Friday, February 22, 2008

Soundings by Suzanne Delehanty

From SOUNDINGS, Neuberger Museum, SUNY Purchase, 1981

At the beginning of this century, sounds began to reverberate through the once silent and timeless world of the plastic arts. It was as if musical instruments, hushed for centuries behind the window of Renaissance art, suddenly stirred and resounded. How could it be otherwise? The melodies of Edison's phonograph, the roar of the automobile, the wireless wonder of Marconi, the smashing of the atom, and Einstein's theory of relativity had ushered in a new age. Artists, always the first to perceive the essential changes in the world around us, set out to give form to the spirit of the new era. For some, the utopian possibilities of technology and the machine became a primary source of inspiration. For others, imbued with the idealism of the nineteenth-century Romantics and Symbolists, the dream of an integration of all the arts offered refuge and salvation from the looming edifice of science and technology. This dream emerged from its slumber beneath the rational materialism of the last century to shatter the Renaissance concept of art as a silent and timeless mirror of nature and to release an art that is an equivalent of reality, a separate realm.

Sound, gathered from the space around us by our skin and bones, as well by as by our ears, is inextricably bound to both our perception and experience. Human thought is manifested in word and speech, while emotions such as joy and sadness are expressed in song and lament. The sound of sea, wind, and rain never cease to renew our awe of nature. Ambient sound, or the sound that surrounds us, gives us a sense of our proper bodily location in space. Noise, random, or unwanted sound often alerts us to impending events and to danger or else merely jangles our nerves. By contrast, sound ordered by the human mind-and exceptionally by chance-is music, a celebrated human accomplishment. The absence Of Sound is silence, the unknown; inaudible voices have always been metaphors for the visions of mystics and for revelations about an invisible world beyond our ken.

Sound, both heard and unheard, offered the first Modernists at the opening of the century a means to present their revolutionary ideas about the nature of the work of art, the artist, and the spectator. During the nineteenth century, the views of the Renaissance were transformed by the Romantics and the Symbolists, who came to doubt the truth of pure sensory perception. For them, art was not a study of nature, as the Realists and Impressionists maintained. Rather, art was the creative power of the word, the logos, out of which all things were made in the beginning; it was the power to create, borne out of inspired originality. In 1859 in The Mirror of Art Charles Baudelaire, the last Romantic poet and the first Modernist, declared:

It is Imagination that first taught man the moral meaning of color, of contour, of sound, and of scent. In the beginning of the world it created analogy and metaphor.

With Baudelaire the work of art shifted from the world of Renaissance illusion, or the factual description of objective reality to a new and third realm that mediated between the outer world of phenomena and the inner world of the spirit. Through the "magical operation" of the imagination, in Baudelaire's view, artists became creators who could stir new responses in the beholder. Artists were no longer merely skillful delineators of the visible world, they were now the creators of, and guides to, a completely new realm. This mystical role of the artist was echoed by the Dadaist Hugo Ball in his diaries written between 1910 and 1921: "When we said Kandinsky and Picasso, we meant not painters, but priests; not craftsmen, but creators of new worlds and new paradises."'

In this new realm charted by Baudelaire and explored at the end of the nineteenth century by the Symbolist poets and painters, sound in all of its manifestations became a vehicle for the advanced artists of the day to cultivate new paradises. Through sound and music artists not only banished the old separation between the artist and the onlooker, but they also broke down the old boundaries among the various forms of art. For some of these pioneers music became a metaphor for the ideal they sought, and it led to abstraction in art; other artists and composers invented new sounds or took sounds from the everyday world as material from which they might forge their new realm. Sound, music, noise, and even silence were temporal and, therefore, allowed the first Modernists to present the twentieth century's concept of time and space as a vital continuum in which the artist and the viewer and the subject and object of art were merged.

Temporal, immaterial, and abstract, noble since antiquity, music held out to the first Modernists a paradigm of abstraction. Their yearning to mediate between the world of phenomena and the world of the spirit led them to music and to the creation of non-objective art in the twentieth century. To the ancient Greeks, painting and sculpture were respected skills, or craft, while music, with its power to reveal the hidden order of the cosmos and to affect the soul and actions of mankind, was an art of divine inspiration. Music owes this place of reverence to the sixth century B.C. Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who discovered a correspondence between musical intervals and arithmetical ratios. His system of seven modes was based on the seven known planets, whose vibration in their heavenly orbits caused, Pythagoras believed, the music of the spheres.

The Pythgoreans' mystical concept of the harmony of the spheres gave music a noble place in the Renaissance's universitas literarum, the reason for the pride of place assigned to musical instruments in the fifteenth-century Gubbio Study. Leonardo da Vinci, the creative genius of his age, who invented speculative musical instruments, sought to elevate painting to the lofty position of music. In his Trattato della pittura, written at the end of the Renaissance, he likened the harmony of proportion in painting to musical harmony. In so doing he restated the commonly held theory of the Renaissance that the plastic arts were frozen music. Leonardo, insistent on the divine quality of the painter's imagination, even claimed that painting was superior to music because the sequences in painting were not fleeting, but permanent-timeless images that Could be contemplated indefinitely, The competition between music and the less noble plastic arts, which was prominent in the aesthetic discourses of the Renaissance, continued in the nineteenth century. In 1807 Goethe -- poet, painter, and philosopher -- observed that "a recognized theory of painting, as it exists in music, is lacking.'" Throughout the century scientists, fired by the belief that reason could penetrate all natural phenomena, sought, as Goethe anticipated, a mathematical foundation for color like that of music. The practical needs of the growing textile industry, for example, led the French chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul to the study of the laws of color; his book, first published in 1839, was widely read by artists in the last decades of the century. Charles Blanc, in his book The Grammar of the Art of Drawing of 1867, stated that "colour which is controlled by fixed laws can be taught like music."' The mathematician Charles Henry also investigated the mathematical base for color- in The Circle of Color of 1888. On a more pragmatic level, inventors such as Bainbridge Bishop and Alexander Wallace Rimington built wonderous mechanical color-organs to explore and demonstrate the relation between color and music. Their inventions anticipated similar studies by Hirschfeld- Mack at the Bauhaus in the 1920s.

The correspondence between music and the plastic arts also figured in the speculations of the century's poets and philosophers whose thoughts ran counter- to the empiricism of the age. It was the power of intuition to sense the mystery of the unknown, not the power of reason to make the mysterious known, that the German Romantic poet Novalis celebrated in 1801 when he wrote: "Everything visible refers to the invisible / Everything audible to the inaudible."' Byron shared Novalis's belief in man's ability to perceive a metaphysical reality behind the physical reality and in the doctrine of the harmony of the spheres bequeathed by the Pythagoreans. "There's Music in all things, if men had ears: Their earth is but an echo of the spheres. Arthur Schopenhauer's The World As Will and Idea, published in Leipzig in 1819 and translated into French in 1889, was air influential source of the growing conviction among Symbolist painters and poets that music was the key to vast expanses beyond rational comprehension:

The composer reveals the essence of the world and pronounces the most profound wisdom in the language that his reason cannot understand; he is like a mesmerized somnambulist who reveals secrets about things that he knows nothing about when he is awake.

That there was a correspondence between music and the visual arts was a common conviction among both artists and musicians in Germany, France, Italy, and Russia during the first decades of this century. In his search for air art that satisfied the inner- necessity that he felt within himself, Wassily Kandinsky found the transcendental quality of music vastly attractive. For Kandinsky and Frantisek Kupka, the pioneers of abstraction, color and non-objective forms in painting were analogous to music, to tire inner- Sound that Kandinsky sensed, but could not see in the world around him. About 1910 the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin conceived Prometheus: A Poem of Fire, a symphony with color equivalents created by one of the new mechanical inventions of the age, the color organ. Arnold Schoenberg, whose intellectual affinity with Kandinsky sparked a lifelong friendship, wrote in The Blue Rider almanac published in Munich in 1912:

Kandinsky and Oskar Kokoschka paint pictures in which the external object is hardly more to them than a stimulus to improvise in color and form and to express themselves as only the composer expressed himself previously.

Kandinsky's writings and general interest in the relation between the plastic arts and music before the First World War was echoed in the work of the American artists and founders of Synchromism, Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell; the latter sought "painting capable of moving people to the degree music does." 9 Russell even envisioned a machine that would synchronize colored light and sound. Sound also inspired Georgia O'Keeffe, who found that "music could be translated into something for the eye." In Miró's gouache from 1940, the song of the bird and the patter of rain are auditory images that coalesce into a melodious pictorial space that, like music, sweeps us into the realm of the imagination hailed by Baudelaire.

When the plastic arts were liberated from the portrayal of tangible reality- prerequisite to the discovery of abstract art-the traditional materials of painting and sculpture, such as oil paint, tempera, linen, clay, and marble, gave way to whatever material artists needed to create their new fictive realm. With the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the machine in the nineteenth century, new technologies appeared to extend, and even replace, the natural materials that painters and sculptors had previously used to shape illusions of reality. Alexander Graham Bell was only one of the inventors who transformed the age; though his telephone music and speech were miraculously transmitted between Boston and Providence in 1876. Soon after Thomas Alva Edison produced a speaking phonograph that talked, whispered, and sang. During the last decades of the century, Sears, in their mail-order catalogue, advertised lantern slides accompanied by recorded songs, and in Edison's laboratory, William K. L. Dickson developed the Kinetophone to synchronize sound with moving pictures. The technologies and machines that were spawned in the nineteenth century-a source of both wonder and anxiety-produced a whole new class of man-made objects that Supplied artists with a hitherto undreamt of array of materials. At the same time the machine, held in contempt by Baudelaire and other idealists, created the modern world that compelled some artists to fashion a new realm from machine-made materials or to redeem traditional artistic materials by casting them in new form and imbuing them with new meaning.

For the Italian Futurists, who united in the first decade of the twentieth century, noise and sound expressed the power and speed of the new age. In 1913 in his manifesto The Art of Noises, the Futurist painter and musician Luigi Russolo proclaimed:

Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men.

The Futurist painters like Russolo and Gino Severini employed the traditional medium of oil painting to make new images that suggested the sound and dynamic movement of the era. Russolo even invented musical instruments that imitated the noise of machines and presented his Intonarumori, or Noise Organs, in concert in Paris in 1914 and later in capitals across Europe. Other artists, led by Duchamp, took man-made objects and natural materials from the real world into art's fictive realm. The composer Erik Satie turned airplane propellers, Morse-code tappers, and typewriters into musical instruments for his score for Parade, a performance that outraged all Paris in 1917. Taking the lead from Duchamp and Satie, John Cage in 1952 composed 4'33", a piece in which the performer sits before a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds without sounding the keyboard. The music is our perception of silence and ultimately of non-silence, for sound is found everywhere, even in what we expect to be silence. Cage's student David Tudor, with the members of composers Inside Electronics, a group of visual artists and musicians, explores the resonant qualities of such found objects as oil drums and copper plumbing fixtures in Rainforest IV. With The Glass Orchestra, the eighteenth century's fascination with the celestial tones of objects made from glass has been imaginatively renewed since the 1970s.

The desire to explore the fundamental physics of acoustics has also led the composers Takehisa Kosugi and Alvin Lucier to new materials. Sound waves quiver into visibility in sand, salt, and sugar in Kosugi's composition and thread before our very eyes in Lucier's Music on a Long Thin Wire of 1977. Lucier's piece was suggested by the experiments that he observed in an acoustics laboratory, and on other occasions his music has been inspired by brain waves, conch shells, and the nocturnal flight of bats. As music became more material, sculpture adopted musical qualities. Since the 1960s such Sculptors as Baschet, Agam, and Bertoia have explored the sonorous qualities of metals in their instrument-like sculptures that not only appeal to both the eye and the ear but were built to be touched and stroked like musical instruments.

Before the First World War, both painters and poets came to recognize that letters and words, freed from mere description by the Symbolist poets, were simultaneously visual images and aural signs. Words entered the plastic arts, and visual images joined poetry. Kandinsky, in his book Sounds of 1912, used words to stir impressions in both the eyes and the ears. A few years later the poet Guillaume Apollinaire stretched the lines of type in "The Rain" into a gentle shower on a leaf of Calligrams, while the violence of battle blasted into new typographical frontiers in the foldout pages of Futurist Words in Liberty written by F. T. Marinetti, the poet and flamboyant founder of Italian Futurism. Through fragments of words cut from newspapers, Braque added elements chosen from the tangible world to his painted fictions in order to evoke our auditory sensations and powers of association. The word alone as a pure abstraction, like a musical note, gave birth not only to Kandinsky's poetry and to the mystical incantations of Hugo Ball but also to families of secret languages, in which the word lost its original meaning and assumed mutable interpretations in the fictive realm of artistic creation. The Russian Futurist poet Victor Khlebnikov in his invented language Zaum reduced words until nothing was left but pure sound. Kurt Schwitters created a nonsensical language, which he named MERZ, and used it to fabricate sound poems, which were published by his Merzverlag in the twenties and thirties.

The transmission of Schwitters's Ursonate or Archetypal Sounds on German radio in 1932 carried his art to a wider audience and showed, as Marinetti and Bertolt Brecht had demonstrated in the same decade, that radio could be a medium for artists. László Moholy-Nagy used sound in quite another way. In 1922 he ordered works of art by telephone and thereby used the spoken language and modern technology to distance himself from the art object to point out that the artist's conceptual process is more essential than the materials used to create art. Since Schwitters and Moholy-Nagy made their bold experiments, the development of the telephone, radio, and recording industry has allowed sound to be extended or stored to hold the past moment in the present, like traditional painting and sculpture, or more aptly the camera's image. These discoveries -along with talking films, which became a commercial success in the late 1920s, and television, which was mass-produced after the Second War.

War-expanded artists' interest in the aesthetic as well as the political and social influence of the systems of mass-distribution and global communications. Since the 1960s many painters and sculptors often working in collaboration with engineers under the auspices of the organization Experiments in Art and Technology-have made records, films, videotapes, and multi-media works, such as the Pepsi Pavilion for Expo '70, and frequently have used these technologies side by side with the more traditional materials of the plastic arts. In the sixties many artists also turned to the transitory medium of events and performances, which have a long genealogy in our century. The Dada performances of Hugo Ball at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916 and Gilbert and George, the British artists who transformed themselves into singing sculptures in the late sixties, are just two examples of the transformation of the artist's own body and voice into the material-the object-of art.

The expansion of the materials of art to include sound, noise, music, silence, and the spoken word-all invisible to the eye-satisfied the desire of artists to present the passage of time in the once timeless world of the visual arts. At the beginning of the fifth century B.C. Heraclitus saw the world in flux. In the transmission of the philosophy of the Greeks to the Renaissance, Heraclitus' view was subsumed by a concept of time as a sequence of measurable points that could be arrested by the laws of Renaissance perspective and symbolized by an hourglass held captive in the illusory stillness of representation. This mechanistic notion of time was overturned at the end of the nineteenth century by the philosopher Henri Bergson, who echoed Heraclitus in his influential book of 1889 Time and Free Will. Bergson saw time as the ever changing process of duration and movement in which the past flowing into the present could not be truly discerned by either the human consciousness or memory.

In the twentieth, century the use of sound allowed visual artists to express duration in Bergson's sense. Sound, both implied and actual, became inseparable from the realization that the viewer's perception of a work of art transpires in time which, as John Cage has observed, "is what we and sound happen in." The artist's gestures and their moments of thought also unfold in time. In Man Ray's Indestructible Object of 1923, remade in 1958, for instance, the sound of the metronome recalls the artist's process: the eye is the viewer in absentia, who watches the artist working in the solitude of his studio. Sound is used for a similar purpose in Robert Morris's Box with the Sound of Its Own Making of 1961 and in the series of paintings with accompanying records that Roman Opalka began in 1965. Howard Jones, whose sonic wall relief from the sixties responds to human activity, considers that "light and sound, like life and thought, are actively involved with time, change and interval."" Time and change were also the substance of the ephemeral mixed-media events that George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and other Fluxus artists staged on both sides of the Atlantic in the early sixties. Like the concurrent and often overlapping Happenings of the Pop artists, these audio-visual actions exist today only by recollection or in such announcements as George Maciunas's 1964 poster for the Perpetual Fluxus Festival. The Fluxus artists' choice of the word "perpetual" may seem contradictory but, in fact, it signified that time and change, rather than static permanence, are the material of life and, therefore, of art. Perpetual change is also at the heart of Jean Tinguely's Tokyo Gal of 1963. In this flirtatious assemblage of found objects and old radio parts, sound inseparable from movement expresses Tinguely's belief that "everything changes, everything is modified without cessation; all attempts to catch life in its flight and to want to imprison it in a work of art, sculpture or painting, appear to me a travesty on the intensity of life!"

Just as sound and music offered visual artists a means to present the invisible but unending phenomena of time, it also allowed artists to describe time's equally invisible correspondent, space. The science of acoustics, which was well known to the theater builders of ancient Greece and important to the architects of the Renaissance, was established in 1877 by the British physicist Lord Rayleigh. The ancients' view of space as a unified dimension of the world-an emptiness in which all bodies have a place continued in the Renaissance and provided a foundation for perspective which allowed artists to create an illusion of spatial depth that mirrored, yet was separate from, the space in which we stand. This construct of space upon which the plastic arts were formulated in the Renaissance collapsed at the end of the nineteenth century. With the introduction of non-Euclidean geometry and with Einstein's theory of relativity, the static view of objects in space was replaced by the dynamic view that, in fact, objects, movement, and space but formed an indissoluable union in the space-time continuum, in which all acoustical phenomena, as well as all human experiences, transpire.

Around 1910 in Munich, Paris, Berlin, Milan, and Moscow, the Abstractionists, Cubists, and Futurists abandoned the centralized perspective that, along with the frame and the pedestal, set the viewer distinctly apart in Renaissance painting and sculpture. The Cubist painter Braque, for example, dissected the forms of the violin-albeit an image of a violin compressed irrevocably on a two- dimensional surface-to suggest the melodious sounds pulsating in time and in the air around it. By so doing, Braque played upon and entwined our sense of sight and hearing and thereby extended our range of visual perception which embraces one-hundred eighty degrees of an imagined circle to three hundred sixty degrees; for our ears perceive what is above, below, and all around us in space.

In the last two decades, artists have used actual sound to investigate our experience of space itself. Bernhard Leitner, trained as an architect and urban planner, considers sound and its movement, rhythm, and intensity as events in time. In his room-like environments from the seventies, Leitner has created new perceptions of space with intersecting invisible lines of transmitted sound. Max Neuhaus, who abandoned a career as a virtuoso percussionist in 1967, has made more than a dozen sound installations in such unexpected locations as Times Square, where he amplified a ventilation chamber of the subway to create a volume of activated space at street level. While invisible-and not generally identified as a work of art Neuhaus's environmental piece may be perceived aurally by attentive passers-by. Bruce Nauman, by contrast, warps our habitual way of hearing and its capacity to inform our sense of proper physical location in space by removing or reflecting the ambient sound along his thirty foot wall constructed from acoustical insulation. When we walk past Nauman's wall, the presence of ambient sound in one of our ears and its absence from the other alters our customary sense of balance. For Liz Phillips "air is a material." With an archway of delicate copper tubing and a bronze screen that receive and project electronically controlled sounds, somewhat like a Theremin or proto-synthesizer, Phillips creates what she calls capacitance fields that make the space sensitive to our actions, our weight, and density and allow us to mold and shape sound as if it were plaster or clay that a magician had removed from our sight, but not from our touch. The singing bridge of Doug Hollis gathers the wind to make "spaces to be discovered by the ears."

If sound, music, and noise offered visual artists a means to represent the continuum of space-time, it extended artists' ability to elicit new responses from the once passive onlooker. The spectator had not always been separated from the work of art and its creator. In archaic Greek rituals the audience and performers were originally a chorus in the transformation of daily life into the heightened form of art with poetry, song, images, and movement. The spirit of rational inquiry reached its height, however, during the age of Pericles, when Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles codified rituals into dramatic presentations that unfolded on a stage that separated actors from spectators. During the Renaissance and into the nineteenth century the separation among the performing arts was elaborated into opera, ballet, and theater. The composer Richard Wagner, however, reunited music, dance, and narrative in spectacular operas that were conceived to envelop the spectator in a flood of sensory and emotional experiences. The total fusion of all artistic media, which Wagner called Gesamtkunstwerk, were akin to the longings of Baudelaire and the Symbolist poets and painters, who became the composer's ardent champions. At the same time that artists were seeking synaesthesia, or a new unity of all the arts, Hermann von Helmholtz was examining interconnections among natural phenomena. Von Helmholtz, a giant of nineteenth-century scientific thought, published his lifelong study of acoustics, optics, and human perception in 1894 at the end of his life in The Origin and Correct Interpretation of Our Sense Impressions, in which he established that our physical sensations are inseparable from our unconscious mental processes of memory and association.

In the first decades of the twentieth century synaesthesia motivated Kandinsky and Franz Marc in their influential almanac of 1912 called The Blue Rider. As Kandinsky later explained, they wanted their yearbook "to eliminate old narrow ideas and tear down the walls between the arts, and ... to demonstrate eventually that the question of art is not a question of form but of artistic content."" The Cubist painters sought, as did Kandinsky, to create, not an illusion of reality, but our vibrant experience of it through artistic forms that encompass all the senses; the form of Picasso's violin, for example, actually reflects the way we see. Similarly, Gino Severini has surrounded us with the suggested movement and sound that fill the environment of the machine age in Festival at Montmartre of 1913. Severini's picture reflects the statement that appeared in the Futurists' exhibition catalogue of 1912:

With the desire to intensify the aesthetic emotions by blending, so to speak, the painted canvas with the soul of the spectator, we have declared that the latter 'must in the future be placed in the center of the picture.

In Marcel Duchamp's readymade of 1916 With Hidden Noise, we are invited to wonder what exactly is concealed within the ball of twine. Our speculations, for Duchamp, complete the cycle of exchange that he, the artist, created. Duchamp's ideas were carried on by John Cage, who has been a seminal force in all the arts since 1945. Cage, a student of Arnold Schoenberg, found sound in silence, and music in the pedestrian noise of the workaday world. In 33 1/3 of 1969 Cage made an environment of record players and randomly selected LPs. The viewer chooses and plays the records and thereby completes Cage's gently tongue-in-cheek, participatory work. Robert Rauschenberg, who studied with Cage in the early fifties at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, believed that art is a mediator between illusion and life and "is a means to function thoroughly and passionately in a world that has a lot more to it than paint. In Music Box of 1953 Rauschenberg uses three pebbles as percussive elements to tantalize our sense of hearing, touch, and play, whereas in Dry Cell of 1963, a collaborative work with engineer Billy Klüver, our shouts and claps elicit a response from the once-silent art object. Nam June Paik, also a student of Cage and a central figure in Fluxus, has created a number of works that are neither totally visual nor totally musical, but belong to the hybrid category intermedia. In Participation TV of 1969, for example, the viewer creates the visual image on the TV screen by speaking into microphones that Paik has wired to what is now a vintage model television set. With David Tudor's Rainforest IV of 1973, realized by Composers Inside Electronics, the viewer is an integral part of the work. Rainforest has extended the implications of Erik Satie's ambient Furniture Music of 1920. Like Satie, whom Cage and Tudor admired, they have overturned the traditional view that music is performed at a specific time in a proscenium space in which the performers and audience are separate.

The desire to reintegrate the arts, in which sound in its manifold forms has played a significant part, has taken artists in this century far beyond the traditional purview of painting and sculpture to their own bodies and voices, to time and space, and to the environment. In 1909 Kandinsky, freed from all restrictions on media, created The Yellow Sound, an abstract composition for the theater in which the sounds of the human voices-words without meaning, music by composer Thomas von Hartmann, movement, and color all merged to create an atmosphere that would unleash inner experiences or "vibrations" in the spectator. More recently Meredith Monk and Robert Wilson are among the artists who have followed the nineteenth century's search for a synaesthesia of the arts most fully. In 1976 Wilson, in collaboration with the composer Phillip Glass, created Einstein on the Beach, a five-hour opera of slowly evolving visual and musical splendor. Since the 1960s Meredith Monk has created a body of works for which she not only composes the music but also creates the narration, choreography, visual design, and film sequences. In Recent Ruins of 1980, from which Silver Lake with Dolmen Music is drawn, Monk retrieved layers of time and space, whole worlds, from the past. The inspiration for these worlds began with a sound-the sound of her own voice in song and incantation.

The entrance of sound, both heard and unheard, into the plastic arts heralded nothing less than a new beginning. In this beginning was the word, the spoken word, ambient sound, noise, music, and silence; all allowed artists to transform the visual arts into a new and third realm. In this realm, compounded in the artist's mind of physical and metaphysical reality, the once discrete, static relation among artist, art object, and viewer began to quiver and resound. The artist, once merely a craftsman, became a creator. The onlooker, once solely a passive observer, became the artist's collaborator. The work of art, once silent, permanent, and timeless, became a hybrid object that began to resonate in a third realm beyond the worlds of illusion and reality. Sound announced that human experience, ever changing in time and space-the substance of life itself-had become both the subject and object of art.

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The Dialectics of Legacy

Visible Language, 2006 by Friedman, Ken, Smith, Owen


Legacy involves difficulties, for those who inherit and for those who do not. The history that is a gift and a burden when it involves art is equally problematic when it involves the Fluxus intermedia forms that hover between art and life. This article explores the challenging questions of Fluxus legacy: the right to participate in a discourse network, canon formation, literature development, the work and feelings of younger artists toward a heritage that some demand and others reject. These issues particularly vex the Fluxus legacy. An invisible college of artists, composers, designers and architects created Fluxus. It functioned as a laboratory of experimental ideas. The Fluxus challenge to art and the art world took place on political and economic grounds and involved artistic means and philosophical principle. The shift of Fluxus discourse from outsider status to historical standing is bound up with and transformed in meaning by the institutions that collect, preserve and interpret historical artifacts and documents. These artifacts and documents once tried to tell different versions of the Fluxus story to a relatively uninterested world. Today, they tell a complex and often misunderstood story to a world that seems to be interested in Fluxus for precisely wrong reasons, a situation that defeats Fluxus with the trappings of success. This article explores the dialectical and hermeneutical work of recovery, to address the challenge of legacy by examining its many aspects.

The question of legacy is always beset with difficulties. Whether legacies involve art, politics or medieval duchies, groups of artists or family firms, the same questions emerge.

Who inherits? Who has the right to inherit? What is the heritage? What rights does legacy confer? What obligations does legacy entail?

The word "legacy" suggests the questions. Going back to a Middle English word meaning both the office of a legate and a bequest, the word came from older Anglo-French and Latin words meaning legate, deputy or emissary, and the Latin verb legare meant to deputize, to send as emissary or to bequeath.

A legacy is a bequest. In legal terms, a legacy is the gift of money or property bequeathed by a will. Donors transmit legal legacies through a will or testament, often bound with conditions or a contract. Few bequests come without obligations, and most legacies imply responsibilities. For those who bequeath it, a legacy entails deputation and it transmits wishes.

In the larger sense of the word, a legacy is something transmitted by ancestors or predecessors on one side, and something received from them on the other. In another large sense, a legacy is any transmission we receive from the past. Such gifts always come with the responsibilities of "ownership" and a necessity to continue the viability of the property or lineage.

This is the second of two special issues of Visible Language. Both address the problem of legacy, each in a different way.

In the first issue-Fluxus and Legacy1-four art historians addressed the question of legacy in historical context. One must place the historians in context as well, since two of them- Bertrand Clavez and Owen Smith2-practice art. The third is Ina Blom, who has also been a music critic. Hannah Higgins3 is the fourth. She was a rock musician and she took an active part in Fluxus exhibitions and concerts. Moreover, Higgins is a "Fluxkid," the daughter of two Fluxus artists, and her contribution brought together seven of her fellow Fluxkids, each of whom shared his or her reflections on a life in Fluxus and a role in the Fluxus legacy. The fifth author, Ken Friedman, works as a scholar for his "day job." He, too, lives a second life as an artist active in Fluxus since the 19605.

This is the second special issue of Visible Language to address the Fluxus legacy-here, we explore the way that several artists see the Fluxus legacy and their role in it. Perhaps, from another perspective, we explore the way that several younger artists see the Fluxus legacy in their lives and work.

Ann Klefstad addresses two issues. One is the question of legacy in Fluxus, and the difficult relationship between the artists long known as Fluxus artists and younger artists who consciously work in the tradition that these Fluxus artists established. The other is the question of how these artists themselves see and pursue their work. Lisa Moren addresses the same problematic in a completely different way. Assembling a composition of event scores, old and new, she creates a conversation across generations of artists and among bodies of work. Celia Pearce addresses a body of work rather than a legacy, considering the heritage of games in the current digital world, a heritage that goes back to Duchamp, moving into the contemporary art world via Fluxus before taking a radical new turn that often bears no relationship to what might once have been seen as its roots. A legacy is a past and future joined, and they are joined in a conversation. To highlight some contemporary views on this interaction, we requested twelve artists who have described their work in terms of a Fluxus legacy to consider the relationship between their work and the work and ideas historically associated with Fluxus. This segment presents a statement or response and a selection of works. While this collection is intended as a reference to forms and directions that Fluxus has inspired, our selection is neither comprehensive nor intended to serve as a guide limiting other possibilities. The last contributions to this issue are a bibliographic essay by Ken Friedman on one of the key repositories of that conversation, the literature of Fluxus. The essay and the selected bibliography by Friedman and Owen Smith that follow allow each reader to enter the conversation, as he or she will.

The larger Fluxus conversation raises puzzling challenges. There is wide agreement that Fluxus poses (or posed) a challenge to the art world and to its practices. This leads to a conflict between the work itself and an attempt to preserve the work in the institutions designated by society to preserve such artifacts-museums, libraries, special collections, foundations. This conflict is exacerbated by the tendency of private collectors, gallerists and their markets to follow the museums in collecting. There follows with this a second difficulty: the perpetual struggle of artists to make a living while creating, a struggle that leads people to seek the support and temptations of the market while avoiding the market forces that tempt and occasionally support them.

There are apparently no exemptions to the function of the art markets. Those who study the sociology and economics of art in an effort to find better ways to further the ideas and issues embodied in works of art are generally disappointed. The art market and arts institutions have a reasonable logic. This logic is difficult to escape. The fact that this logic often subverts the energy of the work is a separate and distinct problem. One can escape at a price: the price requires distance from the art world whose institutions and institutional culture form a well structured whole. This distance means, in turn, that the work of those who escape takes place outside a culture that cannot, in turn, focus on or receive the ideas and issues contained in the work, let alone embrace it or be influenced by it at a fundamental cultural level.

These issues and problems constitute a secon set of dialectical tensions, compounding and compounded by the dialectics of legacy. When it comes to Fluxus, the story becomes a labyrinth. We will enter the maze more deeply in the future.

This special issue reminds us of a conversation we had one afternoon long ago, in the run-up to The Fluxus Reader.4 We concluded that every viable conversation on Fluxus is both a beginning and a summation. Back in the 19805, George Brecht wrote, "Fluxus has fluxed." A few years later, Emmett Williams said, "Fluxus has not yet begun." They were both right.

Those who believe that Fluxus involves ideas and attitudes more than objects feel that there is a future Fluxus that intersects with and moves beyond the Fluxus of artifacts and objects. This question is the focus of our two issues of Visible Language, first Fluxus and Legacy and now Fluxus after Fluxus.

People today are attracted to Fluxus because it is perceived as open, inviting and fun. It gives permission and it is permissive. Nevertheless, this permission carries a responsibility with it. That responsibility is at the core of debates surrounding the Fluxus legacy. What is given? What are the resulting responsibilities?

The question of legacy highlights the different stresses and fault lines in the struggle to take command and possession over a Fluxus that is either (or both) a proposal and a process, or-now-an unwilling stakeholder in an art market that Fluxus never intended to enter.

The fault lines involve more than protagonists of one view or another, adherents of one kind of work or another. Now these issues involve a demand, a claim over the entire history, the right to interpret the meaning of a body of work and a network of bodies of work. Others seek to establish monetary or talismanic value for one body of objects or another. They seem to discount, discredit or disenfranchise the other possibilities of Fluxus. That makes no sense in a laboratory, let alone a laboratory of ideas and social practice.

Nevertheless, those who seek to maintain a living tradition also make problematic demands. Ann Klefstad probes some of these questions in discussing the notion of canonicity. The concept of a canon is one of the deepest and most problematic concepts in the conversation of any living process. Once a canon is sealed, the closure this entails effectively seals the living transmission of a process or tradition. From the moment of closure on, the legacy involves a backward look to a remembered past rather than existential engagement with a potential and growing future. Another issue comes into play as well. This is the normative force of any canon within a community. Canon becomes doctrine. Doctrine becomes dogma. Finally, dogma becomes a driving force demanding an orthodox response. In canonical communities, canon often develops into a system built on authority. We wonder, in a profound sense, whether one can even speak of a Fluxus canon if we are to speak of a genuine Fluxus legacy.

The undecided, open quality of Fluxus often seems to bother the young more than it irritates the old, and some artists in recent years have attempted to enter the canon, sealing it with their entry while claiming a living heritage. This presents an odd dilemma, and there is a self-serving quality to this position. While arguing for inclusion of current work in the canon, they neglect the history of others who have worked over the four decades since Fluxus was born. Many younger artists in the Fluxus ambit demand recognition for an individual current history without acknowledging the equally deserving histories of many others, past and present. The dialectical tension for many artists who demand entry to the canon is generally a tension between the immediate demands of their work and the history of the 19603, rather than a demand for attention to the three hundred or so artists who have been part of the Fluxus circle in different ways since 1962.5

Another tension involves the effort to speak for George Maciunas, claiming his work, conflating all of Fluxus to his specific body of work and interpreting his legacy as an attempt to define and interpret all of Fluxus.

Still another problem has two faces, if not more. This problem involves an issue that Bertrand Clavez took up in his contribution to the first of our two special issues. Clavez described the problematic nature of a legacy that is so common yet so commonly misunderstood that many artists who work in traditions established by Fluxus never think of their work in relation to Fluxus.6 Fluxus established an early program of research and practice in relation to many themes that are now central to contemporary art. For many reasons, however, these probes were neglected at the time, often deliberately ignored as coming from outsiders to the art world. Despite the fact that the ideas had outsider status in the late 19505 and early 19605, they were seminal to conceptual art, process art and the wide range of artistic ideas that Dick Higgins labeled intermedia-a range of art practices that have become the background heritage of much contemporary art.

These ideas and issues shaped the context of much art practice today despite the fact that those who first theorized and developed this kind of work received little credit at the time. In many cases, influential works vanished from the history of art while the works they influenced were acknowledged as important. Many of these later works were also important and original contributions. In most fields, seminal thinkers and creators make original contributions to a developing conversation that are original while remaining related to contributions before and after.

This is how science works, this is how philosophy works and this is how thinking and theory develop in many fields. This is also the case in art, but market forces and special interests govern the documentation of the conversation to a greater degree than is the case in other fields. Confusion on the nature of creativity and originality impels many artists to claim to have developed their work without any influence, to disavow influences or else to acknowledge only specific high status influences while neglecting others. For many reasons, the early gaps in attention surrounding Fluxus were reinforced by market forces, shaping a hole in cultural history often rendered visible by its gravitational force on the world around it rather than by any direct account.

At the same time that visible and acknowledged artists share a legacy they don't acknowledge, the artists who do acknowledge Fluxus have their own problems. Outsider status is but one of these. Another is the fact that much of the frame around Fluxus is now shaped by people who seek to control the legacy for reasons governed more by special interests than philosophical inquiry. This leads us to many paradoxes. While Robert Filliou notably criticized the idea that there is any distinction between good art and bad, many who use Filliou's contribution in an attempt to discuss Fluxus use their reading of Filliou's ideas to discriminate against some work as good and some as bad. Filliou's open agenda becomes a form of special pleading. Filliou is permitted his vision because he is Filliou, while others may not use the Filliou philosophy simply because they are not Filliou.

Then there is the paradox of the missing conversation: artists who claim the Fluxus legacy while arguing against history. They want to share the Fluxus conversation, or at least to share in the Fluxus aura, without acknowledging any other speakers, past or present.

This is a difficult labyrinth indeed.

For us, the most interesting bodies of work involve networks of conversation within and across generations. These bodies of work tend to be the most difficult, often eccentric, frequently involving works that cannot be framed as art-let alone as historical art. That is the quality that made Fluxus so interesting and difficult in the 19605 and why Fluxus artists were so often labeled as misfits.

To understand this conversation requires a critical hermeneutic that opens shafts in past, present and future, rather than declaring a canon.

Debates on the past, present and even the future of Fluxus make clear that Fluxus matters to many people. It is even clearer that it matters to different people for very different reasons. These different concerns often obscure a key aspect of Fluxus. This is the fact that there was never one single version of Fluxus. From the first, Fluxus involved difference, divergence and variability, and most (if not all) of the Fluxus artists openly celebrated these qualities.

The flux that is part of the Fluxus name is no different now than it has ever been. What has changed is the fact that time and change have conspired to impose an historical frame around Fluxus. What is different now as contrasted with the past is the way that this frame has become a measure of the Fluxus's existence and even a measure of its nature. It is particularly a measure of Fluxus's continued existence as anything other than a period of history. Nevertheless, this view is blind to the realities of Fluxus. The historical has had good effects along with bad effects, and some of the bad effects have been very bad indeed.

Nevertheless, Fluxus has a history and a philosophical view. Despite this, it is neither a style nor a movement. There were many Fluxuses and there still are. Fluxus means many things to many people. That is how it should be.

e end where Fluxus begins. In 1975, Don Boyd became director of Fluxus West. When he took on the title, he took with it the right to develop the work of Fluxus West as he deemed fit. He did many of the things the previous director did, but his life circumstances made it difficult for him to travel as much, so he was not able to work across as wide a geographic territory. What also differed is that even though he worked remotely (and sometimes visited with) other members of the original group, most did not consider him a Fluxus artist in the same sense that they consider each other to be Fluxus artists. He has been even more remote from the normative art world than Fluxus artists. Despite their sometimes-in, sometimes-out status, many of the original Fluxus artists have had options that Don did not have. Quite clearly, the ability to reject the art world from a position of voluntary rejection bestowed an insider standing and cognitive authority on many, however conflicted they may be about their involvement in a social and economic world they question. The fact that Don Boyd had no similar standing in comparison with the others is a difference any anthropologist would immediately note in studying this network of human beings in its larger landscape. Some might argue that this difference influenced not merely the response of a larger world toward Don and his work, but the response and relations of others within the Fluxus community, both artists and those who work with them in curatorial and publishing roles. This made no difference to Don.

For thirty years, Don Boyd has been sharing Fluxus work and actions for the best and most simple of reasons: he loves the work and the ideas this body of work conveys, he respects the artists and their achievement. He participates in a living tradition. This is FEmmett Williams says, "Fluxus has not yet begun." This may well be true. If Fluxus is ever to begin, Don Boyd and those like him will be responsible. It is difficult to know whether it will be art, but it will be, above all else, a human contribution. We dedicate this issue of Visible Language to his generous achievement. This is Fluxus after Fluxus.

1 Smith, editors. 2005. Fluxus and Legacy. Visible language, 39.3.

2 Smith, Owen. 1999. Fiuxus: the History of an Attitude, San Diego: San Diego State University Press.

3 Higgins, Hannah. 2002. Fluxus Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.

4 Friedman, Ken, editor. 1998. The Fluxus Reader. London: Academy Press, John Wiley and Sons.

5 Friedman, Ken with James Lewes. 1992. "Fluxus: Global sions." In Milman, Estera, guest editor. Fluxus: A Conceptual Country. Visible Language, 26.1&2, 154-179.

6 Clavez, Bertrand. 2005, "Fluxus-reference or paradigm for young contemporary artists?" Visible Language, 39.3, 234-249.

Authors Note KEN FRIEDMAN IS PROFESSOR OF LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGIC Design at the Norwegian School of Management and at Denmark's Design School. Friedman's research concentrates on organization, culture and design in the knowledge economy. He has worked with intermedia and concept art since 1966 when Dick Higgins and George Maciunas enrolled him in Fluxus. He also worked as director of Fluxus West and manager of Something Else Press. In 1998, he edited The Fluxus Reader for Academy Press.

OWEN SMITH IS PROFESSOR OF ART HISTORY AND DIGITAL Art at the University of Maine in Orono, and director of the New Media Program. As a specialist in alternative art forms, he has an interest in all aspects of Fluxus. In 1998, San Diego State University Press published his book, Fluxus: the History of an Attitude, the first comprehensive monograph on the history of Fluxus. In 2002, he co-edited a special issue of Performance Research devoted to Fluxus. He is also an artist whose work has been exhibited widely. Smith's art can be seen on line at


All living Fluxus artists gather in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. They commit ritual suicide together by seppuku (hara-kiri).



Only Ken Friedman was willing to perform this event. The others declined.

Copyright Visible Language 2006

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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Written on the Body:An Interview with Shelley Jackson, Scott Rettberg

Shelley Jackson is the author of the short story collection The Melancholy of Anatomy, the hypertext classic Patchwork Girl, several children¹s books, and Skin, a story published in tattoos on the skin of 2095 volunteers. Her first novel Half Life is forthcoming from HarperCollins. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and teaches at the New School. Her website:

Scott Rettberg: Although you've written literary work and created art in many different platforms, ranging from drawings to Storyspace hypertext to webworks and print fiction, certain themes and obsessions recur across your body of work. In many of your projects there seems to be a fascination with the space of the body, and in particular with the relationship of the body to consciousness. As I think about Patchwork Girl, My Body--a Wunderkammer, and your collection The Melancholy of Anatomy in particular, I see a consistent fascination with the body as other, as if each organ, fluid, and membrane in our bodies have not only their own functions but their own agendas or even consciousness as well. Could you describe the root of your fascination with bodies and their constituent parts? As you think about your work over the last fifteen years or so, do you see a kind of evolution in your view of the body?

Shelley Jackson: I continue to be amazed that I exist. Or that I seem to; the question is not settled to my satisfaction. It seems highly unlikely that what asks the question is made of matter, grey or not. The very fact our matter thinks makes its credentials as matter suspect. Maybe, like Samuel Johnson, I need to kick something to prove it exists. The problem is that what I am trying to kick is my own kicking foot. The hard and durable thing (Johnson's rock) seems to set and satisfy its own criteria for existence. You could almost say my criterion for existence is otherness: if it does not think or feel, but is the object of thought and feeling, it exists. Fortunately, existence rubs off. I feel more real when I bump up against things and in this way become a thing for those things--the world's world, another's other. But this requires a bizarre imaginative excursion: myself as mud might see me, or water, or ink.

I am feeling my way through some sort of impossible topological figure here, probably a Klein bottle, to explain the outside-inness of my sense of self, but there are other ways to put it. Let's see if this is simpler: there are some parts of me that are permanently unknowable, and one of those things is the very basis of knowing: the body. The mind relies upon something it cannot think, and conversely, the body relies upon something it cannot touch. I'm fascinated with the sticky stretch between matter and sense, both in us and in language. From Patchwork Girl to my forthcoming novel Half Life, that fascination hasn't changed, but there has been a general movement from the figurative to the literal. The embodied, itinerant word of Patchwork Girl has become actual living flesh in Skin. The text is not compared to a monstrously aggregate body; it actually is one.

SR: Jay David Bolter titled his early study of electronic textuality Writing Space, in part because he was interested in "spatial" or "topographic" writing. Starting with Patchwork Girl, your work has explored the material properties of different types of writing spaces: Patchwork Girl probably makes more extensive use of the spatial properties of Storyspace software than any of the other well-known hypertext fictions, My Body and The Doll Games each used different types of visual metaphors on the web, and the Skin project actually lets "words" loose out into the physical world. Could you discuss your view of the relationship of writing to both virtual and physical space?

SJ: I think what I have is less a "view" than a feeling, a sort of itch. I feel that language has a relationship to my body, and I want to make that relationship more literal. Spatializing text makes it more like a body, or an environment for my body, or both, which gives me something to scratch my itch on. Coming from the other direction, I think literal bodies and spaces can strain toward a wordless sort of syntax or story. I love that stretch, and the gap that never quite closes between thingly word and wordy thing.

SR: You've done work as an electronic writer, a print novelist, an illustrator, a performance artist and, perhaps, as a conceptual artist. In doing so, you're a true "multimedia author," crossing boundaries not only of media, but also of cultures and practices. Could you discuss some of the differences between the various cultures you inhabit as a writer and as an artist?

SJ: All these disciplines are weakened by ignorance of one another. In the early days of electronic literature, claims for its revolutionary potential were weakened by ignorance of the long tradition of multilinear, multimedia work in print. Print culture--I'm speaking of the American literary mainstream, not academia or the experimental underground--is no less ignorant of that tradition, and dismisses canon-breaking work as either pretentious esoterica or as falling outside the category of literature altogether, into "art"--where, by implication, anything goes. That judgement only demonstrates literature's towering ignorance of the specific rigors of the art world, of course, but it is true that a much broader range of approaches is not just tolerated but welcomed under the rubric of art. But artists who use text are often ignorant of precedents in the literary arts, and their writing suffers from too little reading. When I wrote Patchwork Girl, it seemed to me I was arguing nothing especially new: the idea that marriages across boundaries of all kinds should and would be made seemed obvious to me. I thought I was just one mutt among many. Now, well, not that I'm claiming to be special, but I am realizing finally that it's harder than I thought to make these weddings, and all the more necessary for that reason.

SR: Could you discuss in general terms the evolution of the Skin project? Did the reception the project received surprise you?

SJ: When I was working on my story collection, The Melancholy of Anatomy, I began a story called "Skin." It didn't satisfy me, though, so I never finished it. Later, driving across country on my book tour in the spring of 2002, I had a seemingly unrelated idea: I would publish a story "on America." Every time I pulled off the highway, I'd scratch a word on a rock or tree trunk, leaf or fencepost. I planned to take pictures of the words and post them online along with maps and elaborate driving directions, so that readers could visualize for themselves the way the words arranged themselves in space across the American landscape. An ambitious reader could follow my tracks and try to read the story that way, though I didn't anticipate anyone actually doing it--I thought just raising the possibility was interesting enough. I never did it, but the idea stuck in my mind. And I loved the idea of my words existing not in neat rows on a page but in meadows dotted with rabbit pellets, on dusty, desolate rest-stops, under buzzing fluorescent lights outside cheap motels. I never did this piece, but the idea and other like it lingered in my mind. I was reminded of it when I saw a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy, the artist who constructs fleeting on-site sculptures out of grass, icicles, pebbles. Last spring, while thinking about how much I liked forms that reflected their content, I thought of my unfinished story "Skin," and suddenly it suddenly occurred to me that there is a kind of "publishing" we already do on skin: tattooing. The idea of publishing a story on volunteers, one word at a time, was only a few mental leaps away. The whole concept of the Skin project leapt into my mind in that moment. I put out a call for participants in summer of 2003.

Initially, I thought Skin might be a conceptual art conceit, never to be realized. In my initial call for participants I wrote: "If no participants come forward, this call itself is the work." When the first volunteers wrote me, I was astonished. Since then, I've received over ten thousand emails. It has completely changed my understanding of my work, my audience, and even, I must admit, myself. The world called my bluff, and I'm grateful, though I may never fully regain my composure.

SR: When you visited Stockton to give a reading last year, one of your "words" showed up. She seemed to worship you with an almost acolyte-like veneration. It occurred to me that the relationship you have with the people who have had one of your words carved in their flesh must be quite a bit different from the relationship that most authors have with readers, even dedicated fans. These people will literally remember you until the day they die. Does that feel at all strange to you? In some ways I imagine it could be frightening.

SJ: The existence of the author is a necessary flaw in this (every?) story. But this project makes me keenly aware that I am not the only, or even always the dominant voice in it. I recently took great pleasure in watching three "words" coach a fourth, nascent word through her first tattoo: "Have you eaten anything? Here, have this apple. Do you want us to hold your hand?" My presence was a comfortable irrelevancy to them at that moment. Furthermore, my story is being rewritten, one word at a time, by my participants. As my words enter the specific contexts of their lives, they change forever. In the end, 2095 other people will have signed their names to my story.

SR: One interesting aspect of the contract that you make with the participants in the Skin project is that you've committed to share the whole text of the story only with people who participate as words, so the story will never be published conventionally. With that in mind, do you however envision the project ending with the last tattoo? Or will the project have other manifestations?

SJ: I was quite serious when I called this a Mortal Work of Art. As words die, the story gradually changes; it's possible that the first word will die before the last one has been published, meaning that no complete version will ever appear. But I consider each version of the story legitimate; each successively shorter version of the story that will be created by these deaths is the story too, right down to the one-word story that will be its final printed form. If all my words hold to their promise not to share the story, that will truly be the end. The work includes its own disappearance in its aesthetic project, so it is not complete until it is gone. However, like all living things, each "word" has a complex destiny of his or her own, affecting many other lives, and I consider that part of my project too. When I die, the destiny of the project will fall into the hands of the remaining words, who might decide, who knows, to do something different with it than I intended! Some people have asked if they could will their words to their children, creating a second-generation story.

SR: Skin is a project that crosses the boundary between a "work" of literature and the kind of performance art happenings and intermedia advocated by people like Allan Kaprow and Dick Higgins in the 1960s. As you developed this project and others, do you think in the context of both literary and performance art traditions? Could you discuss your influences?

SJ: I think more about literature than art, not just because I love it, but because it needs me more. I want to force its borders open, and so I call myself a writer, and will probably keep on doing so even as I get further and further from what most people would call writing. Because literature is so tightly circumscribed, one can import just about any question from conceptual or performance art and get something new in response: What if we redefine the work to focus on the means of distribution? The reader? The "happening" that is reading? Interruptions or failures of reading: pages stuck together, erasures, typos? The blanks between words? The passages you skip? The context surrounding a reading: a particular chair, a smell, sounds, light, snack? The process of circulation? The material support? The decay, dispersal, disappearance of the material support? What if we focus not on the denotative qualities of language but on its mouth feel? The taste of ink? The properties of paper? And so on.

SR: Could you discuss the Interstitial Library project? What drives your interest in the project? Are people participating in it?

SJ: Increasingly, I define writing to include, not just the text itself, or the printed book as object, but the whole life of that text--printing, distribution, circulation, reading, rereading, quotation, misquotation, and perhaps eventual disappearance. The Interstitial Library, an ongoing collaboration with artist Christine Hill (and eventually many others) aims to investigate, chronicle and celebrate this life. The Library is a siteless book collection curated by volunteers briefed in a theatrical training session, who are invited to go out into the city and slip book cards into their selections--books left on the street, in junk shops, in bookstores, in other libraries--and leave them there for others to find. The library catalogues attributes (e.g. smell, marginal scribblings, living inhabitants) disallowed by regular libraries. The database will evolve from contributors' input a sort of synaptic map of the reading public, as well as a sort of road map of the itinerant word.

SR: You've published a book of short fiction with a major press, you have a well-known New York literary agent, and you're finishing a novel that I expect will also be published by a major press. You have more of a foot in the conventional New York publishing scene than most other electronic writers. How do the people you work with in conventional publishing regard your experiments in new media writing and public art? Do they consider it a distraction from your "real" work as a fiction writer? Have they expressed any interest in developing or growing an audience for the type of work you do in electronic media?

SJ: For the first couple of years after my first appearance in print most publishers (and most writers too) seemed to view my new media work as irrelevant at best, and embarrassing at worst. Now that the hyperbole has died down, and electronic media have not only not gone away, but gained a larger and larger audience, the younger editors seem cautiously approving of my work outside publishing. They still seem to view it only as potential publicity, though, out of their sphere and decidedly secondary to it.

SR: In your TIR Web interview with Rita Raley a few years back, you said that you didn't think you had yet achieved "the kind of gooey intermingling" you envisioned between image and text. You said then that you had "other projects in mind that would mix art forms very insistently." Was Skin the type of project you had in mind?

SJ: I was probably thinking of a work in progress, The Shelley Jackson Vocational School for Ghost Speakers and Hearing-Mouth Children. It's a fictional school that comprises text, "scientific" illustrations, maps, photography, wax sculpture, paper crafts, performance and homework assignments.

SR: Does your new novel expand on any of the themes you've been developing in your other work? Could you tell us a bit about the book? Any news on its publication?

SJ: Half Life is narrated by one of a pair of conjoined twins, in a looking-glass America where "twofers" form a significant cultural minority with its own subculture, style, and self-help books. Nora, my narrator, is trying to lay claim to what she considers her birthright, the first person pronoun, and her twin is in the way. Unless maybe she is the way. Conjoined twins strain the very grammar we use to speak of how they strain the grammar that we use to speak of, etc. Who exactly is the "first person"? Who's writing this book? It will be obvious that I'm still stuck on language, the body, and the ambiguous boundaries of the (monstrous) self.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Intellectual Properties by Robbin Murphy

Topic #2: Permissions

© 1996 Robbin Murphy

If you are reading this column in its print version the copyright notice above is a friendly reminder that I created it and have the right to decide if and how it will be copied and displayed. So far, I've given Intelligent Agent permission to print it and, if you'd like to do the same, you can ask me -- or wait until I die plus 75 years when the copyright expires and it becomes public domain. If you infringe on my copyright I can sue you.

But if you're reading it online you've already infringed on my copyright because in order to do so you will have copied the file to your computer and displayed it on your monitor without asking my permission to do so first. According to current U.S. law there's not much difference between this and running a clandestine printing operation that sells reprints on the street.

This is just one of the dilemmas facing an overwhelmingly unwired U.S. Congress this summer as they debate proposed revisions to the existing copyright laws that will provide protection when work is transmitted over computer networks.

Unfortunately our legislators are being courted by well-funded lobbyists who are more concerned with protecting large content owners -- movie studios and book publishers, for example -- than content creators like me. I may think of you as a reader of my work and part of a network that will eventually proove profitable (I hope) but the large content owners definitely think of you as a consumer and a direct source of income. To them the present state of the Internet is that of a lawless frontier overrun by content thieves and hackers in need of law and order. And potential customers.

This "frontier" metaphor is, I'm sure, familiar to the members of the present Congress. In the 19th century the same governmental body determined property rights in the Western United States without much concern for the protocols already in use by the indigenous population.

The Internet isn't a place but a protocol and exists when at least two computers exchange information using the Internet Protocol.

"Permission" is an attribute determined by the owner of a work, not enforced by a law. In UNIX the "chmod" command permits the owner of a file to "change the access mode " and set limitations on who can access, change and/or execute that document. The same is true for objects created in a multi-user online environment like a MOO.

The physicists at CERN who developed HTML and the Web wanted to put some order into their communications network. Hypertext made it easier to create multiple navigational paths and to read papers online. Documents were either open for all to access, closed to all but a select group or closed to all but the owner.

Ted Nelson's Xanadu project evolved this into a "permissions doctrine" where the copyright holder gives permission for republication with the provision that the document is obtained, and purchased, from its original source. This was not only to compensate the creator but also to guarantee the integrity of the document.

"The standard question has been, 'How do we prevent infringement?' If we re-frame the question as 'How can we allow re-use?', the solution may be simpler and more powerful than everyone thinks, with benefits for everyone."
Theodor Nelson, Transcopyright: Pre-Permission for Virtual Republishing

While Nelson's solution may seem overly complicated it does resolve the two major issues of copyright, compensation and integrity, while adhearing to the protocols already in use. It is also the direction the web seems to be going if the popularity of Java applets is any indication. Perhaps our idea of a document or an image may develop in this direction as well. This column would then be thought of more like software than a printed text.

If I wanted to give it away it would be freeware -- software made available at no cost with the understanding that the owner retains the copyright. I could also appeal to your sense of fairness and request a small payment if you find it useful in some way -- called shareware. U.S. law already recognizes something called "implied license" though it usually means the owner has made no attempt to protect the copyright rather than given permission. Except for major content owners with lawyers and staffers who surf the Web in search of infringement it's pretty much the de facto norm on the Internet at this point.

Proponents of tighter regulations maintain that without effective copyright laws there will be no incentive for creativity because there will be no guarantee of profit.

Playwrite-historian Charles Mee, Jr. couldn't disagree more and gives his plays away on his (re)making project website. There he encourages browsers to "take them, print them, perform them, cut them, add to them, re-make them in any way--do freely whatever they want with them."

But then his plays are themselves appropriations of public domain and contemporary texts from Euripides to Vogue Magazine that, he feels, the culture speaks through. They are part of a process that others are invited to continue.

Mee's permissive attitude is, perhaps, idealistic but it is also very much at home on the Internet

copied from Intelligent Agent September 1996

Chance in Art


The lower order is a mirror of the higher; the forms of earth correspond to the form of Heaven; the spots on one's skin are a chart of the incorruptible constellations.1

The art to come (and go, like all the others!): Imitating nature almost; above all imitating nature's way of creating!2

The first part of this two-part essay revolved about several types of indeterminate art which bear a close relationship to natural forms and patterns. Blotting, crackle, marbling, decalcomania - counterparts for all these effects can be found in nature. The crackled glaze of a Sung vase bears a direct physical relationship to the pattern of fissures in a dried-up creek bed, for example. And the mottled patterns of ink blots are highly evocative of the shifting patterns of light and shade in massed foliage and rock faces. The branching indeterminate 'growths' on mocha ware, produced by dropping an acid colourant (called 'tea') on to the glaze of a vessel before firing, are similarly evocative of trees, river deltas, etc. Such undifferentiated patterns have a tendency to suggest homologues and mirror the viewer's unconscious. Because the elements of such indeterminate images side-step relationships of domination and subordination, (dis)arranging themselves paratactically or non-hierarchically, they can suggest all things to all people.

It is perhaps because of this mutability that undifferentiated patterns have played a central role in the magic and divinatory rituals of various cultures through the ages. Richter and his fellow Dadaists recognised in indeterminate forms of imagery a source of immediacy and primeval magic power that they considered art had lost through contact with people like Lessing, Wirickelmann and Goethe.
Absolute acceptance of chance brought us into the realm of magic, conjurations, oracles, and divination 'from the entrails of lambs and birds' . . .3

Aeromancy is a form of divination from the patterns of ripples on bodies of water; ceromancy from patterns of melted wax dropped on a floor; crythomancy from patterns of grain or flour particles; xylomancy from the positions of dead wood and leaves on the ground. Scapulomancy is a traditional Chinese method of divination from cracks in mutton bones dried over a fire.

Crucial to all forms of divination, including those involving indeterminate configurations, is the empirical concept of acausal synchronicity - the orderedness of events which has no intelligible cause. This holds that all things are interconnected by a complex web of relations - from the smallest blade of grass to the remotest star; and that any given moment, any event is inextricably related to every other event. The significance of such an attitude is that it accepts multiple perspectives of events in place of a narrow one-point perspective. Consistent with such a premise is the use by contemporary artists of oracular, ludic and other aleatoric techniques as a means of relinquishing some cognitive control over the creative act, thereby bringing some 'magical' contingencies of the transient moment into play.
JOHN HURRELL Pocket Press over Wall 1981
polyurethane varnish and acrylic

The Christchurch artist John Hurrell by using dice to select permutations of prescribed set of geometric shapes and colours within an over-all grid structure for his Dice Pieces paintings, is literally working in an aleatoric mode. The stark geometry, hard edges and flat unmodulated colours of Hurrell's Dice Pieces belie their fortuitous composition. First the artist sketched his grid plan on paper; then ran off a series of duplicates. Next he decided on a range of variables (triangle lozenge, diamond, assorted colours) with which to 'flesh out' the skeleton structure. By ascribing numbers to the variables, tossing dice and recording the results on the paper plans, a final composition was divined. Only later was the design scaled up, transposed to canvas and painted in, The indeterminate part of the process was relegated to the plotting of the composition, not to the execution. In the final stage the use of masking tape and unmodulated colours minimised gestural irregularities. Any two or more paintings produced by this process, all conditions being equal, will look fundamentally similar, but differ in detail, in the same way that dalmatian pups from a litter or assorted snow crystals are at once homogeneous and yet unique.

The problem Hurrell experienced with his Dice Pieces was in deciding how far he should go in making the elements variable: for example, the range of colours and tones could be extended almost infinitely; the size of the canvas could similarly be made variable. In short, the question was how to strike a balance between arbitrary and aesthetic decisions, between objective and subjective choices, chance and order. One of the Dice Pieces paintings became so complex that Hurrell never completed it.
Cerussite crystals

It is precisely this type of problem that highlights the pitfalls in indeterminate art. Kaprow, one of the American progenitors of the 'happening' summarised the issue: 'It is essential to know what change and chance are, where the one leaves off and the other begins, when to use one, when the other and when neither; and it is most essential to know that the use of chance can be a vehicle for the denial of art itself, as much as for its realisation'.

Fundamentally, indeterminate art is concerned with process; the artist acts in the 'gap between art and life', to borrow the words of Robert Rauschenberg. It is in this sense that one can speak of the realism of indeterminate art - not the superficial mimicry of naturalism based on the skilful art of simulating appearances, but the more fundamental realism of process. Nature is, of course, an unconscious and partially fortuitous process, a static representation of which, by a systematic and totally conscious process, is a contradiction. In pursuit of a more natural and unconscious art which is consistent with the indeterminate flux of life, artists have devised a variety of objective techniques for diluting subjective control. The terms aleatoric (depending on the throw of a dice), stochastic (to aim at a mark, guess), indeterminate (not fixed in extent, number, character or nature; acting freely), random (not set or guided in a special direction; made, done, occurring, etc. at haphazard) are now part of our cultural vocabulary.
KENNETH MARTIN, Chance and Order 15 (four colours) 1973

From the Dice Pieces, Hurrell moved on to Map works, circumventing the escalating indeterminacy of his Dice Pieces and the attendant aesthetic problem which had troubled him. Each of the Map works is based on a printed street map, parts of which are painted out according to some governing decision. Pocket Press Over Wall, for example, involves two press maps - one wall and one fold-up pocket map. The pocket map is glued on to the larger wall map. Wherever one of the four edges of the pocket map intersects a street on the larger map, that street is left (truncated), but all other streets are painted out. The same streets are left in their entirety on the small map and their references are deleted from the index. The resultant pattern is reminiscent of exposed borer channels on a sanded kauri floor. Where the streets are truncated by the overlaid pocket map, a parallel can be drawn to borer channels terminating at the gaps between floor boards.

More so than the Dice Pieces, Hurrell's Map works provide all the information necessary for the viewer's comprehension of the working process. The system is a closed one and from it the work develops indeterminately but logically to its conclusion. Unlike the Dice Pieces, the formal qualities of the Map works are latent in the 'ready made', becoming revealed or accentuated during the process of the work. 'With the Map works, I feel I have solved many of the disconcerting problems of the Dice Pieces . . . where to allow chance to affect the decisions, and when to have fixed arbitrary or aesthetic decisions . . . the map sizes and street colours are predeterminated by the manufacturers.5

Hurrell's indeterminate works bear a close relationship with those of the noted British artist Kenneth Martin. The Dice Pieces in particular bear comparison with Martin's aieatoric works which grow automatically from a preordered system. Martin has explained the system used in his Chance and Order drawings: 'The points of intersection on a grid of squares are numbered and the numbers are written on small cards and then picked at random. A line is made between each successive pair of numbers as they are picked out. In early drawings, to show and use the fact that each direction was drawn in sequence, a system of parallel lines was invented. They were always on the same side of the direction throughout a work. Chance determined the sequence and also the number of parallel line to each. 1 line would serve the firs drawn, 2 for the second, 3 for the third and so on. Each block of lines and space was drawn underneath the preceding ones and did not pass through them.6

In spite of their linear qualities, Martin's Chance and Order drawings are strikingly organic. 'Construction stems from within. The work is a product of inner necessity and is created through an inner logic, i.e., a developing logic within the work that results in form . . .'7

Nature operates in a like manner. The way the branches of a tree bifurcate; the way a river delta fans out into a system of rivulets; the way crystals grow, is the result of inner necessity - an internal logic Within such systems the relative positions of individual elements are comparatively arbitrary - arbitrary, that is, within certain parameters. Stockhausen in describing his aleatoric musical compositions once drew a comparison with a tree the leaves of which could all be rearranged without affecting its essential appearance. Xenakis for his music has used the analogy of a swarm of singing cicadas: whether one cicada sings or not has no effect on the envelope of sound, which derives its distinctive character from the statistical result of a myriad of cicada notes.
KENNETH MARTIN Chance and Order

Tossing coins, picking numbers from a hat, throwing dice, exploiting gravity, wind, magnetism, etc., are just a few of the ways in which artists have been able to step outside of themselves, so to speak, and dilute subjective control by a measure of indeterminacy. But always this indeterminacy must apply within certain prescribed limits. No art can be entirely objective or indeterminate - an artist's choice of materials, the scale and duration of the work, the type of variables selected - these tend to be subjective and therefore aesthetic decisions. By the same token, no art can be entirely subjective or controlled. Wear and tear on the bristles of a brush, irregularities in the artist's canvas or paper, varying consistencies of paint, impurities, etc., make it impossible for the artist to predict exactly what sort of mark he or she will make. With a highly fluid medium like watercolour, where the colours bleed and mingle in a, volatile way, the artist has even more variables with which to contend. But given that in any work of art there will be some gap between intention and effect ('one grimly tries to master the material and equally grimly chance keeps hold, insinuating itself through a thousand loopholes than cannot be caulked'8) it is important to recognise that what is called 'indeterminate art' is that in which chance or indeterminacy play a significant or major role, as in the following colourful example.

The great Japanese master Hokusai is recorded as having painted a river scene on a karikami (screen-like door) by brushing in the water with a broad sweep of blue; then dipping the feet of a rooster in red paint, causing it to walk over the screen in such a way as to describe maple leaves floating down the river.9 This abdication of sole creative responsibility - let alone collaboration with a dumb animal - is to the 'Western' mind, which holds dear the idea of the individual ego expressing itself and of man's need to control his feelings and environment, an artistic heresy. But, in an age where 'civilised man' has achieved an awesome, even dangerous, control over his environment and has become correspondingly alienated from it, an art based on sensitive collaboration with the contingencies of nature, in appreciation of its ,magical' vagaries, and a respect for the complexity of its inter-relationships, makes increasing sense.

1. Borges, J; 'Three versions of Judas', in Labyrinths, Harmondsworth, 1970, p.126.
2. Strindberg, A; 'The New Arts, or The Role of Chance in Artistic Creation', English translation in Sprinchorn, E(ed) Inferno, Alone and other writings, August Strindberg, New York, 1%8, p.103.
3. Richter, H; Dad. Art and Anti-Art, London, 1965 P.60.
4. Kaprow, A; Assemblages, Environments and Happenings np, nd, p.180.
5 . Hurrell, J; letter to Andrew Bogle, 3 Nov. 1981.
6. Martin, K; 'Chance and Order' in Kenneth Martin, Tale Gallery, 1975, p.46.
7. Martin, K; 'Construction from Within', op.cit., p.12.
8. Boulez, P; quoted in Stuckenschmidt, H; Twentieth Century Music, English edition, London, 1969, p.220.
9. see Strange, E; Japanese Colour Prints, London, 1910, p.663.

video display test

Interview with Antony Hall by Regine

on February 21, 2008 9:00 AM

Antony Hall's projects explore the way we interface with technology, and how our interactions with it influence us creatively and socially. Often collaborating with scientists and technologists, Hall is currently focusing his talent on the investigation of biological and physical phenomenon. Some of his recent experiments involve communication with an electric fish, the creation of life through growing crystals electrically on volcanic stone, hunting for Moss bears and training Planarian worms.

He gained fame in the media and media art festivals with his electro-acoustic sound art devices and performances. Together with Simon Blackmore and more recently Steve Symons, Hall is a founding member of the Owl Project, a group which combines woodwork with electronics to create performances, musical instruments (iLog , and Log1k) and other physical computing projects.

Let's start with one of your most popular projects: the iLog. How did you get the idea of making it?

The iLog was created as collaborative project with Simon Blackmore and Steve Symons, we are the Owl Project. We developed the Log1K in 2001 as a performance tool to attempt rival the laptop in electronic music, shortly after this apple started pushing the iPod and we had to make a response, something which related more to the trend for portable, mobile hand held technologies. We wanted our devices to be a synthesis of craft and technology, as well as functional instruments. The Log1ks were getting increasingly heavy, among other things they used nearly 30 AA batteries, short circuits and fires, and blown-out speakers were becoming common place. iLog 01 came out in 2003. After we started collaborating with Steve Symons, we reinvented the electronics inside the iLog and started pushing the whole project to a new level; the M-Log is out later this year.

There's now a series of iLog models. Why do you think people buy the iLog? Mainly as a beautiful and quirky piece of art which they would not use too much fearing that it might be damaged (although you provide technical support.)? Or have you found that people use it extensively as any other kind of musical device? Were you expecting your project to have so much success?

I suppose people want the iLog for its quirkiness, something as an alternative to the mass produced items. We had no idea that it would become so popular - people blogged it like mad at the start and like a Chinese whisper it suddenly became what people wanted it to be; typically some kind of alternative to the ipod - But in reality its something quite different. It is intended to be an instrument for performance.

iLog signal

Our problem is that although there is demand; making them is still very difficult, and time consuming, so our focus is making them better rather than faster. At the moment we are looking at lending these to artists and working in collaboration to develop the iLog further. When we launched them for sale in London at DWB it was a real learning curve. Simple things like which way up it should be held, were completely un-obvious! We had to create extensive instructions regarding use, as well as repair and maintenance. The 24 hour support is most necessary! Its important that its more hands on than your average mass produced plastic device.

The iLog is something people can use, rather than living all its life in the art gallery. The new series, *M-Log, launching this year, looks like an iLog, and is a USB connective interface. So there is scope for programming your own sensor based instrument, which you can use with your own customized patch. The iLog is more of a stand alone sound generator. We are planning an event in Manchester during Futuresonic where other performers (including Leafcutter John) will be using the iLogs & M-Logs. *The M in M-Log stands for 'muio' as in "muio interface", the chip based interface inside which Steve's invention in his words "The muio interface is a modular system for sensing and controlling the Real World".

The wood is quite resilient and very repairable if damaged.

I love The Sound Lathe, a performance which explores the sonic properties of wood. Do you have any video of it?

There is some video here:

It does look like a very physical performance. Did you have to master new skills in order to be able to do these performances? How does each performance go? Are they all different from each other? Does working with wood creates situations and results you wouldn't have expected?

Yes its been really interesting - my self and Simon ended up sleeping in a kind of bivouac deep in the forrest as part or the "R&D" for the project, learning the skills of traditional "green woodwork", (electricity free) with Mike Abbott, master crafts-person. Mike invented a competition for Bodgers (the name for people who use the 'pole Lathe') called 'Log to Leg' (as in chair leg) so this is the new format for our performance - I think the record is 9 mins; transforming a bit of tree stump, into two perfect chair legs! It takes us a couple hours, but then our lathe is connected to copious amounts of sensor interface technologies. Quite a distraction, if like for our last performance at Lovebytes, it rained torrentially for the whole thing. In the documentation you will see a tarpaulin underneath that are 3 laptops and Simon.

Image Lovebytes

I think for all of us it's a welcome change from sitting behind a screen the whole time - these physical processes are a great compliment to programming and electronics; and they still require a similar kind of focus and discipline. It is quite exhausting, you need a lot a focus to keep the beat in time as well as make a good carving, in this way it becomes quite mediative. Sharpening the chisels and preparing the timber are all equally demanding skills to learn.

Can you tell us something about the wooden objects produced during the performances? Which kind of objects are there? And what do you do with them once the performance is over?

We have a box full of various objects; ranging in description from 'chair leg' to 'fire wood', or specialist 'rolling pin'. Occasionally we have a look inside & discuss what we should do with them. We did make a chair with Mike about the only truly useful thing we ever made. The latest idea is to make some kind of flat pack, or player. Watch this space. You can see what we decide to do with them at The Piemonte Share Festival, 11 - 16 March 2008.

You are also interested in bio-digital medicine. That sounds very different from a project like iLog. Can you explain us what it is and how you started to be interested in this field?

Well this is my own personal project, although I have always working with biology or technological experimentation in some way; with ENKi I decide to humanize what I do. This was a decision to move into medicine and treatment technologies. Really its the same things that we work with in the owl project; looking at how technology is consumed and sold. The notion of bio-digital medicine is just one example in hundreds, of how science, or even the suggestion of science is used, and misused to sell ideas. Faceless corporations feed on our anxieties, our basic need to feel contentment or feel complete. I find it interesting that, just as some people turn to religion, others will look to technology or science to provide answers and solutions.

ENKI uses the bioelectric information from an Electric Fish to trigger human Brain-wave Entrainment. It generates sound and light pulses to induce a state of relaxation similar to the way traditional relaxation systems work, but the electric communication signal comes from an electric fish rather than a chip.

Did you test the system on other people? How do they react?

So far we have tested it on about 40 volunteers,most of them members of the public who had no prior knowledge of the project. We did this in the context of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry; people enjoy the experience generally. I was surprised at the range of people who were up for it!

By this point I had started working with Greg Byatt as a collaborator. He has experience of using this kind of technology and administering similar treatments professionally. Greg has equipment which can monitor your physiological state and a brain-wave visualiser (EEG); we were trying to measure results this way. We only really came to one solid conclusion. We had to do more tests.

Isn't the idea of putting one's "brain-wave entertainment" into the fins of an animal scary? Do you feel that people would trust any other electronic device more than a fish or any other type of animal?

That is a good question. It's an exciting notion this whole idea of "wet-wear" interfacing - but not something that should be taken lightly. I don't like to be on my own if i am doing a test run, and yes I find it very unnerving. I never quite got used to the idea of connecting strangers up to electrodes and the fish. I also worry about the fish. The fish needs to be content and 'happy' for this to work.

In my opinion that most of these commercial devices are made by various humans all of whom have different intentions and issues, namely cost efficiency; and so effectively using quite crude means; cheap microchips. The Black Ghost knife fish is the result of millions of years of evolutionary refinement; but you could still say the same of micro chips.

A Down poker

Is that project completely developed or is it still a work in progress?

It's in progress. I started working with "electrogenic" fish in 2005; ENKI technology was the title I gave it in 2006 when I was in residence at ENSAD in Paris. This was the point I realized I could create a treatment technology that might actually be functional. I had a bit of pressure to actually finish something and so launched the basic concept of ENKI technology. The funny thing was that reflecting on it now - that just marked a new beginning. (It took a year just to convince the director of Pepiniere that it was in fact a real project and not some conjecture in science fiction!). Coming to think of it I have never really finished anything, I am much more excited by the notion of continued experimentation. I don't want to finish discovering. The more I work on ENKI - the more things there are to do and try, it keeps opening up. There are always more questions.

What is there left to achieve? And how much have you learned about cross-species communication?

There is still a lot to achieve. The 'treatment' side is just one layer of the onion. I started the project with the aim of communicating with the fish, generating an electrical signal and transmitting this in the fish in the tank, to the fish. Then I watch the the fish, looking for behavioral 'interactions' with the electrodes - generally if there is an electrical (connective) change to the electrodes, the fish is aware of this and investigates the electrode by swimming near it and around it (motor-probing responses). I also listening for a 'chirp' response. The 'chirp' response is a subtle modulation of the Electric signal, a specific fluctuation in the wave. The 'chirp' is used during like species interaction and communication. This is closer to the idea of language we have.

Experimentally there are factors which make this difficult to measure - The fish learns to associate the vibrations created by me entering the studio & opening the tank with a food reward. So any approach to the tank needs to be made silently, and the fish needs to be 'conditioned' to learn this over a long time. As the project progressed I became more interested in communication as something closer to an idea of commune. For the fish I see the communication signal they make more as a deep expression of self; a projected physical extension of the fish body, rather than 'language' in an anthropological sense. This communication is happening at a more primal level. In terms of the ENKi project I am thinking about this as a biological, or physiological connection between living organisms.

I recently discovered that I might be having a problem with what is known as 'superstitious' behavior in the fish; if I was a scientist in the academic sense, this would be a serous flaw in the project; something to fix, but for me it was a fantastic turn, giving the project a new angle all together. Its now becoming an experiment into animal Psychology, not just electro physiology. I don't want to say too much about this next phase but next year the project will look quite different.

You recently developed the Opto-acoustic modulator and used it for an interactive work at FACT and Liverpool John Moores University for the National Science and Engineering Week. Can you give us more details about this interactive piece? How does it work? What were you trying to achieve with this project?

The commission was to create and interactive art work that used something other than keyborad or mouse. I was determined not to use a video camera either. The the Opto-acoustic modulator basically turns sound-waves into light-waves. It can take 10 audio channels and convert these into "AM" transmissions through 10 Light Emitting Diode arrays. I am fascinated by the notion of 'Amplitude Modulation' sending data using light waves. The idea was to use 'Hyalite' salt crystals, to broadcast sound through their 'ionizing' ambient glow. You interact with the light and can detect the data as sound using wearable sensors. Additionally, using Steve's 'muio' interface again, 8 light sensors detect movement around the crystals using a lens and light sensor (based on the idea a simple biological 'camera eye') these feed into MAX MSP controlling a soundscape.

I read on your statement page that you are currently "working on new experiments relating to the creation of life through growing crystals electrically on volcanic stone, hunting for Moss bears (Tardigrades; Fresh water extremophiles) and training Planarian worms. " Could you already tell us a few words about these experiments?


I have been researching the work of William Cross for quite a while, and finally decided that I needed to recreate his experiments (with a few modifications) It's quite interesting trying to work out what he did - the only way to know is to recreate it. In 1837, he found these creatures "Acari electors" as he called them infesting an experiment, he believed that these things "spontaneously generated" within his experiment, several eminent scientists of the time recreated the experiment with the same results! My experiment is basically a recreation of this experiment, augmented with a little more technology - with the aim of capturing this phenomena of electrochemical abiogenesis. The only problem is the experiment has to run for many months.

I am interested in all sorts fresh water microscopic life; its a great 19h century tradition. With a decent microscope, you can take any roadside moss cluster and explore the interstitial oceans of liquids trapped between damp moss filaments. Here you might be lucky enough to find a Moss Bear ( "Tardigrade" ) an obscure form of extremophile that lives in moss. Believe it or not, it really does look like a bear! This in its self was a reason for laboring days over a microscope just to see if it was real! They don't fit into the zoological classification system, and have been given a phylum of their own. It is believed it is able to survive space travel, and at this moment a small space capsule orbits the earth containing some "Tardinauts" (its hard to compete with that) I simply enjoy looking for them. I like to go looking for moss growing in all kinds of areas, from urban waste lands, to the Peak District. "Tardigrades" are able to survive about 120 years in a dehydrated state; I was sifting through very old moss samples from Manchester Museum to see if I could reanimate 100 year old dehydrated Moss Bears. apparently it is possible. I had a lot more luck looking for the living ones. Unfortunately my one Planarian worm recently went missing in the tank. It is 8mm long, and I dont have the heart to keep it in a petri dish. I am not sure where it is.

Is there any artist or researcher whose work has been particularly inspiring for you?

I don't know where to start! Louis Bec for sure. I am really into what SymbioticA have been doing over the past few years, and what they are doing for the "Bio-art" movement. Otherwise, at the moment I am looking at the work of William Bebe. To be honest - I have been trying to read a lot more science fiction lately, particularly 19th century science fiction, and science writing. Often the science fiction tells you a lot about the popular understanding of science at the time. More importantly, its a good antidote ploughing through contemporary research papers.

Thanks Antony!

above copied from: