Tag Archives: Critical Art Esnemble

Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance

I don’t remember what search criteria found this on JSTOR, but it was the right combination.  By far, my favorite article of the group (still waiting on that message board-to-scriptwriter article…), as it has a unique understanding of digitality, allowing that concept to be extrapolated into a rich and pertinent (for me) discussion of collaboration, performance spaces and interactivity in the production of art.  

To start with, I find it highly appropriate that the article is written by Critical Art Ensemble, a collective author.  No where are the groups constituents listed.  They begin with a brief course through capitalist-influenced modes of production, from the analog (easily-controllable, due to its limited access, difficultly in reproduction, and top-down power structure) to the digital (Fordism, Taylorism, Mass Media).  Thus, CAE isn’t out to simply laud the digital for being more easily reproduced and disseminated; rather, they see the potential for resistance within the “process of copying – a process that offers dominant culture minimal material for recuperation by recycling the same images, actions, and sounds into radical discourse” (152).  To me, this is a powerful and useful definition of digital, practical for resistance through the (re)production of art.  Another aspect of their definition of digital is that, in the digital, “order comes from order” (153).  This is opposed to the analogic model of order-from-chaos (think Enlightenment models of science and [probably] Classical models of metaphysics).  I don’t claim to fully rap my head around “order from order” – to me, once potential understanding is that “things” (art in this case) can be formed from pre-existing “things” rather than from raw materials.  Granted, this works conveniently with my project of remix/collage.  

One of the implications of the article (and supported by my understanding of their definition) involves concepts of authorship and the line between author and audience.  That digitality does not rely on the assemblage of order from chaos means, to an extent, that digital theatre does not rely on a single creator.  Having read some Barthes and Foucault on the Authorship recently, it may be that I’m simply hot on this topic.  CAE’s discussion of Duchamp (the “avatar of digital aesthetics”) as appropriating objects and placing them in a new context, however, supports my interests, I think (155).  He didn’t make the urinal, but he did place it into a new space to create a conversation.  

Similarly, CAE moves theatre from the stage and into the streets.  They avoid a simple exchange of venue by decentralizing authorship.  For instance, in Sheffield, UK, CAE “performed” a work titled The International Campaign for Free Alcohol and Tobacco for the Unemployed, in which they displayed signs and gave away free beer and cigarettes in a public space outside a public transportation center.  Without a script or plan of action, the theory of this performance was to re-appropriate a public space as public, encouraging folks to mill about drinking and smoking and to “reveal some of the hidden structures of domination in everyday life” (159).  They did observe women tended to remain at the boundary of the assembled crowd, to observe rather than act.  But, this method can fail in this respect, too.  It is one thing for CAE to note the structures – but another to use the performance as pedagogy.  Also, the problem of bridging the local with the global is evident in ICFATU.  Failure (or lack of unity, in some instances), though, is a necessary consequence of the departure from the Author.  

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.

Sculpting a Digital Remix of Armageddon Object(s): Five Articles

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure where I’d find articles that were of both interest and applicable to my project. The interesting qualification would clearly be the easier to meet; but, how many articles on digital video collage* with a narrative overly and a mediated collaboration can there be? Well, through the UWM Libraries Meta-search, the answer is between 0 and 1.

So, I went more abstract for my criteria and picked up an article I’ve been wanting to revisit. The original string of terms morphed into performance and public space, masculinity and apocalyptic imagery, interactive video installations, remix and collage – all with a patina of digitality.

In no specific order:

Critical Art Ensemble, “Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance”. TDR, Vol. 44 No. 4 (Winter, 2000), pp. 151-166. MIT Press.

Hartzell, Emily, and Nina Sobell, “Sculpting in Time and Space: Interactive Work”.  Leonardo, Vol. 34, No. 2 (2001), pp. 101-107. MIT Press

Ulmer, Gregory L., “The Object of Post-Criticism”. Collage: Critical Views. Katherine Hoffman, ed. pp. 383-412.  Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989.  

Manovich, Lev, “What Comes After Remix?” <http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/remix_2007_2.doc> Accessed April 28, 2008.  

Quinby, Lee. “Virile-Reality: From Armageddon to Viagra”. Signs, Vol. 24, No. 4, Institutions, Regulations, and Social Control (Summer, 1999), pp. 1079-1087. Univ of Chicago Press.  

More a bit later… 

Edit:  I almost forgot that I’m waiting on an ILLiad request for a potentially awesome article about fan message boards influencing television writers and how audience feedback is looped into the creation of new content in a serial story. It focuses on TelevisionWithoutPity.com  – yay!