Tilman Baumgaertel on Thu, 3 Jul 1997 00:01:54 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Maximizing downtime

J. Crandall

It's pretty difficult to describe Jordan Crandall's installation
"suspension vehicle RF-7600" at this year's documenta to someone who hasn't
seen it. 

You enter a spacious, semidark room in the Documenta Halle, that is
illuminated only by the white light of some video beamers, that are
reflected by a number of small metal mirrors on the walls and on the floor.
The different light sources cause flickering interferences. As people move
through the room they cast multi-colored shadows on the wall. In addition
there is a VRML-enviroment projected on one of the walls that is so bright
that it is almost invisible.

Despite all the technology it doesn't look like light show, rather like a
operating room designed by Dan Flavin; there is almost some kind of warmth
to the artifical light of the different beams. White light, white heat...

Many found this piece inaccessible, and in fact it is very much in the
spirit of this year's "heady" documenta. In my never-ending quest to shed
some light on the intentions of artists of our time I interviewed Crandall,
who spent two days in the room with his installation at the opening of
documenta. Standing in the centre of the light storm of his enviroment we
talked about this piece and his work on the net.



Maximizing downtime

Interview with Jordan Crandall

?: I understand that you were involved with The Thing,
which was a very early art BBS. Please tell me what got you
in interested in computer networks. 

Crandall: Wolfgang Staehle invited me to join The Thing in
1991. I didn't really know a lot about it at that time. I was
doing "Blast" since 1990, and was very involved with
systems of exchange and communication. I structured
"Blast" as a network of different kind of discursive practises
or different systems that would intersect and be
coordinated in some way. There was fax and letter-writing; it was
very materially oriented. The idea of taking this into new
systems came kind of naturally. 

?: You mentioned "Blast". Was that a magazine?

Crandall: Actually it started off as a boxed set of printed
materials, but increasingly involved objects and sound
pieces and performance-oriented projects that would be
indexed after the fact.  It contained live and archival materials. It was a
particular kind of problematizing of publicational entities.
Later it started to involve internet projects, too. It started to
complicate its boundaries to the point where there was no
longer container or box at all. It operated as a magazine and
an art edition. People were invited to submit
projects according to a structure that was set forth by an editorial board,
and the
content of "Blast" would be shaped by these kind of

 ?: That sounds like having your own gallery in a box. Was
that a way to get around the art system?

Crandall: Exactly, because it had its own distribution
through bookstores, galleries, or directly. It was a way to get
around the art system, but at the same time to function
within it, because it was something that could be easily
assimilated. "Blast" was a way of developing a cross-
disciplinary project that had its own modes of distribution. It
was going outside of traditional art practises, but at the same
time it was trying to expand the perception of art from the
inside. We wanted to involve people that were outside of art,
who were working in Cultural Studies for example, or who
were working with new technologies. 

The "Blast" boxes were portable so you could send them
somewhere, and that actually opened up the exhibition
space. It could be personalized and the person who had it
would become involved in its processes. This was a way in
which we looked at collective and group authoring forms. 

?: Who is "we"?

Crandall: There was a editorial board that would refine the
theme and set up the procedure for participation. We did that
as the X-Art Foundation, which is the organisation that I
founded in 1990. 

?: That was in the hayday of "institutional critique", and a lot
of artists tried to circumnavigate around the usual art scene.
Did you relate to that at all?

Crandall: I relate to that much more now. "Blast"
was sort of on the tail end of a lot of work in institutional
critique. A lot of this work was so much oriented towards the art
presentation system and the art institutions, which by then
had lost a lot of power anyway. So for me the site of
critique really had moved towards technology institutions.  
That had become a much more powerful site to work
within and against. 

?: Did you have a computer before, before you got on The

Crandall: I had a little laptop, without a hard
drive. I actually wasn't very good when I first learned
it. It took me six months to figure out how to download. But
the problems with the hardware also lead to artistic
investigations of this technology.

?: Wolfgang Staehle told me that you did a symposium
called "Transactivism" on The Thing. What was that about?

Crandall: It was about looking at artistic practise as based on
transaction and social interaction. It was also looking at a
form of activism which was not based on a fixed pole, as
being "here against that"... 

?: "We against the art market..."

Crandall: Right, in this activistic stance you have this fixed
positon: "You are against". A transactivistic stance is much
more a problematizing of that, where you are locating
yourself in certain kinds of exchanges. 

?: How did this "Transactivism" project work? Was that a
board on The Thing?

Crandall: Yes, a discussion forum. We invited specific
people to participate, and organized the discussion.

?: Who was involved in the Transactivism conference?

Crandall: Some participants were Morgan Garwood, Pit Schultz, Wolfgang
Rainer Ganahl, Laura Trippi, Jeff Schulz, and ... what was her name? I
actually never knew her real name. Her online-handle was

?: Could you have done the same conference in real life?

Crandall: No. It became much more a part of your life and
thinking, because you could participate without having to sit
down and think about it all at once. It went on for two
months. Therefore you had more time to formulate your
ideas. You also don't have the physical codes, so
often people misunderstand each other. In online
communication you have a certain way of projecting things
onto people and certain ways of meeting a personality. There
were actually a lot of struggles about how the forum should
be conducted, if it should be an academic discourse or rather a
thrashing about in this new medium. I remember Laura and Jeffrey
were playing around with different forms of dialogue
that were more particular to the BBS format. I  got mad at
them because they weren't "discussing the issues". But when
I look back at it now, they were *playing* with the issues
and moving through them instead of just talking about them. 

?: You were the host of this conference. How did you
moderate this forum?

Crandall: I had a few times were I would sternly reprimand
people, tell them that the forum was getting out of hand and
that we had to do something about it. And I really learned
my lesson from that, because after that all the new dialogue
was sucked into private email. Nobody posted anymore, and
the forum became really dead.

?: So you think there is a social dynamic to it, that is
particular to the medium?

Crandall: Yes, because it comes out much more powerful
than when you speak with somebody. When you talk with
somebody in person, you have all these social modifiers.
When you say something in email, it can come across as
much more abrupt and offensive.

? I looked at the Blast website, and found this MOO. To my
knowledge that is really the only MOO that was concieved
as an art project. While the "Transactivism" board went on
for a longer period of time and gave people time to
formulate their ideas, a MOO takes place in real time. How
did that change the kind of interaction that went on online? 

Crandall: That was a period of investigating
these systems instead of just talking about them. On a MOO you
usually don't have so much "substantial" conversation that's going on.
It's more like one-liners and pieces. It is much more
interesting to look at the social dynamics, and how the way
people position themselves discursively affects their
surroundings, including the way people interact with them. How
they formulate their gender and their physical appearance.
There is a lot of substantial work that's being done, but it's much
more performative. You can't just talk about it, you have to
do it.

?: That's a bit abstract. Could you give an example of what
was going on in this MOO?  

Crandall: It's like a play where you are one of the characters.
You have lines of text on your screen that describe what the
people in the MOO are doing, like "this person laughs", "this
person waves his arms", "this person says this and that". And
than you have description of the enviroment, so it is as if you
were in a film script and all the characters, who are logged
in from different places, are generating their own part in real

?: This sounds like a form of happening, except that in
Sixties-type happenings the artist would create a situation to
which people would react, while a MOO is only a platform
without any stipulations. I have the impression that the
things that were going on there were a collective process that
might as well have taken place without the intervention of an

Crandall: No, because there is also object-oriented
programming. You can program in very specific kinds of
experiences, and you can restrict or augment the ways that
people move around and how they appear. For instance,
"Shark" programmed a piece called "The Sensous Sea",
where you dive into a wall of water and explore this
underwater world. It's all textually mediated, you type in
commands to go in certain directions, and experience
different kind of things. Another character had a "Transport
Cube" that you could enter and that took you to different
parts of the MOO. Another work involved these virtual 
garments that would change the way other people on the
MOO would see you. You can program an enviroment
to morph or change its conditions. In one work, when you entered
the room, it completely abstracted your speech. So you are
talking gibberish and can't make any sense. 

?: Did you show this in a gallery?

Crandall: We first built a Blast office and a gallery on the PMC-MOO as
of the
Sandra Gering Gallery for "Blast4: Bioinformatica" in
1994. We used the gallery as a way of presenting finished
projects, and the office to invite people for various
discussions. There were correspondences between the
physical gallery space and the MOO gallery space. For example somebody
develop a project where portions of it would be printed
material and portions would be online. Or it might have
existed totally on the MOO.

We had a live interface projected on the gallery wall, and a
computer station, so you could speak back and forth. The
people from the physical gallery logged on as a character
called "collective subject". Some of the people on the MOO
would realize that this character was actually an agency that
was filled with people that were in a physical space

This window between the physical gallery and the MOO was
always open. There was a lot of communication going back
and forth. Sometimes there were great correspondences and
lots of cross-over, and sometimes the conditions were so
different that there was no communication at all. 

Some of the people who were on the MOO came to the
physical gallery. It became a very famous show among
MOO people. Families came in who had a life on the
MOO in addition to their normal family life. Since the
World Wide Web has taken off, MOOs don't get talked about so
much anymore. But they are fascinating to explore, because
they are social spaces. People embody themselves, and they
are working with bodily forms, and they invent new genders
and new kinds of relationships. It's a very important part of
the internet. 

?: Could the same thing have been done on IRC?

Crandall: No, because Chats are much more disembodied.
The great thing about the MOO is that the focus is on
creating an embodied persona, not just being a talking head. And you 
actually create a spatial community with programmed objects.

?: This MOO seems to be at a stand-still now. I looked at it a
couple of days ago, and there is nothing happening

Crandall: The next step in taking these communities to a
new level is to create much more visual or three-
dimensional environments, for example in VRML (Virtual
Reality Modelling Language). But these social VRML-enviroments
are really strange. For me it's hard to have a discussion with,
like, a talking spoon. It's too much like a computer game. 

?: Do you feel that it is important for your work, that the
things you do online have a connection to a physical space?

Crandall: Yeah, absolutely. I see the internet as a network of
materializing vectors. It is really involved with creating new
material forms and refiguring existing forms. People talk
about disembodiment on the net, and I really don't know
what they mean. For me it is very embodying, it just
embodies in different ways. I like to watch how
technological paces affect daily rhythms and routines. 

People have all these little gadgets. The documenta team, for
instance, all have these mobile phones. They are
constantly communicating, and sometimes you can't have an
uninterrupted conversation for five minutes. As soon as someone's
phone rings, everybody jumps at once, thinking it's for them.  
These are some of the technological rhythms that
affect the way we move, they way we structure space, situate
our bodies, conduct our relationships. These kind of
paces and activities are embedded in technological systems, and they
are part of a larger apparatus. 

?: In your piece here at documenta the technology consists of
a number of video beamers that project light on the walls,
with small mirrors that reflect the light. Is that the
technological apparatus you are talking about?

Crandall: Well, that's the hardware, but it refers to larger
systems. I am seeing it in a larger sense, in a sense of
technologies of representation, that initiate and encode
certain kind of activities.

?: You've been standing in this room for two days now. Can
you say how this environment affects people's movements
through the room?

Crandall: I was curious to know how it would be activated
by groups of people. A lot of times you find that people
move about certain spaces in a predictable way. Here it is
very different. Some visitors have said that it is like a public
square. I was really happy about that.  

?: There are these flickering interferences between the
different light sources that strike me as very "techno". Do
you think that most people have grown accustomed to this
kind of "virtual light"?

Crandall: I don't know. I'm comfortable in here.  This
is a lot about technological modifications that are almost
surgical. I don't really see them as alienating, because they
have become a part of daily life so much already. But I
wanted to resist a visual overload, and instead concentrate
on movement and orientation.

?: There is this cordless mouse with which you can
manouver yourself through a VRML-space projected on one
of the walls. Is this a way of opening this physical space up
to the "virtual space" of the internet?

Crandall: The VRML-site is dis-spaced, rendered. I wanted
to generate a sense of space that is cross-formated, that is
multiplicitous and unresolved. 

?: What strikes me about these VRML spaces is that they are
completely based on the Renaissance perspective. Wherever
you look in these enviroments you always end up staring at
the focal point...

Crandall: Yes, that's the problem with some VRML. I am actually
working with the renaissance perspective here by making
references to traditional kinds of wall paintings. You have
the choice wether to illusionistically extend the space, or to
call attention to the space as representation. The location of
the viewpoint was a very political issue. Entire communities
were mobilized around the question where to locate the viewpoint. 
The mirrored adjustment units in this environment are references to
the multiplicity of the visual orientations of the viewer. 

?: Is the web site on the documenta-Server an extension of
this physical space or a work in its own right?

Crandall: Both.  On the website you are flipped back and forth
between space and figuration through the agency of the
"rhythmic fittings." There is also a book that has
these figurations. These figurations are psychological
mechanisms. There are patterns of activities that are
artifacted.  You cannot see them here. 

What I hope to do with this is to show how these patterns and rhythms
affect our everyday life. Our language is increasingly incorporating this
kind of technological pace. In a recent interview in "Working Mother"
magazine, this woman was talking about "maximizing downtime".
It's like an excercise manual.  Things that people
do over and over again are increasingly annexed to the paces of
technological systems. You can see it as a
technological calculus. When you relate the things, that you do over and
over again, to code structures you see certain relationships that I want to
explore. It is a way of creating awareness and resistance, because these
are vectors of very powerful mechanisms for producing a certain kind of
behaviour in you. 

The internet part of "Suspension Vehicle" at www.documenta.de in the
"In&Out" part. 

The Blast-Website is at www.users.interport.com/~gering/ 

The MOO is at: telnet hero.village.virginia.edu 7777
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