Mark Swartz interviews Andy Deck,
MS: Bill Gates says, "Success comes from focusing in on what you
really like and are good at--not challenging every random thing"
(Granta 49, Fall 1994). In this context, how do you explain your
own success or failure as an artist?
AD: Maybe I just feel the need to contest Bill Gates, but I
would say that he's rephrasing the Horatio Alger myth, or in other
words underestimating factors other than one's ability to focus. If
Bill Gates set out to conquer the computing world today, he could
not do it with a modest piece of software like MS-DOS (the product
Gates acquired that catapulted Microsoft into big business). So he was lucky as
well as focused. With regard to "challenging every random thing," I
agree that it's important to remain devoted to a manageable range
of issues. For an artist to be widely regarded as a success, s/he
needs to do or to make something recognizable, and that recognition
usually stems from some sort of repeated and perfected behavior,
rather than from "any random thing." Of course there are
exceptions, artists whose work is rather eclectic or who challenge
a lot of things; but they often become known for early work that,
like MS-DOS, happens to be popular and lucrative. My own personal
success has probably been limited by my impulse to challenge things
like the role of the artist and the function of the image. Those
sorts of challenges are not random, however. They are essential to
an art that aspires to be more than ornamentation or
MS: You organize your Space Invaders piece to resemble a video
game, with missiles and fancy graphics, but there's no score and
consequently no game. Do you find yourself in competition with the
entertainment business? Such a financially and socially massive
enterprise is bound to come out ahead. The student newspaper at the
School of the Art Institute of Chicago recently ran an article
comparing Mortal Kombat to the Claude Monet exhibit--the largest
and most profitable exhibit the museum has ever mounted--and it
shouldn't surprise you that Mortal Kombat grosses a thousand times
more than Monet.
AD: Well I guess I deserve this sort of question, because I
released Space Invaders Act 1732 too soon. I don't consider it
finished, because in its finished form I can imagine it being
distributed widely--virally almost. Even though it doesn't adhere
to traditional game objectives, it's still fascinating. Whenever I
start it up in a public place, people come over to find out what it
is. They're not used to seeing trademarks in that sort of context.
What I set out to do was not simply to "challenge" corporate power,
I wanted to make something that could fit into the game niche--i.e.
distributable over the Internet, viewable on a personal
computer--that poses questions about the symbols and narratives of
other games. The "missiles" you mention are in fact the words from
the House legislation Act 1732 prohibiting space advertising, so
people who play the "game" are armed with legal rhetoric. Judging
by what I see in video arcades, and by the figures you cite
concerning Mortal Kombat, video games are a tremendously important
influence on American minds, particularly those of young people.
And yet there are very few serious critiques of their content.
That's changing. Nonetheless, the majority of the articles
published about video games are in magazines supported by video
game advertising. So, even if my game isn't finished, or even fun,
I think it's important to begin bouncing alternative narratives
around culture space.
MS: How about the calendar? Is it just something you do now
because you have for, what, twenty years? Or can you incorporate
your calendar into your overall objective? Chain-type bookstores
and greeting card stores allot a generous amount of space for
really ugly calendars most of which tie in to corporate campaigns
for TV shows, movies, sports teams, and novelty books. Speaking for
myself, I always feel good to be using an Andy Calendar as an
alternative to a FRIENDS or Sports Illustrated calendar.
AD: I'm not sure which overall objective you're referring to. I
find that it serves as a cost effective Christmas/Hannukah gift....
Probably you're asking if it's really art or just some weird thing
I do, and I think it's a little bit of both. It's "challenging"--I
try to make it better every year. It forces me to reveal what I've
been doing in my spare time. I don't expect to market it in the
near future, though.
MS: How do you like France? Are you ever coming back? Why not
Prague or Galway or the Ivory Coast?
AD: Making pictures can be an isolating endeavor, so I enjoy
being among a group of people who are developing creative projects.
The people at ENSAD (Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts
Decoratifs) have been nice enough to let me use their facilities
for the year and they don't ask much in return. The work that I'm
doing doesn't demand that I be in France--I'm not occupied with
observing the landscape--so in that sense all of the places you
mention would do just as well. I'm more concerned with the media
landscape these days, which is increasingly familiar whether in
Cote d'Ivoire or France. In Africa, the movies are almost entirely
imported, and in France 70% of the radio and movies are coming from
America. These imbalances of exchange have made me curious about
other places. It's not just a fascination for cultures that are being
swallowed up, its an effort to understand the seductiveness of
American media. It's not universal. That African music dominates
African radio, for example, suggests to me that affordable
production equipment and easy distribution can make cultural
imperialism less heinous.
MS: You can work anywhere because you work in a medium that is
divorced from geography, and I suppose the proliferation of
computers might ultimately have a democratizing effect, with
political and medical information being transmitted to the farthest
reaches, but I worry about what it means for art. It's more than
nostalgia that makes me appreciate a Dubliner's affection for Joyce
or even a Californian's feeling for David Hockney. This factor
applies to artists from places I've never been: I couldn't
appreciate Anselm Kiefer without knowing something about Germany
and German history. Now that I realize that I'll probably spend the
rest of my life in Chicago, I've been reading all I can about the
city and trying to bring some sense of Chicago into my own writing.
There's more to a place than its landscape, and when whatever it is
is missing from a work of art, that work of art feels
AD: It's true that I'm a bit uprooted these days, but I'm
certainly not becoming a French artist. I think that being abroad,
like digging at home, helps you to see "where you came from." With
regard to the divorce from geography and history, I'm inclined to
believe that the computer can be used like paintings and books to
represent places and events. As I've argued before (Mall of the Wild) it would be ecologically
catastrophic for all of the earth's inhabitants to visit everywhere
else. So we are obliged to learn about other places through media.
You can dig in books, somebody else can dig through the Internet. A
lot of people using the network discover that there are others in
remote places who share their interests, which can be a very
effective means of finding out exactly what you want to know about
other places. As I see it, the main problem is that the interested
parties that shape mass media don't value the sorts of historical
and geographical rootedness that you mention. They only care about
name recognition. One reason the World Wide Web has grown so
quickly is that people are finally able to contest the hegemony of
the major media institutions, meaning that more individuals and
groups are diffusing their views. A lot of those "new" perspectives
are less stimulating than "Bay Watch", but I've found many projects
that reflect a deep commitment to communities, schools, and the
MS: Last time I saw you we talked about copyright issues.
Neither one of us knew what to do with intellectual property in the
age of the Internet. Have you come up with any solutions since
AD: Law in general is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful,
so when new phenomena like network distribution and digital
reproduction come along and make possible a reversal in the trend
toward centralization of power in mass media, I don't want to see
new laws, or even the extension of old ones, that will prop up the
bloated media tyrants of the present. I recently read a Time
magazine article about piracy, and according to them "we" -- in other words, the
software industry -- lose $15.2 billion annually because of it. The
only statistics they bother to cite are provided by the Business
Software Alliance, which exacerbates the already nearly arbitrary
value placed on softare. But I'm convinced that many people gain
from piracy, so I would like very much to see the Internet render
copyright moot. Shareware, which translates as "pay what you wish,
or what you can" is appealing to me. As an artist and programmer,
this attitude poses problems concerning how to earn a living, and
how to compete with "content providers" that advertise. Still it
seems to me that, considering per capita income in the third world,
most of the people whining about what they stand to lose have
enough money and too little soul. Of course that's just my outlook,
you'll have to decide for yourself.
MS: Do you enter a different state of consciousness when writing
a computer program? I don't mean to dwell on Bill Gates, but I read
an interview where he was describing the initial marathon session
of writing what I guess became DOS, during which time he rarely
slept, and when he did sleep, he dreamed in code. It reminded me of
the way artists sometimes describe the trancelike states they enter
when making art.
AD: I dream in C language sometimes. I've actually conceived of
algorithms while asleep, and then wake up wanting to get it down
before I forget it all. Programming is only a means to an end for
me, though, it's not something I use to communicate with people
around me. So when I start dreaming like that I usually think,
"I've got to stop spending so much time in front of the computer."
It can be satisfying to work with that sort of language, though,
because it's readily apparent whether the computer understood what
you wrote. You don't have the ambiguity of natural language, such
as when students nod but don't understand what you're talking
about. Students don't crash when you say something outlandish,
MS: You close your essay "Mall of the Wild" with a story about a
bear and the words, "I'm looking for a better ending," which is
more comforting than the last word of your Honors English thesis,
which was, I believe, "Huh?". What's your idea of the perfect
ending and can you give any examples?