- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
Joshua Noble: I'm curious about the ideas of physical networks. What does a physical network mean? What do you think the near future of our physical relationship to networks and networked media holds? How will our concept of what a network is be transformed and what will drive this? Is is novelty, a reflection of possibility? Or perhaps some necessity driven by the way that our lives are changing?
Jonah Brucker-Cohen: What I mean by a "physical network" really examines the effects of bringing network connectivity into public spaces by embedding connectivity into physical objects and locations. As the technology necessary for this type of manifestation becomes smaller and cheaper, it will be easier to implement this type of embedded networking and this progression will allow for it to happen on the hobbyist level as well as in the industrial manufacturing world. The future of this form of technological relationship will be more akin to what the field of "Ubiquitous Computing" has been researching for many years. With more embedded electronics around us, such as processors and sensors that can be "painted on" to surfaces, the process of accessing networks and networked technology will be less about accessing "devices" and more integrated into our everyday lives. This type of network will become an integrated component so much that we will not have to focus our foreground attention in order to interact with them.
JN: What requirement do you see for that physical element? What does it need to do?
JBC: The physical component of my projects is mainly a way of bringing the connectivity and interaction with networks into physical spaces. Whether it is used as a "physical display" of network activity as in my PoliceState and !Alerting Infrastructure! (pictured above). projects or as a method of manipulating data coming through a network as was seen in my Crank The Web project, this component helps ground the work in a physical environment that people can both relate to and interact with on a more visceral level. Another important aspect to some of my project is to enable a system that allows people to interact both on the web and in a physical location with two separate types of interaction. An earlier project of mine from 2000 called SiteTraffic, is an example of this approach since users on the web could create compositions that were sent to a physical button in a different location, and users in the physical space could press the buttons to hear the compositions that were created online. This project is also an example of asymmetrical networked interaction where users across locations were meant to interact with the project in different ways but contribute to the overall output of the project.
JN: Are you trying to help people understand the gadgets, networks, and technological phenomena around themselves better? A piece like Remote Control Remote Control reminds me of Dunne+Rabys idea of critical design: exercises to get people thinking about the things that are around them, examine their behavior, and their relationships between those two elements.
JBC: I'm trying to make the processes used and relationships that we have with networks and networked devices more apparent and pronounced. I accomplish this with my projects by amplifying the metaphors associated with networks and their use through physical manifestations of networked interfaces. Remote Control Remote Control is an example of a consumer electronics device that attempts to uncover the implicit meaning and reason or "need" of these types of devices. It is similar to Dunne+Raby's approach in that it comments on the subtleties and social obsession with new technologies and interfaces by providing a critical viewpoint on our seemingly inherent attachment to them and the control they enable.
JN: It seems to be one of the really fundamental tactics of artwork that uses computing to remap output or data to another medium. In your case you're remapping webclicks to building damage or cellphone presence to bird calls. Is this quantification of the signal, noise, and our awareness of our participation in networked cultures something that has a particular significance to you as a material or a "content" to work with?
JBC: I don't think I'm purposely trying to remap one data to another medium, but I am interested in using electronics and physical objects to show characteristics of networks through both user input and activated output. I am interested in bringing about awareness to our dependence on networks by amplifying these elements of networks such as our connection speed, the metaphors that surround networks and their connectivity, the clichés associated with them, and how they are represented in popular culture and the media.
JN: Something I've been thinking about is the different ways that networks appear to us: people calling back and forth between apartments, traffic systems. Are there real differences between the way that networks appear in non-electronic, geographically distinct, or in more physical settings and how they appear in non-geographical spaces?
JBC: Network visualizations can take many distinct forms. From very obvious connections like the ones you describe that inhabit our daily lives and commutes, to more abstract methods using software or physical installations that try to show this use and penetration. In non-geographical spaces such as the computer screen or the Internet, the inner workings behind how and why they exist remain a bit more transparent than in physical situations. For instance, when you query a search term using Google, your search is traveling through multiple hardware configurations in many different global locations in order to access the distributed cache and database that Google collects from the web. This activity is typically transparent to the user, but when manifested in a physical way, they tend to produce stronger reactions to the viewer since their presence exists on the same level as the viewer themselves. This is apparent with one of my projects, !Alerting Infrastructure! which connects a jackhammer to a website so that when the site gets a visit, the hammer starts to physical destroy the local that the website represents. This visceral connection between online and offline visitors produces a strong reaction since its physical nature creates tension in the real space.
JN: At one point you wrote: "I am particularly interested in how networks are represented and used in everyday life. My projects focus on this use and either challenge it by altering accepted systems of use or by creating new relationships to the ways in which we perceive networks…" Do you have a goal for what this challenging of the perception of a network might result in? Are you, in a sense, advocating for any particular understanding of networks and networking?
JBC: What I meant by that statement was to inform and challenge people on the ways in which a network could be perceived and utilized. Whether that is in a work, home, or public environment, there are many possibilities for further engaging people with networks by bringing realtime information into these spaces and visualizing them in ways that bring about new connections to the data and its physical embodiment. These forms of network integration allow people to experience the Internet in different ways and also allow for artists to provide challenges to the status quo of how these systems should and are used and visualized. I'm not trying for a specific type of understanding, just one that allows for more options to be possible through installations that challenge the fundamental relationships we have with networks and their use across devices and in specific locations.
JN: Not to continue reviewing your old artist statements, but I'm interested too in this quote: "My work is never a closed system. Its nature allows people to experience it collectively and add their own perspective and interaction to create a unique relationship for each participant. " Do you then view the audience as a collaborator? Or as a consumer? Or as an interpreter of your work?
JBC: This quote had more to do with the nature of how each specific project relates to its audience and how the work becomes informed by how the audience uses and experiences it as a system. The BumpList project (pictured above) was a good example of what I meant by this. BumpList was an email list that only allowed for 6 users and "bumped" off older users when new users subscribed. The project imposed constraints upon its users enough so they had to invent ways to circumvent the underlying system in order to continue the interactions and community involvement that they created while using the project. One such shift was that users of BumpList started a "Yahoo" group for people that had been "bumped" from the list, so they could continue to chat without the constraints of BumpList. Thus users grew the project into new forms of interaction without the project explicitly telling them to do so. So in this case, the audience for the project grew into collaborators by creating other ideas which then helped us further develop the project. For some projects, I would say the audience is more of a consumer of the work, but since I frame all of my projects around fundamental questions about networks and their use, people are also interpreters of the projects as well. So in the end, my work lends itself to all three of those categorizations that you mention.
To learn more about Jonah Brucker-Cohen's work please visit coin-operated.com.