Originally published online in The New York Times, October 2, 1997.

An Electronic Artist and His Body of Work

Matthew Mirapaul

Eduardo Kac wants you to know that his blood was not boiling at the International Symposium on Electronic Art. The liquid was merely -- and, in this case, literally -- foaming.

Word circulated rapidly throughout the ISEA conference, held in Chicago last week, that Kac's blood had boiled over during the premiere presentation of "A-Positive," an interactive work by Kac and Ed Bennett that was shown in the event's juried exhibition.

Only a few of the more than 1,000 artists, educators and curators who attended the annual six-day conference, which concluded Saturday, were actually on hand to see Kac (pronounced "katz") send blood from one arm to a "biobot."

The device is designed to aerate the blood, forcing it to release oxygen that will fuel a small flame. The process also triggers the release of a glucose-saline solution into Kac's other arm.

"The blood flooded the main flask too soon," Kac explained. "It had to go somewhere, and it started to go up. Because it was being aerated, it started to foam and very quickly it flooded the burning chamber. We had to stop, pour the blood out, remove some of the parts and continue."

After an hour, Kac's blood eventually enabled a half-inch-high flame to ignite. This was an apt metaphor for an electronic-art conference that seemed determined to move its critical focus away from chilly technology and more toward the fevered energies of its human creators. In "A-Positive," for example, Kac said he was striving to expand the concept of interactivity beyond the customary pre-programmed responses.

"I've been very interested in creating situations that become multilogical, meaning that your stepping into the room alters the course of events," Kac said. "Most interactive art that I have seen is still monological: you create the database or you create some buttons to push and ultimately the experience is circumscribed. I'm trying to create something that is more indeterminate."

Kac, a Chicago artist and teacher, took only one stab at presenting "A-Positive" during the conference. He hopes it will be exhibited elsewhere, with volunteers offering their arms to the work. A day after the work's unveiling, the chair where Kac had sat remained draped with a blood-splattered sheet, a trace of the biobot.

Matthew Mirapaul writes the Arts@Large column for The New York Times on the Web.

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