Saturday, March 29, 2008

Development of the Artist's Book, Peter D. Verheyen

for FIA 610, Department of Fine Arts, Syracuse University, April, 1998

What is a book? An artist's book? A livre d'artiste?

What is a book? Traditionally the book form has been associated with the codex, a textblock of folded signatures, sewn to some kind of support with a cover. Although this structure (with some variations) has existed for over a thousand years other forms have come to be called books as well, including clay tablets, scrolls, petrogylphs and, now, some argue computer files as well. Illustrations have been a part of "books" almost from the beginning being used to illustrate the text and depict events or places or people... within, the Nuremberg Chronicle being an early example of this. The illustrations were not, however, meant to be seen as art. William Blake (1757 -1827) changed that with his artists' books, among them The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Songs of Innocence. In these, Blake wrote the text, made the etchings of the text and illustrations, printed, and then hand-colored the pages. The only thing Blake did not do it seems was bind them. Blake was far ahead of his time. The artist's book did not reappeared until this century and was adopted as a format by the Futurists, DADA, and the Constructivists among others. The livre d'artiste which co-existed with the artist's book, was similar yet also very different.
Livre d'artiste vs. artist's book:

What is the difference between an artist's book and a livre d'artiste. Johanna Drucker in her work The Century of Artists' Books draws a very clear distinction. According to her, the livre d'artiste came into being as a publishing enterprise initiated by such figures as the Parisian art dealers Vollard and Kahnweiler who saw a business opportunity in marketing deluxe editions illustrated by recognized or upcoming stars in the fields of visual arts or poetry, among them Chagall, Picasso, Apollonaire, Matisse, Miro, Ernst. This was a distinctly French undertaking with no real parallels in the United Kingdon or Germany.
While deluxe editions were not unusual at the time, the idea of merging them with the fine arts was. These editions were generally released unbound, essentially as a suite of prints or at best very simply bound. The buyer would then take them to their favorite binder designer such as Bonet, Creuzevault, or Legrain. These "collaborations" were nothing short of breathtaking.
To Drucker the livre d'artiste stopped just short of being artist's books by "stopping just at the threshold of conceptual space in which artist's books operate." This is because it is very rare to find a livre d'artiste which "interrogates the conceptual or material form of the book as part of its intention, thematic interests, or production activities." To Drucker, these livres d'artistes seem to be "embalmed" in excessive production values, with a very stiff relationship between the text and images which seemed forced into an outdated structure or format.
The main distinction between the livres d'artistes and the artist's book is that the former were almost always initiated by the publisher with often little or no relationship between the artist and writer. The binder was only an afterthought, though a significant one as it now turns out. By contrast, the artist's book is understood to be the work of one individual or a collaborative effort. In either case, it is conceived from start to finish as an integrated unit. The motive is also quite different. While the livre d'artiste was created as a financial venture, the artists' motives are more likely to be to make themselves heard or to share a vision. Making money is nice, but not the reason for creating the work. The artist's book is by nature, and for the reasons just mentioned more likely to be non-traditional in format and structure. In fact, it is almost expected that artists deviate as far as they dare from the traditional form entering into the realm of sculpture. Indeed, most of the creators of artist's books are not tied to anyone discipline in particular. Some are primarily printmakers but most are not and bring a very broad background to their "books" (I use that term loosely). As opposed to the livres d'artistes these are more than likely to be unique objects and as such are more closely allied with painting and sculpture. Technically, they are created using a variety of techniques, employing fine printing as easily as xerography.
Another category which falls somewhat between the two is the fine press artist's book. This category is generally more closely allied with the livre d'artiste in that it is an editioned work. While some fine press artist's books are the work of an individual, more often than not working in close collaboration, an author, artist, printer, binder. On a more commercial level the 1920's - '40's saw a number of artist's books released by major publishers. Featured are the work of Lynd Ward who published several novels in woodcuts, John Vassos who took to offset, Rockwell Kent and others. Zines, issued by micro-presses in small or large editions, regularly, or just once, fit in this category, with the difference that the production is often less elaborate and refined, but also more experimental in content and concept. They are a way for the artist to reach a wide audience without great expense, similar in many ways to the Dada publications.
Importance of structure to the artist's book:

In contrast to the livre d'artiste, the artist's book is likely to make the structure of the book an integrated part of its overall design and concept. How the "book" or object is assembled is as important as the contents of the book, if any. It is quite common for "book artists" to create "books" which are no more than finely engineered works of paper, often highly complex, which contain no text and only the faintest hint of "bookness" (a term coined by Philip Smith a British fine binder who came to binding by way of painting). The structure determines how the "book" is read, and influences how the "reader" interacts with it. Pages can open up from both sides and panels can be hinged along different sides making the viewer unfold the structure as they "read" it. Pop-ups can reveal hidden aspects. By slightly changing a series of illustrations animation can be created as the "reader" flips through the pages quickly. Through the use of transparency, an image can evolve and de-evolve as the "pages" are turned. The possibilities are almost endless, and one innovation leads to another. In the process the "reader" becomes increasingly drawn into the object as they interact with it. This idea of the importance of structure is explored in detail in Keith Smith's book Structure of the Visual Book..
Significance of the illustrator to the book:

In the text to the MOMA exhibition catalog A Century of Artists Books, Riva Castleman breaks down the relationships of the parties as: artists with authors; artists as authors; artists for authors; and artists without authors.
Artists with authors represents the livres d'artiste where the artist and author are brought together, the artist's role being to embellish the words of the author, just as it the typesetter and designer's role.
Artists as authors refers to artists who decided that they wanted to express themselves in words as well as images. With Kandinsky, Klee, Moholy-Nagy, Malevich, El Lissitzky, and Duchamp this was very successful and their works helped define their movements (Bauhaus, Constructivism, Dada). Others such as Miro, Leger, and Matisse were more than capable of putting into words the expressiveness of their painting.
Artists for Authors is much like the first category except that the pairing of the two is often more remote. While, as with the first category, the two parties may know each other and exchange ideas, here more often than not the artist was commissioned, or chose to illustrate an earlier text. Artists, however, could also take existing texts and use those as the basis for new works. An example is Tom Philips' treatment of two works. The first, entitled A Humament, was derived from a text (The Human Document) which Philips bought at a flea market for 2 shillings. Through overpainting and other alterations of the text he created a new one. Philips also treated Dante's Inferno as well as translating it.
The final category, artists without authors, this is where, according to Castleman, the origins of the modern artist's book can be found. Grosz's Ecce Homo and El Lissitzky's About Two Squares are examples of this as is Frans Masereel La Ville and some of Lynd Ward's work such as Gods's Man. Edward Ruscha is credited with setting the pattern for the modern artist's book with his 1963 work Twentysix Gas Stations, a work in which he juxtaposed the images of gas stations, chosen for their similarity of appearance and function with a blank facing page.
The Fluxus movement, founded at the same time, was a collaborative international movement which created a large body of work in the form of printed cards, broadsides, booklets, often boxed together in a "neo-Dada" manner. This movement led to the explosive growth of the artist's book movement in the 1970's and '80's which was inclusive rather than exclusive, with easy to acquire works of art.
Future of the artist's book and trends:

What is the future of the artist's book? The past twenty-five years, especially the past fifteen have seen an explosive growth in the number of artists creating "books" and the acceptance of the format along with other more "mainstream" forms of art. Exhibitions are becoming increasingly widespread and "the book" as concept is being taught in a number of art programs. Printmakers are still making prints and many of these will still end up in "book" form. What is being lost is the art of the craft of fine bookbinding. Those who are teaching in the programs do not have the skills to pass on the finer points of binding, and those in private practice can't afford to take on apprentices for the most part. Perhaps the end of this century will see the end of the finely bound book. When one looks at what artists consider "books," it becomes clear that the term is being used to describe sculptures and wall hangings. These may be derived conceptually from "the book," but that does not make them a book, nor does it make them any less a work of art. Likewise a piece of granite, carved and polished to look like a thick sewn signature is not a book. It depicts one, but that does not make it one. Duchamp may have said that "it is art because I say it is," and in his case it may well have been, but it is all to easy to extend to "it is a book because I say it is." While other forms may transmit information, like clay tablets, scrolls, or graffiti on a wall, that does not make them books.
As technology has advanced, bringing with it new means of producing and creating texts, and illustrating the "book," the very concept of the "physical book" is changing. With the advent of the Web and it's ability to hyperlink to other parts of a document or another document altogether, the book need no longer exist as a physical artifact. Janet Maher, a professor of art at Loyola College, created a work entitled ALPHABET which exists only electronically and is composed of a series of animated images which flash a text, depicting the alphabet across the viewer's screen. Is it a book? I'm not so sure, but it is art. As programs grow in versatility and ease of use, we can expect increasing artists to chose this as their medium.
I'd like to close with Philip Smith's statement on "bookness" which sums up, in my mind, the book form. While the boundaries of a form must be explored, a commonly agreed upon vocabulary is important for an understanding of that form as well as any discussion of it.
"Bookness: The qualities which have to do with a book. In its simplest meaning the term covers the packaging of multiple planes held together in fixed or variable sequence by some kind of hinging mechanism, support, or container, associated with a visual/verbal content called a text. The term should not strictly speaking include pre-codex carriers of text such as the scroll or the clay tablet, in fact nothing on a single leaf or planar surface such as a TV screen, poster or hand-bill.
"Bookness" is however being stretched to include forms which carry a digitalized or electronic text such as a CD, a hard disk or a microchip, or miscellaneous forms such as spirals of paper with continuous text, or pyramids, dodecahedrons and other geometric multiplanar forms (which could also have text inscribed on them). I would not describe all these things as having the quality of bookness or being strictly covered by the definition. A blank book is still a book, but a blank do decahedron or unmarked spiral of paper is not a book, it is a dodecahedron etc. A text is a text and not a book, but any other object one likes to imagine may perhaps be its conveyance. A text can be inscribed on anything but this does not make it a book, or have the quality of bookness, even as a scroll retains its scrollness without any text on it. A teddy bear with text on it is not a book! The book is not the text, although it is traditionally associated with it, and these two elements appear often to be mistaken for the same thing. The book is the hinged multiplanar vehicle or substrate on which texts, verbal, or tactile (the latter would include braille and other relief or embossed effects, found objects, pop-ups) maybe written, drawn, reproduced, printed or assembled.
The large imposed sheets on which texts are printed before folding into quires or signatures are not yet in book form (the qualities of bookness have not yet been imparted to them); nor to microfilm or microfiches by which book texts may be scanned be described as having bookness. They would be considered in the single planar form as on a video monitor (or a painting for example), but when the same text is arranged into book form it then taken on the qualities of bookness. It is questionable whether something becomes a book by being called such. The notion that an artist may call anything he likes a "work of art" or a "book", because he says so, is the extreme of sloppy thinking and contravenes everything we regard as leading to truth, notwithstanding Marcell Duchamp!
In a story by Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451, there is a group of people who, in order to save them, memorise books, and are called "walking books"! Other similarly claimed substitutes abound in so-called book-artists' jargon, but the memories of books are not yet in book form, and so cannot be called books or have bookness. One could say however that a pack of Tarot cards does have bookness. It functions as a working group of loose-leaf planar surfaces with related images conveying textual matter in pictorial form. Traditional knowledge has it that the Tarot is in fact a philosophical treatise. The planes of a book have a necessary relationship or they simply become a collection of arbitrary planes for which a book format is not essential for the conveyed meaning. Many arbitrarily devised objects such as chewed or dissolved texts in bottles, etc., may or may not be art objects, but they are not objects with bookness. The book-maker's art should be distinguished from the art-maker's book. The book is generally thought of as a compact, conveniently portable mobile object (although there can be giant books, made of any material). The book, as book, has multiple planes because all the text or material it contains would be too unwieldy in a single planar form. There are book-like objects or appearances and object-like books, but that is a different story."

The Ardent Image: Book illustration for adults in America, 1920 - 1942. Toledo, OH: Ward M. Canada Center, The University of Toledo, 1995.
The Art of the Book and the Book Arts Press. Upper Arlington, OH: Logan Elm Press & Papermill, 1994.
The Book as Art: Modern illustrated books and fine bindings, part 1. New York: Sotheby's 1995.
The Book Stripped Bare: A survey of books by 20th century artists and writers. Hempstead, NY: The Emily Lowe Gallery and Hofstra University Library, 1973.
Castleman, Riva. A Century of Artists Books. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994.
Polnische Buchkunst der Gegenwart. Warsaw: Verband der Polnischen Bildenen Künstler, Bezirk Warschau, 1996.
Dressing the Text: The fine press artists' book. Santa Cruz, CA: The Printers' Chappel of Santa Cruz, 1995.
Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists Books. New York: Granary Books, 1995.
The New Bookbinder. London: Journal of Designer Bookbinders. Various issues.
Ray, Kevin. Una Selva Oscura: Tom Philips's Inferno. St. Louis, MO: Special Collections, Washingotn University Libraries, 1997.
Smith, Keith. Structure of the Visual Book, 3rd ed. Rochester, NY: Keith Smith Books, 1994.
Smith, Keith. Text in the Book Format. Fairport, NY: The Sigma Foundation, 1989.
Smith, Philip. Designer Bookbinders Newsletter. London: Summer 1996. Letter to the editor.
Trusky, Tom. Some Zines 2: Alternative & Underground Artists & Eccentric Magazines & Micropresses. Boise, ID: Cold-drill books, Department of English, Boise State University, 1996.
There are also an increasing number of resources relating to this subject on the Web. Links to most of these can be found at

above copied from:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The myth of interactivity on the Internet

The myth of interactivity on the Internet

By Gerry McGovern

Interactivity has become an almost sacred tenet of the Internet. Again and again, we are told that interactivity is what makes the Internet really different. However, interactivity on the Internet is often vastly over-hyped.

Words like 'interactivity' and 'community' have been hugely abused and devalued over the last eight years. Nobody would call a group of people in a nightclub a community. However, to some, all you have to do is set up a discussion forum and you have an online community.

If you turn a page in a magazine or book, that doesn't exactly qualify as interactivity. Yet, if you click a link on the Web, many feel you are participating in an interactive activity. The reality is, of course, that the Web is very often the antithesis of interactivity and community.

If commerce is selling with people, then ecommerce is selling with content. If learning is learning with people, then elearning is learning with content. It is the very removal of people—with the consequent reduction of interactivity and community—that has attracted many businesses to the Web. Remove people, the thinking goes, and you remove costs. (In many situations, there is a lot of logic to this thinking.)

Basic interactivity on the Web very often fails. For example, organizations are notoriously bad at responding to email enquiries. In December 2001, a New York Times journalist sent email messages to 65 US senators. She informed them she was doing a story on email message handling by members of Congress. Amazingly, 31 senators didn't reply at all. 27 replied with automated messages. After two weeks, only 7 out of 65 had sent an actual response. Of those responses was one from Senator Phil Gramm's office, which stated that: "The communication that Sen. Gramm values most certainly does not arrive by wire."

A Jupiter Media Metrix survey of 250 retailer websites, published in January 2002, found interactivity sorely lacking. 30 percent of websites surveyed responded within 6 hours. 18 percent took 6 to 24 hours. 18 percent took 1 to 3 days. 34 percent took longer than 3 days or didn't respond at all.

It is still surprising the amount of people who believe that installing some chat or discussion board software will create an online community for their website. The software is only 1 percent of the job. The real work involves getting people to interact.

Online communities are very often more like clubs, associations or gangs, than genuine communities. Properly focused, they can contribute to social bonding and/or aid in the sharing of knowledge.

However, they often are a monumental waste of time. Many advertisers have shied away from such 'community' environments because they tend to contain people with too much time on their hands and too little money in their pockets.

We need to take a more realistic view of what interactivity and community means on the Web. Interactivity starts with having a policy in relation to how quickly you are going to respond to emails you receive. If you don't have that then your online community has about as much substance as a group of strangers in a nightclub.

The ethic of interactivity

Let’s pull up from the fur-flying fray over pulling down blog comments that attacked rookie ombudser Deborah Howell thanks to her misguided attempt at balancing a scandal (see full coverage and great links on Jay Rosen’s Press Think; see also Umair Haque’s attempt to give big, old media an attitudectomy).
The bigger question is: What is the ethic of interactivity?

Q: Are media required to play host to the opinions and criticism of others?

A: No. But they will be judged by their interactivity.

That’s the real issue here: One-way media are trying to figure out the two-way world and it’s hard, but necessary. If you’re not part of the conversation, you won’t be heard.

Q: Is it better to host comments or link to them?

A: You should do both.

I believe that linking to comments made on blogs (and in other media) will, in the long run, yield more compelling — albeit distributed — conversation. The people who use their own space to comment care enough about the topic to say something and stand by what they say under their own names (or brands). As Glenn Reynolds (not a comment host himself) says: “Given the Post’s addition of Technorati links to many of their stories, they’re in a better position than most to say ‘the blogosphere is our comment section.’ And, you know, it is.” That’s true to a point. But there are also times when I don’t want to use my space to react to a conversation on a blog or around a news story. But I do have something to add. So I want to comment. When I am not given that opportunity on blogs (or other outlets), I suffer media constipation.

Q: Should there be an expectation of civility in interactivity?

A: As much as there is in life.

We see two mistakes in the discussion surrounding the Post blog:

First, too many people judge interactivity by the worst of it, which is rather like refusing to visit New York because you hear there are a few assholes there. This, I think, comes mostly from people who wish they could dismiss interactivity, and the internet and blogs with it. Sorry, but interactivity — and New York — are here to stay.

The second mistake some people make is assuming that the rest of us can’t figure out who the assholes are. With that comes the presumption that we need to be protected from the bozos, that that is media’s (and, in other contexts, government’s) job. People sometimes ask me why I don’t kill stupid comments from various bozos. I reply that I figure most people know they’re bozos and judge them accordingly.

Q: Should you moderate interactivity?

A: If you want to.

But don’t think that you can tidy up comments any better than you can tidy up the world. People are messy and so’s life. Get used to it.

Nonetheless, I do believe that this is my space and I have the right — and sometimes responsibility — to maintain a proper atmosphere for conversation. I rarely kill comments but I choose to sometimes when someone goes overboard.

Q: Shouldn’t technology help with moderation?

A: You wish.

But I wouldn’t count on machines outsmarting people who need their meds. They will outsmart filters and parole officers everytime.

Q: Is interactivity worth the price?

A: Yes.

It may not bring in much ad revenue (yet) and it may take effort (but less than creating content), but if you treat interactivity — and the people who do it — with respect, good things will come of it: content, improvement, promotion, respect.

You cannot afford not to interact.

Q: By the way, do we really need ombudsmen?

A: No.

Everyone in a newspaper should have a direct relationship with the public. They should all be their own ombudsmen.

: I’ve worked with interactivity since the early ’90s and continue to learn lessons.

At Advance, our community expert taught me that moderators should not be the people who kill bad comments any more than mayors should be the guys who pick up trash. I learned that we didn’t need moderators; that’s a one-way-media way to think: that the people need hosts to tell them what to talk about. What we needed instead were police to clean up problems. Our expert showed me that the public would send us alerts to those problems, but only if we responded to their snitching quickly and reliably. It worked. The quality of discourse improved; complaints from newspaper editors declined (though none of them truly appreciated the value of interactivity); traffic and audience skyrocketed.

I also sat on the board of the company that started, which tried to bring Slashdot code to a broader audience. It didn’t really work. Slashdot works for a geeky public. Others may disagree, but I think it proved to be too complex — too not worth the effort — for the rest of us. Still, the idea that people can collaboratively dismiss the bozos and promote the geniuses makes sense. Someday, someone will figure out how to make it worth our while.

So what would I advise the Post — what will I advise them in a planned Wednesday roundtable chat?

I’d tell them to let the comments roll and to let all their constituencies — newsroom, ombudsman, and public — know that there will be attacks and there will be bozos, but there will also be signal worth that noise.

I’d tell them what I told CBS Public Eye when they, too, complained about the quality of public discorse: The best way to ensure a real discussion is to join in that discussion. Rather than just just making a post on a blog — and then a column on the topic — ombud Deborah Howell should have joined in the discussion in the comments. Of course, she should have followed my father’s advice about office politics and not be drawn into the lowest attacks. But she should have entered into a real dialogue with the readers who had legitimate criticism and questions and advice. What is an ombudsman for, after all, if not to interact with that?

I’d tell them to kill only the worst of the bozos’ spiteful, personal, and off-topic attacks — but to kill them quickly and consistently.

I’d tell them to give greater promotion to the external blogs that used their own space and names to enter into a discussion about the issues. The conversation is distributed.

I’d tell them to stop thinking that all interactivity should be about the newspaper and what it says. Make it about what the public is saying and what the newspaper is not saying.

I’d tell them that rather than trying to find more ways to control interactivy, I’d find more ways to interact: Solicit help from the public on stories, do the wikitorial the right way (not the way the LA Times did it but by, instead, encouraging two sides of an issue to each, separately showcase their best cases), let people remix stories…

I’d tell them to sit back and enjoy the ride. Democracy and discussion are messy, like life.

Interactivity Brings Some Surprises

March 13, 2008

Blog vs. Peer Review Update: Interactivity Brings Some Surprises

As we reported last month, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an assistant professor of communication at the University of California at San Diego, has been running an unusual experiment with his latest academic book, which is about analyzing video games.

For the past several weeks, the scholar has posted a section of his draft each day to a popular blog he contributes to — called Grand Text Auto — and he has invited readers to praise it or tear it to shreds. They’ve done both. And by early next week, Mr. Wardrip-Fruin will have posted the whole tome, and the first phase of the experiment will be over.

How is it going? Mr. Wardrip-Fruin says that one pleasant surprise has been that some of the designers of the video games he mentions have commented on his book. “From a game-industry AI designer now at MIT (Jeff Orkin) to a UCLA AI researcher now in aerospace (Scott Turner), the original authors of the systems I critiqued came forward to share their thoughts and (sometimes) set the record straight,” he said in an e-mail interview. “It’s definitely going to improve the final book.”

“Also, doing the review in a format that allows discussion turned out to be very valuable,” he said. “Comments I might have brushed aside, not fully understanding their import, instead became the starting points for exchanges that revealed significant issues I must address in my revisions.”

Not all the feedback about the project was entirely positive. Ian Bogost, a game designer and assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said he had trouble reading the book online, broken up as it was into so many pieces.

“A book, unlike a blog, is a lengthy, sustained argument with examples and supporting materials,” wrote Mr. Bogost, in a post on his blog. “A book is textual, of course, and it can thus be serialized easily into a set of blog posts. But that doesn’t make the blog posts legible as a book.”

“This isn’t Noah’s fault; he’s written what seems like a terrific book,” he continued. “But a terrific book for print, not for the Web. I’m not sure I’ll be able to read it properly until I get the thing in my hands.”

And Mr. Wardrip-Fruin said that his goal was to respond to every comment, but that recently he “fell seriously behind” in doing so.

“Of course, I may have another surprise when I see the blind peer reviews” that MIT Press has selected, he said. “I suspect they will be completely different — focusing on the broad-strokes argument, while the blog-based review has focused on the specifics of my examples and local arguments. But it could be that, say, the two reviews will say contradictory things. I’m looking forward to finding out.” —Jeffrey R. Young

Asymmetric Interactive Relationships

One of the more vexing problems in interactive design arises from the fundamentally asymmetric nature of the relationship between human and computer. All of our existing models of interaction presume interaction between humans, who are fundamentally symmetric. For example, my standard interactive model is the conversation between two people. (see "A Better Metaphor for Game Design: Conversation") Note, however, that a conversation creates a balanced relationship between both parties. I speak in the same language that you use; I listen with the same kind of ears and in much the same fashion. A conversation is a symmetric process involving two equal partners. If we remove the symmetry by giving all or most of the speaking to one person, then the event is no longer termed a conversation; it is a lecture. And we all know that lecturing somebody during a conversation is rude, because it denies the equality of the listener.

But the relationship between human and computer that we establish when we design interactive entertainment is fundamentally asymmetric. The computer is not the same thing as a human being. This asymmetry constitutes one of the major elements that impacts the design of interactive entertainment.

I shall first recite some of the asymmetries at work. Let's think in terms of my standard definition of interactivity (a sequential process in which each interlocutor alternately listens, thinks, and speaks). (see "Fundamentals of Interactivity") What are the asymmetries in listening, thinking, and speaking?

Listening: the human listens through his ears and eyes, while the computer listens through its mouse and keyboard. The human has a high capacity for information absorption. Both the eye and the ear have a great deal of preprocessing software that makes possible high-bandwidth information reception. We're talking megabytes per second of information reception capability. The computer, by contrast, has lousy listening capabilities. The average person can, with mouse and keyboard, enter a few bytes of information per second.

Thinking: Here's another area where the human outstrips the computer, but not so egregiously as with listening. The computer can indeed think, and in some dimensions of thinking, such as arithmetic computation, greatly outstrips the human. But in a great many other areas, such as pattern recognition, the human has a huge advantage over the computer. Thus, our problem in designing good thinking for the computer is to come up with good ways to take advantage of its computational strengths while masking its weaknesses.

Speaking: Here is the one area where the computer can approach the capabilities of a human. At my best, talking and gesticulating, I can generate megabytes of information per second. A computer can't quite reach that output rate yet, but it's getting close. A fully animated display with accompanying sound or music gets us up into the megabyte/second range.

Considering these three together, it should be obvious that the greatest source of asymmetry lies in the area of listening, and the least lies in speaking. This explains, to some extent, the design style of so many products currently on the market. Most listen poorly and speak well. The typical product gives the user very little to say or do, and then hoses him down with megabytes of audiovisual extravaganza. Thus, despite my incessant carping about excessive speaking and insufficient listening, the current level of interactive design correctly reflects the asymmetric strengths of the computer.

But we must remember that there are two ways of looking at the problem of asymmetry: the ideal and the "grain of the medium". The ideal represents what we really ought to do; the grain represents the natural strengths and weaknesses of the medium. Good design pursues the ideal while acknowledging the grain. The ideal of good interactivity is equal emphasis on listening, thinking, and speaking. After all, the quality of a conversation is based on the extent to which each of the conversationalists listens, thinks, and speaks. If either person puts more emphasis on any one of these areas, then the conversation as a whole suffers. In the same way, participants in any interaction must focus equal energy on all three areas to do the best possible job.

But we must also acknowledge the pragmatic issues here: the computer is a lousy listener and a fascinating talker. So we must compromise the ideal with the pragmatic reality. Our designs should have less listening than speaking.

But the compromise cuts both ways. True, pragmatic considerations force us to admit that we cannot have equal amounts of listening and speaking. But it is just as true that idealistic considerations force us to admit that we must have more listening than is pragmatically convenient.

We can express this idea in terms of effort expended. Because the computer is so much better at speaking than at listening, it is easy to get the computer to speak well and very difficult to get the computer to listen well. Therefore, we must expend more effort on the problems of designing good listening than on designing good speaking. This is the only way to achieve an effective compromise between the pragmatic considerations and the design ideals.

How well are we doing?

So let's examine the success the industry has had in designing good listening. I have to say, we're doing a terrible job! A good way to assess the quality of the listening experience is to translate the commands of the game into verbs. For example, Doom offers just a few basic verbs: turn left, turn right, go forward, go backward, slide sideways, fire, change weapons. That's the entirety of the listening that Doom can handle. Not very impressive in terms of quantity of listening, is it? Or consider another big hit of the last year, Myst. This game offers an even more limited set of verbs: "go where I clicked", and "operate whatever I clicked upon". Now, it's true that these verbs can mean a variety of things given the visual context. Thus, "operate whatever I clicked upon" can mean "open the door" or "throw the switch" or a variety of other things. So it's not quite fair to say that Myst has only two verbs. But it certainly doesn't have very many.

What's particularly sad about this is that the situation has gotten worse, not better. In the last year or two we've seen an explosion of multimedia products whose listening powers are even worse than those of most games. Many of these games have little more than "go to the next image" and "go back to the previous image", plus a few embellishments.

What do we need?

Obviously, we need to improve the listening skills of our designs. What, precisely, does this entail?

The brainless answer is that we need richer languages of expression for the user. We've got to give him better things to say, and above all, more verbs! But this raises a nasty problem: how do we increase the number of verbs without losing the audience in a maze of I/O rules and restrictions? I am reminded of Civilization, a game with a fairly rich set of verbs that also sported a 200-page manual. It would seem that we have a dilemma here: either we give the user a paltry verb set or we bury him under a huge manual.

There are three ways out of this dilemma, and we'll end up using some combination of all three. The first is to build up audience expectations of user interface. This is something that Macintosh users all understand, and DOS users just don't get. The Macintosh has a large array of user interface standards that all programs (except those from Microsoft) adhere to. For example, Command-Q will always quit an application; Command-W will always close the topmost window; Command-P prints the document and Command-S saves it. The close box, scroll bars, and menus all have defined meanings that every Macintosh user quickly learns. The result is that Macintosh users can pick up a new program very quickly. In the DOS world, every program has a different user interface, and so users can't learn as fast. The ease of handling the housekeeping through standard techniques makes it possible for Macintosh stuff to provide more verbs without boggling the user. The Windows OS is attempting to close this gap, and has standardized a variety of functions, so perhaps we'll see some real progress in the PC world. But we as designers must recognize our own responsibilities here. Whenever somebody designs a game that has its own custom version of scroll bars, or close boxes, or whatever, that diminishes the standard. So it's important that we all hang together on user interface issues. If there's a standard way to approach a problem, use the standard way. Rely on your own custom design only if you can PROVE to a skeptical observer that it's superior to the standard method.

The second method is to rely on the natural linguistic skills that all people have. People can learn languages rapidly; they have a lot of firmware for language interpretation. Take advantage of that! Use linguistic structures where possible. Think in linguistic terms. What's the subject, the verb, and the direct object of this command? Present your I/O in linguistic terms.

related essay: Towards a Linguistic Approach to Game Design

The third method is to throw some computer resource at the problem. Jeez, we have no problem throwing computer resource at graphics problems. We use megabytes of CD space, and megacycles of CPU time to come up with the sexiest graphics. Why not throw some of that resource at the problem of listening? For example, if you used a menu structure that presented the player with English sentences describing the player's options, then you could offer the player about a million different verbs with the expenditure of only 30 megabytes of CD storage space. Think of what you could do with a million verbs! That's twice as many verbs as there are words in the English language! I grant, there are other problems to consider (who's gonna design all those verbs?), but the basic point that expenditure of resource opens up a lot of doors remains valid.

Fundamentals of Interactivity

In the last few years, "interactivity" has become quite a buzzword. The big money people have tumbled to the potential of "interactive entertainment" and suddenly the action is thick and hot, with mergers, stock offerings, and venture capitalists looking for places to put their money. Everybody is getting onto the interactivity bandwagon.

Unfortunately, the term "interactive" has been so overused that it has lost any meaning other than "get rich quick". We see the term applied to television, theater, cinema, drama, fiction, and multimedia, but the uses proposed belie a misunderstanding of the term. Yet, interactivity is the very essence of this "interactive" revolution. It therefore behooves me to launch the new Interactive Entertainment Design with a straightforward explanation of interactivity. It's time to get back to basics.

Part of the problem most people have in understanding interactivity lies in the paucity of examples. Interactivity is not like the movies (although some people who don't understand interactivity would like to think so). Interactivity is not like books. It's not like any product or defined medium that we've ever seen before. That's why it's revolutionary.


Take heart. There is one common experience we all share that is truly, fundamentally, interactive: a conversation. If you take some time to consider carefully the nature of conversations, I think that you'll come to a clearer understanding of interactivity.

A conversation, in its simplest form, starts out with two people. I'll call them Joe and Fred. The conversation begins when Joe expresses something to Fred. At this point, the ball is in Fred's corner. He performs three steps in order to hold up his end of the conversation.

Step One: Fred listens to what Joe has to say. He expends the energy to pay attention to Joe's words. He gathers in all of Joe's words and assembles them into a coherent whole.

Step Two: Fred thinks about what Joe said. He considers, contemplates, cogitates. The wheels turn as Fred develops his response to Joe's statement.

Step Three: Fred expresses his response back to Joe. He formulates the words and speaks them.

Now the tables are turned; the ball is in Joe's court. Joe must listen to what Fred says; Joe must think about it and develop a reaction; then he must express his reaction back to Fred.

This process goes back and forth until the participants terminate it.

Thus, a conversation is an iterative process in which each participant in turn listens, thinks, and expresses.

Simple as it may be, we can learn a lot from this example. The first useful observation we can make is that it takes two to interact. You can't have a conversation with yourself, and you can't converse with a brick wall, either. It takes two people to have a conversation.

Related essay: A Better Metaphor for Game Design: Conversation

Requirements for Automated Interactivity

Of course, the whole point of this "interactive media" revolution is that it proposes to automate interactivity, to replace one of the participants in the conversation with a machine. We can there-fore rephrase the problem of designing interactive entertainment as follows: "How can we program the computer to be an entertaining conversational (metaphorically speaking) partner?"

The overall answer is simple: in order to be a good conversational partner, the computer must perform all three steps in the conversational sequence &emdash; and it must perform them all well. It's not good enough for the computer to perform one or two of the steps well, as compensation for performing a third step poorly. All three steps must be performed well in order for the computer to achieve entertaining interaction.

To demonstrate this, I need only refer you to your own experience with conversations. How many times have you had a conversation with somebody who could not perform one of the three steps well? For example, have you ever had a conversation in which the other party did not listen to what you were saying? Perhaps this person could think very well, and was quite articulate in expressing his reactions, but if he didn't listen to what you were saying, was the conversation not a waste of time?

And how many times have you had a conversation with a person who listened well, but just couldn't think well &emdash; in other words, a dummy? Don't you find conversations with dolts to be a waste of your time?

Or how about the conversations with people who just can't express themselves? They stammer and struggle to articulate their ideas, but they do such a poor job of it that the entire conversation isn't worth the effort.

Thus, in order to have a good conversation, both parties must be able to perform all three steps well. This rule can be generalized to all forms of interaction. Thus, if the computer is going to engage in something like a conversation, then it must perform all three steps. It must listen to the user, think about what he has said, developing an interesting and entertaining reaction to the user's input, and then it must express that reaction back to the user. And it must perform all three steps well. Let's begin with the first step: listening.

Computer Listening

How does the computer listen to the user? We normally think of listening in terms of hearing words of a spoken language, and understanding spoken language is still not within our grasp. So how can the computer listen to the user?

The answer is a little tricky: we listen to the user speaking to the computer with the language that we give him. Instead of using a general purpose language such as English that is defined by external authorities, we create our own custom language that is narrowly defined to meet the particular needs of the computer program that we have created. In a word processor, the Delete key might mean, "delete the previous character". In a database manager, the Delete key might mean, "delete the database record". In a role-playing game, the Delete key might mean, "eliminate this character from my team". The user speaks to our program through the keyboard or the mouse or the joystick, but the important point here is that he is forced to use a language that we create.

This language determines what the user can say to the computer &emdash; and therein lies the key problem that hampers many games (and many serious applications as well). Because, in order to listen well, the computer must provide the user with the means to speak well. Listening, in the context of interactive entertainment, is not so passive an experience as normal conversational listening, because the designer of the interactive entertainment must accept the responsibility to create the language with which the user speaks.

An example might help illustrate this crucial point. I once had a frustrating discussion with an exponent of interactive television. This fellow was excitedly describing his wonderful scheme for an interactive television program, in which the users would watch an otherwise typical television show, but they would also be equipped with a single button, and at appropriate junctures in the program they would be allowed to press their buttons. He couldn't understand my disdain for his design.

Think about this scheme in terms of language. How many words can you say with a single button? Just two: "Yes" and "No". Not much of a language, is it? To give you an idea of just how bad this can be, I'd like to tell you a story about another television show, the broadcast pilot of the original Star Trek. In this version, Captain Christopher Pike had been confined to a futuristic space wheelchair by horrible injuries. He could not move, smile, laugh, raise an eyebrow, wiggle, or speak. He could listen and he could see, but he had just one way to communicate to the outside world: by blinking a small light on his wheelchair. One blink meant yes. Two blinks meant no. That was it.

Can you imagine yourself in that situation? Never being able to speak to other people, never laughing with your friends, or frowning, or crying? Could you imagine how lonely and isolated you would feel? Having just two words with which to communicate to the world? What a miserable existence that would be! And yet this is precisely what my interactive television friend proposed to do to his audience!

If we want to listen well, we must equip our users with the means to speak well. We must give them a rich and expressive language, a language with a broad vocabulary and a powerful grammar. We must give them the means to express their individuality. Until we can use natural language in our entertainments, we will carry the heavy burden of giving our users the next best thing.

Computer Thinking

Let us now consider the problem of thinking well. It immediately suggests the use of artificial intelligence, of large and complex algorithms that crunch numbers for hours on end. Many people shrink from this task, and some wave it aside. I remember one fellow who was particularly contemptuous of this notion. "C'mon, Chris," he said, "who needs all this artificial intelligence mumbo-jumbo? You can have an interaction with a refrigerator. You open the refrigerator door, and the little light inside turns on. And you close the refrigerator door, and the little light turns off. And that's interaction!"

That fellow was right: it is interaction. The only problem is, you don't see millions of people standing in front of their refrigerators, opening and closing the doors, laughing. They're not that stupid!

If we hope to provide entertaining interaction, it must be interesting interaction. The computer must respond to the user's actions in surprising, charming, and entertaining ways. It must not seem overly mechanical.

This may seem an impossible goal. After all, the computer is a machine &emdash; how can we avoid it's output seeming mechanical? The key here lies in avoiding repetition. For example, suppose I create a game with a splendiferous animation of a space ship smashing into a wall and exploding into smithereens. Now, THAT'S entertainment, right? The first time you see the animation, you're impressed; you want to buy the game. But what happens when you see the exact same animation the second time? The third time? The fiftieth time? It loses its entertainment value.

There are two ways to solve this problem, a dumb way and a smart way. The dumb way (all too common) is to make the animation look better. We make it more detailed, more complex, with more little bits and pieces flying outward. If you look closely enough, you'll see that one of the little pieces is actually the pilot's hand. That way, the player will have many opportunities to study the animation more closely, to better appreciate all the detail that we put into it. He'll appreciate it longer.

This is penny-ante thinking. It doesn't solve the problem, it just postpones it. The player will grow bored after twenty viewings instead of ten.

The smart way to solve the problem is to eliminate the repetition. The means of doing so is the algorithm. An algorithm is an intellectual black box that takes a variety of inputs and uses them to generate a variety of outputs. The more complex and intricate the relationship between inputs and outputs, the more responsive and interesting the algorithm will be. An algorithm is an idea expressed in computable form. It is a relationship, an association. Ask yourself, would you rather have a conversation with a person who has interesting ideas, who responds to your statements in surprising ways that reveal the truth of the world, or would you rather converse with a dolt who responds to your comments with grunts and hoots?

That may seem a trivial question, but most interactive entertainment products are conversational Neanderthals. Pick one at random and say something to it. It responds with a three-dimensional audiovisual animation of a spaceship blowing up, accompanied by stirring martial music. (I didn't say that the grunts and hoots had to be monotonal.) Now say something entirely different to it. You get the same 3D AV anim/boom + tune that you saw earlier. This is very impressive graphics. It's stinko algorithms.

Why is it that our entertainment software has such primitive algorithms in it? The answer lies in the people creating them. The majority are programmers. Programmers aren't really idea people; they're technical people. Yes, they use their brains a great deal in their jobs. But they don't live in the world of ideas. Scan a programmer's bookshelf and you'll find mostly technical manuals plus a handful of science fiction novels. That's about the extent of their reading habits. Ask a programmer about Rabelais, Vivaldi, Boethius, Mendel, Voltaire, Churchill, or Van Gogh, and you'll draw a blank. Gene pools? Grimm's Law? Gresham's Law? Negentropy? Fluxions? the mind-body problem? Most programmers cannot be troubled with such trivia. So how can we expect them to have interesting ideas to put into their algorithms? The result is unsurprising: the algorithms in most entertainment products are boring, predictable, uninformed, and pedestrian. They're about as interesting in conversation as the programmers themselves.

We do have some idea people working on interactive entertainment; more of them show up in multimedia than in games. Unfortunately, most of the idea people can't program. They refuse to learn the technology well enough to express themselves in the language of the medium. I don't understand this cruel joke that Fate has played upon the industry: programmers have no ideas and idea people can't program. Arg!

There is, fortunately, a handful of people who bridge the gap, people with ideas who can express themselves in the language of the algorithm. But they are few and far between; the bulk of the interactive entertainment product does not benefit from their energies.

Computer Talking

Next we come to the third step: expression. The computer must express its fascinating, scintillating ideas to the user. This is done with sound and image. On this point, we can pat ourselves on the back for having done an excellent job. Videogames, computer games, and multimedia products all demonstrate great strengths in the presentation of material. My only suggestion for improvement is that we have overdone it. We put little effort into listening to our users, and less into thinking about what the user has said. Most of our effort goes into expressing ourselves powerfully. We are like the party bore who talks and talks all night long, neither listening to nor caring about anything that anybody else has to say.

Indeed, if you talk to many of the creative talents in the industry, you'll quickly confirm the impression of a "party bore" mentality. They love to talk about the wonderful things that they are doing with the computer. They are so proud of the fantastic graphics that they have created for their latest effort. They will boast about the compelling storyline, or the devious puzzles, or the zippy frame rates in their animations. But you seldom hear a genuine concern for the actions of the user. The user is, in the minds of most of the creative talent, a passive recipient of their awe-inspiring technical achievements. The user is expected to experience the product, not do anything with it. Is it any wonder that the art of interactive entertainment design is so poorly developed?


Interactivity is the essence of the interactive entertainment revolution, yet the concept of interactivity, because it is revolutionary, is alien to most people. The conversational metaphor is the best simple way to understand the basic principles of interaction. It breaks interaction down into three steps, listening, thinking, and speaking, each of which must be performed well in order to sustain a good interaction. The first two steps, listening and thinking, are poorly understood and difficult to execute with a computer. The third step, expression, is most similar to existing expository forms of entertainment and has therefore, unsurprisingly, been the most fully developed of the three steps &emdash; and it has also been overemphasized.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Net Art as Collectors' Object

Volksfürsorge Art Collection 2003 - generator nag_04 at Royal Meridien, Hamburg

Press Release

—How Smart Artists Make the Machine do the Work

With the purchase of artist Cornelia Sollfrank's generator 'nag_04', the Sammlung Volksfürsorge becomes a pioneering art collector.

In 2003, the Sammlung Volksfürsorge put together one of the largest collections of contemporary art outside a museum. With a budget of EUR 800,000, contemporary works from a wide variety of media were acquired: from painting and sculpture to photography and video art to Net art. The permanent exhibition space for the collection is the newly opened luxury hotel Le Royal Méridien Hamburg on the Outer Alster Lake. The Galerie Ruth Sachse, overseeing the project, proposed acquiring for the collection not only completed images by Cornelia Sollfrank but also the computer program that generates the images. In cooperation with Panos Galanis of IAP GmbH, Hamburg, the artist developed a new generator that works exclusively with images.

Since 1999, Cornelia Sollfrank has been making new images, texts and/or automatic collages out of sites and HTML material available on the World Wide Web. So far, five versions of the program based on this concept have been created with varying emphases and formats. What they all share is a user-friendly WWW interface. The programs are based on Perl scripts which, once the user has entered the title of a work and the name of an artist, send the request to a specific search engine. The material called up according to the search terms is then processed in 12 to 14 randomly generated steps and placed in new combinations. The automatically generated images, texts or Web sites are stored in an archive, the ' gallery.' Furthermore, the source code of the generator has not become private property of the collection, but is subject to the General Public License, GPL, which makes it possible for the code to be modified and distributed.

Processes of rationalization via computer and automatization become means of artistic production via the generator. Art works, traditionally understood as authentic, unique, creative and innovative can then just as well be created by a computer program. With the advent of new media, classic questions regarding authorship, originality, materiality, the role of the artist and the work are newly challenged.

"And surprisingly quickly, you get used to the idea that the production of art can, in the end, only take place via the repetition, theft, quotation, combination and reprocessing of an underlying aesthetic program."

Ute Vorkoeper in 'Programmed Seduction' Anyone who finds all that too complicated can go to the six floor of the hotel and see for themselves a series of automatically generated and aesthetically quite appealing images of flowers.

Le Royal Méridien Hamburg, An der Alster 52-56, 20099 Hamburg

A smart artist makes the machine do the work. Keep on Generating!

Interview with Dr. Lemppenau, Volksfürsorge Collection

Cornelia Sollfrank in conversation with Dr. Joachim Lemppenau, Chairman of the Board of Volksfürsorge Versicherungen. As head of the insurance company, he is also responsible for the art collection and, as a jury member, took part in the selection of the artists.

Hamburg, November 1, 2003

C.S.: You've acquired one of my generators for your collection. The purchase of a Net art work makes you a pioneer among collectors. What moved you to take this step and introduce Net art to the collection as well?

Dr.L.: The generator is a contemporary work of art that makes use of one of the most important media we now have - the Internet. With this purchase, the Sammlung Volksfuersorge is supporting current directions in art. Ownership of a materially tangible art work is not our concern; other sponsors make a sculpture or a painting available to the public in a museum. We find this more appropriate for our time, and besides, we're making the work available to a broader public by doing this on the Internet and with Net art.

C.S.: One of the fundamental problems with purchasing Net art is the administration of copyright and rights of ownership regarding data that is online. What does it mean to you to be the owner of this generator?

Dr.L.: It was agreed that the generator would have a user-friendly Web interface for anyone who might be interested in using it. So the generator is a sort of public work in our collection. We allow the "user" to create the art on his or her own. Anyone can become a (Net) artist.

What's more, the code of the generator, that is, the program, is subject to a license, the so-called General Public License, GPL, which makes it possible for the code to be freely modified and distributed.

C.S.: How will you be handling the needs that arise for the maintenance and administration of an online project?

Dr.L.: The budget for the art collection ensures that the work will be maintained by another company for two years. After two years, we can decide how to carry on. (The costs aren't very high.)

C.S.: Could you imagine expanding further in this direction, that is, adding another work of Net art to the collection?

Dr.L.: The art collection has initially been set up to document exemplary works of contemporary art in various media immediately after the turn of the millennium. The plan does not currently project much further than that, particularly since it's a collection which principally has a single, immobile location — the Hotel Royal Meridien. The generator represents the widest reach in terms of contact since it is accessible via the World Wide Web.

Copied from generator 2003

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Female Extension work by Cornelia Sollfrank

press release, Sept.12,1997

EXTENSION, the first competition has been hacked

127 contributions to the world's first competition for internet art have not been produced by artists but by a computer program.

"280 registrations--two thirds of them are women", says a press release launched by Kunsthalle Hamburg at 3rd of July, 1997, while the competition EXTENSION still was in progress. The news were picked up and disseminated by several on- and offline magazins and newspapers like 'Morgenpost', and 'Bunte online'.

But the museum as well as the press fell victim to a hack: In fact, 127 of the contributions to the competition do not originate from artists but from a computer program. It was the Hamburg-based net.artist Cornelia Sollfrank who has developed and used the program in order to automatically generate websites. For her intervention to the competition, Sollfrank has invented hundreds of fictitious female net.artists, equipped them with names, addresses, and even functioning e-mail addresses. Then she registered the fresh artists to the competition, and after she had received the passwords to send in the material for the competition, she made use of the computer program which would generate the art. The sent in websites consisted of randomly recombined webpages which a defined serach engine had collected before.

Besides the increased chance of winning one of the prices, the artist tried to take the theme of the competition particularly serious: "Internet as material and object".

What does the gender model of male/female mean on the net? Is it possible to check if there's a male or a female person behind an e-mail address? Is the number of virtual identities into which a net.artist can split up limited? FEMALE EXTENSION does ask these and many more questions.

But first of all FEMALE EXTENSION demonstrated that art on the internet can mean much more than just creating websites. It is about picking the technological dispostives of the net as a theme, and working with them as the material of art.

From the Artist's stie:


In February of 1997 the Galerie der Gegenwart (Gallery of Contemporary Art) of the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg Art Museum) was the first museum in the world to announce a net art competition. The event was supported by Philips, the German news magazine, SPIEGEL, and their website, SPIEGEL ONLINE. The name of this competition was EXTENSION, and was meant to be an extension of the museum into virtual space. The competition posed the question of how traditional tasks of the museum, collecting, preserving, mediating, and researching, could be applied to art on the internet.

The call for contributions to EXTENSION asked explicitly not for art on the net, but for net art. Traditional works of art should not be represented in digital format, but artistic works that applied familiar art concepts, such as "material" and "object" to the internet. The Gallery of Contemporary Art entered a new territory with this experiment, and at the same time gained the attention of a world-wide public.

The announcement of EXTENSION met the Zeitgeist of the year 1997. The established art world had started to become interested in this new art form and tried to deal with it more or less appropriately. Nobody wanted to miss the hype, everybody wanted to take advantage of the potential publicity and -- in the best case -- be the discoverer and supporter of a new art form. A subcultural phenomenon was about to be turned into high art. But still, the lack of a market potential of this new art form posed great problems for the art world. Net art had to conform to the needs of the market, or the art world had to change.

Typical for this development is the lack of competence and the insecurity of those who show, curate, categorize and judge net art. To deal adequately with net art, those experts who are trained in traditional art, need an understanding of the new medium which is based on practical experience. Without this understanding, the characteristics of net art fall victim to the aesthetic and economic considerations of the curators. This happened at Documenta X, where "net art" was presented predominantly without any connection to the net.

In the case of EXTENSION, it was planned to upload the projects of the artists onto the server of the art museum. What would remain of works based on communication, exchange and interaction with the user and are in a permanent process of change, or with works linked to other sites? In addition to that, the call for contributions implied that the internet and the World Wide Web were the same, and limited net art to web art. What was left out were works that use other protocols such as e-mail, muds and moos, as well as context systems such as The Thing and t0-netbase.


This problem became particularly clear with my contribution to EXTENSION. I simulated more than 200 international female net artists. Their names were assigned to 7 different nations. Not only did they have complete addresses with phone numbers, but also working e-mail accounts on a number of different servers. I registered these "artists" for the competition and got a password for each of them. The art museum was happy about the large number of contributions, and issued a first press release on July 3rd, 1997: "280 applications - Two thirds are women". A number of print media published this news tidbit, and disseminated the surprise and the joy about the high number of women.

I proceed to produce net art in an appropriate quantity. Using a computer program that collected HTML-material with search engines on the World Wide Web and recombined this data automatically, the net art projects were generated. These projects were uploaded with the names of the "artists" onto the server of the museum. Again the museum expressed great satisfaction in their press release: "On the closing date on June 30th, 120 MegaByte of net art had been submitted. 96 of the artists were from Germany, 81 from the Netherlands, 28 from the US, 27 from Slovenia, 26 from Austria and the rest from GB."

Apart from the higher probability to win a prize with this intervention, I also took "Internet as material and object", the theme of the competition, particularly seriously.

Unfortunately, my attempts were not met by success. I did not get a prize for this automatically generated net art. Even though two thirds of the participants were women, the three money prizes went to male artists.

The jury that consisted of the art historians Prof. Dr. Uwe M. Schneede and Prof. Dr. Dieter Daniels, the artists Dellbrügge & deMoll and Prof. Valie Export, as well as Spiegel editor Rainer Wörtmann had faced a difficult task. They were surprised by the apparently meaningless flood of data and didn't get the idea behind it. On the day the winners were announced, I issued a press release that revealed my contribution. Nobody had discovered my intervention until then.

I could have never realized FEMALE EXTENSION on my own. Therefore I would like to thank the network that helped me:
Konrad Becker and Herbert Gnauer (t0.netbase, Wien), Wolfgang Staehle and Gisela Ehrenfried-Staehle (The Thing, New York), Heath Bunting, Rachel Baker and Steve Mynott (, London), Luka Frelih (, Ljubljana), Neil de Hoog and Andreas Broeckmann (V2, Rotterdam), Geert Lovink (Digitale Staad Amsterdam), Michael van Eeden (Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam), Rob Bank and Walter van der Cruijsen (desk, Amsterdam), Barbara Aselmeier (Internationale Stadt Berlin), Tilman Baumgärtel, Karl Heinz Jeron (, Berlin), Knut Johannsen (, Hamburg).


I consider FEMALE EXTENSION as a typical example for CYBERFEMINISM. The term CYBERFEMINISM describes a group of artists, activists and theorists that started to meet the male dominance in cyberspace in an unusual fashion in the last couple of years. We use the potential of the term CYBERFEMINISM that arises from its contradictory and undefined nature. These contradictions didn't develop out of the fusion of CYBER and FEMINISM, but are already inherent in the two terms. The fusion of these two terms creates additional confusion. An important strategy of CYBERFEMINISM is the use of irony. Irony is about humor and seriousness. Only with irony can the contradictory views can be joined. All these diverse approaches are necessary and important and create a productive tension. That's why CYBERFEMINISM is not just a rhetorical strategy, but also a political method.

A new concept of politics is needed. The methods of earlier decades don't work anymore. An expanded concept of politics has to contain the possibility of both paradox and utopia. It has to be in opposition, able to argue from different perspectives at the same time, and at the same time make meaningful political action possible. A concept of politics that simulates politics, while being politically effective at the same time. With this concept of politics, once again, we approach art.

Copied from Female Extension

Monday, March 24, 2008

Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Sol Lewitt

Artforum (June, 1967).

The editor has written me that he is in favor of avoiding “the notion that the artist is a kind of ape that has to be explained by the civilized critic”. This should be good news to both artists and apes. With this assurance I hope to justify his confidence. To use a baseball metaphor (one artist wanted to hit the ball out of the park, another to stay loose at the plate and hit the ball where it was pitched), I am grateful for the opportunity to strike out for myself.

I will refer to the kind of art in which I am involved as conceptual art. In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman. It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the conceptual artist is out to bore the viewer. It is only the expectation of an emotional kick, to which one conditioned to expressionist art is accustomed, that would deter the viewer from perceiving this art.

Conceptual art is not necessarily logical. The logic of a piece or series of pieces is a device that is used at times, only to be ruined. Logic may be used to camouflage the real intent of the artist, to lull the viewer into the belief that he understands the work, or to infer a paradoxical situation (such as logic vs. illogic). Some ideas are logical in conception and illogical perceptually. The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of ideas the artist is free even to surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition. What the work of art looks like isn't too important. It has to look like something if it has physical form. No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned. Once given physical reality by the artist the work is open to the perception of al, including the artist. (I use the word perception to mean the apprehension of the sense data, the objective understanding of the idea, and simultaneously a subjective interpretation of both). The work of art can be perceived only after it is completed.

Art that is meant for the sensation of the eye primarily would be called perceptual rather than conceptual. This would include most optical, kinetic, light, and color art.

Since the function of conception and perception are contradictory (one pre-, the other postfact) the artist would mitigate his idea by applying subjective judgment to it. If the artist wishes to explore his idea thoroughly, then arbitrary or chance decisions would be kept to a minimum, while caprice, taste and others whimsies would be eliminated from the making of the art. The work does not necessarily have to be rejected if it does not look well. Sometimes what is initially thought to be awkward will eventually be visually pleasing.

To work with a plan that is preset is one way of avoiding subjectivity. It also obviates the necessity of designing each work in turn. The plan would design the work. Some plans would require millions of variations, and some a limited number, but both are finite. Other plans imply infinity. In each case, however, the artist would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem. After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious, and the subjective as much as possible. This is the reason for using this method.

When an artist uses a multiple modular method he usually chooses a simple and readily available form. The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work. Using complex basic forms only disrupts the unity of the whole. Using a simple form repeatedly narrows the field of the work and concentrates the intensity to the arrangement of the form. This arrangement becomes the end while the form becomes the means.

Conceptual art doesn't really have much to do with mathematics, philosophy, or nay other mental discipline. The mathematics used by most artists is simple arithmetic or simple number systems. The philosophy of the work is implicit in the work and it is not an illustration of any system of philosophy.

It doesn't really matter if the viewer understands the concepts of the artist by seeing the art. Once it is out of his hand the artist has no control over the way a viewer will perceive the work. Different people will understand the same thing in a different way.

Recently there has been much written about minimal art, but I have not discovered anyone who admits to doing this kind of thing. There are other art forms around called primary structures, reductive, rejective, cool, and mini-art. No artist I know will own up to any of these either. Therefore I conclude that it is part of a secret language that art critics use when communicating with each other through the medium of art magazines. Mini-art is best because it reminds one of miniskirts and long-legged girls. It must refer to very small works of art. This is a very good idea. Perhaps “mini-art” shows could be sent around the country in matchboxes. Or maybe the mini-artist is a very small person, say under five feet tall. If so, much good work will be found in the primary schools (primary school primary structures).

If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps –scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed works, models, studies, thoughts, conversations– are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.

Determining what size a piece should be is difficult. If an idea requires three dimensions then it would seem any size would do. The question would be what size is best. If the thing were made gigantic then the size alone would be impressive and the idea may be lost entirely. Again, if it is too small, it may become inconsequential. The height of the viewer may have some bearing on the work and also the size of the space into which it will be placed. The artist may wish to place objects higher than the eye level of the viewer, or lower. I think the piece must be large enough to give the viewer whatever information he needs to understand the work and placed in such a way that will facilitate this understanding. (Unless the idea is of impediment and requires difficulty of vision or access).

Space can be thought of as the cubic area occupied by a three-dimensional volume. Any volume would occupy space. It is air and cannot be seen. It is the interval between things that can be measured. The intervals and measurements can be important to a work of art. If certain distances are important they will be made obvious in the piece. If space is relatively unimportant it can be regularized and made equal (things placed equal distances apart) to mitigate any interest in interval. Regular space might also become a metric time element, a kind of regular beat or pulse. When the interval is kept regular whatever is ireregular gains more importance.

Architecture and three-dimensional art are of completely opposite natures. The former is concerned with making an area with a specific function. Architecture, whether it is a work of art or not, must be utilitarian or else fail completely. Art is not utilitarian. When three-dimensional art starts to take on some of the characteristics, such as forming utilitarian areas, it weakens its function as art. When the viewer is dwarfed by the larger size of a piece this domination emphasizes the physical and emotive power of the form at the expense of losing the idea of the piece.

New materials are one of the great afflictions of contemporary art. Some artists confuse new materials with new ideas. There is nothing worse than seeing art that wallows in gaudy baubles. By and large most artists who are attracted to these materials are the ones who lack the stringency of mind that would enable them to use the materials well. It takes a good artist to use new materials and make them into a work of art. The danger is, I think, in making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work (another kind of expressionism).

Three-dimensional art of any kind is a physical fact. The physicality is its most obvious and expressive content. Conceptual art is made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions. The physicality of a three-dimensional object then becomes a contradiction to its non-emotive intent. Color, surface, texture, and shape only emphasize the physical aspects of the work. Anything that calls attention to and interests the viewer in this physicality is a deterrent to our understanding of the idea and is used as an expressive device. The conceptual artist would want o ameliorate this emphasis on materiality as much as possible or to use it in a paradoxical way (to convert it into an idea). This kind of art, then, should be stated with the greatest economy of means. Any idea that is better stated in two dimensions should not be in three dimensions. Ideas may also be stated with numbers, photographs, or words or any way the artist chooses, the form being unimportant.

These paragraphs are not intended as categorical imperatives, but the ideas stated are as close as possible to my thinking at this time. These ideas are the result of my work as an artist and are subject to change as my experience changes. I have tried to state them with as much clarity as possible. If the statements I make are unclear it may mean the thinking is unclear. Even while writing these ideas there seemed to be obvious inconsistencies (which I have tried to correct, but others will probably slip by). I do not advocate a conceptual form of art for all artists. I have found that it has worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of making art; other ways suit other artists. Nor do I think all conceptual art merits the viewer's attention. Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good.

Alison Knowles and the Gift

Alison Knowles in conversation with
Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, September 2006

Alison Knowles was born in New York City in 1933. She is a visual artist known for her soundworks, installations, performances, publications and association with Fluxus, the experimental avant-garde group formally founded in 1962. In additon to numerous teaching engagements and minor awards, Knowles has been acknowledged for her profound contributions to contemporary artistic practice in the form of a Guggenheim Grant (1967), NEA Grants (1981 and 1985), a collaborative New York State Council on the Arts Grant (1989), a Dokumenta Professorship at the Kunstakademie Kassel, Germany (1998), the College Art Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2003), and Anonymous was a Woman Grant (2003).

Much of our everyday morality is concerned with the question of obligation and spontaneity in the gift. It is our good fortune that all is not yet couched in terms of purchase and sale. Things have values which are emotional as well as material; indeed in some cases the values are entirely emotional. Our morality is not solely commercial.[1]

¶ In 1998 you participated in the conference ‘Re-thinking the Avant-garde’ at De Montfort University. Can you tell me what issues were raised and whether any struck you as particularly relevant to your own practice?

The conference in Leicester was stimulated by the remarkable Nicholas Zurbrugg. The subjects we spoke of concerned concepts like avant garde, collaboration, Dada and what we could say of our own Fluxus interaction over years and what had been salted out. I had the pleasure of staying with Nicholas in his little house and sipping tea at breakfast served on a fresh white table cloth from an english tea set. beside a window looking out on green. He always wore a white shirt and a cab was waiting for him every morning. What a pick up from the death of my husband Dick Higgins who had died that same year. It was Nicholas who offered me the silk screen lab and working with Kevin to do the prints. All my experience and much of the experience of others is relevant to my practice, however I am slow to digest.

¶ You made a series of screen prints for the occasion, entitled October Suite. I believe that you dedicated these prints to a number of artists. Can you tell me about the artists you selected?

I made an edition of ten each of the five male artists I selected to honor. Nicholas invited Richard Hamilton to come to Leicester and give a small introduction to the performance I did which is titled Loose Pages. Richard sent a lovely letter of refusal and as I remember the performance went very well.

Here it is briefly, and there is a gift idea in it somehow: walking onto the stage with a female performer I place her on a riser (platform). Opening a portfolio I take out one at a time the “pages” of a book. I dress her.She becomes the spine and each page becomes part of her dress. Arm flaps, head flap, pants pages are carefully put on and finally foot covers. Each page has a different sound. It is paper I have hand made and formed loosely into body parts. The papers are made of cotton(soft muffled) or flax(sharp, hard and strong sound). When she is totally clothed in the edition I help her off the platform (she is blinded by the head flap) and in the wide slipper pages we shuffle off the stage. Perhaps the gift here is that the audience has seen the performance evolve from still pages into a sound work. we have seen the artist(me in this case) present a work created (wrapped) before our eyes. The audience partakes in the dance.

The screen prints were dedicated to Richard Hamilton, Emmett Williams, Dick Higgins, George Brecht and Hermann Braun: a.(Richard Hamilton).

Richard introduced me to Marcel Duchamp in order to execute the screen print Coeurs Volants. The Something Else press needed permission to use the image of the flying hearts on a cover of a book called Sweethearts by Emmett Williams. Gifts for me are above all else a way to thank someone for something done for you: connections, love, admiration, a rich idea, lots of things but personal. For Richard , I did the Leicester print for him to be grateful for connecting me and the Press to Marcel Duchamp. I had tea with Marcel and there are stories to tell but not right here. I sent Richard two prints, the dedicated one to him from the October series and the print I did of Coeurs Volants with Marcel. He responded to me with his own print The Critic Smiles. In other words we made an exchange.

I find emotional values to be the source for my work. In terms of survival I have had incredible luck and fortuitous chance factors kicking in all along. More the trails of a spider than the leap of a tiger! If I am obligated to give a gift it is not my own artwork but something purchased.

b.(Emmett Williams) The print dedicated to Emmett concerned our many performances of my event score by that name, Nivea Cream. The October suite shows the blue plastic jar with the white label that we all used for skin cream years ago (I still do). For many years Emmett worked as an editor of the Something Else Press in New York. He was and is a dear friend who gave me the insight that my artwork is a collection of insights into my own life. He influenced and helped me make the Big Book at my 22nd st. studio in 1967.

c.(Dick Higgins) friend, collaborator and husband. His press was really a threesome with Emmett. I included in this print some of Dick’s music as well as some poetics. With Dick I really learned to read and through his Press I published several books. His concept of intermedia allowed me to do poetics, do sound works and do screen prints. That’s all okay in fact he felt that all artists should have a variety of avenues. We are speaking here of the 60’s of course but I find my closest associates do a number of artforms.

d(George Brecht) a chemist by trade and the creator of many of the best event scores I know. Without him Fluxus would have bent to much to the french(Ben Vautier).

e(Hermann Braun) this collector of Fluxus is as well as the others a dear friend. We once took a weekend at the North Sea when I was a documenta Professor in Kassel. On that beach I found some of the finest specimens of shoe parts piled up for no reason on a loading dock! I have some of them still. The print pictures Hermann facing into the wind with his inevitable cap pulled down tight.

¶ I have been thinking about the function of the gift within contemporary avant-garde poetic practice, as a mode for exchanges motivated by aesthetic and social interest rather than by economic profit. In Mauss’s The Gift, Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, he notes the importance of the gift in promoting alliances. When you dedicate your work (eg. October Suite) to artists/friends/colleagues, how do you see these dedications functioning on a social level, and, following on from this, do you see your use of dedications as a political decision that is at all linked to your conception of the role of the avant-garde? For example, by dedicating your work to select individuals, are you in effect choosing your audience, along the lines that Craig Saper outlines in Networked Art,[2] where he describes the sociopoetic work as that produced with a fixed “network of participants”[3] in mind?

Not particularly, nor do I think that there is a particular fixted network of participants in mind. I do hope certain people would be present when I perform or present, but if not, others seem to turn up and ultimately these others extend the network. Preaching to the converted is not the idea.

¶ Let’s talk about your work in relation to Fluxus. Ken Friedman has described Fluxus as: “a laboratory practice.”[4] How meaningful a description do you find this and how do you see your own work functioning in this way?

The Fluxus event scores for me have a Platonic pearliness, a perfection that some performers can reach that sets ego aside as well as extraneous materials (bad lighting, buzzing air conditioner) and presents an abstraction of excellence in use of the materials and human interaction. Somehow” social practice “includes the ordinary without the Platonic element. hmmm mm the most focussed performers seem to elevate the most simple turns(moving a chair) into magical occurrences.

¶ When George Maciunas tried to formulate a group ideology and aesthetic for Fluxus in his letter no. 6 dated April 6 1963, there was widespread opposition. He wrote to you and Dick saying that he couldn’t understand your opposition to using terrorism to: “reduce the attendance of the masses to...decadent institutions... (eg. museums)... and to instead...“turn their attention to Fluxus.”[5] Would you agree that one of the functions of the dedications in your work is to indicate that rather than courting: “the attendance of the masses,” your practice encourages a sharing of work between like-minded artists?”

“Between like minded people” okay.

¶ Do you see your use of a network of participants (as indicated by the use of dedications) as continuing the territory explored by Fluxus mail art from the fifties onwards, where this method of distributing work provided an alternative to the dominant gallery system of distribution? I’m thinking particularly of the 1979 issue of Arte Postale! where the only way to receive the publication was to send an artwork or text in exchange. Do you see the dedications in October Suite as re-negotiating the currency of artistic commerce from financial to artistic exchange?

It’s not either or, I distribute my work by gifts and donations and don’t connect the act with commerce. I am not averse to selling work however.

¶ Mauss notes the importance of the reciprocal nature of the gift exchange. Do you see your readers/audience as having a responsibility to engage in a particular way with your work?

No it’s in the nature of a gift that it asks no response and rises from a need in the giver. Nor is it a potlatch where objects must be upscaled to prove status or superiority (Incans I think).

¶ Do you think that the reciprocity in gift exchanges works against Phelan’s[6] description of the binary set up between performer and spectator, by turning responsibility to respond onto the spectator, unsettling static positions, as spectator becomes participant? Do you see this happening in any of your Event Scores?

Unsettling static positions, yes.

¶ Joan Retallack has stated that: “an important characteristic of performance is that it usually doesn’t happen in all-day, ordinary time. (Aristotle based an entire Poetics on this fact.) And even if it did, it’s time could not be coterminous with everyday-life time, since the framing of an event as performance is in fact a kind of time-bracketing (as Cage called it) that transforms the time-sense (as Stein called it) within it.”[7] When your Event Scores occur as part of everyday life, such as #5, Street Piece (1962), where the instruction is to make something in the street and give it away, how does this affect the time sense of the performance?

It is interesting to have Joan Retallack as a neighbor here. I live around the corner from Bard where she teaches. It was circumstantial that she came to look at work when I was writing to you!

The bracketing of time is something we all do all the time even when trying to write or whatever, not to be interrupted. Or like Cage, accept the interruption and get back right away into the bracket. sometimes one does that too. What is different with Aristotle is that the material he was writing is itself a bracket of his mind, a construct of his thinking which he writes down and it appears onstage. What distinguishes a piece like Gift Event, or its full title Gift Construction #16 from anything Aristotle did is simply that the time bracket doesn’t really exist. One could wander a street for days finding things to finally put together as a gift for some stranger. when this piece was performed in Canada at the W.O.R.K.S festival I had the report that it wasn’t that hard to make something from street cullings.The hard part was trying to get a stranger to accept the gift. They finally were able to talk someone into it. So is that open ended time when a person has to be convinced to take the gift also part of the piece. Of course it is. The piece in my mind is not bracketed since the elements cannot be fortold nor the time span. Also all the happenings could be considered bracketed. The whole day becomes performance time, bracketed. This is a gray area since most of the happenings I know of were existing in the mind of the artist and planned out with indeterminate factors of time length left more open or indeterminate within the whole Happening experience of a day or long evening. This relates more to Aristotle. In my mind most of the happenings I was involved in were simple outdoor theatre pieces.

You ask how the Event score effects the time sense of the perfomance. I would say the time sense changes in tone and even in its meanings depending on presentation on a stage, outdoors or alone in the kitchen. Event scores have an open frame from daily life from non actor performers and from found materials. This is a long way from Aristotle (thank goodness).

¶ How do you situate your practice in relation to Bourriaud’s[8] conception of relational aesthetics, which presents inter-human communications as the most important function of contemporary art?

I don’t use words like “most important” in this case, rarely do. Has the same problems as “genius” or “the best.” These words get art historians into difficulties, but then I am not one and don’t know what they are up against to categorize and list artists from one to ten. I would say that interhuman communications
are among the important ingredients in the area of performance art.

¶ Bourriaud characterizes much art from the sixties, including Fluxus art, as a series of “relational programmes to be carried out.” Is this a helpful way to view Event Scores?

Actions to be carried out.

¶ Bourriaud’s conclusion that: “it seems more pressing to invent possible relations with our neighbours in the present than to bet on happier tomorrows,” shows that the artist can not change culture, he or she can just make it a better place in the present time of the art work. This seems different to your utilization of methods of production and distribution that challenge dominant economic methods of exchange and present alternative models for contemporary culture. Would you agree with this?

Let’s just bet on what we are trying to do right now. Colored though it be by yesterday and tomorrow. Looking around too much shows a lack of focus. I like what you say about my utilization of methods. Yes, I agree with your assessment thank you.

¶ Can you explain the function of found materials in your work?

Found materials are simply gifts from the street.

¶ Mauss writes that: “everyday morality is concerned with the question of obligation and spontaneity in the gift.” Do you think your use of found materials exemplifies the spontaneity in the gift?

Yes, my use of found materials is a mysterious gift from somewhere. When I pick up street items, a shoe heel for instance, it may be just a dialog of walking, of pausing and observing on my way to the post office. I pick it up and put it in my pocket. It gets cleaned, and observed on a small table with other such things under the sky light. After time I well may abandon it. Its use was simply a casual encounter on my way to the post office, and useful as such. Greene street where I have lived on a corner for many years used to open onto small businesses all the way to Canal street. Small, usually metal items would catch between the bricks items that were custom designed for special uses in industries were then crushed and changed by the traffic. Making their origins unknown and giving them a context for me as abstract and significant.

¶ Dick has said with respect to his event score Danger Music Number Fifteen: “we like quite ordinary, workaday, nonproductive things and activities.”[9] Would you say that you share this view, and that the use of “ordinary, workaday” found materials works against the commodification and fetishisation of art objects in your practice?

I agree.

¶ Footnotes contains work in many stages of process, from draft notes to printed text, drawings, diagrams and scotch tape. Would you say that your use of work in different states of process continues the function of found material in your practice, to establish alternative models for art objects?

The use of scotch tape which I intentionally included in the photographs constitutes an homage to Dieter Roth and his something else press book 246 Little Clouds.

¶ Ann Waldman has spoken of a “poetic economy”[10] as the set of exchanges within a community developed to promote collaborative, creative ventures. My thesis looks at how gift culture can be used as a model for this type of economy. Do you think it is helpful to view your practice as operating within a poetic economy?

This is a nice idea, provided it doesn’t create a closed system in your mind. Sometimes I titled things poem objects.

¶ Are you aware of any other contemporary artists whose work develops the idea of a poetic economy?

I love the work of Eva Hesse.

¶ Are you aware of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa and the Bowery Poetry Club in New York and of how these institutions operate within a poetic economy? Do you think that they provide useful models for contemporary poetic practice?

The Bowery Poetry club is a great space for poetry in NY. I have performed there in the works of Jackson Mac Low.
Good luck and thank you.


[1] Mauss, Marcel. The Gift, Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, (trans. Ian Cunnison) Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1954

[2] Craig Saper, Networked Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Subsequent references are to this edition.

[3] Saper, p.4

[4] Friedman, Ken. The Fluxus Reader, Academy Editions, 1998

[5] Maciunus to Higgins and Knowles,1963. Located at Archiv Sohm.

[6] Peggy Phelan, Unmarked, the Politics of Performance, Routledge, London, 1993.

[7] Joan Retallack, “WRITERS – READERS – PERFORMERS, Partners in Crime,” How (2) 1.6, 2001

[8] Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Les Presse Du Reel,France, 1998

[9] Barnes, Sally, Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance and the Effervescent Body. Duke University Press, Durham and London,1993, p.202

[10] Ann Waldman speaking at The Bowery Poetry Club, August 2005

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