"Something new and different is in the making"

Interview with Tamás Waliczky

Nikolett Erôss: You mentioned earlier that this exhibition at the Millenáris Park also signifies the closing of a period. This immediately makes one curious, partly about what you mean by "period" and partly about what your future plans are. Your oeuvre seems consistent and logically constructed; particular basic concepts gain focus in nearly all of your work, the pieces pass questions and problem solving elements on to one another. In other words, a certain coherence is apparent, which makes it difficult to think in terms of periods. Or doesn't it?

Tamás Waliczky: I have a very strong feeling that my work is entering a new period, but to find the words to describe what it will be like is a more difficult matter. Why I feel this way? Because I have been struggling with the same piece for two years. Based on my professional experience so far, this is a definite sign that something new and different is in the making. The outcome of the struggle is still open: anything can become of it. I am glad if my oeuvre so far has appeared consistent, but I myself can divide it into different periods - not from an art history standpoint, but for my own use. First of all, we are only talking about my electronic work now, and with good reason, as these are my better-known pieces. I, however, distinguish a preceding "painting" period and an even earlier "animation" period. Secondly, the present "computer" period I see as divided into many smaller phases, based primarily on the kind of environment the pieces were created in. In this way, there exist, for example, a "Caesar studio," a "Novotrade," a "ZKM" and a "IAMAS" period. I am a pretty grateful guy: I express my gratitude for good working conditions through works of art.

N. E.: If the surroundings are such a determining factor - and in past years you have worked with many large media institutes - I would be curious to know what experience you consider most essential from a cooperative standpoint. In conjunction with your previous answer, the question occurs to me whether the particular profiles of the institutions makes you somewhat powerless in a sense, being that the work requires very specific working conditions, which may lead to a basic dependence on the institution which provides them.

T. W.: Allow me to answer in reverse order. In my opinion, the artist is always (okay, most of the time) in a situation of dependence - from the audience, the commissioning party, present trends. As much as I am familiar with gallery contracts, only a contract with the devil can be rougher, though the devil at least guarantees success. I feel that working in media centres and exhibiting at festivals or in museums is a much freer thing. For me, the most important aspect of the institutions I just listed "by period," is community. I am talking about a group of intelligent, enthusiastic professionals (artists and programmers) who have welcomed me in their midst, and with whom the shared work, discussions and disputes help me to implement my thoughts according to the highest possible standards. In my experience, such a team is a very rare thing, and I can consider myself lucky to have been a member of such a community on more than one occasion.

N. E.: What makes such a collaboration work and how is it similar to, say, animation filmmaking or teaching, which are also activities built on team work that you are closely familiar with?

T. W.: I think in a good studio one has the sense that it is the best possible place to be doing what he is doing: here is where the best programmers are, where the most interesting research is taking place. All the team-mates are irreplaceable, because in the given field of speciality, they are the best, and they are natu- rally proud of the accomplishments of the others and considers them their own as well. Such a team can only function with few members. In my experience, when a studio begins to expand, the sense of community is the first to go. The break-up of the original group then follows. So as soon as I notice the first signs of expansion, I know that I will soon need to pack up and go. I only enjoy belonging to small, enthusiastic formations. This goes for every kind of group I know, be it in media art, in an animation or a film studio. Teaching - at least the type of university instruction I am involved in - is a different matter altogether. I have never experienced the "team" feeling with other university professors. My relationship with students, on the other hand, is very interesting and, many times, inspiring. Besides this, every year or two a brilliant student comes along with whom it is a real pleasure to work together.

N. E.: It seems to me that when it comes to collaborative work, your experiences are predominantly positive. I am sure there are good reasons for this, but, obviously, this is also a question of personality. I don't mean to appear sceptical, but I also don't want this thing to be oversimplified or sterile. Have you never had the feeling that the professional environment and the, often unexpected, possibilities, which you have had the opportunity to work with were an overwhelming burden? We see many examples for artists who after working with their own limited, habitual means - which they have nevertheless made one hundred percent their own - don't know what to do with the abundance of technical possibilities. In the better case scenario, at this juncture, a long period of silence ensues, or in the worse case, the artwork that is produced is extremely empty. This is not to flatter you, but your career has somehow managed to avoid such dead ends. But have you really never felt that the vastness of technical possibilities is simultaneously a blocking factor?

T. W.: I love challenges, it is their absence, rather, that blocks me. But you are right; for example, in the ZKM, when Jeffrey Shaw offered me the opportunity to make an interactive installation on an airplane simulator, I lost my confidence. But it was not so much the technical possibilities that worried me. The problem instead was that I did not really feel that the airplane simulator was suitable for the presentation of a work of art. But then we got to work and gained very interesting experiences from it. I am familiar with the kind of panic you are talking about, it has happened to some of my friends. They stopped working for varying lengths of time because they had gotten lost in the infinite abundance of technical possibilities. I have never had this problem. I am on very good terms with technology, in case of commissioned work, I am able to solve questions easily, rapidly and to a high standard. The problem I always have is what I want to say through my work. Or, to be more exact, I must wait for the idea to completely overwhelm me before it becomes clear to me what it should be about. Sometimes this takes a very long time. And since it is not really up to me, I cannot rush it. I always try to, of course, because I would like to create in abundance and with ease, but I have the impression that all my sophisticated tricks are in vain; I have to wait for it to ripen to maturity.

N. E.: When I read the writings posted on your website I came across your article again titled "The Manifesto of Computer Art," written in 1989. This text correlates with your work with great accuracy, it offers a myriad of interpretive vantage points for it and counts as a real document especially in relation to the stern optimism with which you saw the ways of computer art back then. You use - as you still do - many film analogies, often as counterpoints, which suggests that for you film / animation film considerations are, indeed, highly determinant; you always return to them. It is as if you were trying to surpass something, which is, in fact, much more attractive and engaging for you than one might gather from the text. Aren't you basically a filmmaker?

T. W.: You are raising a crucial question and I find it interesting that it was my manifesto, which made you ask it. I am basically a filmmaker, and by this I mean that at the age of eight it was animations that first grabbed my attention and since then, film has continued to be, for me, the determinant, great and important form of expression of the twentieth century. Fine art moved me just as deeply, though that happened later, in secondary school. Since then, both have been very important to me, and I can consider myself lucky because computer visuality has inherited elements from both fields of art. My feeling is that the differences between the genres are beginning to disappear anyway. A few years ago it was still very easy to tell, for example, a video artist from a computer artist: one used analogue, the other used digital machines. Today, this has become impossible, as nearly all video artists use computers, at least for postproduction work. The same is happening in cinematography. But the genres are not only mixing in terms of technology. Visual artists, for example, are making films, while famous film directors are exhibiting installations and paintings. I am very much in favour of this total blending of genres, this multi-coloured chaos.

N. E.: Understandably so, but let me get back to your "89 manifesto. The reason I keep returning to it, is that it is simultaneously enthused, task-oriented and without illusions - reminiscently of the avantgarde, which, for you, is known to be an essential reference. But if we want to focus on computer animations only, in the years that have passed since, with the developments in computer technology the golden age of commercialism has arrived in the fine arts as well. Sometimes, embarrassingly empty art pieces are even given professional recognition. You could, of course, say that you only deal with your own work so you can only take responsibility for that. You are, nevertheless, embedded in this world. Doesn't that make you uneasy?

T. W.: Unfortunately, it is as you say: in 1988 at the Ars Electronica festival nearly every submitted work was unique. Different computers, uniquely designed software, completely diverse directions in development. Ten years later, I felt very strange there; as if everyone had come from commercial filmmaking. (Luckily, there were one or two exceptions.) But this is not such a great problem. Once David Rockeby told me that he did not wish to become an old rebel, he'd rather quit. I took his statement to mean that he did not want to brood nostalgically over the old days of revolution, and I completely agree with him. The avantgarde artist's constant dodging of the commercial is no solution either: if computer animation becomes commercialised, then we will make interactive installations, when everyone else is doing that, then we will make, let's say, holographies, and so on. I, for one, do not wish to "pass" computer animation on to commercial professionals. I am just as technically skilled as they are, I have something to convey, and on top of that I can create the kind of unique visual world they cannot. I think there is a community for this too. The same goes for interactive installations, and all genres that I am interested in. The fact that computers are now everyday, easily accessible tools completely changes everything. This change may be bad for media centres or festivals, because they have to transform their existing modus operandi, but at the same time, it provides new opportunities for people who until now had no access to these machines. The reception of computer artwork has also become different. My work used to exclusively be shown at computer or media festivals. In recent years, the venues have also included fine art exhibitions and film festivals. I consider this a new challenge: I can no longer expect special attention for working with computers, perhaps now, my work can be noticed for its artistic quality.

Budapest - Saarbrücken, October 2005

English translation: Zsófia Rudnay