Robert Adrian

List of projects:
1979: "Interplay", an art and telecommunications project.
1980: Artists' Use of Telecommunications Conference at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMMA). The media for this conference were Slow-Scan TV (SSTV) and Computer Conference.
Creation of ARTBOX - "ARTBOX went through a number of versions untill about 1983 when it became formalised as ARTEX - the Artists' Electronic Exchange program"
1981: FAX project between the Mazzo Club in Amsterdam and the Blitz Bar in Wien.
1982: "The World in 24 Hours", telecommunications project for Ars Electronica.
1983: "Telephone Music", a telephone concert between Wien, Berlin and Budapest.
"WIENCOUVER IV", a 3 hour exchange of sound and image (SSTV).
"La Plissure du Texte", an experiment in collective authorship for the ELECTRA'83 exhibition in Paris.
1984: "Kunstfunk", an SSTV project for amateur radio.
1985-1986: "Kunst BTX", an experimental video text magazine.
1986: "Planetary Network", part of Laboratorio Ubiqua at the Biennale di Venezia

"Planetary Network summed up all the low-tech telecommunications projects by artists since 1979. I organised the network on ARTEX for the last time. It was also the last comprehensive, multi-media, global network project."

"Adrian a développé une attitude extrêmement critique à l'égard de l'évolution du dialogue et des communications interactives entre artistes et non-professionnels durant les années quatre-vingts. Il ne cache pas sa déception: la révolution que l'on espérait dans ce domaine dès le début de la décennie ne s'est pas produite, en partie à cause des habitudes de consommation passive encouragées par la société capitaliste. Selon Adrian, les artistes dans leur ensemble, étant eux-mêmes pris dans ce système, ont tendance à créer des simultations télématiques de produits, plutôt que des projets accordant la première place place au processus et à l'interaction."
Source: Frank Popper, L'art à l'âge électronique, Hazan, 1993.

Sabine Breitsameter: At which point did you enter this movement of telecommunications art? Can we consider you as a pioneer?

Robert Adrian: I think, there are three or four generations. The first generation happened before I got there. That were the people in the 70s, who were soldering up their own equipment, basically like the original ham radio operators, the amateur radio people. They are people you encounter still. I've done work with them. They are gung-ho types. They say: "If you don't build your own radio, don't talk to me about radio. If you can't build a radio, what do you got to say about radio?" They are still there, with their soldering irons, buying the electronic parts.

Modem technology, packet switching, all of these things come from radio freaks. It’s an absolutely astonishing reservoire of brilliant excentric amateurs. They were a kind of a guerilla group. Of course the people around the whole high tech thing with Nam June Paik and Douglas Davis had access to satellite transmission. The moment I came in, was when the stuff was there on a shelf. You could go to a store or you could go to a company and you could say: Could you lend me a fax machine? Also IP Sharp contributed their time sharing system for art projects for example. So at that moment I came in that 2nd generation. The 3rd generation comes along with the Bulletin Board Systems...

Sabine Breitsameter: ...which were known as "Mailbox" in Germany and became quite popular around the mid-80s, when the Personal Computer had come on the market. You had been organising a number of projects with it. What were the creative challenges of this system?

Robert Adrian: It was a mailbox, basically. But it wasn't depending on a central computer, like the IP Sharp network, we had been using in a number of art projects. With the Bulletin Board System, it could take a week for a message to get through to somewhere. The difficulty with the Bulletin Board System was that it didn't get over the Atlantic, it didn't get over the Pacific, you couldn’t go to Eastern Europe, only with great difficulties, because the distances were too great. To get to Japan was really complicated, and telephone costs were too high. And then, there were all kinds of tricks, and once again the hackers came in there and found ways to hack into companies to steal telephone time, so you could get over the Atlantic in certain times, so if you knew the protocols, you could get your stuff collected in Amsterdam and you would be flashed over and sent across and then get to North America. You could do that. But finally, the internet was the international thing. So the 4th generation is Internet. It becomes accessible around 1990.

Jeremy Turner: Are there any words of wisdom or advice regarding any fundamentals about producing interesting telematic art that you would like to pass to future generations? I ask this because as you have had many years of experience experimenting with communications media in general, you have come up with some golden rules to ensure what is interesting and what isn't.

Robert Adrian: Three things are very important to remember — and are usually forgotten --when working with networks:

1) The fact that nothing is permanent in network art. The moment of connection, where the work really happens, is dependent on the machines being turned on. When the machines are off the work is gone — and even worse: The machines and software upon which the work depends will probably no longer exist within 5 years of the creation of the work.

2) The work exists at the point of connection — with the receiver. It is always very hard to remember that not only can you not control the way your work is received but it is actually undesirable to want to exert control. This demands a completely different attitude than we know from industrial art practice. Perhaps it can best be described as "flow" rather than "process" — the creation of the space where things or objects may exist or happen rather than the making of things or objects themselves.

3) Like Mail-Art, the only really interesting thing about Network Art is that everybody is an author or potential author. There is no obligation to reply but the question is open and the means are available. The art industry is trying very hard to establish "artistic criteria" in order to exclude the riff-raff but so far without much success ... luckily.

Interview with Robert Adrian about early telematic art, by Jeremy Turner, 2003. link)

Interview with Robert Adrian by Sabine Breitsameter, 2004. link)

Robert Adrian: Art and Telecommunication 1979-1986: The Pioneer Years link) (English) link) (German)

Communication Art

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