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.
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.