Eduardo Kac's DIALOGUES

14,400 baud, Internet, RAM, world-wide cellular telephony, virtual environments, FTP, CD-ROM, interactive television, bitmaps, digital video . . . . The list of terms continues which references new technologies being incorporated into our lives today. Against such terms we measure our familiarity or ignorance, curiosity or indifference toward the communications technologies which restructure the character and quality of contemporary experience. For a limited time, the installation of "Dialogues" within (and beyond) these gallery walls provides opportunity to examine questions germane to the current status of art, communication, and politics. Supported by familiar hardware, Kac's artworks are comprised of elements as immaterial as light, distant places, video conferences, robotic navigation, different time zones, human/machine interactions, animal/plant interaction, and the exchange of digital information. They each make a critical gesture which exposes the hierarchical and highly controlled communications networks, prompting participants to rethink potential alternatives to the existing forms of social intercourse.

Kac takes cues from the practices of the historical European avant-gardes following World War I. Then, as now, technology was making dramatic interventions into everyday life, culture, and politics. Experimental artists embraced new technologies to make work which underscored audience members' roles in the completion of the artwork and thereby undermined precious notions of art's autonomy, and also dispelled romantic notions of authorial subjectivity. Kac also draws upon the radicalization of artistic activity and reception of the late sixties which moved art outside the commercial gallery system toward more immaterial practices and cultural propositions keyed to the investigation of language now safely termed conceptual art. Like artists during these earlier periods, Kac is attuned to the quantum adjustments restructuring private and public communicative exchange by responding with both symbolic and interventionist counter-propositions to the situation.

Since the end of the Cold War, new hopes and anxieties have emerged in the face of the new electronic international public sphere which knows no national boundaries. The viability of a political art now appears more plausible and urgent than before. Legislation is now pending and legal cases are before courts which may well regulate the shape, structure, and rules of behavior for the emergent global public sphere. Beyond issues pertaining to ownership and control, a key matter subtending these deliberations is the unprecedented level of self-abstraction which has introduced pressing questions regarding human agency, identity, interaction and responsibility.

It is within this actually existing communications situation that Kac's "Dialogues" intervene. Each of Kac's pieces is premised, if not reliant, upon individual, internationally dispersed participants contributing and thereby unleashing the potential significations of each artwork. If not linked to remote places via direct telephone lines, Kac's artworks are simultaneously available to participants on the Internet just as they are to gallery visitors. Their ongoing continuation (no closure or completion here) by participants actuate an expanded environment wherein the possibility (or impossibility) of qualitative symbolic exchange within the current technological context can be probed.

The telepresencing pieces also prompt reflection upon one's status as an active member of an imagined -- technologically constituted -- community. Through the creation of simple and complex hybrids of existing communications technologies, Kac demystifies their conventional operations and arrangements and encourages participants to consider how the slippages and gaps between discretely conceived media, when modulated together, might offer emancipatory alternatives to such codified usages typified by unidirectional media forms as television. Similarly, the settings created by Kac's hybrids also encourage resistance to impoverished notions like "transmission" or "input/output," and instead promote negotiation between participants (while questioning the very possibility of communication). Considered from these perspectives, Kac's current work is directed at the enablement of a system of symbolic exchange which establishes a radically democratic public sphere. In this new environment, where public and private meet, participants remain alert to their potential agency and responsibilities, as they learn to define and negotiate them within the emerging global context.

Keith Holz

Originally published in the pamphlet published by the Center of Contemporary Art (University of Kentucky, Lexington) on the occasion of Eduardo Kac's solo exhibition Dialogues (October 21-November 11, 1994). Also published on the Web in Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Volume 2, No. 12, December 1994, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA; and in YLEM, Volume 15, No. 2, April 1995, Orinda, CA, p. 7.