A Conversation with Ian Pollock and Janet Silk

on the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire May-November 1997

Anna Couey
Judy and I are very pleased to welcome artists Ian Pollock and Janet Silk to our virtual guest program this month. Ian and Janet are based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their recent works utilize voicemail technology in a variety of ways to engage people in communication exchange.

Anna Couey
Ian Pollock and Janet Silk describe their collaboration and work as follows:

"We are artists who have worked together for four years. Although we work in a variety of media, several threads carry through our work:

"We seem to use death as a starting point for many of our investigations. History has been the text of the dead, told to the living, articulated by an interpreter. The tradition of history has been one of collecting-the tradition of storytelling-a way to navigated the social sphere. In our work we have been interested in how we can set up an exchange for ideas and stories. In some of our recent pieces this led us to the use of voicemail technology and presently we are looking at the network as a way to engage with a large a group of people.

"Specifically, a recent project, Local 411, used voicemail to tell recorded stories about the Yerba Buena Redevelopment Zone (the area now known as Yerba Buena Gardens, Moscone Center and the Museum of Modern Art). People would call the voicemail system to hear these stories and were encouraged to leave their own. These messages in turn became publicly available to the audience which was calling in. Also we and several other performers called out to public telephones in the area. When the phone was picked up we would attempt to engage with the whoever had picked up the phone. We would start with a fictional premise, based on the same stories and research we had done for the project. In the course of the exchange there was a shift into a more personal conversation about what was going on in the person's life directly related to the issues brought up in the piece. These moments were exciting for us because they broke the boundary between artist and audience in a way that we had not previously experienced. The combination of anonymity and contact as determined by the use of the public phone was dynamic. It made room for a private, intimate conversation with a complete stranger about a complicated social issue. The project was a way to activate the site, to create a temporary public memorial to the people displaced by the redevelopment process, to look at the ongoing gentrification of San Francisco and to connect directly with the audience.

"We're always trying to challenge ourselves with unfamiliar territory and try not to get too comfortable with either medium or subject matter."

Anna Couey
Hi Ian, Janet. Thanks for joining us! I'm looking forward to this conversation...

And now for a few questions:

Does your voicemail gallery still exist?
What other media have you worked in?
Do you consider your work interactive?

Judy Malloy
Welcome Ian and Janet!

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
We have made several pieces on a voicemail system. Currently, one of these pieces entitled The Museum of the Future is showing as part of sound art exhibition in Chico. The show is EARART at 1078 Gallery, May 9th-May 31st and you can call it by dialing 916-343-0539, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, regular toll charges apply. We've installed the computer at the gallery there, but it can be accessed from anywhere by phone. We've done some work with performance, installation and sculpture. We've gilded cockroaches, served cake, cut blue fur, sung country Western songs, interviewed refugees, strung up 5 dozen bunches of cilantro, attempted radio contact with the dead and fabricated chocolate bullets all for art's sake. Interactivity is a quality we struggle with continuously, but it's not the focus. For example we've been working with a medium that has the potential to be very interactive, the telephone, but have found it really challenging to get people involved. it's an interesting balance to set up a situation were interactivity can occur, but in a way that actually generates more meaning for the piece and for the participants. we've found that people are much less jaded than we had anticipated, especially with all the news media hyping how cynical we're all supposed to be. When we set-up this voicemail piece called 50 Stars, we asked people to respond to a series of sound bites culled from the Presidential campaign. People could leave their thoughts on what they heard and what they did respond to was really interesting. There were very few crank or obnoxious comments left, people were sincere and concerned and hoping to get their voices heard. We sent a copy of the project to President Clinton. Local 411 was perhaps the most interactive in the true sense, because it came down to one - on -one conversations with members of the audience. Here the participatory quality, so much of what is often call interactive, gave way to what we think is real interactivity. Actual conversation. We were pleased with how many passer-by actually picked up the ringing phone and began talking about their own housing situation and personal feelings. We think that newsgroup discussions like these have this potential also and are looking forward to what might develop out of our residency here.

Judy Malloy
50 Stars sounds like a very interesting and truly interactive work! Have you thought about how to make the resiude available in some way?

Also, I'm interested in the genesis of your interest in Death (?) And, can you talk a little about your attempts to communicate with the dead?

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
The residue of 50 Stars was available at the time of the project and the collection of all gathered material went to the White House. As for making it available after the conclusion of the project, perhaps the moment has past like a performance. And the documentation is just that. We just got a project back that was in Florida, we had a book that was part of a project concerning guns and violence. The results, the visitors‚ responses, will likely wind up in a Web based project based on the same piece.

Our attempts to communicate with the dead was more based on reflecting on the desires that drive science onward and the relationship of scientists to people considered outsiders. We looked at the development of early radio and electricity and Edison's desire to communicate with the dead via these inventions. Nicolai Tesla also had quite metaphysical aspirations with the medium of electric communication. For a project, Dead Air, we set up two boxes which doubled as exhibits and experiments. The exhibits featured historical pictures and descriptions of Edison's and Tesla's preoccupation on the one hand and the obsessions of "amateur" mediums, or television/radio psychics on the other. While studying the exhibits visitors were invited to listen to the experiments. You can recreate these experiments at home by tuning your radio in to the "dead air" inbetween stations. Then set up a tape recorder and record for a couple hours. There have been reports that if you play the tape back slowly and with equipment that will allow you really analize the recording, you can hear voices. It's especially sucessful if you address a question to somebody you know on the other side. One of our central exhibits was an interview we managed to secure with Nicolai Tesla via the electrosphere in which Janet discovered that Nicolai Tesla had no intetions of accepting the fact that he was in fact dead. Just before we could speak with him further he dematerialized in an angry storm of static leaving us to ponder where this denial may come from.

Since we first started collaborating we have participated in several shows for the Day of the Dead. From this several pieces developed. This in addition to our recent purchase of a grave plot has accelerated our involvement in death and the contemplation of it. Culturally death is interesting, because of its catgorical denial in this country versus the many other cultures around the world.

Anna Couey
Sounds like the dead have no problems participating in your interactive works :-) What are you going to do with the grave plot?

In Local 411, did the people you spoke with know that they were participating in art? I mean, did you tell them, or did they experience it as simply an unusual event.

You've got me thinking about art context and interactivity; whether people are more willing to engage themselves in something personal/risky if there is no context to it. It seems that we all have run into similar issues of how to work interactivity in a way that is meaningful to participants.

Judy's question about documentation is interesting too - whether, when you're making interactive art, the bulk of the meaning is in the participants' experiences. ie., in the conversation itself rather than the artists' original conception.

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
We'll eventually be buried in the grave plot. Meanwhile we are thinking of some projects connected with the site.

In Local 411, we tried to start a conversation, usually based on fictional situations. We were looking for a friend who was displaced, conducting an interview about the area or asking if they knew the phone was haunted, etc. In the course of our interaction, we would tell them our phone call was part of a public artwork. As the conversation wound down, we would give them a phone number where they could listen to recorded stories and leave their own if they wanted to. In this way the interactivity worked its way back into the "passive" part of the piece, (the recorded stories) as an invitation to participate. It was interesting to see how the context shifted, by hiding the art context at first for the potential of an undefined, personal exchange and then by revealing that exchange as part of a larger public project. We were interested in the connection between the personal and the social, and how these connections impact our lives, to different degrees of awareness. We asked people if they thought the cultural center (YBC for the Arts and MOMA) was worth the displacement of 4000 people. This raised the larger issue of how artists are often part of the gentrification process.

The context/interactivity question is interesting in that you followed it by mentioning what is meaningful to participants. There are a few social contexts in which people agree to participate, often these center around ritual, liminal, transactional or conversational situations. When you enter, for lack of a better term, "guerilla space," just engaging with people who you haven't made some kind of social contract with, the results are going to be more extreme. There are advantages to both activities, but it seems that engagement without context is more volatile and difficult to navigate. It's much more about putting yourself on the line, flying by the seat of your pants and responding moment to moment. It helps to be clear what your intentions are. Our experience was that people tended to be more generous, open, even vulnerable or gullible, we felt a big responsibility, because we didn't want it to be just a prank. It was difficult, but exciting. The other side to this is that if people enter into an experience knowing something of the context, they might feel safer, so they might actually be willing to go somewhere in depth, faster. You've already made some kind of agreement with them where they will meet you half way or at least be open to giving you some of their time in exchange for an experience or insight. The potential is that there is less initial shock and decisions made about whether or not they are going to engage. The meaning is the depth of the exchange and this could happen at any level in the process of experiencing the work. Is art that is primarily artifact any less conversational than art that is more willfully interactive (for example, consciously soliciting audience participation as part of the work)? It's interesting to think about what information an artist has that would make other people want to engage with him or her and to what level that information is the exclusive domain of artists. This is why craft, presentation and product is such a big discussion now, don't you think? This question also opens up the issue of the role of the artist in society in terms of what kind of value is placed on the work of art.

Judy Malloy
Wow! Thanks both for the description of your work and your thoughtful presentation of the issues involved. One thing that comes up in discussions of interactive art is the issue of control. In addition to the fact that the people interacting with the work maybe more engaged if they knew exactly what was going on, do you think that in some cases they might feel overly controlled or used if they found out after the fact that they were participating in something that effected their lives in some way?

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
We are not clear on what you mean by control. It does not seem possible to know how people are going to respond. We already said that it seems appropriate to grapple with intentions.

Perhaps the question is a definition of the work of art as a public or private act. Is there a different degree of responsibility on the audience in an interactive work? Is the question of control related to the question of free agency on the part of the audience? Free agency in the sense of the promise of co-authorship in an interactive work. An interesting question might be whether technology and media suggest an interactivity, which often does not exist.

Are you concerned about the nature of the activities the audience has to go through to get the meaning of the work? Or is it the idea of concealing context that seems questionable (you find out later that it was art)?

Maybe you could specify your concerns about control, what the issue is.

Judy Malloy
What concerns me is that as we move into virtual reality, some artists may not understand that there is a difference between asking someone to contribute a few words to a work and actually interfering with someone's life.

Judy Malloy
One reason I'm bring this up is that it seems to me that phone art could begin to cross this line (between creativity and dirty tricks) so it is important to think about this, and I am wondering if you have.

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
Ian: Yes there is the "contributing a few words" theory of interactivity, but isn't the goal of art, at its best, to interfere with someone's life, to make a difference. Isn't the highest compliment you can pay an artist of any discipline is to say, "your piece really moved me?" It seems to me that there are many artists that would say that only if a work is able to interfere with someone's life that the work is meaningful. In the search for virtual reality, performance art, ritual and expression (singular or collective) one could argue that unless there is a perceivable impact on someone's life, it doesn't matter.

I'm curious why you picked phone art as the candidate for dirty tricks, this would give phone art quite a bit of power. There are countless other media that are used to communicate, yet the phone has this special status...

Janet: There is great potential for phone based art to the extent that people are able to engage with the device beyond its use value. When doing research about the early developments of the phone, we read that there was a point in its early history where it was being used for more creative purposes. We found accounts of the phone being used as a broadcast device for the transmission of plays, music and news programs. We have read of it being used as a virtual meeting space, where two groups of people called each other at a specific times, to share music performances and skits. Over time, the concept of how the phone should be used shifted, it became important that such a highly technological device not be "wasted" for idle conversation or entertainment. As it became more assimilated into business, it became an utilitarian device for serious undertakings only. You can see some of this attitude exemplified in 1950's stereotypes of women and their relationship to the phone. (Using it for gossip and idle chatter.) So it seems that once you start defining how the phone should be used, it becomes really hard for people to approach it in a way that is more experimental. There is still this potential for cross-over, for mutually shared experiences, because of the phone‚s accessibility, there is this extraordinary challenge to break through the habit of how the technology is used. In this scenario, any action that is not conversational or business is suspect to the "dirty trick" category. Of course it is used for sex in some very imaginative ways and with people hopping on party lines, I would say this is more the spirit of collaboration that might be explored more. But it is a very conservative art environment now, so just conceptually it is hard to wrap your mind around the idea of meeting on a party line for a cultural work! Just today I was reading from this Hugh Adams book, The Art of the 60's and the author was citing how there was a sort of renaissance in the level of innovation that had occured on the art scene in the late 60's. Performance, happenings, action and conceptual art emerged from a trajectory of Dada and cabaret. There was also consciousness about seeking a "democratic" art experience, on the level of more street art, murals, community projects and public civic works that would actively solicit an audience that produced. There was an idea of tapping into everyone as an artist, and this connection being a politically revolutionary activity. It seems now there is less idealism in this area, therefore gestures to connect with people are perceived a priori as "interfering" or "dirty tricks." I was thinking about this in terms of the phone, that if there was a more experimental atmosphere, maybe there would be more of an exchange. It has something to do with plugging into a more open community where roles are already being questioned. We just don't traffic in these ideas as much. The great thing about the phone is that it can be open ended, like a conversation, so there's less predetermined choices defined by the artist that the audience is simply asked to pick from. I'm thinking more of these Talk Back programs where people call in and sound off. If there was a way to follow that line in terms of how phone art might connect with people.

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
By the way, check out http://www.ps313.com

Judy Malloy
Ian
>but isn't the goal of art, at its best, to
>interfere with someone's life, to make a difference. Isn't
>the highest compliment you can pay an artist of any discipline
>is to say, " your piece really moved me' ? It seems to me that
>there are many artists that would say that only if a work is
>able to interfere with someone's life that the work is
>meaningful. In the search for virtual reality, performance
>art, ritual and expression (singular or collective) one could
>argue that unless there is a perceivable impact on someone's
>life, it doesn't matter.

Yes, it is wonderful to hear those words "your piece really moved me" but "unless there is a perceivable impact on someone's life" to be a is a very disturbing statement.

Surely you don't believe that it is ok to alter the life of any human being in any way in the name of art? Essentially that is saying that you as an artist are more important than other human beings. It is also a lazy way of approaching art. It is much more difficult to create a work of art that actually moves and involves the audience than it is to interfere with someone's life.

But these boundaries are becoming blurred. And, knowing where the "no man's land" should be (remembering the "prime directive") is going to be important.

For instance, I could (as I did) stand on the street corners in San Francisco in appropriate/inapproriate outfits and hand out containers of "Human Lust Inducing Virus". Lots of people wouldn't think it was art, but nevertheless might be interested in the concept of whether or not to open a container that clearly stated it could be harmful to the environment but contained something you might want.

It really doesn't matter whether the recipients of the HLIV thought it was art or not. What matters is the hopefully the work stimulated them to think about how far they would go in the use of a genetically engineered product. However, it was also clear - whether they thought it was art or not - that it was a performance of some kind.

If instead, I had choosen to address the subject of lust by hiring actors to go into bars and make dates with people they met and then behave in certain ways. I could have designed an interesting experiment. I could even have put people in a similar position as the HLIV did, but the HLIV was hypothetical - stimulating people to *thought*. If I did the work in real life, I could trigger behavior that I would have no way of predicting and - unless it was made clear to the participants *in advance* - I might be effecting other people's lives in ways that could have serious repercussions, ways that I might not be able to envision.

I can see that someone might think this was art. That's the problem I think we all need to look at as our work begins to cross these boundaries. There is an uncomfortable similarity between work that is designed to interfere with someone's life without that person's knowledge and the thinking behind Nazi genetic experiments.

With phone art, where the stage is set, so to speak, may be important. For instance, if I'm in a pay phone on Market street and the telephone rings and I pick it up (as in one of Steve Wilson's works) than essentially I've made a decision to enter into something out of the ordinary by picking up a pay phone. Or, if as in some of your works, I'm given a number to call and I call it then I'm an empowered participant. But, if a work was designed that involved calling me at home without my being aware that the situation was contrived, that might be stepping over the boundaries between your art and my life.

Janet
> approach it in a way that is more experimental. There is still
> this potential for cross-over, for mutually shared experiences,
> because of the phone's accessibility, there is this
> extraordinary challenge to break through the habit of how the
> technology is used. In this scenario, any action that is not
> conversational or business is suspect to the "dirty trick'
> category.
.......
> is less idealism in this area, therefore gestures to connect
> with people are perceived a priori as "interfering' or "dirty
> tricks.' I was thinking about this in terms of the phone, that
> if there was a more experimental atmosphere, maybe there would
> be more of an exchange. It has something to do with plugging
> into a more open community where roles are already being
> questioned. We just don't traffic in these ideas as much. The
> great thing about the phone is that it can be open ended, like
> a conversation, so there's less predetermined choices defined
> by the artist that the audience is simply asked to pick from.
> I'm thinking more of these Talk Back programs where people call
> in and sound off. If there was a way to follow that line in
> terms of how phone art might connect with people.

I really like the both the ways you are looking at how our uses of the phone have been channelled by convention and the ways you are looking at connection and at the experimental uses of the phone, Janet. "a more experimental atmosphere" -perhaps a *shared* experimental atmosphere as in the TalkRadio example you give is -- a good way to approach the problem of setting the stage for works that cross the borderline of life and art. It is important in these works that participants are empowered. I'm not sure that it is possible to empower the participant at the same level as the creators of the work are empowered but that would be a goal.

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
Hi, Ian is out til next week, so you're stuck with me for awhile. It seems we're getting into definitions of words and what practices they imply. Interference is to Nazism what interactive is to democracy. The terms and how we define them reveal how each of us perceive our capacity to connect with another human being. I think the warning in your last message is an important observation, that the goal would be one of mutual empowerment. This is a worthy goal, but slightly messianic, which puts the artist into this superior position that you mentioned earlier. Where this conversation seems to be headed is a discussion of one's moral or ethical relationships. I'm hearing "you're not a good person/artist if you don't engage in activities that take into account X." For me this brings up the problem of didacticism, because either way we've been describing work that is involved in didactics. It has a pedagogical relationship to the audience. It also reminds me of some of the concerns of Adorno, Benjamin, Brecht and Lukacs in terms of artists‚ responsibility. Without moving into a position of transcendental aesthetics or craft work this seems to me one area that is volatile right now and definitely polarizes people in terms of strategy, intention and relationship. You can locate yourself as some kind of user-friendly, humanist, group-empowerment mediator or as an agitated idealist, activator, running interference and social experimentation in the name of The Art Nazi. I'm thinking how these various positions play out into a cultural landscape that's about entertainment, goods and services and wondering if the moral stakes we're talking about are made more dramatic by a backdrop of utilitarianism. I hear and read a lot about art having to be conceived as research in order for it to be valuable, Steve Wilson and Victoria Vesna made this point at last year's International Symposium on Electronic Art. Interactive (when it's not gaming) has this connotation of science or research as well, coming out of a sociological and psychological sensibility and I'm wondering if this gets confused with what was in the 40's simply called didactic or social (ist) art. Just to clarify, it seems like you are saying art, artist and audience should be clearly defined and in an egalitarian power relationship otherwise one risks moral transgression or at least bad art.

Timothy Collins
interference is to nazism: agitated idealist

interactive is to democracy: messianic, moral, ethical

Seems to me Janet that you are the one creating an impossibly didactic pedagogy out of an honest critique. Interference is an over-rated intervention strategy in the arts. Your suggestion that it may be a fitting response to a culture defined by entertainement and services, ignores the fact that the very culture you seek to interfere in, controls the tools you might use to intervene. (Ma bell is the queen of reaching out and "touching someone".)

As far as notions of research go, labeling it didactic social (-ist) art, is the way our market culture defined it in the 40's. (which has its own cultural baggage) Personally I consider these artists as social agents that have (had) the vision to jump in for the long haul. They have learned the language and methodology of the culturally empowered and seek to transform from the inside out. Unfortunatly this strategy has little of the flash and marketability which is so important to visibility in this culture. If we going to use the tools of interactivity we have to own their attendant cause and effect. Arguing against the cause and effect of a tool that engenders statement and response is like arguing against the effect of a brush on the canvas. Each media has a set of phenomenon which can be described by various branches of science. Can we argue against the physics of light and pigment? Owning the social and psychological issues of interactivity would seem to me to be an essential part of informed use of the tool, whether the intent was art nazi interference or interactive democracy. Of course, that type of informed use might qualify anyone as a researcher, and ruin the fun of being a culturally maligned artist.

Interesting discussion, fascinating work! Thanks.

Judy Malloy
This is indeed an interesting discussion - Janet and Ian - at any point, feel free to talk about your own work, how you approach these issues in your own work anything we haven't asked about your very interesting work.

>I think the warning in your last message is an important observation,
>that the goal would be one of mutual empowerment. This is a worthy
>goal, but slightly messianic, which puts the artist into this superior
>position that you mentioned earlier

to clarify, what I meant was mutual empowerment in terms of knowledge of what the work was about and an empowered role in the creation of the work as opposed to some sort of messianic goal of betterment - that would be fraught with peril in this context.

I've noted this problem surfacing in the hacker community lately - ie it's ok to hack the CIA web page but not Amnesty International. (which was recently hacked) To tell you the truth that's an ethic I would might have agreed with in the past, but as the Internet circle widens it may become more difficult to support -- ie I think it was kids who messed up Amnesty International's page. They see this as a glorified activity and maybe (I don't know) didn't see the difference in their targets. So ultimately, we should be looking at the message that disruptive activity sends. In what contexts is it necessary; in what contexts is it self indulgent?

At any rate, there is a huge difference between hacking some one's web page and altering their reality in some way. This difference also exists between a work of art or literature that runs entirely on a computer platform and one that might have life elements included.

For instance, if someone gives me a choice of what I'd like to do on a date in a computer work, and my choice radically effects the path I take in the work, that is expected. I know I am operating in a piece of art. But, if someone gives me this choice in real life, and they have planned a series of events based on whatever choice I make and they are looking at this in an art context, but they haven't told me that, then I think that there has been a troublesome boundary crossed because basically they are saying that they and their work are more important than I am -- even tho it might actually be a very interesting work of art, and I might even enjoy it.

The temptation would be to judge the work on whether I'm personally happy with the results in my life, but, it is probably more important (to society as a whole) to figure out how we as artists can implement interactive works with real life components in such a way that we empower all the participants. (empower in the participative sense I discussed earlier)

In the hacking world (cracking would be a more applicable term in this context) the difference between computer hacking and reality hacking, where you draw the line, is applicable to what we are discussing. I'm not saying that I know the answers or even that I don't see the fun in crossing these boundaries. I'm just saying that as we shape new art forms, it is important to consider their impact.

Tim, I was thinking of your work even before you responded. It could be said that you are interfering with the environment, (by someone whose idea about what Nine Mile Run should be might was very different) but you are addressing that issue with a lot of community participation as well as a lot of study so that the community is aware of what is happening and has a chance to respond directly and so you're aware of what consequences you might set in motion.

In my hypothetical HLIV bar situation, it might be ok to do this if I talked to the participants before hand and explained exactly what I was doing even though I'm aware that this could slant the results. Otherwise, even if they guessed that it was a work of art because the theatrical nature was apparent, they might misunderstand its intent or be sensitive in some way I couldn't foresee to this alteration of their environment.

Or as Tim puts it

>Owning the social and psychological issues of interactivity would seem
>to me to be an essential part of informed use of the tool, whether the
>intent was art nazi interference or interactive democracy. Of course,
>that type of informed use might qualify anyone as a researcher, and
>ruin the fun of being a culturally maligned artist.

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
Hi Judy, this is Ian in LA. I'm at siggraph this week and only a few minutes to check in, AND NO SPELLCHECK!

It seemed that some of your argument was promted by the hacking incident, as such it seems more understandable and revealing of the nature of you concern. Being caught off guard by a something that is not clearly labeled "ART" has been a successful and sometimes nessesary strategy in Art. There are many cases of such events in the analog world of the 60's and 70's in this country and in Europe. Even in your own work with the fake virus you started down this road. It seems that you draw a line between "being odd in public" and receiving a phone call at home unexpectedly. I receive quite a number of calls from strangers at home which ask me questions about my personal life without ever letting me know who is buying the study. Ads on TV and Radio operate much in the same "uninvited" way.

I have read 2600 (A HaCKer qUarTeRlY) on occasion {http://www.2600.com} and think that they address these ideas by questioning the intentions behind a given action and questions into willful destruction of property, any property not just perceived "bad guys". I think in a lot of ways this is a useful trajectory to pursue. If much of your argument is built on the "home invasion" of a telephone art project, intention and tone (abusive, threatening etc.) would seem to be good guides to consult ("I tend not to get as angry when the Greens call me about the new stadium than when the 49ers call me").

Also I want to throw out the notion that even much of what is clearly labeled art is often peceived as interference and outright offensive so I think this debate is broader than Anyways, I have to get to the next session. I'm thinking of course of all the artists that have been put on parade in order to dismantle the NEA.

Well I have to get going, I 'm looking forward to your reply.

Judy Malloy
Hi Ian

tell us about SIGGRAPH when you get a chance. Are you guys doing something there? Or, just taking in the sights?

>("I tend not to get as angry when the
> Greens call me about the new stadium than when the 49ers call
> me").

Well I wish the A's would have called everybody in the East Bay and asked for a dollar before they traded McGuire but I guess this is not totally related to our discussion - except that it might have made an interesting art project. Following my own logic, in that case I suppose I would have to say "Hi this is Judy Malloy. I'm an artist and I'm collecting money for Mark McGuire's salary next year. Not only am I asking you to contribute a real dollar to this worthy cause, but also I'm documenting the results in an art project." I could also disclose my own salary and that of other artists and I could probably collect some interesting material on the relative worth of conceptual art and baseball and of course, in some cases, I would have to justify why I thought we ought to pay McGuire's salary. And I'd have to come up a alternative plan for the money received if it was not enough for McGuire's salary. (arts funding? :-))

MOVING RIGHT ALONG ..... I think we are talking about different things here -- ie some of the things you are mentioning - Ads on TV and Radio -- are not interactive. I'm not talking about guerilla art that is not interactive. I'd be much more inclined to defend that. Or, perhaps it would be wiser to say that that is a subject that has already been much discussed.

I'm talking about targeted guerilla interactive art and by targeted I mean that an interactive artist/reality hacker, whose work crosses into life, selects participants but doesn't tell those participants what they are involved with.

Since as Brenda Laurel notes in TOOLS FOR THOUGHT "the reason that the story is rarely memorable, even in good improvisation, is because the actors are forced to use part of their mind to think about being playwrights" there would be a temptation to use rl participants.

Because it is also interesting and might have some analogies with phone art, lets talk about radio hacking. Could radio hacking be interactive?

To be effective it would have to be targeted - if, for instance, I was producing the kind of work Laurel talks about (combined perhaps with Aspen Map kinds of works) and I needed to give users some kind interface when they were in their cars. Or, I wanted to control participants, at certain places in a participant's regular route, certain songs could be played. The emphasis of place would signify their importance as interface devices. Also, certain songs or ads could be aired in response to certain participant actions....

If the participants knew in advance what was involved, knew that it was a work of art, were informed about who the artists, if boundaries were set and the artists/hackers could be trusted to keep to these boundaries, the work would be not only interesting but also safe for the participants. (which is really what I'm worrying about) However, the large number of "ifs" involved in combination with the accident potential of anything automobile connected present a problem.

To extend this to phone art. Someone's action in their day to day use of a computer could trigger incoming phone calls. What else? Is this something you folks have thought about?

The distinction between providing interface and control is important because the kind of work that worries me is the later kind - ie using the tools of interactivity as control devices as opposed to participant empowerment devices or to just hacking for fun among friends.

Gene Cooper, Brett Dutton and I explored the relationship of interactivity to control in Primal Curiosity, a (proposed) work that was designed to give the audience a chance to control a human "slave" using some of the devices of interactivity. (including the telephone) But, a psychologist friend noted that this work, even with the full knowledge of the "slave" was psychologically dangerous. Perhaps, for one reason, because of the opportunity to express hostility, cloaked as art, that it might present to the controllers. (who might not even perceive that that was what was going on) The work could also inadvertently generate some kind of mob action in which the "slave" was psychologically "stoned" and because not all the actions would be apparent to all the controllers, they might not even be aware of their cumulative effect.

Interesting stuff at any rate......

>If much of your argument is
>built on the "home invasion" of a telephone art project,

As I think I said earlier, phone art is interesting because it begins to cross these boundaries, but I'm not attacking phone art and am particularly interested in the way you folks are looking at the phone in interactive art terms. Do you think that in some ways it took the Internet to realize this potential? Vaguely I remember that Peter D'Agostino did a phone piece about 20 years ago. But I can't think of any other artists identifying themselves as phone artists. Can you talk a little about the future of telephone art?

Judy Malloy
I just set up a personal account for Amy Hufnagel (Troy, NY) and she says her work "almost exclusively deals with issues about the telephone" I mentioned this item in the letter I just sent her with the login info so I hope she will join us!

Timothy Collins
Hello.........

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
Janet: For me I think what has been interesting in this discussion of interactive is concern with moral responsibility. This is probably the nature of being involved in an activity that self-consciously declares engagement as one of its goals. There was a need to define positions and elucidate practices that were relevant to what good interactive art might be. My point was that it‚s difficult to present a practice that aspires to be interactive, not about entertainment or education, but demands people‚s time in a way other art practices don‚t. For me the whole question is about how people are willing to spend time and how conditioned they are when they approach tools, media and situations that are highly inscribed by conventions. Interference, research and interactivity are terms that describe facets of the same question. We take the boundaries and negative impact on people‚s lives very seriously, but rather than containing the form, we contain the content. We work very hard at finding a compromise between what we think is interesting and what is an appropriate way to engage with other people. In this way we‚re hoping to handle some of the issues you brought up in terms of hurting people, this is what I meant by the importance of gaining clarity in your intentions.

Ian: Tell me more about Peter D'Agostino's piece on phone art. I'd be interested because we are trying to collect a history right now. Did you read After Image this month? Peter Lunenfeld writes about telephone and web art. I just read about an email encounter of a New York Times editor/writer and some "entertainers." It seems that they were using the device of misrouted email to tell a story. They did not identify this as entertainment and some people got very upset. This would point at what you were thinking about and although I think this writer did not use her head a whole lot, I would agree that there is a danger here of causing some serious emotional distress. Now, although I have no plans to "hack reality" (an odd term) I will insist that some cultural resistance must maintain its charge by defying and easy identification as art. Like much of the Situationist Interational debate on this issue, it will want to escape any label of art, as such identification would destroy any sort of effectiveness. As to the future of phone art-I'm not qualified to speak to a projection this wide in scope. I can tell you, that there is much left to try. I feel that there are some opportunities in regards to the phone that interest me more than others. In our work we are interested in testimony and trauma, in witnessing and storytelling and in the areas where these interact and the edges are not always clear. I‚m not interested in the artistic potential of the phone per say, I am really more interested in the space that a telephone creates. It is interesting to me that people invest technology with authority and truth. It‚s interesting that although we know that: digital media can be altered with almost no trace, that every form of evidence of truth has been reduced to a point of view (i.e. DNA testing), that computers possess no moral base of their own, that chat rooms and party lines are notorious for users engaged in theater, the level of authority we invest in technology is growing constantly.

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
Looking forward to hear about Amy.

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
Hi back Tim

Judy Malloy
Hi Folks - I was away a few days - camping in the Sierra foothills - easing back to the online world - lots of things to respond to .....soon!

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
Anything new?

Judy Malloy
Hi Folks, I finally found the D'Agostino thing - its TeleGuide, Including Proposal for QUBE. He published a little book that I have and has no date on it - probably it was around 1980 actually its not strictly telephone art but based on TeleText There's a neat quote from Gene Youngblood in the book that begins "The telephone system is the most completely decentralized and fully user-controlled public communication system ever invented, the only one in the world that allows the user to control the time, place, and content of message producton and distribution."

Judy Malloy
Oh and what are your email addresses? I know Anna has them but I can't find them. I'd like to talk you into writing a few words about your work for "Words on Works" which is a section of Leonardo that I edit.

Judy Malloy
Ian and Janet - it has been very interesting talking to you. And now it is time for a somewhat "stock" but nevertheless important question - THE FUTURE!

How do you think phone art will develop? How do you envision your own work a few years from now?

And on an even broader scale, do you think the telephone will continue to play a central role in American life. Or, will other communications technologies overwhelm it?

Ian Pollock/Janet Silk
We are still interested in telephone art and will continue to experiment with it as an art medium. . The potential for phone art is its access to a world-wide audience. There are quite a number of possible avenues left to explore. What seems particularly interesting with telephones is the transparency with which they exist in our daily lives. It is the telephone that is often cited as the piece of technology making us into cyborgs. It is interesting to speculate how much that has to do with their non-visual property. In 1961 AT&T introduced the "picture phone" which bombed. Sony tried again in the 80's, it too, failed to capture the mass market. The question is whether it is the nature of telecommunications or fidelity (things like picture quality) which prompts rejection of visual interactive communication.

Contemporary technologists always reference fidelity (and with that the pursuit of version upgrades) as opposed to speculate into the nature of anonymity and the nature of dominance. Without visuals you enter into a psychologically charged and intimate space. This is exemplified in the charge behind party/chat lines/rooms and the like on the internet, because they allow for people to hide, change or create a new identity. Visual media tends to dominate us more than sound, it implies a reality that is harder to negotiate. Ironic because bad video with great sound is far more acceptable than great video with lousy sound. Local 411 taught us a great deal about the types of interactions that are possible on the phone. It really expanded our awareness of how people were more willing to interact with us when they didn't have to be located or defined by their image, and if we were not defined by a quick visual cue. As people have gone beyond the novelty relationship of communications technologies, there is the need for meaningful content and critique of works. So here we are then looking at what the phone will say, 20 years from now, when you take the call. Small portable communications devices are proliferating and so the future of what interests us in the telephone might really change along with the way that we connect to the network of communication that sparks the world.

Transcript of A Conversation with Ian Pollock and Janet Silk, Item 106, Interactive Art Conference, Arts Wire.
Posted to the Web with participants' permission.


Conversations with Artists