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Geoffrey Lillemon is a part of the Net Art movement. But don’t start thinking of Tumblrs with gifs of smiley faces and floating peace signs. Think instead of clever brand collaborations and art that is keeping up with the accessibility that technology provides. On his recent visit to Melbourne, Lillemon worked with Adidas to create an installation for their high-tech Colliderscope party and spoke about his favourite gallery – the internet – at CARBON Festival. We caught up with him to talk about the next generation of artistic media. Coming to an iPad near you.

Let’s get the formalities out of the way, is this your first time to Australia?

No, my second time. The first time I was doing a project in Point Nepean. There’s those old army barracks, a lot of which are abandoned now, and I did an art residency there. We were locked in a compound for two weeks. It was quite interesting, very hot and bland. The Ticonderoga arrived there in the 19th century, and all those people who died of typhus onboard were buried on the beach. Also there is the indigenous situation there: they all got kicked out.

There are plenty of places with bad vibes in Australia. You don’t have to travel far. I assume Point Nepean is where you worked on your Fever Beach app?

Yeah, that was a located media app. You walked to different GPS points and content was triggered. The technology works like that but the way that we spun it is that it’s a reception from Middle Earth, so the radio barracks on the towers in Point Nepean are transmitting signals that your iPhone can pick up. It’s a way to give people all that ‘smoke and mirrors’ even though all the content is already downloaded on their device. It’s just the location that triggers it.

On either of your trips here, have you visited the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart?

No, I would love to go though.

What you’re describing sounds a lot like the kind of place MONA is. Which indicates art is moving in a more interactive direction. Would that be right?

Or ‘spatial.’ It can be very interesting, to experience art, or music experiences and not be limited to one architectural location. You can be out in nature experiencing these kinds of places. I think once real-time 3D mesh generation becomes more readily available, then we can wear the augmented glasses or ‘art goggles’ and be able to see a 3D version of our reality in real time. Then we can start thinking about filtered experiences. We can wake up in the morning wondering what everything would look like if it were gold, or made out of glass. You could throw digital paint on the side of a building. It would be a new drug – virtual reality filters would be a new drug.

Would we even need psychedelic drugs if we had something like that?

Maybe not.

A lot of what psychedelic drugs do, is allow you to lose your inhibitions enough to do something like throw paint on a building in the first place. So maybe you’re right – it could replace the drug.

It’s all just about changing your perception, that’s what we’re going for. The more immersive that is, the easier it is to join in on that perception that someone is trying to create.

You are part of the Net Art movement. How long has that been going for? Is it a measurable chunk of time, or a continuation of a previous art movement?

Well there are a lot of different stems within it, but the interesting thing about it is that, being online, there’s a nice sense of intimacy. The intended format is to be at home, looking at art and be immersed in it. Rather than go to a gallery and see just the perfect presentation of that artwork. That’s where the movement started becoming interesting for me. There’s mobility too though, as well as thinking about things like animation or interactive pieces that run on an iPad. Then it becomes a bit more of a social thing. People buy domain name–based artworks, and they’re showing their friends the new art they’ve bought by sharing their tablet around. It caters to people’s social side of buying art. Personally, I just like the romance of dancing back and forth with it. The new formats are exciting; it’s a new form of expression for our time. You would never want to use technology for gimmick, but if it can enhance your senses, it makes it worthwhile.

Do you think you still need to have an artistic eye to appreciate it though?

I think the more threads you can push your work out through the better. You have people that might like just the story that you’re trying to tell, or just the aesthetic of your work, and then people who are genuinely interested in the fact you’re using technology as your format. They’re all just outlets for what people want their experience to be. What you do is start introducing the threads to people who didn’t realise the artistic use of technology, and to others who previously saw technology as something cold and robotic. It can be quite a beautiful thing. I think the reasons technology can be hard for people with romantic hearts, or those who are very expressive, is that it can often come off too perfect and frozen. It’s possible to put all the flaws and mistakes of human nature into it, and then the movement becomes very interesting. You should never be limited by a medium.

When did the fascination with using technology to express your artistic side start?

I think it began when I started toying with the options available in animation. You could create loops where there is no beginning or end to the narrative. I was creating animated drawings and a fantasy became provoked. There is no beginning or end to the experience. It felt quite nice; it was a stronger experience.

I did visit your Champagne Valentine gallery website and clicked where it said ‘Press Down To Release Blood and Parasites’. I became quite scared to click on it. Not sure if that was the intention, but it does prove what you are saying about the technology as an artistic medium not being cold. A lot of online art, such as the Champagne Valentine website, I have found to be very tongue-in-cheek. Do you worry about not being taken seriously as an artist? Considering everyone can get online and call themselves one.

It’s not something to be worried about. You have ambitions you know? You wouldn’t want to sit back and not be aware of such matters, and that is why I value the traditional methods of art. Technology can easily create a fictitious, fantastical world, a new reality, and that’s fine, but it can also help guide someone doing that just as easily. If you take a classical approach to art though, you start valuing the observation, and are reminded to observe the world again, which I think is very important. You need to make that translation from an understandable world, and then bring it into the fantasy, so that you don’t become stuck, or stop reacting to the world around you. It’s also important to not use technology as a crutch in art, or purely for aesthetic value, and rather as a tool to enhance something more beautiful in the work.

Purists of course would say that something is being lost in the transition to the Net Art Movement. Like you say though, there’s ways of using it that can be either a crutch, because it’s the new fad, or in an interesting way like all good art. To talk more about your work now, I see a lot of hypercolours and post-apocalyptic scenes, a lot of creepiness. Talk me through your style a bit more.

You need to have light to see the dark. A lot of the hypercolours and apocalyptic sunscapes in my work aren’t just about the aesthetic. It is about creating a contrast between the story I am trying to tell and the visual aspect of that. I like to explore the hyper-intrusive aesthetics sometimes to talk about a vulnerable character or a vulnerable state. To me the contrast creates a rhythm that is necessary.

That’s a great way of looking at the comparing and discussion that goes with talk of new art movements. There’s room for all sorts and it is easy to forget you need all kinds to figure out which one is speaking to you.


You are residing in Amsterdam now. Is Europe leading the way for the Net Art Movement?

Well that’s the great thing about Net Art: geography has no relevance, unless there’s a place with no internet. In the movement, the internet is a gallery. For me, being in Amsterdam means the support of like-minded people. You’re working amongst magicians, and you meet artists from all the demographics. The ones who are creating and the ones who have boats and are drinking wine. You have to live somewhere and Amsterdam is a great place. You don’t have the long commutes of London or the high stress or Paris, or even the weird vampire hours that everyone exists in in Berlin. It’s small enough that you don’t have to put up with those things, and helps with remembering the process of creating art and not so much the end result and how you are living your life. If possible, you should avoid being distracted away from that process and what you are observing or fantasising about.

I hate to ask an artist why they are an artist, but I read you saying somewhere that you ‘Want to express human realness with the advantages of technology’. What isn’t enough for you in reality that you’ve gone to technology to express ‘human realness’?

Technology is some kind of superpower right? There’s an enhancement to that experience that you can’t see. I think it’s a little bit playing the role of some god: whatever you want to see or perceive is possible through technology. Not being limited is very freeing. To me, it’s about the immersive sides of technology and what brings you into a new world, and why not? It’s curiosity, it’s exploration; maybe it’s better to sit and work in your garden all day but why shouldn’t you explore those options?

If modern technology, and the artistic mediums you use currently didn’t exist, or if you lived in another time, what kind of artist do you think you would be?

I think just a painter, or a portraiture artist. What I like about portraiture work is still about that human interaction, and there’s still that level of observation where you are seeing but also interpreting what you are looking at. You can go by what you see of someone, but still paint it with a vivid intensity. So there’s opportunity to create contrast in the work. So I would be doing the same thing, drinking wine, making art and interacting with people. [Laughs.]

So, new artistic mediums aren’t a new frontier from which we can’t return. They are, as you say, tools used to enhance your life. With online galleries, do you think there is anything lost in taking away the visit to a gallery in real life?

I don’t think it’s one or the other. Sometimes it’s going to be more special to be at a gallery, though it can also be as much of an experience to be with your iPad in a park as the sun is setting. You want as much access as possible to view art so you can’t choose one or the other. The advantage of making art online also, is that a lot more people can see it as well. You’re opening a door to a lot of people. Take people in Adelaide vs. people in Melbourne, the former isn’t going to have the same access to galleries. So you want to offer that gateway and offer that moment. Obviously getting to put on a show at Versailles is a great experience, so maybe you could use both mediums, where visiting the gallery is the last part of the experience. Why not see if you could tie the two together?

Certainly. Equally, visiting a gallery can be a cold experience as well, considering you exit via the gift shop. There’s tackiness to that too and people have such romantic ideas about what being an artist is like. Do you find it a hard line to walk, between being artistic and pursuing art as a commercial enterprise?

We’re at an interesting point now where we are seeing a lot of art exhibited on brands, as opposed to making art for brands. Brands are acknowledging the individual making the art and celebrating that. Adidas has worked with me for the Colliderscope party, and it’s not about their brand and having their brand up everywhere and controlling it. Brands actually are almost acting like patrons to artists and all sorts of artistic possibilities. There are government cuts to artistic funds happening all over the place so who better to support the arts than brands at the moment. It means artists get paid and brands are recognized for supporting culture. It’s the closest to a situation where everyone is happy.

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Photography by Sebastian Petrovski.