Dynamic Media <1977>
it was nostalgia that led me to search an interactive
video fantasy - a craving for control, a longing for
liveness, a drive toward direct action.
This chronic condition
I suffered from is reputedly a side-effect, or for video
artists an occupational hazard of watching too much
television, a medium which is by nature fragmentary
and incomplete. Distanced and unsatisfying, like platonic
sex. A (pre) condition of a video dialogue is that it
does not talk back. Rather, it exists as a moving stasis;
a one-sided discourse, like a trick mirror that absorbs
instead of reflects.
path to interactive works began not with video, but
in performance when in 1971 an alternative identity
named Roberta Breitmore
was created. She was a breathing, simulacrumed persona,
played first by myself, and then by a series of multiple
individuals. Roberta existed in both real life and real
time and during the decade of her activity engaged in
many adventures that typified the cultured in which
she participated. She had a checking account and driver's
license, and saw a psychiatrist. Her existence was proved
by the trackings of her psychiatric reports and credit
Her construction included
specific language and gestures as well as a stereotyped
cosmetic ambience. By accumulating artifacts from culture
and interacting directly with life, she became a two-way
mirror that reflected societal biases absorbed through
experiences. Roberta always seen as a surveillance target.
Her decisions were random, only very remotely controlled.
reality became a model for a private system of interactive
performance. Instead of a disc or hardware, her records
were stored on photographs and texts that could be viewed
without predetermined sequences. This allowed viewers
to become voyeurs into Roberta's history. Their interpretations
shifted depending on the perspective and order of the
years after Roberta's transformation, Lorna,
the first interactive art videodisc, was completed.
Unlike Roberta, whose adventures took place directly
in the environment, Lorna was a middle-aged agoraphobic
fearful of leaving her tiny apartment. The premise was
that the more she stayed home and watched television,
the more fearful she became - primarily because she
was absorbing the frightening messages of advertising
and news broadcasts. Because she never left home, the
objects in her room took on a magnificent proportion.
In the disc, every object in her room is numbered and
becomes a chapter in her life that opens into branching
access information about her past, future, and personal
conflicts via these artifacts. Many images on the screen
are of the remote control device Lorna uses to change
television channels. Because viewer/participant use
a nearly identical unit to direct the disc action, a
metaphoric link or point of identification is established
between the viewer and referent. The viewer/participant
activates the live action and makes surrogate decisions
for Lorna. Decisions are designed into a branching path.
Although there are
only 17 minutes of moving image in the disc, the 36
chapters could be sequenced differently for several
days. There are three separate endings to the disc,
though the plot has multiple variations that include
being caught in repeating dream sequences, or using
multiple soundtracks, and can be seen backwards, forwards,
at increased or decreased speed and from several points
There is no hierarchy
in the ordering of decisions. These ideas are not new.
They were explored by such artists as Stephen Mallarme,
John Cage and Marcel Duchamp - particularly in Duchamp's
music. They pioneered ideas about random adventures
and chance operations 50 years before invention of the
technology that would have more fully exploited their
Lorna literally is
captured by a mediated landscape. Her passivity (presumably
caused by being controlled by media) is a counterpoint
to the direct action of the player. As the branching
path is deconstructed, the player becomes aware of the
subtle yet powerful effects of fear caused by media
and becomes more empowered (active) through this perception.
Playing Lorna was designed to have viewer/participants
transgress into an inverse labyrinth of themselves.
Despite some theories
to the contrary, the dominant presumption is that making
art is active and viewing it is passive. Radical shifts
in communication technology, such as the marriage of
image, sound, text and computers, and consummation by
the public of this consort have challenged this assumption.
Viewer/participants of Lorna reported that they had
the impression that they were empowered because they
held the option of manipulating Lorna's life. Rather
than being remotely controlled, the decision unit was
literally placed in their hands. Implications of the
relationship reversal between individuals and technological
media systems are immense. The media bath of transmitted
prestructured and edited information that surrounds
(and some say alienates) people is washed away. It is
hosed down by viewer input. Alteration of the basis
for exchange of information is subversive in that it
encourages participation and therefore creates a different
require viewers to react. Their choices are facilitated
by means of a keyboard, mouse or touch-sensitive screen.
As technology expands, there will be more permutations
available, not only between the viewer and the system,
but between elements within the system itself. Some
people feel that computer systems will eventually reflect
the personality and biases of their users. Yet these
systems only appear to talk back. That they are alive,
or independent, is an illusion. They depend upon the
architectural strategy of the program.
However, there is
a space between the system and player in which a link,
or fusion , or transplant occurs. Truth and fiction
blur. Action becomes icon. According to Freud, reality
may be limited to perceptions that can be verified through
words or visual codes. Therefore, perceptions are the
drive to action that influence, if not control, real
events. Perceptions therefore become the key to reality.
Lorna was developed
as an R and D guide, but is generally inaccessible.
It was pressed in a limited edition of 25, of which
only 14 now exist. It is only occasionally installed
in galleries or museums. Creating a truly interactive
work demands that it exist on a mass scale, available
and accessible to many people. The Hypercard program
works on most Macintosh computers and can be genlocked
to a disc player or a CD-V, or be used alone. It can
access moving or still images and has a wide range of
sound capabilities, and is relatively inexpensive.