Mark Ashbery on 30 Mar 2001 01:06:50 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Jordan Crandall/Larry Rinder/Part2

Part 2

LR:  We're going to be looking at some selections from Heatseeking, Jordan's 
newest work, which will be an integral part of the "BitStreams" exhibition 
at the Whitney Museum, which opens on March 22.  This is a piece that I 
originally saw at inSITE in San Diego in a different format than how we're 
going to be presenting it at the Whitney, and we'll discuss that later.   It 
was immediately captivating to me, and perhaps because of what Jordan was 
talking about before -- that he's coming into his own cinematic vocabulary. 
I'm really looking forward to others having a chance to see this work. 
Jordan, how do you see Heatseeking extending, or commenting upon, your 
earlier works, specifically Drive?  What were some of the unanswered 
questions in Drive that you were trying to engage in this new piece?

JC:  It's a good question.  I think that, with this work, a lot of the 
conceptions and occupations of Drive are taken further into an interior 
space, a psychological space, a psychosexual space.  I wanted to really 
probe deep.  The questions that are really primary for me concern not 
technology per se, but how is affecting us, not only culturally but 
individually, psychically, sexually, and so on.  With Heatseeking I wanted 
to probe more deeply into the realm of the imaginary, into a kind of 
virtually symbolic.  A kind of virtual unconscious perhaps.  I wanted to 
look into these shifting bounds between public and private space, body and 
technology, attraction and combat.  This work was developed specifically in 
the context of InSITE, a joint cultural project of the US and Mexico, and 
results from thinking about the border region of San Diego/Tijuana.  The San 
Diego/Tijuana border is the busiest border crossing in the world.  The 
physical presence of this border is something that is difficult to get 
beyond.  It's very imposing, deeply etched on the landscape. There is an 
enormous military presence there, with an arsenal of visual technology.  
It's a military presence that is about invasive seeing and fortification.  I 
shot Heatseeking with some of this military technology, but I moved toward a 
thinking of the constitution of a border in a more symbolic and imaginary 
sense, linked to these new kinds of seeing machines, invading machines, 
protecting machines, which are also part of embodying forces, dividing 
processes, contouring processes. A protecting/invading/contouring dynamic.  
It has psychological, psychosexual as well as military dimensions.  I am 
thinking about all of this metaphorically.

LR:  This work is richly sensual, and sexual for that matter, as are parts 
of Drive.  I wonder if you could talk a bit about your understanding of 
sexuality, particularly in relation to the overwhelming, and rather negative 
implications of the database/surveillance apparatus, and how you see 
sexuality functioning both within that and perhaps against it.

JC:  A lot of which is talked about in critical debates position this as the 
installment of a technics of control. It's a technics of control the likes 
of which we've never seen, and in fact much of which we can't see.  It's 
very much an invisible apparatus, in many senses.  And of course, very 
pervasive.  Many theorists whose work I respect, and many involved with 
political issues -- which, by the way, I am very much concerned with in my 
practice overall -- get themselves into a trap.  It's fatalistic, a sense 
that things are over -- that we're seen, tracked, watched, invaded, 
controlled to such extent that
there is no privacy left, it's basically finished, all is colonized, we have 
no agency left.  You see theorists like Virilio, who is one of my favorites, 
boxing themselves in this way.  These debates are very important, but to 
balance them we have to learn the lessons taught to us by people like De 
Certeau, who shows us that there thousands of ways that we escape the 
controlling gaze.  There are all kinds of new practices at groundlevel, 
where we appropriate "controlled" space to our own ends.  De Certeau talks 
about these very simple things that happen under our noses, that are 
continually generating new reversals, appropriations, new pockets of space.
If you look at people's use of webcams in their homes, for example, you 
think about what compels us to open up our private lives to the public view 
of strangers.  In contrast to invasive seeing, you have to think, what are 
the pleasures of being seen?  What are the pleasures of opening oneself up 
to unseen worlds?  What kinds of new social and sexual patterns arise?  In
contrast to an invasive databasing, where we are quantified in certain 
instrumental ways, you have to think, what are the pleasures of being 
counted?  What are the pleasures of registering on other representational 
surfaces?  Being tracked and codified is also part of being someone who 
matters, someone who is paid attention to.  It is a process of "coming into 
being."  So a lot of my use of these erotic dimensions is to resist a 
one-way "invasive" argument, because there are all these new channels of 
pleasure or desire.  We need to study what those are.  In many ways they are 
testaments to human ingenuity.
        There is another current leading into this, that relates to what we 
talked about earlier with Drive.  It is the eroticization of the vehicle, 
the eroticization of the fit -- the fitting of the body within a 
technological system.  There is also the use of seductive imagery as a tool, 
a technique, through which to smuggle in ideas.  In that sense it's about 
seducing the viewer, compelling them to pay attention.

LR:  There is a statement that you made in an interview with Brian Holmes 
that I think summarizes some of what you've been saying.  You said, "from my 
own position it involves wanting to discover a role in this 
data/surveillance apparatus, and to reinforce a sense of physicality lost 
within a network of dispersal.  It is to see what could be a disembodying 
system, instead as an embodying, or incorporating one."  I think that is 
captured very well in the work, and particularly in its sensual and sexual 
dimension, which really figuratively embodies issues, as you were saying, 
seducing people to pay attention through the means of the body, the 
seduction of the body.
You've been talking in general terms about these works, in terms of 
theoretical and social constructs, but I can't help but wonder to what 
degree these works are personally expressive.  After all, one notices that 
this work, which is nominally an exploration of the conditions of the San 
Diego/Tijuana border, which is a massively populated and ethnically diverse 
region, is in these images almost completely disinhabited, and ethnically 
homogeneous.  Can you talk about your own personal expressive voice in 
relation to some of these more general themes that you've been discussing?

JC:  That's the most difficult thing for me to talk about.  But I'll give it 
a try.  In response to the first part of what you said, a lot of people 
think of technology in very disembodied terms.  But technology points in the 
direction of embodiment.  It's very physical.  It's very physicalizing.  So 
it's not something that just leads outward into some kind of disembodied 
situation -- a detached thing -- but something that helps to mutate or 
contour the physical.  That is something that I very much want to emphasize, 
with all of my work.  There are cybernetic circuits that connect us to these 
        In part of my thinking in how I relate to the work, I think of my 
being a kind of investigator, prober, trying to delve into a more symbolic 
realm, trying to ferret out certain instances, stories, vignettes, which 
somehow have some larger resonance.  They are moved into an imaginary 
situation.  There is a surreality about them.

LR:   I think I follow you, and my personal take on your work is that there 
is very little of your own fantasy life going on in these works.  I think 
you are very adept at manipulating symbolic regimes and conventions of 
sexuality, let's say, precisely to seduce people into of metaphors of 
consciousness or connections to other aspects of our lives in this 
technological moment.  You wrote an essay in 1997 which I think is really 
wonderful called "Mobilization," in which you are talking about metaphors of 
consciousness, and specifically about cinema, and you talked about something 
that cinema did called "performative corporealization."  I wonder if you 
could explain, first of all, performative corporealization -- you defined it 
as the viewer's internalization of the conditions of representational 
apparatus of film -- and talk about how we've moved from that metaphor, the 
cinematic metaphor, to that of the database.

JC:   Performative corporealization is looking at how the body, through 
circuits and cycles of repetition, sediments itself, places itself, performs 
itself.  It's related to a lot of performative theory, people like Judith 
Butler.  Embodiment is always an in/habiting process, we are always being 
shaped and shaping ourselves through these circuits.  This involves various 
kinds of coordinations, and various sensitizations to different kinds of 
movements.  In relationship to cinema, I think of Serge Daney, who was a 
brilliant French critic, who wrote on how cinema was about a kind of locking 
into place of a viewer, a fixing of a location of viewership, immobilizing a 
viewer, in order to sensitize this viewer to new mobilities.  Often you can 
think this relationship in terms of dances between mobility and immobility 
-- coordinations or exchanges between different rates of mobility.  At one 
time we thought we were becoming digital couch potatoes, we were thinking 
that we would become immobilized at the computer monitor.  In a lot of 
cyberpunk fiction like that of William Gibson, the body became "meat" -- 
parked at the monitor, a lump of flesh.  There was a sense that we were 
leaving the physical self and moving out into this virtual realm.  But in 
fact, you can see that as a stage, in a longer-term process of immobilizing 
a viewer in order to instill a new sense of mobility, accustomizing the 
viewer to new worlds of movement.  So it's interesting to think the history 
of cinema as part of an apparatus of locationing and sensitization, 
instilling in a newly immobilized public new formats of movement.  
Computerization also has that dimension.  If you start to think about these 
larger dynamics, you can start to think of these new visual systems as 
involved in staging that process. What are the mechanisms behind that, what 
are the interests behind that, and how can we use that awareness to develop 
a politics of seeing?
There is a kind of mutation of images that occur in this landscape, and that 
is that images become part of processing systems, parts of apparatus that 
"see back" at us.  It involves a kind of reversal of vision, displacing our 
location as privileged sites in the viewing exchange.  We are seen, before 
we see.  We are identified, before we identify.  There are biometric 
systems, and other kinds of systems, which lock onto you, identify you 
through your behavior patterns or biological characteristics.  It is a kind 
of switching of positions, and this is a very important change to think 

LR:  With that, I think we'll open up the discussion to the audience.

Audience:  In response to what you are saying and your mention of Paul 
Virilio, I'm thinking of his concept of "polar inertia," and his discussion 
of how the world, and our perception of things becoming real, involves a 
highly mediated perception.

JC:  I was really disappointed in Virilio's concept of polar inertia. 
Because he positions it as a one-way concept.  We're at the center of a 
world of movement where we are required to stay in place while worlds of 
images are streamed through us.  Worlds of motion, virtual worlds, stream 
through us while we sit fixated.  But it is a faulty concept because, 
thinking about mobile communications for example, with new arrays of modes 
of access, and a launching of the body back into circulation, we have to 
think of dances and exchanges between mobility and immobility -- of certain 
kinds of coordinations, coordination mechanisms among rates of movement.  
Around that we're talking about mediatized reality and our relationship to 
the real.

Audience:  You are using a lot of military technology, and I was wondering 
how available it is.  How do you inform yourself about it?

JC:  Research.  A lot of this equipment is available.  With the Infrared 
thermal imaging camera, for example, we couldn't get the camera from the US 
Border Patrol, but it was easy to get it on loan from the manufacturer.  It 
was a less expensive version, of course.  I got permission to spend time 
with the US Border Patrol to see how they use the camera, and then I got the 
actual camera from another source.
There is a lot of flow between the military and commercial realms.  The 
night vision equipment from ITT, the company that also supplies the 
military, is commercially available.  Once you start researching a lot this 
stuff you find that commercial versions of it are surprisingly available.  
Well, at least to an American who is not targeted for suspicion, of course.  
There is a lot of information out there on what the military is doing.  The 
Department of Defense has a good website, they even have a mailinglist 
called "Combat Camera," which is one of my favorites.  They even have their 
own little Academy Awards for the best military videographers and military 
productions.  Check out the US Space Command website (SPACECOM).  You think 
that a lot of this would be hidden. It's surprisingly available.  If this 
much information is available, it really makes you wonder what is hidden.
It's an interesting realm to think about where we're going, because it all 
filters into culture.  The Army talks about the soldier of the 21st century, 
for example -- the ways in which the body is fortified and made more 
productive on the battlefield.  It connects very strongly to the cyborg 
imaginary.  The Army talks about how, through new communications or 
telepresence systems, the soldier's actual presence on the battlefield may 
not be required.  There is talk about the outfitting of the eyes with 
scrims, which overlay databased schematics on the field of vision. Companies 
like Boeing, for example, are already using such systems to increase 
worker's productivity.  They can call up schematics on the part of the 
airplane they're working on, and overlay these diagrams over the work area.  
All of this talk of making the soldier more productive, enhancing its 
capabilities to fight, is the same as that of enhancing the worker.  To 
produce better, to be more in touch, to be more efficient.  So it relates 
very much to the general concern of increasing performance efficiency 
through biological augmentation, of altering and enhancing the body, making 
it better able to see, move, perform, execute.  With that, of course, come 
changing cultural concepts of fitness.  There are so many flows back and 
forth between civilian and military, work machine and war machine, you 
sometimes have to wonder where the divisions are.  My work is a deep 
meditation of this.

Audience:  You said that we are known before we know - things know us before 
we know them.  That there are cameras watching us everywhere...

JC:  Yes, there are cameras watching you now.  (laughter)  There are 
biometric systems now, which scan your physical characteristics in order to 
identify you.  It might be a retinal scanner, it might be a face recognition 
program that has your facial characteristics stored in a database.  We are 
always willingly surrendering information about ourselves and our behaviors, 
mostly for the purposes of commerce, and generally to save time, to make 
things more convenient, more reliable, or safer.  When you go to a website 
and it knows what you shop for, and gears certain advertisements 
specifically to you, it targets in this way based on your past behavior.  
Your behavior is very trackable, and you don't even know you are divulging 
it.  Sensar Inc was testing these retinal scanners -- I don't know if they 
are currently yet in use -- where you go to the ATM and it can identify you 
with nearly 100% accuracy. No two people have the same retinal pattern.  We 
willingly surrender our retinal pattern, we allow it to be uploaded into the 
database, because it's safer, no one could steal your ATM card and pose as 
you, and it's more time-saving and convenient, you don't have to punch in a 
PIN number.  This kind of retinal match is more reliable than card or code, 
no one can tamper with it.  With biometrics no one else can pose as us, no 
one else has the same retinal pattern, fingerprint, facial pattern.
So very often we surrender these kinds of things under the auspices of 
convenience, safety, portability, reliability.  It opens the doors of 
access. With GPS systems and new location-based services, it makes a new 
kind of visibility.  It makes us newly visible, it makes a new kind of 
access to us.  It is a whole apparatus of our being seen, that is largely 
invisible to us, and it becomes so powerful that it may be the thing that 
sees us first.  It may be the thing that sets the terms.
We're still stuck with the illusion that we see first -- that we are the 
primary seers.  We're saddled with the old visual conventions that make this 
apparatus continually invisible to us.  We need to create a more political 
awareness of this.  We need to see the image less in terms of its being 
offered up to us and more of a ruse, a cover for a port through which we are 

LR:  I think there is a comment in one of your essays -- I am not sure if it 
was you or if you were quoting someone else -- that says that images are 
obsolete, they are too slow.  That the speed of the database is the level of 
cognition that we need to aspire to, to keep up with our oppressors, or what 
have you, which is a daunting task.  I'm curious about this because it seems 
to me that your own work is becoming slower, moving towards the image rather 
than away from it.  Five years ago, your work was radically distributed on 
the net, strictly speaking, it was net work, you were engaged with these 
forums, these conversations on the net, that was your artistic practice. Now 
you're making beautiful movies.  How do you explain this?

JC:  The online forums are more a part of my critical practice, which began 
with a publication called Blast in 1991.  Blast was centered around 
discursive activity, and around 1994, most of this started to occur on the 
net.  Around 1996 I started to develop my own personal practice.  Blast 
still continued, and I've been engaged in both kinds of activity.  The 
online forums of Blast are specifically about dealing with these and other 
critical issues, and my own personal work goes off into a different kind of 
space.  It revolves around the image, and yes, often very slowly and 
seductively.  I need the image, in order to understand its obsolescence, its 

[further discussion ensued, but was not caught on tape]


transcribed by Mark Ashbery

Lawrence Rinder is Curator of Contemorary Art at the Whitney Museum.

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