Why do you prefer digital technology and what are the benefits you have found working on
I think it goes back to my relation with analogue photos. I never had any profound loyalty
to the idea of photography as a medium but simply as the most efficient way of making or
recording an image. And that has changed over the last few years. Now the most efficient
way is to work with digital or with digital-analogue or between the two. Eventually, I'm
sure it will be entirely digital. It's simply the prevailing technology, the available
technology now. I think in the future we won't even have a choice.
An analogue photo seems to maintain a strong link with the real thing that it represents,
as we have the negative. So we have a material sign of the passage from a reality to its
representation in the picture. With digital photos we don't have any material sign but
only a line of numbers, zero and one. So do you think this mean we are getting too far
from the real things we see and that we want to take in a picture?
No. I think it's interesting that the questioning of the photograph in its relation to the
reality, the interrogation of representation, the famous crisis of representation, really
all took place before digital technology. Digital technology, you see, is not the villain
here. It simply offers another dimension. I'm not sure if it's a farther remove from
reality than analogue. I think if we can speak of reality, if reality and representation
can be spoken of in the same sentence, if reality even exists any more, digital is simply
another way of encoding that reality. I don't think it's farther from or, for that matter,
closer to this concept of reality than anything that came before. I don't think the
question of "materiality" is really what's at issue here. Photography is less
material than painting; digital is less material. But the dematerialisation of art again
is something that began thirty years ago as a conceptual gesture and long before people
realised that it was not only a possibility but would in fact become the dominant
But in some ways digital technologies change the relationship between the real and the
virtual, because we have a real virtual world now. We have virtual reality in which we can
have another world different from the real one...
I think the balance is tipping in favour of the virtual and away from the real. But as I
said before, I think that that balance had already started to tip before digital
technologies. Their presence now accelerates that. Not only the presence of the
technologies but the availability of the technologies. Everyone now can work with some
sort of digital procedure. People are on the Internet, people work with digital cameras.
Almost everything now has that possibility, maybe even the necessity, of some kind of
digital interface or intervention. So in that sense, the sense that it proliferates, that
it's everywhere in society, I think that will yet further detach people from whatever 19th
century idea they had about reality, the phenomenal world and their relation to it and in
it. Whether that change is an improvement or we are entering a dangerous brave new world,
it's really impossible to say. In any case, it is the reality, it's the world we are
entering, it's the world we're already half into.
This world is one in which space and time are very different.
This century has given us a number of paradigms of space and time that were unknown
before. Photography really belongs to the 19th century. But there's certainly
that idea of photographic space which has carried through into cinema. Cinema structured
time in a very different way than any other medium had ever devised before. With video you
have a double structure. You have that structuring of time in cinema but also you have
this possibility of zapping , that is, the director of the film is not absolutely the
final determiner of the order or the speed in which you see the images. You can take any
film home on cassette and deconstruct it as you wish. The model, I think, becomes more of
an open-field model with digital, the CD-ROM where there is an order of play. There can be
an order of play, but there can also be random access, so that it's structured and
completed by the user. That's a different kind of time; that's a different kind of
intervention. It's an intervention done by a user, in their real time. It is also true
with work on the Internet. Obviously, we're moving away from the linear into an open-field
paradigm. But again it's not so new; McLuhan wrote about that in 1963. Now he's being
rehabilitated; he was not simply a show-off, but was in fact something of a visionary.
With Jean Nouvell you have considered constructing a transparent building using light
boxes. Could you start giving us a description of this project, explaining the role of
photographs in this project?
Jean Nouvell is one of the two or three most interesting architects working today, both in
terms of practice and especially conceptually. His vision of architecture is something
fluid. Jean is interested in making buildings that respond to change. Now, architects have
always made buildings that have responded to certain changes, the change in light for
example. But Jean is interested in something else: a building that would respond to change
in temperature, in time, in use. He's always been fascinated by the idea of integrating
architectural space with image space, with signage. The building project that we're
discussing now has one similarity with several of his projects, which is this question of
transparency. Jean wants his buildings to be transparent, to be constantly mutable even by
human use. It's not physically possible to build an absolutely transparent building.
Physically, in engineering terms, it has to be anchored with certain materials which are
opaque. To play with that a bit, Jean proposed making columns of images, and then we began
to talk about what kind of images these would be, how these columns would be structured,
whether they would be autonomously self-illuminated, or whether they would respond to the
light in the building, what kind of subjects would be interesting to introduce in this
particular building. I don't think I want to talk too much more about that, because the
building project is still at a point of discussion and it isn't even really realised as a
Do you think that this is just a way of obtaining a material sign of this invisible city
that digital connections are creating?
I really don't know. Perhaps we could speak of it as the opposite, from the invisible
city, from Calvino's invisible city to Virilio's over-exposed city. The digital technology
may make it possible, at least theoretically possible, for everyone to be everywhere all
the time. This really runs in a way counter to the post-modernism dictum of the
disappearance of the subject. You could say it becomes the multiplicity of the subject.
The subject is no longer one. The subject is two or four or many or billions.
In this way, photography becomes an inner part of architecture...
To work in a way integrated with architecture, I think the work we're speaking about here
is not a question of putting my work in his building but a question of using that building
and the activities in that building as a way of generating a dialogue in images. The work
is not even site-specific, it's really site-generated. It's something that's made
exclusively for that space and that space with its present series of functions. In that
sense it becomes like most works today ephemeral. It's not a timeless work. It's not a
work that can be taken away from its location and admired aesthetically. It's something
that's intended to function hopefully very, very effectively in its space and nowhere
You are a photographer, you are a writer, you make CD-ROMs, so you are really near to the
multimedia culture. Do you think that working in a multimedia dimension is an important
transformation of the artist in general?
Recently I was asked to be one of many advisors for a Biennale that's going to be in Paris
next year, dealing with the work of young people working with images. And what I found was
that with the younger artists, the people under 35, no one is going to be media-defined.
No one would speak of themselves as a "computer artist", as a "video
artist", as a "photographer", as a "filmmaker". They simply take
for granted that all these mediums are available and have their particular qualities. They
move very gracefully from one to another. So again I think that question of medium is
something that seems to be kind of mercifully disappearing now. I don't think anyone
really identifies themselves by the medium, except maybe painterswho will hate me
for saying that.
What do you think of the importance of training young people in the skills to work
with different means?
I hope it doesn't sound like too facile an answer, but I think they're training
themselves. And then they're training us. A few years ago I was in California, in Los
Angeles, staying with some friends who had a seven-year old child. She was saying good-bye
to her friend and she said, OK, I'll see you later. I'll e-mail you tonight. This is kind
of amazing. People over thirty generally have to be taught to do these things. It seems
like there's another generation that's arising; that it's almost become a genetic change.
There children all over the world who seem to have some innate ability to deal with
information on the screen, to manipulate digital symbols, to feel comfortable with this as
though they had drunk it in with their mother's milk. It is almost their second nature.
And perhaps a new kind of human being is evolving in front of us and we're not sure how to
name it yet.
I'd like to know what you think about the problems linked to copyright and digital
manipulation in general of a piece of art.
I think it's an amazing period for that. I think probably if you had a child and you
wanted to advise him on a profession to enter, I'd say be a copyright lawyer in the
digital age because this is something that all of the attorney's all over the world are
going to benefit from tremendously. So on the one hand you have organisations -think of
Disney, Microsoft - that are trying to gain exclusive rights and copyrights to everything
on earth and ownership of imagery in a way has never existed before. And yet at the same
time there's the possibility technically of truly duplicating, cloning imagery greater
than ever existed before. So I think the most engaging legal struggle of the next twenty
or thirty years will be to just to see where these rights of property begin and end. I
assume that once something goes on the Internet, once something is released as a CD-ROM,
it belongs to everybody.