Versions: Theo Watson


Annet Dekker -  email conversation

Can you tell me about the origins of the online comment culture and its development?
I see it as a weird hybrid of the open source collaboration model and the comment threads that live below news posts and YouTube videos. With open source projects a lot of the actual work is done as a series of responses to previous work. 'Oh I see you added this feature, I took it one step further and added this...'. This group behavior where everyone chips in, has really been a driving force in improving open source projects. Rather than letting the work all fall on one person, it is done piece by piece by lots of people. This collaboration has been the norm for open source software development for quite a while, but what is interesting is to see this process be applied to internet art, experimental projects and web memes. It is like open source project development but for people more interested in pop culture and art than programming software tools. It is open source for the masses. It is what produced LOLcats [look-a-like sites], Rick Rolls [where web users are tricked into clicking on what they believe is a relevant link] and a million other time wasting things getting mass e-mailed around the world. It’s entertainment for the 'board at work crowd'.

I think we may see more self organized groups like FAT which legitimize these time wasting projects we all secretly want to produce. I don't really see it as pushing or stretching the definition of art more as just ignoring it all together. I am very curious to see where it all goes.

Is it possible to talk about comment as medium and could this lead to a shared or distributed aesthetics?
I guess the best way to describe comment as medium would be that the work is perpetually in a state of work in progress. This is where the programming terminology of revision numbers (or versions) can be applied to describe each iteration of the work. Often there is a goal to a project/collaboration. But like open source development it could get split into several sub projects and other people could pick it up later and take it further than was originally intended.

Do you think beforehand about the comments and do they influence your own artistic practice?
I generally don't get to caught up in that discussion. I prefer to make something, throw it out there and see what people do with it. A lot of the discussion comes after the fact, with people making their own versions of the project, or taking what I did and going one step further.

How do you deal with comments by others and your own?
I try to keep a balance between being involved in the discussion and staying focused on making new projects. I think as an artist I can be a little secretive, I usually like to make an idea before discussing it. For me discussing it beforehand kills the energy to make it, so I prefer to make it, post it, and then participate in the discussion that follows.

Do you see the work as unique or is it part of a larger entity?
I see collaborative/remixed projects as a series of versions. The project itself is not just the first release. It is the whole collection of versions each with their own story. It makes the project a lot more interesting as it can evolve far beyond what was first conceived. The author is not one person but a whole team of people whose participation changes over time.

Is commenting a form of collaboration or is it something else?
I would say it is discussion and often this leads to collaboration but it may not even be realized by those involved. A lot of commenting is also critical and destructive but this serves its purpose too as those who are most critical can often post a response to show how they would do it and then they are part of the process.

What does appropriation mean in the time of comment culture?
I think the general attitude is that it is all up for grabs. I don't think people think twice about taking a song or video and using it to make their point.

And what does this mean for the question of authenticity and originality?
I think the way people are acknowledged and credited really differs on a project by project basis. However I don't think it really matters or applies. A lot of the time the work being made is not done for anyone else, just for the people who are making it.

Does comment culture surpass the scrapbook?
Hard to say, I think there is a wide range of work being made in this way and I think it is quite inconsistent in terms of motivation, goal and execution. Does it surpass the scrapbook? I don't know, maybe not. But in a way it doesn't matter, people are having fun with it.

How do you translate your work to a physical and static environment of a gallery space? Do the qualities of the collective online working process remain?
I guess it is not easy. In the same way looking at a 18th century oil painting as a 100 by 200 pixel image online is not the same as seeing it in person, trying to put an internet based project into a gallery might be just as awkward. Some things that work well are physical artifacts of online culture. Like Becky Stern's framed canvas paintings of online Captcha systems [the images where you type the wonky letters you see to prove you are human] or actually making some of the hoax/photoshop projects that did so well online [YouTube glasses etc. ].

Trying to recreate that dynamic aspect of the internet in a gallery setting can be difficult though. Galleries typically tend to favor the static where as this work is ever changing and hard to understand when viewed at one moment in time. It is much better suited to being experienced online over longer periods of time and by which point you most likely have become part of the process.

Is the offline version an illustration or a reaction to the comment culture?
It is a partial illustration of comment culture.