"Turbulence: Remixes + Bonus Beats"
by Eduardo Navas
Translated by Lucrezia Cippitelli, Francesca De Nicolò, Raquel Herrera, Brenda Banda Corona & Ignacio Nieto.
This text was originally commissioned by Turbulence and newmediaFIX as part of the series '3 X 3: New Media Fix(es) on Turbulence,' released on January 2007 "New Media Fix(es) on Turbulence" is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Eduardo Navas is an artist, historian and critic specializing in new media; his work and theories have been presented in various places throughout the United States, Latin America and Europe. He has been a juror for Turbulence.org in 2004 and for Rhizome.org in 2006-07, New York. Navas is founder and was contributing editor of "Net Art Review" (2003-05), is co-founder of "newmediaFIX" (2005 to present) and is co-founding member of " acute.cc", an international group of artists and academics who organize event and publications periodically. Currently, Navas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Art and Media History, theory and Criticism at the University of California San Diego. www.navasse.net
Turbulence is also part of the history of remix culture. Generally speaking, remix culture can be defined as the global activity consisting of the creative and efficient exchange of information made possible by digital technologies that is supported by the practice of cut/copy and paste. ( 1) The concept of Remix often referenced in popular culture derives from the model of music remixes which were produced around the late 1960s and early 1970s in New York City with roots in Jamaican music. ( 2) Today, Remix (the activity of taking samples from pre-existing materials to combine them into new forms according to personal taste) has been extended to other areas of culture, including the visual arts; it plays a vital role in mass communication, especially on the Internet-and in this case, in the Turbulence archive.
The focus in this text is to understand how Turbulence contributes to Remix as a cultural activity, as well as to the history of new media. I will first look at Turbulence as an archive, a type of recording (a vinyl record), and examine in detail selected works according to my theory of Remix. I will then reflect on the aesthetics of Internet art, and its historical importance.
turbulence: nothing but a remix
Turbulence turns ten at a time that follows, but is somewhat distant from the postmodern: a moment when grand narratives were questioned, and little narratives were favored. ( 3) The postmodern period, which roughly ranges from the mid/late-sixties to the mid-eighties, was understood as one of fragmentation, bits and pieces, incompleteness and open-ended possibilities.
During the postmodern period, the concept of the music remix was developed. The remix in music was created and defined by the DJs in the nineteen seventies in New York City, Chicago and other parts of the east coast, who re-combined or extended preexisting songs to make them more danceable. Their mixes actually have roots in "toasting," and dub music of Jamaica. ( 4) The activity of the east coast DJ's evolved into sampling bits of music in the sound studio, which means that the DJ producers were cutting/copying and pasting pre-recorded material to create their own music compositions. Cut/copy and paste, the fragmentation of material, is today part of everyday activities both at work and at home thanks to the computer, and are commonly found in popular software applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Word.
The Internet also depends on sampling, on cut/copy and paste in order to function as a network. File sharing, downloading open source software, live streaming of video and audio, sending and receiving e-mails are but a few of the activities that rely on copying, and deleting (cutting) information from one point to another as data packets. This means that cut/copy and paste is a pivotal element of Internet based art, and apply directly to the Turbulence archive.
What is particular to Internet art is that the user plays a crucial role in activating the work, like the DJ does when s/he plays with vinyl records. The Internet user manipulates the files in the Turbulence archive in the same way the DJ manipulates the record on the turntable. Both access pre-recorded material. The seventies DJ, however, was following the tradition of hackers, because s/he was manipulating records on a machine that was originally used for passive listening. This active interaction with pre-recorded material became part of the mainstream, and we can see how the online user falls within a category in part deriving from the DJ; the user now is expected to play with the files (like a DJ with records) and not just listen or view them passively, because interaction, touching, or in the case of the online user, clicking, is now integrated into culture.
The DJ manipulates a record and the Internet user manipulates the Turbulence archives. Metaphorically then, we can think of the Turbulence archive as a record, and like a "vinyl recording," it can develop scratches, and indeed it has, especially when we consider early works such as Not Walls (1996) by Laurel Wilson which uses Apple's Quickdraw, ( 5) an online interface that remixes image and text in a 3-D environment. The online work cannot be viewed because the plug-in is no longer available and the work has thus turned into an unplayable or scratched section in Turbulence's record groove.
Thinking of Turbulence as a vinyl record with a few unplayable tracks, this essay will now focus on specific projects which, as we "listen" to them, may show a few scratches of their own.
literature: remixed as internet art
In later sections a detailed theory of Remix will be given. At this moment what is crucial to understand in order to examine selected projects in the Turbulence archive is the concept of allegory, which is Remix's most vital element. Allegory is a cultural code that new media art, and more specifically Internet art, have inherited from the postmodern. ( 6)
The remix is always allegorical following the postmodern theories of Craig Owens, who argues that in postmodernism a deconstruction, a transparent awareness of the history and politics behind the object of art is always made present as a "preoccupation with reading." ( 7) Meaning that the object of contemplation, in our case Remix, depends on recognition (reading) of a pre-existing text (or cultural code). The audience is always expected to see within the work of art its history. This was not so in early modernism, where the work of art suspended its historical code, and the reader could not be held responsible for acknowledging the politics that made the object of art "art." ( 8) Postmodernism, in effect, remixed modernism to expose how art is defined by ideologies, and histories that are constantly revised. The contemporary artwork is a conceptual and formal collage of previous ideologies, critical philosophies, and formal artistic investigations extended to new media and Internet art.
Internet based art is inherently allegorical; it always relies on pre-existing material to gain authority. The works in Turbulence in this sense are allegorical; they are citations that rely on the authority of previous material that has been copied/cut and pasted, both conceptually and formally. This allegorical impulse, which carries a strong trace of postmodernism is apparent in all the Turbulence commissions. And not surprisingly the medium that is most allegorized is Literature and its narrative strategies; this is particularly true during the early years. Let us begin our examination with Literature and narratives. This focus will then expose other allegories.
Literature is an inspiration, if not the foundation, of many of the works commissioned between 1996 and 1998. Such works include The Grimm Tale by Marianne Petit with John Neilson, ( 9) North Country: Part 1 by Helen Thorington and Eric Schefter, ( 10) The Sad Hungarian by Nick Didkovsky and Tom Marsan, ( 11) and The Story of X by a Russian author. ( 12)
The Grimm Tale is a story about a boy who is not able to understand the concept "to shudder." This alienates the boy who is misunderstood by those around him. When he finally is able to understand the meaning of the verb, it is the user who must come to terms with it. This is an adaptation of a tale by the Brothers Grimm, in which the user is invited to move back and forth between the webpages, thereby making the experience of the story somewhat non-linear. North Country is a mystery short story about a skeleton, possibly of a woman, found in Upstate New York. The woman, the authorities claim, committed suicide, even though some evidence seems to point to homicide. This type of hypertext is known as a "branching story." Meaning that the user usually has two hyperlinks to select from, but in the end, s/he is expected to visit most, if not all, of the pages to get a handle on the mystery. The Sad Hungarian is the story of a farmer who has lost his wife and is trying to cope with his loneliness and the hard work he must perform day after day. It consists of animated gifs that must be activated by the user with mouse clicks. This story is linear; the user must, however, use the click-back browser button to go back to the main page. And The Story of X is an online collaboration where the user is expected to contribute actual writing. This story is always changing because users are allowed to contribute. The end result of "X" is many entities. The user can navigate the story archive starting with the most recent entries at the top. Unlike the other stories, this one consists of a single page.
The authors treat the web-browser as a direct extension of the printed book, while also experimenting with the possibilities the Internet offers as a creative medium. For example, in North Country the viewer can listen to ambient sound, and in The Grimm Tale each book chapter is accompanied with music compositions and animated gifs. The Sad Hungarian also utilizes animated images-a java applet to be exact, (a small software component that runs in the context of another program, in this case a web browser). ( 13) Many of these stories, while at times providing options to move back and forth between pages, nevertheless, rely on a linear narrative, and a traditional plot. We can say that they are, in part, an extension of hypertext literature. Most importantly, they point to interests that will be revisited repeatedly by other artists in the years to come. These works are, in essence, remixing pre-existing stories on the web, not to mention the linearity such stories depend on (except for The Story of X , as I explain below). They are what I call selective remixes because they leave the "spectacular aura" ( 14) of the stories intact.
These early works are historical documents of a transitional period when artists began to explore the paradox of the Internet: while the projects connect us with others in ways previously not possible, they also alienate us from others because such experience is mediated with information. The body is redefined by online communication; ( 15) the result is work that constantly asks to be completed, or contributed to, by the end user. This preoccupation and constant recall of the body is allegory-a remixed version of what we know in physical space.
1 This is actually my own definition extending Edward Lessig's definition of Remix Culture based on the activity of "Rip, Mix and Burn." Lessig is concerned with copyright issues; my definition of Remix is concerned with aesthetics and its role in political economy. See Edward Lessig, "Free," The Future of Ideas (New York: Vintage, 2001), 12-15.
2For some good accounts of Dj Culture see Ulf Poschardt, DJ Culture (London: Quartet Books, 1995); Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, Last Night a DJ Saved my Life (New York: Grove Press, 1999); Javier Bláquez and Omar Morera, eds. Loops: una historia de la música electrónica (Barcelona: Reservoir Books, 2002).
3 For a popular and often attacked version of postmodernism see, Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1984). For a constrasting account, see Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, Duke University, 1991). And for a brief, and somewhat limited reflection on Postmodernism's relation to new media see Charlie Gere, "Digital Resistances" Digital Culture (London: Reaktion books, 2002), 150-196.
4 Porschardt, Brewster, and Blánquez.
5 Laurel Wilson, Turbulence.org, 1996, <http://turbulence.org/walls.htm>, (October, 2006).
6 Craig Owens, "The Allegorical Impulse: Towards a Theory of Postmodernism," eds., Brian Wallis and Marcia Tucker, Art After Modernism (New York: Godine, 1984), 203-235.
7 Ibid, 223.
8 Ibid, 203-235.
9 Marianne Petit and John Neilson, "The Grimm Tale," Turbulence.org, 1996 , <http://turbulence.org/Works/grimm/index.htm>, (October, 2006).
10 Helen Thorington and Eric Schefter, "North Country: Part 1," Turbulence.org, 1996, <http://turbulence.org/Works/Thorington/nc/index.html>, (October 1996).
11 Nick Didkovsky and Tom Marsan, "The Sad Hungarian," Turbulence.org, 1996, <http://turbulence.org/Works/sadhungarian/index.html>, (October 2006).
12 A Russian Author, "Story of 'X'," Turbulence.org,
13 "Applet," Wikipedia.org, October 15, 2006,
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applet>, (November 3, 2006).
14 I use the term "spectacular" after Guy Debord theory of the Spectacle, and Walter Benjamin's theory of Aura. We can note that the object develops its cultural recognition, not on cult value, but exhibit value (following Benjamin), because it depends on the spectacle (following Debord) for its cultural contribution. See Guy Debord, "Spectacular Time," The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 110-117; Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Illuminations (New York, Schocken, 1968), 217-251.
15 For an extensive analysis on how embodiment is redefined in new media culture see N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999); and Mark B. N. Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: 2004).