VideoWear, (2003), Mixed Media Sculpture and Performance
Given your interest in revealing electronic circuitry and conduits as a symbol of the body, do you feel that your wearable pieces like Coat of Embrace are extensions of your own body's natural electric currents? Also, reflecting on early sci-fi and cyborg culture, what is your future vision of human interactions with electronics?
All of our instruments, wearable or not, act as extensions of our bodies. Our tactile relationship with the technologies that we use includes building our instruments by hand and designing them around our bodies. Despite or as a result of their origins, these instruments modify how we move while we play them, in ways we cannot predict in advance. They change not just our use of technology, but also the communication between us and our audience during the performance. In some of our work, we amplify natural electrical signals from the human body when we invite our visitors and audience to touch exposed electronic components that are connected to our instruments. This allows the live signals from their bodies to affect the final audio/video. We like creating this circuit between natural and man-made signals as it fits with our vision of a conglomeration of media/technology/electricity with natural and organic systems. In terms of past/future visions, we tend to think in terms of alternate possibilities for both present and future. We envision co-evolution of natural and man-made systems where interactions are innate and automatic.
Many of your pieces include live performance and video that feed into each other. When creating these types of pieces with feedback loops, do you start by searching for a particular visual you are trying to achieve or do the works emerge from raw experimentation with electronics? How do you feel working as a team plays into this?
Our process of creating work varies depending on the specific needs of each piece. Sometimes we start with a specific idea that can range from being entirely aesthetic to completely conceptual. In other cases we experiment with an instrument or tool and try to challenge it however we can. We are interested in finding new ways to use technology by finding the “weaknesses” or fragility of the system. When we work in the studio, we often record long sessions and then edit to select specific moments. We see these recordings as preserved or captured signal or time, so it is important that the recordings approximate the live signal, with the same combination of sound and image with minimal or no post-processing. Though we usually focus concurrently on both video and sound, sometimes we develop a piece concentrating more about one modality while the signal ultimately gets translated into both image and noise. Working on audiovisuals in this way is very related to our being a team. Generally speaking, Kyle focuses more on the sound and Tali on the image; we tweak them both until we reach a moment that works for us both. As importantly, Kyle is more analytic and interested in intentional directed manipulation of the signal via engineering and compositiion whereas Tali is more intuitive in her process and likes to follow wherever the signal leads.
Inverted h-Barn, Off The Wall, and Lighter Than Air and Easier to Carry all use an myriad of materials and sculptural collage techniques. Screens, circuit boards, and wires are also often used in abundance. Working as a collaborative team, where do you search for materials for these ambitious works?
In our objects and installations we are interested in translating our signals or videos into physical materials. Since we think of the stream of media as tactile, we like using a mix of textures, colors, forms, and scale. We also like for the installations to be physically immersive since that is how we see our videos and performances. The actual materials we use vary based on both the piece’s function and the space since many of our installations start as site specific works. However, the choice of materials is frequently driven by the concepts that motivate the work. For example, in Inverted-h Barn we used playground netting because we wanted for the space to evoke the same immersive exuberance children experience in play-spaces while emphasizing the playful shapes that represent the universe’s evolution from the big bang to the present. Exposed electronics, including circuit boards and electrical wires, serve major aesthetic roles and repeat in much of our physical work.. These electronics also are the synthesizers that produce the live audio and video feed. Being a collaborative team helps when we have a complicated installation with many opposing elements, and collaborating with audience participants provides a continuous influx of new material.
Revealing networks of transmission is an important part of your practice together. In one of your Wirefull interventions you even reframe the connection between two phones over a mile by having a physical wire travel the distance. Given the scale and proliferation of unseen networks that currently exist around us, what would be your ideal network to physically reveal?
We are interested in contrasting elements of scale. Particularly, we enjoy exploring the tension between the intimate and the immense. Also, we are interested in the combination of and contrast between natural and man-made. Therefore, the most exciting networks for us to work with would incorporate these elements, working to transfer information between natural and industrial systems. For example, we would like to convert global or universal phenomena into human scale information, such as signal readers that detect earthquakes or volcanic activity and send information to remote handheld or earpiece devices. We are also interested in externalizing or expanding the brain’s neurological networks by converting these signals into digital information and vice versa.
Technology and modernism historically have been coupled together to produce the idea of "Progress". Exploring your works aesthetics and motivations reveals quite a different take on technology's presence around us. In your own words, what is your definition of "Progress"?
Progress is often used to denote technological/scientific advancements for the sake of improving human lifestyle and the ability to understand or cope with nature. The issue we have with this idea of progress is that it is motivated by efficiency toward a single goal and is designed by a small group of people that end up directing everyone else’s behavior and relationships with the world. That is why we prefer to think in terms evolution, which suggests a less efficient, but more flexible change that occurs because of a stochastic process of adaptation to an environment. We are particularly interested in the multiple options and paths that this type of development offers, and are inspired by the alternative or parallel presents or futures that might have developed.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
We’ve been working together since 2000 but even before that we were each independently working with technology. Tali started using video equipment and computers for video when she lived in Paris, and Kyle started making music using toys in his first high school band (Velvet Cactus Society) and synthesizers in college (learning Serge from Ivan Tcherepnin) along with contact mics and simple circuits he built in bands (including QXW and ORTHO).
When we started working together, Kyle had a video drawing toy that had a video out jack so you could hook it up to your TV and make video drawings. The position where you were drawing on the screen determined the pitch and volume. We really liked that direct connection between image and sound and also the mixture of live drawing and video; these highlighted the translation of signal and illustrated the idea of media being tactile and handmade.
Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?
In 2003 we had a residency at Experimental TV Center. At the time we were using a lot of vintage analog audio and video mixers and processors. At ETC we were really inspired by the history and legacy of the organization and the tradition of artist made instruments. So we started building our own video synthesizers, first a black and white single chip digital synthesizer in collaboration with Douglas Repetto and then a full analog system (Sync Armonica) during a residency at Eyebeam.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Tali studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (France). Kyle studied neurobiology and electronic music as an undergraduate at Harvard, and then received his MD and PhD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
What traditional media do you use, if any?
The non-electronic media we use include textile, patchwork, ceramic, paper, collage, painting, and sculpture.
Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?
Yes. We are interested in the translation of ideas from one medium to another and are particularly inspired by interconverting between ephemeral media and physical materials. To explore the idea of a parallel world where media is physical and organic, we make objects that we envision as relics from another civilization’s flow of media. We imagine that these migrate from that world into our own, resulting in forms that are very layered, textured, and awkward.
Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?
We have a not-for-profit organization called Ignivomous. Ignivomous organizes music/video/performance events and releases music and video by other musicians/artists. Also, for 11 years we ran La Superette which was an annual exhibition/craft fair/event. We invited artists, designers, and friends to make small multiples that had to be somehow functional, so were not simply fine art. We are interested in the alternative models of idea distribution used by networks outside of the art world.
What do you do for a living?
Tali is an artist and a media teaching artist. In addition to working with LoVid, Kyle is a physician-scientist.
Do you think your job relates to your art practice in a significant way?
Yes. Despite obvious differences, art and science have remarkably similar goals and methods. Kyle works as a scientist and we draw much inspiration from science. Sometimes these ideas remain in the background research stage and at other times they more directly affect the final look or feel of the project. Most of Tali’s teaching is in NYC public schools; this provides a great opportunity to witness what role technology plays in children’s lives and in education more generally.
Who are your key artistic influences?
Forcefield, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Marcel Duchamp, Ohad Naharin, Crank Sturgeon, John Cage, John F. Simon, Jon Kessler, Nic Collins, Bruce McClure, Alvin Lucier, Gary Hill, JODI, Kristin Lucas Also, the community of artists/engineers associated with development of early video synthesizers and with Experimental TV Center including David Jones, Mathew Schlanger, Peer Bode, and Dan Sandin has been a major inspiration and influence.
Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?
Each of us has collaborated with a variety of artists in the past and we also work with other people as LoVid. We have an ongoing collaboration with Douglas Repetto that we call Cross Current Resonance Transducer. With Douglas, we do projects that use environmental signals and often have kinetic elements. The projects usually start when we collect some kind of natural data (like sunlight levels) using systems that we build. Then we make sculptures/installations that are an interpretation of the recorded data but that also process other data in real time. One turbulence.org sponsored CCRT project included measuring light levels at 7 sites around New York State. We later used the data to make elements of a sculpture that creates sound influenced by solar energy levels at free103point9’s Wave Farm. We have a new CCRT piece being shown this summer, presented by Harvestworks for NY Electronic Art Festival on Governor’s Island.
Do you actively study art history?
Not formally, and we’re not in a surfing club, but we attempt to maintain a balance between keeping informed on current work and looking back for context and historical references.
Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory?
Tali listens to podcasts and interviews constantly!
If so, which authors inspire you?
Our current project, iParade, contains elements related to William Gibson’s recent books. Amy Benson mixes creative writing with art criticism and also helped inspire iParade.
Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?
Though we are interested in technology and how it might affect the development of culture and humanity, we are also concerned with our society’s obsession with “new” technology. This obviously effects how media art is viewed and produced. Our concern is that the work can easily become valued or categorised simply by its technique/process rather than the content. Aside from simple concerns over how it will be possible to view this work in the future, we also wonder what will be left to see. On the other hand, we are particularly interested in tools and the inherent fragility of physical technology. As a result, we are not tied to having people see what was originally intended.