CFP'93 - Portrait of the Artist on the Net
by Judy Malloy
The seeds of this interactive art that involves and connects the audience/reader partially lie in performance art that integrated art with life, such as Tom Marioni's "The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art", a series of social, beer centered events that spanned the 1970's or Bonnie Sherk's 1971 "Public Lunch", in which she sat inside The Lion House at the San Francisco Zoo and, at "feeding time", ate a meal catered by Vanessi's Restaurant.
I am a pop conceptual artist. My work uses ideas, information, and text that - that like the world in which I live - are colorful and full of life. My work, performed or installed in galleries, on street corners, on the net, is made with visual text and/or small increments of information. Images or words - sometimes fictional, sometimes nonfictional - are used as molecular units to form a whole. Information, like any visual or verbal imagery is descriptive and can be used to put together a whole picture - art.
On New Year's eve 1983, I was on the streets of San Francisco, on Broadway and Columbus, dressed in red satin shorts and a blue satin cape passing out chapter 12 of SUPER LUCY, a serial about Lucy, a clerical worker, who encounters common workplace situations and problems and deals with them in unorthodox ways - leaving behind her a trail of bosses tied to their chairs with masking tape, system analysts locked in supply cabinets, and blatantly misfiled 3x5 cards. On Broadway and Columbus, some recipients shied away. Others took my information absent-mindedly. Some asked questions or made comments "This is great. Where can I get chapter 13?"
In December of 1986, I was hunched over my computer typing out installments to UNCLE ROGER, an online "narrabase" or narrative database. UNCLE ROGER, a story about Silicon Valley was initially told in serial installments on Art Com Electronic Network on the WELL.
In 1981, I handed out a serial story, THE BIG ZUCCHINI at the performance series PERFORMING/PERFORMANCE at La Mamelle (the artists space Carl Loeffler started that eventually became Art Com). Every week, 100 copies of a new one page installment of the story was placed on the bar there. People got caught up quickly in the story. Many were waiting at the door when I arrived with the new installment.
UNCLE ROGER, my online narrabase, was written in with filmic, computer screen sized units of narrative information (that using database terminology I call records). To tell UNCLE ROGER, I used the WELL's topic form as a stage - a central spot in the marketplace. I was intrigued by the performance aspect of telling a story in the Homeric tradition in a modern electronic community of people with many and varied interests with the common denominator of online communication.
I set up a topic and posted an introduction which explained the concept at the beginning of the topic. In response no. 1 of the topic, I posted record no. 1 of the first file of Uncle Roger - the file called A PARTY IN WOODSIDE. Every time I logged on to the WELL, I uploaded one record of the story. Each record was posted with a keyfield where the keywords were listed so that readers could download the story if they choose and put it into any commercial database. Many people told me that picking up the new record had become part of their day, or, some said, their "bedtime story".
In the summer of 1983, I stood on the steps of the Oakland Museum during the International Sculpture Conference wearing the same satin shorts (that had blue sequins embroidered down the side) and a blue satin cape with a red L for Lucy stitched on its back, passing out chapter 8 of SUPER LUCY to the critics and curators attending the conference while a tape player in a cat box at my feet played a loop tape of continuing meow's as this chapter focused on Lucy's cat Fireball. I had handed out most of the 100 copies that I held in a painted box when a museum guard politely informed me that the curator had requested that I leave.
In the spring of 1992, I was on the net collecting information for BADTIMES, a collaboratively created data structure that was built with information about contemporary economic conditions. The times were very bad. Awful information trickled in by email. It was so depressing that I could barely read it. Some horrible pieces of information about AIDS, animal abuse, job loss, and medical mistakes were followed by a complaint about the use of the word "bitch" and another complaint that BADTIMES was not hypertext and therefore not an appropriate posting for alt.hypertext.
In the spring of 1991 I began YOU!, an interactively created data structure that simulated an intimate relationship between two people. I started the work, on a one-to-one basis, by asking people from whom I received e-mail in May 1991 to "think about someone you might be in love with, are in love with or are no longer in love with. Write a short sentence addressed to that person." For the most part people responded with serious, intimate or down-to-earth contributions such as "You have nice eyes."
YOU! gathered more responses on June 3, 1991 during Cyber Encounters - an a/synchronous online event on Art Com Electronic Network, presented by Anna Couey at the New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program. Sentences received from Cyber Encounters ranged from "You light up my life" to "My kinky twinky's black and blue."
I fed the contributions from both my personal email and Cyber Encounters into a computer program which made judgments about the length and the content of the sentences and formatted them into YOU!. The program placed short sentences that it "thought" were indicative of the first flowering of a relationship at the beginning. It considered all long sentences to be indicative of the full communication that takes place in an established relationship and placed them in the middle. Short sentences that it thought indicated disintegration of the relationship were placed at the bottom of the structure so that an exhibition version of YOU! now scrolls across a computer screen at the speed of spoken conversation, accompanied by a simple melody - the German folksong that begins "Du, Du"- pausing every now and then to invite each viewer to enter his or her own sentence (in whatever language he or she is comfortable with). The computer incorporates the new sentence into YOU! and then displays the work again. Contributors names are entered into the "credits" which can be displayed on request.
At 6:30 PM, on November 8, 1988, election eve, I stood at the corner of Folsom and 9th St., in front of the Billboard Cafe. I wore a long white nightdress with a scarlet "V" sewed on the front. A red silk cape hung over my shoulders. In my right hand, I held a black bucket with "FREE VALUES" lettered on it in white. The bucket contained 100 "values" collected from newspapers and television over the course of the past eighteen months. Each value had been mounted on a certificate, xeroxed, and cut out. Each finished value had red strings attached and was numbered and hand signed.
I stood on a black painted pedestal. A white text was lettered on each side of the pedestal: such as: "If I had known the microphone was on, I would not have taken the Lord's name in vain." George Bush, CBS News 1/27/88
It was a cold November night. At Artspace, half a block to my right, there was an opening for Michael Tracy's chapel installation, Santuarios. I offered free values not only to the art crowd going back and forth between the openings but also to all other people who came by that corner on that night.
Four young men in black leather jackets stole the bucket from my hand, but returned it to me when I politely asked for it back. Because the crowd was not contained, as it has been in some of my other hand out pieces, and because each handout was different, most people reacted to the piece based on the one value they received rather than by sharing and comparing values. Some were pleased. Others were outraged or confused.
A value that showed George Bush standing in front of a huge American flag with a girl scout beside him was immediately crumpled up and thrown away. A picture of the Dalai Lama with the caption: "he is accused of stirring unrest" was prized by the recipient. So was: "Joely Kragh, 28, of Fresno says she will feel safer in Southern California with a gun."
A man traded "Norbert Palm is among 30 people camping out in hopes of getting a house in Windsor" for a picture of Donald Trump ("There is no one of my age who had accomplished more.")
A crowd of Asians with shopping bags full of groceries were confused but politely accepted values. Some people read the texts on the pedestal. Others were curious about what I had on under the nightgown.
In May 1990, I produced THIRTY MINUTES IN THE LATE AFTERNOON, a group-written narrative on ACEN on the WELL. Three separate characters (John, Mary, and Rubber Duck) were written simultaneously by 15 writers in 3 parallel topics. The story was set in the San Francisco Bay area where John and Mary were preparing (separately) for their first date. The third character, a street person known as Rubber Duck for his habit of constantly muttering the words "rubber duck", was sitting on the steps of the Museum of Modern Art. The time frame was the 30 minutes preceding the 1989 earthquake. Mary's route involved a freeway and a bridge which would both break when the earthquake hit. I asked participants to choose a character, enter the topic and speak/think as that character. Since this was the group mind taking the persona of the characters, the emphasis was on the character's thoughts and their memories. In the final work, I put the 3 topics in a data structure in which the thought streams of the 3 characters were simultaneously displayed. The resulting work, written by 15 writers (whom I did not select but who saw the topic and responded) is a surprisingly seamless, collaborative net-made work.
For artists who work online, the net is not just a place to discuss art, to exchange information about art - to communicate. These things are important, but the net is also a place to make art. The keyword is the word communicate because to a certain extent, art is a kind of communication. An individual or collective vision is transferred from mind to medium - on paper, on canvas, or on the network - the observer experiences that way of looking at things and that way of looking at things is communicated.
The net, a virtual space with communication at its core, is a place where text based art, like conceptual art information art and experimental writing can thrive outside the confining walls of galleries, museums and book covers. Art that is released in this environment (that combines the complete, formulated expression possible with written words with the immediacy and interaction of spoken words/conversations) receives immediate publication and immediate feedback. Here art is a part of a group mind and the artist can shape art not only for that group mind but with that group mind.
We artists who work on the net have begun taking the nature of the audience into account as we reach out to audiences no longer made up solely of fellow artists. In many cases, we have found, as I found moving from museum steps to street corners, that the wider audiences are more accepting - that New Year's eve celebrators are more open to new forms than a bunch of curators and critics at a museum conference - that, for the most part, those from all works of life who live a part of their lives on the net are accepting folks with open minds. As we gather together to shape the future of the net, I hope that we will not limit by defining too narrowly but rather will seek to expand the boundaries of what can and is done on the net.
Return to the CPSR home page.
Created before October 2004