This interview was originally released with the online exhibition p2p[iece]. It is here republished with permission.
Mouchette website: http://mouchette.org
Peter Luining: – Mouchette has been for quite a while on the net. How did you find out about the Internet and is there any specific reason why you started with “Mouchette”?
Mouchette: The Internet arrived very early in Holland and it was like a democratic revolution. For the first time in the history of information, a medium was created where every receiver could become a sender. There was a sort of euphoria, an utopia of the information age was suddenly made true. Everything you saw on the web was something you could make yourself and put out there for everyone to see. I didn’t have much technical background but web technology was very simple at that time, so if I could do a web page, a child could do it too. I was very amused by the phenomenon of the personal homepage, which I immediately experienced as a popular “genre” in that medium. I am the kind of person who thinks that art is never where you expect it, and that art is only in the eye of the beholder: a true descendant of Marcel Duchamp.
PL: – By now everybody knows that there are links to Mouchette and the movie by Robert Bresson, you were even in a legal fight with heirs of the director, could you tell us something more about these links inspiration?
Mouchette:I knew I wanted to make a young girl’s character. There were others I liked. It could have been Alice (by Lewis Carroll) or Zazie (from “Zazie dans le Metro” by Raymond Queneau) but they were too well known (Zazie in France) and their lineage was already claimed so much. I liked the dark aspects of the character of Mouchette, she was not cute, pink and pretty, although I must say I didn’t know the film very well at that time, I’d only seen it once. I was very impressed by the art of Robert Bresson. His film making was so pure and minimal, with essential facts like a Greek tragedy. His actors didn’t “play” or “pretend”, they embodied the character by their physical presence only and plainly spoke out the text, he always chose non-professional (amateur) actors. The work I created in reference to the film (the Film Quiz) is a homage. Too bad Bresson’s widow didn’t see it like that! She didn’t like the spirit of it, a certain cold humour. The dispute ultimately worked out in my favour: I had to remove the work from my site, but through the solidarity of the net.art community it got hosted by more than 50 different sites.
PL: – You give shape to a character on the internet, a lot of art on the net is about playing with identity, especially in the early days. We nowadays see a tendency in art that is called identity art in the true sense, meaning searching for where do I stand, who am I, going back to your roots, through self. Do you think Mouchette still fits in this last notion or do you think she is a product of a certain period?
Mouchette: For me identity is something that exists between the “I” and the “you”, it’s not just a personal investigation. Mouchette is constructed by her public. When they love her, when they insult her, they make her who she is. And I design everything like this: words as questions, identity as an empty space where people project their desire. That is why it is still growing since the beginning, and that is why I never get bored with it because I’m not just looking at my own (artificial) navel. evolve with the public, with the development of the internet itself. I’m just another drop of water on the Internet ocean, changing with it.
PL – Mouchette’s website seems to be visited by a lot of people that aren’t aware of its art background. Do you think this, crossing over different audiences, is a typical thing of net art?
Mouchette: No. I think most net.artists want to throw their CV and artist’s statement at your face before you see their work. Their work can usually be understood by a child of 10 (which is a good thing) but they want to force it into the art context that way. think net.art is a form of public art, art for the public space, it should be accessible
for any kind of public, at any level. Let the curators and the art institutions see Mouchette as art if they can, but if they can’t, it’s only their problem. I’m not going to exhibit my artistic pedigree and references to make my work fit into their mind frame. They are the ones who should change their mind frame and understand what the Internet public already sees very clearly. So if there is some crossing over to be done, it’s on the side of the art institutions, who should find anew place between the net.artists and the public.
PL: Interesting. The point that you make about the “institutional” art world sounds very similar to ideas of a lot of early “net artists” that saw/see themselves not as artists (Michael Samyn, Heath Bunting, Graham Harwood) but tried/try to get this [a] different “frame of mind” through too. What’s your stance/view on this?
Mouchette: It’s nice to know that on internet you can propose your work outside of ANY art context and that surfers who stumble on it by chance will have some fun, some pleasure, some first-hand emotion without having to relate to any known work of art or to any critical theory. Yet, if your work can still function on that level and offer analytical content to those who have an artistic or intellectual background, if your work can be approached on several levels at the same time, then you know you have the right mind frame [frame of mind]. Yes, that’s the best of both worlds, an ideal position. I know it doesn’t always work like this, so if I choose to ignore one type of public, it’s the artistic public. When they’re smart enough they get the intellectual content by themselves, without having it explained. And I know this analytical approach is going to come out in my work one way or another because it’s present inside of me.
PL: Something related to this is that I know Mouchette won some art prizes on festivals you had to apply for. If you do enter these competitions do you just send your url or are you going for the full form. What I mean with this is: does Mouchette adapt on this level to get her “mind frame” through?
Mouchette: In the very beginning I didn’t connect to the art world at all, but the art world connected to me at some point. Takuji Kogo (Candy Factory, Tokyo) was the first one to pick it up as art in 1997, he made collaborative exhibitions in his gallery, he introduced my work to Rhizome. Net art people had no difficulty in seeing it as the creation of a grown up and developed artist although nobody told them. They spread it, commented it, linked it. So it was easy for me to enter my work in net.art competitions. Besides, most of them didn’t request any artistic references, you only had to send your URL. When I have to give more details, I never break the rule of the anonymity of the author and never disclose my gender. I’m still within my rules in this interview. I like it when my work participates in the art world and I would make the effort to bring it to them if I can stay within my rules. I want to add here that this “mystery of the author” serves no personal purpose, only an artistic purpose. But it makes it all the more difficult to connect to the world of art as much as I would want to.
PL: And linked to the question above: do you see yourself as an artist or net artist?
Mouchette: From the beginning I always saw myself as an artist, not a net.artist or a something-artist, just an artist. For me net.art is not separated from the rest of the arts. It should be brought to the public by museums and other art institutions.
PL: Ehhh. Above you say that net art should be seen as a form of public art, art for public space, to bring it in the white cube is something different. Explain.
Mouchette: Art in the public space should be enjoyed by the passing people without any reference to the art context, that’s what I meant. It can be integrated in the street context to such a point that it’s not even seen as art, but still experienced as something meaningful, or useful, or disturbing etc. When envisioned through the art context, the standpoint is different and what makes it an artwork is a particular mixture of the work itself and the public participation to the work. That’s why I don’t see a contradiction between general public and art public: it’s just a different standpoint for the same work.