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Random Excess Memory

Imagine your computer goes nuts. I'm not talking about the usual data blips
and all out crashes - I'm talking genuine human psychosis. This seems to
have been the premise behind a one-time only performance on August 8 '96 at
the arena here in Berlin, part of an ongoing series entitled
THEATERSKULPTUR.

Writer/directors Daniel Tharau and Wolfgang Weileder let a copy of the
German version of Bill Gates' _The Road Ahead_ fall open and then dropped a
forefinger onto the page. Whichever sentence was randomly chosen would
be the title and foundation of the piece. The sentence (my translation):

"They showed that a computer was easier to use if you showed things on the
screen - if you could see images."

From here, they built up the most successful aspect of the evening, the
set. The arena is a huge warehouse-type building in an industrial yard at
the edge of Treptow Park, itself at the western edge of what was once East
Berlin. Inside this early to mid century cavern of brick and exposed steel
beams, around a hundred stainless steel platforms, raised to varying heights,
had been arranged within a square of maybe 150 square meters.

At each of the four corners, an entire panel of spotlights beamed onto the
playing area. All that glistening steel centered within a chasm of darkness
would have been cold indeed, if it weren't for the literally hundreds of
small kitschy stuffed animals, strategically placed, on several of the
platforms. All in all: A giant circuit board strewn with bits of fuzzy
data.

The audience was free to wander the set, smoke and chat. And then out came
the performers, six of them, decked out in shiny leather, vinyl and
plastic, sort of day-glo raverwear, hot pants, tank tops, jump suits, but
with none of the piercing or ornament. The costumes said: functional. This
isn't the first time humans have been tossed into the metaphorical innards
of a computer, but _Tron_ it wasn't.

The hour and a half was spent so: The performers, either alone or in
clusters, read seemingly unrelated passages out loud, cried, laughed, sang,
staged little scenes, screamed and all the while moved the stuffed teddies
from platform to platform, as if reprogramming the order of events. They periodically checked bar codes taped to their arms as if reading instructions on where they were to go next and what they were to do there.

This may (or may not) sound more enjoyable than it actually was. While the
idea has a sliver of potential in it, the aesthetics employed to pull it
off were simply tired. The web of associations was stretched too thin to
withstand any tension. The messy portrait of synapses randomly firing and
misfiring was too blatant to hold the audience's attention. And, while the
performers checked their bar codes, I was checking my watch.

Still, I'm hungry for new media art that isn't confined to a box. It
doesn't thrill me to walk into a gallery and be handed a mouse anymore. Of
course there are some wonderful things being done inside the machines. But,
more and more, I'm wondering if we won't be able to turn that inside out.

What I'm not talking about are the many cybernetic body art scenes,
Survival Research Laboratories, or any other mechanical; hydraulic,
motorized or modernist-posing-as-pomo man-machine noise.

New media art has already raised a fresh batch of far more relevant issues
- the value of information, its dissemination, access to it, timeliness,
perception in an age of realized virtuality - that seem difficult to
extract from a very enclosed web of connectivity.

This is a challenge I'm positive will be met. "Net Game - An American
Dialogue" seems interesting, but it's hard to know; only the text of the
performance by Michael and Deena Weinstein was published by CTHEORY
<http://www.ctheory.com/ga1.12-net_game.html>. George Coates staged a show
in San Francisco and called for people to submit text via the Net, but the
results were no more enlightening than the projected sub-titles at an
opera.

Walking home, I passed one of Berlin's cyber cafes. People were drinking,
talking and reading. Two monitors hummed – Netscape at the ready. They were
utterly ignored.

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