Miltos Manetas – Celebrating the Demon. Miltos Manetas occupies the Whitney Biennal.
On the occasion of the opening of the Whitney Biennial 2004: “The Best of Our Stuff against the Best of your Art.” Miltos Manetas performed a presentation of the most beautiful websites in the world together with Angelo Plessas, Andreas Angelidakis and Mai Ueda. These are selected websites from http://www.whitneybiennial.com 2002 and new works.
Miltos Manetas is always playing a game in his art. He plays with his own life and his role as an artist. He plays with the media, as he did two years ago when he presented the whitneybiennial.com for the first time, he plays with the structures and with the expected – to set things in motion. It is a risky business and a serious game, since it is based on the fact that Manetas wants the very opposite of doing another thing called “art” (in a situation where there already is an abundance of precisely that).
This is one of the reasons for his interest in the Internet. It is new (still). It is more open than an evaluating and regulated art world could ever be. Manetas is not interested in the technical side of the net. Not even the new expressions coming out of it is his primary interest. His energy is into how this new territory actually affects us. Internet marks the end of one-way communication. It no longer matter how much media you own or control. It no longer matters how big your institution is. To be relevant you need to convince the receiver, or system of receivers, that your message is relevant. That it is fresh. Otherwise you risk being ignored. You risk becoming an elephant. An easy target.
This is why the “art”, the “exhibition” and the “institution” may very well have more to do with setting boundaries and securing a system rather than opening up for new influences and possibilities. And this is the reason why we gave birth to an idea of celebrating the demon, of awakening the sleeping beauty, the Whitneybiennial.com two years later. This is why we now have inaugurated our own biennial. There were more work to show. New works. And there is a story to be told. Something to experience and reflect upon. It is as fresh as ever. The elephants are still there. But so is the beauty of the gesture. That very disturbing gesture.
Celebrating the Demon is project curated by Fargfabriken and The Electronic Orphanage.
Jan Åman: The birth of a Demon.
It was February 2002, a month before the opening of the last Whitney Biennial. Miltos Manetas, a Greek born artist who lives in the USA and Peter Lunenfeld, an LA based writer, were at the Electronic Orphanage in Los Angeles, and they were discussing the upcoming show. “It would be nice to make an Internet show that could challenge the museum show. What about registering Whitney- Whitney.com?” said Manetas. “Why not Whitneybiennial.com?” suggested Lunenfeld. “Come on!” said Manetas. “It will definitely be taken…” “Don’t be so sure,” Lunenfeld replied: “Just check.” The domain Whitneybiennial.com was indeed available! “Damn,” Manetas said, “now we really have to do it.” “It was one of those rare moments, as if we had inherited the ownership of a business we never thought of owning”, he said later. He felt that by ignoring their own domain name, the Museum was subconsciously commissioning to him personally to do something and spoil their fun. Large institutions such as the Whitney, don’t care much about what is happening on the Internet. They consider computers and networks another media, just a little more complex from the videos and dvd’s which they have recently learned to appreciate. “The computer is the best invention after the bicycle”, a European museum director once said to Manetas, “like a bicycle it can do a lot of transport in a cheap and clean way. But it’s nothing really different”. Manetas, on the contrary – who made his reputation by showing large canvases depicting computers, cables, videogames and the such – thinks of the Internet as a place. A great, almost empty continent, similar to what America was, after it had been discovered: the opportunity for something new, for new types of art, theories, and life styles. Since most things that one can find on the Internet are boring and amateur in an artistic sense, Manetas and his friends created two new concepts, the concept of Neen, and the concept of Telic. While Telic is genius but not necessarily poetic and “special”, Neen, is about the most amazing elements of the World of the computer screen. Manetas believes that certain websites are actually the artworks that people will remember as a breakthrough of our time, rather than the installations and objects that we usually encounter in exhibitions such as the Whitney Biennial or the Venice Biennial. He felt that the Whitneybiennial.com could be a chance for a frontal battle with the art establishment and that same night, he wrote an email to all the curators he knew, including the Whitney Biennial Curator Larry Rinder, inviting them to propose artists for the whitneybiennial.com. All that the artists had to do was a Flash animation. It didn’t have to be a “concept” – a cute moving image would be enough. “Larry, will you help me to destroy your show?” He wrote to Lawrence Rinder” “Yes!” Larry e-mailed back and seconds later: “No, I cannot do that. I am the chief curator after all!” “But why don’t you come in NY and we discuss it.” Two days after, Manetas was at the offices of the Whitney. He brought with him some stickers that Rafael Rozendaal designed the night before with the logo of the Whitneybiennial.com on them. When he laid the stickers at a conference table, Mr. Rinder’s expression changed. He became more serious and after some silence, said: “So, you are really doing it”. “Of course”, Manetas said, “I am not selected for the official show and I have a lot of free time”. “Why don’t you get the empty Chase bank in front of the Whitney”, suggested Rinder, “you can put some computers and a projector there and you make your show.” “Well, actually I prefer to rent 23 U-haul trucks and turn them to monitors by projecting from the inside of the truck on a screen which will replace their back door, each website of my show. They will surround your Museum the night of the opening. That way, it will not look like a Salon des Refusées”. “Do you have the budged to do so?” Rinder asked, this time slightly alarmed but without showing it. “Oh, yes, I am selling lots of paintings these days”, Manetas answered. At that point, Miltos Manetas actually thought that it would be nice to really rent 23 U-Haul trucks – these are the little camions that are used in the US for moving stuff around – and surround the Museum the night of the opening. It would be: “Our-best-stuff-against-the-best-of-your-art” confrontation. But after a round of phone-calls, he realized that nobody would give him the money to actually do it in such short notice. Any possible collaborators were also afraid of the consequences. As it happened, people who were important in the art world started calling him, suggesting Manetas not to do it. It was a curious fact, because some of them where people who Manetas had never met before. Apparently, this U-haul truck project was “hot”. “You don’t want such a great project to appear as an act of criticism against the Whitney”, the ex-director of a well- known American Museum said, “The U-haul Trucks turned to monitors can be such a good piece for an installation!” “I don’t care about criticizing the Whitney show”, Manetas replied. “I like them, they do great shows. What I really want is to use them – the Museum show – to advertise my own ideas about Neen and Telic.” Manetas didn’t really try much to actually make the U-haul parade. Important for him, was to put together a strong Internet exhibition that anybody can access from anywhere. But the Press seemed to love the idea of a Whitneybiennial.com that surrounds the Whitney Biennial with 23 U-Haul trucks. They contacted him and started asking questions. “Is it true that you will send 23 U-haul trucks around Manhattan?” a NY Times journalist asked him. “If you say so, it must be right”, Manetas replied. “After all, you are the press and you must know”. Given all this interest from the Media, Manetas considered that it would be a pity to tell them that the U-haul trucks would not be there. The next time a journalist called and asked how it was going, he answered: “Oh, I cannot talk now, too much work, we are installing the projectors inside the trucks”. In reality, he was eating sushi somewhere at Chelsea, together with his Japanese girlfriend, Mai Ueda. Soon, everybody in NY was asking him about the Whitneybiennial.com performance and he confirmed to all that they were working on it. “After all, a chair painted inside a picture is not a real chair”, he said later. But since most people in the art world never look on websites, he decided to make something happen in the real space anyway. He contacted Miuccia Prada, and asked her to use her new shop in Soho. That is a location designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas in such a way that it can be used as a temporary theater for events, a kind of sidewalk become plaza. Manetas’ idea was to get a bus that would bring people from the opening of the Whitney to the Prada store and offer them a Demo of the Whitneybiennial.com. But Prada refused to give Manetas the store, without ever justifying her answer. After that, Manetas contacted Rem Koolhaas himself and explained the project to him. Koolhaas immediately liked it. “Don’t worry, we will get the store”, he said. It was now a week before the opening of the Whitney. Manetas was getting nervous but he put all his efforts to create a beautiful website together with the artist and designer Carbonated Jazz, the architect Andreas Angelidakis and Neenstar Angelo Plessas. Carbonated Jazz, drawn for it’s splash page the face of an old man, with his glasses breaking into pieces. The British composer Mark Tranmer, (GNAC) wrote a melody for the website. 122 creators, not only artists but architects, designers and programmers, invited by different curators including Jan Aman, Andreas Angelidakis, archinect.com, Stefano Chiodi, Joshua Decter, Laurence Dreyfus, Alex Galloway, Paul Groot, Patrick Lichty, Peter Lunenfeld, Lev Manovich, Magda Sawon, newstoday.com, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Marisa Olson, Michele Thursz, Roosavelt Savage, Philippe Vergne, Olivier Zahm and Purple magazine submitted up to five animations each. Artist Michael Reese offered a “Turntable”, which is a flash application that you can use to mix not only sound but also Flash movies. With this tool, all the pieces of the show became samples and the user had now the ability to visually “DJ”, making his/her own composition online. The viewer could change the colors of the background, make the animation larger or smaller, transparent or opaque, etc. For the very first time, artworks in an exhibition could exist as both: samples and stand-alone pieces. Lev Manovich wrote a beautiful theory called: GENERATION FLASH and Peter Lunenfeld, wrote a text called “Flash is Poptech”. While he was doing the website, Manetas was constantly calling Rem Koolhaas, waiting for news about the Prada store. “They haven’t agreed yet, but call me back in a few hours, I am sure I will succeed to get the place for you”, Koolhaas said. But Prada refused. The morning of the opening, Manetas called Koolhaas for the last time. “I am embarrassed, I take it as a personal defeat”, Koolhaas said. “I don’t understand why they don’t give you the shop. I designed it for such events!” It was a strange situation. The day before the opening, on March 4, the New York Times had published an article by Matthew Mirapaul. Most of the article was dedicated to the Whitneybiennial.com – it’s artists, and the promised U-haul trucks. There was some small paragraph talking about the official show, but the picture illustrating the article was from an animation by the Whitneybiennial.com. It was David against Goliath and everybody was talking about it. Manetas decided to keep the illusion of the trucks until the end and by paying from his own money, reserved the prettiest club in NY at the time, the Bungalow 8, for the artists and the guests of the Whitneybiennial.com. The trucks would not be there, but the exhibition was real: anyone with a computer could visit it. The idea of the trucks would become a metaphor: “The U-haul trucks were there but they were invisible”, he said later. “They are the websites where the whitneybiennial.com is hosted and they are everywhere”. That night, at the opening, which was invitation only, hundreds of people who were not invited showed up, waiting for the U-haul trucks. Some people had also come from other nearby cities; they were the Internet crowd who probably read about the event in a newsletter. Dozens of the guests of the Museum, would leave the Whitney and search for the U-hauls. Many of them would return later and say to their friends: “I’ve seen them: they are not a big deal”, causing a performance that was never suppose to happen to actually register at the imagination of the public and initiating an urban legend. Some months ago, I had a drink at Joe’s Pub in NY and I overheard the conversation of three young people. “The Police had put barriers on Madison Avenue so the U-haul trucks would not pass”, one of them explained to the others. “I’ve seen it: I was there!” Celebrating the Demon. It was February 1st 2004 and the day after the opening of Memoirs of the Devil, Miltos Manetas’ current exhibition at the Cosmic Gallery in Paris. We were sitting at the Café Flore, Miltos and I, late in the afternoon. We talked a bit about the opening the previous night. Miltos had made a sort of cliché of gallery show, playing the role of the “artist/painter” with an exhibition dedicated to three of the most important women in his life. In the basement there was a room dedicated to his relationship with Vanessa Beecroft, a small painted portrait of her face in a room turned into a spatial Jackson Pollock painting. What few visitors knew, though, was that Miltos a few weeks before the show created a webpage called “jacksonpollock.org”. Miltos is always playing a game in his art. He plays with his own life and his role as an artist. He plays with the media, he plays with the structures and with the expected – to set things in motion. It is a risky business and a serious game, since it is based on the fact that Manetas wants the very opposite of doing another thing called “art” (in a situation where there already is an abundance of precisely that). I think this is one of the reasons for his interest in the Internet. It is new (still). It is more open than an evaluating and regulated art world could ever be. Manetas is not interested in the technical side of the net. Not even the new expressions coming out of it is his primary interest. His energy is into how this new territory actually affects us. Internet marks the end of one-way communication. It no longer matter how much media you own or control. It no longer matters how big your institution is. To be relevant you need to convince the receiver, or system of receivers, that your message is relevant. That it is fresh. Otherwise you risk being ignored. You risk becoming an elephant. An easy target. This is why the “art”, the “exhibition” and the “institution” may very well have more to do with setting boundaries and securing a system rather than opening up for new influences and possibilities. And this is the reason why Miltos and I, then and there at Café Flore, gave birth to an idea of celebrating the demon, of awakening the sleeping beauty, the Whitneybiennial.com two years later. There is more work to show. New works. And there is a story to be told. Songs to be sung. Something to experience and reflect upon. It is as fresh as ever. The elephants are still there. But so is the beauty of the gesture. That very disturbing gesture.