A Conversation with JoAnn Gillerman

on the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire
August 1996

 

Judy Malloy
Anna and I are pleased to welcome JoAnn Gillerman - this month's guest on Interactive.

JoAnn Gillerman owns a media arts company Viper Optics, which has been producing video, audio, Installations and interactive environments for over 15 years. She describes her works that include interactivity, "sensitivity to spatial arrangement", sculptural elements, and socialization of audiences as "environments, meant to fully envelope a viewer/participant in an electronic space and time."

She also teaches at California College of Arts and Crafts - most recently a course in "Interactive Storytelling and CD-ROM"

The next few posts are segments of her bio.

JoAnn Gillerman
I am an independent artist working in electronic media and a Professor teaching Video, Installation, Computer arts and Multimedia Media at California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, California. In addition, I have also taught several semesters in the MultiMedia Electronic Art Dep't of CSU, Hayward, and many summers in the Computer Arts Department of California State University Summer Arts Program, where I co-designed, installed and taught a cross disciplinary computer/video/music lab. I give specialized workshops and guest Artist presentations in art and technology and/or varied aspects of multimedia production including CD-ROM production. Works have shown nationally and internationally. Recent venues in California include: Exploratorium, Blasthaus Multimedia Gallery, MacWorld, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Art Teco, Fort Mason, ACM Multimedia, etc. Other venues include: Siggraph; Sydney, Australia; USIS,Calcutta, India and others. [MFA - Art Institute of Chicago(video and painting); BA - Duke University (Medical/Botanical Illustrating and art); Florence, Italy (traditional printmaking), Washington University (Drawing, printmaking)]

I own a media arts company Viper Optics, which has been producing video, audio, Installations and interactive environments for over 15 years. Recently, in collaboration with (Rob Terry), we have formed a new media arts Company (VIPER VERTEX) producing interactive exhibits, interactive CD-ROMs and Web Pages. (for more info on (VIPER VERTEX) check out our home page!)

JoAnn Gillerman
in the shadow . . .

What started out as a curious passion has become an all absorbing obsession and life-long quest!. I travel - in less than ideal conditions! - to often extreme exotic places for moments some as long as 4 minutes and others as little as 45 seconds and the chance to revel in, videotape and be in the shadow - of a total solar eclipse. This has led to fascinating encounters, research and several interactive multimedia works on the ambiance, mythologies, folklore, histories and experiences surrounding these awesome events. Impulsive, yes. Exciting, definitely!

Concept of Works
My work involves interactive installation, performance, video and computer arts. I often deal with provocative issues: eroticism, androgyny, private issues in a public context, and public issues in a private space. I design environments that envelope a viewer/participant in an electronic space and time. I use interactivity to observe socialization and communication, and through multi-user systems, group dynamics and interaction. Through seductive interfaces for easy non-intimidating access and constant questioning of limited or open parameters of interactivity, issues and imagery of the Earth, man and art are juxtaposed. Probably due to the many years I have spent exploring video, the immediacy and involvement of real-time interactions is still quite seductive.

JoAnn Gillerman
(RECENT WORKS (1993-1996))

(NIGHT FEEDER) interactive CD-ROM - Interactive Horror Movie on CD (Dallas Museum of Art) (more info on the Night Feeder web site: available from VIPER VERTEX HOME PAGE)

(THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH interactive CD-ROM) - Total Solar Eclipse & Lava Hawaii '91 - multilingual (Dallas Museum of A (ntijiwana) interactive multilingual CD-ROM - Total Solar Eclipse Bolivia '94 (work in Progress)

(THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH Interactive Installation) (multilingual) multi-channel Interactive Environment using 10-24 monitors, laserdisc and sound triggered by floor sensors (shown: Exploratorium as work in progress, Blasthaus Multimedia Gallery)

(EROS INterACTive) Interactive Installation (Silicon Graphics Indy) an interactive real-time register for soliciting comments on interactivitly and eroticism with real-time record and playback of comments ("Be-In", Fashion Design Center, Seybold Conf, Moscone Center)

(AnArchy PARTYCAM) Interactive Performance and costume Interactive spontaneous cyber art performance and public art ("Cobra Lounge" of ArtTeco, Fort Mason; Be-In; Oliver Art Center; Anon Salon; Ops Art Gallery; Pier 32; Nixon Library)

(KUNDALINI & BASEBALL) Interactive Installation light wand triggered interactive installation (Taylor Art Gallery, CSU, Chico)

"Three works:THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH, EROS INterACTive and AnArchy PARTYCAM", an on-line article describing these works appears currently in the "Words on Works" section of the Leonardo Web Site. More information on these works and others are will be available soon through the Viper Vertex Home Page.

JoAnn Gillerman
TEACHING

Some recent courses that I teach include "Interactive Storytelling and CD-ROM", "Computer and Video Installation", "Experimental Media", "Interactive technologies", "digital video for multimedia", "Narrative and CD-ROM" and "CD-ROM production for Artists". I also regularly teach studio courses in Video, Installation, Sound, Sequencing of Images and Media Literacy.

Some works resulting from these classes are: (Electro-Healing)- an Interactive Installation that was installed at Siggraph '93, and several collective CD-ROMs from interactive works by students at Hayward and Interactive Stories - a collection of CCAC student collaborations from my class: "Interactive Storytelling and CD-ROM"

JoAnn Gillerman
HISTORY

Extensive early work in the fine arts mediums of painting, sculpture (welded metals/ fiberglass and neon) and drawing (inclusive of published medical/botanical illustration), led to explorations in light, video, other electronic arts. Early electronic works involved interactive installations prior to the advent of the computer. The viewer/ audience interacted with sensors that controlled video images and sound. 20 years ago I built a Sandin Image Processor, an analog video processor and synthesizer for electronically altering video. I used it extensively for both production and live performance, culminating in WHISPERS IN A PLANE OF LIGHT- a collaboration with an electronic musician at Digicon '83. An erotic piece using midi-like techniques prior to the invention of midi! From there, new technologies allowed exploration into new arenas. Being non-platform specific, I have used many computer systems and applications ranging from high-end paint systems to smaller personal computers: Macintosh, Amiga and IBM PC.

Judy Malloy
Welcome Jody! To begin with, canyou talk a little about how and why you began making interactive art?

Anna Couey
Hi Jody! I haven't seen your work in what seems like forever, and was fascinated to read about THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH in particular in "Words on Works." Will you be making the works themselves available over the web? (Also, what is the URL for your home page?)

Beth Kanter, Arts Wire
Welcome! Thanks for the wonderful introduction!

JoAnn Gillerman
Hi! I’m very delighted to be here now on two accounts. First I like the idea of a live dialog on-line and plan to be very present to answer questions during this month...and, secondly ... I was one of the casulaties of the recent “west-coast blackout”. I was on the computer - in the process of “posting” - when the screen went black along with everything else in our studio. (It’s that strange feeling that something is wrong ... ) My first thought, of course, was that we blew a fuse in the studio - too many computers on? I don’t think so! After discovering the entire building - infact entire blocks - had lost power, I heard on the radio, that power outages were “spotty in the entire Western United States”. Well, understanding that this was “serious” and involved more than just me, I felt confident that the power would resume again soon. After 3 hours - it did - but not the computer that I was working on at the time. It had gone through some sort of melt-down that we are just beginning to get back on-line. So...this said I understand the vulnerabilities of an on-line dialog (in my case dependent on power!) as well as the tremendous assets of these live (sometimes real-time) conversations. (I am considering a back-up generator, but until then...) Back to business and the questions at hand.

JoAnn Gillerman
Thanks for the welcome. It’s good to be here. In response to your question on how and why I began making interactive art... (I hope what follows addresses your question. It was the answering of this first question that was munched in the computer during the power outage! That pass was totally different from this one - and I could probably answer it from yet another perspective. So, if there is anything else you would like for me to comment on...just ask!)

I began making interactive art over 20 years ago - before the advent of the computer - well not really before the computer - but certainly before I had access to a computer. I never quite bought the “art-is-sacred-so-don’t-touch” thing. I have always wanted to touch and see and experience works - ironic that I wind up in cyberspace!

I used to paint - large stain paintings - and construct welded metal sculptures that visually changed form in the changing outside sunlight. Much of the interest for me was in the way the paint (poured and brushed) spread on the unprimed wet canvas, or how the shadows changed on minimal sculptural forms. Process over product. Not surprising I soon gravitated to the “time arts” of video and audio. Video became an abstraction of pure electronic form and I began with “video synthesized feedback. (Video feedback is very interactive. The slightest change in lighting conditions or movements across the room can totally change the imagey.) From here, I started playing with live computer graphics on early high-end paint systems (usually at 2:00am in various facilities!). I built a Sandin Image Processor which allowed real-time video processing and synthesizing, as well as providing an early multi-channel switching device that I often used in performance or to encourage interactive live events.

The live real-time aspects of video - and now computer - are of particular interest to me and still are the driving force behind much of my work. (sometimes I think it is as much political as aesthetic...) I usually try to incorporate a live element into most installations or environments that I design. This live element defining an “active space” may be in form of video cameras, varying types of sensors (midi or mechanical) and light wands which trigger visual or aural events, audio microphones, etc. I think of these devices as a way for an audience to “touch” (if they so choose) the electronic form. A product of the 60s - and as a result of early work where I frequently put one on the spot - I do respect one’s personal space and usually give the option to the audience whether to participate.

Now, we have the Internet. Though usually not purely real-time, it’s getting closer all the time and I think soon will be there.

Simultaneous to the electronic imagry that I was visually pursuing on video and computer screens, I was also designing live real-time interactive environments and installations. Video delays often played a part in these installations as did “floor sensors” which I made from two steel screens separated by a thin foam rubber pad with holes. These were usually hidden under carpets in public buildings to “engage” the viewers. As with Directory Assistance, an early work about 1975, these sensors were placed infront of the main directory at 1 Illinois Center, where people could not help but step on the sensors when they approached the directory. Their image would appear on all the monitors placed above the directory and one of the monitors had a video delay so they saw themselves reading the directry or entering the space. Some people, after observing the monitors, strained to read it from way accross the room to avoid being on video! I learned a lot observing that public work - like not everyone likes being on TV even if it means tremendous inconvenience to not be! Some are just not going to publically interact . Others, of course, loved playing in the space and often came back for more. Issues of private and public space were early concerns that are still present in much of my current work.

Another very early work defined a person’s passage trhough space and around the “active installation area” . Her/his live video image would move from monitor to monitor following as she/he moved through the space. Technically, no digital computers were used for this installation. An early predesessor to the Sandin Image processor was a “large black box” (designed by Dan Sandin) containing what seemed like hundreds of relays!!! I used this box of relays, floor sensors and custom built additional “black boxes” to track a person’s movements, move their image from monitor to monitor, trigger sounds to start and stop and various other events.

Today, it is realatively easy to implement interactive works with the help of personal computers (small or large) and they are quite accessible. Needless to say, it has made my life easier, installations more transportable and interactive works are easier to realize.

I am excited by the new prospects and developments in CD-ROM technology, global on-line high-bandwidth Internet accessiblility, and the use of these new elements in physical space as well as cyberspace. I have always been comfortable with non-linear thought, random access action and creative interfaces which challenge the user/audience. I like exploring new forms of communication and new art forms. The interactive arena, for me, is where many of these elements come together.

JoAnn Gillerman
Anna Couey:
Hi. Some parts of the works described in the Leonardo ("Words on Works") article are now availalbe on the web. I have given much thought to making these and other works available on the Web. There are aspects that are currently on-line in several of our recent interactive works: (An active “on-line” button on the NIGHT FEEDER CD-ROM connects to the NIGHT FEEDER home page and the Internet). I have been considering doing EROS INterACTive on-line to solicit comments on eroticism and interactivity using real time camera/audio inputs. I have also been encouraging short personal stories (in any laguage) about eclipses or volcanoes be sent to me (via e-mail: viper@metron.com) for THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH Environment. AnArchy PartyCam will most certainly become an active part of the Viper Vertex Home Page (It is very interactive but you need shockwave to view it and it currently takes a long time to download!) Almost all of our recent CD-ROM “hybrids” have live on-line connections to the Internet. (This includes THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH CD-ROM)

I am interested, at this point, in producing an interactive on-line Web work that is designed specifically for this venue. It will be available through our Web Site upon completion.

Descriptions, pictures and information on our interactive recent works exist now on our first pass ViperVertex Home Page. The URL is: http://www.IDMA.com/ViperVertex. If you can’t find ViperVertex Home Page with this URL, try http://www.IDMA.com/NightFeeder and go to the link for Viper Vertex. We just posted it, so we’re still making changes, checking all links and trouble shooting the bugs. Most are active ... the ones not active will be soon.

JoAnn Gillerman
Beth Kanter: Thanks. It’s great to be here. Looking forward to more on-line dialog! - - - - -

Kim Adams
Joann, I'm having trouble reaching ViperVertex -- 404 error reads:

The requested URL was not found on this server:

/ViperVertex

(C:/WebSite/htdocs/ViperVertex)

Please return to the referring document and note the hypertext link that led you here. I even get this error off of the search engines. Did the blackout fry the server too?

JoAnn Gillerman
Kim Adams: We hopefully will have Viper Vertex home page up again by the end of this week. We are still trying to track down errors. I think you can still reach a Viper Vertex Page through the URL: http://www.IDMA.com/NightFeeder ... when you get into the first page of Night Feeder, scroll down and click on “Viper Vertex”. If this doesn’t work please let me know. Otherwise please try again toward the end of the week. (Thanks for trying and letting me know the status.)

JoAnn Gillerman
Kim ... I just tried Viper Vertex through Night Feeder, and though I sucessfully got through to the page, none of the links are working. So, we will be correct that by Thurs or Fri.this week. Thanks for your patience!

Judy Malloy
Jody, it's great to see that you are up and running again! I'm looking forward to reading your words.

JoAnn Gillerman
Judy... yes, I am up and running again and checking in regularly! As I mentioned in the "how and why" I started doing interactive art, I could answer that many different ways ... so if you have more specific questions after you read my entries,just ask.

Judy Malloy
Jody, I saw you perform around 10 years ago at CADRE. I don't remember the name of the performance but it was based on light - sensor-triggered light, I think. You also talk about the elements as providing a kind of interactivity in your early work. This leads (it seems to me) coherently into your current solar eclipse documentation. Also, I think the diverse elements in your previous works are integrated/come to maturity in your current CD-ROM pieces.

THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH has added components that I like - how other cultures view natural phenomena, your personal treks in search of eclipses (it would be great to hear more about these!) And these diverse strains are integrated well in the CD-ROM medium. I also was very impressed with way the way a large amount of narrative and visual information was integrated and NIGHT FEEDER.

Can you talk a little more about working with CD-ROM? And about how you use what you call the "interactive arena" in these works?

Anna Couey
Jody, yikes, sorry to hear about your computer frying!

What led you from making responsive environments that you participated in thru your own art making to responsive environments for others? I mean, I can readily see the aesthetic part of that transition - & would love to know more about how you view it from a political perspective!

It was also interesting to read your thoughts about optional vs. forced interactivity. So many things to assess in this shifty territory of art that depends on the relationship you build with participants to really bring out its full meaning!

Thanks for the URL - I'll check it out!

JoAnn Gillerman
Judy and Anna...
I’m thinking about all these other issues that you have raised and will get back to you real soon with responses.

Also, I will talk more about some of our experiences “in the shaddow” at a later time. (I could go on and on about that but will abreviate it for now!)

JoAnn Gillerman
Judy Malloy...

First check out our web site at http://www.IDMA.com/ViperVertex It’s up and operating!!!!

Light Triggers...
The work in progress that you saw at CADRE was Kundalini and Baseball - an interactive experience of virtual spirituality! A neon light wand triggers the images and sounds on a computer-video screen. [Seven baseballs turn into seven chakra points that fly into position on the live image of the performer’s body in performance or the participants’s body in the installation. When the Kundalini is raised, through a series of “interactive scenes”, a short video is triggered.]

I often use creative interfaces that allow interactions without the use of a traditional mouse or keyboard. Considering the quality and method of interaction, I like intuitive interfaces that are easy to use. The light wand allows movement in real space and through real time. I did, in fact, use Neon in several early sculpture works so I am familiar with that type of light. One reason that I use the neon light wand as a sensor to “trigger” electronic events, is that I realized from my past experience with Neon Sculpture that the light - being relatively specific and localized - would be easier to track by a video camera. Since one of the more difficult things to do when using light sensitive systems interactivley is to control the triggering threashold of the light source, this provided a solution. Also, I have used neon light in past video works just because aesthetically I like the look of it.

About CD-ROM, Interactive Narritive and the “Interactive Arena” ...
CD-ROM provides a medium that can handle many of the mlultimedia elements that I usually work with - video, sound, interactivity, still imagry: computer composites, slides, photographs, computer painting, and text, etc. In and of itself, CD-ROM is not a phisically spacial medium in the traditional 3-D space sense, but it is starting to open up into cyber space which is quite comprehensive and global. My co-collaborator - Rob Terry - and I have been producing CD-ROM hybrids which connect multimedia elements on CD-ROM to the Internet. Advantages to these hybrids are: The CD-ROM provides more highly resolute and more memory intensive elements while the Internet provides the global, real-time communication. We are exploring the use of thses hybrids in actual spacial envirnments, as well.

I have been teaching several classes at California College of Arts and Crafts, (and some in the California State University System) in aspects of narrative and CD-ROM. In the “Interactive Storytelling and CD-ROM” class at CCAC one of the assignments was to write a story, bring it into class in written form, then we proceeded to cut it up and re-arrange it. This brought up issues of how to interactively present a linear (or non-linear) story considering how a first-time user might “navigate” through the narrative, and what elements were essential to move the story forward, backward or circularly, etc. We discussed other interactive CD-ROMs - branching techniques and what we - as users - thought were successful, frustrating, engaging, etc.

Narrative...we think non-linearly (at least I know I do!) . We are constantly making editing decisions in our everyday activities and speech - especially if you think faster than you talk or write (which I also do). Our minds are constantly multi-tasking . So... when thinking of a narrative - we are editing all the time in our perceptions... In print, film or video we, the editors, decide in what order we will tell the story. (We may choose to alternately cut two simultaneous scenes together, or we might display text reading “same time...different place!” ... Whatever our choices, they become locked in as soon as committed to the linear formats of Video or film or book, etc. Now...with interactive media (i.e. CD-ROM, disk, etc.) choices become available to the viewer who may, for example, re-order the scenes, or collect items or clues to open doors in a given story ... etc.

NIGHT FEEDER INTERACTIVE CD-ROM
Night Feeder is a fully interactive horror movie on CD-ROM. The movie was shot as a linear 94 minute movie. My company mounted the production. I was Art Director, Associate Producer and primary Editor with Rob Terry. Needless to say, Rob and I became very intimately involved with every single edit, to the point at which we both know every word in almost every line of dialog in the movie! When we decided to make NIGHT FEEDER interactive on CD-ROM, we conceptualized many different ways of organizing the narrative before deciding to proceed with the one we used. In movie-time, all the events in NIGHT FEEDER take place over a few days time - and (as in real life!) several things are happening simultaneously. This lent itself very well to the interactive movie format on CD-ROM.

The entire story, all branching decisions and other decisions on the interactive CD are based on the video narrative material of the NIGHT FEEDER. movie. There is about 60 minutes of quicktime video, most segments ranging from a few seconds to several minutes, and many other features, including what we call a “timeline” that lets one create one’s own “director’s cut” of the movie. There is a level 1 and level 2, an always accessable character screen, linear ordered movie for more passive viewers, even an on-line connection to the Internet where one may look for clues and research to help in the writing of two articles unique to each user. There is so much on the CD - it is hard to encapsulate this interactive work in words! For more information on the CD-ROM and it’s availablility, please visit the Night Feeder web site at http://www.IDMA.com/NightFeeder or http://ww w.IDMA.com/ViperVertex.

Judy Malloy
Jody, this looks great! I'll be back soon with responses and questions.

JoAnn Gillerman
Anna...
When I was exploring environments that I designed for myself, or performed in, I also became interested in how others interacted with me and/or the environment. We are in real life always interacting with our environments - why not in art?

Especially “informative” was when I first wore a promenant mustashe around Chicago. (It did, I might add, totally match the color of my hair and the shape went well with my face!) I learned alot about people! I went on my daily activities - to the bank, downtown on route through Chicago, on public transit, grocerie stores, etc. Also, relatively recently, as Tritonia Feldspar, I again wore the same mustashe here and around the Bay area. One semester, I taught an entire class as Tritonia Feldspar.The students recognized that when the mustashe was on I was Tritonia - and when not on - I was Jody. I wore it around town when I was looking for “weights” (barbells) - like to Copeland Sports, or other public places. These “real-time performance pieces” - a continuing study in human interactions!!! . - I view as political in nature and interactive (without much tech!). Questions of gender, normality, and identity come to my mind! (though others may see simply drama and theater!). In cyberspace gender switchng is much easier than in non-cyberspace!

About optional vs. forced interactivity ... I felt wearing a mustashe was quite benign and quite personal - Not agressively requireing interaction. i.e. optional! However, it was surprising how many people considered it a direct assault on something! (I’m still not sure what that is about!)

Getting back to interactive art - I do understand that the world does not always give one the option to be passivley or actively engaged. Some decisions are made without personal consultations! And ... so be it with art! But, I firmly believe that it would be a more harmoneous place - in general - if a person’s individual space - and the space of varied cultures - is respected and tolerance practiced. I try to convey this in my work - all of my work.

Though this my be construed as simplistic, I don’t believe in re-visiting “somewhat collectively agreed on offensive terratory” for the sake of pointing out how really offensive it is! I’m much more into finding creative new solutions.

I respect personal space - of myself and others. That is why, when I work interactively, I usually let the viewer/participant decide how engaged she/he wishes to be. And...along these lines...If I am successful in designing an engaging interactive environment, I believe users will want to interact out of curiousity, interest, or to visually and aurally experience it. I do consider accessibility, and attempt to make environments and interactive art available to a broad and varied audience.

Judy Malloy
Jody - thanks for your excellent responses. I have many questions but since CD-ROM is something that many artists are begining to work with and you have a lot of experience in this area, I am wondering, partly because several artists have asked Anna and I about CD distribution and a role the INteractive COnf. might take in that, what you are thinking about artist's CD's as a viable medium. Are art students very interested in working with CD-ROM? What kinds of works are they doing? How are folks distributing them? Are there the same kinds of is it an artwork in itself or a way to get out other work issues?

Timothy Collins
That last post got my thinking along the line of medium. Is a CD a medium? Or is it a publishing media? is video tape a medium? What is the diff between publishing op and actual creative media? Is the idea of media irrelevant at this point?

Personally It strikes me as a distribution tool. The difference between live musice and memorex. Art students....... shouldn't be worrying about distribution. Shouldn't they be taking chances in the machine saving the good stuff to a portable HD. and DOING MORE! But then again, lotsa storage on that little CD.

Looking forward to the response on this!

Judy Malloy
I don't work with CD but I think the questions and blurring of lines might be similar to what is happening with the web. Certainly Night Feeder is an actual work - not a distribution tool. One reason I was interested was because I thought there might be parellels with what is happening with the web.

JoAnn Gillerman
I would say that video is the medium, and video tape is the means of distributing the medium if it is recorded (i.e. not live video installation involving no tape!). In that light, CD is a convenient way to distribute interactive works. Interactive works could be distributed on HD, though this would be quite expensive, fragile and inefficient in terms of cost per memory.

I use Interactive CD as a medium and often it is the only presentation of the art work in itself. I also use CD-ROM as storage - like a very large removable disk. It is a wonderful storage medium, small, convenient, and holds lots of data, for a relatively low cost.

I’d say CD is a publishing media at this point in time. This could easily change in a few years, but works of art that now reside on CD-ROM may be considered artwork unto itself. Artists often change mediums, and stay consistant with their concepts and/or images, etc.. I don’t think the work is defined by the medium, though it is usually presented or displyed in the medium. Inotherwords, Art becomes fixed once it has been created and committted to a medium, until it may be re-worked in another medium.

At this particular point in time, and I think the time in this case is quite relevant, CD may be - even if not considered a medium, considered a relatively efficient means of presenting interactive works that have been designed and created on a computer. Interactive works may be distributed or presented on several different media - CD is only one - but a good one for distribution - small, compact, memory efficient, and may be cross platform, etc. I think there will be other media, that are currently in the works - that will become an efficient means for presenting interactive works. I am stressing interactive because I think this is the area where the art (or CD in some cases) becomes the medium unto itself. This is a much larger issue - raises many questions - and is changing constantly with technology. Where is the art on-line? What is the medium? The concept becomes important, the medium is whatever works!

Students have been very engaed and excited at making an interactive CD-ROM in class! CD is not an easy medium to work with. There are a lot of technical issues that come up - and the learning curve is great, however, the process has been quite rewarding.

I think it is very important for students - art students - to experiment and experience different media as well as varied concepts, ideas and presentation of these ideas. Art students - that are artists - will have to at some point - sooner rather than later - be faced with how to present their work in public, at galleries, museums, on-line, wherever. If they work in interactive media with computers, they will need to present the work interactively - and it is less feasible in most cases to send or take your HD than a CD. It becomes a practical issue.

CD-ROM distribution is a whole other ball of wax. It is not easy at the moment. However, the tide seems to be constantly changing as the serious bandwidth issues of on-line internet stuff have presented questions and problems of sending/receiving video, high resolution images, complex sound, real-time interaction, etc. It is probably only a matter of time before some of these problems are solved, however, impatience seems to be the name of the game right now!

NIght Feeder Interactive is an interactive CD-ROM movie, and a work meant specifically for CD. It is also meant to be mass produced and mass distributed on CD. We’re working on that!

Anna Couey
Lots of responses to what you've posted flew thru my head as I read your words Jody! Was interested to read about your moustache performances, and would love to hear more about some of those encounters. I can imagine how some people would consider it an assault - gender coding is surprisingly firmly imbedded. I was often mistaken for a man - even when wearing a skirt! - when my hair was very short. Nothing like being perceived to be in drag when you're dressed in the regalia of your own gender! Do you think the moustache caused people to think differently about their assumptions about gender?

Nice comment on voluntary vs. forced interactivity. I usually fall into the voluntary interactivity camp, but like the way you took it back to real life. Gives the freedom for the work to be what it is...I guess for me it also seems necessary to be aware of the implications of the way that interactivity is done, since much of the interactive work I've organized treads outside the art context.

Good question about CD-ROM & medium, Tim. Hadn't thought about it till you raised it, I just assumed it was a medium, at least in the hands of artists. I definitely thought of online systems as media prior to the web - because you could do different things with different types of communication structures. When I first became familiar with the Web, I thought of it as a medium; but then, I was envisioning how people would use it to experiment with the nature of communication. While that certainly goes on in web design, the web is so much used as a container for something else/as a distribution vehicle, that its really both - and seems more frequently the distribution vehicle. Hmmm but in book arts the container is part of the work itself. I wonder how our sense of medium vs. distribution oulet will evolve as the net itself does - will it stay fluid, many things at once? Is that what you meant about the distinction blurring, Judy?

Re: CD-ROM distribution, Jody do you handle your own? & are you trying to mass market or keep your works in the art realm? When I was distributing video art on VHS, there were a number of challenges artists had to address - whether to price their work in accordance with other consumer video, or whether to price it as an art work - akin to an artists' book. With CD-ROM you don't have the quality degradation that distinguishes VHS from 3/4" or 1" public presentation venues. So how do you position it? Or does price depend on the market you're selling to? ie., consumer vs. commercial?

JoAnn Gillerman
Anna ...
Do I think the moustache caused people to think differently about their assumptions about gender? I hope so!!!!

As to comment again to Tim, you and Judy, I also had originally considered CD-ROM to be a medium - and that is primarily because a lot of art work that I did on CD-ROM did not live in any other form (except on my HD!). This did seem to make it easy to consider it a medium unto itself. But, then, as Judy pointed out, CD-ROM is often used as a medium to either display, sell, or inform about other “art media” that has little or nothering to do with CD-ROM other than being on it. (i.e. the entire Mapplethorpe collection of photographs - none of which started as digital - or Picasso, or contemporary painters, sculptors, etc.!) So, if you think of this as the same “medium” as CD-ROM it does raise an intersting question of where a medium begins and art winds up?

ON DISTRIBUTION...
Yes, We do handle our own work. and it is not easy! As far as distribution of our personal CD-ROMs, NIGHT FEEDER is intended for a specific market inclusive of the horror genre. The movie was in international distribution for several years. The interactive CD-ROM is new and has not been yet distributed. Most of the CD-ROMs that I have been producing are within the art context. They do not fit into any of the predetermined categories of commercial CD-ROMs. (i.e. they are not games, not research, not data, not just images or source, not clip art, not archival, etc.). Mostly - if it is not a game, most publishers don’t know what to do with it! So... the intent and the outcome pretty much define them as interactive experimental - and it is always tricky how to price something new. But you do have to ask yourself how much would the consumer pay for this product?

We are currently selling NIGHT FEEDER INTERACTIVE as an original work and as a limited edition for $ 49.95. This falls in a mid range of most commercial CDs. Our Viper Vertex web page has access to our other CD-ROMs that are availalbe - or will be soon.

CD-ROM is a duplicatable medium that could be reproduced in multiple editions, though it is more economical to make a large run of hundreds or thousands at once. The cost of each disc copy is not as expensive as the cost of making the original glass master. It’s often quite expensive to produce the original work for the one-off - especially when there is a lot of video involved - and that usually comprises a large portion of the source material that I personally use. Quality in CD-ROM production is quite expensive. So is the time to beta test and work out all the bugs in an interactive work - especially when it has an enormous amount of material and choices to go through (NIGHT FEEDER has over 250 quicktime movies that range from a few seconds to several minutes and always many choices of where to go when.) When pricing a work, one has to consider both the production costs and what the market will bare. And - as with video - there are choices all along the way that affect the quality and final output. Some may involve higher end equipment, others more time, etc. If you sell a CD-ROM at Art prices your market is relatively small - not a lot of people can aford expensive art. And, then you also have to consider what percentage of the art market that buys art is ready for the electronic arts - CD-ROM, On-Line, Installation, etc.? Seems to narrow quite a bit here! (and especially if some is availalbe at no cost.) So... practically speaking - it seems that selling the work to the broadest market would help defer some of the production costs! That’s why we have choosen to stay somewhat competitive with many commercial discs - but we can’t afford to price it like the really cheap ones that are truely mass mass marketed.

All this having been said now... as a general question to the on-line audience. For an art CD-ROM - I’m curious to know what you think the price should be? And... how much would you pay for a commercial disc? for an art disc? Do you think the web is a reasonable place for an artist to promote, publicize and distribute interactive experimental CD-ROMs? What would entice you to buy one - interesting pictures, descriptions, samples?

JoAnn Gillerman
for those who have not checked it out yet, info etc. about NIGHT FEEDER INTERACTIVE CD-ROM can be found on the NIGHT FEEDER web site: http://www.IDMA.com/NightFeeder or by clicking on NIGHT FEEDER on our Viper Vertex web page - http://www.IDMA.com/ViperVertex.

Fred Truck
I think the basic problem is distribution. Pricing something is dependent on how it is distributed. With CD-ROMs and other small, published multiples that artists do, distribution is the great, unsolved issue.

Judy Malloy
Yes - we were hoping to talk this while Jody is still here. Anna and I have talked about putting together a web site under Interactive that would have links to pages about artists' CD-ROMS and disk based work.

Timothy Collins
haven't all you folks particpated in the artcom distribution network? Is that still up and functioning? What works/doesn't work with that model?

JoAnn Gillerman
I'm still here and hoping to continue with this specific dialog for at least a few more days if possible.Of course, I am interested in the outcome of such a dialog. - I am availalbe, if time permits (and another artist is not immediately logging on!) to stay on a little longer.

Judy, I think having a web site under interactive that would link to pages about artist‚s CD-ROM would be a good start. It may help the distribution of such multimedia products by having a centralized exposure/forum. Currently it is very difficult to access to the multimedia marketplace with an untraditional or original not mass produced work.

Fred, I think you are absolutely right that the distribution channel does affect the pricing of a work. It is far from being solved at the moment, but I am encouraged by the possibilities that exist in the on-line arena.

Tim, could you be more specific about the artcom network for distribution of multimedia CD-ROM works? Is is still operational (I don‚t know) and do you think it would work in this area for distribution?

Timothy Collins
Judy, Fred and Anna are better equipped to speak about artcom. Before I left SF they were still distributing audio video and some computer work.

Fred Truck
I think Art Com is not functioning.

Anna Couey
I think Art Com is functioning, but am under the impression that video &/or VR are the current focus. Should give Jennifer a call & find out the actual status!

I used to work at Art Com, & mainly focussed on retail/library distribution of books & video. Some exhibitions, festivals, some broadcast. Video distribution in many ways seems parallel to what it might be like to distribute CD-ROM. VHS distribution was a kind of mixed blessing for video art, at least when I was doing it in the late 80s. The video art circuit had established a cost structure for renting 3/4" (usually) tapes for exhibitions, festivals, classroom screenings, etc. VHS threw a wrench into that, because it was purchasable. The most immmediate markets for selling VHS were educational institutions - like university libraries. Teachers facing tight budgets would want to buy VHS so they could show more work than if they were renting..

Then there was the pricing issue - as art work (say $100+ range) or as consumer item. Just as you mentioned w/CD-ROM, Jody, video artists couldn't compete with *real* mass market distribution - $10 per tape or so! But tapes sold fairly well that were in the $40-50 range - if they were by already well-known artists. If the artist didn't already have name recognition, it was hard to sell. (so yeah, I think the web - esp. clips, something to give a potential buyer a sense of what they'd get would really help). I also remember an alternative VHS rental store that *wanted* to carry video art telling me they had a tough time w/their customers because video art wasn't necessarily feature length. & the customers would feel ripped off because they were getting less time for the same rental fee.

On the artist side, one real difficulty of VHS distribution was needing to make copies. Art Com couldn't afford to buy in bulk, so typically we'd keep a small supply on hand, or order from the artist as soon as we got an order. & often the artists couldn't afford to produce in bulk either. So all of us had a lot of work to do to respond to a VHS order!!

Anna Couey
Also Jody...our next guest will not be logging on till the end of the week, so please feel free to keep participating! It's been great to have you with us... - - - - -

Judy Malloy
I'm realizing re the possible artists CD-ROM page that we do want to avoid selling things since Arts Wire now has a nonprofit host. It is ok for artists to sell their own work but we want to be careful about other things. I don't think this would be a problem if we had an informational page on INteractive Pages that linked to each artists individual site.

Fred Truck
How can we do this informational page?

Vassilios Koronakis
JoAnn, in #2, you write: "I use interactivity to observe socialization and communication"

Could you say more? One of the most interactive philosophers, Krishnamurti, talking with Bohm said that "the observer is the observed". How do you get out of "interactivity" to use it to observe?

JoAnn Gillerman
Vassilios,
AnArchy Partycam
deals with just these issues - it is a live interactive performance where the observer becomes the observed! A picture of it occurs in the latest issue of Leonardo Journal - the "Words on Works" section "THE SUN DROPS ITS TORCH, EROS INterACTive, AnArchy Partycam" by JoAnn Gillerman - and on our web page: http://www.IDMA.com/ViperVertex has a description and pictures. I'm not trying to trivialize this question, but I think there is a reason why AnArchy Partycam has been so popular ... and that is that it does touch on this idea in a real-time context. What I meant in the statement that you quoted me as saying, "I use interactivity to observe socialization and communication", is that I have produced many multi-user systems (installations, environments, performances, exhibits) designed to encourage group dynamics and acheive group cooperation and communication through the use of multimedia.

JoAnn Gillerman
Re: CD-ROM informational page. I think it would be a good idea to link to the artists own site. This would avoid any encumberance on the non-profit host.

Judy, Anna, Tim, Fred, and others who have responded or been tracking our conversations - I have enjoyed being on ArtsWire. And I am inspired by the conversation and possibilities that exist in this on-line conferencing / chat forum. Interesting issues were raised that require more thought than an immediate answer, things to keep thinking about as we explore these new media. I thank you for the opportunity to participate and I hope to be back at some future time.

Judy Malloy
Jody, we have really enjoyed having you. If you log on again today, it would be great to have a few words from you about the future of interactive art - both yours and the field as a whole.

Judy Malloy
re our artists CD-ROM page, what about coming up with some kind of quilt-like format where we all would get a square of a specific size that would link to our own pages?

Vassilios Koronakis
If JoAnn can still hear me:

Thank you for your reply. I was hoping for a tool-free answer, this is a peripatetic activity we are involved here.

I am sorry to discover, again, that without allusions to "work" we have difficulties connecting. Abstractions shrink.

We are lost in an eternal "aramis" project, emula the acronym itself (See Latour's :"Aramiss, or..").

(emula= emulating)

JoAnn Gillerman
Vassilios Koronakis, For such discourse you should have made your presence known earlier so our conversations could have included/addressed some of your ideas and responses. I feel it would take a much longer, more complex dialog than I currently have time to pursue at this moment, as this is probably my last posting in this context.

The“work” as you refer to is meant to provide for communication and provide abstractions for the interactors; it is not meant to replace “life experience” which seems to be the level of conversation and connection that you are seeking.

I am well aware of tool-free environments - especially after having very recently spent a fair amount of time traveling in the backroads of India and Nepal. It is my choice at this time, to engage in dialog that is not tool-free by using this opportunity on-line in an electronic environment. We would not be connecting at all were it not for this electronic tool dependent forum. But I never the less find your comments interesting and worth looking into after the actual on-line dialog is completed in this forum.

JoAnn Gillerman
Judy,
I think a quilt-like interface for the CD-ROM page sounds like a good idea.

As to the future of interactive art, I think it is not going to go away anytime soon. I think it is just starting to be explored electronically which has opened up its audience to global possibilities - that were not so easily accomplished before now. So, though I’m aware that this next statement is somewhat controversial - I believe art is a form of communication and that communication and art have recently been expanded tremendously by interactivity and with that broadening the potentail audiences. Whether electronic art takes form on Internet, On-line, CD-ROM, multimedia, etc. - the mediums may be very different in 5 years from now - in my opinion, interactivity will still be a viable medium to work within electronically or other. What I mean by this is though the formats will undoubtedly be continually changing, the concepts of involvement of the audience through interactivity will still be a viable and very live option for artists.

As far my personal work, I have been and will continue to work in interactive media and am currently working on an exhibit which includes interactive CD-ROM, laserdisc and spacially placed sensors to trigger them. I just completed an interactive CD-ROM, INTIJIWANA, a poetic account of our adventures video taping the ‘94 total solar eclipse 15,000’ up in a remote area of the Bolivian Andes. It is bi-lingual English and Spanish. I am currently starting work on the vast amount of material that we collected/shot in India and Nepal - again video taping the total solar eclipse at Fetapur Sikri and the erotic temples of Kajuraho and Konarak. I learned a great deal in India that I hope will not be lost in the translations and communications of this work. It will start in form of an interactive environment/installation and CD-ROM.

I was hoping to talk a little more about my experiences chasing eclipses and working with them as source material for the interactive works that I have been producing for the last many years. However, that will have to be another time.

JoAnn Gillerman
Thanks again for having me on ArtsWire. (I think I am really leaving now!)

Transcript of A Conversation with JOANN GILLERMAN, Item 94, Interactive Art Conference, Arts Wire.
Posted to the Web with participants' permission.


Conversations with Artists