2009-01-31 == art background...before current practice == ''ZB: What was your background and previous work before engagement in critical media art practices? ''

I studied painting and drawing (www.ocad.ca/ OCAD in Toronto). My painting career lasted about two years. Shortly after finishing my studies, that ended with one year independent studio program in Florence, I ended up in the Czech Republic where I stayed for almost two years. It was the early 90s and I was living in the south eastern part of the country. There were a lot of historical sites in ruin and many possibilities to organize art projects for and within them. I met a group of artists active since the 80s who were doing site-specific, sometimes critically engaged works. Some of the places they worked included a town called en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most Most that was to be destroyed to allow the mining of coal, in the concentration camp of Terezin and a church. With another Canadian artist and local group of Czech artists I organized a three week installation symposium in an unoccupied Baroque monastery in Moravia '''(?name of Monastery if possible as link?)'''. It was located in a town that had been almost completely emptied after the war when most of its citizens were forced out from the town because they were Sudeten German. In addition to its designed function, the monastery had also served as a bunker, a mushroom farm, wine cellar, german school, hospital and storage place for the part of the town's archive. The archive was still there and contained radiation suits, gas masks, may day flags and files outlining citizens' political profiles. Artists and performers from countries throughout West and former-East Europe and Canada were invited to come to the monastery and create works that in some way responded to the political, historical or architectural information of the site, and within any of the site's 100 empty rooms.

Later on I traveled to Russia and stayed in St. Petersburg for one month, hanging around a squat that contained, amongst many things, a gallery connected to a bar that would have exhibitions each only lasting a day. I was invited to created a work for the gallery and created an installation of assembled objects and text from a derive that I took through the city for a period of 48 hours. One year later, in 1995, I organized exhibition of four artists, from Canada and Croatia '''(?names as link?)''', and one performance group from Norway within a synagogue in Prague. I was one of the artists in the exhibition and developed a site-specific installation for it.

So I think that these experiences of interacting within different environments and with different people provided the background for how I work now. When I finally arrived back in Canada, The transition was particularly difficult for me. I didn't have similar possibilities for making the kind of work that I had been doing in Europe. It took me several years before I started to find my way again when I started to work with live video, telepresence and performance. This started in 1998.

== contexts/processes of development == ''ZB: In what processes/contexts you develop your artistic practice?''

I use participatory performance, live installation and outdoor projection as '''urban interventionist strategies''' that explore the ontologies of hybrid space created through the overlapping of communication and audio visual networks with the built spaces of the city. These projects involve working within different locations, social and cultural contexts and are the direct results of occupying these spaces and cultivating these exchanges. Therefore it is very important for me to spend time in these locations and basically 'be there'. I use different processes such as walking and conversation coupled with the theoretical exploration as my research. Essentially what I do is occupy spaces. Irit Rogoff uses the term 'inhabitation' to describe the different modes of occupying and performing location. These processes are not about arriving at fixed meanings or a fixed identity of a fixed place but instead thinking in terms, again her term, of 'relational geographies'. That place is a very complex layering of the local and translocal, of buildings and networks, flows of information, capital and migration, culture, politics, race, economics, history, etc. So it partly about 'there' but how it is also related to another 'there', and so on. Also not everybody has a similar experience of place. I prefer therefore to think in terms of catalyzing spaces to allow for different relations and meanings to unfold. Of performing space.

== ...inspiration/methods... == ''ZB: Do you get moved/inspired by social issues than engage in interacting with environment and people or have other methods (which)?''

As soon as you start to work with technology and media, the social and political become inherently part of the discussion and practice. When I'm talking about the overlapping of the informational and the built, I could also be talking about the technological and the social.

One way to think is how networks are ubiquitous and merged with physical environments that are socially codified. For example, think the WLAN or wifi that you use in a cafe. Because it is wireless, the cafe environment becomes immersed in connectivity. Therefore the space created by the technologically enabled transmission is merged with the socially codified environment of the cafe. This creates and interesting hybridity, especially when you consider that there are social interactions happening within the cafe, with set customs and rituals, while at the same time there is what is being enacted over the network with similar but also very distinct protocols for exchange. Not to mention the protocols for appropriate use of a wireless network.

Or to think about the heterogeneity of the information landscape that is created by different sources, public and proprietary, commercial, personal, recreational, military, each with individual concerns of ownership, maintenance, power consumption, visibility and access.

The social conditions for setting up the public and private and how these divisions break down when our spaces are awash in transitivity. The control of and increasing privatization of public space, how architectures of control affect the body.

How global events impact the local. Which was my question when I did A20 '''(?link?)''', an online map created through the culmination of conversations and discussions that I had with different people in Quebec City around a very violent protest that took place in the city for the FTAA Summit of Americas and the wall that was put up to keep people out. These conversations took place as I walked around the former wall and with people that I would simply meet on the street.

So, essentially I am interested in the overlapping of the technological and the social and also interested in the complex layering of different social issues that form that environment and affect the people that live there. I also find people infinitely interesting and their stories inspiring.

== surveillance/observation dichotomy? ==

''ZB: Is there a fine (ethical?) line between survailance and observation? where does one become another?''

According to the description given by dictionary software on my computer, surveillance is 'close observation of a suspected spy or criminal'. whereas observation involves 'the action or process of observing something or someone carefully in order to gain information'. Both involve the process of careful monitoring but with different intent. Most of the surveillance in operation I would consider to be mostly about observation but what makes it surveillance is that it is placed with premise of crime prevention. One fine ethical line is that the camera is not observing a criminal per se but the potential for criminal action, which makes everybody potentially a criminal. John E. McGrath in his book www.routledge.com/0415275385 'Loving Big Brother' theorizes that what the camera is actually monitoring is a potential death. This is what makes an image of a sleeping child so unsettling. That there is a potential of witnessing some form of harm to this child, somebody smothers it with a pillow, molests it, kidnaps it, or it simply dies in its sleep. When we observe a surveillance image (which is actually quite banal and still), we are expecting something to happen, to have something that is titillating disrupt the stillness. One of of the main questions that people ask about my work is if I have ever encountered something disturbing and what I would do about it. When I ask what I should be encountering, the answer is usually a murder, rape or somebody having sex. I find this interesting because these are already projections of what should be taking place, when most of the time nothing is happening. '''We become voyeuristic agents of titillation.''' McGrath also gives the example of how many surveillance cameras went up after 9/11, using the argument that that more data and information would prevent future attacks. Before the mediation and repeated footage of the attacks there was a brief moment when we all had a direct uninterpreted encounter with what was going on, part of which was the unforgettable image of these bodies falling from the towers. There was no journalistic mediation, just a direct encounter with death, meaning that we were having an encounter with the 'impossible possibility of our non-being', the possibility of our own deaths. So, according the McGrath, the sudden proliferation of cameras, set up to prevent future attacks, could be seen also as an attempt to understand what had happened, to understand these images of falling bodies. In order to understand, one must closely observe. So what does this become then? Is this surveillance or observation?

''ZB:For me this is mostly a matter of power politics (ownership + control + management of setup and acquired material) as well of framing of specific aesthetics (how is it framed/seen/presented and set to look 'for' or look 'at').''

== parasites & failures- limitations/inhibitions == ''ZB: In your recent essay '''(?link?)''' you refer to the word "parasite" (outside of it's biological and sociological meaning) which is used in French language as "static" and "noise" (informational interference) - quoting work "Parasite" of philosopher Michel Serres '''(?link?)'''. His differentiation of strive for design of ideal systems (which fail in practical realization) and design that embraces noise/failure for the sake of complexity and it's quality to introduce transformation, seems to be the technical core of your media practice. When do you find these technical failures useful and inspiring, when limiting and inhibiting?''

I address the familiar and limiting advertising narratives surrounding consumer (wireless) technologies and electronic objects and create alternate readings and realities about perceived function, form and location. Common technological narratives are based on the premise that technology is the solution to every problem. The value systems of these narratives are based on functionality, seamless productivity, efficiency, progress and control. Recently, on a flight to Prishtina, the words "Technology can be used to fix the mistakes that it makes" appeared on one of the plane's monitors, to describe the recent technological solutions concerning CO2 emissions on commercial jets. This points to an engineering approach towards a problem, where technology is used to fix something instead of looking at the underlying issues that have created the particular state of that society. It points to the idea that technology makes a better world. In my work, I'm interested when these '''narratives start to break down'''.

I am interested in the more complex realities that can be entered when these value systems are disrupted, by misuse of simple electronic products. This can happen by making them function in ways not intended by hacking or re-customization, or by simply exploring the unintended by-products created by their use. For example, in my work with wireless surveillance, I am interested the psychological dimensions that arise through the incidental production of images, the representation of self, the breakdown of conventional borders between the public and private, inside and outside, the relation of the body to space, and also the different relations between these video images and the built spaces of the city. Some technological gadgets already contain pathological elements in their design. For example, the gauss or EMF meter which is used to measure magnetic field strength around electrical objects, such as a computer monitor, refrigerator, lamp, etc. When I bought one, it arrived with two texts; one describing how to use it for ghost hunting, and one discussing the possible harmful effects of EMF pollution in the home or work place. In each case, the gadget itself starts to embody subversive, conspiratorial and even mythical qualities. So concerning technical failures, which are actually the failures in the narratives, I'm continually interested what complex realities arise, concerning inhabitation, ownership, permission, boundary, embodiment, from their intended or unintended use. Concerning limits I think that I speak for all artists working with media, that it's always desirable that something works when presenting something to an expectant public.

I did a lot of network performances using unstable internet connections and flaky software. So many times I would wonder why I was doing it in the first place when there were so many things that could go wrong. But this is always the charge for me. The instability of the media. And now that I'm working so much in the city. To be outside with the knowledge that I could experience failure at any moment, because my whole work is based on the transient and ephemeral. It's quite risky.

== articulation of work in/with public sphere == ''ZB: What is the relation of your media hacking (technological act) and social hacking (performative act) in the process of articulation of performance dramaturgy and/or installation setup? What made you decide to exclude more direct educational component out of performances?''

In order to communicate the relation of media, body and the city I have chosen to articulate this through performative action, by performing a space. This takes the form of various urban interventions, outdoor projections, installations and tours or walks. The explanatory/educational component is not always directly present but still there. For example, with "Life: A User's Manual" I would offer no explanation of what was going on and decided to perform silently. I felt that if I opened up the possibility that people would ask questions, then it would start to focus on the technological aspect of the process and not allow other things to come in.

I also like to think about the transfer of information in the form of gossip. To allow for multiple meanings and interpretations of the event, both at the moment that it was happening as well as what happens afterwards. Because it was very apparent that this was a live image and that it was coming from somewhere nearby, it wasn't really important to know exactly how it was working on a technological level but that this live image was part of that urban environment. This proved the catalyst for several conversations that would occur around me. A dialogue would occur within the audience itself.

I get invitations to talk about my work and have used these as opportunities to disseminate information as lectures and seminars. I consider these more than artist talks as I also incorporate theory to contextualize the practice. I've also started to write a bit.

== art as instigator or symbolic critique == ''ZB: How do you see your art practice in terms of capacity to engage, instigate, inform or articulate opinions of public (based on reactions from audience/participants you encountered)? Do you position your work more easy in larger context of counter culture or symbolic critique within art system?''

I think I've already partly answered your question above. However, the important thing for me is that there is always an element of public engagement, some more direct than others. I think that when this happens then there opens up the possibility to inform and instigate engage. Sometimes it is very directly felt and sometimes it is not. This refers back to my gossip example which I'm actually referring to an interview with Allan Kaprow about his 'Happenings', of which very little documentation exists, where he talks about documentation as gossip.'''(!DID YOU MEAN 'gossip as documentation' here?)''' There were actually very few people at these events, but the stories that different people told about it afterwards disseminated the experience in ways that were uncontrollable. There is the experience of the performative act, but you cannot predict how it will be interpreted and/or received. On occasions I have instigated walks incorporating discussions where there has occurred a very active exchange of information between myself and audience. During 'Impakt Walk' one of the iterations of 'Life: A User's Manual', I gave up to three people video scanners and then walked with them through Utrecht looking for wireless surveillance. Although based on a shared activity of finding surveillance video, there were a lot of conversations that would occur, around urban development, privatization of space, architecture, philosophy, politics as well as personal experiences and observations, that might or might not be related to what we were doing together. The shared action of looking for something became a catalyst for a series of very interesting discussions and exchanges.

In another work, 'A20 Recall', during an artist-in-residency at La Chambre Blanche, I used the event of a very violent anti-globalization protest that occurred during The Summit of Americas in Quebec City (2001) to research the affects of the militarization of urban space created through these multinational neocapitalist events. I researched this by revisiting the sites where the protests took place and having chance encounters, interviews and conversations with different people in the city over a three week period, people in parks, street pedestrians, within homes, a group of firemen in a fire station, the concierge of the hotel where where George Bush stayed, local activists, etc.

In both 'Impakt Walk' and 'A20 Recall', I incorporated these conversations into several online maps that become reenactments of these exchanges. In 'LF:TK', a project where myself and Canadian artist Jeff Mann set up telepresence picnic parties in public locations, each intervention instigated a lot of different exchanges by both passersby and also those that would sit with us. The more time that somebody spent with us, the more information would be exchanged. In 'Friluftskino: Experiments in Open-Air Surveillance Cinema', live surveillance was intercepted and re-projected back onto city walls, transforming that space into an outdoor cinema. Chairs were laid out and people could sit and ask questions and discuss what was going on. In a recent work 'Parasitic Video Network' when I set up a wireless video installation in various public locations, an office building, a shopping mall and a park, the exchanges and encounters were very complex and multilayered and based on one's relationship to these environments, whether they were visitors or inhabitants. For example when I set up the installation in the shopping mall, I also worked there for a week, and met every single person working there, from the building manager to the salespeople to the security personnel and would communicate with everybody on a daily basis. But also make myself available a booth in the mall, to engage in whatever questions, concerns and opinions arose from my intervention. I wouldn't even consider these activities to be a symbolic critique within the art system. '''It's so much more lively out there in the city.''' And so this is where I really like to work. But once you step out there then the socio-political aspects become unavoidably a strong part of the practice.

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