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A Description of the Equator and Some Otherlands_16th World Wide Video Festival -Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1998

A Description of the Equator and Some Otherlands_16th World Wide Video Festival -Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1998

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A DESCRIPTION OF THE EQUATOR AND SOME OTHERLANDS installed in the 16th World Wide Video Festival Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1998. Along with this work, Philip Pocock was invited to speak at the symposium associated with the event and provided anecdotes and quotes concerning the software and aesthetic mix of his collaborative Internet art project (involving user-generated media, tagging, php, msql, linux back in 1997 which has since developed into Web2.0)

A DESCRIPTION OF THE EQUATOR AND SOME OTHERLANDS is a travel-as-art-as-information collective cyber-roadmovie through Equatorial Africa and Pacific Rim that muses: "Where is the Equator on Motherboard Earth?".

The 'EQUATOR' project directed by Philip Pocock involved core co-authors Florian Wenz, Udo Noll and Felix Stephan Huber, Gruppo A12 and was produced by Philip Pocock for Documenta X with funds from Documenta GmbH, IBM Germany, Academy Schloss Solitude and External Affairs Canada.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE EQUATOR AND SOME OTHERLANDS installed in the 16th World Wide Video Festival Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1998. Along with this work, Philip Pocock was invited to speak at the symposium associated with the event and provided anecdotes and quotes concerning the software and aesthetic mix of his collaborative Internet art project (involving user-generated media, tagging, php, msql, linux back in 1997 which has since developed into Web2.0)

A DESCRIPTION OF THE EQUATOR AND SOME OTHERLANDS is a travel-as-art-as-information collective cyber-roadmovie through Equatorial Africa and Pacific Rim that muses: "Where is the Equator on Motherboard Earth?".

The 'EQUATOR' project directed by Philip Pocock involved core co-authors Florian Wenz, Udo Noll and Felix Stephan Huber, Gruppo A12 and was produced by Philip Pocock for Documenta X with funds from Documenta GmbH, IBM Germany, Academy Schloss Solitude and External Affairs Canada.

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A lecture delivered by Philip Pocock
at the 16
th
World Wide Video Festival. Amsterdam. 17.09.1998
My Iirst connection to this 'node' here was an email Irom Walter van der Cruiisen. one oI today's
organizers. all oI whom I'd like to thank on behalI oI the group. Florian Wenz. Udo Noll and Felix
Huber. Ior this chance to participate. and to present "A Description oI the Equator and Some
OtherLands." which is running in auto-pilot mode on the screen. Walter described the Irame Ior this
aIternoon in his mail. and I quote:
dav2 - on game and plav within the narrative structures of video. Nonlinear storvtelling is verv
much part of the historv of video art. How has this historv developed and what are the influences of
computergames. television and internet?
The Iirst thought that came to my mind was George Lucas. He has said that game and play within
the narrative structure oI Iilm can't work. because the psychologies oI gaming and narrative are too
diIIerent. A narrative structure. in his view. requires passive viewing. the audience surrendering its
Iate to an author's plot. Gaming is the opposite. It requires active participation. Those who partake
steer their Iates in concert with Iortune and others who play the game. Interactive cinema. the Iusion
oI narrative and gaming. Lucas said. is like trying to read a book and play ball with your kid at the
same time. It can't work. Lucas' contention may have been tongue-in-cheek on his part. but it
reveals our general commitment to a star-shaped system Ior distributing culture. not only cinema.
but also the books and art that we consume.
The maps oI such star systems look like this: one brilliant author moves to the center or is placed
there by the rest oI us gathering around Ior mass consumption. A promise oI transcendence is the
attractor. This can be a desire Ior personal insight or Ior public Iame. Some. the ambitious ones. try
to get as close to the center as possible. Others. the loners. look on Irom a distance. and one day
may become attractors themselves. The star-shaped system produces all sorts oI cultural icons -
movie stars. art stars. and so on.
It's the shepherd-and-Ilock paradigm. Movie-going. especially in America where ads are banned
beIore the spectacle begins. reminds me oI church-going. Both rely on the production oI aura to be
aIIective. Movie theaters. churches. temples. and I might as well add some governmental buildings
and museums as well. use this attribute oI the star-shaped system. the potential Ior aura which.
when it works. envelops visitors in an atmosphere oI sanctity. We worship it. Any contents in the
space which get coated with aura share a unity and we say the movie holds up. or the show holds
together.
Now step back Ior a moment and picture a galaxy oI all these stars. Substitute obiect-with-aura Ior
star and we arrive at the galactic strategies oI installation art and mega-shows like a Documenta. We
get lost. we remain star-struck. when we don't involve ourselves and build connections. tracing lines
between obiects-with-aura to generate our own meaning. In these physical maniIestations oI what is
going on in Net-Art. aesthetic meaning is not only received Irom a single obiect in our midst. It's
derived between obiects and their receiver(s.) Call it participatory aesthetics. OI course. iI the
maiority oI obiects lack aura. we remain in the dark.
Still. the permutations oI connecting stars in a galaxy remain mind-boggling. The numbers are
endless. iI we approach this task as consumers and not players. Out oI a cloud oI stars. an entire
zoology oI Iorms may appear and disappear not only to us but in us and with us when we take part
in the construction oI aesthetic meanings. Otherwise we Iall victim to a pathology oI hyper-
consumption. Overload sets in. We get nervous and simply withdraw.
Drawing lines between the stars in search oI meaningIul conIigurations is what early astrologers
did. |It's what the polymath Alexander von Humboldt did in his "Cosmos" and I mention him here
as he the eccentric Iocus Ior our next hypermedia proiect that hopeIully will become a reality next
year iI we get the Iunding to develop a new 'narrative engine.'| Astrology was an early metaphor Ior
cyberspace. which is spinning oII hyper-culture. global culture. and a dark hyper-conIusion among
adherents to the shepherd-and-Ilock paradigm Ior cultural production. Astrology mapped the stars.
Astronomical number oI conIigurations were reduced to a consumable level. Although astrologers
may have intended this Ior our active participation. most oI us consume a birthright to Iate
halIheartedly Irom the back pages oI the daily press. Astrology didn't stop at mythologizing single
planets and stars. It worshipped connectivity. It looked at the bigger picture. the meta-content oI star
Iormations. Alchemists and some Natural Philosophers have added to their zoomorphic picture
book. And it hasn't stopped yet. In virtual communities not only are new creatures appearing. Each
represents a player. Mythology is getting more personal. Star patterns are Ialling Irom the sky on-
line.
But they remain on the screen at the movies and on a raised platIorm in a church or mosque. where
'worshipers' Ilock to their seats in obedience. with the promise oI transcendence. Once seated the
Ilock remains still and silent throughout the spectacle's unIolding. Body movement is reduced to
shuIIling Ieet or shiIting a bit oI weight.
At the movies. it's as though our heads were clamped in a brace and our gaze remotely controlled. It
may be a relishing thought. Zoom out. says the author. and all eyes in the theater back up. Look
away Irom the action. and we do. without moving a muscle. Fade to black and all eyes close while
they stay open. It is only through this consensual submission to an author's visual and i might add
aural authority. that the narrative may achieve enough authority to take hold oI the Ilock. produce
aura. and IulIill its promise oI transcendence.
These are some rules set Iorth in an author's game oI linear narrative. a game that invariably begins
where most games are supposed to end- with a giving-up. Let go. get passive. and iI aura is
produced. you may see stars. and identiIy with a dream. But 'to identiIy' doesn't mean 'to be
identical.' It's still somebody else's dream.
I remember Dorothy's look oI dismay when the curtain opened on her dream in the Emerald City
and she saw the Wizard pulling her strings. She had hoped to participate in the dream actively and
not merely subiect herselI to his. I mean. how else would she ever weather her way back home?
Author cinema and video art have oIten empathized with Dorothy. at times interrupting our passive
viewing by revealing their wizardry in provocative ways. making audiences aware that they are in at
least two spaces at once. Narrative spaces we virtually move through both in Iront oI and behind
their cameras. or even in them. In installation situations add the space we really move through with
other 'players.'
The spread between engagement in a narrative and the game oI encountering another is reduced on
the Internet by the absence oI any commanding center and. thereIore. the dissolution oI the shepard-
and-Ilock paradigm into a consensual Iree-Ior-all. Okay. I know. it's because nobody. no body. is
really there. On-line we are not present. we re-present ourselves. This is how the stars Iall Irom the
sky and how. through a web oI words and images. we may pick some up. diIIerent ones at diIIerent
moments and reconIigure ourselI as some creature we may never have glimpsed in a zoo or the
zodiac.
And yes it's all 100° Iake. The adult skepticism we inherit Ior participating in anything Iake. has
the consolation on-line oI allowing us to know people and things we wouldn't in RL (Real LiIe.)
Not even brieIly. Identity is a construct oI preIerences on-line. As proiection it is somehow
protection. opening whatever creature we present to encounters.
This is hardly possible in the hard space oI museums and movie theaters. You can see everybody.
Participation there. and I mean a verbal exchange with someone. not a phenomenological
experience in the presence oI others. is embarrassing most oI the time. It always seems Iorced. or
artiIicially induced. because you're really there! Don't scapegoat Iilmmakers or video artists Ior
Ialling short in attempts to get participatory. blame the star-shaped system oI distribution to which
they are at least technically and architecturally bound.
In Iact it was video artists and theorists who were Iirst to my knowledge to point to a desire.
however unIulIilled in their day. Ior a participatory aesthetic in art and media. For instance.
community television programming was. Ior example. their idea early on. That turned into cable TV
and now we have Ted Turner. Another star is born.
Another crude instance Ior a Iuture participatory Iorm oI video. one now adapted on the Net in a
much less spectacular Iashion. was amusingly Iormulated by the very perspicacious Nam June Paik
in a letter to Billy Kluever dated 1965. and I quote:
"Somedav a more elaborate scanning svstem ... will enable us to sense much more information at
single carrier band. f.i. audio. video. pulse. temperature. moisture. pressure of vour bodv combined.
If combined with robot made of rubber. form expandable-shrinkable cathode rav tube. and if it is
´une petite robotine´ ... please tele-fuck'"
The same year that brought us TCP IP. which brought us the Internet as we know it. back in 1977.
an early video art anthologist and capricious art critic. Gregory Battcock. proscribed the impact oI
the Internet upon aesthetics almost to a 'T.' And I quote him now Irom his Iantastic and little-known
essay "The Aesthetics oI Boeing:"
"Ultimatelv. when the environment becomes totallv portable. we shall find that transportation will
no longer involve movement. It will serve as concept. A maior result of all this. and there have been
numerous indications that the result is alreadv upon us. is the final diminishing of those critical
faculties outlined bv the connoisseurs--those principles of art appreciation. There will be a shift in
aesthetics from attention to the art obiect to attention to the receiver."
This shiIt in aesthetics takes place on "The Equator." We travel to the equator in Kenya. Uganda and
on the Java Sea but that is not "The Equator" we describe in what turns out to be a group
autobiographical web oI movies. Call it a 'hyper-movie.' When we perIorm along the earth's
equator. we are actually linking ourselves back to "Arctic Circle" an earlier 'double travel' or travel-
as-art proiect we made along the roadways in the remote wilderness oI the Canadian North while
traveling the networks on the crowded global InIobahn.
What we mean by our "Equator" is a correspondence. It is the shiIting and provisional
correspondence that happens between the core authors. other authors. in a sort oI loose aIIiliation
with each other and our audience oI users. Actually the line oI distinction between roles gets blurred
in this equation and that's the real story. What you see on the screen are traces oI that.
There is nowhere you can be that is both north and south at the same time. The earth's equator is a
no man's land. narrower than any space between counties. Our "Equator" is equally virtual. Like the
big circle or any circle. our "Equator" has no beginning and no end. It's a never-ending story. That's
the quandary I have up here. How do I describe our tangled "Equator" without your participation?
16
th
World Wide Video Festival, Stedelijk Museum
Amsterdam 1998
It's only possible through metaphor. The Iirst one I thought oI was pretty stupid. but this is actually
email. here goes.
It was late and my stomach was grumbling as I pondered how to untangle our hyper-narrative
artwork into a narrative context like this. I saw myselI sitting at a dinner table staring at a dish oI
spaghetti all tangled up. trying to Iigure out how to slurp up a Iew strands oI it Irom this big bowl oI
bolognese. You know you can't. or at least I can't. without getting at least a splash oI sauce on my
chin.
Then it dawned on me. The best way to begin to untangle Ior you what we have spent a year or
more weaving would be to turn to another author and especially agent40 Ior help. I'll read now the
body oI one email he sent me:
06. Aug.. night. Singapore.
Back at the Source of the poles. and the man of untutored idealitv who happens to be an albatross.
Yet. in saving this. I think so. He can´t be worse than before definitelv. There is a necessarv
condition for everv cognition that (is given us bv the evangelist) rides on his pallid horse. (Tuesdav)
PURSUED. Finding in the powers of cognition - that is. if that man´s serious. You Offended? Sorrv.
i go off-line. please tell me vour tired eves. accompanied bv his friend and mechanic Rolf
Wùtherich. who survived the accident driving. I decide to go to bed now. ... go for a moment till
zoological hallucinations set in. I stepped back and wondered what Other species could be sleeping
or stalking below the treetops that carpeted our view. Perhaps for once a blue Jolvo. Uneasv faces.
A voluminous package on the roof. It wasn´t going anvwhere. the driver couldn´t even get its tires
spinning.
Agent40 has a way oI untangling the strands oI hypertext stored on our "Equator." As narrative it
only gets more tangled up in itselI. tripping. perhaps delightIully. on words. as they unravel into
plaintext. Agent40 knows only too well that transcribing hypertext-to-plaintext is Iraught. absurd.
akin to using Ariadne's Thread as a Iishing line instead oI using it as intended. to navigate one's way
through an endless maze oI text. Caught any kingIish. agent40?
Agent40 is playing a game oI Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey with me in this mail. The rules are
diIIerent though than the standard B-line to the ass's ass expected oI the blindIolded player.
Agent40's Donkey rules are more like Burroughs' rules Ior the Cut-Up: It's not how close the tail
gets to that red eye back there. it's not about the usual anatomy oI narrative. it's what the damned
creature looks like in the end. with a tail on a hooI and another out in leIt Iield. Agent40's 'tale'
might miss its mark and still hit. Don't get me wrong. there's no more luck here than in any game.
except chess maybe. Agent40's narrative is no accident. The source - mainly the script. chat and
email Irom "The Equator" - and its destination - our memories - are actively involved.
Who is agent40? She. he. or it goes by other aliases. '/me' or 'Mr.King.' all oI whom you may meet
in "The Equator" chatroom or get mail Irom iI you like. Agent40 relates closely to key attributes
attached to one core author on "The Equator" - a cyberpunk with an Internet server called 'king.'
whose nickname in chat is sometimes /me. and whose alias in "OtherLands" is agent04. an anagram
Ior agent40. Case closed! Agent04. who I call Udo in RL (Real LiIe.) is apparently agent40. But
he's not. Agent40 is none oI the authors on "The Equator." and all oI us as well!
Agent04 sampled and hacked the code that drives agent40's 'narrative engine.' Yes. it's an it. the
system talking. a chatbot as Gesamtautor. To ensure a modicum oI literacy agent40's vernacular is
salted sometimes with other literature. real literature. early on with segments Irom Melville's "Moby
Dick." To assure a respectable quotient oI absurdity. agent40's tongue has been doped at times with
doses oI Kant's "Critique oI Pure Reason." Actually. agent40 will eat any word put on its plate. in
any language. as long as it's plain ascii. Agent40 will eat your words.
Agent40 plays weatherman or weathergirl on "The Equator." It reports on travel conditions. stormy
relationships. whatever authors do. and that includes our users in "OtherLands." II the general
climate is poetic. then agent40 waxes poetry. II the map changes to AIrica then agent40 will report
the weather Irom there. as it happens. When conversation gets hot a lot. Agent40's temperature
rises. But you'll have to get active. read between the lines. to know what the weather's doing in
"OtherLands."
"The Equator" is a mesh oI broken stories. That's a lot like everyday liIe. And it's a Iundamental
principle in hypernarrative media. Our lives. as we make our way through and get to know them in
memory. are about how we inhabit and connect the spaces. the intervals between so many broken
stories and Iragments oI experience. Hypernarrative media too happens in the spaces inbetween
broken narratives. The diIIerence between our idea oI liIe and hypernarrative being. that the Iormer
we inhabit. and the latter inhabits us.
Misconnections. distractions and interruptions are an unavoidable part oI liIe. They are an integral
part oI our hypernarrative "Equator." Cinema too. it has been said. exists in the cut. Just reduce a
movie to its essence: black screen. white screen. to imagine this. However in a straight narrative
like a movie. sequences are set by an author. In a 'hypermovie' like "OtherLands¨ a set oI sequences
is negotiated by content. and that content is both author and audience. It's experimental. Access is
open to an author's cauldron. Everyone can add their own ingredients. It's like placing a big
container on a public square. It's contents commingle. The author's contents may get buried by the
users'.
Broken stories oIten means shattered egos. Everyone melts into a hypernarrative. There are no
islands on our "Equator." Every story you see on the screen is broken. but every author is linked.
Egos are present but balanced. not equal but equivocative. An author may be identiIied somewhere
in some "OtherLand" but overall no one has a Iixed identity. Our "Equator" maps the
correspondence between identities within an individual and amongst them. in their mutual midst.
For example. iI an author. or a user. starts a storyline. holds it. and no Iishes bite. it's Iate is a dead
end. seldom to be traveled. It's a better strategy then to iump into somebody else's pond. You have a
better chance oI surviving in "OtherLands" that way. iI you don't want to be talking only to
yourselI.
On this level "The Equator" is about role playing. group dynamics and a readiness Ior artistic
collaboration. II it is any consolation Ior the Iear that. Iacing a liquid SelI. a demon. poses that
intransigent part oI ourselI we call ego. then hypertext and liquid Selves. two principles at work in
"OtherLands." are entwined with the roots oI language as they grew.
Stories have always been woven. Text means literally 'a weaving oI words' a Iabric. a texture. a
textile. text on a page. It was only a predictable iump that the preIix hyper-. meaning 'over' or
'above' would some day be added to the word-stem 'text.' Hypertext is not radically diIIerent Irom
text. It renders it transparent and makes reading between the lines a bit easier. It lends a depth at
times. adds speed to some thoughts. and can slow us down in its labyrinth.
On page 346 oI my Pocket Webster dictionary - about the only book I know that doesn't need page
numbers - I Iound a Iew words listed with the preIix 'hyper-.' Hypertext wasn't there. I noticed.
however. that all oI the words that were. shared a certain sick quality. Hyperacid (my stomach!).
hyperactive (my childhood!). hypercritical (sorry!). hypersensitive (sorry again!!). hypertrophy (yee
gad!). hypervitaminosis (what is that!) - all biological or psychological pathologies. Is it any
surprise then that the word hypertext (coined by Ted Nelson in 1965.) hypermedia (coined Ior the
Aspen Movie Map videodisc in 1978). and more recent words like hypercinema. hypernarrative.
hyperreality. hyperspace and hypervideo would be viewed by that rational part in us as being. iI not
pathological. a neurotic condition oI culture?
Actually a lot oI Internet-related vernacular is drug-related. Cyberspace was deIined by its identiIier
Gibson as being 'a consensual hallucination.' We're on-line. like we're on TV or on the phone. both
valid Iorms oI perceptual hallucination. I mean is that person on the TV or in it? And where are we
when we speak on the telephone? II you're on-line or on drugs. you're a 'user.' II you're on a lot.
you're 'addicted.' Webstock is replacing Woodstock. and potheads are becoming netheads. I mean
what is going on!
It has something to do with our pigeonholing hallucination as a pathology and mainly drug-induced
when it is not. It also has something to do with the Internet's root being in youth culture and
stemming Irom its historical 'youthIul' precedents as Iar back as 'Beat' culture. when artists worked
together in a text-based way. Iormed loose aIIiliations as long as the network oI highways could get
them together.
I think the link between Net culture and Beat culture is very close on a number oI levels. This
doesn't take me back to where I want to go beIore ending. But that I guess is a quality I've picked up
Irom hypertext. Anyway. the Beats worked a lot with words. They also worked together at times.
and showed up in each other's work. They were lotech hackers. trying to crack what they called the
'military industrial complex' that they Ielt was impinging on their personal right oI expression. They
exhibited and read their works preIerably in nontraditional spaces. And the word chosen by the
druggie Herbert E. Huncke whose name Ior the movement 'Beat' stuck has a conIused but
interesting etymology. Beat means downtrodden. driven underground. It has a punky connotation as
in 'beat up.' It shares a vibe with the music oI the times. cool iazz. It has a zen quality and also.
according to Jack Kerouac. an angelic one as in the word 'beatitude.' All these qualities can be Iound
at the roots oI Net culture.
In my attempt to sign oII here. let me pick up on the 'angelic' quality thread. Paul Virilio speaks Ior
youth culture both then and now when he said in interview: "Our desire |is| to be angels. not to die.
but to be dead. and be omnipresent and out oI time." Welcome to "OtherLands".
Finally. iI Jean Luc Godard can can say that Iilm is "liIe at 24 Irames a second." and iI Les Levine
can say television and video are "time moving through space." then let 'me/we' say that hypermedia
is "tracing lives at the speed oI light as they move across intervals between time and space." Okay.
I'll keep working on that. Thank You.
Compiled 1998 Philip Pocock

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