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technology in the '90s  

the interactive gambit (do not run! we are your friends!)

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A couple of years ago, I was invited by a German art publication called artintact to make a work for their third CD-ROM publication. What really was the critical problem here for me was that a CD-ROM presumes that interaction will be via the familiar comp uter interfaces - mouse and keyboard, which I had avoided in my other works altogether. I came back to the Jimmy Charlie piece, but took it even farther.

("JCJ-Junkman" tape segment)

I decided to make a play on the idea of the button-driven work, the familiar computer icon which acts as a guide in interacting with the software and hardware - the psychic point of focus. There is this ever-changing whirlwind of buttons and icons, obviou sly compelling one to try to click on one of them. What happens is that the notion of the icon or button as a sign representing a particular choice is destroyed - one simply will go after anything at all, in a rush to succeed on the terms set by the piec e. And what happens when one catches one of these buttons - not an easy job - what results is that the puppet starts to speak a phrase, and repeats it endlessly. So, almost immediately, you realize that, having gotten what you wanted, you don't really w ant it any more, and in order to get rid of it, you have to catch another one. So you're pulled into a manic frenzy of undifferentiated button-grabbing. There are no other levels, no score, no final outcome. Actually, all of the buttons and sounds in th is piece were scavenged from the Internet, and this is why the work is called "JCJ-Junkman". It is a kind of network parasite. I put together some software which, each time you hit a button, would go to websites and ftp servers, and download images and sounds, transform them to a certain size, make button-like effects on them, and put them into the game. What I imagined originally was that the CD-ROM you owned would be able to connect to the Internet, and that the person using it would eventually fill up their computer with these buttons and sounds - the more they used it, the more files accumulated - a computer tapeworm rather than a virus. But it was decided that the published version would be self-contained - and what is in artintact 3, as it was p ublished last December, is a kind of politely fossilized version of the project. Accon31

Anyway, when I made the first version of Jimmy Charlie Jimmy in 1992 I was also beginning research for another project, one which went off in another direction altogether. When I thought about "interactivity", I also had to think about earlier forms of i nteractive art, particularly as they involved notions from theater and performance art of "audience participation". This is an image of the work titled "Claim" by Vito Acconci, from 1971. He described it as follows (this is an excerpt from his text in Avalanche Magazine, Fall 1972):

"A two-level loft - at street level, next to a stairway door, a TV monitor records my activity and functions as a warning to viewers (a viewer decides whether he wants to open the door and come down). I'm in the basement, blindfolded, seated on a chair at the foot of the stairs - I have at hand two metal pipes and a crowbar - I am talking aloud, to myself - talking myself into a possession obsession."

In this kind of interactive work, which, for the artists, was clearly not theater, there is obviously another dimension. One is not interacting with the traces of the artist's gesture as left in a mechanical device or a computer program, but rather, with the artist, a person, directly, or, unwilling to interact, observing at a distance, through the video, with the clear awareness that what one sees in the video is happening at that moment, in real time, elsewhere. And because it is only one flight of st airs away, this form of telepresence had yet another dimension to it still, the possibility of moving from the virtual to the real and back, in the traversal of that flight of stairs. The interaction is open-ended, though of course defined by the frame c reated by the artist. Action, behavior, and language all create an atmosphere of a particular kind, and these can be understood to have coherent meaning as signs, as an authored work, not simply as "experience".

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