Rhizome: interview with mouchette

Interview with mouchette (Peter Luining)

POSTED BY FEISAL AHMAD | SAT MAR 27TH 2004 2:10 P.M.

On Mar 25, 2004, at 9:34 AM, Peter Luining <email@ctrlaltdel.org> wrote:

Interview with Mouchette

Of course everybody knows Mouchette or better everybody thinks (s)he
knows Mouchette. Here’s an interview with Mouchette that I made for the
P2P show that momentarily is held at the Postartum galery in L.A. It
tries to uncover what’s behind Mouchette and focusses amongst others on
issues as “the life of a virtual character”, copyrights and art
institutions.

Peter Luining: – Mouchette has been for quite a while on the net. How
did you find out about the Internet and are there any specific reason
why you started with “Mouchette”?

Mouchette: Internet arrived very early in Holland and it was like a
democratic revolution. For the first time in the history of information,
a medium was created where every receiver could become a sender. There
was a sort of euphoria, a utopia of the information age was suddenly
made true. Everything you saw on the web was something you could make
yourself and put out there for everyone to see. I didn’t have much
technical background but web technology was very simple at that time, so
if I could do a web page, a child could do it too. I was very amused by
the phenomenon of the personal homepage, which I immediately experienced
as a popular “genre” in that medium. I am the kind of person who thinks
that art is never where you expect it, and that art is only in the eye
of the beholder: a true descendant of Marcel Duchamp.

PL: – By now everybody knows that there are links to Mouchette and the
movie by Robert Bresson–you were even in a legal fight with the heirs
of the director. Could you tell something more about links and inspiration?

Mouchette: I knew I wanted to make a young girl’s character. There were
others I liked. It could have been Alice (by Lewis Carroll) or Zazie
(from “Zazie dans le Metro” by Raymond Queneau) but they were too well
known (Zazie in France) and their lineage was already claimed so much. I
liked the dark aspects of the character of Mouchette. She was not cute,
pink and pretty, although I must say I didn’t know the film very well at
that time, I’d only seen it once. I was very impressed by the art of
Robert Bresson. His film making was so pure and minimal, with essential
facts like a Greek tragedy. His actors didn’t “play” or “pretend”, they
embodied the character by their physical presence only and plainly spoke
out the text, he always chose non-professional (amateur) actors. The
work I created in reference to the film (the Film Quiz) is a homage. Too
bad Bresson’s widow didn’t see it like that! She didn’t like the spirit
of it, a certain cold humour. The dispute ultimately worked out in my
favour: I had to remove the work from my site, but through the
solidarity of the net.art community it got hosted by more than 50
different sites.

PL: – You give shape to a character on the Internet. A lot of art on the
net is about playing with identity, especially in the early days. We
nowadays see a tendency in art that is called identity art in the true
sense, meaning searching for where do I stand, who am I, going back to
your roots, through self. Do you think Mouchette still fits in this last
category or do you think she is a product of a certain period?

Mouchette: For me, identity is something that exists between the “I” and
the “you”, it’s not just a personal investigation. Mouchette is
constructed by her public. When they love her, when they insult her,
they make her who she is. And I design everything like this: words as
questions, identity as an empty space where people project their desire.
That is why it is still growing since the beginning, and that is why I
never get bored with it because I’m not just looking at my own
(artificial) navel; and evolve with the public, with the development of
the internet itself. I’m just another drop of water on the Internet
ocean, changing with it.

PL – Mouchette’s website seems to be visited by a lot of people that
aren’t aware of its art background. Do you think this, crossing over
different audiences, is a typical thing of net art?

Mouchette: No. I think most net.artists want to throw their CV and
artist’s statement at your face before you see their work. Their work
can usually be understood by a child of 10 (which is a good thing) but
they want to force it into the art context that way. I think net.art is
a form of public art, art for the public space, it should be accessible
for any kind of public, at any level. Let the curators and the art
institutions see Mouchette as art if they can, but if they can’t, it’s
only their problem. I’m not going to exhibit my artistic pedigree and
references to make my work fit into their frame of mind. They are the
ones who should change their frame of mind and understand what the
Internet public already sees very clearly. So if there is some crossing
over to be done, it’s on the side of the art institutions, who should
find a new place between the net.artists and the public.

PL: Interesting. The point that you make about the “institutional”
art world sounds very similar to ideas of a lot of early “net artists”
that saw/see themselves not as artists (Michael Samyn, Heath Bunting,
Graham Harwood) but tried/try to get this different “frame of mind”
through too. What’s your stance/view on this?

Mouchette: It’s nice to know that on Internet you can propose your work
outside of ANY art context and that surfers who stumble on it by chance
will have some fun, some pleasure, some first-hand emotion without
having to relate to any known work of art or to any critical theory.
Yet, if your work can still function on that level and offer analytical
content to those who have an artistic or intellectual background, if
your work can be approached on several levels at the same time, then you
know you have the right frame of mind. Yes, that’s the best of both
worlds, an ideal position. I know it doesn’t always work like this, so
if I choose to ignore one type of public, it’s the artistic public. When
they’re smart enough they get the intellectual content by themselves,
without having it explained. And I know this analytical approach is
going to come out in my work one way or another because it’s present
inside of me.

PL: Something related to this is that I know Mouchette won some art
prizes on festivals you had to apply for. If you do enter this for
competitions, do you just send your url or are you going for the full
form? What I mean with this is: does Mouchette adapt on this level to
get her “frame of mind” through?

Mouchette: In the very beginning I didn’t connect to the art world at
all, but the art world connected to me at some point. Takuji Kogo (Candy
Factory, Tokyo) was the first one to pick it up as art in 1997, he made
collaborative exhibitions in his gallery, he introduced my work to
Rhizome. Net art people had no difficulty in seeing it as the creation
of a grown up and developed artist although nobody told them. They
spread it, commented it, linked it. So it was easy for me to enter my
work in net.art competitions. Besides, most of them didn’t request any
artistic references, you only had to send your URL. When I have to give
more details, I never break the rule of the anonymity of the author and
never disclose my gender. I’m still within my rules in this interview. I
like it when my work participates in the art world and I would make the
effort to bring it to them if I can stay within my rules. I want to add
here that this “mystery of the author” serves no personal purpose, only
an artistic purpose. But it makes it all the more difficult to connect
to the world of art as much as I would want to.

PL: And linked to the question above: do you see yourself as an artist
or net artist?

Mouchette: From the beginning I always saw myself as an artist, not a
net.artist or a something-artist, just an artist. For me net.art is not
separated from the rest of the arts. It should be brought to the public
by museums and other art institutions.

PL: Above you say that net art should be seen as a form of public
art, art for public space, yet to bring it in the white cube is something
different. Explain.

Mouchette: Art in the public space should be enjoyed by the passing
people without any reference to the art context, that’s what I meant. It
can be integrated in the street context to such a point that it’s not
even seen as art, but still experienced as something meaningful, or
useful, or disturbing etc… When envisioned through the art context,
the standpoint is different and what makes it an artwork is a particular
mixture of the work itself and the public participation to the work.
That’s why I don’t see a contradiction between general public and art
public: it’s just a different standpoint for the same work.

mouchette: http://www.mouchette.org
p2p: http://www.postartum.org/p2p/



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