Agam Andreas in conversation with Volodymyr Bilyk on 30th anniversary of NICTOGLOBE
by Volodymyr Bilyk
In this day and age – anyone can start a magazine. It’s a matter of concept and time management. However, not anyone can maintain a magazine for a long period of time without paradigm shifts and quality nosedives.
Aside from an assorted collection of various misfortunes and mishaps – 2016 had one big anniversary. It was thirty years since Nictoglobe – great art-zine from Netherlands went online. Nictoglobe is a brain-child of multimedia artist Agam Andreas who started it as a simple showcase of works of his friends and colleagues back in the early 80’s. Then it started to morph into something far more cutting edge. Since 1986 Nictoglobe had went through numerous incarnations – each of them representing the zeitgeist of its era. Today Nictoglobe is the kaleidoscope of images that can inspire and transcend.
This interview is an attempt of giving you an insight into its inception and existence over the years through the eyes of its creator – Agam Andreas.
Volodymyr Bilyk: Let’s start from the beginning. What sparked your interest in art? What drove you to start doing it yourself back in the 80’s?
Agam Andreas: mmm, when I was a youngster, I did not thought about art at all, it slowly appeared in my consciousness after realizing that culture and society are two conflicting concepts materialized as they are in a rather compulsive and forcefully exposure on its participants. So as a cultural producer, or musician, which I intended to be in that time, I recognized these conflicts and concluded that the only way to be truly dedicated to freedom is being an artist and both jokingly and seriously trying to find your way in the existing socio-political constellations you are part of whether voluntary or not
VB: Was there moment when you understood that making art expresses you fully and decided to fully devote yourself to it?
AA: To fully devote myself making art is difficult for me as I need to take care for my wife – who is a very talented artist – and a very talented psychiatric patient as well – and my three children, so I am not in the position of dedicating myself completely to that, on the contrary I need my spare time after my precarious day time job as software engineer to make my art.
I tried years ago to be a fulltime artist, got kicked out of my semi-legal studio by hired thugs from the Amsterdam real estate mafia, I never could deal with that properly
Living in semi legal buildings, lastly in an attic for 2 years. Living at that attic in a former abandoned industrial area, after I left voluntarily the former occupied but then legalized student house where I lived for three years and it was there that I started to re-invent myself.
VB: What was the atmosphere surrounding you at that time? Was there are any people or groups that shared your interests? Did they influence you in any manner?
AA: Most of the people I socialized with were squatters and/or artists – which was rather common in the early 80’s. Also a few student friends from university of which two of them were also painters.
I introduced a noise generating instrument made from old medical equipment en vogue in the late twenties of the previous century in a group which normally produced a rather soft folksy sound, and well I got lost for a couple of years.
I met an artist who had his studio in a huge squat – a former orphanage – with whom I produced an electrical carpet, a plastic sheet with metal contacts sealed in, which when activated produced bizarre and random electronic noises coming from a connected microchip, which back then were easily available in the famous Tandy electronic-stores and we did a couple of performances with it. We were influenced most of all by performance art. Together we made a piece in which a reclusive was passing a sensory device which makes two metal plates touch. The sound it produced was what I was interested in.
The sound-carpet impressed a lot of people, but I got bored with it, it was too simple, too futile to have a lasting impression after the first. So I abandoned it all together after being pushed by – in certain circles famous – Israeli-an artist/coke dealer who pressed me to make one for his art friends in Germany, which turned out to be a disaster for which I had to steal the crucial electronic part to get the money I was promised.
VB: What happened next?
AA: After a period as a musician in a group of idealists, squatters, artists and musicians. I got more and more interested in extremes – including a three-week incarceration in France for joy-riding and as a result things started to get very messy.
VB: What happened there?
AA: The thing the most impressed me during my stay in that prison (one of the most guarded and frightened in France, which as we all should know, still a crypto-military ruled country) was the solidarity between the inmates, I met people who could not read or write and was asked to write their letters and to help them expressing their wants. I was given everything I needed for free, tobacco, magazines even books. It was a complete understanding that society is not what you are thought in school, but a much more complicated and intertwined complex of power relations expresses in civic law and ultimately in accepted behavior.
VB: You have a rich background in mathematics, programming and music – was it the desire to expand upon mathematical and musical concepts in a completely direction that driven you into art?
AA: Probably it did, but I just wanted to know as much as was achievable by me from the subjects of my interests and studying experimental physics alone was not enough.
So I expanded the field, and finally arrived at the Institute of Sonology, currently based as a division from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague but back then situated in Utrecht and part of its courses.
VB: What gave you the studies of musicology?
AA: Musicology is a very broad study with different fields of interests of which I picked composition, musical analysis and counter-point. It gave me insight in ways of constructing and notating music, and that went pretty well with my abilities to mentally organize things. It is like math, once you know the unknowns are name-able you understand how to use these unknowns not only as symbolic notations for number related stuff, but also for organizing sound and other perceptual matters.
VB: Was there something that fascinated you in those studies that you wanted to transform into something of your own?
AA: I never thought about it like that, for me it just a means to accomplish something which needs some sort of organizing. Different and apparently conflicting events can be connected to form new constellations of meaning when put into a form and when are made to last a certain amount of time. Which can be everything from sound to logical abstractions.
The urge to make something my own is something which came with the years, after I understood that failure is a lesson to be learned and when undone from its negative co-notations turns out to be a valuable experience and a better understanding of what you are aiming for, and why.
I exploited my technical and musical skills resulting in developing a performance / installation called “Geräusche aus de Helle”, in which I used the sound of prepared audio-tracks triggered by crossing the lights of strong halogen lamps arranged in a space where Perspex columns hold the lights.
VB: How Nictoglobe came to be? Why it happened at first place? What was the catalyst to start it? When it came to fruition? How the first issues were made? How they were distributed?
AA: Nictoglobe is a project that evolves as it goes on. It is always different. It started (as you know already) as a stenciled paper distributed exclusively in the Amsterdam night transport system. A kind of subversive activist art project avant la lettre. Filled with hand-copied articles from a range of subjects, mostly regarding the local political situation but also some experimental writing and drawings.
VB: How the title was created? Were there any other versions of the title?
AA: When thinking about a proper title I came up with the name Nicto Globe, a combination of the Greek word for black (nicto) and globe (sphere , the world and also a reference to a famous journal The Globe, so there it was NICTOGLOBE , the dark side of the world , the nightly endeavors of an artist looking to shed some light in a pitch dark world
It went with alternative names as well, such as Luftpost, DSM IV, MDM-SDEX and Madam Suhain (a word play on the Iraqi dictator Saddam Husain). It was chaotic and lucid, funny and subversive.
VB: What were the contents of the early Nictoglobe? Is it possible to get a glance at it somewhere?
AA: We wanted to reflect our opinions as independent social beings against the status quo which we experienced as inadequate to bring the joy and freedom we longed for.
I only have one original copy. Another one is supposed to be stored in the archives of The International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.
VB: Who were you collaborating with? What influenced you – any artists, other zines? How the initial concept transformed through time?
A: I had a co-operation with Artburo Haefties, a group of hardcore squatters and freaks. We shared a piece of their BBS DFM with The Letterboard, a dedicated subsystem exclusively for poetry and prose, to which I contributed with my own writings, of course.
The same contacts made possible the live enactment of the aforementioned installation performance Geräusche aus der Helle in a hidden atomic shelter, deep below a metro station. These guys had everything under tight control, security guards, routes and an evening filling program of which the performance was part of. This was part of alternative festival Circuit du Theatre Festival 1989 in Amsterdam
VB: When it started to shift from it into more experimental direction? How the transition into Internet was made?
AA: Nictoglobe in its a stenciled form was done by my brother and me and after it initial stage it lost momentum (My brother left to smuggle cars to Syria). Then I reworked the idea and transposed the concept to the then current BBS environment. BBS was a pre-internet autonomous communications system which connected several nodes by using the existing telephone network.
VB: What were your original intentions with the revamped Nictoglobe? Was it a journey into the unknown? What were your guiding lights?
AA: I wanted to access a broader audience using the then current possibilities, the Internet in its infancy was an enormous challenge and the fun part was that it was accessible to everyone with a bit of technological capabilities on how to write HTML code.
In that time Nictoglobe was a concept buried in the past and filled with nostalgia. I settled with my new girlfriend close to the attic where I lived the last years
Slowly I started to reincarnate Nictoglobe online. Internet was now more common practice and also gaining commercial momentum commercial ventures and Telco’s and providers fought their way into the economic sphere and within in an amazingly short time the whole city was hooked on Internet. This gave me a tremendous profit, I was experienced long before the second wave entered the Internet highway, so I started to publish Nictoglobe again.
VB: What attracted you in those early forms of Internet? What Internet was like back then? Were there any serious artistic conversations on the web?
AA: We are in the end 80ties begin 90ties, Internet was not really existing apart for a dedicated group avant-garde artists and writers mostly tech oriented people connected with each other two a telephone-line to either a FIDO-node or a university server. Luckily Amsterdam was an important backbone, connecting directly to the original internet network in the USA
I shared a subscription for around 10 euro which gave me a certain amount of connection time. We downloaded and redistributed news articles and a lot of technical information with these systems.
After my adventures with experimental sound art I changed the course of my life, I inscribed in a government program for academics and former students to be trained for a professional ICT job, this was during a time where – as always the unemployment was above 10 percent – the government decided to try to create jobs and educational programs to provide for the expected wave in demand for ICT related jobs. This really worked out well in the beginning, I passed all the exams with good results and after living on welfare the previous years, I eventually got a job and was back to living a more organized life.
VB: How does the transition affected your concept of Nictoglobe? How it evolved further on the web? What have you discovered there while doing Nictoglobe?
AA: After doing Nictoglobe for a couple of years more and more I started publishing my own stuff and because of the amount of likewise initiatives I send my works to several artist-run websites. Some of them picked it up and the train was set in motion.
VB: Was it hard to maintain such publication? Was it dangerous to maintain a site in the late 80s – early 90s? Were there any attempts to hack Nictoglobe?
AA: Maintaing the site takes a lot of time, time I need to carefully plan because of my other responsibilities as a father of three children and the partner of Judith, who is an artist in her own right
It was not dangerous at all, I never got hacked, although my telephone line was heavily abused by some Chinese gang.
I think hacking is a very ambiguous term and can be defined as tinkering with something which you are not supposed to tinker with, but as a matter of fact I do like tinkering with stuff, ranging from making my own arch-light form hb pencils to adding my own electronic devices to otherwise closed electronic equipment. For a time, I developed my circuitry which was used in the aforementioned performance Gerausche aus der Helle. The political consequences of tinkering are very broad and I do certainly identify with the DYI movement
VB: What were your readers like? What were the initial reactions? When you understood that you’ve found your readership
AA: Mostly the interaction between me and the readers is when I see that people like to contribute with their own works. It makes me feel that I am part of a shared world, which is enough to continue
I never understood that Nictoglobe had or has a readership, too be frankly I do not really care. It is hard to live a marginal life but its bare existence is enough to keep it alive.
VB: Can you tell me more about history of versions of site? – from the early years up to the present.
Although currently I spend more time working on my art then enhancing the site.
VB: How the way of doing art on internet changed over the years? Is it different in terms method or is it basically the same just with a different interface?
AA: For me making art on internet changed from making ‘art on the internet’ to ‘making art’ tout court. The internet more and more becoming a communication channel and to a lesser degree an artform an sich. I rather do not like the overconceptualized art ideas as are currently en vogue, I see them more as an intention to make art and not as art perse. This is of course very personal but there seems to be a certain void of ideas which expresses itself as a void, without critiquing it. The pre-moderns, the moderns and now the post-moderns doing all the same stuff over and over again in a new costume without having a new body. We need a new body, not a costume. We need an art which denies its own definition, an art form which expresses its redundancy
VB: Is there anything you would’ve like to implement to Nictoglobe that is now technically impossible or unavailable?
AA: I feel the need to materialize the contents instantly, like with a 3d printer or POD directly in the walls of your living room. An instantly changing material surrounding. Projections from tiny cheap devices, foldable tv screens, but at the newest bodies.
VB: To round things up – do you have any advices for starters about making and maintaining their own online magazines?
AA: Lastly as an advice to young people to make your own online mag: just do it! Invite people to contribute, when you are interested in an article, paper or work of art from other resources ask to have it republished. Follow your own interests. Never let your mag be compromised by advertisers! Stay away from startups. Do not spend money on technics but time on content! Remember you are a content creator not a showcase for the endeavors of entrepreneurs! Stay away from buzzwords like creativity. Remember creativity sucks badly! Art sucks even more! Your ideas are the only thing that really matters. Amen