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Thomson and Craighead Presentation
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Thomson and Craighead Presentation

11.05.2001
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Speakers:>  Alison Craighead & Jon Thomson

Presentation excerpts:

Jon Thomson:

Its probably good to say that we work in the gallery and we use the World Wide Web as a place to site our work. I think networked space is something that were becoming increasingly interested in as artists, but were going to start by just showing you a work that appeared in the Lux Gallery in 1998, called Trigger-Happy. Its based on Space Invaders. [] The text is What is the Author, by Michel Foucault []

What we found interesting about this work was the relationship that developed between the active user and the passive viewer. Where the active user couldnt really read the text, but was destroying it from the back to the front. Whereas the passive viewer got an overview of the text but was never able to actually read it properly because the whole thing was just fragmenting in this almost poetic way.

Alison Craighead:

I think that when weve actually taken work that is say, navigational, into a gallery, this is the first time weve felt it was successful. Wed done it before. We started using the terms passive viewer and active viewer and its very, very important now that when we do anything in a gallery thats navigational, that we use this rule of thinking.

[Discussion of the artworks Speaking In Tongues, Pet Pages, Weightless, Shopping, then (below) Telephony.]

JON THOMSON:

So you would pop into the gallery space and there would be phones available (or you could just use your own) and a list of numbers. You could dial the grid of phones which would then call forwards to each other and begin to gather weight and play fragments, again based on the Nokia tune. The more people that dialled in, the more layered it would become. If it was just a single visitor to the gallery, it would be a single dialogue with the user dialling the grid of phones and listening to the kinds of harmonic relationship with the supermarket music. However, we also had the Universal Master Clock playing through a lie-detector on the other side of the gallery. This is the second work in which the commercially available truth-verification software called Truster, is live-testing this clock that comes through the Internet, and the Universal Master Clock tells the truth, as opposed to the reports on the wall, which are other speaking clocks that werent telling the truth according to the software. So you had the British Speaking Clock was prone to exaggeration and the [] New York Weather and Time Check was very unsure of much of what it said. Ironically the Universal Master Clock always delivers itself via real audio with the time lag of at least six seconds. We were just simply trying to undermine these two technologies by putting them together. []

[About E-Poltergeist].

It was commissioned by SFMoMA for the online part of the 010101: Art In Technological Times exhibition. We spent a long while considering what we should do for this in terms of creating a net-specific work a work that exists purely online for access through a browser. We had become very, very interestedon the back of our surfing experiences through Geocitiesin a whole host of sites. One particular site we accessed was a suicide note, which surprised us because it was a suicide note that had advertised itself through HTML to search engines using metatags. It struck us as a very complex attempt at communication.

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

And so we were really shocked and struck by this and then we spent a lot of time looking at it and we started to think does this happen often? Is this a one-off or is this happening often? So what we ended up doing is going to a search engine and putting in different questions or criteria to try and find more. What we realised afterwards, because we were scoring off and writing more down, but an actual conversation seemed to develop.

JON THOMSON:

Well, rather a monologue. We were keying things in like I want to kill myself, and stuff like that. Also please help me, help me, I want to end it all. We found that it created a monologue and that the consistent results that we got from these narrative fragments almost wrote themselves. They had a certain tenor. So it led us to make this work E-Poltergeist, which is quite hard to present. Its easier to use it is an intervention in the browser. Its very durational. It basically loads up a time-line. It loads up no interface particularly. Youre simply taken to the Yahoo search engine. Over a short period of time, the browser starts to misbehave itself a little and you get these narrative fragments coming in through search engine results. What is most important for us in making this work, was this way in which we could use live data live search engine data to construe a single monologue. []

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

we just ask the questions and it changes all the time. So this piece changes as the Yahoo results change and the input is purely what comes out of asking the questions. So, I want to kill myself, my Pentium has crashed, will lie next to something more desperate, a desperate plea, but its just a search engine. Its just a machine that asks the questions then we, as the users, give the answers. The other thing that is interesting for us about this work is the fact that it can be taken on a few different layers. There are different layers to the work. So you could either just come and just get the flashing, blinking feeling that there is this idea of a poltergeist or ghost in the machine, or if you actually go further and explore and click through the search engine results, it can actually take you to some very different and interesting parts of the Web. [] we were shocked at how upset people got at the idea of having to restart.

JON THOMSON:

No one actually told us that Yahoo and Intel were partners in the SFMoMA exhibition and Intel had issues with our work, which was a shame because we ended up having to compromise a little bit on the 010101 site. But because we wanted to try and reach an audience, we felt we couldnt pull the piece. Also, it was a very important opportunity for us.

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

I think thats very interesting as well because I think when you start having to work with new technology, then obviously it is very expensive and to put on a big show like 010101 takes a lot of money. So you end up this is our first experience of it actually that it wasnt a sponsor, it was a partner and that was quite shocking that when the press release went out, we had no idea that we were being promoted by the words, Intel Presents. We werent actually told of this, which also is something that I think is going to occur more and more and will become a bit of an issue.

Mark Tribe (RHIZOME):

I hadnt heard about this; can you tell us how your work was compromised? []

JON THOMSON:

Basically they didnt like the fact that you couldnt leave the work very easily and that also it would dispose of the 010101 interface as it began to progress. Wed actually flagged this up over the course of the year saying, Are you sure you want to take this work?

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

Because we offered a selection of works and we were very impressed actually that they took something that we felt was quite difficult. [] We felt it was quite difficult to place within a portal and we did bring this up and deliver quite a few months before.

MARK TRIBE (RHIZOME):

So it crashes the browser?

JON THOMSON:

Yes, and if youre using PC and Explorer then you have to End Task to leave the browser or you have to restart the machine. What we ended up having to do was to make the work stoppable and to warn people through a series of alerts that some terrible thing was about to happen and that you would have to quit your browser.

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

Yes, so we had to put warnings and then also, obviously the whole idea of having a poltergeist that you can go Okay, heres the Go-Away-Poltergeist button its obviously compromising. So we dealt with it in terms of saying this is a demo of the piece and we used the language of software to try and deal with it. But I have to say it was a very, very horrible situation.

MARK TRIBE (RHIZOME):

Did you get the sense that the curator, who I guess is Benjamin Weil, initially liked the work the way it was, then got caught between the interests of the sponsor?

JON THOMSON:

Absolutely.

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

Absolutely. He was trying his absolute best, but it was just really horrible. Then we found out that the other partner who we hadnt been told about was Yahoo. We were just like Ugh, and they werent happy either with us and we had to change the name of the piece.

MARK TRIBE (RHIZOME):

What was the previous name?

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

Do you Yahoo? [] lets just think about it we made a piece where you had to quit the browser and if you were on a Pentium then you would have to restart. Now, lets think about say what Hans Haacke does [] he drills up floors. I mean this is highly extreme - someone who has to restart their computer? But I started to realise that actually galleries are more precious about their Web presence than they are about their gallery space. They are happier to take risks within the galleries than they are on the Web actually, when you get down to big institutions. Thats amazing!

JON THOMSON:

We often get asked this question when we present work within an institutional context will people be able to access porn? Well the Internet is the Internet and its a connected network. Certainly a lot of these larger institutions have works of art in their permanent collections that are paintings that were in fact porn anyway.

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

Yes, and thats actually the thing that we find unbelievable.

JON THOMSON:

Yes, it seems so ironic to us.

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

That the collections themselves, we think are quite pornographic and yet their main concern with our work is that people would be able to access porn, because were on the Internet. But anyway, thats just a personal thing.

HANNAH REDLER (C-PLEX):

Can I just ask I was interested in what you were saying about large institutions were more cautious about what they presented on the Web, rather than in their galleries. I was just wondering, is that because larger institutions tend to see the Website as a marketing tool rather than a place where you can have as a virtual gallery?

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

Yes, I think so. We actually got the question somebody said to us that they worried about people suing them for having a bad experience on their Website. So the whole idea of litigation has been really taken very seriously. Not just within walking in the gallery door, but actually visiting a URL thats related to that gallery.

JON THOMSON:

Were certainly very, very interested in these whole areas about how we should deal with these issues and thats why we attempt to try and target them in some of the works that we make and its very important, but we do feel that sometimes well, its something that should be discussed more.

ALISON CRAIGHEAD:

I think its just this whole thing about people being more scared of the Website is that if they dont fully understand the media or the Website, they have a fear of it and people normally get slightly if they get scared of something then they get a little bit scared or aggressive. Whereas maybe people are a lot more relaxed about filling the gallery with oil, because theres been a longer tradition of it. []

 

 
Keywords:

  net.art
  installation
  time
  space
  interface
  software
  audience
  money
  press
  sponsorship
  lag

People:

  Mark Tribe
  Jon Thomson
  Alison Craighead
  Benjamin Weil