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Bill Seaman

Bill Seaman, The World Generator, 1996-97
Bill Seaman was born in 1956 in Kennet, Missouri. He earned a Master of Science in Visual Studies in 1985 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. In 1999, he received a PhD from the Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts at the University of Wales for a thesis whose title accurately sums up the meaning of Seaman's artistic practice: Recombinant Poetics: Emergent Meaning as Examined and Explored Within a Specific Generative Virtual Environment. (1) He has taught in a number of institutions in Australia and the United States and is currently Head of the new Digital Media Program at Rhode Island School of Design, Graduate Studies. He has exhibited in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan and has won several international awards: a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (United States, 1987), the Siemens Stipendium at the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1994), the Ars Electronica prize (interactive art section, Linz, Austria, 1992 and 1995) and first prize at the Berlin Video/Film Festival (multimedia art section, 1995). His works may be found in numerous private and public collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Mediamuseum, Karlsruhe. Seaman is also known for his performances and linear videos such as S.HE (1983), Water Catalogue (1984), Shear (1986), Boxer's Puzzle (1986) and Telling Motions (1986).

A 1980 performance, Architectural Hearing Aids, heralded the importance which the artist would attach to the environment surrounding a work and the shock between elements of differing natures. Here, Seaman was interested in how meaning is produced, as he would be in future works. Together with Carlos Hernandez, he drove a group of participants to selected sites in and around San Francisco. At each site, the participants listened to a specially composed audio piece while looking out the rear window of the vehicle. The coming together of sound and image, somewhat reminiscent of the movie experience, turned the site into an imaginary film. By combining language, image and sound, Seaman questioned the way the imaginary is formed.

Through his various works, Bill Seaman has developed a cinematic language with the help of new technologies. In his earliest videos, the artist was already exploring arrangements of texts and images. His interactive installations of the 1990s demonstrated multiple possibilities for combinations of texts, photographs, sound tracks and film sequences, and, with the viewer's participation, constructed different forms of parallel narratives.

Several of Seaman's works exist in different versions. For example, the foundation of The Exquisite Mechanism of Shivers (1991) (Ex. Mech) is a 28-minute videotape. However, the same title also covers an installation with 10 video projections, an interactive installation, and a sound track on compact disc and CD-ROM-illustrating the artist's refusal to determine the meaning or even the form of the work, since he is more interested in the dissemination of meaning. His interactive installations are conceptual machines with a rhizome structure. Seaman takes his inspiration from Deleuze and Guattari who describe the rhizome as an arrangement “of any point to any point.” (2) In its very simplicity, this statement reflects the artist's concern for maintaining a constant fluidity in his works. In The World Generator (1996-97), the viewer is invited to construct poetic worlds in real time using a grid of interactive data with various options. The installation Passages Sets/One Pulls Pivots at the Tip of the Tongue (1995) offers thoughts on travel, with images shot in Tokyo and Karlsruhe. Travel is construed in the metaphorical sense, as well, since it is also a matter of navigation by the viewer. However, unlike most interactive works which exist and take on meaning only through interaction, here viewers can also passively contemplate the parade of images.

With tireless energy, Bill Seaman examines the shifts in meanings of words and images. He looks closely at the “zone of neighborhood,” as Deleuze and Guattari put it, between different concepts, different forms of expression, the virtual encounters that allow meaning to emerge. But in order for the encounter to take place, the artist needs a navigator. And the navigator needs some leeway, which Seaman offers by providing a release from a single point of view and meaning.

Jacques Perron © 2001 FDL

(1) Seaman, William Curtis. Recombinant poetics : emergent meaning as examined and explored within a specific generative virtual environment, 1999, 321 p. Thesis submitted for a PH.D. at CAiiA : Centre for Advanced Inquiry In the Interactive Art, Newport, Wales, United Kingdom, 1999. Includes a CD-ROM. Available at the CR+D and online:

(2) Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaux, trans. B. Massumi (Minneapolis, Minnesota and London, Ontario: University of Minnesota Press / Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1993): 21.