Douglas Davis is no stranger to the art world, but by the standards of
anyone's definition of new media art, he's still on getting-to-know-you
terms with at least one of the new media, the Web, where his "Breaking Out
(of the Virtual Closet)" is currently on display. Plans are to keep it
there, too, till the millennium closes. I'm afraid we won't have to wait till
1999 for it to fade in revelation or even relevance.
Open the URL and you're met with a poster-like image, Davis behind a video
camera, out of focus, calling you in… "COME CLOSER GET INTO THE LENS LET
ME SEE YOU WE ARE ABOUT TO CREATE TOGETHER…" Now, if that isn't icky
enough for you, there's more:
"But not yet, please. Wait just a few pages….hold out your hand
there…yes, I think I got it…your fingers…hand in hand…"
And you thought John Perry Barlow was drenching cyberspace in post-hippie
romanticism. Granted, the gist of most of Davis' work throughout the last
couple of decades has been about countering the bad rap technology was
getting as he was launching his artistic career. In the days when, for
example, the front page image was shot (1973), there was a point to arguing
that technology was not an impersonal threat to humanity, but rather, could
be put to intimate use.
In his heyday, Davis would link galleries in various parts of the world for
live performances that would prove you could whisper sweet nothings to
somebody a hemisphere away, and lo, technology made it all possible. It
seems almost embarrassing to have to remark, though, that since then, the
point has lost its thrust. The love affair between art and technology has
never been hotter nor heavier while business, mass media and just about any
aspect of human culture you can name has fallen head over heels for it as
"Breaking Out…" is presented as the Web extension of "Inter Actions", a
series of works spanning the years 1967 to 1981, and recently revived. For
that, it's tagged with a sort of historical interest. Still, the search for
the actual work takes a while, and when you finally get there, you get: a
form which allows you to add your bit to "The World's First Collaborative
Sentence", a title about as overblown as they come.
This is no sentence, and it's hardly collaborative. It's a global scratch
pad and what gets into people that they stop and spend the time to add to
it is beyond me. Other than the realization that hit someone at some point
that you could write in HTML and hence link to your own stuff. Otherwise,
it's hundreds of K of what you'd expect to get if you went to a typewriter
store and collected all the sheets of paper people had tested the machines
To get to this single, disappointing raison d'etre behind Davis' venture onto
the Web you have to wade through pages and pages of Douglas Davis.
In essence, this is a resume site. There's nothing wrong with a bit of
background, a dash of self-promotion at any site an artist presents as a work
of art… to an extent.
Douglas Davis extends that extent to almost laughable extremes. The page
entitled "Douglas Davis: Work and Biographical Info": 23K. "Inter Actions",
with great chunks of quotage from catalogues and articles going way back:
20K. It's all there, folks. Documenta (6; '77), Venice…Good Morning
America. I kid you not; right there, under the category, "Television,
Radio, Film, Performance (Selected)."
Then there's the page with TWO giant formal portraits of Douglas Davis, one
of them featuring, via advanced double-exposure photographic technology,
Douglas Davis AND Douglas Davis. One page, three Douglas Davises. Just so
you know who's taken you by the hand. If you're still holding on by the
time you finally get through Douglas Davisland, please lead him gently into