“Conversations on (Con)temporary Art: An Interview with Anders Weberg.” INCITE! Journal of Experimental Media, Back & Forth: Interview Series (February 28, 2010).
Anders Weberg is a Swedish media artist and filmmaker working in video, sound, new media and installation, and is primarily concerned with issues of identity in the digital age. The human body is the root of his projects that formally and conceptually chart identity and its construction as a preamble to broaching matters of violence, gender, memory, loss, or ideology, in which personal experiences co-exist with references to popular culture, the media, and consumerism. Utilizing new technologies, he aims to mix genres and ways of expression to explore the potential of audiovisual media. Currently based in Malmö, in the south of Sweden, Weberg has exhibited at numerous art and film festivals, galleries, and museums internationally, including the Sydney Biennale, the Berlin Transmediale, and the Japan Media Arts Festival, among others.
I first discovered Weberg’s video work in 2006, by chance, through his website on p2p-art. As a nerdy cinephile obsessed with rarity, I was fascinated by Weberg’s conceptual temporary art process. He would create emotionally charged, feature-length experimental videos then delete the work after sharing it. I periodically re-visited Weberg’s p2p site looking for new work. With each year his videos became progressively stronger as his aesthetic sensibilities grew.
My digital communiqué with Weberg started in 2008, when I left a question on his Vimeo comment page about his p2p-art project. The following transcript is an edited version of conversations that have taken place since that time through Vimeo, Facebook and Gmail. These conversations have been edited to remove irrelevant information, informalities, formalities, and Swenglish. We have made every effort to preserve the original sentiment of our ideas. So far, we have not met in person.
Clint Enns: Tell me about p2p-art and your project, there’s no original?
Anders Weberg: p2p-art is art made for peer-to-peer networks. First, the artist shares an artwork online until someone else has downloaded it. Immediately after it is downloaded, the artist deletes the original file and all of the materials used to create it. Hence, there is no original–the original is destroyed in the process. From that point forward, the artwork is only available if people share it.
I started to conceive this project in the late-90s. At that time, I had just started using the Internet for publishing videos; it was around the time that Napster [an online music file sharing service] was released. The project, however, didn’t materialize until I released the first video in 2006.
CE: What have you released so far?
AW: I have released five videos to date: Filter (released and deleted 2006/09/15), Transient (released and deleted 2007/09/15), Emphasis (released and deleted 2008/03/16), 080808 (released and deleted 2008/08/08), and A N O N Y M U S(released and deleted 2009/04/21). I am currently working on my sixth release, 090909. This video will be released on September 9th, 2009 and it will be 9 hours, 9 minutes, and 9 seconds long.
CE: Where do you plan to release it?
AW: I’m not sure yet. When I release work as a BitTorrent there is a torrent file that remains. So perhaps I will release it using a different file sharing protocol. Other than that, I am thinking about finding a gallery that will screen the full piece once, live. Directly after the screening the files and original copies will be deleted; like a performance.
CE: This performance-presentation would fit nicely with the ephemeral nature of the project. Nothing would remain but a memory of an event. Once a video disappears, how do you feel about the potential mythology that will be created around the work?
AW: It’s interesting. A friend of mine who lives in a really small town overheard a conversation his neighbor was having with a visitor from England. The neighbor was telling the visitor about an artist that made feature-length films, which he deleted (destroyed) after sharing a copy of them online. The interesting thing is that his neighbor only uses the Internet for paying his bills, and probably is unaware of how file sharing actually works.
CE: That is wonderful antidote. As a Manitoban, I am naturally hungry for these types of mythologies.
CE: Where were your other ephemeral p2p videos originally released?
AW: Pirate Bay and Emule.
CE: Do you personally know any of the people who first download your work?
AW: Not at all.
CE: I have seen four of the five p2p-art projects; however, I haven’t been able to track down a copy of 080808.
AW: The 080808 video survived for only three days after its release. It is now gone forever. From my point of view, it was the first time that the project really worked. My first p2p video, Filter, can still found on file sharing networks. Even though this is amazing on the one hand, it wasn’t intended to still be available three years later.
CE: In other words, you feel 080808 captured the true ephemeral nature of the larger conceptual project. With that being said, would you be disappointed if it re-surfaced?
AW: To put it simply, yes. However, an important aspect is that I delete the original materials. This means all that ever can resurface is a digital copy (XviD encoded file) and this doesn’t bother me at all. Others have the criticized the project by claiming that the artwork never disappears if someone has downloaded it and saved it on some external media. However, that is only a copy. The “original” or “master” disappears once I delete it.
CE: I have a similar critique and I am hoping we both can expand on it and dissect it a little. To put it in the form of a question: What does “original” mean to you in relation to the video medium? What constitutes an “original” is obvious when we’re referring to a painting: I’m sure we can agree that the original is the canvas the painter first made the painting on. Prints are considered copies of the original and are just that, copies. You seem to infer that once you encode your original lossless video file using XviD, or any other codec, and delete the lossless version, you have deleted the original; after all, all that is left is the XviD version. According to this definition, it seems that videomakers destroy their “originals” all the time. For instance, being a video artist who has (until early 2009) worked exclusively on a Pentium 1 computer with a 20 gigabyte hard drive, I destroyed my original lossless files all the time due to lack of disk space. That being said, I would feel uncomfortable if the only available copy of my work existed via a p2p network. Can you expand on what “original” means to you, in terms of video?
AW: I see where this is going. The whole idea about the “precious original” in the digital era is one of the concerns of this project. My background is in making films and music videos for broadcast; so for me, “broadcast quality” is equivalent to the terms “original” or “master.” The file, in its native format and resolution, is the “original.” That is my definition.
CE: There is something to be said for creating a limited supply. Do you feel that the more rare something is, the more in demand or valuable it becomes?
AW: Not necessarily. I can understand that human beings are natural collectors. Also, we currently exist in an era where almost everything is within keyboard reach, and, at the same time, we desire things that are not easily accessible. That is part of human nature.
CE: It is an interesting concept: creating scarcity with the same technology that is intended to make information readily accessible and reproducible.
CE: How does the content of your p2p videos relate to the p2p concept?
AW: It doesn’t.
CE: Well, could you expand on the content of the videos themselves?
AW: They are quite experimental and non-linear. I start with different themes, and the work usually sorts itself out from there. For example, the next release, 090909, is based entirely on places that I visited in 2009. The raw material was collected with the camera that is built into my mobile phone. The material is then up-scaled and post-produced.
CE: Do you feel the overarching ephemerality of your concept transcends the videos you are producing for the project?
AW: In a way. However, the videos are, to me, an important part of the project. I see myself as a video artist foremost (as opposed to a conceptual artist). On that note, some of the videos I’ve made for the project have been well received in and of themselves. I know there have been some offline screenings in Berlin and Budapest where the organizers downloaded and screened copies of my work. One thing that surprises me is that no one (to my knowledge) has downloaded my work and remixed, reformatted, or reused any of the material.
A lot of artists say that they wouldn’t be able to delete (destroy) their own work, but I don’t feel anything at all after I delete the work. Once I am finished with something I move on to the next thing. It’s not the best way to build a career, perhaps, but that’s the only way I can work. The process is more important to me than the work itself.
CE: Somehow, I don’t think the vagaries of p2p distribution will be detrimental to your career as an artist. Any closing remarks, or anything you would like to add?
AW: Since this art project is meant to comment upon and raise questions around issues of authorship, fair use, copyright, attribution, citation, accreditation, intellectual property, and the notion of the “precious original” in the digital era, it is nice when these discussions arise. Thanks for contacting me and hopefully we can continue this in real life.