Texts from the original Strategic Arts Initiative catalogue
Texts from the original Strategic Arts Initiative catalogue from 1986, by Derrick de Kerckhove and the participating artists.
STRATEGIC ARTS INITIATIVE
doug back, carl hamfelt, laura kikauka, arlene levin, monika merinat, david rokeby, christiane scher, peter sepp, graham smith, norman white
May 28 & 29, 1986
June 3&4, 1986
12pm - 2:30pm
STRATEGIC ARTS INITIATIVE
The Strategic Arts Initiative (SAI) is a Canadian answer to the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative. Its purpose is to show the relevance of the arts in the world’s communication ecology. Communications technologies are putting us in touch with the whole planet, but most of us are not aware of how this situation can change our sensibility. We are all trapped in an invisible mesh of electronic talk. We still use communications to transport information. We have not yet understood that the new technologies are also transforming relationships. One of the roles of the artist in this context is to reveal these relationships.
The inspiration for SAI came from the late Marshall McLuhan whose work and particularly his theme of the “global village”, prompted a few artists in Europe and the US to explore the esthetic possibilities implicit in ordinary media such as the telephone, radio, TV, video and telematics. After E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology, at the New York Museum of Modern Art. 1968) The idea seems to have abated in the U.S. during the seventies. A new impetus to create an international movement came from the initiative of Mario Costa in Italy, Fred Forest in France and Horacio Zabala in Argentina. Together they issued the first “Manifeste pour une esthétique de la communication” at Mercato San Severino, Oct 29th 1983. Since that time there have been several international colloquia to bring together artists and theoreticians to give shape and meaning to the activities.
The present occasion is Art Media II, an international colloquium on Communication and Arts, to be held in Salerno (Italy), May 27-30) under the direction of Mario Cost, professor and art critic at the University of Salerno. The theme is Art and Planetary Communication. This event includes a participation from the Future Theatre of Expo 86 in Vancouver which is dedicated to the theme of “Communications and Transportation”. The first colloquium in this series, art Media I, on Arts et communications occurred in Paris (La Sorbonne, October 1985) under the direction of Robert Allezaud. A third one, Art Media III, should take place in Toronto in October 1987, under the direction of Derrick de Kerckhove. Other colloquia on related themes involving artist, media and art critics, academia and the general public have been held in Toronto (Computer/Culture 1979-81), Villeneuve-lez-Avigon (Informatique/Culture, 1983), Tel Aviv (Artcom, October, 1984), Paris (Electra, December, 1984), Salerno (Artmedia, May 1985) and gain Paris (Recontres et Performances sur l’esthetique de la communication, Beaux-Arts, January, 1986).
So Far, the Canadian participation in these events and in the ongoing international investigation into the relevance of the arts to communications has been very good and well recognized. Thanks to the efforts of such artists as Norman White (Hearsay project 1985), Robert Adrain X (I.P. Sharp network - since 1977), Lisa Sellyeh (pARTiciFAX, October 1984), Bill Bartlett (i>P. Sharp and slow-scan TV), Glenn Howarth (Telidon Show, 1983 Sao Paolo Biennale), Herve Ficher (Marcro Polo project 1984-85), and the ongoing support of theorists and administratots such as Richard Hill Photo/Electric Arts Foundation), Tom Sherman (Media Arts, Canada Council), Derek Dowden (Cultural Software, Semiotica/Simulacra, April 1984) and Derrick de Kerkhove, (McLuhan Program Seminars on Communication in Art), the Canadian profile is high and has been dubbed as “the light from the North”. Canada has acquired an international reputation for expertise in communications and it is once again demonstrated by the thematic choice of Expo 1986.
There are no hard fast rules about how to fit in the SAI ideology. The artists are joined by a common interest in communication media and their artistic possibilities. All the work so far is based on performances. Though all involve technological installations, some performances are punctual, such as the work of Hamfelt/Kikauka, Rokeby, Smith and Back/White: while others are on-going processes inviting a random audience participation over a period of time (Merinat/Scher and A-line). Whether punctual or on-going, almost all these performances require the involvement of an anonymous audience. This is very important as the works are open and interactive in nature. The intent is to create relationships and these relationships are available to anyone who cares to enter them. Another important feature is that all performances involve action-at-a distance rather than localized events. This is the ‘planetary” dimension of the new artform.
At a deeper level, these performances do not generally stress content and information but effects and sensibility change. The audience is their content. This is the main source of their esthetic value. Other than sensations, feelings and emotions, these communication artist are not very concerned about communicating anything in particular.
Two of the performances stress auditory and tactile sensations across vast distances. To feel a physical pressure through the telephone lines in Back/White Telephonic Arm Wrestling performance is a novel and unsettling sensation which underscores the real proximity and intimacy the telephone has given us since it began. There is an immediate sensuality to David Rokeby’s body of communication by sound which can be felt almost intimately at 6000 Kms distance.
Merinat/Scher and A-Line’s performances complement each other. Both elicit random responses from an anonymous audience, but the first is purposely “artistic” and assumedly “high-brow”, while the other is spontaneous. The first uses radio, a broadcast system, while the other uses the telephone, a person-to-person communication system. Both performances give voices to indeterminate numbers of people who are given a chance to communicate in ways unknown before.
Smith’s performance highlights the fact that we are now extending our eyes and our minds technically across huge distances. Smith’s work is a new kind of closed-circuit TV, a way of making television’s power, a personal power, not only because it gives us a real-time personal vision on a distant object, but also because we can guide our “eye in space”, just as surely as Space remote control systems.
There is more than a touch of humor in most, if not all of the performances, and this humor is stressed in Hamfelt/Kikauka in their attempt to parody the poor man’s communication system., with the sophisticated means of present-day technology. The humor reacts against the deadlock of technology and introduces play where work only has been considered by the technocrats.
If communication has a future, it better be fun. Technology is not sacred. It’s merely functional. The whole world is under its gun. When we are through with the Telephonic Armwrestling performance, we plan to send the device to Ronald Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev. It might save us from the red telephone.
The Artists and their Performances
There should be seven performances (including one broadcast from the Canadian artist and one exhibit of Canadian videoart in Salerno and in Paris. There are four lecture, workshop and seminar sessions to be combined over the four days of the colloquium in Salerno, as well as two days in Paris. However, the nature of these long-distance artistic activities is to provide artistic emotions and experiences to potential art consumers in the random media audience at large. The art gallery of the future may be the airways.
2 pipes 2 Sticks 2 Cities
By C. Hamfelt and L. Kikauka
Carl Hamfelt is an instructor at the Photo/electric Arts Foundation at the Onatrio College of Art as well as a programmer for ArtNet at Cultural Software, a communication system for artists. Laura Kikauka is an electronic installation artist who has exhibited her work at A-Space and at ARC in Toronto, as well as at Artspace in Peterborough, Ontario.
Their work is a pun which brings together the most primitive system of communications, tapping on the plumbing network, with today’s powerful combination of telephone plus computers. It is also a parody of communication as a plumbing system. “Strangers tap the night away on a trans-Atlantic plumbing adventure”.
Histoire sans Parole
By M. Merinat and Ch. Scher
Monika Merinat and Christiane Scher mare professional broadcasters from CJBC (Radio-Canada) who consider radio an artform to promote its esthetic potential.
By broadcasting a five minute sequence of non-verbal sound effects to invite responses from the listening audience, Meriat and Scher have devised a means to generate radom literary activities in the public at large. People in Canada, Italy and France have been invited to telephone to broadcast stations or to send one-page scripted narratives attempting to give an interpretation to the sequence. The most representative narratives from each country are to be featured at the colloquium and broadcast on radio and/or TV.
Histoire sans Parole has been featured on CBC’s popular radio program “Morningside” and received over 200 responses in a few days. This artform is more than a radio quiz as it gives a truly creative dimension to a random playful act. In itself, the soundtrack has a haunting quality which has moved many commentators. The experiment is meant to show the kind of power of suggestion the soundtrack has on the imagination of different people from different cultures” (M. Merinat).
A-Line is a telephone performance artist from Toronto who, under this pseudonym, hopes to avoid the potential publicity her very successful Hotline telephone answering machine experiment could bring her. Since 1980, people have been hearing about a number where one could leave a message, any message as long as it was less than a minute long. Though it has never been advertised, this system is utilized by an average of 300 people a day. Just for the sake of talking, many people call and leave a message. Some call several times.
In Italy and France, to save time, the Hotline number will have been advertised. The idea is to generate random responses and invite people to leave messages which are to be gathered and presented at the vent. These messages are often highly emotional and share some qualities with the kind of anonymous expressions on one’s concerns one can find on public washroom walls. They are “oral graffiti” which, together, can give an idea of the “state of mind” of a culture at any given moment.
“The world’s most common and easily accessible performance space is the telephone. Every day in the name of communication we play the actor and the audience, the creator and the critic” (A-Line).
By D. Rokeby
Toronto composer David Rokeby also combines interests in electronic music composition and computer interactions with graphic art.
His electronic installation will link up the Roberson centre for the Arts and Sciences in Binghamton, New York with Salerno, and later, the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa with the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris to create a musical interpretation of signals emanating from body movements. These installations use computers and video cameras to analyze motion, and translate their perceptions into sound by controlling a synthesizer. Each installation will relay, through telephone lines, the significant aspects of the movements taking place within their space, and receive similar information from the other installation. Movements unique to one city’s installation will be characterized by sounds identifiable with that installation. This will enable participants at both locations to produce collaborative sound sequences in real time. Cooperation will register audibly. Similar movements in both locations will produce more interesting and provocative sounds.
There is the magic of childhood and wonder of distant communication in this performance which gives one a tangible feeling of ‘touching the other side of the planet” with the electronic extension of one’s own bodily presence.
By G. Smith
Photography artist Graham Smith was born in Vancouver but he works in Toronto. His work in progress includes a Kinetic Time Machine which will photographically record environments over extended periods of time. The art I create is shaped by the environment in which I live. I see technology not as a tool but as a palette: video, robotics and kinetics are simply different colors ready to be mixed into a new work”.
Displaced Perspectives allows viewers to explore distant environments through the video eyes of a remotely controlled robot. It is a teleguidance system which will allow participants in Salerno or Paris to explore a site in Toronto by directing a small video camera mounted on a remotely-controlled robot, which transmits real-time digitized images via the Macintosh computer “MacVision” system.
“This ability to see, and control a machine, across the Atlantic is the most visible part of the piece, yet conceptually it is only a surface element. The true power of the piece lies in it’s definition of communication as an interactive explorative process which results in the construction of a 3-dimensional mental model. The robot uses the same scanning process people use when entering any new space; they look all over and build up a 3-dimensional model from many different perspectives. It is this definition of communication: many small pieces making up something greater than the whole, which lies at the heart of this piece” G. Smith).
By N. White and D. Back
American born Norman White and Canadian Doug back are Toronto communication artists who specialize in robotics and computer designing for artistic purposes. Both teach at the Ontario College of Art.
Based on an idea by Doug Back, the Telephonic Armwrestling device will enable participants located in Salerno or Paris to arm-wrestle with participants in Toronto using motorized mechanisms which transmit and receive kinaesthetic information via telephone modem signals. The concept has been engineered by Norman White.
“We wanted to send a tactile sensation over the phone” (D. back).
“I concentrated my attention on public building works which mimic simple organic systems. My ‘perception machine’, Facing Out Laying Low (1978-86) gleans information about its environment using a variety of sensors, and responds to perceived patterns of change with appropriate movements and sounds” (N. White).
Planetary Arts Video 1
Strategic Arts Initiative is also presenting a videotape from as series complied by theorist and artist Peter Sepp. The series is a sample of video documentation by Canadian artists involved in communication art including Michael Bidner, C.A.T. gallery (Collective Art and Technology), Robert Adrian X, Hank Bull and other.
Derrick de Kerckhove is the Co-Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. His work on the culture and psychology of the nuclear bomb has attracted some attention. He has coined the designation “Strategic Arts Initiative” and he will read a paper on “The role of art in fostering a planetary consciousness”.
“To help promote a civilized planetary consciousness via media, communication arts are more fun, less dangerous and ultimately more effective than the bomb or terrorism”.
Organization and Sponsors
Derrick de Kerckhove is the general curator and the head of the Canadian delegation. Shella Hill, Director of The Photo/Electric Arts Foundation, has been designated as the general coordinator for the Canadian delegation. Derek Dowden is the Director of Cultural Software in Toronto, the curator of Displaced perspectives, and is in charge of the Toronto-Paris and Toronto-Salerno connections with the assistance of Ian McGugan. Carl Hamfelt is responsible for the Toronto base at ARC with the assistance of Michael Edmunds (Director of the media centre at the University of Toronto).
The principal host sponsor is the University of Salerno and the Township of Salerno. The University of Salerno has agreed to provide local accommodation and partial equipment support for the Canadian participants. The host sponsor in Paris is the Canadian Cultural Centre. The host sponsor in Toronto is The Artculture Resource Centre (ARC). For David Rokeby’s performance in Salerno and Paris, we gratefully acknowledge the support of the Roberson Centre for the Arts and Sciences (Binghamton, New York) and the national Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. Other sources of revenue have provided airfares and special equipment requirements. Among the contributing sponsors are the Ontario Delegation in Paris, as well as several organizations based in Canada, the Ministry of external affairs, the Department of Communications, the Ministry of Culture and Citizenship of Ontario, the Canada Council, The Canadian Pavilion at Expo 86, CBC-radio Canada, Teleglobe Canada (pending), Apple Canada, Artculture Resource Centre, the Media centre, university of Toronto, and the Photo Electric Arts Foundation in conjunction with the McLuhan Program, University of Toronto.
Program notes by:
Derrick de Kerckhove
McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology
Catalogue by Millie Chen