Antoinette LaFarge, Alluquere Rosanne Stone, Vernal Bogren Swift
LaFarge: Agree is the wrong word, but everything
Sandy said rang true with my own experience of cyberspace. Its
really like she said it. The only thing I wanted to comment on
was the problem of the dreaded phrase, new media.
I agree this is a serious problem in that I spend agonizing amounts
of time trying to say what Im doing, and failing. Half the
time, Im saying, Its not this, and its not
that. This is a problem thats dogged me since I first
started out in art school, when one of the first comments that
I can recall was, I dont know what you are, but youre
not a photographer. Its been like that ever since. Its
gotten worse in one sense and better in another. Ever since I
first got involved with computers and cyberspace, I have felt
at home in that its all right that I cant put a clearly
defined label on what Im doing. For the first time in my
life, Im comfortable about having to say, all the time,
Its not this or that, but it still is really interesting
and has a lot to do with certain experiential modes of being.
Its a very real problembut problem is
the wrong word. What I mean is that this lack of definition is
not going to go anytime soon.
wanted to ask about something Sandy talked about quite a bit in
her talk. But I realize now that Im virtually illiterate,
so this might be a rudimentary question. It sort of applies to
something that came up a couple of days ago, when Sarah Charlesworth
mentioned technology and how computer programs, for example, structure
the way we receive and interpret information. Thats a power
structure that is not entirely free. I guess Im wondering,
just on a practical level, with the Internet itself, what kind
of issues or questions does that raise? What kinds of things do
we have to be aware of or think about, when it comes to how our
use of technology is limited or controlled by the way it actually
dont have a good answer to that, except that I agree that
software tends to impose limits on the people who use it. Basically,
what you do when you use any software is you come to terms with
it. In terms of virtual worlds, which is the only thing I can
comment directly about, theres a tendency to shut them down
and close them in, to work against the anarchic tendencies that
Sandy talked about. The anarchic tendencies are something I deeply
value in these on-line worlds, and its very hard to keep
them as open as I want them to be. In fact, I started up a small
MOO at one point, the whole purpose of which was not to have the
kind of laws and rules, democracies and ballots, thou shalt
not spoof, that are rules one virtually every other moo
now. Very few people actually want to be in that kind of space.
Its too scary, its too annoying, its too weird,
its too much involved with death, mutilation, unkindness,
and all sorts of scary things. But without those spaces, virtual
worlds look more and more like bad and uninteresting copies of
the world we already live in. I see this tendency to want to corral
everything, shut it down and control it, as a primary problem.
I dont know how to fight against it in any organized way.
Rosanne Stone: Developing the distributed, serverless computer
was one way that I already talked about. I dont know if
I have anything intelligible more that I can add.
Bogren Swift: I was living in Papua New Guinea and
there came a time when the anarchy in the country was making it
dangerous for everybody living there. About that time, five or
six expatriate families that we knew decided to leave the country
and go live on an island in the South Pacific that had hardly
any people living on it. The objective this was ten years
ago was that they could go, create a new country and live
a life that was based on what they had come to value and know
from both Western and Eastern points of view. Ive often
regretted that we didnt go with them. When they speak of
new places, I think of the South Pacific island.
have a couple confusing links between the three of you. One has
to do with what Vernal said about the notion that every seven
years or so we have an entirely new body because each cell regenerates
and replaces. We have this inherent structural memory, but at
the same time we are, physically and literally, one hundred percent
new. How do you think that relates to this notion of memory, skin
and sensing? Then, from there is this notion of structure being
the underlying question of the Internet and communication? How
do form and function coexist, both in terms of our physical skin
and the technology we use? There is this cyborgian interrelation
between biology and technology, whether that technology is a blade
of grass, another person or whatever. Part of what Im coming
to is an existential question, whether or not existence precedes
essence or how they intertwine together at the very roots? I dont
think they can be separated.
it makes sense. For my little piece of it, the seven year skin,
that would only apply if you remain an individual. But if your
skin is going to stretch out to include the other skins, and you
stay in the physical plane, then that regeneration is going somewhere
else, to some other skin. So, nothing got lost.
New York, we're tearing down buildings and putting up new ones
all the time. It's still New York. In an individual, you replace
all the cells over a number of years, but it's still the person.
Land masses rise and fall, are subducted and blow up out of the
center of the ocean, travel to the edge, but they're still continents.
There's a similarity across scales. Parenthetically, one of the
interesting things about bodies, as well as about continents,
is they have detail at all scales. It's the scales that hold the
interest. It's the totality that provides the coherence. You can
change a lot of things. There's an old and quite false exercise
in cognitive science that says, Well, if you replace the neurons
in your brain one by one with transistor gates until, eventually,
you've replaced them all, all you have left is this huge thing
of artificial parts. Your brain is still there, you'll still be
thinking, but you're not home any more. Well, that's bullshit.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. It doesn't matter how many
times you replace the component parts, the gestalt that you're
operating with doesn't inhere in the component parts. It inheres
in something else. It's figuring out what the something else is
that is the item of interest.
not qualified to talk about existence and essence. I dont
have a philosophic mind and I shy away from those kinds of questions.
But, memory was the kind of thing that I picked up from your comment
that I wanted to say something about. The thing I like about memory
is that the more they look at it, the more complicated its
turning out to be. Its a real mess, in terms of trying to
understand it. One of the things I get from reading the writings
of people like Olivers Sacks on neurological problems in people
is that theres no simple division of the world into the
people who remember and everybody else who is messed up, for some
reason. Probably all of us have different types of peculiar and
faulty wiring. What you call memory is your own particular, random
mess, that is partly fictional and partly real, but also alters
itself over time to a greater degree than we understand. Memorys
another thing that I find hard to talk about, but fascinating
have a question about some of the things Sandy said in response
to a question about technology. It sounded to me like you were
saying that what gives meaning to technology is the way that it
is used. But people make technology and people choose what technologies
to make. Im wondering if theres some meaning in the
potential for technology to be used. Could you talk about that
a little bit?
of the things thats happened with MOOs is that people arent
doing with them what they were supposed to do, which is to meet,
exchange ideas and be research and educational spaces for the
community good. People are using these spaces to have all sorts
of fun, play and screw around. Sex is just the most obvious of
the diversions weve found. The people who are most obsessed
with these worlds are those who are the most deeply involved with
them as a form of very complicated play intersecting with life.
Life and play are not supposed to intersect, really, after the
age of twelve but, in these worlds, they do. The beauty of this
thing is that its gone in a direction that people didnt
expect and that a lot of people disapprove of. This is also the
problem of games, in general.
just find it fascinating. A friend sent me in the mail an 11-year-old
computer, and then I got Eudora email, so I feel like Im
really advanced in the system. Its fascinating what youre
saying about the idea of play intersecting with life. Thats
wonderfulI didnt understand that.
objects have things called affordances which is something
that comes from the work of J. J. Gibson. An affordance is like
a handle, that which presents itself to a human as an entry point,
or a point of engagement, with the technology. Affordances can
be rather obvious. Generally, whether we like it or not, weapons
have better affordances than anything else. When you pick up a
gun, it fits in your hand, there's a place where the trigger goes,
etc. When you pick up a large soup tureen, it's got handles on
it --those are the affordances. When you have a computer with
a touch screen, the screen is the affordance. You enter that world
by means of moving your hand around on the screen. Those are put
there by the designer. There's any number of ways that affordances
can be designed into or onto a piece of technology. Consequently,
it behooves us to study design. That's an odd place to stop --it
sounds like I should go on from there-- but I wanted there to
be a long pause.
of the reasons that I've begun to study pure design is to understand
more about how beautiful affordances are. This was taken up early
by, say, the fur teacup piece in the MoMA collection. An object
like that is an object whose affordances have been messed with,
and you no longer see it as an object whose sole purpose is to
hold coffee. That's a way of playing with the entry point into
the particular technology. Again, how do we ask those sets of
questions of any new object? Of course, they are best asked from
the conceptual point on, before the thing actually concretizes
into some visible shape.
the way its often presented, is kind of like a place of promise.
The promise is linked, in a sense, to a sort of erotic ontology,
which is again linked to a sense of discovery. We started, today,
talking about a sense of place, which has been extended into something
else, as well as into poetic notation. We have a series of URLs
now, which end in the epithets .edu, .org, .com, that give us
a place or a space for poetic notation. This is a kind of institutionalization
or commercialization of what is most peoples encounter with
this promise of discovery, this erotic ontology of cyberspace.
How can they be reconciled? Is there still a promise or sense
have a couple things to say. I think weve passed through
the first stage, that of the raw excitement of the early days
of the Internet when there wasnt much besides Telnet, and
the Web didnt even exist. A lot of what is happening now
is extraordinarily uninteresting, at least to me. On the Web,
in particular, the things people are doing are the most obvious.
That is rarely interesting. There has to be more ahead that people
havent stumbled on yet. It cant all be over in twenty-five
years. I think that multi-user, real time communities and those
types of things are going to have a longer term promise, because
thats what people are obsessed with, and I have a great
deal of respect for things that people get obsessed with to the
point of spending sixty hours of week. Addiction is
a word that is often thrown around, but thats just a word
for things people get obsessed with that other people dont
like. I see a lot of potential for psychologically interesting
things in that. Promise is a weird word to use, because
you start to feel like you have to say something utopian, and
I am no utopian at all. I dont think its going to
make the world better, its just different. That brings me
to the other thing I wanted to say, which is that cyberspace
is a beautiful word, and I use it all the time, but I think its
misleading. We are comfortable with architectural and physical
metaphors, but, actually, the temporal dimension of what is happening
is more important than the spatial. The experience of being on-line
has a lot to do with altered temporalitiesdifferent speeds
of communication, different types of waiting, anything about real
time responsiveness. Responsiveness, as Sandy said earlier in
another context, is really where the life of this comes from.
The temporality is whats interesting, in a more fundamental
sense, and we havent done much with fully exploring how
this is a cyber-time rather than a cyber-space.
always felt that Michael Heim's expression, the erotic ontology
of cyberspace, has been very misleading. It puts a particular
slant on it. It prejudges and preframes something that's happening
that quite escapes that frame. I think it's fun to examine some
of those things in cyberspace but they certainly don't define
it. I don't agree with Michael that the ontology of cyberspace
dont know what youre talking about. I dont have
to, really. Once, I made a drawing on a piece of clothit
was a quilt, to cover youthat was an image of dogs, real
friendly dogs with their tongues hanging out, fun dogs playing.
Theres something wonderful about play. Play is prayer, actually.
I understand that. So, here are these dogs in this drawing, playing.
What theyre playing about is that theyre on land,
but theyre going to jump into water. As the water goes upstream,
you can see that the dogs have, in fact, started jumping into
the water, and now theyre swimming. Its real hard
work, because swimming is hard. As theyre swimming, what
theyre doing makes them change from dogs to dogfish, which
is a form of small shark. Because the fact is that if you change
your element, if you get from what is familiar to what you can
do, but is not your place now, you will become what youre
want to ask anyone who wants to answer about this issue of class.
We seem to be moving more and more towards to what I see as this
myth of being a cyber-something cyborg or cyberculture.
And there is the myth of everybody being on-line, which is, of
course, not true, since there are people who, for economic reasons,
dont have televisions or telephones. As we move more in
this direction, we are beginning to really disempower this lower
class. I wonder if we could talk about that. I dont know
if I know enough about history to make this statement, but I suspect
that were disempowering the lower class more than, perhaps,
we have in recent history.
More than before I dont know if thats
true. I suspect that it may be the rule more than the exception
with new technologies, that they disempower somebody. Since the
question of weapons has already come up, Ill say that one
of the things that fancy new weapons do is immediately kill a
lot of people, who arent the people running the weapons
or the culture that bought the weapons in the first place. What
has to happen is that, over a long period of time, technologies
filter out into the culture and change as that happens. Yes, they
start off with only the people who can afford them. This is never
good, but everything starts somewhere, and its usually with
people with money.
have a question for Antoinette and one for Sandy. Maybe they are
the same question. Antoinette talked about how artists always
try to multiply the worlds. I was wondering what that means, exactly.
Sandy talked about changing the world, and we talked about the
utopian aspect of this whole discourse. It seems that people are
divided into either apocalyptic or utopian sorts of camps, when
were talking about technology. Im all for utopian
ideas or thinking but, at the same time, you said, You change
the world by changing peoples experience, and I was
wondering what possibilities you see. Of course, there is always
a chance for change, but can you talk about this in a more specific
way? For instance, within the next six monthsthese things
move so fast that its hard to talk about itwhat is
happening? Maybe its connected, also, to the issue of class.
I dont really know.
far as changing the world goes, my feeling is that theres
two approaches, direct and indirect, to changing the world. The
first is normally identified as political, and the second is considered
the artistic strategy. I think theyre largely a matter of
temperament, as much as anything. Everyone wants to change the
world. As far as what that has to do with multiplying worlds,
my feeling has always been that I was born into this world, its
one world and, for my purposes or interests, its always
felt inadequate. A lot of what Im interested in doing is
thinking about the way things could be in other respects. Just
small changes, like what if everybody was a forger, and that was
okay? Or, what if people had twelve different personalities and
that was absolutely normal, and what you did day in and day out
actually had to take advantage of all those personalities? But
thats making it sound bigger than it is. Its that
people dont see the possibilities of things that dont
exist until someone puts them on the table. Theres a whole
lot of ways of putting that on the table, and one of them is just
trying things, even if a lot of them dont work. Another
one is having specific ideas, not just trying things out at random,
but saying we need x, y, and z, and putting those on the table.
Im not very good at being specific in terms of whats
going to happen in six months. Im a terrible prophet. I
only know what Im interested in, and that I follow my gut.
If Im fascinated with something, I go on and do it. You
arent going to get any prognostications from me. When I
say multiplying worlds, I mean just showing possibilities. I think
thats what artists do best.
just wanted to agree with what you just said. I always feel acutely
uncomfortable in question and answer sessions, which is why, normally,
I don't do them. This is really unusual. The reason I don't do
them is that, basically, I'm a storyteller. When Robert Louis
Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, he didn't expect to get
asked questions about whether the map to find the gold is accurate.
idea of play, again, and of saying the what if? is so wonderful.
All the time that the war in the Balkans was going on, I was saying,
What if, instead of hitting on one another, we were increasing
our level of hospitality? Knowing what it means to get a money
grant as an artist, to do my work, think what it would mean if
you were under pressure to be gifted with something that you need,
rather than to be interfered with. Its an issue of creative
paradigms that are really simple and come out of what we already
know as humans. I think thats how change is created. It
gets created because its more fun.
wanted to go back to what Ellen said. The reason I want to go
back there is not to ask a question but because its being
recorded. I would like to say that I know the two of you work
with technology and computers, thats your heartfelt work,
so I dont mean to make a personal statement. But I take
what she said very personally. You said that technology needs
to begin somewhere, and you also agreed that it was created in
an elite arena. Although the technology does trickle down, it
also permeates our society in the way that it was created. I think
its important to remember that it can be a tool for education
but can also be a tool for control, and we shouldnt lose
touch with that. Thats the way that I feel about technology.
Its a personal feeling. I use technology to an extent, for
a tool for very minimal things, but when I look at the way it
globally permeates, I get very nervous.
easy, I think, to collapse the idea of technology permeating everything
with the force that drives technology permeating everything. I
would suggest that the thing we need to pay more attention to,
rather than to technology, is the force behind it. Why is technology
so powerful? Why does it penetrate everything? It's partly because,
in and of itself, there is something transformative about technology,
but it's also being driven by market and political economics.
Nobody ever says, Gee, political economics are penetrating
everything, what are we going to do? We're already totally
permeated and this is just the latest instance. If we are going
to talk about the dangers of technology --and they are real--
let's look beyond that to the people who control the making of
those technologies and who have the power to make them dangerous.
We can try to figure out ways to keep the benefits, of which there
are many, while finding ways to dislodge the structures that control
them. That gets back to what you said before about who we are
disempowering. There are tremendous forces operating in the world
today to disempower as many groups as possible. Technology is
like a stain, in a way, a way of following or making more visible
the way those structures are operating. I'm sure we all know what
I'm talking about: the way those structures, both corporate and
political, operate, particularly here in the U.S., to disempower,
wherever they feel disempowerment doesn't interfere with the ability
to sell stuff or in other ways interfere with the spread of global
guess I feel like I should say, fairly bluntly, that if you dont
like the forces that are driving technology, you have to get involved,
particularly if you consider yourself part of a disenfranchised
group, women or otherwise. You have to wade in with both feet
and not run away from it. I say this as somebody who, unlike Sandy,
didnt have a transformative moment with technology early
on. In fact, early on, I had a disdain for anything that had to
be plugged in. I got involved with technology by a fairly indirect
route, but not a small part of it is that, in general, Im
interested in power. Thats not one of the prettiest parts
of my personality, but if youre talking about power, then
you have to go out and grasp it.
just want to say that, regarding that power, is that I understand
technology, too. When I was a nurse, I used to walk around with
these paddles that had electricity charging through them. Any
time I came across a freshly dead person, I just slammed the paddles
onto the body, pushed a switch and brought the body back to life.
Thats a real good example of technology being used well,
dont you think?
is for Sandy. At the risk of sounding like one of your administrators,
I bring to you my quandary, which is that, to the extent to which
Im excited by your structural questioning that you explicated
so eloquently, Im also frustrated by its inherent resistance
to applicability. You spoke so well of breaking down and addressing
structures, to refer to your metaphor of the balls in the air
between the courts. I find it powerful and, at the same time,
Im interested in my frustration with the need to directly
want me to get more specific about how that works? I'd rather
not in this brief forum, so I won't. If I can get out from under
the necessity to respond, I will. Maybe later. I appreciate the
hesitating to ask this question, because Id like to switch
gears and I dont know if my question is intelligent enough.
But I really want to ask what you guys do for fun.
really want to know? Where do you want me to start? One thing
I don't do is watch television. I like going out to movies, hanging
out with friends, and having strange discussions. Of course, what
I'm doing in answering your question is quoting from my yearbook:
Sandy Stone, always merry and bright! What do you do when
you are asked a question like that?
the obvious things that you might think of are on my list. We
dont even have to go into them, theyre the basic ones
of American culture: sex, drugs, movies, books, wasting time,
slacking off, masturbating, you name it. However, the one I thought
Id bring up because it has some more direct relevance, is
that I fish. I come from a family of people who fish, I love to
fish and one of the things I like best about it is that people
think, Ah, phew! She has a real, feet-on-the-ground connection
to physical reality. But what I like best about it is that
it is, in effect, another fantasy world that I enter for limited
periods of time. It has a completely ridiculous object, which
is catching primitive, slimy creatures by trying to trick them.
And, once your day of fishing is over, you get to go somewhere
and tell lies about it. Frankly, what more can you ask of life?
thought, today, hearing these two people speak and being a part
of this was one of the most fun things Ive done in ever
so long. This was just fun.
by Ann Mansolino
panel discussion with Antoinette LaFarge, Sandy Stone, and Vernal
Bogren focused on issues surrounding technology and digital media.
The panelists represented very different perspectives on the matter,
as LaFarge and Stone are deeply involved with digital technology
and Bogren's interest is in pre-electric information systems based
panel began by considering the problems, possibilities, and implications
of the rise of the so-called new media. LaFarge and
Stone found the term new media problematic and inadequate
for discussing the experiential modes of being that
characterize on-line worlds and the technology which makes them
possible. While both asserted that the existing terminology and
institutional structures are inadequate for describing and containing
what is occurring in their work with digital media, neither panelist
seemed interested in proposing an alternative framework for understanding
or discussing these technologies. This reticence on the part of
two artists deeply committed to working with new technology is
in itself problematic, as, if they believe that most individuals
and institutions are not equipped to discuss or understand their
work, then they themselves must play an active role in initiating
dialogue and establishing new and relevant ways of approaching
it. Nonetheless, I believe that the inability of the panelists
and of others to define new media reveals not their
own shortcomings, but rather the shortcomings of existing art
and educational vocabularies in relation to current developments
in these fields. A new terminology is indeed needed, as it is
not sufficient to simply recast new media in old terms. Issues
surrounding what such a vocabulary would be like or how to begin
constructing it need to be addressed if work in digital media
is to be relevant to a broader audience than new media artists
themselves. Where might such a new vocabulary come from?
LaFarge and Stone, the new media is not just another
new tool used in the service of traditional artistic practice;
rather, it provides possibilities for a new way of being in the
world. The on-line world is, according to LaFarge, not just one
world but rather many multiple worlds characterized by openness
and anarchic tendencies. Bogren, though unfamiliar with on-line
worlds, also spoke of the value of the openness of unstructured
spaces. Thus, while positioned very differently in relation to
technology, all of the panelists seem, through the information
systems they explore, to seek experiential modes of being defined
by imaginative qualities rather than external controls.
of the program fellows questioned the panelists about the social
and economic implications of new technologies - in particular
about the intended versus the actual uses of technological objects.
Stone spoke of the affordances of technological objects,
of the ways of interacting with them that are put there by designers.
She advocated questioning affordances and their implications at
the conception point, before new technologies are concretized.
Yet questions remain: how do we respond to existing technologies?
How do we intervene when we discover that the affordances that
characterize technological devices (such as weapons) cause them
to be used in consistently harmful or violent ways? If affordances
are mutable, as Stone claims, how do we go about changing the
uses of existing technological objects through an investigation
of their affordances?
significant are the issues regarding the effects of technology
on individual subjectivity. LaFarge sees much promise in multi-user
real time technologies. She is drawn to the altered psychology
resulting from such technologies, and asserts that we are now
witnessing a changed attitude toward the notion of time. She thus
speaks of cybertime rather than cyberspace. I wonder
how these changes will affect our long-standing conceptions of
the individual being existing in time. Will our psychology and
sense of temporality in the real world change as a result of experiencing
multiple multi-user on-line worlds? To paraphrase Bogren: when
we change what we're doing, we change ourselves. We become something
else. We become what we're doing. It seems to me that traditional
notions of individual subjectivity and community are threatened
by such changes, and that we must therefore proceed with great
caution, as there is much at risk when we willingly allow our
technologies to mediate our experience of being in the world.
it seemed, the discussion came to focus on issues of power. Questions
were raised about economic power, as access to computer technology
is often contingent upon having the means to afford it. While
acknowledging that technology (and the power associated with it)
is concentrated in the upper socioeconomic classes of society,
the panelists glossed over many important implications of this.
Those who have the technology are those who shape its development
and uses; it therefore comes increasingly to reflect their concerns
and hence further reinforces existing socioeconomic class divisions.
Much could have been said (but was not) of the possible repercussions
of this class-based participation in socially transformative technologies
and of various possible ways to changing this, such as educating
children of various social classes about computers and thus beginning
to efface current technology-based class divisions in future generations.
Stone and LaFarge agreed that technology and power structures
are tightly entwined, and consequently advocated involvement with
technology as a means of changing the economic and political forces
that drive technology to permeate our society. Yet, do our activities
as artists and individuals using technology actually have the
potential to alter these power structures? I question whether
most new media artists are actively affecting the uses of technology
or merely being passively affected by them. Would greater participation
in technology on the part of artists change where the political
and economic power associated with technology resides?
the end of the discussion, Bogren stated technology can be
both a tool for education and a tool for control. She alone
among the panelists expressed anxiety about the way technology
is rapidly permeating society. It is an anxiety that I, as an
artist who uses digital media in my work, have come to share.
While I am optimistic about the potential of new media described
by LaFarge and Stone, I remain skeptical about the psychological,
social, and political implications of unreservedly embracing new
media. I hope that we, as members of society and as artists working
in an increasingly technological world, have the wisdom to approach
the tools we have created with sufficient caution and criticality
to realize their vast potential while simultaneously retaining
our identities as individual beings existing in real time and