Kenny Goldsmith on the WikiLeaks of the avant-garde

By Harriet Staff

There are many interviews, plus funky photos, of our pal Kenny Goldsmith out there; click here for an example of each. In its current issue, Tank Magazine talks to Goldsmith about a particularly fascinating subject, what some have called the "WikiLeaks of the avant-garde." Natch, that's UbuWeb, founded in 1996. They chat about copyright, curation, Ubu's history, digital technology and the art world, and how Ubu is considered in mainstream circles. As for the latter, Goldsmith says, "The mainstream art world knows nothing of Ubu. Why would they be interested? Ubu is intended for people who don’t have access to the centres of urban culture and all the riches they offer."

Also, there's UbuWeb's unique approach:

NR: You have said you don’t believe in a democratic approach to art – why is that?

KG: One of the problems with the web – and social media in general – is the ethos of “everything is good” (the “like” button on Facebook), or “everybody has a voice”. Everybody might have a voice, but not every voice is worth listening to. You need someone to separate and discern which ones are worth hearing. And that’s always been the role of the curator. In the age of the archivist – and we are all archivists by default in the digital era – curation has become even more important. With more and more artworks and files, you really need someone to sort it all out for you. Ubu doesn’t have an open policy or any social media or “community” attached to it. It’s more like a library where you come to it and take what’s there.

NR: How do you see the future of Ubuweb?

KG: The future of Ubu will be the same as it has been for the past 15 years, just bigger and deeper. It’s all hand-coded, written in html 1.0, and that’s why it works – no gimmicks, no tricks, no Flash, no advertisement, no donation buttons, no mailing lists, no promotion. Nothing but art.

NR: By getting bigger, you mean more followers?

KG: No, I don’t need more followers – I don’t even know how many I have. It doesn’t matter for me if three people watch or 3,000 – we don’t advertise, we don’t ask for donations, we don’t promote. We’re opposed to that and it allows us to do what we want. We don’t care about community. But Ubu is generous, available, open to everyone, and it is democratic in this sense.

NR: Before we spoke I went on Ubuweb and watched Pilot, a show for made for public TV in Ontario by General Idea. I feel like it is exactly what Ubu offers, this specific, rare thing you can’t see anywhere else.

KG: We didn’t ask General Idea or [its co-founder] AA Bronson – we just found it and put it out online. So this is it: you benefit from us breaking the law.

NR: There is something very political about Ubu. Is it an anti-capitalistic tool?

KG: Ubu ignores capital – we’re neutral about it to the point where, like copyright, we just pretend it doesn’t exist. We propose a utopia where culture is free and open to anyone, regardless of where they’re from or how much they have in their bank account. Ubu is the kind of world that we dream of living in.

More from Goldsmith on UbuWeb can be read on Harriet. And recent additions to UbuWeb include selected films by Ana Mendieta (wow); a 1977 vispo collaboration, Disfrutelos, by Charles Bernstein and Susan Bee (then Laufer); and volumes 1-3 (1917-1920) of De Stijl Magazine. Have fun!

Originally Published: July 20th, 2011