Friday, February 10, 2006

Team Spirit

We had an excellent session Thursday night with the artist Paul Pfeiffer. He provocatively challenged our thinking on many contemporary art issues: what is cultural identity in shared media space? what is the art context for work that tries to isolate itself from the mass culture? is isolation from the mass culture even possible and, if so, is the art gallery the best place to hide? and what about all of those hippy-dippy theories of blurring art and life into one fluid signature-style event? is that the clear path to ideological victory?

Artists are in the business of disruption and defamiliarization. They take what commerce has made common and slice into its false consciousness so as to awaken in us a desire to see the world anew. The thing I love most about hanging out with different artists is that they show me different aspects of my own thinking that I did not realize was there.

The Situationists, who are making a roaring comeback (see the Artforum article here), were all over this. For them, a psychogeographical drift was best performed in collaboration with other artist-philosophers, where the "krew" would aimlessly wander the urban environment so as to see what effects it might have on their thinking, their art-making, their ability to intersubjectively jam with shared source material via creative acts of détournemont.

One question that artists keep bumping up against involves how to maintain a fluid Life Style Practice. That is, how do you develop survival strategies for maintaining and enhancing your ongoing artistic and philosophical practice so that you can continue making art and living the life you want to lead?

The strategies are multiple and hybridized. I guess it's obvious by now that not everyone can or will follow the same path. Buzzwords like "style," "hyperimprovisation," "developing your schtick," "going meta with the data," etc., are just pointers to a more complex cluster of parallel processes that need to be experienced to even begin to put yourself in a position to survive as an artist.

Another buzzword that keeps coming up: defamiliarize. To defamiliarize is to "make strange." Paul's images do that in a beautiful way. You can see why some in the art world would find them precious, and that's partly what gives them their market value in this screwy art world economy. And then there is the fact that many of his works are just fascinating to look at and experience. Experiential value. Priceless.

And now this just in from ESPN (Extra Sensory Perception Network):

Will the "open source net art free love information sharing" religion defeat the "object-oriented limited edition gallery work of art" religion? Each team has been pilfering talent from both ends and what was once a clear division of style and substance is now starting to become blurry. Marketized media manipulation seems to be having its desired effect on the contemporary scene. What are the odds for victory? Whose victory? Vegas says "open source lifestyle" by 7 1/2.

But that's a mighty big spread and I just may put my money on the Situationist dreamers whose poetic athleticism will enable them to build their own fields of action to readily lose themselves in.

In fact, artists and athletes have a lot in common. They are both at their best when performing unconsciously in the field of action and are able to develop an intuitive sense of measure to deliver themselves in.

And you - Dear Reader - which team are you on? At what point do you switch sides? Two sides of the same coin? Coin of the art realm?

Tell me - Dear Reader - where's your team spirit?

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Thursday, February 09, 2006


The last couple of posts have referred to the word hyperimprovisational. I borrow the term from a book by Roger Dean, although my use is somewhat different than his. Basically, if we think of improvisation in relation to jazz, comedy, or even sports, we often find the subjective performer jamming with other musicians, the audience, or even the other team. A lot of the improv is focused on "losing sight of oneself" as they sync up with the spontaneous flow of their energy routine and become what I would call a pseudonymous Other. You are literally no longer yourself, or at least not the cognitive "I" that rationalized their way through life earlier that day. What happens is, you go out of your mind, but in a good way. Think of it as an hallucinatory cloudburst where the imaginative energy just pours right of you. The question is: what precipitates such creative action in the field of composition? I hope to address this in a future post.

Something similar happens with live VJ performance, and perhaps DJs can relate to this as well. What makes the improvisation "hyper" is the way the performer jams in front of a live audience with the new media technology right at their fingertips. When I am VJing, I am jamming with both the audience and the environment, and every gig has its own look and feel. But having said that, it's my bodily give and take with my laptop that keeps me living / playing on the edge of my experience. As I attempt to remix all of my digital video source material (DVSM) in a live context, the laptop (hardware and VJ software) sometimes seems to have a "mind of its own" - and when I am pushing its processing power to its ultimate limit, it occasionally starts freaking out on me and trying to compensate for lost time. That's when it starts doing totally unexpected, beautiful things with my DVSM. It's almost like I have to push IT to the edge with me just to get it behaving like the wild, hallucinatory machine I need it to be, one that keeps churning out nonstop images that reflect my own memories, dreams, and cinematic imaginings. Keep in mind, since the DVSM is primarily composed of my auteur-generated scenes, ones that I have captured on my international VJ tours and that include all kinds of foreign landscapes, close-ups of unknown objects, defamailiarized body parts, and neon-inflected color field planes that make the work feel like a video painting, these images that I jam with are very intimately connected to my own Life Style Practice. These images are alive (with the sound of music).

I call them bio-images. While I am touring, they continuously fill my head as I sleep, drift through the urban environment, and think about the way things "look" on the screen as I edit my DVSM for the next upcoming gig. This means that when my laptop freaks out on me during a live performance, I have to keep responding to it because we (the machine and I) are live, and sometimes I am seeing things I never thought possible (that's what a good improv partner will do for you). Once the jam hits full throttle and both players are seemingly at the point of no return (i.e. about to crash), there's only one thing left for me to do: feed it more data so that I can filter it all through my own customized artist plug-ins. That is, push it further.

And by the way, I don't see the writing in this post as theory per se, but as a kind of digital poetics. VJ writing.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Portrait of The VJ

The new issue of Fibreculture is out. The issue is devoted to the theme "Distributed Aesthetics" and an excerpt from my long essay "Portrait of the VJ" is included in this excellent peer-reviewed publication. FC highlights some of the sharpest minds in Australia and beyond and this, their seventh issue, is a real mind-bender. There are other essays by Geert Lovink and Anna Munster, Simon Biggs, Keith Armstrong, and others.

In my contribution, I try to use the hyperimprovisational techniques I employ in my VJ sets to spontaneously create an artist's theory of hactivism and provocation, while "keeping it real" (or "unreal" as the case may be). Some of the lucky victims of my sampling include Allen Ginsberg, Allan Kaprow, Ron Sukenick, Vilem Flusser, Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky), Steve Shaviro, William Burroughs, and many others.

Here are some book links to follow if you want to check the scene:

Geert Lovink

Vilem Flusser

Allen Ginsberg

Steven Shaviro

DJ Spooky

Ron Sukenick

William Burroughs

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About the name of this blog, i.e. Professor VJ.

It's meant to defamiliarize both terms (Professor & VJ) in that I am using VJ practice and performance as a gateway to investigating new artist theories and fictions, and am using my writing practice and theoretical research agenda to innovate creative ways to infiltrate club and festival culture, museum culture, and even pop culture (through video iPod, mobile phone cinema, etc). You might say that being a Professorial Remixologist blurs it all into one fluid Life Style Practice.

Wikipedia gives a basic overview of the term VJ here. As they say, the word VJ is used
to represent video performance artists who create live visuals on all kinds of music.
In my forthcoming book with MIT Press, META/DATA, here is how I begin one of the spontaneous artist theories I wrote entitled "Portrait of A VJ":

What a VJ is not:

  • A VJ (video/visual jockey) is not an MTV personality.

  • A VJ is not a net artist.

  • A VJ is not a visual DJ.

  • A VJ is not susceptible to computer crashes (i.e. believes in the power of positive thinking).

What a VJ could be:

  • A VJ could be a hyperimprovisational narrative artist who uses banks of quicktime movie clips to construct on-the-fly stories composed of images processed in asynchronous realtime and through various theoretical and performative filters

  • A VJ could be a creative writer who manipulates matter and memory by composing live acts of image √©criture repositioning the movie loop as the primary semantic unit of energy

  • A VJ could be a Tech*know*mad whose fluid Life Style Practice captures consciousness in asynchronous realtime and is forever being remixed into One Ongoing Text Exactly

  • A VJ could be a (h)activist provocateur who knowingly intervenes in the mainstream art, club and cinema culture and opens up new possibilities for hybridized art and entertainment events

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Truth or Dare?

Two more interesting developments on the reality-unreality-truth-fiction-faction front:

1) JT Leroy, like James Frey after him (her), fictionalizes an already phony portrayal of himself (herself) but at least calls it fiction. JT's public persona is a man supposedly cross-dressing as a woman.

Basically, what we are finding out this month in the world of publishing, is that things are not always as they appear. People make themselves up and it feels like Real Life. Writers invent alternative personas and then begin "identifying" themselves with their creations. Peel away the layers of meta-invention and what you get is - what? A totally made up life story? So what. Isn't that what we all do anyway? The degree to which unreality seeps into a more conditioned, bureaucratic reality, differs among the individuals who "reinvent" themselves. Think of Madonna. Billy Idol. Or even Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, in today's NYTimes, the article on Leroy refers to the "real" writer who supposedly made up the JT Leroy "writer-character" as Laura Albert. The article suggests that she has become absolutely immersed in her creation:
"For her, it's very personal," he said. "It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."
2) Abe Linkoln creates a neuro-cinematic portrayal of Isabelle Dinoire whose face fictionalizes her own own appearance too. Dinoire is not cross-dressing as much as she is "inter-facing" with a new public self. The net art world discusses it at Rhizome where a discussion of "truth" comes to the fore again. From the discussion, Marisa Olson asks an important question
Why is it ethically important to tell the truth in a work of art?
Why, indeed.

As Celine once said: "Life itself is a fiction, and biography is something you invent afterwards."

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Monday, February 06, 2006


Here's an excerpt from an Amerika Online column I wrote back in the late 90s:
Think about it: if our creative "property" can be infinitely reproduced and instantaneously distributed all over the planet without noticeable cost, without our knowledge, without its even leaving our possession (it's still on the publicly-accessible server, right?), why would we want to put up firewalls to protect it? Of course, one question that immediately comes to mind as we go forth into the techno-jungle mix of wild web growth and savage pla(y)giaristic practice, is what sort of advantages would there be in protecting ones work from all of the potential interactive participants? The most obvious answer is so that the artists responsible for creating the work can get paid for it. If everything is given away for free, then how are we going to get paid for the work we do with our minds? And, if we can't get paid, what will assure the continued creation and distribution of such work?
But what about "free love information sharing" in the idealized gift economy? Too hippy-dippy for you? Well, the 21st century net art punks get it too.

And, btw, is Google doing us a favor by keeping our supposedly "private" search records out of the hands of the Fed? I think so, but others say it may raise the question of censorship from another angle.

Meanwhile, the pirate utopias of the "artificial intelligentsia" and their autopoietic tendencies, are intervening in the attention economy like never before. When Hakim Bey wrote about it in his TAZ, the cultural underground paid attention. His marquee phrases like ontological anarchism and poetic terrorism struck a nerve (pre-9/11, of course). Bey's post-specto-situationist cult philosophy was a kind of contagious schtick that influenced many of the most prominent net artists of the 90s. This includes The Yes Men. The Yes Men are part of the tradition of Satire, a rival tradition, one that proves to us that schtick can be a good thing too. We all have our schtick. For example, I dig Werner Herzog's schtick, especially when he says something like this:
There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.
Update: I was once on a panel with Hakim Bey and about seven other people. Somehow the conversation steered toward a discussion of copyright. I was on the left side of the long panel table, Bey was far right. I thought for sure we would be in agreement about the need for more copyleft practice, and mentioned his anti-copyright notice on the Autonomedia publication of TAZ. But he surprised me by saying he was reconsidering it all. I never found out what he eventually concluded, but I was glad he let TAZ go out into the world unencumbered.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Free Speech, Privacy, and the War Over 'Metadata'?

Why am I not surprised by this:

According to surveys by TeleGeography Inc., nearly all voice and data traffic to and from the United States now travels by fiber-optic cable. About one-third of that volume is in transit from one foreign country to another, traversing U.S. networks along its route. The traffic passes through cable landing stations, where undersea communications lines meet the East and West coasts; warehouse-size gateways where competing international carriers join their networks; and major Internet hubs known as metropolitan area ethernets.

Until Bush secretly changed the rules, the government could not tap into access points on U.S. soil without a warrant to collect the "contents" of any communication "to or from a person in the United States." But the FISA law was silent on calls and e-mails that began and ended abroad.

Even for U.S. communications, the law was less than clear about whether the NSA could harvest information about that communication that was not part of its "contents."

"We debated a lot of issues involving the 'metadata,' " one government lawyer said. Valuable for analyzing calling patterns, the metadata for telephone calls identify their origin, destination, duration and time. E-mail headers carry much the same information, along with the numeric address of each network switch through which a message has passed.
But then there is the narrative mythology. That is, why are they doing this when they know they cannot analyze all of the data? As Wendy Chun says in "Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics"
This myth also screens the impossibility of storing, accessing, and analyzing everything. [...] These paranoid narratives of total surveillance (control as freedom) and total freedom (freedom as control) are the poles of control-freedom, and are symptomatic of a larger shift in power relations from the rubric of discipline and liberty to that of control and freedom.

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