Digital America interviewed Benna Gaean Maris in April 2024 about her work HIC SVNT DRACONES (2023).


Digital America: You label HIC SVNT DRACONES as an “immaterial artwork”, a label that distinguishes it from the physical pieces in your multi-practice portfolio. Specifically, it stands out as an executable code in the form of a TXT file. The label of immaterial immediately makes me think about the piece’s accessibility, especially considering that implementation of the piece removes your portfolio website from at least two of the most popular search engines (G**gle and B*ng). What are your thoughts on the accessibility of immaterial work, either within or outside of the realm of Net Art?

Benna Gaean Maris: First, it is noteworthy that such a simple text can be an interface between humans and machines. The program routines interpreting such simple scripts were very basic, so humans had to adapt their language to the limited capabilities of machines. But now we are accustomed with very complex interpreters capable of understanding natural language, like the prompt phrases used to instruct the algorithms of artificial “intelligence”. So, today some people fulfilled their dream: to have someone who obeys their orders, and make the hard work for them. Writing is the recording of words, the speech, which is immaterial and yet it has an incredible power on whoever can understand it, but while other people may not comply orders, machines do (depending on who programmed them.) From a broad anthropological point of view, I would not be concerned about the accessibility of immaterial works, as we can see that today most of the flow of information, ideas and opinions is made of web 2.0 interaction involving the majority of people, and I would be more concerned in knowing how to prevent it, as people is secretly monitored and listened to, at home, in the car, using a mobile, outside walking in the cities. Artistically speaking, we have a complete range of possibilities and media to spread concepts through immaterial works: from bare speech or rhymes, to smoke signals or graffiti, to scripts and books, to radio waves, to the most advanced communication technologies, so the same idea or immaterial work can be made available over more channels, but this is a demanding task for the artist. Maybe the real issue is right the existence of many channels, many languages, many flavours, as this does not help universality, since people are divided into specialised enclaves or politicised ghettos, like the many social networks. About this issue, I think that the world of computing and engineering should work more on the creation of a universal communication protocol capable of automatically and interchangeably interconnect those many flavours, devices and technologies. I read of some attempts, but I think that this task is not as easy as it may seem, since translations, adaptations or reductions always lead to misinterpretations, errors and misunderstanding, so that would be more a philosophic task.

DigA: You encourage the dissemination of your work, notably HIC SVNT DRACONES, through downloadable files or invitations for bartering. Do you have a vision for the advanced stages of the dissemination of your work, if at all? What’s the end goal? 

BGM: The dissemination of works or thoughts would be gratifying, but I never wasted much effort in making it effective: after all the first reason why I make art is intimate. While I got some sincere support, I often consider my works like messages in a bottle thrown in the ocean by a castaway. For example, in my performance “wishful thinkers” I exactly did that: I threw some plastic bottles containing paper notes with artists names, facing the sea but out of reach, to finally trash the bottles into a public bin. There is no end or goal, except that of continuously disseminating works, like traces or bits, signals along the path: most people do not want to know your truth, but they like to discover their own. Reality is built by invisible particles, like rain drops: the slower they fall the more they wet, while a flood only brings destruction and washes away the soil. Further, also relating to the previous question, a need for deviating from the material creation and to stress the importance of conceptualism led me to the release of a Procedure Art manifesto, by which I just instruct people to make the artwork themselves. An immaterial artwork is easier to be disseminated and kept. For example, in Owning Darkness I turned people into human carriers of an immaterial artwork that they can enjoy, keep and renovate whenever and wherever they are, needing nothing but their own self.

DigA: Pragmatism and Animism and Marketing Keeled Free Web Like a Storm stand out among your portfolio as unique takes on music videos. These music videos not only deal with Net Art related subject matter, but the notes of songs themselves are MIDI like and highly digital. How far do you think your involvement in Net art has impacted your musical taste/practice?

BGM: Undoubtedly the digital epoch we live in has influenced both my practice and taste. I like also classic instruments, and ancient music and primitive art as well, to the point that I could have opted for a pre-modern style, but I understand that in order to speak to and to be understood by contemporaneity you must adopt the current languages and flavours. The near-vintage 8bit MIDI style is quite trendy today, a way to stand out in a mainstream ocean of professional productions that always stink commercial, and the good reception in many events of the pieces you cited confirms that.

Still from Pragmatism and Animism
Still from Pragmatism and Animism

DigA: The emerging threat of AI models, specifically in their need for often nonconsensually scraped user data, is highly relevant to HIC SVNT DRACONES. Artists Molly Herdon and Mat Dryherst ( (and others) are actively working against the use of scraped data through “Opt-Out ” API’s. Do you see HIC SVNT DRACONES as a part of a larger dialogue of artists responding to the growth of AI Models? If so, what kind of a future do you see for this resistance beyond art online?  

BGM: In “HIC SVNT DRACONES” I included instructions against AI data-harvesting bots, and, as you can see in the script remarks, the dracones (dragons, the sea monsters or perils) are right the various AI engines. I think that actually we are sailing toward the Pillars of Hercules, the unknown seas of near-future AI developments. The statement stands as a principle of caution. But although my work could be inscribed in that response against AI data scraping, I do not believe in copyrights at all. Somehow I feel myself honoured when someone steals or is inspired by my works. If a work is great, especially an immaterial concept, it automatically becomes human heritage, and it always should. Maybe you could not officially or materially own it if you did not pay for it, but in any case it will be acquired to stay in the mind of people, and that is a success. My personal conduct is that any work released on the net is lost, given away. I follow as a rule that you will never have any power on it any more, and cannot pretend or stop others feasting on it. In fact, anything I publish on-line, except what is meant to be freely distributable, is incomplete or watermarked or quality downgraded. I would not care if an AI or real people use parts of my work to elaborate their own, since to me, as a contemporary artist, it is important that the original completeness of an artwork is kept privately, so: simply do not upload whole original contents. I think that pretending laws against AI data scraping only leads to a more complicated fruition of the digital realm, and will not solve the problem anyway. For example: what is the purpose of the brand new switch in You*ube publication of videos to allegedly forbid AI scraping, when anyone can use applications to download any protected video anyway? It is just like an uncomplying search engine bot programmed to disregard robots.txt instructions. There will never be any security in the digital realm, so you must find your own way, controlling what you publish, not relying on alleged security and protection laws which real scope is controlling our life and make it more complicated.

DigA: Are you currently working on any new pieces?

BGM: If you mean music pieces, I have several ideas that I would like to develop soon. Song parody lately became a remarkable interest to me. And generally, the activities of an artist are many beside that of creating art, and in my case, the most important one is to have nothing to do, go outside, walk, watch, think and imagine new pieces, so, yes, I am working right now.


Check out Benna Gaean Maris’s work HIC SVNT DRACONES.


Benna Gaean Maris is an interdisciplinary artist who primarily works in photography, video, and digital graphics. She explores the potentials of poor materials and minimalism and how they can relate to and play off of metaphysical, human, social, and environmental issues. Maris’s work invites the viewer to question what it means to be a terrestrial earth dweller.