Port Logo PORT: Navigating Digital Culture
Organized by a r t n e t w e b
MIT List Visual Arts Center
January 25 through March 29, 1997

BY: Ellipsis
TIME: Thursday, 4:00 - 6:00 pm EST
SOFTWARE: CU-SEEME and RealAudio will be available over the net. These also play out on one of the four projection walls of the MIT space. The other three walls run three copies of a custom-built sampling application - working title HyperShell - written in macromind director. One of the three controlling computers is designated as a server from which two copies of HyperShell are run remotely and the third locally, allowing us to "control" all three screens from one server. Content - still image, moving image and sound - is fed, server push-wise, into and out of the server via FTP during the process of the event. Each HyperShell app plays out samples from this "FTP soup" on a random selection basis. Background and foreground images are layered up and similarly sounds are randomly selected for mixing together on-the-fly by the application. Anywhere between zero and six voices will fill the space at any one time, within a constantly changing image environment. Nothing is preprepared. All material is generated out of the event as an echo-reflection of being here.
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all mirrored at www.ellipsis.com

Kosuth again:
"The illusion of the window of belief in both painting and philosophy remains, today, as deus ex machina holding the viewers position in check"

and Wittgenstein:

"The sickness of a time is cured by an alteration in the mode of life of human beings, and it was possible for the sickness of philosophical problems to get cured only through a changed mode of thought or life, not through a medicine invented by an individual - suppose the use of the motor car produces or encourages certain illnesses, and mankind is plagued by such illness until, from some cause or other, as the result of some development or other, it abandons the habit of driving"

"We also say of some people that they are transparent to us. It is, however, important as regards this observation that one human being can be a complete enigma to another. We learn this when we come into a strange country with entirely strange traditions; and, what is more, even given a mastery of the country's language. We do not *understand* the people. (And not because of not knowing what they are saying to themselves.) We cannot find our feet with them"

"If a lion could talk, we could not understand him"

"We find certain things about seeing puzzling, because we do not find the whole business of seeing puzzling enough"

"I should like to say: you regard it much too much as a matter of course that anyone can tell anything to anyone. That is to say: we are so much accustomed to communication through language, in conversation, that it looks to us as if the whole point of communication lay in this: someone else grasps the sense of my words - which is something mental: he as it were takes it into his own mind. If he then does something further with it as well, that is no part of the immediate purpose of language"

"So in the end when one is doing philosophy one gets to the point where one would just like to emit an inarticulate sound"

and finally Merleau-Ponty:

"for the aim to be realized
it must not be completely realised

and for something to be said
it must not be said absolutely"

The purpose of language: to take a "pure" "thought" from someone's mind and implant it, unchanged, in the mind of another. Far from perfect - to the degree that the thought is degraded, that misunderstandings arise, language has failed. On this view, language is *always* subject to failure: an imperfect tool, but the best we have, so we make do with it. Our desire to overcome the inadequacies of language has motivated a range of interests, from the paranormal (extra-sensory forms of communication, such as telepathy) to computer science (from the development of digital storage and communication techniques to artificial intelligence research).

So language, inasmuch as it is seen as a container for communication is about as effective as a rusty leaky bucket and to this extent it must always fail. Doesn't this indicate that perhaps we have a misguided view of the role of language? To regard language as somehow 'degenerate' is to ignore the fundamentally productive process that lies at the heart of this -necessary- failure of communication - that process which makes life interesting and language a possibility at all. Whereas language has been seen as a subservient tool whose purpose is to close the commmunicative gap, a tool for implanting 'our' ideas, unadulterated, into the passive minds of willing listeners; it is rather an emergent open process, supervening on the interreactions of all of us yet with a life of it's own. 'our' words are always, inevitably, out of our control. That very "failure" is the measure of the success of language.

Similarly, narrative and closure have been important constituting structures of cultural products: but by losing the imperative of closure a more accurate matching of the experiential stream of reality is allowed. Everything spills out all over the place. Rather than the model of the "artist" fashioning a "finished" "artefact" from raw materials whose status is lower in the established network of hierachies, a continual proces of synthesis and dispersion is taking place: raw material, transformational process, "finished" artefact are all at once all of these things...

We see the internet, in it's slowness, it's difficulty, it's uncontrollability, it's -asynchronicity-, as a medium that is potentially more honest to this process of production: certainly closer in nature to the situation we describe than the media tools of twentieth-century mass-production technology. Television, more so than painting or philosophy, offers us an irresistibly compelling "illusion of the window of belief" which absolutely casts the viewer in the role of passive receiver of "truth". It could not be any other way: the technology is too primitive. Television is perhaps the lowest bandwidth medium we have yet experienced or ever will, when "bandwidth" is properly measured in terms of diversity, asynchronicity, choice, richness of interaction between "audience" and "performance" and access to the means of production.

Finding a way of meshing the synchronicity of a live performance with the asynchronicity of the net helps us to focus on the dismantling of this "illusion of the window of belief". Synchronous material on the net not only does not work very well, but is somewhat against the nature of the medium. So it is interesting to find ways to engage with realtime happenings in an asynchronous way.

Our method is somewhat at a meta-level - finding ways to create an environment for events to take place. The "content" of the event, if you like, takes care of itself if the environment is right. People talk too much about content and in a traditional sense we are content-providers - only we never heard of this way of talking of what we do before digital media arrived in search of a purpose. The medium may have changed, but we haven't. More important than content, here, is context. Create the context and the content will follow. "Content", surely, is simply what people say and what people do.

the internet - or any computernet - insofar as it is used as a self-contained, self-sufficient environment, is unengaging and completely lacking in interest. Perhaps this is due to the total absence of real-world risk. Cyberspace is often portrayed as a wild frontier but more often than not it feels like a nice warm bath. Or a toilet. The smallest, safest place to indulge in furtive activities. this is the most troubling feature of an otherwise apparently fascinating new world. It only becomes interesting to the extent that it somehow engages with other environments outside of itself. Environments out of it's control. Yes, it is true that the internet is a chaotic network of networks, but also yes, it is so easy to switch it off and tiptoe away, quietly, anonymously, without responsibility.

ellipsis ellipsis specialises in publishing contemporary architecture and art and culture using a range of media, from books to the world wide web. For the PORT project ellipsis brings together a bunch of people from a variety of backgrounds who are working on activities involving books, performances, experiments in art, design, music, technology and communication.

some of the people:

john chris jones
heike lowenstein
tom mekon
lu mekon
jonathan moberly
shereen rahwanji

...and assorted others...


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