A text, based on an interivew with Alex Adriaansens and Joke Brouwer about V2_, from the Book for the Electronic Arts (2000)
V2_Organisation, institute for unstable media, started in 1981 in the Dutch town of Den Bosch as an artists' initiative. Both Alex Adriaansens and Joke Brouwer - speaking on behalf of V2_ on these pages - were among the founding members and are still as active as ever within the organization. Currently, with its divisions V2_Lab, V2_Events, V2_Books, V2_Web, Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF), V2_Store and V2_Archive, V2_ has evolved into an international center for art and media technology in Rotterdam. V2_'s idiosyncratic style is guaranteed to evoke a mixture of fascination and frustration among the audiences of any of its manifold activities time and again.
In V2_'s early years our own work and the activities of V2_ as an organization tended to become rather mixed-up. The themes of our own work were also the basis of the activities we initiated as V2_. In the late seventies art had become so institutionalized and so self-referential that we started looking for openings through which we could confront the 'outside world'. For instance, in 1980 some young curators asked us to do an exhibition at the University of Nijmegen. We drove up with a truckload of paintings and hung up large banners that said: "The university is occupied". This rather alarmed them, as they felt that only students could occupy a university, not artists. The entrance hall of the building was covered in paintings that were either absurd or politically orientated. When the Head of the Faculty came to take a look, his first words were: "This is not art!". He went on to say, on camera: "My idea of art is a painting of thirty by forty centimeters". We edited the tape using the university's audiovisual department and then played it continuously on a monitor: this man crying "This is not art! My idea of art is...". Well, the audiovisual department was declared off-limits to us and the tape was destroyed.
Of course we then cut all of our works down to this 'art size' and hung them all over the building. Things then quickly got out of hand and so within two weeks the structures within the university were neatly exposed. The activists from the sixties had established a tentative foothold and now wanted to start a petition on our behalf, as long as it didn't offend the Head of Faculty because they depended on him for their research funds. The foreign students there, most of them from Third World countries, had a keen sense of what was going on and immediately declared their solidarity. Anyone who had something to say could come to us. We had duplicators and could make our own pamphlets on the spot. After a few weeks the Head of Faculty brought in a cleaning crew over the weekend and had everything torn off the walls. This was rather more radical than we had imagined. The next Monday we held speeches through bull-horns and the police arrived, as did a growing number of students. Tension was definitely mounting. Then the University Rector had a room cleared out and ordered sandwiches and soft drinks, so we could negotiate peacefully. In the end we went to court over it and the university had to pay for all the damaged art works. In an interview with the university paper the Head of the Faculty was quoted as saying: "This was about power. Who is in charge here?" So, there you are.
We went looking for a 'free port', a place to explore what we could do with art, culture and music. We found it at Vughterstraat 234 (abbreviated to V2) in Den Bosch, a large building that we squatted in September 1981. We called it a multimedia center. There was a space where bands could perform, a large space for performance-like things in combination with murals, paintings and installations and yet another room for installation-like things. The building was situated at a square that gave us room for more 'explosive' stuff. There was a pirate radio station as well. Bands like Einstuerzende Neubauten, Test Department, Vivenza and Laibach did gigs there. At first we didn't work interdisciplinary but rather multidisciplinary. All kinds of things were happening at the same time and were overlapping each other. We painted, made Super-8 movies and wrote. And we played in five different bands. Some were rock bands, others were less easily defined. We played in Berlin, with Pere Ubu and DAF, and Cabaret Voltaire as well. Like us, they were visual artists that were also active in music.
In the early eighties V2_ was regarded as one of the so-called artists' initiatives, of which there were quite a few in the Netherlands. These were seen as stepping stones to the real work: mainstream art. We considered ourselves quite mainstream enough already, because our work was not isolated from everyday experience; on the contrary, it was very much a part of it. It was the so-called mainstream that was peripheral because it did isolate itself. Yet the conflict we had with the visual arts was initially not all that dramatic. We were tolerated because we fitted in with the tradition of avant-garde art. Our work was reminiscent of Dada and Fluxus. To us, however, Fluxus was typical of an avant-garde that had been suckered in with their eyes wide open because they had continued to produce art objects: all that was left of it in the end was a handful of relics in a museum. This was not how we wanted to end up. All this had not really been expressed in a theory at the time. It was mainly a 'do'- period.
The mid-eighties brought a turning point, not only for V2_, but for a lot of artists' initiatives in the Netherlands. It was a time for reflection: what are we doing, where is it coming from and how do we go on? That was the period when we drew the conclusions from our personal interests and motivations: (media) technology became our main theme, both in our own work and in V2_. So the development of V2_ was then still strongly influenced by personal choices. We wondered how art could take part in a general social development that heavily favored technology. In our view art would have to position itself right in the center of this development and not withdraw to an island called Art. In exploring the impact of technology on society - quite a wasteland in terms of research -the question automatically popped up as to the conditions under which politics, culture and society had been shaped in the past centuries, and how this was taking place now. If, like now with the advent of computers, vast transformations took place in society, this would also be true of art. Art can play an important role in this transformation, especially in countering the far-reaching economization already taking place in many areas.
A computer - and of this we were aware very early on - is a machine of control. You can store images and sounds in it, hook it up to sensors. This allowed us to do a number of things we hadn't been able to do before. We built our own hardware but of course we quickly ran into our limits, especially in programming, so we sought help from all sorts of people: designers, architects, hackers. We got to know the weirdest people. The fact that V2_ is still involved with cross-over fields is strongly related to computers. On a computer you can do graphics and make music at the same time, you can do typing, anything. You can abuse the software, design a building with animation software, make music with a design package. There are no more separate disciplines, these cross-over areas keep emerging. That's where the exciting things happen, caused by computers.
In 1987 we wrote the 'Manifesto for Unstable Media'. It was intended to really ruffle the feathers of the visual arts. We could have maybe spent another two years or so to further orientate ourselves but we wanted to put our cards on the table and really force the issue. There is this paradox in form and content: the manifesto appears to state something definitive but is purely about dynamics, complexity, change. The consequences of that for the thinking about visual art was diametrically opposed to the prevailing views at the time. From that moment on we have deliberately distanced ourselves from mainstream art and culture. And vice versa. From the mid-eighties until the early nineties any dialogue with art institutes about media and technology was out of the question. "It's all just toys-for-boys", they would say, and other worn-out cliches. It was like that for five years.
It did give us ample opportunity to find out what we were doing, both within V2_ and together with others in the field. Those who were active in electronic art in the late eighties, early nineties were, on the one hand, people who had done performances and expanded cinema and such in the sixties and seventies and on the other hand a younger generation of artists who were politically involved. Quite soon an international network emerged of people seeking each other out to discuss the wide field which electronic art addresses and the question as to what were the specific qualities and 'disqualities' of media technology. There were only a few places in the world where this discourse took place and where electronic art was shown. V2_ was one of them. We pulled the world in.
1994 - the present
The advent of communication media in the early nineties brought with it another revolution that more or les coincided with our move to Rotterdam. We even stopped making art and concentrated fully on the further development of V2_. We felt V2_ was a much better vehicle to express our ideas than our own art was. The outside pressure was mounting steadily. If you explore a field that is completely new, as we did, you automatically become an 'expert'. Over the past six years the interest for the social and cultural aspects of media technology and therefore for electronic art as well has grown enormously and many of the questions this raises seem to end up with us almost automatically. Where at first we sat on this island, now we find ourselves at the center of a worldwide network of individuals and organizations working with media. And the pressure just keeps mounting. So we recruited new people - currently our organization has a staff of around twenty people - and that has had major consequences for the choice of V2_'s themes and presentations and for the way we work within the organization. Both internally and externally we have organized ourselves via online networks. Actually, only for the past six years have we been working truly interdisciplinary, with art disciplines and science, education et cetera.
Since the beginning of the nineties we have reopened the dialogue with the art world. The social transformations of the years before had not left the traditionally organized art institutes undisturbed either. The question of the legitimacy of art and the museums, the question of who or what these institutes were actually representing, was raised again. Not only because of the multi-cultural society and the aging museum public, but also because of the question of how our national heritage can be made accessible by digital media. It is quite characteristic of V2_ that it originated in the world of art and that it positions itself emphatically within the field of art. At the same time, however, it thinks that the answers to the questions it asks may not necessarily be found within the realm of art and culture. V2_ continues to navigate the intersection of, on the one hand, art and culture and, on the other hand, (media) technology. And rightly so, as the question of how network technology influences the arts keeps yielding surprising answers.
An example. In 1996 Andreas Broeckmann initiated V2_East, because there were hardly any online platforms for artists, organizations and theorists from Eastern Europe to exchange information about what had been going on in the field of media in their part of Europe over the past fifty years, but also to discuss the region's current problematic issues. Together with the Ars Electronica Centre (Austria) and some thirty artists, V2_ then built a network where individuals and organizations could exchange information, work together and combine archives. This network also functioned as an independent news station during the war in Kosovo. At the same time we have pulled in people from Eastern Europe, and our way of looking at things is influenced by them. Projects which originated over there are brought to Rotterdam and people from Western Europe have the opportunity of meeting people from Eastern Europe here. Often several participants in this network are collaborating on projects.
Another example. V2_Lab was founded in 1997 and has developed into an international media lab for the production of electronic art. Artists and institutes from Rotterdam, the Netherlands and from abroad use it. We do not see V2_Lab as just a place that offers technical facilities to artists, as basically that is something many other organizations could do just as well. To us it is much more a place where interdisciplinary collaboration is organized through V2_'s local, national and international network of contacts.
An example of a theme: the programme 'The Art of the Accident', 1998. The idea was that computers contain errors and cause them as well, and that these errors are inherent in technology. The question then was: can we take these 'accidents' into account in the development of new technologies instead of fooling ourselves by thinking everything will just become ever simpler and easier to use? Processes can be unpredictable and take unexpected turns but these may eventually prove to be valuable in themselves. How can these accidents be understood in a positive sense when initiating processes? The computer itself, as a medium, presents the theme of 'the art of the accident'. Non-functionality, moments of friction, the creation of experiential moments, these are all recurrent topics in art. The corporate world, however, prefers to focus on comfort, functionality, smoothness, ease of use. That is a wonderful field of tension.
Initially everyone, including the government, felt that it would be best if V2_ organized its activities in collaboration with the business community. We do not agree with that. We want to financially secure V2_'s continuity - and with it the discourse on media in the public domain - on the basis of public funding. That should be about seventy percent of our budget and then we can fund the rest of the budget by collaborating with businesses and other parties on a project basis. Public funding means we focus on a public interest. We see ourselves as a laboratory, in a literal sense, as a workshop for empirical-scientific and/or technical research and experiment. And this not for the sake of experiment but in order to initiate processes and present these to an audience or rather: to make the audience part of these processes.
If you look at developments in society in hindsight, it was inevitable that something like V2_ would emerge,. All the same it is of course a cultural act by a number of individuals. Our productive attitude and perhaps a certain commitment have resulted in the creation of V2_ as it is. We want to go on prodding at prevailing attitudes toward (digital) art. By constantly questioning everything, you force yourself to keep reinventing and refining yourself.