AB: For quite some time, it has been considered irrelevant within conceptually and politically oriented art and art criticism to worry much about FORMAL aspects of the works (if formalism is an overt issue it often only becomes so in order to criticize it).
DD: I am grateful for this question. Like most artists working on an edge, my formal obsessions, or hallucinations, are nearly always ignored. And I have only myself to blame. If I worked in traditional media, the formal pattern would be instantly apparent, because alternatives abound. Take on video or the web or long-distance performancing and most of my critics, if not my audience, are taken only with the effontery of the act itself, not with its manner of execution. If you add tragic or comic content to the mix, you disguise your tracks even further. Well I am obsessed with the means of presentation. And I think you can track a stylistic line from the beginnings in the 60's into the millennium. It would be self-defeating for me to enumerate all my tricks, taking work away from the critics and scholars who follow after me. But God knows they are there and quite self-evident: the big, bold, double-meaning image, for example. The constant call on you-- by many different
methods -- to respond, physically or psychically. The reach "beyond." The centrality of the "other." Oops. There I go. Revealing too much. Revealing the shyster inside me.
AB: One more "formalist" question. In your book Artculture, 1977, you wrote about the relevance of taking into account the different sizes of the video screens used for viewing video works. You have created video works in which this aspect of the work, often disregarded, is indeed of some importance. Now, on the internet everything shown is just made up of 1s and 0s, which means that there is no difference between copy and original - this distinction vanishes completely, as you have argued in your article "The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction" (published in Leonardo, 1995). However, on another level of this argument about 0s and 1s, must you not take into account, as you did with the above mentioned video works, that people have very different monitors, computers and browsers, which all have som influence on how the work presents itself to them? For instance, there are slightly different colors in the Mac/Windows systems, the same fontsize set in html-editors comes out differenly depending on Mac/Windows, there are slightly different ways of displaying images and animated gifs in Netscape and Explorer (Netscape begins displaying right away, Explorer waits until everything has been loaded). Do you allow these basic aspects of a project's presenting itself on each individual screen to play a significant role in your creation of projects on the internet? Or would you simply disregard them as irrelevant formalist concerns?
DD: Not only do I not disregard them, I glory in them, as I gloried in the variety of means of perception that attended each of the video broadcasts. In the early days I always wore red not because I was shilling for the left (as some lunatics accused) but because in the old video days red exploded on the screen. No matter what set you used, you knew I was there. The use of big bold home page images is a similar means of breaking through no matter which terminal of software you are using. The supposedly uncontrollable, anti-formal means of representation became a matter of formal control, given that I do not mean entirely physical control.
AB: The medium is the message (Macluhan). The medium is the medium (Kaprow).
DD: Of course I think--I know--the message is the medium. As for Macluhan, whom I met in the 60's, he was pleasant, windy, and self-absorbed, unlike one of his daughters, with whom I once discussed his true habits (he rarely watched tv: he spent most of his time reading and listening to classical music, like any print-based intellextual)...I wrote a whole book against his theories (The 5 Myths of Television Power, or, why the Medium is not the Message, 1993). It points out that almost nobody believes what he or she sees on tv, a fact proven by endless studies as well as common sense. We regularly defy the means of presentation of almost any message in order to mine it for its uses to us, factual or esthetic. Kaprow's phrase is equally absurd, though I felt much closer to him--and still do--in other ways. His happenings had all kinds of rules and directions that his audiences regularly and happily violated, extended, or improvised upon, as indeed he wished--his work alone contradicts the statement. I am always in my work trying to get out of the trap in which the method I must use imprisons me: how many times have I crashed through television screens into
your lap and mind? It's hard to count. The medium is of no final importance to me and to you. I coax and seduce it into helping me get through, but getting through also means getting away.