Versions: Martijn Hendriks


Interview Versions by Annet Dekker

– by e-mail

Could you tell me about the origins of the online comment culture and its development?
I think that what you characterize as online comment culture is really a very diffuse phenomenon. I think it exists somewhere between two other changes that are much clearer. On the one side there is the role that internet has begun to play as a source of images, texts and references for making new work. On the other side the internet has become a place where certain developments in art become visible more rapidly, for instance through art blogs like VVORK.

Because of this, it not only becomes clear more quickly when you are involved with similar themes or materials, but it also creates a 'compulsion' to place these similarities, or to react to them. That sometimes leads to interesting commentaries on each other's work.

I don't know if these networks are terribly long-lasting. The importance of that culture of shared references and reactions is always changing: sometimes you are particularly occupied with research for new work and it is good to look at a lot of things and see how other artists respond when you show a work-in-progress. At other times you have to stop with that and concentrate on your work. I know that that is entirely different for some, because for them the development of their work is more connected with responding to others, but for me it is important for me to be able to let go of that.

That artists show others their work-in-progress or ideas online is to some extent also a result of what is described as the post-studio condition. For many artists that I know, a lot of their research, and sometimes also of their work, takes place on their laptop. For many artists laptops are a sort of replacement for or extension of studios, and many people seek forms of online collaboration or other ways to exchange ideas. But for some time now you've been seeing artists whose practice is primarily digital or video returning again to the physical studio and an interest in materiality, authenticity and authorship. The interesting thing is that these two practices are beginning to exist alongside one another, and this poses the question of the relation between them.

Is it possible to talk about comment as medium and could this lead to a shared or distributed aesthetics?
I don't know if it is productive to understand new developments in the visual arts too quickly in terms of innovations in the field of media. I also don't think that responding to someone else's work or to a particular development means that you are working in a different medium. It is often tempting to analyze developments on internet before we have really seen where they are leading, or how they differ in content from parallel developments outside the internet, that are less directly accessible and public.

In many cases the comment culture does lead to a sort of 'distributed aesthetics' because it creates a sort of fragmented development of ideas that are related in a loose and changing manner. But, on the other hand, I think that has also led to a counter-movement in which there is a search for a focused, less fragmented practice.

Do you think beforehand about the comments and do they influence your own artistic practice?

The most interesting thing about comment culture – understood as the situation in which your work sometimes gets picked up and taken further by others and in which you yourself sometimes work with ideas that come from the work of others – is that choices become clear. Particularly when an artist begins to work with the same idea but gives an entirely different content to it, it is interesting to reflect on why you didn't make the same choices yourself. A single idea can lead to different results. That reveals something about the interpretation or transformation that takes place among ideas, materials and media.

Is commenting a form of collaboration or is it something else?
It seems to me that it is a sort of dialogue in which it is not yet clear what language is being spoken, because that language is gradually being developed. The subject is also not always clear. Just as in many ordinary conversations, that emerges in the course of the dialogue.

What does appropriation mean in this time of comment culture?
Appropriation has long since ceased to have the transgressive power that it had thirty years ago, and the easy accessibility of visual material on the internet is undermining that side of appropriation still more. Appropriation has almost become matter-of-course. Presently, it is almost never the act of appropriation that is important, but what you do with the material. Found material no longer has such an exceptional status, but all the more things revolve around the specific use of that material. When you use material that comes from the internet, it is very easy for others to also use the same material, but perhaps to manipulate it differently. As a result, this sometimes creates a sort of discourse about certain images or about certain sources such as YouTube.

And what does this mean for the question of authenticity and originality?
The most logical answer would be that these concepts have become irrelevant, but that is really a cliché. It is precisely the opposite that is true. There is a sort of originality and authenticity to be found in very simple gestures such as the choice of an image or text, a minimal intervention in it, or simply the recontextualization of the material.

Is the offline version an illustration or a reaction to the comment culture?
The work must be able to stand on its own and break free from that culture. Just as it also has to break free of the studio. That is important for arriving at the work, but that is not what the work is about. And even if it is about that, that work must stand up alone in an exhibition. Even if viewers have no access to that studio or to the comments and the interchange that preceded it.