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23.11.2010 18:54
#63
Scotty, Calling for Scotty
Before I undertake a brief exploration of #cloudrumble56 and Hauz-i-Shamsi I should have you know that this curator-writer was not physically present at the performance sites of either work. My engagement with the works has been strictly virtual. In that, no quick visits to Delhi and Mehrauli were made. I sat at my laptop then, just as I am sitting before it now.
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Scotty, Calling for Scotty



Prologue:
“Conversion of time into space,” wrote Edward Said.
“Opening up of chronological sequence into landscapes the better to be able to see, experience, grasp and work with time...” he further explained.1

Retort / Disclaimer:
What if fictional chronological sequences open into virtual landscapes and we are still able to see, experience, grasp and work with time...?

Backstory:
Soon after the formation of the Artist Placement Group (APG) a plot was hatched. It was decided that James Montgomery “Jimmy” Doohan would infiltrate the ranks of the science fiction series Star Trek. It wasn’t entirely fortuitous that APG and Star Trek were launched in the same year; the year was 1966.

Barbara Steveni, John Latham, Barry Flanagan, Ian Breakwell, David Hall, Jeffrey Shaw, Andrew Dipper, David Toop, Stuart Brisley and Hugh Davies. Jimmy was one of the group, but his name was never mentioned. He was what some would call a silent partner. But truth be told, the role he performed within Star Trek, as an under-the-radar member of APG, was anything but silent. In his manifestation as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, aka the chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise, Scotty was to create currency for certain terms and consequently ideas namely – transporter, dematerialisation, rematerialisation and transporter accident.

APG was predicated on iconoclasm. Through it the group was pre-empting the arrival of commercial high stakes, which have since made a compelling case for art as a luxury product. The icon was aborted in favour of an early relational aesthetic flavour and space dissolved into the (T) frame. The APG’s effort to demystify the creative process2 hinged on transforming the artist into an Incidental Person, whereby the artist as a non-specialist was introduced into specialist environments such as those of factories and psychiatric facilities. This initiative encouraged the swapping and enriching of perspectives on either end. With the exception of the Inno 70 Art and Economics, Hayward Gallery, London, 1971, AGP presented its processes and interactions through the interface of public discussions and seminars. Inno 70 Art and Economics was a poorly received washout, as visitors found themselves grappling with reports, interviews and other such, which emerged from the residencies of the Incidental Persons in question.

The developments at APG were never divorced from major development of the time. By the mid-1960s, with the arrival of the 3G computers, the wave had picked up promisingly, but only just. It was still some years before the infant internet3 was born; it turned 40 in October 2009. But that wasn’t going to stop APG.
Outside of Star Trek the technology of the transporter, vis-à-vis the transportation of atoms, continues to remain hypothetical. But the transportation of bits is another matter – pun, so very much intended – altogether. APG was already thinking of the transporter as something that could move bits. And in turn art. In transporter, dematerialisation, rematerialisation and transporter accident, Doohan, otherwise known as Scotty, helped launch a provisional vocabulary, which has since transformed into the subliminal bedrock of the republic of networks. Although the Internet has ingested and internalised this vocabulary, even today, within the context of visual arts these terms often retain the intergalactic sheen of science fiction terminology. APG wanted these terms and ideas to tie up with the visual arts and in doing so create inroads into the unapologetically iconic times that have become ours.

With Beam Me Up_Project India it is our intention to mark a critical point in the continuum of the time-base or (T) frame of the previously discussed concepts. Latham proposed the time-event paradigm over the immensely favoured space-object paradigm, which, incidentally/ significantly, continues to maintain a grip on the arts. Through our project we intend to gauge the delta unit – defined by Latham as “unit of attention” – these idea have thus far generated, or not. In APG theory, delta unit, stalks an idea across its (T) frame, and follows among other things, its longevity and how it affects or alters everything – from people through other ideas – it comes in contact with.

Beam Me Up_Project India invited two artists, Abhishek Hazra and Vishal Rawlley, to respond and to gauge Scotty’s lexicon. Through their net-anchored artworks the artists will attempt to rehabilitate Scotty, by undertaking the broader move of attempting the continued emancipation of art from the adamantine tentacles of the object and the space.

Scotty’s updated lexicon:

Transporter:
1. Shot puts datagrams into the deep end of the virtual pool.
Synonyms include computer, server, Internet, WWW, programmers, hackers, surfers, voyeurs, cybrarians, etc.

Dematerialisation:
It is the first condition of the virtual space. Transporters encourage the disembodied state. They thrive on everything that is divested of materiality. Artworks autochthonous to the CPU, as also art with studios and streets for provenance will find that the World Wide Web is always the eager beaver waiting to absorb them and release them like pixel pheromone, to which will get attracted the relentless cybrarian keepers/ followers of search algorithms.

Rematerialisation:
As it happens this is one entry in the lexicon, which needs more percolation time, and as such still remains within the realms of Star Trek and/ or science fiction.

Transporter accident:

Each day there are more of these than one would like. From the humble power failure to the persistent HTTP 404 error. From the sudden demise of a website to the carpal tunnel syndrome stricken finger. From the last mile to the crashed hard drive.
*This text in its first avatar was lost to a hard drive crash. The untowardly demise was received with great despair and grit teeth. It would interest the reader to know that this second avatar has absolutely nothing in common with the first. The text of that first essay has been lost forever.*

Middle:

If you are a true child of popular culture then you ought to have uttered/ exclaimed, “Beam me up, Scotty!” on more than one occasion. Over the decades Scotty, so to speak, has variously beamed up and happily let in 1,966,514,816 people – at last count – across the world. These fine netizens, of course, haven’t had a clue that stealthy Scotty had a role to play in them finding their newfound access to previously unheard of public domains.

Net art endeavours to nurture new public spaces and fora, but the virtual realm is not just any public space. With virtual portals not within the reach of all, this public space is as yet elitist, to say the least. Unaffordable technology, tentative infrastructure, electricity and much more contribute equally to the inaccessibility.
*Not everyone’s Finnish; ergo, not everyone gets 1mb broadband access as a legal right*
In time, however, one hopes that anyone and everyone will be able to play flâneur and stroll porous online territories.

But of course, there’s more to our computer than just its wannabe egalitarianism. The machine and its extensions such as the Internet and the WWW have fastly transformed into the fulcrum of epistemological debate. Through human–computer interaction it occasions, net art, such as beam me up, tackles enigmatic riddles vis-à-vis cyberspace, artificial intelligence, endophysics and the like. In this vastly vast virtual, representation and communication exist purely within the framework of snaking networks. Through protracted exposures to this charged domain, both Abhishek Hazra and Vishal Rawlley have familiarised themselves with the crinkles the big iron can steam out, and those it thus far hasn’t.

Abhishek and Vishal combine the performative and the conceptual in #cloudrumble56 and Hauz-i-Shamsi, their works for Beam Me Up_Project India. In order to do so, they employ seemingly new fangled hardware and software, from automated attendants to microblogging. But let yourself not get caught up in the farcical provisionality of the new. Despite the employment of certain thingamajigs both the artists return full circle to linger on the key notions of representation and communication.

Before I undertake a brief exploration of #cloudrumble56 and Hauz-i-Shamsi I should have you know that this curator-writer was not physically present at the performance sites of either work. My engagement with the works has been strictly virtual. In that, no quick visits to Delhi and Mehrauli were made. I sat at my laptop then, just as I am sitting before it now. The distance never did make my relationship to the project tenuous, on the contrary it seemed fitting.

For his collaborative online performance Abhishek invited observers/ reporters to witness a performance for which he cobbled together snatches of speeches delivered by eminent scientist MN Saha (1893-1956), in his capacity as an independent candidate, at sessions of the Indian Parliament. Also included in Abhishek’s two hour-long performance were anecdotes and asides from in and around Saha’s biography.
The performance was accessible to those not present at the site via the tweets generated by the audience that peopled the closed-door performance. Significantly, the Twitter- happy audience entrusted with the task had no special anchoring in the sciences and the resultant tweets were non-linear/ layered/ completely off the mark/ zany/ precocious...

The performance’s back-story was made available beforehand. Audience – the one’s at the venue of Abhishek’s performance and those following it on twitter – weren’t entirely in the dark. All the same, one felt as though one was partaking of a game of Chinese whispers tailor-made for the Twitterati.

#cloudrumble56 attests explicitly to the multivalency and fragility of the language ecosystem. For this same reason Abhishek has, thus far, chosen to keep all visual documentation of his performative gesture off the Internet. In doing so he hoped to give the text the time it needed to breathe. Then something not entirely unprecedented happened; within less than a week the Twitter search refused to recognise #cloudrumble56. The tweets created in response to the performance were washed away by the honking tide of incoming tweets. This was followed by the unexpected demise of the tweet aggregator www.hashtags.org, which has since risen from the dead, but the tweets from before have been interred, or have they?
The case of the vanishing archive brings to the fore, until further notice, questions of ephemerality and also the faddish nature of several (online) archival strategies.

Vishal’s Hauz-i-Shamsi is a double agent with an illustrious double life. This online project, named after a reservoir in Mehrauli, has had a parallel offline existence that has been equally rich. Legend has it that in the 13th century, Prophet Mohammed – astride his winged steed, better known as the Buraq – appeared in the dreams of Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish of Delhi. In the dream, water gushed out from the spot where the Buraq’s hoof hit the ground and the Prophet asked the Sultan to build a reservoir where the Buraq’s hoof had landed. The Sultan, of course, did just that.

The Buraq did not glide into Vishal’s dreams, nothing half so dramatic happened, nope. The drama was reserved for when it was time for the Buraq to hit the waters. For his project, Vishal colluded with myth and returned the fabled creature to its lake. A larger than life Buraq – tin, spare parts, water spouting, LED lit and all – was released on the waters of the titular reservoir in Meharuli. Once afloat it performed on voice recognition, responding to voices streaming in via Skype or the phone by performing tricks like lighting up and squirting water.

Trouble is it took really long for the Buraq to hit the water and stay put. From the wings breaking off and falling into the water to the camera battery dying out; Murphy made sure Vishal was harrowed and on his toes for long. In the mean time, since the Buraq did not go online in search of a public, the public came searching and visiting the Buraq offline. In the time it took for the Buraq to jump into the waters it busily entertained the neighbourhood with its monkey business. These interactions extended to later, when the Buraq was up and about. Songs were written, drawing competitions were held, talks were conducted. The young and the adults in the vicinity of the lake were suitably enthralled.

Coda:
The lexicon and the ideas have been locomoting but largely when read in relation to the Internet. These virtual sidewalks are every bit as enticingly generous as they appear; be that as it may, they too are susceptible to cranky cracks. And try as they might the artists do trip on them every so often while they flâneur their way around.

The biggest glitch in the net and art alliance would have to be the Web’s effortless and inherent iconoclasm. Both projects by virtue of being net art were as far removed from object mania as possible. However, #cloudrumble56 – with its intriguing ingredients such as closed-door performance and vanishing text-based metadata – may appear as, if not more, teasingly imponderable as the on-going plot of fictions this humble curator has devised around APG. This and the clear absence of a visual leitmotif made Abhishek’s project particularly iconoclastic.
              Despite the mails and the alerts sent across several people missed out on accessing Abhishek’s strictly time specific – 14.00 hrs – 16.00 hrs on March 20, 2010 – collaborative online performance.
            - Oh me! Oh my! I totally forgot!
            - I don’t have a twitter account.
            - I couldn’t locate the performance online.

These were some of the excuses offered by those who didn’t hook up. Not only did the project highlight the tenuous aspects of archiving and performance but it also laid a finger on the audience’s tenuous relationship with non-iconic.

Hauz-i-Shamsi on the other hand had the endearing Buraq as its mascot. The Buraq, which happily acknowledged all callers, was a hit. As word got around, admirers Skyped and phoned repeatedly over a period of few months and stopped just short of singing, I just called to say I love you4.

Finally, a quick assessment based on the controversial and cut and dry delta unit. Although Scotty and APG have thus far not been singled out for bringing the possibilities of iconoclasm to us their diligence has made the same possible. Give the (T) frame some more and the idea can only gain ground.

Mumbai, October 2010


_____________________________________________

Notes:
1. Edward W. Said, ‘Introduction’ by Michael Wood in On Late Style (Bloomsbury, 2006)
2. Claire Bishop, ‘Rate of Return’ (Artforum, October 2010)
3. Oliver Burkeman, ‘Forty years of the internet: how the world changed for ever’
(The Guardian, October 23, 2009)
4. Stevie Wonder ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ (Motown, 1984)!!





 
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