The Neen Paradise


Greek artist Miltos Manetas has migrated from Athens to Milano to New York City, finally settling in Los Angeles, a city lying at the very limits of the West's Greek heritage. He has made videos and performance pieces, becoming a computer fanatic and eventually turning to making paintings of and for computer screens. He manipulates video games and now talks about the end of art and his newly created fantasy of an art of the future which he calls "neen"-a youthful-sounding word he bought from professional logo creators and applied to his end-all, begin-all art scheme. A corrosive humor lies at the core of the end-game strategy he has constructed out of commercial ideas, commercial products, and a publicist's view of art.


Olivier Zahm: You created a new art or esthetic movement and called it NEEN. How did it start?

Miltos Manetas: For a long time, I asked friends, curators and writers to invent a new movement, or at least to find a name for one. I was tired of being seen and categorized as a contemporary artist-artists who do mostly photography, objects, and installations, and with whom I feel no affiliation. Someone like Damien Hirst, for example. I wanted something similar to movements like Dada or Cubism. The question was to find a name with glory which would also function as a barrier to keep away any art that doesn't realSpring 2002 ly matter co or concern it. But no one came up with a usable name. There were some trials. Nicolas Bourriaud, introduced, in 1995, Relational Esthetics and, in 1996, the Purple group came with Beige. But I couldn't go to my father and say: "I do Relational Aesthetics," he would say something like, "Oh god, my son is a scientist, or social worker or something." Beige was very good for a moment and there are still things happening which are Beige. During 1995-1997 Beige was the spirit of the times more than anything char British artists were doing. Then, in 1998, everything changed and Beige could not cover my theories or those of my new friends. Even computers ceased to be Beige and all the suggestive romantic misery started to look fake and really cheap. Therefore, there was an urgency for a new name.

How did you come up with the name NEEN ?

I happened to read a story in Wired magazine about Lexicon Branding, the company that created the names Pentium, BlackBerry and PowerBook. Suddenly I knew that these were the people who I should ask for a name. They were professionals. They find names for whatever. They charge an average of $ I00.000 to $150,000, and they offer different names from which to choose and to purchase.

So you paid for it.

Of course not. I contacted Yvonne Force and Art Production Fund and we realized the project together. She actually suggested that we offer the name to the public in a performative and glamorous way, with important personalities as guest stars. This is how we decided to do a big Demo at Gagosian gallery in Chelsea, and write an elaborate press release. We did it on the last day of May 2000. We set up a panel with the president of Lexicon, David Placec; neurologist Steven Pinker; games critic and the writer of Videogames Nation, J.C. Herz; art theorist Peter Lunenfeld and a special appearance via video of Joseph Kosuth. We had a Sony Vaio laptop introduce it, using its robotic voice: "Ladies and Gentleman," it said to a shocked public - the new name for contemporary art is NEEN. We hope that like it! N-E-E-N. A computer program found the name. Have a nice evening." We had Warhol paintings of the diamond. shadows all around, and we projected NEEN samples. And Gnac wrote the music: the NEEN scene.

How did you get Lexicon to go in such a semiotic diversion?

Yvonne and I went to their office in Sausalito, California and we showed them works by different artists, providing them with a frame of reference and the "landscape" of activities we were asking a name for. We explained to them that the name should represent mostly things not yet made, that it should recall technology, new media, computer screens, and computer culture, and that most of all, it should allude to works which are apparently unrelated, such as a sliced canvas by Lucio Fontana; the Capri Battery by Beuys, which is a yellow lemon next to a yellow light ball; the large paintings by Anselm Kiefer, which look so much like video games in reproduction and so obsolete in reality. I suppose that we confused them, but three months later they emailed us a list of about a hundred names, among them was NEEN.

Is Lexicon a computerized semiotic production company? How did they come up with the name?

They use work groups composed of different types of people, who work together and separately to find names. They also have a proprietary software. A program was actually created for NEEN. I think they mixed the words "screen" and "seen" and were looking for a palindrome like Dada, because we told them that we wanted something as fresh and unpretentious as the word "dada".

What other names did they come up with?

I am not allowed to disclose them, but one was TELIC. Another was OLO which is a cubist word, others were ONQ and ESC.

Why did you choose NEEN?

Because Mai Ueda [Miltos' girlfriend] and other Japanese people really liked it. Mai immediately starred to call her self a NEENSTER. She likes art, but she feels slightly embarrassed calling herself an artist. NEENSTER worked fine for her. Later, another friend from Tokyo explained to me that when Japanese do branding, they always try to include an 'n' and an 'e' because, for them, the sound of those letters are a successful combination. Think about Sony, Nintendo, Pokémon, ere. After we chose ic, it also occurred to me that NEEN, in ancient Greek, means now.

ls NEEN an art category or is it a nonartistic term?

It functions like a third category: good, bad, and NEEN, or art, nonart, and NEEN. It refers, in a way, to the Internet and to computer art, to software and hardware, and even to architecture and design. For example, the new Apple Cinema display is NEEN and the fat monitors we used to have on our desktops are not. The way Sony builds lap tops is NEEN, and Apple's laptops were once NEEN, but now they're not-they look like covers for toiler seats. Emulation software and Macromedia's Flash is NEEN, while Microsoft's produces are never NEEN. In terms of architecture, we want to separate conservative solutions, such as the architecture of Bernard Tsumi, from visionary works, such as 3-D world building, the book S, M, L, XL by Rem Koolhaas, the architectural work by Andreas Angelidakis (, or the computer engineering, non building architecture of Takehiko Nagakura.

Is NEEN a political word?

We wanted a name that would defend open source, freeware movement. Freeware is NEEN, while serial numbers and registrations aren't. We are currently doing a website against intellectual property and copyright (, where creators can vote if they agree that everything should be allowed to be copied or if they are for IPs and copyrights.

Why does NEEN fight against copyright laws?

The copyright is one of the most urgent social and political issues for NEENSTERS. Our world is largely composed of information, in the same way that yesterday's world was mostly about trees and land. We must keep information free and available to anyone. It's stupid to consider yourself the owner of an idea just because you think of something. I’s also criminal: States use police to stop poor people from copying entertainment products (such as Harry Potter in China), and they try to stop the poor from using tools (such as Microsoft, in China again) without paying for them, so that they stay poor forever. Piracy is good: let's copy as much as possible and encourage others to copy our products.

How do you decide what is NEEN and what is not NEEN?

The difference between a NEEN work and a non-NEEN work is like the difference between the sympathy we feel for a child as opposed to our irrational aversion to a midget.

Are you a NEENSTER yourself?

I hope, but maybe I'm just a boring painter. At least I try to live in a NEEN way, having divided my personality in different Websites. And my paintings are mostly sketches for JPEG computer images. That's the way I enjoy them.

What is important for a NEENSTER?

To become a public persona not only using the available media but transforming oneself into media, which is more than being a popstar or a flaming sun. A NEENSTER is a pro ducer, not a product. NEENSTERS do things not as a job and not even for creativity or self-expression.

What is the difference between a NEEN artwork and contemporary art?

Installations, photographs, and art made with found objects are the stuff that today fills the empty spaces of museums and illustrates the pages of magazines and catalogues. They are conventional products for an old niche marker. Any art student knows how to produce them nicely and pro fessionally. The same happens co pop design and blobby architecture. While the SodaConstructor animal by Soda, the Objok by Golan Levin, the Vines by Deconcept, Experimental Jetset's designs, the Flash animations by Mike Calvert and Joel Fox, and the square watermelons produced in the Japanese town of Zentsuji are nothing like that. These works require the creation of a new market, and a new type of person who will collect and maybe con sume them.

Is NEEEN directly connected to the idea of a screen?

That's what we say to the public for promotional reasons, but even SCREEN is nor NEEN. If it was NEEN, it should have no volume and no support, it should simply float around or be activated on a regular wall for a while and then disappear. NEEN, for the moment, is more of a state of mind or an undefined psychology than a piece of art, design, or architecture. Building a movement around NEEN is like saving a bookmark for a dream we had the night before.

What were the first notable reactions, to NEEN?

We didn't try to push NEEN in the magazines or in the media. It would have been too easy-immediately after we introduced it-to fill every glossy magazine, and dangerous too, because NEEN would have expired quickly. We preferred instead to present NEEN on the Net, and to see how corporations, young people, scientists, etc., would react.

What happened on the Net?

l am receiving emails every week from people who declare themselves to be NEEN. They send me samples of their work. Most of it is terrible, bur a few works are very interesting. Some Japanese companies, such as Toshiba and Shiseido have asked for details about this new American trend. The most remarkable response was from a group of Greek philosophers, who created the site, They asked us if September 11 was NEEN!

So, was 9-11 NEEN?

Unfortunately, it was, at least in terms of spectacle and tech nology. The fact that they succeeded by only using cheap technology-some box cutters and a few pilot-training lessons-to wipe out two enormous towers, symbols of capitalism, of the capitalist empire .... It was like an artist who, for example, takes the ".fla" of a Flash animation and even though he doesn't know how to use Flash, he changes the objects in its library and produces a great artwork.

NEEN is necessarily low tech?

It's more like easy tech-using what's available and optimizing it with the least effort possible. Artists in the nineties were producers. Think of Matthew Barney, etc. NEEN people are editors and optimizers.

Who are NEENSTERS? Are they coming out of art schools?

Some come from art schools, bur they are nor the usual Artforum readers. They like Design's Republik, and more than Paul McCarthy. Some are working scientists, computer addicts, designers. Most don't have jobs, only computers and lot of free time.

In Los Angeles, you opened a space called ElectronicOrphanage. Why did you choose Chung King Road, in Chinatown?

Chinatown, which is in East LA, near downtown, is a very different place from the New York Chinatown. le was built in the 50s as a simulation of a Chinese neighborhood-a stage more than a real place, destined for tourists who never really came. Today, it’s a cheap poetic area, completely alien co the Hollywood reality, but very suggestive for artists and musicians, who of course took the opportunity to transform Chung King Road into one of the hottest places in LA. Chung King Road is a pedestrian road which hosts young vanguard galleries, such as China Art Objects, lnmo gallery, and lately Aaron Rose's gallery, as well as fashion designers Loyd and Ford.

Does ElectronicOrphanage functions like a gallery?

It's more like a club for screen safaris and for theories. didn't want to open a gallery myself, bur the public was there anyway, and we could have visitors without sending invitations, because of other openings. We open it whenever there are gallery openings around and we project a NEEN piece which we either discover on the Internet or get from artists we run across. The space is an empty storefront, basically a black cube with a white wall that serves for the screen ings. Visitors watch projections from the street. The doors are open, but for the most part, the public is nor allowed inside. There is a sofa in the street where they can sit to watch the screening. Nobody explains anything to them. Visitors have to go on EO's Website to obtain further information. Those visitors who are invited in become "orphans" once they're inside. I arrange for some of them to go to other countries on the Internet, and to be orphans there for a while. Some return for or her visits. Some send other visitors. All activities can be seen on line at The rest of the time, the EO becomes a studio/office for different NEENSTERS. I provide the computers etc., and they take Internet safaris, play videogames, talk, build Websites, etc.

Who are some of the orphans?

They are a mix of different generations, from very young girls, who don't know about Karl Marx, to intellectuals like Norman Klein, who is one of the most astute California writers and the author of The History of Forgetting, Lev Manovich, a pioneer of new media theory, and Peter Lunenfeld, who wrote Digital Dialectics. They keep an eye on us and sometimes curate events. There's Mai Ueda and her robotic sister Juribot; Mike Calvert, Joel Fox, Tim Kho, and Steven Scholne, who are constantly producing pieces and finding other people on the Web and in real life. Collaborators include Rafael Rozendaal from, Amy Franceschini from Future Farmers, who is one of the best animation designers on the Web in the US as well as a very charismatic artist; architects like Andreas Angelidakis and Francois Perrin, cofounders of World++, which is a virtual world in Active Worlds-a sequence from the art and architecture, There are designers like Nicola Tosic (, and Angelo Plessas and Jonathan Maghen from; and composers such as Mark Tranmer from Gnac and Ryan Francesconi, who wrote the software program, Spongefork, which is a great software to use as an instrument. Everyone's works and ideas are discussed and criticized and ultimately debugged and optimized. Everything is welcome as long as it doesn't look like the stuff in the galleries next door.

What are other EO activities besides the public projections?

We work on Websites like and, which is a Web archive that documents inventions in the arts, such as Andy Warhol’s Coca Cola paintings, circa 1967, and Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson sculpture from 1988, etc. It's a fast, self-generating art history, where the public is invited to contribute. Another EO project was Biennale net, a Website that shows the best art now made for screens. We did the first version of as a commission for Flash Art magazine, which will be shown for the Tirana Biennale in Albania. We're working on an anti-show for the Whitney Biennial: WHITNEYBIENNIAL.COM. And of course, we work on the World++ project, which is the ActiveWorlds' 3-D city.

Is the huge NEVER tattoo on your back the remit of a love story. Is it too personal to speak about?

Mike Calvert, my collaborator in the EO, and Mai Ueda, my girlfriend, traveled together to Europe for the at Tirana, in Amsterdam, where Mai created a performance and Mike Calvert made a lecture. On September 11, on a train to Italy, they fell in love and Mike was stupid enough to email me the news. He thought I would be cool enough to accept a three-way situation. I am not. I somehow wished that this had never happened and even that my love for Mai had never evolved. It was the days of the World Trade Center attack, and I felt that "never" had suddenly become actual and permanent. When Mai came back I asked her if I should write the word "never" on my back. She felt very positive about it. l f she wouldn't have liked it, I wouldn't have done it, therefore the tatto0 is her work because she "animated" it.

Is the tattoo a NEEN act?

It's definitely NEEN. This tattoo is a work by Mai Ueda, although she didn't think of it. She asked Mike Calvert to design it. Some NEEN acts are very different from the usual contemporary art projects. In contemporary art, artists prepare situations-performances, videos, installations-in order to produce something, a product, that is more or less predictable. NEEN people, by contrast, create without a scenario or standard forms, such as my NEVER tattoo. The person whose style looks more closely like the final form becomes the creator of the piece even if he or she did not think of it. The different participants behave like interconnected periph erals, but at the end, all actions revert to one person. Think of the final artwork as a disease, where the one who looks the sickest from it is its creator. Unlike many collective works, this working method is multiprocessing but not collaborative. It's the work of a single person, even if char person didn't know that he or she wanted to create it.

Does Neen affect your art and your vision of everyday life?

We are trying to define what could be a NEEN lifestyle. To do that we've borrowed the theory or multiple universes from quantum physics. For example, became or the 11 September incident in New York, I am simultaneously alive and dead. I'm alive because the airplanes hit the rowers while I was observing them from a friend's flat in Harlem. I'm dead because in some other universe the planes missed the World Trade Center and fell in Harlem instead, where I was killed.

Does that mean that ever since 9-11 you are a vampire half alive, half dead? This is the contemporary condition, according to the French philosopher Mehdi Belhaj Kacem: a state in which we are not able to die, nor able to live.

Correct. We must now determine the vampire behavior, and how to applies to all the people who were in New York on the 11th of September. to would be an interesting exercise for Mehdi.

Do you mean that according to NEEN, our life is made up of multiple universes that we activate? Are these multiple experiences equally real and virtual?

More or less. All this is under construction. But again, I'm nor a philosopher. Yet what we call virtual and real are no longer different-it they ever were different, which I doubt. According to the multiple universes theory, there is, for example, a Miltos Manetas who never undertook as an occupation and is now teaching letters in Greece, as his mother suggested. There is also a successful but frustrated installation artist named Miltos, because I have had success in art since leaving art school in 1992, and had no reason to start painting but did. All these versions of myself exist in a parallel universe to this one, from which I am now writing this email to you. It would be NEEN to think that if not all universes are real then at least the one closest to what you consider your reality is real.

How does Neen see the present and future?

One NEEN idea is the hypothesis that the past is not fixed, that it's a combination of features from the pool or possibilities that your life has created. I am now a painter, even if I had absolutely no talent until six years ago, because I decided to become a painter. Therefore, I select from the past the version of myself where I had an interest in painting.

How do you see the artworld today in which you are a successful non-Neen artist?

I don't read any magazines and I don't know who the famous artists of the moment are. I sometimes try to read them, but I get bored so I give up. I also don't believe in exhibitions. I'm sorry for all the curators around, but today most of them are less important than cafeteria waiters. Eventually, as contemporary art becomes some thing of local pride, each curator will be a personal muse um. What would be nice, would be if we allowed them to pass their museums to their sons and daughters.

Do you still consider the work of any artists of your generation?

I still think Vanessa Beecroft's work is surprising and beautiful. And I have fun with Maurizio Cattelan's pieces. The rest I find unremarkable.

Who are the worst artists today from a NEEN perspective?

Most of the famous British artists.

Does NEEN have a political meaning which might be an extension of an empire?

I wish it did, because that would be fun. We're looking for philosophers who can put together ideas for some thing like that. I recently discovered Antonio Negri, but he's a bit too Marxist for my taste, although I like his idea of a "multi rude" in contrast to people. He inspired me to install a cordon at EO, to separate VIPs from guests in our exhibitions. Democracy today involves ways to protect yourself and your friends from the public.

By categorizing visitors to your shows as VIP and visitors-by separating your public- are you calling the public the enemy? Are you questioning not what is the next revolution, but who has to be fought? If so, who is the enemy?

There's no enemy, there's only the annoying and the beloved. You want to keep the two apart, just like you would close the door of your room when you were fifteen when you and your friends were smoking dope and you didn't want your parents co bother you-even if it informed them 1ha1 something sinister was going on.

Do you thing that promoting privacy is a way to fight capitalism, because they will make fewer products and give away more information (as product)?


I think it's good when creative people lose money because then other people will be recycling their ideas. Most of the interesting people I know, immediately after they started to earn serious money, they became monkeys, ready for the zoo. I think if we get rid of intellectual property and copyright, the large companies will pay evenmore for ideas, because the payment will be the only way for them to distinguish themselves from others who use the information or products for free. All jeans companies can put my picture in their campaign, but only Levis has the power to pay me enough to endorse their campaign. There are, of course, people, including Noam Chomsky, who disagree (writing to us at with our anti-copyright agenda and who support the idea that creators who are not famous or connected will be left out and their works will be stolen. We believe that because of the Internet everybody is already famous and well-connected.

Does the NEEN project contradict your painting activity?

 Nor really, because I paint like a cleaning lady. I take the dust away from my images and prepare them to be used for the screen. An architect friend says my paintings fit well inside his constructions, while paintings by, say John Currin, look like shit. That's a reason to continue, I suppose.

You mean that your paintings look better as JPEG pictures on the Net than they do in a living room in Paris's 16th arrondissement?

In both places they look fine. I just consider their pres ence in the computer screen more important, because that will be the living room of the future.

What are the countries or places in the world that inspire you now?

Just Internet.

Do you think that, as Sloterdijk said, alternative people are the children o[ catastrophe, in a civilization of panic? Are you as cynical as some people think?

I'm not cynical at all. My role model is Socrates and not Diogenes. Anyway, it would be impossible to be cynical today because the establishment is so cynical already. I tend to see the capitalist machine as an operating system that is more digital than analog and therefore easy to hack. Hacking and piracy are our tools. It's more funny than dramatic, or at least it seems that way from this side of the ocean. This fact, or illusion, is the reason that I would never return to Europe. I was thinking today that I can't think of one reason that would bring me back to Europe, not for all the money, power, love, or success in the world. I'm better off as a little stone near the Pacific than an institu tion in the Euroworld.

Are NEEN artists conformist?

Yes, they are conformist. Being conformist means to fake your concession to a system. When a system becomes dangerous, to collaborate with it is the only way to continue to realize your dreams. Thar's what Negri did when he escaped to France and became an academic in the service of his enemies. Revolution is cooler, but artists are usually too lazy for revolution. Remember that the main occupation of an artist is to be close to the center of corruption so that it can be more easily observed and represented. We always want to be like Goya in the company of princes and kings.

Why do you often use the word 'fun' to describe art?

Not 'fun'- that's more for artists like Maurizio Cattelan   but 'cute'. I want to see really cute stuff -not like Mike Kelley's trash, but things that are cute like the clean-shaven face of Jesus in Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus, or cute like the "Strawberries and Pizza" flash animation by Mike Calvert. Cute and NEEN.


from Purple, no. 11,