Tilman Baumgaertel on Fri, 2 Apr 1999 05:09:50 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> GrafficJam (was: what would you do)


This is an email-interview that was conducted with Andy Deck and Mark
Napier before the "GrafficJam" (http://bbs2.thing.net/jam/) actually went


I think, 
and then I sink
into the paper 
like I was ink.
Eric B. & Raakim: Paid in full

Tilman Baumgaertel, Hornstr. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
Tel./Fax. +49(0)30-2170962, email: 100131.2223@compuserve.com


Digital Graffiti

An Interview with Andy Deck and Mark Napier about „GrafficJam“

?: What is the artistic merit for users/artlovers to draw some things
together online - especially  since most people wouldn't draw stuff like
that together on a piece of paper in real life?

Napier: Most people *can't* draw stuff like this in real life.  This sort of
interaction is very difficult, perhaps impossible to recreate outside of a
networked environment.  This is a different experience from drawing on
paper.  GraphicJam challenges our notions of creativity and expression.
Each participant has to adapt to the others.  Their drawings are not 'their
own' but  belong to a larger process that includes possibly  several people,
each with their own creative impulses.  The result is a blending of actions,
perhaps raucously, perhaps gracefully.  Who owns the final product?  Who
created it? Who's idea was it? These are the questions raised.

Andy Deck: A lot of people may not use this more one or two times.  In some
respects it is only an indication of what is possible.  But I feel it is
very important that people who are interested in the future of art begin to
realize that new genres of creative activity are being formulated by
artists using computers.  To me, the articulation of new genres is more
"artistic" than the use of the various existing tools.  They all make
assumptions that I want to explode.  They assume that the boundaries
between animation, drawing, and communications software are rigid.  I'm
interested in showing people that there are some alternatives to the
interactive systems that are being presented at the corporate portals.

For people who use image production software, the piece has additional
significance. When we are just playing with our computer, it is easy to be
asocial and get focussed on little details.  This piece introduces social
time into the realm of visual creativity.  Every mark will be interpreted
by the others connected.  

Secondly I have always been interested in art as opposed to writing is that
I can
appeal to people who don't speak the languages that I do. With GrafficJam I
find myself communicating with people in a wide variety of places who I
might not be able to talk with.

?: Did you think of adding a "chat" function to enable people to
communicate while drawing?    

Deck: Mark and I have debated this. People ask for it. However, I agree
with Mark that this piece may function best when attention is focussed on
the image.
This software favors people who can express themselves in colorful pictures.
I think this interface is very flexible.  Many different kinds of ideas can
be expressed in this context, which is more than I'd say about a lot of
collaborative video games.

Napier: We want to challenge the visitors to communicate through the
graphics, by drawing, moving a mouse, possibly writing freehand, to 'chat'
as it were,
but through a hand made mark, not text.  It's easy enough to arrange a chat
seperately from the piece using any of dozens of applications out there.  I
didn't see chat contributing to the concept of the piece. 

?: The functions you offer on your applet are very different from what most
drawing programs offer. Why? 

Deck: I'm not trying to sustain the metaphor of paint tools. Those programs
are designed so that you get what you preconceived. But with this software,
the situation is different.  You're confronted with other artists who.have
competing desires. The things you make are more like conversations than the
products of conventional paint programs.

?: Whenever I logg into the site, there are other users "present". Is this
a fake? Or, to rephrase this: how do I know that ther second user is for

Deck: The piece is vaguely related to work by Joseph Weizenbaum in the late
sixties- the conversation program ELIZA. Although it's only a minor aspect
of GraphicJam, since the images are totally mediated by software, there
always is a question of what we are seeing, and who, if anyone, is behind
the data.

Napier: This is as much about sociology as it is about visual art. As for
their 'realness', that's an interesting question.  How *do* you know
they're real?  Answering that question is a big part of this piece.

?: The drawings that appear when I open the site are always the same. Is
this an algorythm? Or some stored stuff? Will everything that was ever
drawn with this tool will appear before I can use it (because right now it
seems that every drawing ever made with it seems to roll by like an
animation film...) 

Napier: The system stores a fixed amount of drawing history.  That's what
appears in your browser after you connect.  The history is circular;  the
markings are dropped out as new markings are stored.  We originally planned
to store an archive of all the drawing made at GraphicJam, but that became
impractical for this version of the project.

Deck: I plan to begin saving some of the "animations"  you've mentioned as
digital video.  Not all of the drawings, therefore, will disappear. But
most of them will.

?: When in operation, how many users can work on a drawing together?    

Deck: If the 10 users we've projected becomes full on a regular basis, it
is likely 
that we will add extra "rooms" to reduce the load.

Napier: Perhaps that many simultaneous participants will create pure noise
anyway. It's hard to say which limit comes first, the technical limit of
java and
the internet, or the human limit.  Will ten people create the visual
equivalent of a mob with no direction?  Or will they produce something
chaotic, yet fascinating to watch?

?: The "Drawing Boards" that Andy Deck has on his site are not too
different from your collaboration. What was each artist's contribution to
this project?
Napier: Andy and I have both worked on collaborative viewer driven
projects.  Andy's „Drawing Board“ and my „Digital Landfill“ are both about
viewers contributing to a piece, actually shaping the piece through their
contributions.  I saw Andy's site while I working on a graphical 'grafitti'
chat project for The
Thing. Andy has been developing java drawing programs for several years and
has created a very mature body of work in this area. After meeting in August
we decided to collaborate on a project.  

Deck: As you may imagine, though, it is not easy to develop collaborative
software all alone!

Napier: We conceived of GraphicJam together, coming to the metaphor of live
music and improvisation after many conversations. Most of our time went into
determining the features of applet, what it should do and not do.  The Java
code is Andy's doing, most of it drawn from his previous projects.

?: Why did you do away with some of the functions that Deck's
applets had? Like the ability to store things?   

Napier: Our design creates a simple, immediate experience of collaboration.
dropped the Load and Save buttons since they create the idea of separate,
individually crafted drawings. We took out Undo, Clear, Erase, anything
that implies backing out. Like live music any mark that is made (like a
note) is there. It is immediately part of the design.  It must be responded
to, ignored, incorporated, or overlayed. This is un-premeditated,
spontaneous, playful. It is about the marks of people coming through the
medium.  Their physical gesture is visible on screen as their hand.draws.

GraphicJam challenges the belief that art is created by one person, exists
in a certain place at a certain time, and can be owned by one person.  Here
the artwork may be created by ten people who don't aspire to be artists.

Deck: There needs to be someone else present to really experience
GraphicJam at ist best. This is another reason that collaborating with Mark
has been
important. Also, we didn't want the interface to look like the cockpit of a
jumbo jet. By making it simpler, we believe that more people, even internet
novices, will feel comfortable using GrafficJam.  

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