by Taney Roniger
fundament vOlupté. 2011. by Joseph Nechvatal. 66 x 44 inches, 167.64 x 111.76 cm computer-robotic assisted acrylic on velvet
TR: I recently read Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, and I was struck by what seems to be a movement toward becoming a little bit more friendly toward the object world – the non-human realm. It’s not entirely off limits to us anymore, in other words – with our subjectivity “over here,” and it “over there.” That perhaps the twain can meet after all.
JN: Yes, that is central to the Speculative Realists. Their whole jumping off point is refuting Kant. Correlationism is the big thing they’re trying to escape – where we can only understand the world because we have this human spectrum of perception, and so that’s Being. And they say no to that, that being is post-human – it’s much bigger than us. Again, that brings us back to the sublime and transcendental metaphysics and all that. So, in a nutshell, they basically say: We have to explore philosophy and being – ontology – outside of the Kantian strictures.
TR: And that we can do that; it’s not beyond our capacities.
JN: And science fiction and speculation and art are all part of that because they’re very much into systems, the environment, the cosmos. I mean, that’s why I named my show nOise anusmOs, because it’s anus and cosmos linked. It’s a real area that we have to explore and try to comprehend but it is tough.
TR: I see so many parallels between what you’re talking about and your working process. Here’s my understanding of the process, and correct me if I’m wrong: You and your programmer author a piece of viral code, which is then inserted into a selected image from your database of previous works. As the viral code transforms the image by altering its colors and configurations, you select “stills” from the process from which paintings will be made. During the painting process, your hand does not touch the canvas; rather, the application is made by a robotic device acting on commands issued by the computer.
The whole thing strikes me as a sort of wonderful dance – a dialectic, perhaps — between human agency and non-human processes. You don’t seem to privilege one over the other; it’s just this back and forth.
JN: I would not ever say a dialectic, because I don’t believe in dialectics. Deleuze completely does away with dialectics. It’s too limiting. Because you have all the little differences in between the polarities – all those micro-areas that are far more rich and interesting and complex. So I would say: dialogue, but not a dialectic. A conversation or dance.
TR: When you’re selecting your host images for a viral attack, is it significant that they’re always your own images, your own prior works?
JN: Yes. The only other example I used in an attack was two paintings of Andy Warhol’s money paintings, which I just did for a short little YouTube thing, because that was a specific thing for the Occupy Wall Street blog that I was happy to participate in. Otherwise, no. It’s got to be within the family. It’s not applicable for all things, in my mind. Or it would lose its meaning, it would dilute its usefulness.
TR: You mean if you took an image from…well, from anywhere out there in the culture. You could conceivably do this to any image, right? And interesting things would happen.
JN: Absolutely. It could be any image. And then the question is why. That’s why when I talk about losing focus and the impact getting lost, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. If it’s any image, then why any one image? So I’m trying to maintain its function as art. I think I talked about that in the introduction of the book that it’s important to maintain this – even if artificially constructed – definition of art as something other. As a form of ideology. That’s what artists are supposed to do: challenge ways of thinking.
TR: That certainly comes across in your work. So thinking about thinking is really important.
JN: I do think so. That’s why I try not to make too much of a division between my philosophizing and my artistic creation. I mean, I’m not a philosopher, hard-core. But even Nietzsche himself said that the ideal philosopher would be an artist. And I’m trying to live that out, at least on a mini-scale, at least for my life. Yeah – keep it moving back and forth between the categories but not looking for homogenization, looking for those differences which make for creation, that suggest new avenues of creation. Difference is novelty. I believe that art should try to be something novel, and I do believe in innovation and invention. And I don’t fall prey to these postmodernist myths of stasis and decay and repetition and simulation. That’s a trap you can fall in if you want to, but I don’t want to go there.