Interview with Heath Bunting. "Just stand around on the streets" ?: I understand you used to do graffiti, before you started to do work on the internet. Can you describe how you developed from painting on walls to writing HTML-Code? Heath Bunting: It's not a progression really. It is very difficult to make your life linear. I still do graffiti. I was arrested with Rachel Baker the other day in London for doing graffiti. ? Could you describe your graffiti? Bunting: We generally use chalk from the River Thames. I like chalk, because it is temporary, and also somehow escapes the labeling of hip hop. You can be chalking somewhere, and people can't tell necessarily that you are doing something illegal. Whereas when you have a spray can or a pen, they know immediately that you are being rebellious. ?: Why graffiti? Why not some other medium, like painting. Bunting: Because I could never afford those things. Chalk is very cheap. A box for 40 pence can last you a week. Accessibility has always been a big issue for me. And also, I am not looking for recognition from the art world. I want to do things that have an effect on everybody. Graffiti is on the street, and everybody sees it, wether they pay attention or not. ?: But the concept that the streets are public space at all has become questionable in the last couple of years with the emergence of shopping malls and private ownership of public space... Bunting: By going out on the street and doing things in public, private spaces will be reclaimed. Rachel and I went out and made some of this private spaces our own again. The "London" internet project is a bit like that. It is about things we did in the city of London, that we took those spaces, and made them our own for a while. I could tell you a story about every place that is in the photographs in "A Visitor's guide in London", about things we have done there at that time. ?: I noticed that a lot of net artists travel around all the time. Is this inherent in the medium with which they work? Bunting: For me it is the most viable funding method. I get paid for giving talks. At the moment it is very boring for me to have an apartment. So for me this is a way to travel around without having to sleep outside all the time. I haven't had an apartment since September, I have been traveling continously since last June. And I enjoy doing it, it's very challenging. The internet is a technology that makes that possbile. Maybe ten or twenty years ago, there would have been a different way of networking. Maybe a hundert years ago, it would have been a name. If I was a certain type of aristocrat, I could have turned up in a court in India in rags, and I would have just said my password, and I would have been admitted and treated very well. In those days it was your name. There are other passwords now, that give you access to certain things. ?: In the subtitle "The visitor's guide to London" is called "psychogeographic". What do you mean by that? Bunting: The work was six month of walking around London with no particular aim. I found myself going to the same places, on the same routes. I was trying to find out why I would walk to the same places, and I discovered things like underground rivers and roman walls. So these things are known as psychogeography. ?: Are these drifts though the city related to surfing the internet? Bunting: I don't really surf the internet. I take great pleasure in wandering around cities, and see what happens, and London is a good place to do that. If you ever get bored, you just go out your door, and within a few minutes something interesting is happening. ?: Do you think that "Visitor's guide to London" is a "net specific work"? Bunting: No. I originally did it on a floppy, but it translated easily to the Web. I was working in multimedia at the time I did the piece. People around me were thinking hard what they could put on a CD- Rom: colourful images, audio, video, whatever. The "Visitor's guide" was made on these very big computers, but it looks like it is low-tech. You can put it on one floppy disk. So it is a like an anti-statement against multimedia. ?: One of the characteristics is that people can "take you work apart", which makes net art different from traditional painting or sculpture. Does it matter to you that people can look at the source code, how a piece is done? Bunting: My work isn't very complicated to assemble in the first place. I use very simple things. I have been experimenting with a self-assembly web site. I removed the index page recently, so you could see all the files. There is a Read.me file that suggest where you can start. ?: I recently send you some email, that was returned, because your adress has changed from your name to a number. Is this another art project? Bunting: I was trying to find a way to cut down on junk mail to my email account, and I came up with the concept of an algorhythmic identity. I change my email adress now every month in a way that is very easily predicatable to humans, but not to a computer. I chose the date, the month and the year, something most western humans would know. So my email adress currently is jun97@irrational.org. Every month the previous adress will be deleted, and if you send mail to this adress, you get an auto-reply saying: This identity is now expired, please reformat in this form. Since I've done that my email has gone from 50 a day to just about five. I don't get any stupid messages anymore. I will also retire as a professional artist in November, and I will go into hiding for a while. Than I will come back, and charge more money. Because I have become professionalized, my work load is a lot more now. And I don't have time anymore to walk around the streets and play, and I have to act in a proper manner in certain situations. I want to retreat from that. ?: Did doing art on the internet help your career as an artist? Bunting: Oh, yes, it helped me a lot. My name became very well known. As the internet hype took off in London, every day I would get two or three journalists wanting to interview me, because I was doing things on the internet and was prepared to talk about it. At that time most of the people doing things on the net were hackers, and they were very shy with the media. My art career has risen a lot because of that. I didn't intend to have an art career, but I allowed it to happen. Being at the documenta is very problematic for me. I never intended to be here. This is my forth exhibition ever. So it is all new to me. Now galleries are offering to do things with me. And I have to think hard about this. I probably won't become a commodity artist, because it will upset my work and what I am trying to say. That is one reason why I want ro retreat from this scene. ?: What are you going to do? Bunting: Oh, just stand around on the streets. Maybe do some things on the net. But then again, there might be a new medium. The thing with the net is that in the last couple of years it has been a new religion: the virtuality religion. And if I see something like that, I try to bust it. I try to break things. That's my secret agenda: To break down civilisation. (laughs) ?: Do you see your own projects on the web as subversive? Bunting: I try to do things that provoke discussions of issues or ideas. For example I am doing something with search engines now. Several years ago, people would register names of large corporations like McDonalds, so if McDonalds would want to go on the net, they had to buy these domain names from them. That time is past now. And there won't be active censorship. The real issue now is visibility or invisibility, and that is made possible with search engines. So people will buy their way into the ranking of search engines. I do that with programming tricks. Right now, if you go to Web Crawler and type in "Nike", the first ten adresses will be my pages, and all it says there is "This URL is for rent", so Nike can rent it back from me. At least half of my projects could be turned into a business, for example my begging project: I did begging on the net for one week, and got send 1500 pounds. I made a form where you can send Mastercard or Visa donations to myself, and then I inserted it into corporation's or government guestbooks over the period of a week. A lot of people found it entertaining, and sent me money. But I didn't actually cash that money. I assume that most of the credit card information that was send to me was from stolen credit cards anyway. It's not so interesting for me to do business. ?: Do you mind that projects like that don't noticed very much? Bunting: I suspect that 90 percent of what I have done is lost, expecially things I did on the streets. Documentation is really a way to commodify your work. A documentation can be sold, and that's what I am trying to avoid. I have never sold any of my works. It used to be a policy of mine, never to make things that could be sold. Tilman Baumgaertel