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Online Art: Interview

Updated Wednesday, 1st March 2006

An interview with e-2 co-founder and digital artist Simon Faithfull about the ins and outs of e-2 and digital art.

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Word Perhect Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team What was the inspiration behind e-2?
When e-2 started in 1997 the Internet seemed like a fascinating new space, but one that, although conceptually interesting, seemed to be lacking in any engaging content. As an artist I've always been interested in exploring new spaces, and the Internet seemed like an important place for art to exist. It also offered a way to take art out of the sometimes rarified gallery context.

Do you feel that fine artists are able to make the leap into digital art?
This generation of artists are very interesting in that they are the last people who haven't grown up surrounded by digital technology. Many of the artists e-2 has commissioned have never used digital technology before. This meant that some of the projects took a long time to develop but led to pieces that have a very fresh stance on what our relationship with new media is and how one might create artworks within this space.

Do you think that digital art has as much kudos as fine art?
The fine art world has been slow to accept artists using new media but to the artist the Internet is just another medium or space to make work within. Video and photography both struggled to be accepted as valid mediums for artists but are now routinely found in contemporary galleries. Tomoko Takahashi's project for e-2 'Word Perhect' was a breakthrough piece, being the first digital work to be nominated in the Turner Prize. There is still a difference with web-based artworks in that they have to operate outside of the gallery and are hard to define as an 'object' that can be owned.

Have you had much interest in the e-2 website since it was featured on Well Connected?
Yes, the e-2 site has an audience that has built up over the years. Whenever we launch a new project or receive some media coverage, there is a jump in our viewing figures and a flood of e-mails from a new audience.

How many artists contribute to e-2?
e-2 commissions artists to make a one-off major piece of work specifically for the Internet. To date we have launched 9 new works but many of these projects have required a team of people to realise them. We have also, though, just launched the minus20 project on the e-2 site. Rather than commissioning and producing works, minus20 asked artists to send in web-based works that were under 20k (20,000 bytes) in file size. The project seems to have captured artists' imaginations and we received 140 entries from around the world, from which the judges selected 9 final pieces, which can be seen at www.e-2.org/minus20/

What are latest projects that e-2 has been involved with?
Other than forthcoming commissions (Mike Nelson, Simon Starling and Simon Wood) and the minus20 project, e-2 also works with cultural organizations to help them utilize the Internet. In this role we have just totally redesigned the Royal Academy's website and are working with a number of other galleries and architects. With Ian Ritchie Architects we are developing a strategy to redevelop Shepherds Bush Green as London's first programmed outdoor art-space.

 

Word Perhect Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team Do you know of any artists who have moved over totally from traditional forms of art to the digital form?
There is a healthy niche of digital or net-based artists who only work with digital technology but increasingly the distinction between a digital artist and simply an 'artist' is becoming blurred. Whatever the final output, many artists use digital cameras, Photoshop etc. within their working process. There are now artists who have always made work using digital media and others who have taken up this way of working but this is no more surprising than someone deciding to take up paint as their medium of choice.

Can the artists make money from the site? How?
The closest model to how e-2 operates would probably be a public gallery or public art project. The artists commissioned all receive an artist's fee the size of which depends on the funding we are able to attract. Beyond this, though, there is no way at present for the artist's commission to generate money. In the US online digital artworks have been sold and entered public and private collections but not to my knowledge in the UK.

Do you think the economic future of digital artists will lie in the realm of commercial art, gaming or somewhere else?
It depends how you define artist. Personally, I think art is distinct from design. An artist may sometimes earn money through design work but an artwork is not a solution to a design brief and so I wouldn't see commercial web design as art.

The case with games is not quite so distinct. There is a grey area of artists producing games and individual developers producing products that could in some ways be considered art. Even if commissioned though, an artwork is an autonomous product. An artist may produce something akin to game as an artwork (Tomoko Takahashi's Word Perhect on the e-2 site certainly has elements of game playing), but personally I'd say the object of an artwork isn't just to entertain but to question the context of the artwork, to make the viewer think or simply to make something beautiful. Tomb Raider may be a fantastic game but is not an artwork - the intentions behinds its production and the way it operates in the world are very different.

The 'problem' comes with how to fund this autonomous product - but this isn't a new situation. The traditional model for new ways of working is that the art world finds a way to turn the artist's practice into a commodity that can be bought, sold and collected - producing very limited editions of video works or providing a certificate of ownership (or the right to recreate) ephemeral installations such as Richard Wilson's oil piece or Cornelia Parker's exploding shed. This may happen with web-based artworks, or the sheer number of people accessing the works may be able to be generate funding through sponsorship or advertising.

What do you see as the future for digital fine art? And how does it relate to the advertising and creative industries?
From bronze casting to Canneletto's use of a camera obscura, artists have always helped to develop and explore the possibilities of new technologies. This will continue to be the case with digital media, and will have an increasing importance within the art world. There has always been an exchange of ideas between the art world, creative industries and advertising. Advertising and creative industries often utilise the most contemporary artists thinking, but artists also often steal techniques or modes of operating from the commercial sector. The difference really lies in their intentions.

More about how the internet is offering artists new spaces to explore

 

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