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Eyeing the interface

Teri Hoskin tries out diagnostic tools for anxiety & love in the new millennium

Teri Hoskin is an artist and writer. She lectures at the School of Information and Communication Studies, University of South Australia. She is the site editor and assembler for the Electronic Writing Research Ensemble.

Working between the ‘physical’ space of the gallery and the ‘virtual’ space of online environments is something I expect we will see more of as visual artists seek to inject some of the differences and possibilities of online environments back into the gallery. As a website Diagnostic Tools Corp.™ effectively utilises the now familiar corporate interface to offer the user an array of well plotted paths. The critical intent is quite literally stated with all the hyperbole of intrusive and marginalising www advertising. Autocratic questionnaires construct consumer profiles for your future shopping ease; banner ads flash their banal messages begging you to ‘up’ their ‘hit’ counter; the promise of all—the return of little.

The much vaunted ‘interactive interface’ (ie a form) invites the user to ‘input’ a paranoid episode to the Paranoid Poetry Generator. Text gleaned from user submissions return in the gallery as sound bytes emanating from the Paranoid Interface. This imposing black edifice reminiscent of large machines built to view small things (or Darth Varda perhaps) is replete with conspiratorial surveillance theories. The viewer climbs the black rubber clad steps and looks through a distressed-metal framed slit and beholds an eye. One could hope that this horribly beautiful eye in the centre of the inky black was actually winking, but I think it is a little more sinister than that.

Four large light box panoramas (Blueprints for Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium) are mounted on the gallery wall. The composite images aptly summon what Paul Mann in “Stupid Undergrounds” calls the “whole dumb hollow of culture.” Online they exist on a smaller scale as Quicktime VR files (Quicktime VR places the viewer [by dint of their mouse] at the pivotal point of the picture. The pivot is central). Each panorama has a sales pitch, for example “‘Technologize’ nature and ‘Naturalize’ technology with this bi-directional consciousness filter. Blur the boundaries between the two, collapse the categories and profit from the undifferentiated mess.”

“FUZZY LOVE DIAGNOSTICS…confirming that technologically enhanced love is logical and data dating is the future love vector.” The Fuzzy Love dating service for both gallery and website visitors (dis)functions differently in both spaces. Details can be entered in either environment. The gallery interface is more complex and entertaining. The prospective client can devise their own ‘image’ (depending upon their imagination as to how best to meet the eye in the eye so to speak). The snapshot then joins an array of flickering portraits of other fuzzy clients. Within firmly set paradigms (the quintessential being the assumption that net users are chiefly in search of love) one can construct an identity based on values and sexual preference. Without a net connection the gallery service fails to deliver a result. This is by design but perhaps this intention is a little overstated and unnecessary.

As an indication of how quickly things change in the domain of internet parlance, the 1997 work comes across as slightly dated. The artists’ intent in the gallery was to isolate the user and stress the solitary nature of these love match pursuits. It becomes instead a site for light relief and chat (of the flesh kind) amongst those who wish to break with the dead-end narratives of humanism’s losses represented by the other works. It is quite likely that new networks amongst gallery goers would actually be made if, charged with a wine or 2 and the encouragement of flesh world friends, you could follow up on your perfect match immediately. Perhaps now Diagnostic Tools has finished its round of gallery tours (Adelaide was its last stop after Berlin, Canada and Sydney) Fuzzy could be developed into a fully functional web dating service.

In the realm of utility Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium could be very useful for teaching. The hands-on critical approach to the colonising of the web by the corporate apparatus is unique. Here every component of the monstrous culture machine is a device or a tool. The project revels in the bipartite realms of private/public (inside/outside); original/copy (intellectual property/information wants to be free); flesh world/virtual world (innocence/culpability). Binaries are always a good place to leave from.


Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium, Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski, Experimental Art Foundation, March 25 - April 4, online at http://starrs.banff.org [expired]

Teri Hoskin is an artist and writer. She lectures at the School of Information and Communication Studies, University of South Australia. She is the site editor and assembler for the Electronic Writing Research Ensemble.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 27

© Teri Hoskin; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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