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Conversation with Alonso Cedillo and Katia Haus

I met Katia Haus and Alonso Cedillo at a place named Casa Dandelion inside Second Life at 2:00pm Second Life Time (5:00pm NYC, 4:00pm MXC, and 3:00am Abu Dhabi). This duo forms part of a recent wave of artists that somehow are still part of the underground scene, but may soon jump out of it. A common characteristic of this wave is its lack of physical shows, and a big presence among international advanced web communities. I met Katia and Alonso’s work at what they have called their NETlab, located at a subdomain of drik magazine. 

Cybil Bennet: Could you tell me how did you began working together?

Katia Haus: We met on 2007 in Mexico City. I was an enthusiast of minimal techno by that time. So I began an internet radio show in which I promoted local DJs and raves. I spent much of my time partying those years. And it was at a party, when a friend of mine introduced me to a group of painters, and A.C. was among them. I moved to London a little bit after, so we didn’t really began working together until my return to Mexico on 2009. We made music back then, my involvement in visual arts is quite recent.

Alonso Cedillo: Somehow, music, specially electronic, has been some kind of axis of what we could call our ism. And not only Katia and me. All of the NETlab has been making music, mixing it, sharing it. In fact I began working with viruses because of music. Back on 2006 we were Windows users, and our computers had tons of viruses. We used to play some loops until a nice atmosphere was built. And then we crashed our computer’s RAM. It resulted on sounds we couldn’t control. We let them played like that for hours, letting the viruses make their music.

CB: Then you’re more musicians than artists?

KH: No. Well. I guess it depends on what you consider an artist. Some people recently are calling me an internet artist. But the truth is it all began because I like to write, and I like 21st century art too. The truth is I’ve focused much more on writing than any other thing. I stopped making music like, for two years. And I just began working on a new tape a couple of months ago.

CB: Do you consider you’re producing theory then?

AC: Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t art. I think since the beginning we’ve been struggling with the limits that cage the art field. Considering our magazine as a work of art is part of it, but it goes deeper. Some days ago a friend here in Abu Dhabi told me she thought I was more an art theorist than an artist. However I cannot theorize about things I do not practice. I believe I can make theory with my webpages, or my paintings, or my sculptures.

KH: Yes. And my work is mostly music or sound. However making music with computers is something extremely visual, and it remains creative too. It’s hard for me to think which is music, which is art, and which is theory. Contemporary art was about the mediums, but we believe 21st century art should be about the way we use those mediums. In the end, theory is also a medium.

CB: So the NETlab is about the way you use the internet?

AC: Totally. But the thing is the internet isn’t a medium. It’s a space. The idea of the NETlab had its origins on an attempt we did to establish a Media Lab. However we didn’t wanted to make just another Media Lab. We hated and still hate what artistic Media Labs are making on these days. Our NETlab is using digital technologies but very differently. We absolutely reject the idea of building useless machines or robots. That’s the decorative arts of electronic media.

KH: It seems that according to electronic artists, something becomes art just because the use of arduino, sensors, LEDs, etc. Instead of stepping away from exploitation, they seem to embrace it, just because making art with technology is something cool. There are decisive facts around electronic arts, specially around machines, that we can’t ignore. Eniac is the mother of all our computers, so owning a computer is already a big issue. If you add all the unsustainablity behind the machines in electronic arts, plus all the exploited people that high tech needs, and shape it on robot like structures, just to be avant-garde, art becomes more like an electric version of Ringling Brothers. That’s why we produce information instead. I don’t know if this is only happening in Mexico, but it seems the local electronic art scene is desperate on turning Mexico City into cheap version of the cyberpunk Tokyo. And we’re soooo different and so far away from Tokyo. We’re not even a developed country.

CB: Why don’t you exhibit?

AC: I believe the greatest danger for artists is over exposure. We do exhibit, a lot, but mostly on our websites, flickr, and tumblr accounts. We also worked for a long time on Second Life. The real difference is we’re using a parallel space to exhibit, which is the internet. A space in which exhibitions are open to the public, any hour, and any day of the year, as long as they have an internet connection. For most artists their exhibitions matter more than their websites. We are the opposite, and we still meet our audience thanks to comments or chats. The internet is a place where people can meet. We’ve made websites, online shows, and even symposiums. Once we did a conference between Mariana Botey, Luis Camnitzer, and Fran Ilich in Second Life. We also had some exhibitions.

CB: What was the conference about?

AC: The possibilities in art, political or not, and the Zapatista and Tupamaros’ resistance. If you understand spanish you can listen to it at http://talks.drik.mx/talk1.html

CB: Then you hosted several shows in Second Life?

KH: Actually no. We’ve made several shows on the web. One of them is inside Second Life. Right now you’re being part of it. The location has changed several times. Today we’re at the headquarters of the Cyberpunk Party. So the space might be other, but the show is the same; the scenery is what rotates. It can change its shape and content, as many times as it needs. The deal is not about the virtual objects, it’s about the conversation. For several months, our exhibition in Second Life consisted on a spot on the desert, occupied with rugs and a campfire. It had a Frida Kahlo’s painting burning on it, and avatars got marshmallows on a stick when clicking it. We sat around it and chat, all of us online from different places: Mexico City, Tijuana, Santiago, New York, Vienna... and this can’t happen inside a gallery. It just don’t. The internet will never fit inside a gallery.

AC: And that’s actually the main issue around electronic art, and the “new” net.art. They’re making robots, machines and webpages for galleries. That’s very stupid. Why on earth are you making net.art to show it on a gallery? And why are people building mechanisms and robots that can’t survive outside the museum? It’s not difficult to see, it’s just because they want to be more glamorous and trendy. But if that’s the case, in my opinion it’s better to grab some brushes and do oil painting. That has much more glamour.

CB: Do you think artists should take the same direction you’re going?

KH: Yes, but it’s a difficult choice. Most people are always tempted by financial success.    We have a full time jobs outside the Artworld to maintain the projects. However, we do not depend on the government nor private investments. We’ve never been supported by them, but we have never asked for it. We don’t want it, that money could feed thousands of children instead of being spent on making “Art”. And also that’s what give us the freedom to do whatever we want. Perhaps the “Artworld” doesn’t take us seriously because we do not exhibit, but it is definitely not our public.

Join us at Casa Dandelion.