Internet + Money + Art + Work + Labor

rafael rozendaal stagnation means decline

This text was published in the book
NO INTERNET, NO ART, A LUNCH BYTES ANTHOLOGY

What makes money so fascinating?

I always loved numbers, and money makes numbers even more interesting. I really don’t care about buying things. Things are annoying, the more things you have the more you have to care of them. I was always attracted to a lightweight lifestyle, being mobile, not attached to objects.
I just love the feeling of money coming in, and I hate the feeling of money going out. It has nothing to do with the things money can buy, it’s really about the numbers. They have to go up because it feels good.
Money solves a lot of problems. It makes me relaxed.
I love that money is so virtual. Even before computers. It’s this abstract contract of value and we all agree and it seems to work. You can be anywhere in the world and the money is just some lines of code at a bank mainframe that ensures its value. Isn’t that insane?

Does money play an important role in your life?

Yes and no…
Yes, it plays a big role in my life because I think about it all the time and it occupies my mind most of the day. No, because I could have chosen another career that would have made a lot more money. I could have become an engineer or I could have gone into finance. But it didn’t interest me. I’m also not good at making work with money in mind… I can’t predict which work will sell or generate money. I just make lots of things and see what “hits”. Most of my time I’m working on things that don’t make money, like this text. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of money that makes me think about money. In art you don’t expect any certainties so you have to hustle.

Does the internet create independence for artists?

A: Yes! That independence has always been so valuable to me and I haven’t found that freedom anywhere else. Normally, an artist shows in exhibitions, in galleries, art fairs, project spaces or museums. There is always a hierarchy and protocol. I strongly dislike that. It’s a reality you have to deal with sometimes, but it feels bad.
I think the internet is really great for experimenting, it’s the perfect place for strange ideas. The type of ideas that you’re not sure of, you can’t defend them. If you’d tell the idea to a curator they’d say “tell me more, what is your thought process, we need to do more research, what does it mean?”, bullshit like that.
It’s a bureaucratic attitude that stems from the fact that no one wants to lose face. The art world is full of people who want to prove they’re smart.

And on the web it’s different?

A: For me it is. Of course there is independent thinking outside of the WWW. But when I first discovered the internet I immediately felt this great potential. No one tells you what to do, which is rare! We all have an equal opportunity, you are using the same internet as Coca Cola.
The real difference is that the art world is based on exclusivity, and the web is the opposite of that. I always chose the web because it’s non elitist. It’s not exclusive. It’s inclusive (at least for the people who have access to it).

What’s so important to you about freedom?

I’m not even sure if real freedom exists, that could be a long discussion between lawmakers and philosophers. To me freedom means being in control of how I spend my time. I choose what I do any given moment. The opposite of obligations.
I think the reason for this longing for freedom is the desire to fulfill my potential. You feel all this energy inside and it wants to manifest itself. Some people work better in a bigger organization, but I am interested in exploring my most individual urges. What comes from within does not listen to reason. Intellect confuses intuition. The innermost expression of an individual… unmoderated.

How do you make money?

It’s a bit like any tech startup, you start with an exciting idea and at first you just want an audience. You want as many users as possible. Money is step 2, it’s secondary. But you need the money because money buys you time. It sounds strange, offering all your work for free online, how do you make money?
I always noticed that if you make good things, good things happen. Attention is a currency, and since my websites get so much traffic, money comes into the equation at some point. I tried many different ways… I sell the websites, I’ve placed banners on some, I get paid to speak, I license the works. I noticed that if you do a lot, money starts to appear. And the more you do the more opportunities you create. I think that’s really what it is all about, try a lot and something will work.

Would you define yourself as a startup or as an artist?

Like anything in life, there are no clear boundaries. A lot of my day to day work is like a startup, as I’m dealing with software, users stats, developers, optimizing. But I’m an artist since I only create unpractical experiments.
From a business perspective, I am not a startup at all. I tried for a while to generate income from ads on my websites but it didn’t work, and I much prefer selling the websites to art collectors.
I spend most of my time doing research, going around and finding ideas. This might be a walk on the beach, a visit to a museum, or hanging out in an electronics store.
On the web there really are no clear boundaries, you’re not sure if what you are looking at is culture or entertainment or education or utility. It’s up to the viewer to categorize, if they feel like it.

Do you work hard?

I work all the time, but I would not call it hard work. It’s soft work, continuous small tasks and moments of inspiration. I wish it was continuous inspiration but unfortunately it’s not the way it is. There are always a lot of tasks… cleaning up, organizing, press, inventory, logistics. I guess it’s part of life. I actually enjoy the organizing part, sometimes I get lost in it and become obsessive and use it as a form of procrastination. The real work is finding ideas. That is hard work.

Do you get your ideas from the internet?

Sometimes. But most of my ideas come from boredom. I need time to dream and experiment, I need to be bored. I need lots and lots of time. Boredom is important to me, it is when there is very little input that I get my best ideas. When there is nothing else to do but thinking.
The internet has made it very difficult to be bored. Boredom is not a nice feeling, humans naturally avoid it. The internet is addictive and distracting, it’s the opposite of focus. I have to force myself to be bored. It’s painful when I’m bored and there is no idea. I just stare into the distance and nothing happens. You wait a bit and wait a bit more, and there it is, an idea!

You also operate outside of the internet…

Yes, the screen still has it’s limitations. Screens are small, and a very solitary experience. I always think of music, you can listen to it privately on headphones, but you can also go to a concert for the big shared experience. Both those experiences complement each other. Solitary listening is very pure, the concert is very exciting.
It’s unfortunate that the internet is still confined to screens, I hope that it will somehow surround us in the future. I’d like to walk through a forest of websites some day. That’s what I’m trying to achieve with the BYOB project.

How is your practice still embedded in the art world?

It’s funny, a lot of curators think internet art can’t be exhibited in an exhibition space. In the early days of video art, there was the same prejudice. Nowadays, it’s not called video art any more, it’s just another medium an artist might use.
I always try to make a meaningful transition from the web to the physical space. The key thing for me is to do whatever is interesting. That’s always question number 1. I have lots and lots of ideas for exhibitions, but it’s a matter of being asked by a curator or gallerist. That feels stifling. It’s also frustrating that the same work has much more impact when it’s shown in a big museum. The context thing… which is another demonstration of control and power by the elite.
The web is my base, it’s where my ideas flow freely. Those ideas can then expand into projects into museum shows, concerts, fashion, cinema, architecture… anything that’s interesting.

What is internet art?

Art can’t be defined. Try it. It can’t be done. We all kind of know what it is but no one really knows. No one really knows what happiness is either. The moment you know it, you’re not really happy. When you’re really happy, you’re not thinking about happiness.
The internet can’t be defined either. It’s part of our subconscious and dreams and daily lives and relationships and business and family and identity… it’s… everything.

Your websites run 24/7, does it mean you need to care 24/7 as well? How do you relax?

Yes, the upkeep does require quite a bit of time. A large portion of that work is done by my programmers. I’m also involved, especially with documentation. I find the upkeep and optimizing and adapting very interesting. I like working. Work is relaxing to me. There are no tight deadlines, it’s a constant flow, which feels good. The only downside to this constant flow is that it can become too much of a routine, so travel is very important. That breaks the daily habit and gives new input. Then it’s back to the web, to translate those impressions into bits.

When did you start working digitally and putting your work online?

I started playing with a computer when I was 12. I remember doing some minor programming in Basic. I had a “coding for kids” book and you could make some simple games and graphics. With a few lines of code you could make a circle or a hexagon, magic!
Around 2000 I started putting my work online. At first I posted documentation of my existing artworks (drawings, photos), but soon I started making things specifically for the web. You make something and anyone in the world can see it. Double magic!

Do you think the web has changed since then?

The public web is still there, you can still put up a simple HTML page with some animated gifs. But a lot has been added, social media, apps… I’d say the web is still very open to user content. I hope it will stay that way! It might turn into a walled garden. Change is inevitable, one way or the other. Let’s hope for the best, it’s not in my control. I’m not sure what I would do if I was 19 now. Maybe I’d be turned off by the web, maybe I’d love it. It’s still the freest platform for artists if you ask me.