Tag Archives: collaboration

Sculpting in Time and Space: Interactive Work

Sculpting Time and Space is a self-review of the interactive video installations of artist Nina Sobell and her collaborations with Emily Hartzell.  The particularly intriguing elements of this article were the elements of video, interactivity, performance and collaboration – all aspects I consider constitutive of my project. Questions of access, surveillance and participation are present here, too, and those interest me, as well.  

Sobell’s work began in 1971 and, while this article was published in 2001, much of the work takes place in the 1970s and the 1990s.  Thus, some of the specific methods Sobell (and Hartzell, but I’ll only mention Hartzell when the work is one of their collaborations) uses to achieve her desired (and what I read as potential) outcomes are outmoded in contemporary context.  Her work from the 1970’s is more about interactivity than interactive.  The Disintegration of Objects within a Sequential Time Period, for instance, was a video recording of people playing on Sobell’s physical sculptures.  These videos, documenting the break down of the objects as they were used and explored by people in a “public” space (a campus), were played sequentially in a gallery, to which she invited those who she anonymously taped to visit the installation.  A “couch” made of pieces of the disintegrated sculptures was placed in the middle to be sat upon.  This work complicates my notion of “interactivity” in the sense that the totality of the installation is more of a representation of interactivity than interactive.  That is not to say that I don’t appreciate the work; rather, I think that the interface limits the degree of interactivity. (I want to be clear that I am unsure to what extent “full” interactivity is possible, given that I do not have a settled definition of the term.)  In this case, the limitation is found in the use of video technology to record people interacting with physical objects (more interactive than video-viewing) – this video becomes a record of the moment of interaction, rather than being itself interactive.  The video projection is of interactivity, not interactive.  The viewers in the gallery is more flâneur than participant, thought their relationship to themselves in the video is slightly more complex than a binary of active/passive, as they are both viewer and object.  This is not to dismiss this work as simple or a failure in any way.  Sobell, at the very least, accomplishes something similar to Duchamp, in that she recontextualizes the video in a “fine-art” setting of the gallery and thus raises questions about interactivity, as well as the degree to which public spaces and fine-art spaces are opened/closed.  [More about Duchamp later, whether I want there to be or not…]

Sobell’s other work from this period begins to explore a more interactive arrangement, through the layering of the product of two brain wave patterns as Lissajous figures over live video of the two subjects hooked up to electrodes (Interactive Brainwave Drawing: EEG Telemetry Environment, 1975) and by placing herself behind a transparent partition with a phone, obstructing her gaze, and forcing the use of CC TV for the participant on the other end of the phone to use a split screen monitor to make eye contact with her, while viewers could privately watch from another, hidden spot inside the gallery (Videophone Voyeur, 1977).  The former addresses a collaborative feedback loop of expressive visual imagery that is both eminently controllable (the face) and mostly uncontrollable (brainwaves), in that viewing themselves on the monitor changes a portion of their output.  The latter force-mediates interpersonal interaction through video and audio interfaces; while this shows the boundaries of these technologies, it also allows for participation in the creation of an “artwork”.  Videophone Voyeur, though, maintains the control of the author, in the sense that Sobell creates the environment and means of communication.  The audience can participate within this framework, but does not create this framework.  During the installation (or perhaps performance art is a better term for this as its more active than an installation, to me) in Manchester, one participant asked to take Sobell’s seat, which moved her to the rear of the studio – a more interactive and more “digital” (the latter according to Critical Art Ensemble) form of performance.  

The other project I found particularly germane was Sobell/Hartzell’s work, VirtuAlice, a motorized cart with a telerobotic webcam attached.  Internet participants could view Alice’s field of vision and click the direction they wished the cart to explore.  The drive saw the directions on a monitor.  Each made eye contact through a rear view mirror.  Visitors to the gallery could also remotely control the camera to suggest the next direction.  This is the most collaborative effort mentioned in the article: remote viewers on the internet, remote viewers in a different part of the gallery and a driver all contribute to Alice’s motion (and memory; it’s recorded).  The limits here are that of the physical network (how fast data can be transmitted and decoded, viewed and retransmitted) and the willingness of the driver to obey the wishes of the remote directors. 

Next, I will transit from video installation/performance art to theatre, which is allowable, since it’s collaborative theatre and Nina Sobell says ArTisTheatre.

Whether We'll Weather the Weather Well

I think the best way to go about this is to explain what my project is and then bend it explain how it fits into the framework of the course.  

For my project, I’m “writing” a short story in video.  Another way of writing this would be making a short film/voice collage, but I think the first makes more sense.  The narrative is set in a newsroom on a day when a mysterious fan letter to one of the co-anchors is found and the President is visiting the studio.  The story will be told from a single perspective, but will concern each member of the news team.  The video will be approximately 30 minutes long and use a mix of footage from an “actual” newscast and “actual” commercials.  The text that I write (the story) will be told via voice over and, ideally, by a variety of narrators.  I would also like to “direct” the readers of my text, correcting them and asking them to reread whenever I feel my intervention is warranted.  And, the story will only be told during commercial breaks.  The newscast portion of the video will retain its original audio content.  

Based on this synopsis, my primary interests, as relating to course topics are collaboration, ownership, interactivity and control.  

The collaborative aspects of my project can be found in a few places.  The characters in the story are more-or-less equal in importance, in the eyes of the action of the story; though there is a single narrator, each character seeks to “solve” the mystery of the letter that destabilizes their environment.  The newscast, in general, is also a collaborative effort: team members present individual stories or segments of the “news” and present stories with their team members.  An unseen team of writers, contributing reporters, camera and microphone and TelePrompTer operators, directors and producers work together to create a final product.  Television is a type of collaboration between content producers and advertisers.  The video project composition is a collage, which implies an artist/creator/organizer-driven collaboration of media and artifacts into a single body.   By using multiple readers to tell the story, I’m also seeking to establish a feeling of collaboration in the production and delivery of the narrative.

What of collaboration then?  I’m interesting in exposing the collaborative process, hence the obvious merging of newscast footage with original voiceover during commercial breaks.  The correcting of readers is another attempt at revelation.  I want to reveal (and portray) the newscast as collaborative, as I see the breaking of the artifice of objectivity and of a single, unified message as an act of resistance.  Seeing the news as a collaboration of individuals will hopefully encourage a wide range of non-writing/producing/telling, which I see as a manifestation of the activist spirit and healthy for democracy, discourse and empathic connections between a constantly shifting community.  This utopia is in the mode of Benkler. If the seams of the quilt become visible, the thought goes, the world is recognized as artificial – and therefore able to be constantly recreated in a manner dictated by the desires and needs of individuals.  

Bordando el Manto Terrestre, Remedios Varo [source for images]

In an a/v collage, the question of ownership of the material is inherent.  I am appropriating a newscast and assembling commercials I find interesting or to have a particular relevance to my message and place them into my own context.  With the production of the news by a group of individuals for a network with shareholders and paid advertisers, the question of ownership is likely surprisingly simple – the network owns the product, per contractual language: CopyRight.  Yet, this collaborative work and its process seems to be akin to much of the GNU GPL, LGPL, or OSL programming work.  Is the key difference the profitability of the news, as dictated by advertising revenue?  If so, how does this principle effect the understanding, viewing and bias of the for-profit media?  Does the co-option of an “actual” newscast into a work of fiction destabilize any claims to objectivity through a similar path? 

The myth of true interactivity in games, applications and websites [and the seeming frequent mention of the failures of virtual spaces and networks to allow absolute freedom] is something that has continuously intrigued me throughout many conversations and texts this semester. Whether in relation to interfaces or aesthetic, it seems that digital culture often reinforces the limits of the analog world: physical barriers, aesthetic choices and, for new users especially, the utility of programs and tools intended and sold to make life more efficient.  And these barriers (accessibility) and aesthetic homogenizations (Facebook and similar social networking sites) can be seen as methods of control – they are limits to what is capable, so long as a user does not have a mastery over code, as almost all users do not.  This homogenization is especially apparent to me in the converging relationship between commercial and informative content.  Commercials are often creations of entertainment, mini-narratives that are more product placement than product pitch – cool by association.  Some examples that come to mind are BMW commercials name The Hire [2] directed by Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, David Fincher, Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, Tony Scott, Inarritu, Alejandro Gonzalez, Joe Carnahan and John Frankenheimer or the current series of Diet Mountain Dew Fact commercials [3] [4].

On the other side of the equation, programming is become more video-bite-sized with the rise and fall and sustained presence of reality television and entertainment news programming, such as E!’s The Daily Ten or, the ultimate example, VH1’s Best Week Ever.  The snippet-sized content flows into commercials almost seamlessly; in the latter example, the repetitive looping nature of the original piece of entertainment culture/celebutant “news” is surrounded, prefaced and followed by an endless loop of commentary from people defined by their occupation as comedians, actors and “television personalities” [isn’t everyone on television a television personality? another loop].  The show advertises what is coming up next several times in a segment, presenting a constant state of anticipation to the next “big” story feature – a rhetorical strategy typically employed as a segue to commercials.  Instead of commercials, however, VH1 gives the viewer more commercial-sized commentary on entertainment news.  I am left unsure of what I am watching is commercial or show.  It seems that everything is a preview for something that never arrives.  [Waiting for Heidi Montag?]  Vertiginous, schizophrenic and surreal are three adjectives that come to mind. 

[Can’t embed video from vh1.com and it appears that Viacom doesn’t like to allow users to post the video they own onto sites not owned by Viacom – and subject to their profitability.  This will get you to the available library of the show, if you’re interested.  Unfortunately, the episodes from 2004 aren’t available, which are the original experiments in editing-on-amphetamines while wearing sound-killing earmuffs.]

In my video project, I am choosing to use video to exhibit the limiting, passive nature of this visual and auditory digital medium.  The viewer clicks play and watches.  In particular, the limited use of voiceover during the commercial breaks forces the viewer to wait through the filler to get to the content – if they choose to continue watching, of course.  Ideally, I’d like to frame the video through a web page to further challenge notions of interactivity via applications and networks.  [This may depend on file size and resolution.]  The telling of the narrative during the commercial breaks is a furthering of m perception of the ambiguity between content and commercial – the content of this fiction takes place exclusively during the commercial.  The interference of the writer with the multiple narrators is another form of control, as well as a representation of interaction between writer and reader – a representation that is an artificial interaction.  


The Importance of Apostrophe

Rainbows End has a lot going on, in several directions, much like the reality it portrays on its pages and between its lines. On the surface, I’m intrigued at Deedee’s notion of SF/Futurist categorization. Having spent a semester in Pete Sands’ Science Fiction, Utopia and Dystopia seminar last spring, I could spend a lot of time waffling and pining of what is and what is not SF/Speculative/Scifi and how that is likely an ultimately useless discussion – an approximation intended to group similar, complex texts into an exact bin for the sake of generalization. (I’m going to avoid the market slant to this conversation, that books need to be labeled to be sold efficiently and without much explanation to the potential customer.) I’d rather spend this time talking about what’s happening in a specific text.

RE‘s discussion on overlays of virtuality/reality could have something to say about an act of defining a text as being “SFnal” or “literary” or whatever label you might want to apply. In a simplification, these multiple visual/auditory/tactile realities complicate the act of simple definition – in this case what is real and what is artificial. In many instances, these boundaries seem artificial. The practical consequence of sming, for instance, is an added method of communication, which can be specifically directed to an receiver, but also intercepted if a wearable is hacked. And while the words in sming are virtual (in the sense that they hang in the air and are only visible through a technological interface), really its just another instance of a language of representation, no different than what you’re reading here and now. The problems (and similarities between book and sming, or poetry and instructions, etc) still exist: you can read what someone has written for you, but it isn’t always clear what they mean. The nuances of language are difficult no matter the delivery system. Add in the essential quality of sming – that your message is silent to others who might occupy the same space – and this complication is reinforced. To sming “well”, the author is to hide any indication that they are communicating at all. No facial expression; no body language; no hand signals. The intended lack of expression during sming causes the entirety of the message (intent, emotion, inflection, tone) to be reduced to text.

I write about this with enthusiasm, as, in my fiction writing, I’m very interested in the ability of language to convey emotion (or any complex message) through artifice, how to acknowledge artifice, and how to transcend artifice. I want my cake and to eat it, too, I suppose. In fact, my “save the world” response from class (which I’ll likely post, now that it’s referenced) deals a bit with these notions.  [I’m also interested in cyborgs, hyperreality, and hybirdization, FWIW).  And RE deals a bit with the transcendence of Gu’s poetry, so I don’t feel too selfish raising this point.

Finally, the collaborative processes in RE raise concerns of praxis for me, mainly what are the social effects of crowdsourcing (thank you, in part, James Surowiecki) and, less important here, the shotgun blast assemblage and x-referencing.  I’m not so hot on database theory, so I’ll proceed with my reflection on the temporary communal authoring of the answer boards.  The fracturing of knowledge quest into simple individual tasks is certainly Taylorist, but its effect go beyond simple productivity.  It is an act of exclusion from knowledge in RE.  The individual affiliate is cut off from the meaning, practical consequence, and application of the knowledge they contribute to form.  And, the receptor of the “answer” is separated from the basic processes of knowledge acquisition.  The result is that the seeker of the answer must trust the individual efforts of incremental knowledge from various affiliates.  I want to be clear that these same issues occur for a student today, for instance, who looks to texts to discern an “answer” to any question, whether the field of study is physical or social science, humanities, mathematics, etc.

Thus, I am less concerned with aspects of accuracy, as I think that terms like “meaning”, “true” and “answer” are subjective and fuzzy.  I am interested in the seeming lack of human interaction that is inherent in the “answer board” – or in hardcore academic research in the library.  As a student sitting in a classroom, I think personal interaction (and there is a physical component, in my mind) is a major part of both learning and forming a community that can resist power structures.  So while the crowdsourcing could be viewed as a form of archipelago anarchism, I think it lacks the important condition of personal community.  That isn’t to say that successful community cannot be reached via virtual or technologically enabled methods; the answer boards, though, seem to lack an actual sense of empathic connection between affiliates, which causes them to be cut off from community (and shared knowledge), rather than enabling them to form personal connections.

I’d also be interested in looking at the overlap of real/virtual spaces in terms of Foucault’s concept of heterotopia and the hybrid nature of Rabbit