Interview with Julian Oliver

I met the Berlin-based media artist and programmer Julian Oliver in Toronto as part of the Subtle Technologies festival, where he taught a workshop on the Network as Material. The aim of the workshop reflects Oliver’s artistic and pedagogical philosophy nicely; to not only make people aware of the hidden technical infrastructures of everyday life but to also provide people with tools to interrogate these constructed and governed public spaces.

Julian Oliver, born in New Zealand (anyone who has seen him give a talk will know not to mistake him for an Australian) is not only an extremely well versed programmer but is increasingly as equally knowledgeable with computer hardware. His background is as diverse as the places he has lived and the journeys it has taken him on. Julian started out with architecture but became increasingly interested in electronic art after working as Stelarc’s assistant on ‘Ping Body’, Auckland,1996. He moved on to Melbourne, Australia, and worked as guest researcher at a Virtual Reality center. Later he established the artistic game-development collective Select Parks and in 2003 left for Gotland to work at the Interactive Institute of Sweden’s game lab. He then moved on to Madrid where he had extensive involvement with the Media Lab Prado. Several countries, projects and residencies later, he made Berlin his preferred base, setting up a studio there with colleagues. Julian is also an outspoken advocate of free software and thinks of his artistic practice not so much as art but more in terms of being a ‘critical engineer’, a term that he applies particularly to his collaborations with his studio partner Danja Vasiliev.

Their latest collaboration called Newstweek, was recently announced as winners of the Golden Nica in the Interactive art category of the Prix Ars Electronica 2011. The project leverages on the network as a medium for rigorous, creative investigation, exploring the intersection between the perceived trustworthiness of mass media and the conditions of networked insecurity.

His artistic practice clearly reflects his hacker and gaming background, playing around and messing with routers, capturing data from open wireless networks, visually augmenting commercial billboards in the cityscape, sonifying Facebook chats, visualizing protocols and otherwise manipulating networks for artistic purposes. I sat down with Julian on June 1st to talk about his most recent art projects, his reflections on software and digital media arts more generally.

To read the actual interview go to Furtherfield

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