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Machine Life & David Rokeby

Machine Life, 2004
Susan Ditta, Sara Diamond, David Rokeby, 2004
Machine Life. — Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, 2004. — 63 p. — Includes a CD-ROM. — ISBN 088911918X.  (1) 

Ditta, Su; Diamond, Sara. — David Rokeby. — Oakville: Oakville Galleries, 2004. — 85 p. — Includes a CD-ROM. — ISBN 1894707214.  (2) 

These two publications are presented jointly here because they create a bridge between two generations of artists who nonetheless share concerns such as abandoning a strictly instrumental use of technology to embrace random phenomena and simulating human perception. Representing this first generation since the sixties, Norman White, a professor at the Ontario College of Art (OCAD, formerly OCA) in Toronto, Canada, taught in the seventies and eighties with his colleague Doug Back to many artists from the subsequent generation (the eighties), including David Rokeby. In addition to the author contributions, the catalogues for these exhibitions include multimedia complements (a CD-ROM for "Machine Media" and "Norm’s Robots" as well as a DVD for "David Rokeby"), along with video excerpts to complete the documentation of each of the works exhibited.

The catalogue for "Machine Life" brings together three author contributions. In "Norman White, Beginning," Ihor Holubizky looks at the remarkable critical interest sparked by media arts between 1968 and 1970, a period when White’s work was first emerging. White took part in some of the major exhibits organized in the United States in the late sixties, including "Some More Beginnings: An Exhibition of Submitted Works Involving Technical Materials and Processes" in 1969 at the Brooklyn Museum (New York, U.S.). Holubizky follows White’s career from the artist’s first robotic works of the seventies to his recent projects that accentuate the playfulness of his work. The author presents White’s sometimes ambivalent views on the difficult relationship between art and technology. He concludes by underlining the entropy found in White’s work, which distinguishes it from many artistic projects modelled on the notion of technical or scientific progress. In "Taken with Surprise," Caroline Langill points out that like White, artists from the subsequent generation were interested in technology’s unpredictability. When computer units of a media artwork exchange data randomly, the end results produce a range of varied experiences for viewers. In "Encountering Machine Life," Jan Allen, like Caroline Langill, stresses the role of entropy in White’s works, which, according to this artist, "represent unusable experimental models." The artist’s process may tend toward a form of productive failure in which technology frees itself from the uses predetermined by its functions. Allen explores the years of creative exchanges between White and his former colleague Doug Back from the Ontario College of Art. The two artists shared an interest in manual work that resulted in the construction of technological components for artworks as well as a decompartmentalized approach to interactivity. A description of works presented within the exhibition follows.

The catalogue for "David Rokeby" includes two author contributions. In "Between Chaos and Order: The Garden and the Computer in the Work of David Rokeby," Su Ditta relates Rokeby’s work to a garden, a space inciting both action and contemplation. She tracks Rokeby’s career path, describing emblematic works created since the eighties. She separates projects exploiting sound and language (Very Nervous System [1986-2004], The Giver of Names [1991-] and n-cha(n)t [2001]) from projects concerned with the boundaries between computer vision, controlled by a function of analytical observation, and human vision (Watch [1995], Seen [2002] and Taken [2002]). Other works (Machine for Taking Time [2001] and [2002]) are linked to complex devices in which a real site coexists simultaneously with several representations of the site captured at different times of the day or year. In "Interpolation: The Method of David Rokeby," Sara Diamond reports on Rokeby’s technological and aesthetic research while evoking artistic projects situated between technical application (software, protocol) and artistic intervention. Diamond emphasizes the concept of invention in Rokeby’s work and the manner in which he himself creates the technological tools required to produce his works so that these tools then exist independently (Very Nervous System, The Giver of Names). The author analyzes this last work from the perspective of a theoretical reflection on the differences between strictly human faculties and computer functions for capturing and analyzing data. Finally, Diamond comments on the artist’s use of sophisticated surveillance tools whereby the immersion in the image and the aesthetic experience are often accompanied by a paradoxical update of the technology’s essentially coercive functions.

Vincent Bonin © 2004 FDL

(1) Document published in conjunction with Machine Life, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, Ont., Canada, February 6 to April 18, 2004, curated by Jan Allen. Participating artists: Lois Andison, Doug Back, Peter Flemming, Simone Jones, Lance Winn, Jeff Mann, David Rokeby, Norman White. Also accompanying the exhibition Norm's Robots, Koffler Gallery, Toronto, Ont., Canada, May 13 to June 27, 2004, curated by Carolyn Bell-Farrell. Participating artist: Norman White.

(2) Document published in conjunction with David Rokeby, Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Ont., Canada, June 25 to October 17, 2004, curated by Su Ditta. Participating artist: David Rokeby.