Beyond Control <1990>
some theories to the contrary, it is presumed that making
art is active and viewing art is passive. Radical developments
in communication technology, such as the marriage of
image, sound, text, computers and interactivity, have
challenged this assumption. The participants of Lorna,
have reported that they had the impression of being
empowered because they could manipulate Lorna's life.
The decision process was placed in their hands, literally.
The media bath of transmitted pre-structured and edited
information that surrounds, and some say alienates,
people is washed away, hosed down by viewer input. Altering
the basis for the information exchange is subversive
and encourages participation creating a different audience
require viewers to react. Choices must be made. As technology
expands, there will be more permutations available,
not only between the viewer and the system, but between
elements within the system itself. Computer systems
will eventually reflect the personality of their users.
However, there is a space between the system and a player
in which a link, a fusion or transplant occurs. Truth
and fiction blur. According to Sigmund Freud, reality
may be limited to perceptions that can be verified through
words or visual codes. Therefore, perceptions are the
drive to action that influence, if not control, real
events. Perceptions become the key to reality.
Perhaps it was nostalgia
that led me to search for an interactive video fantasy,
a craving for control, a longing for real-time activities,
a drive toward direct action. This chronic condition
is reputedly a side effect, or for video artists an
occupational hazard, that results from watching too
much television. Television is a medium that is by its
nature fragmentary, incomplete, distanced and unsatisfying,
similar to platonic sex. A precondition of a video dialogue
is that it does not talk back. Rather, it exists as
a moving stasis, a one-sided discourse, a trick mirror
that absorbs rather than reflects.
Lorna was developed
as a research and development guide, but it is generally
inaccessible as it was pressed in a limited edition
of 20, of which only 14 now exist. Lorna is only occasionally
installed in galleries or museums. Creating a truly
interactive work demands that it exist on a mass scale,
available and accessible to many people.
path to interactive works began not with video, but
with performance, when, in 1971, I created an alternative
identity called Roberta Breltmore.
Her decisions were random, only very remotely controlled.
Roberta's manipulated reality became a model for a private
system of interactive performances. Instead of being
kept on a disc or hardware, her records were stored
as photographs and texts that could be viewed without
predetermined sequences. This allowed viewers to become
voyeurs into Roberta's history. Their interpretations
shifted, depending on the perspective and order of the
years after Roberta's transformation, Lorna the first
interactive art videodisc, was completed. Unlike Roberta,
who has many adventures directly in the environment,
Lorna, a middle-aged, fearful agoraphobic, never leaves
her tiny apartment. The premise was that the more she
stays home and watches television, the more fearful
she becomes, primarily because she absorbs the frightening
messages of advertising and news broadcasts. Because
she never leaves home, the objects in her room take
on a magnificent proportion.
object in Lorna's room is numbered and becomes a chapter
in her life that opens into branching sequences. The
viewer, or participant accesses information about her
past, future and personal conflicts via these objects.
Many images on the screen are of the remote control
device Lorna uses to change television channels. Because
the viewer uses a nearly identical unit to direct the
disc action, a metaphoric link or point of identification
is established between the viewer and Lorna. The viewer
activated in the live action and makes surrogate decisions
for Lorna. Decisions are designed into a branching path.
Although there are only 17 minutes of moving image on
the disc, the 36 chapters can be sequenced differently
and played over a period of time lasting several days.
There are there separate endings to the disc, through
the plot has multiple variations that include being
caught in repeating dream sequences, or using multiple
soundtracks, and can be seen backward, forward, at increased
or decreased speeds, and from several points of view.
There is no hierarchy
in the ordering of decisions. It should be noted that
this idea is not new. It was explored by such artists
as Stephen Mallarme, John
Cage and Marcel Duchamp, particularly through his
music. These artists pioneered ideas about random adventures
and chance 50 years before the invention of the technology
that would have allowed them to exploit their concepts
caused by being controlled by the media, is a counterpoint
to the direct action of the participants. As the branching
path is deconstructed, players become aware of the subtle
yet powerful effects of fear caused by the media, and
become more empowered, more active. By acting on Lorna's
behalf we travel through their own internal labyrinth
to our innermost transgressions.
interactive technology is increasingly visible in many
areas of society the political impact is spectacular.
As a result, people feel a greater need to personally
participate in the discovery of values that affect and
order their lives, to dissolve the division that separates
them from control, freedom; replacing longing, nostalgia
and emptiness with a sense of identity, purpose and
second piece Deep Contact,
refers to the player's ability to travel the 57 different
segments into the deepest part of the disc, determining,
through their own intuition, the route to the centre,
while simultaneously trying to find and to feel the
deepest, most essential parts of themselves. Viewers
choreograph their own encounters in the vista of voyeurism
that is incorporated in Deep Contact.
This piece developed
into a collaboration between many people. John Di Stefano
had the difficult task of composing music that would
work in modulated segments, as well as backward, forward
or in slow-motion. Jiri Vsneska assisted immeasurably
with the shooting and scanning of photographic images,
and Marion Grabinsky, the leather clad protagonist,
gave the piece the erotic appeal so necessary for sexual
transgressions. Toyoj Tomita played the Zen Master and
Demon with equal charm, while the crew of camera operators,
editors and production managers added tremendously to
the success and joy of making this piece.
This touch-sensitive interactive videodisc installation
compares intimacy with reproductive technology, and
allows viewers to have adventures that change their
sex, age and personality. Participants are invited to
follow their instincts as they are instructed to actually
touch their guide Marion on any part of her body. Adventures
develop depending upon which body part is touched.
sequence begins when Marion knocks on the projected
video screen asking to be touched. She keeps asking
until parts of her body, scanned and programmed to rotate
onto the Microtouch screen, actually are touched. For
instance, if you touch her head, you are given a choice
of TV channels, some giving short, but humorous, analytic
accounts of 'reproductive technologies' and their effect
on women's bodies while others show how women see themselves.
The protagonist also talks about 'extensions' into the
screen that are similar to 'phantom limbs', so that
the screen becomes an extension of the participant's
hand. Touching the screen encourages the sprouting of
phantom limbs, virtual connections between viewer and
If Marion's torso is
touched, the video image on the disc
goes to a bar where the viewer can select one of three
characters, Marion, a Demon or a Voyeur, to follow through
interactive fiction that has a video component. If viewers
touch Marion's legs, they enter a garden sequence in
which they can follow Marion, a Zen Master, an Unknown
Path or a Demon. Selections are made via images that
have been photographically scanned onto the touchscreen.
In the garden, for example, the image on the touchscreen
is a hand that jumps forward depending upon selections,
and that allows the viewer to follow the lines on the
hands to different routes. The participant usually follows
a character or a segment to a fork in the road. At this
point, the disc automatically stops, requiring a selection
to go left, to go to the right, to return to the first
segment of the disc, or to repeat the segment just seen.
certain instances viewers can see, close up, what they
have just passed. For example, Marion runs past a bush
that, examined closely, reveals a spider weaving a web.
This allows new perceptions of the same scene, depending
upon the speed at which it is seen. In some instances
words are flashed on the screen for just three frames,
forcing the viewer to go back slowly to see what was
written. At other points lines are spoken backward,
forcing the disc to be played in reverse. Whilst the
Demon and Zen Master are played by the same actor, indicating
different aspects of our personalities, suggesting that
the same even can appear frightening or enlightening,
depending upon its context.
surveillance camera was programmed via a Fairlight to
be switched 'on' when a cameraman's shadow is seen.
The viewer's image instantaneously appears on the screen,
displacing and replacing the image. This suggests 'transgressing
the screen' being transposed into 'virtual reality'.