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The IOWA Review Web (University of Iowa), march-april 2002


Nicolas Clauss was born in Paris in 1968 and lives there still. He is a painter who stopped "traditional" painting to use multimedia and the internet as a canvas. His recent work is displayed on the site He works as a freelance multimedia artist on commissioned projects.

Jean-Jacques Birgé is a sound designer and a music composer. He is also a film director; his film, "The Sniper, Sarajevo a Street under Siege" received a British Academy Award.

Thomas Swiss: Hi, Nicolas. We're very enchanted by your work. We know you started out as a painter -- can you tell us a little about how you see digital and Web-based art in relation to your work as a painter?

Nicolas Clauss: I began painting in an abstract way. Then I started using objects on the canvas and working more and more with the texture and matter, including pumice powder and sand. Then I found that I could use not only objects -- like brushes or clothes -- but photographs as objects.

Objects took more and more space into my paintings until
I thought I might try to carry on with objects but without canvas. I made some installations ( where
photos were projected on old walls among other objects and fabrics. I discovered with these installations that the spectator was interacting with the space and the light whenever the spectator moved.

Digital and Web-based art came on my way quite naturally, then, following these experiences: it allows me to figure the viewer into the work. It allows me to bring the experience of and "ideal" installation to the users.

TS: At TIR Web, we're very interested in the connection between language and image/sound in New Media work like you own, Nicolas. In a piece like your "Mechanical Brushes", how did you arrive at the concept of using language in the way you do? How do you see the language functioning in this piece? Or in others, like the first frame of "Dervish"?

NC: For me, words and language are only objects like other objects -- with their stories or without. Sometimes I just use words as a plastic form (as in "Mechanical Brushes" ); sometimes I use words I found without knowing much about the context for the words. In these cases, I'm paying homage to someone else's words.... in a very magic-like, irrational way.

In "Dervish Flowers," the background pictures are photos from an installation I made. The words there were writen by a man who spent a lot of his life in a mental institute. Some friends who bought his house gave me many objects and letters of his. I've made several paintings out of them and I like to put a few words of his on the net pieces I do.... I like the idea of giving a second life to something from him, even though he was a total stranger to me.

TS: You collaborate a lot-- as many New Media artists seem to. Can you talk about that process, especially working with sound artists?

NC: I had been painting alone for 14 years. Now I do works with others, but I continue doing works alone and I need that -- in my mind I'm still a painter and a painter is alone. But I have plenty of time, too, for shared works as well. I mostly work with Jean-Jacques Birgé. Working with a sound artist like Jean-Jacques is a great opportunity for me... I start doing a work first and then he will appropriate the work to make music and suggest interactive possibilities. I will then revise and we go back and forth...

TS: Most of your pieces are done in Shockwave. Is there a reason why you like Shockwave and don't use, say, Flash?

NC: Why Shockwave? I began using it after I saw the CDROM
"Alphabet" (Tivola) which was made in Director. I then met Murielle Lefèvre, Frédéric Durieu, the authors of that amazing work, and they supported my working in it.

I use Flash to make my dancers, but I don't program with it. I quite dislike the vectorial look of Flash. The current Flash trend on the Web is quite a bad thing, I think: too many Flash clones.

TS: Last question: many of your pieces deal in some way with "dance." You even have a piece inspired by the Bjork "dance" movie... why dance?

NC: It happened that I discovered dance late. But when I did, I was interested in trying to give "the dance" feeling through "the mouse." To make people feel the sensuality of dance... on screen. But, finally, as you might guess, I use dancers as objects, too.

TS: Thanks, Nicolas.

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