'. 'Metaphor' is used in its broadest sense here: language as such is probably the ultimate metaphor. I want language/the metaphor to be free: to evolve according to its own rules and principles disregarding the fact whether it still remains functional, i.e. whether it still has meaning (in the conventional sense of the word). As such language becomes a game and a story does not necessarily have to 'mean' something.
I appreciate all reactions to my work and there are no wrong or stupid reactions because when the work is finished I become a user, with the same status as the other users. When a work is finished my identity as an artist disappears. What remains important is the interaction between the work and the user, that's what will ultimately give 'meaning' to the work. And my 'interpretation' is not any better or worse than the interpretation of somebody else.
To answer your questions: technically I don't see the net as very different from other media. I mean every medium should be used in a way that exploits the medium to its fullest capacity. As for interactive media that means trying to create a compelling environment. As for networked media that means an implicit social aspect: who else is looking at this work at this time? Can I contact the author and/or other users? Where is this stuff coming from and will it be the same tomorrow? Etcetera.I want interactive works to be(come) better than immersive movies. For me the involvement of the user is of utmost importance. The 'effect' is the most important thing. Your work moved me. That was its effect. I would like to know whether you are able and/or willing to (try to) control the effect of your work on its users? Does manipulating their emotions interest you?
olia: May be not to manipulate, but create. It's fascinating to make this cold language and digital environment reflecting feeling, not information, not data, not cyber ideology... Yes, you are right, it must be manipulation, when user, serfing in communicative paradise suddenly runs into emotions which he could experience in real life or when he meets with happy woman who died under train's weels in 1877 in the novel of Russian writer.
michaël: I don't think this language is any colder than other languages. It all depends on who speaks it. But I am also very interested in emotional messages, on the verge of being sentimental. And it does still seem weird to see someone with tears in his eyes in front of a computer screen (unless they have a really bad monitor...).
michaël: I was trained a graphic designer for print (without computers), used to make music, write poems, stories and essays, make furniture, make analog art. Now me and my girlfriend have bought a former factory which we are transforming bit by bit into a home. So that keeps me busy off line. And I have a son who demands a lot of my time and attention too. But I hardly do any artistic stuff for other media than the web. And for the money I do hypermedia design (mostly websites).
Coming back to that emotions thing, how would you explain your own attitude? You appear like a very cold hearted, arrogant woman, who eats men for breakfast. I like that attitude, personally. But does that pose have something to do with this medium, or is it just the way you are (or is it typically Russian)?
olia: its not the medium - i heard the same from people who've never received e-mail from me. its not Russian - my mother is very warm hearted woman. and its not me - i can spit out a few men and they'll confirm ;) I understand your question.
My real life and emotions are hidden from you unless we communicate a lot and you know enough. Net communication is a good way to escape, to lie and pretend, i dont. At the same time i prefer not to use net as a place where all truth about me is stored. You like to inform humankind about Veerle pregnancy, you dedicate your new server to your son's birthday, on your sites one can find a lot of documents of your life... I like to look at it because your life is interesting for me, but i'd never put on the net my daughters photos. again not because i want to seperate my life to real and virtual, but because of a sort of allergy i have to this well developed system of self representation on the net. That's why i use all these invented characters who acts free in the space which totally belongs to them.
michaël: : Somehow I feel that the net is a very intimate medium. Probably because communication is always one to one: there's always one user in front of his or her computer looking at one page. You don't broadcast websites. Normally I'm a very shy person. But the ambiguity of private and public are very fascinating to me. You can show your innermost self and still remain anonymous somehow.
olia: Michael, now you have a new server www.Zuper.com. Its just a collection of your old works, well designed place for new ones or it has its own philosophy?
michaël: : At the moment it's actually just a portfolio (I plan to do more with the site in the future). I try to give it an interesting and entertaining interface and atmosphere because that's what I like to do. It doesn't have a specific philosophy except maybe for illustrating my ideas about interface design.
Speaking of which. I think hypermedia are very sensual. If only because Netscape's cursor changes into a hand when you find something clickable. Simulating touch has always been important to me as an interface designer. I don't really see that sensuality in your work (but maybe you haven't noticed it in mine either). What are your thoughts about this and interface design in general?
olia: In february i've been to a women festival in Finland, where one girl-professor made a report on awful situation in interface design: "Everything is made by men and for men!. We, women, need our own, special screens...!" It was funny.
michaël: That's not true. There's a lot of stuff out there made by women for women. And a lot of it is very interesting. Though very sexist, mostly, too.
olia: In fact, as a user i'm absolutely indifferent to software outward appearance, to screen savers and mouse pads. As for web design, i used to oppose it to net art in order to draw a line between those who uses the Internet to advertise and consume and those who search and develop it... childish approach... now i agree with your words that design is real communication and i understand that in general its more deep question and demands a lot of attention.
michaël: For me, packaging my stuff in a commercial design is a good way to 'distribute' art. I dislike being in a gallery and having to look attentively at everything that's hung on the wall just because you know it's art. I always end up looking at the fire extinguishers (which are by far the most interesting pieces in many gallery or museum shows).
olia: but, i guess, on surface my style is only a parody to commercial staff: transparent links instead of stressed, bitmaps instead of colorful images. May be its more reflection than sensuality, more critic than design, or just a lack of special skills. Any way i prefer minimalistic expressions.
michaël: To quote my favorite 80s artist Jeff Koons: "Criticism makes people unhappy." :)
olia: Your manner i call baroque :).
michaël: And to quote my favorite designer: "If one fights excess with soberness, every simple act seems improbably grotesque. Fighting the surplus with the nothing expresses itself with the little, which is always hopelessly too much compared to the nothing. There is no defence against the baroque. Even destruction heightens the baroque effect." Minimalism is an extreme form of baroque.
olia: Good conclusion. What do you think about our cooperation in heaven&hell? Also your FFF experience is very interesting for me.
michaël: FFF was very chaotic. In the beginning it was very fast too, with one or two updates a day! Jef and I didn't know what we were doing. After a while we realized that we were communicating with each other in some strange way that words didn't allow. We got to know each other really very well. It was strange to meet Jef in the flesh after a year of FFF: I knew him so very well and still he was a complete stranger. Weird. As for Heaven&Hell I think the communication is much more obvious, maybe because it's a more structured environment (as opposed to FFF, H&H has a concept: you're in heaven, I'm in hell). I really like the way it is developping and as you said via FTP: 'it_almost_feels_like_sex'. That's true. It's like fitting pieces of a puzzle together and making up the picture and the pieces as we go along. I wonder who will come first. ;)
olia: if is a question i have no answer yet, i'll better upload new files.