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shift Berlin talk by Pocock

ART / TRAVEL / AGENCY - tangled up in the web.


(Philip Pocock talks at shift, Berlin, 03.06.99).
While I was at my table in Karlsruhe thinking about what I could call this thing tonight, I was
listening to Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" CD from 1975 and his story of the topless dancer
reader of 15th century Italian poetry who was married and divorcing and tangling Dylan up in blue.
In my lyrical dyslexia, listening to Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue," and scanning a long list of
Subject lines in one of my Eudora mailboxes, I was noticing how many 'tangents' were going on,
being spun, and how working 'in tangent' with others incurs an endless stream of foibles,
serendipity and surprises, some off 'on a tangent ' somewhere.
A web is, by definition , a tangle - ask the fly? tangled tangents.
In "1000 Plateaus," Deleuze and Guattari talk about the nomad as not ever leaving a place but
rather extending a territory, distributing themselves, so to speak , rather than actually moving
from A to B. memory . "I may look like I'm moving but I'm really standing still." Dylan again.Art
as a vehicle travelling between us, travel as a detour off the beaten path and onto lost ones
winding through the landscape of mind, and agency as a shifting personal identity strategy, are
bound by their being in some way (auf eine Art) nomadic.
Like Spinoza's "soul is the idea of the body," art appears as the idea of its own materiality,
whether polymer, phosphor, pigment or whatever, whenever appropriate.
If an artwork or its environment is not transportable, it's chances for survival are drastically
cut. Burroughs, in fact, advances this theory in raw form in his 1970 essay "Feedback from
Watergate to the Garden of Eden" that "a virus is a very small unit of word and image." Were art
and words and ideas not akin to viruses, they would like us, their hosts, become extinct as their
power to make lives (fuck) affect lives (shit) or spawn more art, or words, or ideas, would be
greatly diminished.
In this sense, there is no text, all text is already hypertext. The Internet never invented that,
it just facilitates it, hyperspreading the word. Burroughs illustrates the sickness words can wreak
on occasion. Burroughs goes on to give a simple 'word virus' audio-video example. Remember the
year is 1970.
Make 3 tapes.
1 plays a politician's rhetoric including all the normally outtake material.
2 plays a sex session he has with his teenage daughter.
3 plays hateful reaction from constituents.
Splice all 3 together at very short intervals.
1 is the prospective host for the virus.
2 is the opportune means of infection, the
immune or cellular failure allowing viral intrusion.
3 is God or 'the objective reality produced by the virus in the host.'
"In the beginning was the word, and the word was God...," so opens Burroughs that essay, from which
the last 'recipe' was extracted. The viral attribute of the word can, of course, work the other
way, work wonders. Free love. Safe sex. You have new mail!
The closer art resides to its original idea, the more language-based it remains, the more mutable
and virtual it may appear, however faintly, and the more immaterial and transportable its aesthetic
becomes, as in literature , film, video and Internet, the more attention shifts from the aesthetics
of the art object to that of the receiver(s). [Battcock]
As such, there is a shift underway in art - and it has being going on for some time - perhaps
since Duchamp played Ariadne and strung a mile or more of thread between pictures, obstructing
viewer access in some instances, during the group show called "First Papers of Surrealism" that he
installed at the Whitelaw Ried Mansion in New York in 1946.

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November 2, 2009 4:35:15 AM

shift Berlin talk by Pocock

Perhaps, the shift began on the screen with Chris Marker's experimental film "Lettre de
Sibrie" (1958) which Andr Bazin declared to have invented a wholly new mode of montage, that on
the level of commentary, which allowed a cut to step sideways in discourse with its neighbor rather
than to break or contrast, detail or expand it, or flash forward and back in time.
New Wave cinema narrative shifts from 2nd person (the actor addresses the camera directly) to 3rd
person ( the actor turns away again) is another sign of a shift from art's attention on the object
to that of the spectator.At that time, McLuhan was writing that we the people were becoming the
content of our media.
At any rate, this shift from an aesthetics of consumption to an aesthetics of participation has
grown and is a fundamental operative for artists working with networks, as I see it.This is the
major motivation for my involvement in group art and the Internet as a medium.
The travel aspect of our work is secondary at least for me to the vision of where film and video
narrative is heading.The participatory movie aesthetics - the appearance of the idea of hypercinema
- is the main point driving me to continue this work.
Prior to and parallel with these developments in cyberspace, installation artists have been
confronting their viewers with participatory or reception aesthetics for decades. I prefer the term
'artists working with networks' as I prefer artists' video to video art. The identity of a work,
namely the artist, predominates over the anonymous work of art.
BTW: Paul Thek has a 'tangled web' yellow and purple guache on International Herald Tribune
newspaper piece hanging in Frankfurt's Modern Art Museum. It's dated 1975. He proves that you
don't need a plug to be an artist working with networks.
All artists using networks require is a participatory aesthetic strategy, which asks the spectator
for more than their eyes only.
Our installations consist of the fusion of living spaces and autobiographical traces we leave
behind during the set up of the shows. We also use architecture-as-metaphor, that is, architecture
as a means of representing language in the installations. That way we are all closer to being
'subjects of' rather than being 'subjects in' or 'subjected to' the work, in Wittgenstein 's sense
of the subject as 'not belong[ing] to the world,' but instead being 'a border of the world.'Our
visitors, ourselves, act as borders in our installations.
When the aesthetic, traditionally attached to an object for consumption, gets unhinged, and hovers
like a BLOB, between object and spectator, aesthetics as participatory, provisional and potential,
attains the attribute of virtuality. art, appearances, ideas and aesthetics, as they pay more
attention to the user, to reception and participation are all getting virtual, at least from my
point of view.What next then?
Travel. We don't go anyplace anymore, anytime anyone travels. There are no places left to go,
because we are for all intents and purposes already there. I don't mean to sound cynical but, if
you reflect on that, you'll know what I mean.
What I mean by 'real travel' is simply 'the measureable displacement of a material body, us,
through space in time.''Virtual travel' is more or less the reverse, 'spaces and times measurably
displaced in material bodies, us.'
And what we experienced in 1995 for <<arctic circle>> the first in the travel-as-art trilogy, was
that while sharing the real view out the van window with the 'virtual travel' on-line, the 'real'
got sucked into the void and we became characters in an art performance of our own making.
Characters in search of that proverbial author, or authors , who were, namely, supposed to be
ourselves.
It has been said I think that 'psychology is the physics of virtual reality,' and we were, at the
end of our ropes and the end of this travel, strange psychology, which lasted months after the
actual travel ended. Stretching our group's further researches into the nature of travel-as-artas-information Virilio clearly states in his recent book "Open Sky" that we never depart or even
journey anymore, and that our shrunken 'finite world' space and urbanization of 'glocal' time, due
in short to what he diagnoses as dromospheric or 'speed' pollution that has as a consequence of
leaps and bounds in telecommunications technology collapsed world space and duration, isolating in
each of us only a private sense of a 'here and now,' and leaving us solely and absurdly in a state
of constant arrival. Virilio writes and I quote:

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November 2, 2009 4:35:15 AM

shift Berlin talk by Pocock

"... the journey and its components are undergoing a veritable mutation-commutation. ... physical
displacement from one point to another once supposed departure, a journey and arrival. ...
Currently ... we are seeing the beginnings of a 'generalized arrival' whereby everything arrives
without having to leave, the nineteenth century's elimination of the journey (that is, of the
space interval and of time) combining with the abolition of departure at the end of the twentieth,
the journey thereby ... being overtaken by arrival alone."
The only destination left each of us is 'each of us,' some undiscovered nook or cranny inside our
endless selves.
As a constant arriving (becoming,) travelling is akin to the experience of art itself, not only in
its shared attribute of virtuality, but like art, for existing basically as an 'uneconomic , sensual
and cerebral activity.' [Battcock]
However, I must add here that this widely received notion of 'travelling without moving,' is
getting a bit weak in the knees when I think of marching columns of displaced persons crossing
unforgiving mountainous territory under brutal climatic and other circumstances. That's the tragic
art of travel, and one that often relates to the absence of acceptance of the next term as it
relates to identity, political, cultural, gender or whatever - that of a person's agency.
Agency is being anyone, virtually any character a person in RL wishes to present to others on-line
or therwhere, if they can manage it, or in some cases, get away with it. Again this sociological
passage stutters at the thought of ethnic cleansing and divisionism based on an ingrained
premeditated rejection of flexible identity and agency.
When an identity cannot negotiate a set of selves within its own psychological context, how can
whole society ever learn flexibility, and openness? No answer? You see, our most common agency is
our words, noone knows your biology or your bank account from an email. Agency allows one to be
'one person in many bodies, or many persons in one body.' [Stone]
Agency's potency is a measure of our identity's affective viral nature that in part ensures an
early warning system if not survival (usually by denial) in the short term, and maybe even
meaningful changes in the way we work with each other, for better of worse, in the long term.
I don't want to sound like a '68 bleeding heart liberal type, but I do ask myself why, when actors
and musicians choose working together as their standard model since time immemorial, do visual or
fine artists choose not to. Channeling identity through various agencies may be schizoid I mean if
I present my character on-line as a switched-on transsexual turned homosexual one day, and a bornagain buddhist chesspiece another, but this kind of harmless fun and extremes aside, a flexible
identity, a set of selves is natural to humankind, and not schizophrenic or sociopathic as long as
each fragmentary self is cognisant of the others and one becomes, so to speak , a society of one's
selves.
What I mean here is that you're all still there even if only one aspect of your character is out
in front acting as your agent. This is borne out in the results of a quasi-scientific experiment
Burroughs undertook and wrote up in his essay "Electronic Revolution" (1970):
"In 1968, with the help of Ian Sommerville and Anthony Balch, I took a short passage of my
recorded voice and cut it into intervals of one twenty-fourth of a second movie tape ... and
rearranged the order of the 24th second intervals of recorded speech. The original words are quite
unintelligible but new words emerge. The voice is still there and you can immediately recognize the
speaker. Also the tone of the voice remains.If the tone is friendly, hostile, sexual, poetic,
sarcastic, lifeless, despairing, this will be apparent in the altered sequence."
Agency is that art, of remaining oneself, while rearranging one selves, having made the decision
that conversation is the only way forward.
Thank You.

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November 2, 2009 4:35:15 AM