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<nettime> interview with jordan crandall
Roseira on Mon, 15 Apr 2002 20:54:46 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> interview with jordan crandall



Jordan Crandall and I would like to submit this interview for the list.
Thanks!

Rosanne Altstatt
Director, Edith Russ Site for Media Art, Oldenburg/Germany

Interview with Jordan Crandall on the “Trigger Project” by Rosanne Altstatt

Rosanne Altstatt: Even though you are most well known for your film and
video work, I’d like to start this interview with a question about your
diagrams. Their dynamics are so different from the slick impressions your
moving images make. The pencil drawings are more intimate, like an inward
spinning force. What is the relationship between the two?

Jordan Crandall: My work begins with these diagrams. They are the key to
everything. They map the processes that give rise to the structure,
content, pacing. And many of them are in a very personal zone, close to
the body – they are dealing with the space between eye, viewfinder, and
trigger. I’m probing deeper into a psychological realm, and so I’m very
glad that the diagrams evoke that intimacy, even as they are also
connected to larger militarized systems. And they also really show the
work of the hand, which is just as present as anything
technology-mediated.

RA: During the first week of our exhibition you held a workshop which
acted as a production phase of your new work “Trigger”. What did you hope
to accomplish in the workshop?

JC: In order to precisely orchestrate this dual projection installation,
you have to conduct many tests. The scale of the Edith Russ Site for Media
Art is perfect for testing the dynamic between the actors on screen, the
projection scale, and the audience viewing patterns. We are in the process
of improvising the actual film set and shooting various test scenes. Then,
immediately, we can project these tests on the walls and see how they
work. From these tests, the final storyboards will be developed. So three
things are going on: a mock film set allows us to generate test footage;
the test footage is projected on the wall in order to see how it works
when installed; and a final storyboard coalesces as the exhibition plays
out.

RA: “Trigger” will be projected onto opposite walls. Why did you choose
this form?

JC: I want to integrate the viewing audience in the drama between two
characters as they hunt each other. You will have to physically turn your
body to face one screen or the other. So you can never really encapsulate
the entirety of the production from a comfortable external position. You
can't master it as you can if you are focused on a single screen. It moves
quickly and you're always going to have a different experience, because
your body has to be as hypervigilant as the actors on screen. You have to
be quick, attuned, agile like a good soldier.

RA: Are you really making a parallel with soldier-skills and
viewer-skills?

JC: To the extent that they are sharing a condition of hypervigilance,
when all of the senses are heightened.

RA: The story has to do with two soldiers watching each other through
their sights. This seems like a familiar theme from many Hollywood war
movies. Did certain films come to mind while conceiving “Trigger”?

JC: Yes, there are lots of Hollywood precedents, countless war films that
I've seen. My references are small moments, usually structural and
involving some kind of subtle camera intrusion. You wouldn't know it
unless you were looking for it. There is a scene in Kubrick's “Full Metal
Jacket” for example where the film camera pans up as the soldier's rifle
raises up, and it tries to align itself through the soldier's gun sight.
You have the camera, the audience eye, the soldier's gun sight, and the
soldier's eye all trying to align in order to ‘get the shot’ – the shot
that ‘takes’ the picture but also the life of its human target. Through
the alignment of eye, machine, and viewfinder some kind of artillery
issues forth, connected through the conduit of the hand on the
trigger-shutter, where human beats and machine beats synchronize. I'm
looking for a camera that is never innocent, the sights that are always
subject to control technologies and conventions, and the constitution of
the shooting-victim.

RA: I'm not so sure everyone in the camera's viewfinder would consider him
or herself a victim – but what would the constitution of a shooting-victim
be?

JC: I don't necessarily mean that to be the case. But there is always a
power dynamic. The shooting-victim is a casualty of the image-seeking
apparatus and/or gun. I’m trying to make a term that evokes the violence
also perpetrated by the camera and all that it stands for.

RA: After going to acting school, you began making films and videos
yourself. What made you switch sides?

JC: I enjoy experiencing both sides of the camera. And now there are not
only two sides, but many. I want to try out all of them.

RA: You must be referring to the use of various camera technologies and
perspectives – something of a post-cinematic language, which I’ve read
about in your previous interviews.

JC: Yes. With the use of surveillance and tracking systems, and with
military-derived images such as those from night vision cameras or those
streamed from camera-mounted smart bombs, we have all kinds of new visual
formats in play. I'm interested in the ways that these new systems become
internalized, and how they become part of new visual languages that
challenge cinematic conventions as well as the power dynamics inherent in
this. I'm also interested in the difference between terrestrial and aerial
languages and the whole lexicon of analyzing and reassembling terrestrial
motion from the air.

RA: What is your visual vocabulary for “Trigger”?

JC: There is a play between cinematic (terrestrial) surveillance and
satellite views. I also use an eye-tracked synchronization system, which
automatically aligns weapon and fighter gaze, even if they are not
connected. This questions conventions of cinematic continuity and cohesion
while it also raises contemporary issues of networked embodiment. There
are specific targeting formats I use which operate as new forms of
perspective-construction – certainly in a more military sense but as
generalized control technologies nonetheless. Overall I am orchestrating a
fracturing and linkage of viewpoints across human and machinic systems,
and linked to very specific camera orientations that are politicized. The
speed and efficiency of the networked flows, sorted through the logics of
the database, constitute an artillery-like force. There is the question,
now more than ever, of what a camera constitutes and who is the agency
connected to it, and how to visually represent a complex and often very
non-visual system.

RA: Tell me what you mean by agency in this case. Are you talking about
who is steering the camera or the purpose behind the use of the camera?

JC: Both. The form and observing capacity of the seer, along with its
intention and its ability to act. We don’t ask these questions with the
use of a film camera because the cinematic technology is so normalized.
That is one of the reasons it is so interesting to use militarized
technology. It is not yet internalized so one has to immediately ask about
the agency behind the camera. What is the difference between how a
policing system watches and how we watch? How the military sees and how
the media sees? It also brings these questions to bear on how we see
through the very normalized technologies of mass media, in a way of
instituting our own personal kinds of policing. We say, “‘I’ stand here
against ‘them’,” and we fortify a border. We justify an attack, personal
or otherwise, against an opponent against which we stand. There are all
kinds of combat situations in everyday life, all kinds of border-shaping
processes that suggest who we are and what kind of person we are becoming.
Bunker-building begins at home. In the setting of “Trigger” there are
structures that evoke hybrid home-bunkers in various states of
construction, in order to suggest metaphorically this processes of
fortifying barriers on the domestic front.

RA: You are talking about the three structures we will have as the film
set in the exhibition hall: a bunker, a wooden wall with a window, and a
cement block house. But you also refer to combat situations in everyday
life and personal policing. What kinds of personal bunkers do you think we
are building as a result of increasing surveillance of everyday life?

JC: Surveillance can help generate a kind of safety bubble – a realm where
we feel we are being protected against crime. It’s fortified by ideologies
and practices. It’s also part of a process of subjectivization, a bubble
of interiority that helps to determine the contours of the self. It is
also linked to the formation of group identities. There is a mobile and
protean architecture to it. We have all our little vehicles that we travel
around in like cars, in a culture that oscillates between atomization into
fractured units and grand unifications, visible in concepts like the
national missile shield.

RA: As you've stated in previous interviews, “Drive” (1998 – 2000) and
“Heatseeking” (1999 – 2000) are very much about movement, flow and the
rhythms of the body. Though these two series did have a violent edge to
them, “Trigger” promises to be much more about vision as a weapon. Yet
many decades of increasing camera surveillance has led to people being
more comfortable with the idea of being constantly watched. Don't you
think the tension has lessened?

JC: Yes. Which is why I am interested in two things here. The first is the
erotic, because there are the pleasures of being observed, which we are
only beginning to discover and which are very difficult to square with
certain political agendas, such as those dealing with privacy issues.
Being observed, surrendering one's private life to the gaze of an other,
can have a distinct erotic edge, especially for a younger generation. The
second is politics, because we have to confront the agencies behind the
lessening of this tension. Whenever surveillance is justified in the name
of safety or protection, it is we who have to go on high alert. This
cuddly, friendly surveillance – justified in the name of convenience,
safety, efficiency, reliability, and stylishly glossed with a modern décor
– is a dangerous thing when its politics are vanquished. For the most
part, we're not talking about surveillance cameras anymore, but tracking
networks connected to vast database systems, which are increasingly
invisible as they are pervasive.

RA: There is a definite erotic edge to “Trigger”, yet you cut some of the
scenes with a sexual character that were planned.

JC: All of those scenes will still be there. What I cut were the
explanations, because it is so difficult to articulate this erotic
dimension in text form. I've decided to let the erotic play out in visual
and structural terms without feeling the need to write about it. I don't
want to theorize about it – I want it to be something that undoes theory,
something that traffics under the surface and questions all of the tidy
conclusions that we make. In a sense, the erotic is the great other. We've
got to pay attention to what it tells us, but what it tells us is not
subject to our laws of order. The question is how to maintain that tension
and develop a politics from it – a politics that would seem to contain its
very antithesis.

RA: A politics of the erotic? You've lost me here.

JC: Well, I don't really know what it means either. It doesn't add up, but
I guess that's the point. It is a politics that would undo itself. I'm
trying somehow, through visual and diagrammatic work, to ventriloquize it.
It's like Lyotard's matrix figure – a ‘form’ that figures recurrences, but
which in the end is not really a form but a kind of anti-form. In a basic
sense, though, you could say that if there is an eros of power, there is a
politics of that eros.

RA: The erotic is not just the great other, it's the variable in the
systemized machine. When I start thinking of the erotic's role in a
possible electronic human system, I come up with all sorts of romantic
notions of ‘love’ breaking the rules and short-circuiting the network.

JC: Well said! Short-circuiting, but also rewiring, in a way that may not
be entirely functional.

RA: In “Trigger”’s storybook, you write of the soldier as an integrated
weapons platform. Armies have tried to make soldiers more efficient by
enhancing their capabilities – more recently with electronic weaponry –
since the beginning of time. Yet since September 11, high-tech seems more
like a weakness than a strength. After all, the terrorist attacks on your
state of residence, New York, was low-tech but high-concept. It turned out
to be extremely efficient. Does this have any bearing on your views of the
integrated weapons platform?

JC: In all aspects of the military, efforts have been underway to more
closely tie human, armament, and combat network. In the Army's ‘Land
Warrior’ program, for example, which is still in development, the soldiers
are outfitted with headgear that allows them to see in any weather
condition, day or night, and with a 360 degree panorama. They are
connected to communications networks, and a head-mounted display allows
realtime information to overlay their field of vision. The goal is to
become a more efficient, lethal, networked, fighting machine. There is
something of the ‘Borg’ here, with the soldier becoming part of a hive
mind. There is even a military concept of ‘swarming’: small, agile, highly
mobile bands of soldiers armed with arrays of communications gear and
networked weaponry, and heavily connected to airborne support. In
Afghanistan, soldiers aimed handheld lasers at targets while laser-guided
missiles were launched at these targets from planes. Soldiers on the
ground, satellite systems, planes, and precision weaponry constituted a
seamless flow, orchestrated through various command centers. This is the
soldier as integrated weapons platform. I don't think September 11 has
changed this concept, or the US's undying faith in high technology. What
it has changed is the ways in which we justify increased military
presence, and increased police presence in general – towards something
that would be more like an integrated policing platform. The fears of the
public are inflamed as the powers of military, the FBI and CIA, and
various other kinds of policing and monitoring agencies, increase to meet
a need. I don't think that the US would admit that high technology is a
weakness in any way. It just means the technology isn't good enough yet.

RA: What about ‘human intelligence’ a.k.a. spies – like in the WW II
movies where they meet on dark nights while crossing bridges, infiltrate
each other's lairs, go deep under cover? It seems that there is more than
enough data, but not enough human resources to process and analyze this
data.

JC: Yes, but the human is there to feed into the technology. It's part of
the technology. The human intelligence is linked to the machine. It's
mediated by machinic systems. The human becomes a necessary component – it
is never discounted. But it is of value in its having been made adequate
for integration with the intelligence and communications systems (and vice
versa). Technology sets the terms, it modifies the capacities of the
human. But in the end, technology is just human ingenuity, the extension
of the human. Humans, machines, and combat systems are indelibly linked
and we don't necessary know where one component ends and the other begins.
You're absolutely right about there not being enough human resources to
process and analyze the data. But what is our answer is to that? Building
more and better machines.

RA: What would be the base of an ‘integrated policing platform’. Instead
of the single agent, all electroniced up, we would have ...

JC: ... formerly isolated database systems linked up in shared networks.
Common interfaces to share data across various intelligence and policing
agencies in as close to realtime as possible, with suspicions eased
between governmental agencies that have been historically walled off from
each other. New alliances between police, military, and industry. New
cooperations to share intelligence information between countries.

RA: Are you suggesting the privatization of the military? Is this science
fiction or are there some real efforts taking place beyond the tradition
of the militia?

JC: The ties between military and industry are so strong already, and
there is a strong symbiotic energy that you wouldn’t have if they we fully
absorbed into one another. The military is business by other means. There
always have to be other measures available. We’re backed by an apparatus
of war and work. In business, we have a tool; in war, we have a weapon.

RA: Remaining on the subject of an integrated police, military, and
industry: where would this leave privacy laws? Do you think they will
become obsolete? There are all sorts of buzzwords I can throw in here: new
world order, globalization, war against terror ...

JC: There have been so many privacy debates online, and attempts have been
made to politicize this very urgent subject – at the same time that some
have tried to articulate the private/public divide in different terms,
such as to replace a unified concept of privacy with a heterogeneous one
like ‘zones of intimacy’. But at least in the US, the debate hasn’t caught
fire, people don’t see it as much of an issue anymore. People have been
willing to surrender privacy if it means more convenience, if it saves
them time, and if it offers more protection – especially now,
post-September 11. The concern for safety trumps any concern over threats
to privacy. In a sense, it has finished off this already much-beleaguered
subject. It urgently needs to be politicized, especially in light of the
lack of opposition to the increasing of governmental powers that could
threaten civil liberties. But the terms of the debate need to be reworked.
The term ”privacy” needs to be unpacked: it’s fraught from within.

RA: Should we redefine privacy?

JC: It is a matter of deciding what is absolutely crucial to protect and
against what it should be protected. It changes through time and cultures,
it’s not really a stable concept.

RA: Let's play out a worst case scenario: In twenty years from now
absolutely everything is networked; no loopholes. What then? Do you have
any predictions on human behavior? In your work, the different camera
perspectives charge the atmosphere. Do you think this would have the same
effect on everyday life?

JC: New forms of detection are always countered with new forms of
deception. There is always a dance between the two. I believe that total
surveillance is an impossible concept. There are always going to be things
that slip under the radar. In the war on Kosovo we had expensive
precision-guided missiles fired at cheap decoy tanks. The Serbian military
also strategically switched off their radar in order to obfuscate their
ground locations to the aerial electronics of NATO forces. You can even
see how this detection-deception dance refigures materiality: look at the
form of the stealth fighter, which was built as a series of flat planes in
order to evade radar detection. We want to increase our ability to see
while evading detection by others, and our opponents want the same. So
rather than a vector of one-way progress in detection technologies, we
have a matrix. Progress occurs in matrices of detection and evasion among
combative actors who are each trying to gain the edge. So I’m interested
in evoking the increased powers of surveillance, but rather than think
only of how we’re becoming totally surveilled, I’m interested in the
ingenious ways that we develop to jam the signal. To appropriate it, to
reshape it in a way that is often soft and undulating, not hard-edged.
Much has been written about voyeurism, about the erotics of seeing, but I
am very much interested in an erotics of display – of being seen by sensed
presences – and how that connects to modes of deception and the dispersal
of the fields of action. The playing field is often not where we expect
it, or structured in terms of the codes that we know. In spite of the
exponential increase in the powers of surveillance technology, we still
have to ultimately know where to look – this is the space that is
constantly being rewritten by the players.

RA: Let’s get back to classic, narrative, storybook cinema. Everybody
plays by the rules, but love breaks it up. Yet your works have no actual
‘story’, do they?

JC: Not really, although they do have some narrative pull and you can read
all kinds of narratives into them. But I hope to frustrate that, just as I
hope to frustrate binaries of construction/anarchy or
attraction/repulsion. My works have the structure of systems, they’re
structured along the lines of various circuitry diagrams and I think they
have a more matrix-like structure, almost like a database. But I have to
admit that I think of “Trigger”, at least on some level, as a kind of love
story. It is a courtship between the two actors, at least in a database
reality.

This interview is included in the publication “Jordan Crandall: Trigger
Project”, published by Revolver – Archiv für Aktuelle Kunst on the
occasion of Crandall’s exhibition at the Edith Russ Site for Media Art in
Oldenburg, Germany. April 6 – June 9, 2002

info {AT} edith-russ-haus.de www.edith-russ-haus.de


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