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Toni Dove

(New York, N. Y., United States)

Toni Dove, Artificial Changelings, 1998 (video)
Toni Dove, Artificial Changelings, 1998 (video)
Toni Dove, Artificial Changelings, 1998 Toni Dove, Artificial Changelings, 1998
Toni Dove lives and works in New York. Since the early 1990s, she has produced works that redefine the form of the traditional narrative through the use of interactive components. Her installations feature female characters from different eras who are subjected to the economic and technological determinants of their time. Dove’s works also offer a feminist rereading of conventions from popular genres such as science fiction and the Gothic novel.

Though not interactive, the artist’s first installations provided multiple points of view, thus heralding Dove’s experiments with immersive devices. Created in 1990 for Art in the Anchorage (New York), an event organized by Creative Time (New York) under New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, Mesmer: Secret of the Human Frame (1990-1993) explored the theme of incarnation through its historical and psychoanalytical ramifications. An artist’s book based on the project was published by Granary Books in 1993. (1) The performance The Blessed Abyss: A Tale of Unmanageable Ecstasies (1991), presented at Thread Waxing Space (New York) in 1992, followed up on this archaeology of the body by bringing together assorted imagery made up of film clips and archival photographs.

The product of a collaborative undertaking with Canadian author Michael Mackenzie, Archaeology of a Mother Tongue (1993) constitutes one of the first attempts to integrate a complex narrative with a virtual-reality environment. This installation, produced in 1993 at a workshop of the Banff Centre for the Arts (Banff, Alberta, Canada), combines performance with the immersive experience in a hybrid genre that Dove calls "cyber-theatre" or "theatre without actors." (2) The audience is placed in front of a series of screens on which animations are projected while a "tutor" (3) plays with the interface. By aiming at a section of the image with a miniature camera, this viewer can apply a specific perspective and adjust the elements of the environment. A data glove allows him to touch objects that appear in his field of vision and to alter their appearance. The immersive experience unfolds metaphorically in the story in the form of an investigation or archaeological dig led by two narrators. While the viewer is unearthing the ruins of a futuristic city, a coroner and a forensic scientist are analyzing the remains of a child whose body blends in with the wire-frame environment.

Presented at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (Rotterdam, the Netherlands) in 1998 and within Body Mecanique at the Wexner Center (Columbus, Ohio, United States), Artificial Changelings (1998) calls upon the viewer to activate narrative sections that correspond to the characters’ points of view. Two stories overlap. Arathusa, who lives in the 19th century, is a kleptomaniac who scopes out department stores. Zilith is a 21st-century hacker who appears in a dream of Arathusa’s. A series of zones marked out on the floor indicate the nature of the points of view into which viewers can enter. (4) When close to the screen, viewers get inside Arathusa’s head and hear her interior monologue. If they step back, the character seems to address them directly. The third zone is a kind of dream state, while the fourth level of interaction sends viewers into the 21st century. To access Zilith’s points of view, viewers must step up to the screen again. A position sensor translates the viewers’ motions and triggers the video segments linked to each of the zone markers. Standing still causes the image to stop, whereas arm movement activates the character’s body. With this installation, Dove says she wants to move away from the paradigm of interactivity as a set of pre-programmed, iterative choices, and towards an experience controlled at least in part by chance, where the machine's responses no longer stem from the viewers’ decisions. The spectators act upon the installation’s responsive elements, but their motions do not create predictable responses in the characters. (5) In an interview with Pam Jennings, Dove explains this aesthetic choice:

"I think that there are more complex possibilities for creating a dimensional narrative, and it may not be something that is completely non-linear. It may not be non-linear in a looping random access logic tree structure. It may be something that you move through in some linear fashion but has a different sense of dimension." (6)

In Dove’s work, the layered accumulation of references and images creates a sense of narrative density. Without sacrificing the readability and coherence of the story, her installations remove the spectators from the role of passive voyeur that they generally occupy with conventional film devices.

Artificial Changelings deals with the emergence of compulsive consumerism in the 19th century. In the second part of the trilogy, titled Spectropia: Ghost Story About the Infinite Deferral of Desire, Dove continues her inquiry into the subconscious at work in the capitalist society of the early 20th century. This time, she is interested in the structure of deferred payment and the unfulfilled desires it brings about in the consumer. Spectropia is set in 1930s New York after the stock market crash, as well as in a 21st-century city.

Vincent Bonin © 2001 FDL

(1) Toni Dove, Mesmer: Secrets of the Human Frame, (New York: Granary Books, 1993), n.p.

(2) For a definition of this concept, please see Toni Dove, "Theater Without Actors: Immersion and Response in Installation", Leonardo, vol. 27, no. 4 (1994) 281-287.

(3) Dove often makes use of such a tutor who possesses the necessary skills to manipulate the technology and provide the audience with an ideal interactive experience.

(4) See the video documentary Artificial Changelings, 1998.

(5) For a detailed analysis of the theoretical and pragmatic issues of this installation, please see Toni Dove, "Artificial Changelings: A Work of Responsive Cinema in Progress," ISEA 95: conference proceedings (Montréal: ISEA: Inter Society for the Electronic Arts, 1995) 69-71.

(6) Toni Dove quoted in Pamela Jennings, "Interpretation of the Electronic Landscape: Conversation with Toni Dove," Felix, vol. 2, no. 1 (1995) 266-277, please consult, 5 June 2001.