Roseira on Mon, 15 Apr 2002 12:57:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] interview with jordan crandall

Jordan Crandall and I would like to submit this interview for the list.
Rosanne Altstatt
Director, Edith Russ Site for Media Art, Oldenburg/Germany

Interview with Jordan Crandall on the “Trigger Project” by Rosanne Altstatt

Rosanne Altstatt: Even though you are most well known for your film and
video work, I’d like to start this interview with a question about your
Their dynamics are so different from the slick impressions your moving
images make. The pencil drawings are more intimate, like an inward spinning
What is the relationship between the two?

Jordan Crandall: My work begins with these diagrams. They are the key to
everything. They map the processes that give rise to the structure, content,
pacing. And many of them are in a very personal zone, close to the body –
are dealing with the space between eye, viewfinder, and trigger. I’m probing
deeper into a psychological realm, and so I’m very glad that the diagrams
evoke that intimacy, even as they are also connected to larger militarized
systems. And they also really show the work of the hand, which is just as
as anything technology-mediated. 

RA: During the first week of our exhibition you held a workshop which acted
as a production phase of your new work “Trigger”. What did you hope to
accomplish in the workshop?

JC: In order to precisely orchestrate this dual projection installation, you
have to conduct many tests. The scale of the Edith Russ Site for Media Art
is perfect for testing the dynamic between the actors on screen, the
projection scale, and the audience viewing patterns. We are in the process
improvising the actual film set and shooting various test scenes. Then,
we can project these tests on the walls and see how they work. From these
tests, the final storyboards will be developed. So three things are going
on: a
mock film set allows us to generate test footage; the test footage is
projected on the wall in order to see how it works when installed; and a
storyboard coalesces as the exhibition plays out.

RA: “Trigger” will be projected onto opposite walls. Why did you choose this

JC: I want to integrate the viewing audience in the drama between two
characters as they hunt each other. You will have to physically turn your
body to
face one screen or the other. So you can never really encapsulate the
of the production from a comfortable external position. You can't master it
as you can if you are focused on a single screen. It moves quickly and
always going to have a different experience, because your body has to be as
hypervigilant as the actors on screen. You have to be quick, attuned, agile
like a good soldier.

RA: Are you really making a parallel with soldier-skills and viewer-skills?

JC: To the extent that they are sharing a condition of hypervigilance, when
all of the senses are heightened. 

RA: The story has to do with two soldiers watching each other through their
sights. This seems like a familiar theme from many Hollywood war movies. Did
certain films come to mind while conceiving “Trigger”?

JC: Yes, there are lots of Hollywood precedents, countless war films that
I've seen. My references are small moments, usually structural and involving
some kind of subtle camera intrusion. You wouldn't know it unless you were
looking for it. There is a scene in Kubrick's “Full Metal Jacket” for
where the film camera pans up as the soldier's rifle raises up, and it tries
align itself through the soldier's gun sight. You have the camera, the
audience eye, the soldier's gun sight, and the soldier's eye all trying to
align in
order to ‘get the shot’ – the shot that ‘takes’ the picture but also the
life of its human target. Through the alignment of eye, machine, and
some kind of artillery issues forth, connected through the conduit of the
hand on the trigger-shutter, where human beats and machine beats
I'm looking for a camera that is never innocent, the sights that are always
subject to control technologies and conventions, and the constitution of the

RA: I'm not so sure everyone in the camera's viewfinder would consider him
or herself a victim – but what would the constitution of a shooting-victim

JC: I don't necessarily mean that to be the case. But there is always a
power dynamic. The shooting-victim is a casualty of the image-seeking
and/or gun. I’m trying to make a term that evokes the violence also
perpetrated by the camera and all that it stands for.

RA: After going to acting school, you began making films and videos
yourself. What made you switch sides? 

JC: I enjoy experiencing both sides of the camera. And now there are not
only two sides, but many. I want to try out all of them.

RA: You must be referring to the use of various camera technologies and
perspectives – something of a post-cinematic language, which I’ve read about
your previous interviews. 

JC: Yes. With the use of surveillance and tracking systems, and with
military-derived images such as those from night vision cameras or those
from camera-mounted smart bombs, we have all kinds of new visual formats in
play. I'm interested in the ways that these new systems become internalized,
how they become part of new visual languages that challenge cinematic
conventions as well as the power dynamics inherent in this. I'm also
interested in
the difference between terrestrial and aerial languages and the whole
of analyzing and reassembling terrestrial motion from the air. 

RA: What is your visual vocabulary for “Trigger”? 

JC: There is a play between cinematic (terrestrial) surveillance and
satellite views. I also use an eye-tracked synchronization system, which
automatically aligns weapon and fighter gaze, even if they are not
connected. This
questions conventions of cinematic continuity and cohesion while it also
contemporary issues of networked embodiment. There are specific targeting
formats I use which operate as new forms of perspective-construction –
in a more military sense but as generalized control technologies
Overall I am orchestrating a fracturing and linkage of viewpoints across
human and machinic systems, and linked to very specific camera orientations
are politicized. The speed and efficiency of the networked flows, sorted
through the logics of the database, constitute an artillery-like force.
There is
the question, now more than ever, of what a camera constitutes and who is
agency connected to it, and how to visually represent a complex and often
very non-visual system. 

RA: Tell me what you mean by agency in this case. Are you talking about who
is steering the camera or the purpose behind the use of the camera?

JC: Both. The form and observing capacity of the seer, along with its
intention and its ability to act. We don’t ask these questions with the use
of a
film camera because the cinematic technology is so normalized. That is one
the reasons it is so interesting to use militarized technology. It is not
internalized so one has to immediately ask about the agency behind the
camera. What is the difference between how a policing system watches and how
watch? How the military sees and how the media sees? It also brings these
questions to bear on how we see through the very normalized technologies of
media, in a way of instituting our own personal kinds of policing. We say,
stand here against ‘them’,” and we fortify a border. We justify an attack,
personal or otherwise, against an opponent against which we stand. There are
all kinds of combat situations in everyday life, all kinds of border-shaping
processes that suggest who we are and what kind of person we are becoming.
Bunker-building begins at home. In the setting of “Trigger” there are
that evoke hybrid home-bunkers in various states of construction, in order
to suggest metaphorically this processes of fortifying barriers on the
domestic front.

RA: You are talking about the three structures we will have as the film set
in the exhibition hall: a bunker, a wooden wall with a window, and a cement
block house. But you also refer to combat situations in everyday life and
personal policing. What kinds of personal bunkers do you think we are
building as
a result of increasing surveillance of everyday life?

JC: Surveillance can help generate a kind of safety bubble – a realm where
we feel we are being protected against crime. It’s fortified by ideologies
practices. It’s also part of a process of subjectivization, a bubble of
interiority that helps to determine the contours of the self. It is also
to the formation of group identities. There is a mobile and protean
architecture to it. We have all our little vehicles that we travel around in
like cars,
in a culture that oscillates between atomization into fractured units and
grand unifications, visible in concepts like the national missile shield.

RA: As you've stated in previous interviews, “Drive” (1998 – 2000) and
“Heatseeking” (1999 – 2000) are very much about movement, flow and the
rhythms of
the body. Though these two series did have a violent edge to them, “Trigger”
promises to be much more about vision as a weapon. Yet many decades of
increasing camera surveillance has led to people being more comfortable with
idea of being constantly watched. Don't you think the tension has lessened?

JC: Yes. Which is why I am interested in two things here. The first is the
erotic, because there are the pleasures of being observed, which we are only
beginning to discover and which are very difficult to square with certain
political agendas, such as those dealing with privacy issues. Being
surrendering one's private life to the gaze of an other, can have a distinct
erotic edge, especially for a younger generation. The second is politics,
because we have to confront the agencies behind the lessening of this
Whenever surveillance is justified in the name of safety or protection, it
is we
who have to go on high alert. This cuddly, friendly surveillance – justified
in the name of convenience, safety, efficiency, reliability, and stylishly
glossed with a modern décor – is a dangerous thing when its politics are
vanquished. For the most part, we're not talking about surveillance cameras
anymore, but tracking networks connected to vast database systems, which are
increasingly invisible as they are pervasive.

RA: There is a definite erotic edge to “Trigger”, yet you cut some of the
scenes with a sexual character that were planned. 

JC: All of those scenes will still be there. What I cut were the
explanations, because it is so difficult to articulate this erotic dimension
in text
form. I've decided to let the erotic play out in visual and structural terms
without feeling the need to write about it. I don't want to theorize about
it –
I want it to be something that undoes theory, something that traffics under
the surface and questions all of the tidy conclusions that we make. In a
sense, the erotic is the great other. We've got to pay attention to what it
us, but what it tells us is not subject to our laws of order. The question
how to maintain that tension and develop a politics from it – a politics
that would seem to contain its very antithesis.

RA: A politics of the erotic? You've lost me here. 

JC: Well, I don't really know what it means either. It doesn't add up, but I
guess that's the point. It is a politics that would undo itself. I'm trying
somehow, through visual and diagrammatic work, to ventriloquize it. It's
Lyotard's matrix figure – a ‘form’ that figures recurrences, but which in
the end is not really a form but a kind of anti-form. In a basic sense,
you could say that if there is an eros of power, there is a politics of that

RA: The erotic is not just the great other, it's the variable in the
systemized machine. When I start thinking of the erotic's role in a possible
electronic human system, I come up with all sorts of romantic notions of
breaking the rules and short-circuiting the network.

JC: Well said! Short-circuiting, but also rewiring, in a way that may not be
entirely functional. 

RA: In “Trigger”’s storybook, you write of the soldier as an integrated
weapons platform. Armies have tried to make soldiers more efficient by
their capabilities – more recently with electronic weaponry – since the
beginning of time. Yet since September 11, high-tech seems more like a
than a strength. After all, the terrorist attacks on your state of
New York, was low-tech but high-concept. It turned out to be extremely
efficient. Does this have any bearing on your views of the integrated

JC: In all aspects of the military, efforts have been underway to more
closely tie human, armament, and combat network. In the Army's ‘Land
program, for example, which is still in development, the soldiers are
with headgear that allows them to see in any weather condition, day or
and with a 360 degree panorama. They are connected to communications
networks, and a head-mounted display allows realtime information to overlay
field of vision. The goal is to become a more efficient, lethal, networked,
fighting machine. There is something of the ‘Borg’ here, with the soldier
becoming part of a hive mind. There is even a military concept of
‘swarming’: small,
agile, highly mobile bands of soldiers armed with arrays of communications
gear and networked weaponry, and heavily connected to airborne support. In
Afghanistan, soldiers aimed handheld lasers at targets while laser-guided
missiles were launched at these targets from planes. Soldiers on the ground,
satellite systems, planes, and precision weaponry constituted a seamless
orchestrated through various command centers. This is the soldier as
weapons platform. I don't think September 11 has changed this concept, or
US's undying faith in high technology. What it has changed is the ways in
which we justify increased military presence, and increased police presence
general – towards something that would be more like an integrated policing
platform. The fears of the public are inflamed as the powers of military,
FBI and CIA, and various other kinds of policing and monitoring agencies,
increase to meet a need. I don't think that the US would admit that high
technology is a weakness in any way. It just means the technology isn't good

RA: What about ‘human intelligence’ a.k.a. spies – like in the WW II movies
where they meet on dark nights while crossing bridges, infiltrate each
other's lairs, go deep under cover? It seems that there is more than enough
but not enough human resources to process and analyze this data.

JC: Yes, but the human is there to feed into the technology. It's part of
the technology. The human intelligence is linked to the machine. It's
by machinic systems. The human becomes a necessary component – it is never
discounted. But it is of value in its having been made adequate for
with the intelligence and communications systems (and vice versa).
Technology sets the terms, it modifies the capacities of the human. But in
the end,
technology is just human ingenuity, the extension of the human. Humans,
machines, and combat systems are indelibly linked and we don't necessary
know where
one component ends and the other begins. You're absolutely right about there
not being enough human resources to process and analyze the data. But what
our answer is to that? Building more and better machines.

RA: What would be the base of an ‘integrated policing platform’. Instead of
the single agent, all electroniced up, we would have ... 

JC: ... formerly isolated database systems linked up in shared networks.
Common interfaces to share data across various intelligence and policing
agencies in as close to realtime as possible, with suspicions eased between
governmental agencies that have been historically walled off from each
other. New
alliances between police, military, and industry. New cooperations to share
intelligence information between countries.

RA: Are you suggesting the privatization of the military? Is this science
fiction or are there some real efforts taking place beyond the tradition of

JC: The ties between military and industry are so strong already, and there
is a strong symbiotic energy that you wouldn’t have if they we fully
into one another. The military is business by other means. There always have
to be other measures available. We’re backed by an apparatus of war and
work. In business, we have a tool; in war, we have a weapon. 

RA: Remaining on the subject of an integrated police, military, and
industry: where would this leave privacy laws? Do you think they will become
obsolete? There are all sorts of buzzwords I can throw in here: new world
globalization, war against terror ...

JC: There have been so many privacy debates online, and attempts have been
made to politicize this very urgent subject – at the same time that some
tried to articulate the private/public divide in different terms, such as to
replace a unified concept of privacy with a heterogeneous one like ‘zones of
intimacy’. But at least in the US, the debate hasn’t caught fire, people
don’t see it as much of an issue anymore. People have been willing to
privacy if it means more convenience, if it saves them time, and if it
more protection – especially now, post-September 11. The concern for safety
trumps any concern over threats to privacy. In a sense, it has finished off
this already much-beleaguered subject. It urgently needs to be politicized,
especially in light of the lack of opposition to the increasing of
powers that could threaten civil liberties. But the terms of the debate need
to be reworked. The term ”privacy” needs to be unpacked: it’s fraught from

RA: Should we redefine privacy?

JC: It is a matter of deciding what is absolutely crucial to protect and
against what it should be protected. It changes through time and cultures,
not really a stable concept.

RA: Let's play out a worst case scenario: In twenty years from now
absolutely everything is networked; no loopholes. What then? Do you have any
predictions on human behavior? In your work, the different camera
perspectives charge
the atmosphere. Do you think this would have the same effect on everyday

JC: New forms of detection are always countered with new forms of deception.
There is always a dance between the two. I believe that total surveillance
is an impossible concept. There are always going to be things that slip
the radar. In the war on Kosovo we had expensive precision-guided missiles
fired at cheap decoy tanks. The Serbian military also strategically switched
off their radar in order to obfuscate their ground locations to the aerial
electronics of NATO forces. You can even see how this detection-deception
refigures materiality: look at the form of the stealth fighter, which was
built as a series of flat planes in order to evade radar detection. We want
increase our ability to see while evading detection by others, and our
opponents want the same. So rather than a vector of one-way progress in
technologies, we have a matrix. Progress occurs in matrices of detection and
evasion among combative actors who are each trying to gain the edge. So I’m
interested in evoking the increased powers of surveillance, but rather than
only of how we’re becoming totally surveilled,  I’m interested in the
ingenious ways that we develop to jam the signal. To appropriate it, to
reshape it
in a way that is often soft and undulating, not hard-edged. Much has been
written about voyeurism, about the erotics of seeing, but I am very much
interested in an erotics of display – of being seen by sensed presences –
and how
that connects to modes of deception and the dispersal of the fields of
The playing field is often not where we expect it, or structured in terms of
the codes that we know. In spite of the exponential increase in the powers
surveillance technology, we still have to ultimately know where to look –
this is the space that is constantly being rewritten by the players.

RA: Let’s get back to classic, narrative, storybook cinema. Everybody plays
by the rules, but love breaks it up. Yet your works have no actual ‘story’,
do they?

JC: Not really, although they do have some narrative pull and you can read
all kinds of narratives into them. But I hope to frustrate that, just as I
hope to frustrate binaries of construction/anarchy or attraction/repulsion.
works have the structure of systems, they’re structured along the lines of
various circuitry diagrams and I think they have a more matrix-like
almost like a database. But I have to admit that I think of “Trigger”, at
least on some level, as a kind of love story. It is a courtship between the
actors, at least in a database reality.

This interview is included in the publication “Jordan Crandall: Trigger
Project”, published by Revolver – Archiv für Aktuelle Kunst on the occasion
Crandall’s exhibition at the Edith Russ Site for Media Art in Oldenburg,
April 6 – June 9, 2002

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