straight up

Fantasy Beyond Control <1990>

Despite 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 dynamic.

Interactive systems 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.

My 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 sequences.

Two 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.

Every 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 more fully.

Lorna's passivity, 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.

As 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 hope.

The 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.

The 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 image.

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.

At 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.

A 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'.