Ace Art Inc., 2nd Floor, 290 McDermot Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Critical Distance

The Revolving Door
A response to the exhibition by Susan Chafe

“Personally, I found the scene gripping: for a good quarter of an hour my thoughts just wanted to be white oats in that thresher. Sometimes a nearby wing, ten times longer than its counterpart, consented to spell out a letter, never the same one, but I was immediately taken with the character of the whole inscription.”
- Andre Breton, Arcanum 17, 1944.

The process of the work is described as an interwoven spine of thought, related to that of a dream. A laser copy map of the process is hanging on the wall, mounted with masking tape to a piece of raw wood. This is the textural physicality with which this work began, eventually translated into light and sound technology.

What happened was this:
Reva and Rick agreed to have a conversation with objects, texts, images, sounds – anything but spoken language. They passed these objects to each other in turn, like remarks and responses, without discussion. A kind of interpretative guessing game seemed to evolve. Reva began by giving Rick a 1957 family photo. He responded with a 1957 penny. They stopped when they had each contributed twenty ‘sentences’.

In the gallery, a forest of forty grey rubber synapses hang from the ceiling like nerve endings. They each have a button at the end that the viewer can push – these are the image triggers. Through this forest is a large video projection on the far wall that fades and divides, jingles and warbles.

Subjectivity goes in and out of this work like a ghost through a revolving door. There are autobiographical moments but they are disguised. On the map are the objects listed in the exchange, most of them were transformed on the artists’ computers and appear in an altered form in the projection. The list carries traceable symbologies:
Reva to Rick: Two tacks in a pill bottle [Susan: a hard pill to swallow]
Rick to Reva: Bag of many, many red dice [Susan: a game of chance]
Reva to Rick: 3 words: Fate, Karma, Destiny [Susan: determinism]
Reva to Rick: a Homer quote about seeing the visage of one’s dead mother
Rick to Reva: hand mirror [Susan: in which Reva can see her own face]
Reva to Rick: print out of two leaping dancers, one being a flipped copy of the other
[Susan: mother/daughter, mirror image, the double]
OR a discussion about the implications of technology:
Reva to Rick: page of quotes about social/technological issues
Rick to Reva: prose poem by Rick about humans forever extending themselves through tools.
I realise that the Susan: parts are not definitions, but my part of the conversation, connections which I am free to make. It is a game of ‘exquisite corpse’, with an addendum of light. Deductive reasoning is not involved.

Who could have thought of lending the elasticity of wings to an avalanche? – Breton

Computer programming is based on repetition of routines and conditional transfer of control, with possible uses being metaphysical, utilitarian, musical. – ideas attributed to Ada Byron, the Countess of Lovelace, writing on the Analytical Engine, agreed by some to be the first computer.

I visit the studio while Reva and Rick are still working on the programming and I am able to trigger all the images on a keyboard that is marked with letters and numbers. I learn which keys call up certain images and I begin to play them like an instrument. I find my favourite image and make it my goal to summon every other image and call this one forth on top of them. It rises slowly from the bottom of the screen and plays poignant music. It surprises me because it is sentimental and sad and I am glad to see it. This is no longer a conversation but a game and I am using the keys to compose.

The images multiply and delay. There are unexpected fades and duplications and I get confused and frustrated as well as delighted.

Perhaps it is more of a conversation than a game after all [spring dance spring dance spring dance spring dance]

Being bound to respond to the objects exchanged in this agreement is in one sense limitless and in another, stifling in its limits. What is a conversation but a testing of limits between two people: an obstacle course, a relay race, a display, an alliance, a misalliance, an invention, pretense, a game, a deprivation tank, a union, a merge, a field for trickery, insinuations and undercurrents. I know you I know you I know you, says a woman’s voice on the projection.
The third element in conversation.
The third element in collaboration.
We make something that is not you, not me, but when we two work together this third thing coalesces. It is the thing between us. When I work with someone else this third thing is different. Everyone tries to figure out which part is yours and which is mine but it is not possible to figure this out, exactly. It says at the end of the map on the wall: “It felt like a conversation between two aliens, part of themselves incommunicable.”

And she watched everything with her analogical eye, everywhere substituting one thing for another.

In 1977 Carolee Schneeman made a boxed set of cards called ABC (We Print Anything) In the Cards. On the cards were written quotes, dreams and diaries from three “characters” in this autobiographical novel, Anthony, Bruce and Carolee. They could be read in numbered sequence or random order. Schneeman was consciously trying to create her own language, or locate for herself an agreement with language.

Rick uses Amiga, Reva uses the Macintosh Director program. Transposing the exchanged images to the computers was a deliberate manipulation of the available languages of each computer and an assertion of their own images within a given structure. They were both interested in seeing how far they could push the programs, so that the capacity of the computer language became yet another environment for the confectionery jar of pheasant feathers. The computers are also members of the conversation [Ignore Freud]. On first assumption “no one” means nobody or No Body. It also means no one person or thing. The conversation includes: Reva and Richard, The Amiga and the Directors Program, the series of objects, Richard, Reva and the final blending program, the viewer and the viewer’s conversing with each other through the key synapses. This is a loop-de-loop where the images flow in and out through the chamber of meaning to a poetic that disintegrates back to its original source.

The childhood photograph of Reva’s face expands into a 1957 penny. I’ve seen them doing it. “Stop acting that way,” she says to her monitor fondly. Because she is partially captured inside it? There is a projection image of fingers pressed against glass, as if someone is trapped behind the screen.

Computers are theatre - Brenda Laurel

I hear the sound of a fountain and it triggers something, it makes me sad. It [interface] triggers something. We can’t stop watching it, we never get bored. There is a jar of wings that flutters across the screen. It is mesmerizing. What the computer can do that no other medium can do: blend these two sets of images into one ongoing, flowing image, at random. I hear this story: a film director showed a film to a group of people who lived in the jungle. When the film was over he asked them what they noticed about the film and they said “a white chicken ran across the screen”. The director didn’t know what they were referring to so he reviewed the film and noticed a millisecond in which a chicken had unexpectedly run in front of the camera. They had picked an image that related to their own experience, an image he hadn’t even been aware of.

Like Ken Gregory’s recent show at Ace Art, an interactive audio installation that employed the use of flashlights to trigger sound, giving the light-wielders a chance to locate themselves in a completely darkened space,…in conversation recalls childhood play, the recollection of dreams and desires. The suspension of disbelief that happens at the darkened proscenium, but with an interactivity that responds as quickly as a fellow actor. Is it the beginning of computer theatre?

What the participant can do: try to push every single button so they see every single image. Try to compose a narrative or make a visual composition once they get a handle on what they have to work with. Try to assign sequential meaning. Enjoy the inability to assign meaning and suspend themselves in predictable semiotics. Try to control the conversation, to build it, to just listen. Do what R & R did. Take the limitlessness of choice and put it into a limited yet endlessly altering context.

The work explores both the possibilities of technology and the limits of technology, just as it explores the possibilities and limits of communicating through symbols and the ability to “know” or “make oneself known”. Reva and Rick have given up their conversation to the random capabilities of the program and the unpredictable action of the viewer pushing the buttons. My ability to ‘compose’ with the work has been impaired by the forest of wires because they are unmarked and I can’t remember where they all are anymore – I have to give up that attempt to control, but not my freedom to experiment with these givens. There are lovers and haters of the new technologies, and those with a love/hate relationship. no one…in conversation may be described as a series of pacts between people and technologies. It is the most agreeable and lyrical of pacts, this conversation between aliens.

What’s the opposite of visceral – vicarious?

All through the twentieth century artists have attempted this randomness, the reneging of control, this access to the independent functioning of the mind suspended from training.

“André Breton has given up writing”
(Journal du Peuple – April 1923)

I’ve left my effects behind,
My special snow effects!

“The structure of thinking is changing, and it appears that the quality of thinking is changing as well. Patterns of thinking are becoming less rational.” – Post Human, Jeffrey Deitch, 1992

Notes: 1. André Breton, Arcanum 17. Translated by Zack Rogow, Toronto, Coach House Press, 1994
2.Michael Swain, “Programming Paradigms: The First Programmer,” Dr. Dobb’s Journal, vol. 17, no. 4, (Apr. 1992), pp.116, 118
3. Brenda Laurel, “On Dramatic Interaction”, Iterations: The New Image, ed. Timothy Druckrey, International Centre of Photography, 1993
4. Taken from Marshal McLuhan
5. André Breton, Earthligt, trans. Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow, Coach House Press, Toronto, 1993
6. DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, 1992

Related people
   Richard Dyck - Artist

The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art
The CCCA Canadian Art Database: Chronologies