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It would be misleading to try to describe Don Foresta’s career in so little space, as the itinerary of this American diplomat, who has become one of the major artist researchers of the international art world, is a relentless series of connections throughout the world, the arts and the sciences.
Indeed, it would be misleading to tell the story of Don, this young man who arrived in Paris in June 1971 to assume the position of cultural advisor at the American Embassy. Fortunately for us, far from the American way of life, he thought “image” and “contemporary”. He packed in his suitcase a few items from New York’s underground culture of the time, including photography, experimental film and… video. 1971 was the heyday with the Fluxus movement, artists experimenting with the body and electronic images through magnetic deregulation, electro-magnets and THE first portable system for capturing and recording video in real-time, at last accessible to artists: the famous Portapak. A few years prior and for the very first time, Nam June Paik had used this video recorder to create artwork during the course of a simple taxi ride.
Meanwhile in Paris, Don Foresta not only exposed the French to works by Paik and the Vasulkas, he invited French artists to experience collaborations between art and electronic technology. To best understand Foresta’s life and work, one must imagine his career as perpetually going back and forth between Paris and New York, between France and the United States, between the Old Continent and the New World, between art and science. Back and forth between the past and the future, between his roots and his dreams, between American pragmatism and his passion for video. Back and forth both geographically and semantically, tracing a network of skills and knowledge, of artworks and innovations. For throughout his career (still in progress), Foresta has been the person who connects people.
To summarize, Don Foresta enters the creative world more than 40 years ago, through the back door, becomes a smuggler, a showman, an educator, a utopian immersed in post-1968 Paris. Caught up in the whirlwind of reactions to the screenings he initiates and the artists he invites to Paris, Foresta becomes passionate about his contemporaries: visual artists, dancers, musicians, tinkerers of images, sounds and electronic matter. The adventure ends, however, with a return to the U.S. But his comeback is hardly a regression, as Foresta makes a discovery: He will be an artist.
No longer a diplomat, his life is changed by Nam June Paik, who through a Rockefeller grant sends him back to France to film Paris and live out his passion for dance films. Foresta makes Paris à la Carte and, camera in hand, draws the groundwork for what will become Video Dance. Along with Karine Saporta, Philippe Découflé, Daniel Larrieu and the video laboratory he founded from scratch at École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, Foresta invented Video Dance as early as 1977-78, all the while propagating the American utopia of an artistic television channel. But it’s a fiasco. He then sees that artists have never been at the forefront of media. Whether in film or in television, they have always risen too late. So he needs to look further. As online networks (the future Web) emerge, Foresta sees in them an opportunity that (following the path taken by electronic arts) can only be realized through complete collaboration between artists and scientists.
And so, as our young diplomat-artist loves people and relations between people, the Internet soon becomes his playing field. He begins by exchanging images in 1981 between the American Center, of which he is the director, and MIT in Boston. These exchanges are followed by experiments with the telephone, fax, minitel and future Web. After curating the Venice Biennale in 1986, Foresta creates the first computerized interactive laboratory in 1988, establishing an international communication network among several artists collaborating on a “unique artwork” (concert, website, performance, show).
Connecting artists and scientists through the Internet, events, concerts and multiple artworks that have since become historic, Foresta imagines the notions of not only networked art but also collaborative art and transdisciplinarity. Always on top of the latest technology with creators and networks, Foresta tackles high-speed networks, snubbing the Web (a lost cause for art) and creates MARCEL, in honor of Duchamp, another great transatlantic artist. This Multimedia Art Research Centers and Electronic Laboratories (MARCEL) network also has a French name: LECRAM (Laboratoires Électroniques et Centres de Recherches en Art Multimédia). It’s a community of communities that assembles and reassembles artists and scientists worldwide into work groups and focus groups on networks and their usage.
But Marcel TV also offers access to works by the pioneers of electronic arts to students and researchers. Marcel TV begins, but is also the future education of artist researchers such as Gary Hill, George Quasha, Benoit Mandelbrot and Steina and Woody Vasulka… Unfortunately, many French artists are missing in these programs: European pioneers of electronic arts whom Foresta trained at ENSAD, École Nationale d’Art de Cergy Pontoise and at all his mythical screenings at the American Center.
Answering a question from an audience member during a tribute to him by France’s Civil Society of Multimedia Authors in February 2012, Foresta accurately summed up the situation of French contemporary art vis-à-vis new media: In 1979 we were 20 years ahead… Today we’re 25 years behind! Whose fault? In any case not that of Don, a French citizen since 1996, who continues to weave his web, build bridges and distribute knowledge as the art of tomorrow.
Don Foresta > www.donforesta.net
MARCEL > www.mmmarcel.org
SCAM > www.scam.fr/tabid/363252/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/7633/Don-Foresta.aspx
Published in Digitalarti Mag #9
Digitalarti Mag, the international magazine about art and digital innovation
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