Eduardo Navas on Fri, 8 Aug 2008 16:07:58 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> gallery@calit2: Adriene Jenik Interview

SPECFLIC 2.6: An Interview with Adriene Jenik
By Eduardo Navas

Atkinson Hall
University of California, San Diego
Map & Directions:

August 6 to October 3, 2008
Closing Reception: October 2 at 6 to 8 PM

August 6 through September 19:
Wednesday - Friday: 11AM - 5PM
September 22 through October 3:
Monday - Friday: 11AM - 5PM

Adriene Jenik combines literature, cinema and performance to create works
under the umbrella of Distributed Social Cinema.  For Jenik, this term means
that the language of cinema has been moving outside of the conventional
movie screens on to different media devices, which today include, the
portable computer, GPS locators, as well as cellphones.  Earlier in her
career, Jenik worked with video and performance, and eventually she produced
CD-Roms, such as "Mauve Desert: A CD-ROM Translation" (1992-1997).  Jenik's
practice took a particular shift towards network culture when the Internet
became a space in which she could bring together her interests in film,
literature, and performance. "Desktop Theater: Internet Street Theater"
(1997-2002) was a virtual performance which took place in an online space.
It was based on Samuel Becket's play Waiting for Godot.   In line with these
works, SPECFLIC 2.6 is the result of Jenik's interest in the relation of
networked culture to film, literature and performance.  The installation,
then, is also another shift in Jenik's interest in the expanded field of
storytelling.  In the following interview, Jenik shares the influences and
aesthetical concerns that inform SPECFLIC 2.6

[Eduardo Navas]: You describe your ongoing SPECFLIC project, currently in
version 2.6, as "Distributed Social Cinema."  Given that your installation
takes on so many aspects of contemporary media, could you elaborate on how
you arrived at the parameters at play around this concept?

[Adriene Jenik]: SPECFLIC was initially inspired by the recognition that
cinema was moving beyond a single fixed image at an expected scale to one of
multiple co-existent screens with extreme shifts in scale. I was seeing
video on miniature screens, as well as gigantic mega-screens, and seeing
these screens move about in space and wondering what types of stories could
take advantage of these formal and technological shifts. I've long been
involved in thinking through layered story structures and at the beginning
of SPECFLIC, I could "see" a diagram of the project imprinted on the inside
of my eyelids. That original retinal image burn has since been honed and
shaped in relation to the needs of the story and the responses of the
audience and performers.

The SPECFLIC 2.6  installation takes excerpts from material that was created
for SPECFLIC 2.0, and follows on the heels of SPECFLIC 2.5, which was
commissioned by Betti-Sue Hertz and presented at the San Diego Museum of Art
in Spring of 2008. For SPECFLIC 2.5, I stripped away all of the live,
interactive aspects of the piece, and instead, emphasized aspects of the
story that might have been more in the background of the live event. This
type of "versioning" is something that is in evidence in software creation,
but has also become a method for developing an art practice that can expand
and embrace new research and technologies. Distributed Social Cinema is a
form that takes into account the importance (for me) of the public audience
for a film. As cinema-going practice becomes "home entertainment," I'm
interested in what is at stake in cinema as a public meeting space. At the
same time, I'm playing with the intimacy of the very small screen, the ways
in which having part of a story delivered into someone's pocket adds a layer
of meaning in its form of delivery. The SPECFLIC 2.5 installation was an
attempt to consolidate some of these aspects of distributed attention and

Granted the opportunity for networked interaction within the gallery@calit2,
for SPECFLIC 2.6 I have rethought the installation to develop in concert
with audience contributions. So the project is very much evolving in
response to what I learn from each previous iteration as well as the
opportunities afforded by the space, encounter with the audience, and
technological framework.

[EN]: SPECFLIC 2.0 relies on science fiction to open a space for critical
reflection.  Would you share some of your influences?

[AJ]: Of course! The overall SPECFLIC project emerged as a result of an
extended period of time where I had been gorging myself on works in the
genre of "speculative fiction." These works are generally understood to be
more concerned with the "near future" or a future imaginable within the
reader's lifetime. They are less fantasy or prophesy than speculation. I
sort of stumbled into this genre by way of the beautiful and frightening
book "Parable of the Sower" by the recently departed Southern California
writer Octavia Butler (1947-2006). This book challenged me to try and "tease
out the threads" from my own present, imagining the future impact on even
one or two generations of current trends I observed from my particular
vantage point as a creative technology researcher at a top public research
institution. Ever since reading the book when it was first published in
1995, I have been taken over by its poetics, scenes and storylines.

The work of Kim Stanley Robinson (in particular his early Southern
California trilogy) provided encouraging notes of familiarity after I began
crafting my own image of 2030 in Southern California. Canadian writers Nalo
Hopkinson and Margaret Atwood, and British writer Daren King, have all
inspired different aspects of this work. In particular, I have joined them
in imagining (for better or worse) the future shifts in gender, class and
race relations, which often form the basis of their stories. Chip (Samuel)
Delaney's enigmatic and profoundly kakographic novel Dhalgren, has continued
to excite me with its parallel cityscape that exists as both a bubble and a

I'm also deeply indebted to the Speculative Cinema enacted in Jean Luc
Godard's 1965 film Alphaville. I continue to delight in the ways that
filmmaking practice can be used to create an imaginary future. Godard
manages to create his vision of Alphaville within the Paris of the present
and without special props, scenic design, costumes or effects, but solely
through strategic use of the visual frame coupled with scripted language,
precise gestures and thoughtful use of location shooting.

In every project, the writing of Brecht, Calvino, Borges and Stein seems to
bubble up from the depths of my consciousness to assert its power anew.

Finally, I'm influenced by the education and research institution I inhabit.
Entering the labs on campus and encountering the research of my peers can
sometimes feel as if I am falling through a rabbit hole and emerging on the
other side of the looking glass. SPECFLIC emerged from an overwhelming
desire to try and understand where all of these research practices might
lead. What types of stories emerge in a world where humans no longer omit
odor? Where they control video games with brainwaves? Where diamonds are
manufactured at will?

[EN]: One thing that comes to mind when I viewed SPECFLIC at the SD Museum
of Art is the relationship of content and form.  How do you think interfaces
and devices used to access information are changing the way people think
about knowledge?  Do you see any similarities between music and text in this
regard, meaning the dematerialization of the LP to the CD on to the MP3, and
the book to the Kindle and other similar devices?  In this sense it could be
argued that music may be currently more successful than the text, if one
considers success the amount of downloads of music files versus electronic
books. Why do you think this might be the case?

[AJ]: I'm really hoping that this "collapsing" of content and form will
result in this type of question about our interface to knowledge.  There
exists, within the flow of the network, all kinds of potentials and
possibilities for expanded communication, experimentation and exchange. But
contained within the technological framework that underlies this expansive,
seemingly unbound flow is a level of exacting and precise control. The event
itself is a public enactment of these dual tensions inherent in the move to
an information society.

In terms of knowledge access, SPECFLIC 2.0 , 2.5 and 2.6 offer up a near
future that is distinct from our near past in large part as a result of this
shift in information access and knowledge acquisition. The InfoSpherian
script and the images that play along the edges in the Library Story
introduce a kind of nostalgia for the present. The serendipity offered
within library stacks is both similar to, yet qualitatively different from
losing oneself in a path of weblinks. In the stacks, color and size can
attract one's attention. And a misplaced item might end up on one's stack. I
parody my students' incredulity at having to "read a whole book to
understand its contents." By having the story play out in a combination of
large public displays and personal laptops and cell phones, I hope to create
a space in which our everyday uses of these devices is denaturalized, so we
can critically and publicly consider our own complicity in the dominance of
the targeted search.

Regarding the similarities and differences between the digital production
and distribution formats of music and text, I was thinking of this when I
imagined the near future of the SPECFLIC 2.0 series. This is apparent in
several instances, the first of which is that I do not believe that books
will disappear. Rather, books as we know them now become the property of a
niche category of people, similar to the function of vinyl now. There is an
ongoing market and appreciation for vinyl, not just among collectors of old
records, but music publishers regularly release special and valuable vinyl
recordings. Sure, they are a bit of an anachronism, but they still exist and
have not been completely wiped out and in some cases are even thriving.

In addition, the relationship between digital cultures and oral cultures has
long been of interest to me. I observe in text chat a move away from strict
textual literacy and toward a type of emerging "orality". I'm interested in
the increased sense of presence and "immediacy" afforded by an oral/aural
communication system. In terms of the smooth transition to digital formats
and distribution for music, there is also the issue of loss of audio
fidelity vs. loss of visual resolution in the move to .mp3 (for sound) or
computer screen (for text). We seem to have a much broader tolerance
(audiophiles aside!) for a lesser quality in audio. Small shifts in sonic
acuity do not affect our ability to concentrate on what we are hearing, nor
do they instigate headaches. Furthermore, we can close our eyes when we
listen to music or sound and the device itself disappears. When reading on
the computer screen, the interface is always there in the foreground.

[EN]: In your installation, when the InfoSpherian comments that people read
a whole book in the past, you also point to the idea of knowledge in terms
of wholes vs. fragments.  This moment of your installation exposed a
personal struggle: I have often found myself focusing on specific chapters
of books vs. the whole book for research purposes, and I often invest in the
entire book at a later point, if possible.  But even if I am not able to go
back to the entire book, the fact that I physically come to access knowledge
through a physical object does affect my relationship to accessing
information in pieces.  With data/information access via a network, I find
that this sense is somewhat lost--dare I say, the guilt of seeing how much
one has not accessed physically is no longer  there, and the concept of
rigor in research may be somewhat redefined.  Am I wrong? Or do you think
that this particularity will come to affect research at all levels for
scholars, cultural writers and artists?  If so, how?

[AJ]: Well, this is, of course, a core question regarding this shift from
boundaried physical objects to networked entities. I continue to return to
the importance of context (social, historical, philosophical) for grounding
information or ideas, and the ways in which the "book object" (through not
just additional chapters, but the organizing elements including the table of
contents, index, footnotes, bibliography, etc.) give us a sense of a greater
world of the book. This is a turn that not just evolves out of but reflects
the values of the development of the information society. That shift,
critically historicized by N. Katherine Hayles in her book How We Became
Post-Human, hints at the ways in which the removal of matter from context to
enable it to be treated as "data" or information allows for all kinds of
engineering marvels. We are now experiencing, some 50-plus years after that
shift, what a removal of information from its context might mean for
society, scholarship, etc.

I will leave the effect on the concept of rigor in research to others
(perhaps even yourself!).
But I would hope that future versions of the book (some of which can be
glimpsed in the experiments and prototypes being developed by The Institute
for the Future of the Book through
incorporating a sense of the reading "commons" might involve even more
"rigor." I do notice my students are no longer as fixated on knowing the
author or originator of a text or creator of an artwork. Perhaps this
signals a move away from a sense of individual creation, and a movement
toward an understanding of ideas arising from within a larger mix of voices?

But I continue to be occupied with the physical boundary of the book as an
important signifier of time and space. The physical book object contains not
just words and meaning, but an experience and even an historical marker for
each reader. When I look at a book in my library, I remember a time when I
read it, sometimes even the chair I sat in and the beverage I sipped. If I
turn its pages, I see my notes, stains, creases; there is a visual memory of
certain paragraphs or passages. When all of this shifts to the free flow of
the InfoSphere; when e-books overtake physical books with their economics of
storage, publishing and distribution; how do we "see" or reflect on what we
have read and experienced? How do we continue to access that experience
again and again with IP licenses set to timers? The whole point of the
SPECFLIC project is that we really need a larger public to be wrestling with
these questions -- not just librarians or database programmers.

What's exciting is to consider the relatively short history of the book
itself and look at earlier versions of written communication (the scroll,
the stone tablet) and understand the book object as we know it as just a
point in a larger continuum of human communication.

[EN]: At one point in your installation, the InfoSpherian -- which you
explain is equivalent to the desk librarian -- shows a book to the public.
She describes the book as an object that in the year 2030 would be
unfamiliar to the average visitor.  The way that the InfoSpherian holds the
book as she describes it reminds me of the constant preoccupation of the
work of art as fetish, and the interest in its dematerialization.  How is
SPECFLIC reflecting on the ongoing changes in contemporary art practice,
especially with the pervasiveness of information access today?

[AJ]: First, a note about the InfoSpherian: the character of the
InfoSpherian is inspired by the position and placement of the Reference Desk
Librarian. If you are in a library and have a question, you know you can go
to the desk librarian and get help. In the live SPECFLIC 2.0 event, this was
an important function of the character, as the audience could request
information or particular books from the InfoSpherian, and these queries and
her improvised responses contributed to the overall depth of the narrative

Since SPECFLIC 2.5 and 2.6 were conceived as installations without this
important layer of audience interaction, certain aspects of the InfoSpherian
character were emphasized, and others de-emphasized or completely omitted.
In the live 2.0 event, the character cycles through three distinct character
"voices." Each voice (and its accompanying changes in visual appearance and
gesture) represented a different role that I see emerging as central to
libraries as they grapple with their evolving social functions. These roles
are a) interface to a material archive; b) Public Access Information
filtering, licensing and enforcement (as information continues to grow
exponentially); and c) Data Navigation Specialists, who will both assist the
public and work behind the scenes as Information Scientists to conceptualize
new ways of organizing and providing access to data.

So, to your question! The entire SPECFLIC project is meant to encourage
public reflection and discussion and perhaps even heated debate about what
we think about the cultural changes instigated by the move from analog
(material) to digital (information/data). I design the projects with
cross-generational audiences in mind, so that different ideas and attitudes
toward these changes can be articulated not just by myself, but by those who
encounter and participate in the work. So the InfoSpherian in SPECFLIC 2.5
and 2.6 enacts a sort of comic and (for some) dystopic future where the
library and the book have almost completely de-materialized into the

What remains is the "book object," which as you note in your question takes
on the form of a fetish; its objectness takes on increased value in certain
contexts even as it loses its value completely in others.  In the
installation, I provide a platform for reflection in the form of book
"stools" composed of books discarded by libraries. They are sculptures in
their own right, constructed and positioned to afford stable, comfortable
seating, even as they produce a slight discomfort among those of us who
retain our attachment to the book object.

Larger issues of what remains to be seen or preserved are key questions
(even dilemmas) for those of us engaged in producing, exhibiting and
teaching art that is removed from a material context. I hope the project
reflects my sense of historical flow -- or the ways in which objects change
their meaning and purpose over time. Someone might make a pot to hold water,
or weave a basket to hold medicinal herbs, and later those objects might be
encased in glass for us to behold as objects of great symmetry and craft.
Discarded clothes become exalted quilts. Vacuum cleaners become sculpture.
Books become stools. All of these objects retain residue of the past, but
when bits become something else, there is no residue.

So, in a way, SPECFLIC is speculating not only about what happens in the
future, but what happens to our past.

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