TERMINAL is a four-part installation project that examines single-user interfaces, and the influence of technology on the adaptation of new artistic forms. The project addresses itself to an idea of what different hardware units, operating systems, and user environments have offered to artists and to the viewers, readers or users of their work. Each iteration of the project considers a different computer interface, and related work (text-based programming of poetry, graphical user interfaces and early digital animation, online and peer sharing as virtual social practice formations and a parody of social media and its daily saturation of life).
Conceived as an exhibition in four parts, the project utilizes a single-user space at Western Front – our former ticket booth/reading room – to offer an intimate viewing experience that works away from the traditional spatial paradigm of a white cube. Launching September 8th, the first installation looks at media poetry, specifically programmed for computers, and features an installation of bpNichol's First Screening (1984), a digital publication written in Apple BASIC for home use on an Apple IIe.
TERMINAL expands beyond the gallery space to include this website. TERMINAL 1.0 is embedded with a variant of the code for a series of Permutation Poems written by Brion Gysin that first appeared in 1960. Rooted in the expansive and playful legacies of Nichol and Gysin, TERMINAL 1.0 also features work and reading event by artist and poet Tiziana La Melia, whose installation The Eyelash and the Monochrome has grown from her own computer use, and specifically her acknowledgment of Microsoft Word as a context and catalyst for the piece.
While starting from the specificity of a single-user environment as both a creative and exhibition space, TERMINAL also asks what we choose to use computers for, how this is limited or shaped by the interfaces we access, and how making projects under different technological structures can be figured amidst a wider set of material concerns. The investigation supposes that different hardware, software, operating systems, and user environments have offered specific opportunities and limits for expression, and that artists in turn have created works that respond in unique ways. The ongoing erasure of user control in favour of the ease and simplicity of seamless design experiences has been elsewhere taken up as an impetus for engaging in better understandings of web- and screen-based work. It is hoped that these practices might foreground how a conscious adoption of technology and knowledge of its limitations can alter the possibilities for creation. Perhaps these lesser-known historical works will also offer suggestions of how creative practices might wrest control toward fruitful artistic ends and offer viewers, readers or users an opportunity to contemplate and question the nature of the role these interfaces play in our daily lives.
-- TERMINAL 2.0 --
Where command line interfaces end, graphical user interfaces begin: a virtual working space that opened up new possibilities for digital drawing and animation. TERMINAl 2.0 takes up this phase in computer progress through the Amiga, a family of personal computers sold by Commodore in the 1980s and 1990s. In this context, the Amiga stands in for many models of home computer that were avidly competing for the attention of users interested in graphics. The capabilities of an Amiga made it ideal for multitasking, and it was sold as a ‘multi-media’ machine. Early demonstrations foregrounded its potential as a creative tool, including an infamous 1985 launch event featuring Andy Warhol using the computer to ‘paint’ a digital portrait of Debbie Harry.
Mindful of such stories of pop-technology lore, the second installation in the TERMINAL series turns toward the problem of nostalgia, and hype. Technology and its uses are frequently found to be the subject of outlandish claims: be they ideals of a technological revolution or defining the use of one machine over another as ‘cool.’ Such projections have had a tendency to fetishize design over functionality, focusing on technology as an extension of style, as much or even more than as a tool to extend human behaviours.
Humble tools for creativity and expression, like the software Deluxe Paint, mark an early moment in an ensuing explosion of graphics capabilities. Today, the widespread manifestation of our ability to render digital images can appear as a practical collapse of virtual and physical visual cultures. It is almost quaint to remember a time when moving images on a computer screen were a novelty. This seemingly all-pervasive new standard of human-machine interaction (be it at a desk, in a car, at a bank machine or in our new extensions into the Internet of Things) can at times be alarming, sickening and disruptive.
This project asks for a return to early graphics-capable devices, to think both about technology and its uses but also to view its results. At the Western Front, inside a tiny room now hangs a single framed print of a digital painting, Three Cats in a Tree(2016) by Barry Doupé, Mark Pellegrino’s animation exploring early BBS culture, G.I.R.L.(2013) and Marisa Olson’s (Untitled)(2016) from the series Time Capsules, a golden Amiga 500 that has been gilded into irreversible obsolescence. Such items together in this space extol on technology’s appeals as features, virtues or a ruses, depending on how one looks.
Installed on this site are two digital animations - Vhery(2013) by Doupé and the Amiga Shorts(2013) series by Amy Lockhart, whose sparse idiosyncratic styles thrive within this context. Taking up this online environment as a natural component of thinking about computers, TERMINAL aims to foreground the locations of works and of viewers and the ways in which computers act as conduits for cultural consumption.
With this in mind, the online venue also hosts a newly commissioned essay by Clint Enns reflecting on the historical progression of graphical user interfaces. Nostalgia for the Digital Revolution: Interfacing with Obsolescence picks up on the themes introduced here, working through them in detail, and sheds more light on the entanglement of artists with computers as creative tools that shall continue to be the focus of this series.
I encourage you to linger here for the duration of the videos, and to consider the essay's explorations through some of the visual roots of our present day condition.
-- TERMINAL 3.0 --
Person-to-person connectivity through computers was a watershed moment, not only for artists, but for processes of globalization. The Internet brought peer-to-peer communication to a wide range of users, and the evolution of human relationships through it have had such life-altering implications, particularly in the West, that it has been easy to take for granted the idea that the long term effects of this connectivity have resolved into an arc of platform upgrades and data transfer improvements. TERMINAL 3.0 takes its terms of engagement in this social sphere, at an important moment of growth, when social practices evolved through machines that became portals.
Cyberspace, a term that first appeared in the pages of science fiction novel Neuromancer (by Vancouverite, William Gibson) is defined as, ‘the notional environment in which communication over a network occurs.’ The aspirations of the term have long held much loftier associations, including the early and perhaps naive promise of a wholly invented world; some new frontier in which politics might be reinvented. This place-naming impulse and spatiality became a central metaphor that was adopted to describe how users began to use computers to talk to one another, and send data back and forth.
Through the latter half of the 1990s users thoroughly explored the possibilities of peer-to-peer networks and common posting forums. This era of exploration welcomed the non-specialist, including young users, which is perhaps why TERMINAL 3.0 is particularly compelling to this curator—this was the moment at which my generation adopted the computer and the Internet. Vivid memories surface of first hits on sites like Rhizome.org, the contextual loops of webring communities, pre-Google (Alta Vista or Dog Pile) navigation, napster, online writing forums, and IRC chatrooms filled with regional Canadian teens cracking jokes. Artists meanwhile began adopting and inventing online platforms and spaces as natural extensions of their inquiries. A recently compiled overview of surf clubs and posting forums at Rhizome.org gives a sense of the invention going on in these groups (see: Nasty Nets, YTMND.com, computers club and others). A common foreground among them is a tendency to use open source programming languages to create user-defined shared online 'space.'
Formally awkward or clunky in execution, the limits of early data transmission through chat software often corralled big ambitions into small frames. A project that made the most of these frames, here in the ‘Canadian’ context, is CyberPowWow. An extensive ongoing project involving 24 contributors, CyberPowWow is emblematic of its time, but also sits outside what was a rapidly developing status quo. As a savvy and ambitious series of network-events , the project took place four times, using consciously invented online spaces to extend ongoing relationships and conversations, catalyze gatherings, conduction community education sessions, mentor or introduce artists and audiences to new media practices, and generally defy conventional wisdom about where art should reside. It was created for and by Indigenous artists, inclusive and invitational to settler allies and community peers, and defiantly optimistic about the possibilities it could engender.
The CyberPowWow Palace chatroom archive is installed in-house at Western Front as a demonstration of the environments it erected. In one conversation I errantly described it in its present state as a kind of ‘ghost town’, a problematic figuration for its allusions to frontier colonial mentalities that nevertheless references the resonant nature of the traces within. Artistic 'presences' take the form of messages scrawled on the walls of digital rooms. They remained for review as part of a digital library. I invite you to better understand the project’s meanings to its participants and audience by reading the following essay by Mikhel Proulx, which reflects in-depth on the CyberPowWow and its context. Alongside you’ll also find links and connections to the platforms of engagement (online files for download and html projects). In the above IRC window, you will also (intermittently) find me, lingering in the #westernfront chat room, ready to meet your digital gaze.
-- TERMINAL 4.0 --
Hot on the heels of a Canada Council summit, aimed at supporting and promoting the art community’s use of ‘the digital,’ this, the final installation of TERMINAL takes a dystopian turn. It’s focus is ostensibly social media, or perhaps better said, the move of sociability into deterministic online spaces for exchange. It is subtitled “Anti-Social Media,” which should give an immediate insight into my views on the world that our interfaces, here styled as data portals, have come to resemble.
The project, from its outset, has had at its core the notion of taking stock, or looking through various iterations of hardware and software that have been taken up by artists. Today’s computers, much as they bear the history of their development, now popularly function as a route for showing and sharing. Visual research is ongoing, where the surface and image are intermixed with other forms of content, both visible and hidden. The power to use both of these constructs of online interfaces to influence the format of our engagement with one another is one of the biggest problems we face today as citizens (and not, as some would term us users, ‘consumers’).
The very last text published as part of this project is the first one I commissioned; sparked by a spontaneous facebook comment by artist Jean-Paul Kelly that I have been drawn back to more than once. On March 25, 2016, he publicly considered the question:
“When is the turgid fetishization of the digital interface going to be curtailed by artists (or curators, or writers)? When is the interface going to be activated by meaningful inquiry that has individual, idiosyncratic nuance, rather than by the basest of gurgling questions of subjectivity and desire directed for or by a user and their safety and pleasure?...” (see his full quote below)
At my invitation, Kelly goes on to elaborate. He draws out the elements of a selection of practices, housed and consumed largely online, that to his careful eyes reproduce modernist formalism. He draws on the agenda of the interpreters of Op Art to draw attention to our moment, when the surface and ‘technology’ (or, its look) can characterize the underlying approach of the artist. Here, he insers a critical formal dialogue, a labour that we must all undertake if we are to find an ethics to bring to bear on works we view online today. His measure and testing leads him to a central question, “what happens when what I make looks like the world it was made in?”
To this question I also return as I consider art on or about social media. It doesn’t take much to recognize that the Internet, build largely with public monies on the back of military technology, has been reclassified from a space of potential for ‘peers’ to the praying ground of the corporate individual. Yet, in pointing out this oft repeated ‘fact’, I also wish attend to nuance, constitutive elements of the problem such as the ‘real’ articulate corporate ethical statements (Facebook: “Move Fast, Break Things”, Google: “Don’t Be Evil”, now Alphabet: “Do the right thing”) of those companies through whose online filters we consume each other’s data. This is terrain in which we find Desearch Repartment, a duo of artists who have been attempting at great pains to build a social media platform called State of Exceptional Webnation, as part of a larger critique of image culture and media hyperbole that saturates online forms of communication.
Part satire, part game, part artwork, State of Exceptional Webnation is an attempt (in progress) to vaporize the pretense that online citizenship can escape the complex set of conundrums that we find around ourselves IRL. Not at all pleasant, this nation of hyperbolic gestures and social contortions is downright offensive, by design. Our online citizenship in SOE reminds us of the myriad offenses present in a Western dominant hyper-neoliberal global state (of being). Trudging out all and any of the ongoing worst offenders of rampant celebrity and political culture, the work is characterized by a mindless consumption of images and a greedy desire for entertainment at every turn, the duo saturate users to a critical tipping point of self-reflexive questioning, which, following Kelly, I would phrase as: “Is this any different from the world?”
The dystopian in me says no. The utopian in me says yes.
So, if what little spaces were carved out for sociability have become subject to a form of corporate colonization that we are all too familiar with, and the pervasion of the technocratic state and corporate culture is slowly pressing into the nooks and crannies of our digital lives, where can we take our next steps? Perhaps, we ought not to look in the same old places.
On a recent trip to the Philippines, I ordered up a data plan for one month of use, to better facilitate getting to and fro, and to stay connected, stay working, stay available to and with my friends, family and colleagues back home. Interestingly, Facebook was free as a feature of this plan (a corporate subsidy or agreement with the ISP, I will assume). This effectively made it possible to connect to it anywhere without the need to conserve content updates for lack of preciousl data resources. And yet, the speed at which things progressed made using it less desireable. The Internet as a whole oftern felt like a huge waste of time.
Aha! Introducing a slight friction to the otherwise well-oiled system made it easier to resist the siren call of connectivity. Behaviour by design.
Resistance, friction, both incidental and intentional has now become a necessity for democratic functionality, online and off. At the aforementioned Canada Council Digital Summit, Astra Taylor offered a call to action: how can we occupy the Internet? To which I might add: what is a form of dissent? And how is art involved in it? To what degree is art necessary to this question? To answer this, we must recognize the conditions under which we create, and address them. Instead of looking endlessly into the black mirror’s dystopian reflection of our future, time and again artists choose invade it, and in ways big and small, supplant the pervasion of the technocratic state that threatens to mine all corners of our sociability for their gain.
Among them, operating under different orders, styles, forms and means, are all of the people in this series, whose works and ideas have propagated because technologies made them possible, but also because they could imagine their way through the technology into ideas, gestures, expressions, statements and formulations that are both ‘like the world,’ but also a little more. The screen may be our interface, but technology remains a tool. It is made up of specific constitutive elements that can present as space, a gateway, an appendage, an outlet, or perhaps, one day, a shield. It is only through our consciousness of context, and the labour that follows that we can avoid repeating predictable outcomes, instill frictions, question beliefs and assumptions, and offer new forms or terms of engagement.
Artists: Brion Gysin, Desearch Repartment, Barry Doupé, Amy Lockhart, Tiziana La Melia, bpNichol, Marisa Olson, Mark Pellegrino, Skawennati
Writers: Allison Collins, Clint Enns, Mikhel Proulx, Jean-Paul Kelly
Designer: Jake Lim
Website Coding: Jayme Cochrane
Software Programming Support: Justin Filip
Project Assistants: Nathan Marsh, Gabi Dao
Technical Direction: Ben Wilson
Works by Amy Lockhart, Mark Pellegrino and Barry Doupé made using the Amiga were originally facilitated and commissioned by the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS) as part of the project Hello Amiga (2012). Hello Amiga was curated by Madi Piller and distributed on behalf of TAIS by Vtape.
Barry Doupé is a Vancouver based artist primarily working with computer animation. He graduated from the Emily Carr University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Media Arts majoring in animation. His films use imagery and language derived from the subconscious; developed through writing exercises and automatic drawing. He often creates settings within which a character’s self-expression or action is challenged and thwarted, resulting in comic, violent and poetic spectacles. His films have been screened throughout Canada and Internationally including the Ann Arbor Film Festival (Ann Arbor, Michigan), International Film Festival Rotterdam (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), Anthology Film Archives (NY, New York), Lyon Contemporary Art Museum (Lyon, France), Pleasure Dome (Toronto, ON), MOCCA (Toronto, ON), Whitechapel Gallery (London, UK), Centre Pompidou (Paris, France) and the Tate Modern (London, UK).
Brion Gysin (1916–1986) was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. He is perhaps best known for his “re-discovery” of the cut-up technique, further developed by his friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs. Gysin travelled widely, living in Vancouver, Tangier, New York and Paris. With the engineer Ian Sommerville Gysin developed the Permutation Poems and invented the Dreamachine, a flickering visual device designed to be viewed with the eyes closed in order to induce hallucinatory states. His work has been exhibited and collected extensively. The New Museum mounted a comprehensive retrospective of his work in 2010.
Desearch Repartment is a collective entity that emerged out of the political shift in the ealy 2000s, coinciding with the invention of relational aesthetics and the popularization of the Internet. Following 9/11, the combined genesis of social media and social practice, the commodification of human relations, the duo creates and engages a wide range of hyperbolic practices that draw upon sociability, power, politics, labour and the future.
Jean-Paul Kelly makes videos and exhibitions that pose questions about the limits of representation. Kelly has exhibited at Delfina Foundation (London), Musée d’art contemporain des Laurentides (Saint-Jérôme), Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus), Scrap Metal Gallery (Toronto), and The Power Plant (Toronto). Screenings include: Canada House (London), Courtisane Festival (Ghent), Vdrome, International Film Festival Rotterdam, New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and the Flaherty Film Seminar. He has participated in residencies at ISCP New York and Delfina Foundation. Kelly received the 2015 Images Festival Award and the 2014 Kazuko Trust Award from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Tiziana La Melia
Tiziana La Melia (b. 1982, Palermo IT) is an interdisciplinary artist working in painting, installation, film and writing. To date, La Melia’s work has explored through painting, installation and writing, the relationship between proprioceptive experience and the way that thought becomes form; language digresses; things become subjects, subjects become things; hyphens, metonymy, stutters, and slime form a mutating and nonlinear poetics. Her work is populated by angelfish, losers, dropouts, and spinsters—who are preoccupied by fate, weather, health, time, food, perfume, writing, technology and pets. The characters in the work evoke an agency that is both fixed and malleable. Titles and form evoke theatrical structures to navigate the slippage between objects and language, plotting to blur the dialectic between the utilitarian and the lyrical.
Her work has exhibited, screened and performed in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Ohio, Stockholm, Nevers, Montreal, and Vancouver. Her writing has appeared in C Magazine, The Organism for Poetic Research, Pyramid Power, The Capilano Review and Poetry is Dead. Forthcoming activities include a solo exhibitions at 8-11 (Toronto) and Anne Baurrault (Paris). La Melia was awarded the 2014 RBC Painting Prize. She lives and works in Vancouver.
Amy Lockhart is a filmmaker, animator and artist. Her animations have screened at festivals nationally and internationally, including the Ann Arbor Film Festival and International Animation Festival in Hiroshima, Japan. Lockhart has received fellowship at the National Film Board of Canada and support from the Canada Council for the Arts. She currently lives and works in Chicago, Il.
Barrie Phillip Nichol (1944-1988), was a Canadian writer, engaged with what he called ‘borderblur.’ In his lifetime he wrote poetry, novels, short fiction, children’s books, musical scores, comic book art, collage/assemblage, and computer texts. In the early 1960s Nichol produced fiction and lyric poetry; he later garnered international attention with his hand-drawn concrete and visual poems that explore the material, tangible, and aural qualities of the word and the letter. An inveterate collaborator, he worked with the sound poetry ensemble The Four Horsemen; Steve McCaffery as part of the Toronto Research Group (TRG); the visual artist Barbara Caruso; and countless other writers. In the mid 1980s he became a successful writer for the children’s television show Fraggle Rock. Throughout his career Nichol discovered innovative ways to play with narrative, often as hilarious reworkings or re-mixings of conventions within genres ranging from the novel to the western, the detective story, the romance novel, the journal entry and the autobiography. He subverted formal and thematic conventions— effortlessly moving between genres, blurring and experimenting with generic boundaries.
Marisa Olson's work combines performance, video, net art, sound, drawing, and installation to address the cultural history of technology, gender experiences, and the politics of participation within pop culture. She is a founding member of the Nasty Nets "internet surf club" whose new DVD premiered at the New York Underground Film Festival and toured to Sundance. Her work has been presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Centre Pompidou-Paris, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Venice Biennale, Samek Museum, Bard CCS, and elsewhere. Olson studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, and Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. Her work has been written about in Artforum, Art in America, Folha de Sao Paolo, Liberation-Paris, Dis, Interview, and her own critical writing has appeared in Aperture, Flash Art, Art Review, Afterimage, The Guardian, and Art on Paper, and numerous books in multiple languages. She is the former Editor for both Rhizome and Camerawork and has curated projects at the Guggenheim, SFMOMA, White Columns, and Artists Space.
Mark Pellegrino is a Toronto-based, multi-disciplinary artist and art technician. His digital practice has utilized antiquated video equipment, emulated computer systems and 3d animation to explore the history, discourse and anomalies of the video medium. His varied practice has shown around Toronto and includes illustration, printing, animation and installation
Mikhel Proulx researches contemporary art and digital culture. He comes from Indigenous and settler ancestry. His research considers Queer and Indigenous artists working with networked media, and he has curated exhibitions across Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. Mikhel is a PhD student and faculty member in the department of Art History at Concordia University, Montreal.