Re:Interview #014:
The ‘One Idea, One Result’ Method | Jan Robert Leegte

Jan Robert Leegte, The Silent Ornamental Revolution, 2008

Between reality and illusion, between abstraction and the ornament, between the virtual and the real, between architecture and art—the main focus in Jan Robert Leegte’s artworks are the spaces inbetween. The Amsterdam-based artist continuously deconstructs the experience of architecture and sculpture by questioning the perception of space and material which is alternately brought into relation to the real as well as to the digital space. Since the mid-1990s the academically trained sculptor and architect works on the transfer of digital media into expanded installative arrangements. Very early he started exploring the multifaceted formal possibilities of the Internet-browser for its sculptural feature: buttons, scrollbars and table borders were used for real space installations which had the same quality as his previous studio and computer work. The elements of the browser appear to have a striking physical reality mostly gained by the large public daily use, interactivity, animation and especially the three-dimensional extrusion.

The experience-based way of testing physical reality defines the choice of material in his installations and Internet-based work, which has often been said to have late-modernistic tendencies. Ultimately he developes so called single-serving-sites, which are defined as web sites comprised of “a single page with a dedicated domain name and do only one thing.” In Blue Monochrome .com (2008) for example Jan Robert Leegte makes use of the tools of Google-Earth to transform satellite images of the globe’s water surface into ready-mades. Geographic coordinates are linked to the coordinates of a website, the real space is linked to the virtual; the title of the artwork represents on a linguistic level, what can be seen on the screen image: a granulated blue surface with minimal elevations, which can immediately be associated with thick acrylic on canvas and finally with its predecessors in art history. In the following interview Leegte explains how the Internet can be seen as a space and why the artist is still fascinated by the “new medium”.

You are an academically trained sculptor. How do you see the Internet—can it be defined as a space as such?

For me the Internet has always been a physical space. Working as a sculptor, the first moment I started experimenting with HTML code and viewed the results in the browser, I witnessed a physical installation. Later on, I tried to analyse why and formulated a few key aspects to help me define this experience.

The first aspect was the trompe l’œil effect of the screen interface. Considering the established history of this effect, you could hardly call it unique, yet the drop shadows of the computer interface relied heavily on this old principle. Next, I discovered the (expectation of) interaction. This was a new addition and introduced not only the tactility but also the whole conceptual accessibility of the material. Thirdly, I thought of animation. Giving the object a random movement also forced existential distance between the viewer and the object. The final addition was a more personal one using code. By using code, the creator has to switch spaces to see the actual work. This action made me aware of the spaces I was switching between. Commanding objects through language and then viewing them in a different space of manifestation validated the physical presence of the GUI elements I was placing as an installation (scrollbars, frame borders, table borders etc.). I hope you are still following me…

To you, what is still intriguing about New Media after more than ten years working with it?

I was gradually creating abstract versions of the original interface sculptures, until the ornament worked. At that point the obvious relation to computer culture was only for the viewer who knew my history. In recent years I have stopped making these works and have been delving into the discourse of the new generation of Internet-based artists. The whole discussion about public material, conceptualisation of material and the position as an artist to mention a few, was very different compared to the net.art movement in the nineties. And to me very refreshing.

Now I’m more into the ‘one idea, one result’ method of working and looking for a broader scope of dealing with digital material. The results, for instance, are the works Blue Monochrome .com (2008) and Slot Machine (2009). They are similar in intention to my older work, but choose a wider span of solutions and introduce small story lines.

What do you mean with the ‘one idea, one result’ method?

I have returned to the method of working I thought up for myself back at the art academy. It was formulated as being the only way to pinpoint a field of interest that remains impossible to grasp through one specific work. Most artists’ inspirations lie in areas which are difficult or simply impossible to communicate directly (the experience of emotions, understanding time, philosophical concepts, etc). Out of this I derived the idea of ‘circling your prey’. When going public with one single work, the amount of interpretation is practically 360 degrees. When adding a second work, the focus shifts to the area in between these two. As you start adding more, you create circle of work, gradually pinpointing to the intentional fascination you have as artist. Making series will undermine this tactic. Series refer to the series itself, weighing down one point of the circle.

Back then I found artists such as Peter Fischli and David Weiss very inspiring as they kept reinventing themselves with every work. In this way they created freedom in their production and ‘circled a prey’ instead of focusing on series. I had lost this way of working myself in recent years. Recently through seeing the freedom in output in contemporary Internet Art apart from teaching students at the academy, I have reinstated the ‘one idea, one result’ method as essential to my work.

On the one hand, the reliefs and ornaments in some of your works refer to something that is known from the software context, where graphical surfaces often operate with apparently spatial shades. On the other hand, those ornaments are also known from daily life where we are confronted with something decorative or with a haptic function (e.g. shades on keyboards for better usability). What is the relation between the apparently spatial in your work and the spaces your work is presented in? What is of interest to you in the field between those two kinds of space?

This is a problem I remember mentioning in an earlier interview. I’ll roughly rephrase it again to see if I still think the same … At first I was not interested in exhibiting my work in a gallery space. At that time the Internet was the perfect platform, the public was dedicated and freedom from art institutions was refreshing. But after some time I noticed people were not experiencing the work as I intended them to. Due to the highly impatient character of the medium, the urge to click on something immediately when not confronted with content resulted in people not taking time to experience the spatiality or physicality of the works I showed them. So my rather minimal works were seen as hacker’s or crash art. Not something I intended to do I mean, others were doing a far better job at it. So I decided to go into the gallery space with the works, and they proved themselves instantly. People would stare at them for ages, touch them and walk around them.

The confrontation between the two types of space was exactly what was necessary to feel the magic of the space in between. The work tries to question our experience of space and object. The confrontation is what it needed to get you out of your standard frame of thought.

You recently changed your online portfolio, but in an older version you make a clear difference between ’online studies/software‘ and ’sculpture/installation‘, yet some of the works—such as for example untitled (scrollbars) (1997) and floor piece (1999)—seem to interrelate immediately. In your opinion, what is the most appropriate way to show Internet-based Art in the public realm?

The question is still unanswered after all these years. Many attempts at showing Internet-based work in galleries failed horribly. But then, my original works on the Internet didn’t work out for the Internet public either. The work changes dramatically when transferred to the real world and this should be taken as a serious point from the first moment the work is born.

Nowadays, I try to create works online that are either highly interactive (Software out of Focus, 2008) or are embedded in Internet culture (The Internet Overexposed, 2008). In this way the context of the medium is embedded in the work itself. Works like Cassette Ceiling (2006-2007) are deliberately referential to the physical space and as online installations they would miss the point. Showing Internet-based work as a curator in a real life show is still a very tough exercise.

You twice installed a series of minimal posters titled The Silent Ornamental Revolution (2008), once in the public sphere in Austria and once in Egypt. In how far is the context in which your work is shown relevant for its perception and how would you describe the difference between those two public interventions?

Somewhat naively, I always thought my work was universal until my residency in Alexandria, Egypt. Of the posters placed in Graz and Alexandria, the Egypt poster series was much more powerful. The many contextual differences that were present strongly fuelled the title of the series. (The title originated during a residency in Vienna in 2006.) An aspect such as the non-existence of graffiti or political / activist writings on the walls of Alexandria was unique. The fact that the participating students had never seen the walls of their city as canvasses was also unique as well as the tradition of abstract ornamentation in Islam or the hierarchy of the art system that the artists lived in. The result was very satisfying and raised many questions for me in the realm of cultural/political contextualisation of my work.

Apart from that the Austrian context in which the idea was born also worked for me, but not so much in the modular poster solution as in a Flash animation entitled untitled (ornaments) (2006) I made on commission for the Kunstverein Medienturm.

What is the difference between your work and the minimal work of artists such as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin or Tony Smith?

In general I would say, that I turned on my heels where Judd ended and started heading back home (to Europe ;-). I agree with most of what he says, but his animosity towards illusionism made perfect sense in the discourse back then, but now it seems very stigmatised. Being from the New York generation that felt it possessed the freedom to break from European tradition, his position seems to be all about that, whereas his ideas concerning three-dimensionality and illusionism merge beautifully in the work of Anish Kapoor or James Turrell for instance,.

I’m just as interested as Judd in the presentational purity of say a stone lying in front of me. The only thing is, I have no idea of what I am seeing. By recognising the experience in New Media, I start deconstructing the experience itself. I am not really sure if there is any difference between the experience of an illusional brick or the real one.

Every now and then you mention the term ‘sublime’ in your writing. What does it mean with regard to your work?

I remember the well-known comment by Bruce Nauman regarding his work The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967). He was asked the same thing. He answered that he was sincere about the statement, but on the other hand thought it silly too. Presenting this grand statement in cheap neon light captured his ambivalence towards the subject.

I tried to describe my feelings concerning the subject of the sublime in the text The Silent Ornamental Revolution (2006). In this text I point out that personally I find it important to strive to capture this experience, but on the other hand, I understand it has been corrupted in the process of 20th century art history. Therefore I wrote the text in an entertaining, theatrical style and used the ridiculed ornament as a central subject to personify this delicate subject. A very similar method to what Nauman referred to in his interview.

In your opinion, what does it take for the traditional art world of museums and galleries to deal more with Internet-based artworks?

They will deal with it. It has started and it will grow. The works will be commodified again, as Conceptual Art has had to succumb to, which will be a sad thing. But the vibrant original works will always emerge online.

Any new projects you want to talk about?

Not just yet. But as I said earlier, the works are very much isolated now. So don’t expect extensive series anymore from me, but keep an eye on my website for future attempts to catch the prey. It’s still out there alive…

Thank you very much for the interview!