conversations – Interview by Anika Meier – 22.05.2023
TALI HINKIS: THE GENDERED SPACE OF TECHNOLOGY
FEMALE PIONEERS AND POWER STRUCTURES
When Tali Hinkis started creating digital art during her studies in Paris in the 1990s, it was almost forbidden. She was drawn toward video art and has been bringing the element of technology into her practice ever since. Hinkis has evolved her practice from experimenting with audio-visuals to generative art and NFTs. Together with her partner Kyle Lapidus, Hinkis builds the artist duo LoVid, whose interdisciplinary works explore the often invisible or intangible aspects of contemporary society.
In conversation with Anika Meier, the artist speaks about the early stages of her practice, female pioneers of digital art and power structures, the evolving the online art world, and advice she would give emerging female artists.
Anika Meier: Tali, you are one half of LoVid. You’ve been working together since 2002, when you started as an audio-visual noise band. You have decided not to change your name. Is that because you stay true to your roots?
Tali Hinkis: In the early days, we questioned everything we made. "Is this LoVid?", we asked ourselves, like a purity test. At some point, we realized that each work, each process, and each experience we share led to the next body of work or project, whether it’s a performance, a multimedia installation, or a drawing. And it became clear that LoVid’s work encompasses everything we want to say and make as artists. Being true to our roots and also giving us a degree of freedom.
AM: You studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. I studied art history in Heidelberg; digital art hasn’t been a topic. If I remember correctly, Nam June Paik was mentioned at some point. What was studying art like for you?
TH: In Paris in the 1990s, digital art was almost forbidden. I had a classmate who presented a CD-ROM for his thesis project, and the jury committee refused to touch the mouse and experience the work.
There was a pretty booming scene for video art, however, both in the school (École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) as well as with microcinema events, festivals, indie newspapers, and also the Centre Pompidou, which has an incredibly accessible video art library that changed my life.
Computers were only somewhat accessible on the 5th floor of the media building (above photography and video). There were a handful of regulars there, mostly students learning and teaching themselves. A couple of artists did have teaching residencies, such as Maurice Benayoun, but the focus was on innovation, not history at all.
Since I started as a painter and then moved to video, I wasn’t very comfortable with the fast-moving tech speed at first and having to figure it out in your own environment until I met Marie Dauber. Marie is an artist who mixes indie music with zine culture, graphic design, and the internet in ways I’ve never seen or thought of before. We did a bunch of projects together, and Marie really encouraged me to find my own way to work with the computer. I always credit her for teaching me how to use Adobe Suite and also showing me JODI’s work for the first time.
AM: Have you always been interested in digital art or in combining art and technology?
TH: Yes, I think so. In the 1980s, my father worked with Apple. We might have been the first family in Israel to have an Apple PC. Apple’s PR came to our house for a photoshoot, and it was published in the national newspaper. That alone had an effect on me because kids in school saw it, and I was labeled the kid with the computer. When I was around 10, my father insisted I take some classes in BASIC. I remember that very well, and even though I wasn’t motivated by it at all, it gave me a foundation and comfort with computer-human relationships.
In high school, I majored in film. That’s when I started developing a closeness to moving images and video cameras. The space of "machines," including equipment and cameras, was extremely gendered, and I was almost afraid to hold one until I started making my own video work in Paris around the age of 22. The way the camera felt like an extension of my body between my arms and my eyes was a form of liberation. In some ways, that is the space I’m always working in. Playing live video is a lot like that, and it also extends to other people, collaborators, and audiences.
AM: You lived in Paris. How did the city and the artists living in it influence you as an artist?
TH: I moved to Paris from Tel Aviv when I was 19 without speaking French. It was 1993, before the Internet and cell phones—more than the fact that I was in Paris, that experience shaped me. I don’t take anything for granted, and I don’t sit around waiting for opportunities to come knocking.
Though I went to museums regularly growing up, I wanted to live and breathe art for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My Paris in the 1990s was the institution and the avant-garde. It was jazz clubs, raves, noise, laptops, music, and gigs. It was friends’ galleries and the Palais Royal. Romance and best friends.
No one around me ever talked about money except for some of the computer boys who were at school while building a start-up. There was never talk about getting a gallery or selling art; the conversation was about starting an artist-run project space.
I think the collaborative nature of my school really shaped my approach to working as LoVid and in many other collaborations. The school was also very focused on studio practice, and I had very little academic education, especially relative to art schools in America. That was a challenge when I first moved to the US, and sometimes I felt like an outsider.
AM: Now you are part of the vibrant post-Internet art scene in New York. I am wondering if that is an appropriate term to use these days. From Paris to New York, from an audio-visual noise band to creating NFTs. Does the city and the art scene in New York have an influence on you?
TH: In 2006 or so, we performed in Amsterdam, and a friend reported hearing someone say, "That’s so New York" about our set. The amazing thing about New York is that there are not one or five art worlds; there are like 20. There are probably five mini "moving image" scenes because there are so many people and universities in the city and around it. The GIF artists rarely know the live projection cinema artists.
The community is huge and includes those who work with art and who experience it daily, professionally or recreationally. We, LoVid, have been fortunate to work within several parallel or overlapping art worlds, and it’s been fundamental to our growth and how we have been able to sustain our practice.
It is always great to step out of one’s comfort zone and test the work with fresh eyes and ears. For some people, LoVid is a generative NFT artist. For others, we are live A/V performers, and for others, we are fabric artists and wearable-art makers.
In the early aughts, the scene was much smaller, and anyone who worked within the broad definition of "electronic art" inhabited more or less the same spaces. We would all go to screenings, festivals, and performances, and several exhibitions were very collaborative spaces like Anthology Film Archives, Light Industry, Deitch Projects, Exit Art, or multimedia DIY parties in huge lofts in Brooklyn. That mix was very healthy to be exposed to a variety of works and aesthetics. Now everything is a lot bigger, more segregated, and more professional. We do our best to keep up with all the communities and the new venues, but it’s hard, especially now that we are active in the NYC NFT and generative art communities as well.
AM: I mentioned post-Internet art because not everyone from back in the day, from early net art to post-Internet art, is fond of NFTs. In most cases, the opposite is true. You are part of both scenes. Why did you decide to take a closer look at NFTs?
TH: Even though we have been associated with net art and post-Internet, our hearts beat video. And video has always been about methods of distribution, from DVD and VHS to Vimeo to working with EAI as our distributor.
We have been fascinated with screens and how accessible they are in people’s lives, and we want to bring LoVid videos to them all. NFTs fit right in. Additionally, we’ve done many works that look at digital objects in relation to materiality, such as Young Antiquities. NFTs and Web3 in general are exciting in that regard. And finally, for us, algorithmic generative art is a direct progression of our live video work and our work with analog synthesizers.
One of LoVid’s earliest and most recognizable works is VideoWear, where we created video garments from LCD screens in 2003, an era before mobile video and smartphones. We see this work in direct relationship with TIDE PREDICTOR (released on Art Blocks in 2022), where now there are wallets on computers and phones around the world that have our analog-signal-inspired moving image work. We are focusing on the community aspect and the art.
AM: When I invited you to be part of the exhibition A BEATING HEART. FEMALE PIONEERS IN DIGITAL ART I wasn’t sure whether you were a solo artist before LoVid. It took you only a few minutes to send me a selection of your early solo work, which you haven’t released so far. Why have you kept your early work to yourself until now?
TH: No one ever asked.
AM: I am glad I asked. What were you interested in when you started creating your first work?
TH: Hard to know. Probably the female gaze, emotions and the body, memory, and contemporary psyche in relationship with pop culture, fashion, tech, etc. Young artists are usually self-centered, and I definitely was.
AM: Has that changed with being part of LoVid?
TH: To some extent. I’ve found my place in abstraction of all kinds, and that wasn’t my focus as a young artist. It took me a while to be comfortable with that and fully embrace it. My early works were very personal in a narrative way, and LoVid’s work mostly isn’t. However, every abstract video pattern is very personal to us; they are all recordings we made together and are meaningful as collected memories. Having a partner to work with before a piece is sent out to the world is also a great way to feel less vulnerable about each work, which is something that many artists experience. We have to convince each other that the work is ready, and that’s sometimes a hard but useful process.
AM: Have you ever considered yourself a pioneer? What was the driving force for you to keep creating art with technology when it wasn’t that widely accepted?
TH: I have always felt supported in the work I do by my art community and our peers. In the early days, the goal was not to be accepted by institutions or sell art. It was to be authentic and use the tools that corporations, governments, and militaries made for us to consume in ways that they were not intended to be used.
The only difference is that as I get older, I understand that if a work of art isn’t collected and preserved by institutions or individuals, it risks being forgotten, and the burden falls on the artist themselves to wave their hands every few years and refresh everyone’s memory.
I feel that we have a pioneering place in the conversation about raising awareness of how the technology we choose to work with shapes the kind of art we make. In the early 2000s, the decision to recreate an analog A/V synthesizer based on schematics from the 1970s or repurpose an old video mixer instead of using new software was radical. That is something that we (among others) were pioneers in. I know that our work has influenced a generation of other artists to cultivate a DIY attitude and not always go for the newest, sleekest option.
AM: The piece you and I selected together for the exhibition is titled BED. To me, it has a very classical feeling due to the motif of the flower. Were you influenced by the history of art and feminist art?
TH: I was a fan of Sophie Calle and Sarah Lucas, for example. Annette Messager was a teacher at my school, so I was around her work a lot. I also listened to PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Bong Water, and Liz Phair a lot those days and was a contemporary dance fangirl. I love La La La Human Steps, Pina Bausch, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, and so many more. I get inspiration from lots of genres, and the female artists I love are usually kind of raunchy. I didn’t think about the relationships between body, politics, craft, and decorative arts until much later, which has become more of my focus in recent years.
AM: How do you feel about the piece now, more than 20 years later?
TH: I find it really interesting that I was thinking in loops at such a young age. To me, this work and others that I was doing at the time are moving image collages or paintings. Using digital video as a material to stretch and distort, I remember trying to explain to my professors that I was drawing with computers now, and that did not fly. (Laughs) Nevertheless, I insisted on having my thesis work displayed on computers and not video screens; I was operating on intuition, and I appreciate seeing that in my young self.
There is a sense of both wonder and melancholy in this work now. I don’t know what it would have been like if there was an "art market" that BED could exist in, but I like thinking about it as an antique.
AM: Has the digital art scene changed for female artists over the past 20 years?
TH: When I talk to women friends my age, we mostly agree that we accepted the structures of power as a status quo that was there for us to fit in with or not and just deal with. I don’t think that most of us stopped to call anything sexist; we didn’t have the language, not in my community. Younger artists call it out. Having more women dealers, collectors, curators, museum directors, writers, faculty, etc. is where the big changes happen.
AM: Have NFTs changed things for the better or for the worse for female artists?
TH: Well, they have made things better for this woman.
AM: Which advice would you give your younger self?
TH: Go to more openings and parties, read more books, and watch more films. Don’t be shy about showing your work; ask to look at everyone’s work and ask why and how they do what they do. When someone buys your work, take a photo of it and keep notes.
AM: Is that different from the advice you would give artists working today?
TH: I mentor young artists pretty regularly. Mostly, I find that young artists have a hard time finding their voice or feeling confident, especially when there are so many opinions and pressures thrown at them about fitting in. It’s a different world from when I started my career. I always knew who I was. I do talk often about finding the right audience and place for one’s work and being fully happy and appreciative of anyone who shows up for your weird art.
Tali Hinkis (born 1974) is a cultural organizer, artist, and educator. She was born and raised in Tel Aviv before attending the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Tali came to New York City immediately after graduating in 2000 and began working under the artist moniker LoVid with her life partner Kyle Lapidus.