| Artifices 4 | du 6 novembre au 5 décembre 1996 | Salle de la Légion d'Honneur, Saint-Denis |

L'auditorium Conférences sur l'art des réseaux: "La parole aux artistes d'Internet"

      Jeudi 14 novembre 1996:

      Internet, communication et commutation, Jordan Crandall (États-Unis), X-Art Foundation/Blast, Geert Lovink (Pays-Bas), De digitale Stad.

      Présentation et modération: Maren Köpp

Conférence de Jordan Crandall : le Site X-Art Foundation/Blast

Présentation de Blast

I would like to present to you the issues I am currently exploring in our two new Blast projects, "blast5drama", which will be presented at Sandra Gering Gallery, New York, November 22 through January 4, and "suspension," which will be presented at documenta X this coming summer in Kassel. Both of these projects have an extensive presence online, and can be accessed through our website as well.

Blast attempts to reflect changing practices of reading, viewing, and authoring, both in its content and structure. It does this in terms of a publication, but it has evolved into something much more than that -- so much so that we hesitate to refer to it as a publication anymore. But at the same time, we are reluctant to abandon the term. We're looking for an entity that replaces the publicational form, as it is reworked through new technologies. This entity doesn't resolve itself easily to online or offline, analog or digital, physical or virtual, distinctions. It is a hybrid, as are its modes of access and determination.

Before I left New York, a few things occurred, which suggested a direction for my presentation tonight. As I was about to leave town, my studio-mate emailed me, and asked me to find a telephone number for her. She gave me specific instructions: go into my space, and look inside the right-hand pocket of the brown leather coat that is draped over the chair. I did this, and inside the pocket was a folded Krispy Kreme donut bag. I unfolded it and found, carefully tucked inside, a scrap of paper with a telephone number scrawled on it. I typed this number into the computer and emailed it back to her.

The other event was the new OJ Simpson trial, from which television cameras are now banned. In the absence of "real" coverage, actors have been hired to act out the daily courtroom scenes for television audiences. The day's events are immediately transformed into a kind of eerie soap opera.

The other event is the John F. Kennedy Presidential Limo Tour in Dallas, Texas. Let's look at what happens in this tour. First, you hop inside an exact replica of President John F. Kennedy's Lincoln Continental Presidential Convertible Limousine, and then you ride along the very same route that President Kennedy's motorcade traveled on that fateful day in November of 1963. Courtesy of 5-channel Surround sound audio enhancements, you hear the sounds of the cheering crowds as you make your way ever closer to downtown Dallas. At the appropriate moment, you suddenly hear the gunshots ring out. You then hear a stunned, confused crowd and a frantic radio announcer as your Limousine races toward Parkland Hospital to the mournful wail of a siren. The tour takes approximately 50 minutes and costs $25 per person.

Such formations are extraordinarily complex. We might see them as "immersive". These formations are much more than simply images or texts. They are images and texts that we enter into and expand in various ways. They are images that we are increasingly driven to inhabit. We might locate a virtual presence within them, or we might download them and expand them into the architectural spaces of our everyday lives. In either case, the image or text is dimensionalized. The viewing trajectory does not hit it from one side, because it opens up into a hall of mirrors and becomes a social field. One might see it, in fact, as infused with a certain agency, a certain speech, whereas before, it was mute.

Might then these formations be as worthy of study as, say, VR?

It is the objective of Blast to tackle these kinds of formations as editorial content. So let's continue with the publication metaphor and see what happens. As the image or text is expanded and deepened in this way (made immersive), what happens to its host surface -- the page? And what about the larger publicational entity of which it is a part?

We have lots of pages these days -- magazine pages and web pages. Usually, wherever you find a page, there is a publication. Structurally, we might say that a page is always part of a larger publicational system, and that publicational system is always comprised of individual pages. The "binding" marks their traversal.

But the publication and its binding are not always visible. It appears as though you can have pages without publications. Most web pages are not part of online magazines, and someone on the street who is handing out flyers is not part of a book. And not only does the page appear to be unbound, but it can offer up its own binding within itself, as in posted flyers that offer up parts of their own bodies to you, circulating and propagating themselves like seeds.

The binding, however, is still there. It is not only the glue that connects the pages, but the organizational structure the upholds the glue--the process of structuring and systematizing. It is the forces and practices that seek to hold together, to structure an experience and a form of perception, to enforce roles, to mobilize or immobilize a body. It is the attempt to give an illusory completeness, to frame, bind, reproduce discursive formations as pages, to systematize and circulate stacks of them in line with normalizing techniques and assumptions. What kinds of bodies, capacities, and behaviors does this binding help to shape? And what publicational forms do those bodies and behaviors help determine?

The person who hands out flyers on the street becomes, in a sense, a conduit for these forces and practices. Think about the patterns in which the information is offered, and the ways it is received or ignored, how the page intersects with each person differently as they go about their daily trajectories. Think about the splintering of viewing angles. Once in a while the page halts someone. Why? When was the last time you were halted in your tracks by a page? Ben Kinmont is an artist who works entirely with this sense of binding. In a sense he opens up the publicational form to allow traffic through it. He includes, within its structure, the lives of people--their desires, fears, concerns, movements, daily activities--and creates new forms as a result. It is as if the publication were torn from its binding, distributed in a one-on-one basis such that the page intersects with bodies, their movements, and their daily realities, and a new form and sense of binding appears as a result. The binding is simultaneously a structuring principle and an after-effect, and it structures the experience of the art.

Of course, these issues apply to web pages too.

What, then, about the page? What has it become? When we speak of web pages we speak in transportation metaphors -- we speak of "going" somewhere. We say, "I went to his web site." Web pages and their apparatus not only transport, but they grip the body, affecting it in powerful ways--more effective than "imagination", which was an earlier form of transport linked to print media. Even there, you were transported. To read a compelling story is to inhabit it slightly, to get a taste of the scenery and a feel for the people there. Good editorial transports you, takes you somewhere else, even though it doesn't necessarily move your body.

The web page, however, can more powerfully offer the illusion of transporting you, especially as it becomes more immersive. Your body physiologically responds--your heart pounds, your eyes dart about, and your hands clutch the mouse.

One could therefore see pages in terms of techniques of the body. As the mainframe dissolves and the drive toward cellularity and "mobile computing" leads to an immersion of computing into all aspects of daily life, such techniques of the body are certainly at work, as effects of the page dispersed. They position a body that has become unleashed from the mainframe and launched into circulation, internalizing new behaviors and patterns. This behaviors then rebound back to determine the structure and content of pages. Readers and pages bound and determine each other like dual ends of lassoes, each linked to incorporating forces and practices that form their conditions of possibility.

Pages then can be regarded as part of transportation mechanisms, even though they may not move the body in the traditional sense. It works both ways: you go inside the page, as a mobile entity within its confines. And you download the page into your daily life, surrounding yourself with it and internalizing its patterns. The page merges with space, or unleashes space, which it heretofore only represented. Space is suspended through the page, and this suspension is itself a structuring principle. How is a page accessed, navigated, and determined? How is a space accessed, navigated, and determined? And what kind of reader/navigator do these locate, what visionary faculties, what forms of figuration?

What is the mechanism through which all of this is instituted? We might regard it as a vehicular apparatus, or "vehicle."

We might then think of pages and bindings as part of vehicles. We might regard the vehicle as the transfer and engagement apparatus that upholds the image or text and its binding. The way in which we move about our daily trajectories is through vehicles. It is through vehicles that we drive right into the inhabitable formations like our Kennedy Limo Tour. We might be in the vehicle depicted there, or we might be "in" the slide and screen apparatus, as we are now. The window of the vehicle is the screen. The ways in which we might orient and hold our bodies now, and structure our awareness, are effects of this vehicle. The vehicle structures an interiority, an "in here" versus an "out there" beyond the screen. We think of the Kennedy Limo Tour as a disneyesque ride, but we're taking our own ride too.

In the vehicle the body is ensconced at a control board, its range of movements restricted by molded parts that contour it, trace its parameters, and subject it to highly disciplinary regiments. It might be travelling in a convertible, lodged behind a dashboard and windshield, or it might be travelling through a process of convertibility, lodged behind a keyboard and monitor. In each case small semi-automatic motions generate enormous changes in an outside world that configures on the glass. The patterns and trajectories that appear on this window are registered as motion, while the body is suspended in a bubble--a here and now of immediate presence. Leaving the vehicle to venture out into the exterior world beyond, it is equipped with an array of portable access modes and a drive to be continually plugged in through them. In this sense it does not really leave the vehicle but moves from one vehicle to another in the places where they overlap. The vehicle helps to mold the body and its behaviors, as it is molded through its adjacency to the body and its value and utility to it. The vehicle thus tends toward its own disappearance. Often we don't notice the vehicles we're in.

This is not to suggest that these very different kinds of vehicles are the same thing. Each is bound up within various fields of knowledge and practice. But we're looking at them here in terms of their transportation commonalities.

The vehicle is controlled by small, repetitive, and sometimes imperceptible bodily motions while the spaces across which it transports and the systems that bind it are gigantic in scale. The vehicle it that apparatus that materializes this incommensurability between the small and the colossal. It allows us to hold together this vastly contradictory relationship, and diminishes its own self in the process. The miniature vehicle and the gigantic spatial structure do not connect to each other in terms of a container/contained relationship, but are programmatically connected through artificially constructed protocols.

Blast, which originally was a box that contained editorial, slowly changed as these changing practices and forms were internalized. It registered a breaking apart of the page, and an insertion of objects into its space--mixing representations and "things themselves". As live and online material were incorporated, a further breakdown occurred. Its content was no longer located "inside", against a referential "outside" beyond the box. When you engage with a computer you're in a space of access--look at the material inside and outside of the monitor--what kind of publicational practice is this that has various forms within computer space and surrounding it that are moved, related, and compartmentalized in various ways? I mentioned earlier, the binding is not only a determinant, but emerges as an effect.

Therefore, the function of the container changed. Katherine Hayles, who is a Visiting Editor of our current project, blast5, might note that the difference between the earlier Blast container and the new vehicle is registered in the shift from a dialectic of presence/absence to one of pattern/randomness, where the operative moment is not one of radical separation and difference, but of mutation. This change is manifest not only in the material substrate, but in the codes of representation.

The vehicles for blast 5, designed by Sulan Kolatan and William MacDonald, are solid or hollow, and physically manufactured to range in sizes from about 2.5 x 2.5 cm to about 1 x 1 meter. They are no longer containers, but objects on par with other editorial content. They circulate as visual icons in various media. Their relationships, then, are not those of size, but of scale. While size denotes a quantitative material presence, scale is established by various correspondences to the familiar, and as such always changes relative to a context. The blast5 vehicle assumes a particular scale and significance in association with an everyday context or in relation to some other thing. Here they are being viewed through the scrim of another vehicle. Relations between the vehicle, between the vehicle and other Blast items--i.e., the editorial that was formerly contained--and between the vehicle and the world at large are not based on a preconceived hierarchy but on a more fluid concept of interorientation.

The vehicle is not neutral, however, but rather a cumulative index of multiple codes. These forms were derived from a range of transportation/immersion modes and their codes and protocols. For example, this vehicle is a hybrid of a car seat, a telephone, and a mouse. As with these apparatus, these vehicles reference an intimate realm that operates within close range of the body. They are distinctly "molded" through their relation to the human body, as if the body impressed upon them, imprinting them with its presence. (We worked with this our earlier project in referencing Helio Oiticica's Parangole, which became a "soft Blast"). They are also molded by their value and utility to the body, their ability to transport and the means of production from which they stem.

Again, as Kate Hayles remarks, the operative moment is not one of radical separation and difference, but of mutation, and this change is manifest not only in the material substrate, but in the codes of representation. Rather than interpreting Freud's "fort/da," Hayles suggests, contemporary theorists might look instead to David Cronenberg's "The Fly," particularly the point when the protagonist's penis falls off and he hardly registers it in the context of the larger metamorphosis he is undergoing. In this context perhaps one might look instead to Cronenberg's more recent film "Crash," where the mutational moment is glimpsed in the crashing of the vehicle, the moment when interior and exterior space interpenetrate and the car becomes something radically other.

This mutation is registered in the changing materiality of the vehicle and the body. After its injury, the body is fitted with corrective devices that resemble car parts, which seem to render the vehicle's disciplinary functions visible and its freedoms illusory. The mutation is also registered in the ways that its signification is constructed as it is increasingly intertwined with technical structure, like the twisting of surface gloss and interior hardware, metal and flesh, in the knotted car wreckage. In the vehicle collision one might find the moment when signification and materiality, body and code, conjoin in an eruption, a mutational moment that illustrates their inextricable interdependency.

Perhaps, in this sense, the editorial that appears upon the page is a kind of scar, which carries the trace of this moment as signification.

To spend time developing Web pages or hypertextual narratives is to realize how inextricably structure has become intertwined with signification as one flips back and forth between artist and technologist and the screen flickers between surface and depth, gloss and hardware. Signification penetrates deep into the screen, traversing it and immersing its audience within its extended, multilayered space. To be held spellbound before the screen in a vehicular apparatus is to watch the deep, multileveled dance of signification.