Dr. Andreas Broeckmann is an art historian and curator. Director of New Leuphana Arts Program at the Centre for Digital Cultures in Leuphana Lüneburghe University, has been founding director of the Dortmunder U – Centre for Art and Creativity, curator and project manager at the V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam, artistic director of the festival for art and digital culture transmediale in Berlin and artistic director of ISEA2010 RUHR – 16th International Symposium on Electronic Art.
This is your first time as a member of the jury of the VIDA Awards, yet you have a long experience in other festivals and competitions. In your opinion, how do competitions such as VIDA benefit the development of artistic practices?
There are of course different types of competitions. Those that award prizes for concepts of works which are yet to be realised are more directly pointed at the support of artistic practices, whereas competitions that only accept submissions of existing works have a more reflexive function. Most importantly, a competition like VIDA is a possibility for the formation of a public discourse around contemporary art practice, and for the development of heuristic criteria for evaluation and critique.
Competitions in the arts are sometimes criticised because they make it necessary to compare, evaluate and rank artistic projects which, by their very nature, are singular, and whose different qualities are incomparable. It is therefore important that such competitions are only one among several different forms of discussing, evaluating and supporting the arts.
However, such competitions often incite important debates about the current state of the arts. In my experience, the discussions in a jury meeting often include the most intense engagement with particular contemporary artworks. Some of those discussions are also relayed to the public through jury statements and the public discussion of jury decisions, but I sometimes feel that it would be great if it was possible to make public even more of the critical positions that are developed by the jury and that, for several reasons, mostly have to be treated confidentially.
VIDA awards artistic projects that explore the concept of artificial life. How would you define this concept?
The concept of “life” is of course not fixed but has changed in the course of history. Historians of science like Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault have analysed the changing meanings of “life”, and with those analyses in mind we can today observe how this concept is also changing in our own time. “Life” is increasingly understood as something that is not merely “given by nature”, but as something that can be made and modified by what is referred to as the “life sciences”.
The fast pace at which scientific possibilities of making and modifying living entities are changing, is currently producing intense pressures on ethical and juridical discourses. At the same time, the increasing currency of a concept like “bio-power” indicates a growing awareness that life is not only a biological fact, but that it is itself the object of socio-political processes.
Our understanding of what is “artificial” – mostly taken in opposition to what is “natural” – is changing through related discourses, e.g. in bionics, bio-engineering, or environmental studies. The notion of the “Anthropocene” suggests that we are (and possibly have been for a while) in an age in which the natural environment itself cannot be understood any longer in opposition to what is human-made. I see the concept of “artificial life” inscribed into the same epistemological matrix – and under continuous, conflictive change.
The projects presented at VIDA exemplify the overlaps between art and science. How would you describe the development of these overlaps nowadays? Should art be a reflection of our scientific and technologically driven society? Can artistic experimentation lead to new forms of scientific research?
The relationship between art and science is as old as each of these categories. Depending on which period, which practices and which discourses we refer to, we will see them discussed as irreconcilable opposites, as complements, or as identical. I don’t want to sound too relativist, but I think that it is important to keep in mind that these concepts are not fixed monoliths which somehow have to be reconciled, but that they form part of different reference systems which partly exclude each other, and partly they overlap. So we really need to look at specific discursive, scientific and artistic practices and their contexts to be able to give a meaningful answer to these difficult questions.
In my own understanding of art, it “should” not be obliged or urged to do anything specific. For me, the most important aspect that characterises art as a particular form of practice is that it can, to some degree, free itself of disciplinary rules and codes and that it can go against the grain of logic, of rationality, of functionality, or moralism. This does not mean that it operates without systemic rules, but what is great about art is that it has the latitude to adopt or reject certain rules, be they ethical, technical, or aesthetic. Of course there are limits to such transgressive practices, but the working at the limits is, I believe, characteristic of artistic practice. In that sense, art does not so much “reflect” but “challenge” its social context – and that social context may very well include scientific and technological practices.
This year, VIDA introduces an award that will allow artist to work with Telefónica’s innovation department. In your opinion, are labs and residency programs playing an important role in the development of artistic research nowadays?
They do so now, and they have done so for decades. If you think of the residency programs of the MIT’s Centre for Advanced Visual Studies, or of the British Artist Placement Group, or of the Canon Art Lab, these are only three historical examples for a plethora of such programs which have allowed artists to work in corporate and scientific research contexts. Because there often are specific utilitarian aspects or other parameters that come along with such programs, it is important that there is a variety of such programs, and that they are complemented by alternative opportunities for artists to also get supported for working outside of such structures. But of course these institutional settings also offer artists unique opportunities which they can and should use if what they want to work on or want to achieve can be meaningfully supported by these settings.
Could you describe three projects from previous editions of the VIDA awards that have been, in your opinion, particularly interesting?
Since I am on the jury this year and this interview will be published before the submission deadline, I would rather not single out individual works, because this might look as though I had certain thematic or aesthetic preferences, which I don’t really have. What I think is important in this special competition, and what I am curious to discover, are artistic approaches that challenge our ideas about “artificial life”, that make us think about the notions of life, of technology, of science, and that confront us with experiences, images, processes and concepts which force us to think about them in new and unexpected ways.