The Animating Fluid of Cyberspace

Posted by Rhizome | Mon Feb 25th 2002 1 a.m.

net.dialogue.7
The Animating Fluid of Cyberspace
(with Mark Amerika and Melinda Rackham)

MA: Back in late 98, I was working with multi-user 3D web environments,
particularly investigating the potential use of these spaces for
creating multi-linear narrative. With Holo-X, we were working in VRML,
which has a whole host of compatibility and bandwidth issues associated
with it - but given the limitations - what my collaborators and I found
was that it enabled us to explore alternative models of "reality" - Jay
Dillemuth, the VRML architect, used Gibson's phrase "consensual
hallucination" as one way to describe both the creative work process and
the interface that was being manifested. You have been working with VRML
a lot too - and I was wondering what it was that made you want to move
in that direction and how happy you are with current outcomes?

MR: I'm from a sculpture/performance/installation background, so I've
always visualised the net.art works which I build as totally 3D
architectural spaces, rather than flat pages...so in my mind I was
always working this way. Also, I was feeling increasingly frustrated
that navigating web.art often seemed like sitting through bad 1960's
slide nights...so I guess it was just time, and bandwidth, that made
exploring this arena inevitable. What I'm doing in my "empyrean" scape
is constructing what I see as a precolonised virtual space, a place of
code and void and emptiness, which isn't derived from what we are
familiar with in the world of real estate.. .I don't think of it as
"consensual hallucination" - that implies it only happens in your
head...it's totally hardspace real in multiuser VRML, embodied, hard
coded, altering us as we alter it.

MA: You recently started the empyre email list and I have been wondering
about the social value of such lists. For example, are lists mostly
useful for lonely people in search of a community? A friend of mine
recently said she had to get off all of her lists because she kept
hearing "voices" inside her head? Is it like that?

MR: empyre is a discussion list with invited guests who post on specific
topics rather than a "let's say hello and self promote" list...so its
sort of like participating in a conference or workshop, rather than
being focused on social interaction. But I don't think there is
anything wrong with lists that do that either...it's just not what I
want in my inbox right now...however there was a time in the mid '90s
when I did live in a tiny conservative beach town 2 hours out of Sydney,
and the net was my social community as I was such an outsider in the
village where I lived. Mailing lists were also where I learnt to be a
net.artist - learnt html and scripting and vrml from tech lists - from
people sharing their knowledge freely, and I learnt about hypertext and
net.art theory and started to enjoy debating it in places like Jordan
Crandalls eyebeam forum, nettime, Rhizome, recode, etc.. These days my
life is both on and offline and I appreciate the differences...:)

MA: When we met for lunch in Sydney the other day it was clear that you
found the act of "being digital" - of working with new media technology -
to be physically demanding. A similar issue came up the next day at a
performance I gave in Melbourne with Nina Czeglady at the Australian
Centre for the Moving Image, where one of the questions asked of us
dealt with recent studies in ergonomics and how we might have to start
redesigning our clothing to adjust to our slumping, shoulderless
bodies...

MR: Weirdly enough one of the reasons I started working online was that
I thought it would be less physically demanding than my previous
sculpture practice. Very early on I realised that the net has an energy
system of its own...it is a living entity and I think it feeds off us as
we sit in front of the screen. We become the animating fluid of
cyberspace - then there is the mutation of your eyes - mine have
adjusted to see the totally annoying flickers of lower hertz rate
screens, and the repetitive strain injury, and back/neck/jaw etc
problems...tending to forget that the bottom half of our bodies exits.
we have to evolve better HCI or the H factor in that equation burns out
too quickly...our technology will kill us.

MA: I remember when your work was first being shown at the Alt-X
"Digital Studies" online exhibition Alex Galloway and I curated back in
1997. But you had already shown your work in an online context here in
Australia, yes? Which came as a surprise to me since I didn't know that
had happened - I mean, it's back to that problem of everything being
historicized in along an American - European axis, when really it's
quite possible the earliest online exhibitions happened right here in
Oceania. I guess you'll next tell me that net art has been bought and
sold through an active net art gallery that would shame the likes of
London and New York...

MR: Choosing to live outside of North America or Europe has lots of
great advantages including getting a different perspectives on the world
events, however it also means it's a constant frustration to see
yourself either dropping out of, or excluded from that northern axis
history, and watching that "invisibility of difference" and the "tyranny
of distance" as it happens. And yes, an online gallery called Urban
Exile had two early net shows, "tool 1.0" in 95 featured half internet
work and half installation, and "tool 2.0b" in 96, held online, and in
hardspaces simultaneously at Artspace Sydney, in the USA and in Germany.
It was an Australian/International show, and included my "tunnel" work ,
and about 15 other artists including GashGirl, Tom Sherman and Cary
Peppermint, etc. The show was focused on net agency, online sexuality
and gender slippgae issues that were rife at that time.

As for collectors in Australia - while we have been producing fantastic
online works and artists since the early 1990s, there are still only 20
million people living here, and it isn't a society that highly values
culture. CD-ROMs are acquired by museums but no one still wants to deal
with the difficulties and issues of the viability of purchasing network
art which isn't a discreet object, which will need migration to new
technologies and may quickly become obsolete. Its' a market size issue,
which is why Australian artists seem to travel a lot.

Mark Amerika is a Visiting Fellow at the Royal Melbourne Institute of
Technology. His work can be found at www.markamerika.com

Melinda Rackham's work can be found at www.subtle.net
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