Judith Doyle Interview 2014

"OUTER SPACE: The Past, Present and Future of Telematic Art - 08"
BY JEREMY TURNER (Conducted by e-mail, January/February, 2004).
JT: I was wondering if you could recollect details of your telecom collaborations (primarily SS-TV) with Robert Adrian in Vienna, Hank Bull in Vancouver, Norman White in Toronto, Willoughby Sharp in New York and Bill Bartlett in Victoria? I understand that Worldpool has been re-invented for a Winter project in 2004. Will this new project be similar in spirit to the Worldpool of the past? What do you foresee being the main changes between upcoming Worldpool activities and those that were undertaken when the technology was in its infancy?
JD: This is quite the question. Let me paint a picture first of Worldpool Toronto. We had a fixed time & place where Worldpool always met. Every Wednesday at 7:20 at 720 Queen Street West (this was the building where Fred Gaysek and I had a small zine-style publishing house) - Rumour. We lived upstairs, curated the front window, held workshops, & wrote novelizations of horror movies to make the rent. We never knew who would come to Worldpool nights - a mix of tech geeks, artists from in and out of town, social activists, journalists, poets, critical theorists, performers --- so the mix was different from week to week. Always a case of beer. Usually something to eat. An atmosphere of hospitality. We'd talk for awhile, then get down to it. Norman White focused on the IP Sharp mailbox system - we had a Texas Instrument(s) Silent Sam terminal, and Norm was working on creating a database/network. We always had in-house fax, and there were only a handful of portable fax machines in Toronto then. We circulated fax machines to others in Toronto and hooked up with NYC frequently. We used government toll-free numbers that informants passed on to us. So in our physical space, it was a bit of a party or get-together. This was especially the case when slo-scan was involved, because it's so performative for the camera. People would be watching it live, and seeing incoming scans of performances from our network companions. We presumed it was the same at other nodes in the network - a party/performance scene - but that wasn't always the case. Some, like Bill Bartlett, went onto the net alone -- I guess that's a big difference from now. To go onto the net alone was uncommon then, because of limits of equipment access, perpetual breakdown, and because it just wasn't as much fun as social / performative environments. Of course Hank Bull for example is always working out of hot, populated, collaborative spaces and so I'm sure the Western Front end resembled the social picture at Worldpool Toronto. But we were a marginal, young, start-up self-funded centre, not well-established and grant-funded like the Front.
Also, in NYC, many of our telenetworking companions were into punk and alternative venues. It may take some time to get started up again, but our plan for Worldpool 2004 is to reprise some of the social and collective elements of art networking, its performative side. This is a big change from the internet norm, where people are usually isolated in their own homes firing off text-based messages. I personally would like to consider some alternatives in the conditions of embodiment. Another difference I detect is an understandably greater degree of cyberskepticism, of critique of utopian or positivist visions of technologies that would propose that there is something intrinsically good about telecommunications-based art practices for example. A new Worldpool will have to address difficulties in online literacy, access and the colonization of distribution channels for example. We will have to restore the local-to-local end, the user side of our applications. What can we do with artists' networks? how does this experimental culture impact on our embodied lives on the ground, and the lives of others without the same degree of access and literacy?An important element of Worldpool was as a socializing space - an informal, uninstitutional array of places where programmers, electronics experts, and artists could meet and initiate collaboration. I think this is still an important setting to create.
JT: What was the general reaction in Toronto at the time to Worldpool-style collaborations?
JD: There were certainly those who found it rather incomprehensible, overly techno-positivist, or silly. When we harped on about a fax-TV-telephone hybrid in every home, we were met with baffled disbelief - remember that home 'computers' did not exist as a conceptual entity in 1978. So people would not have spoken of personal computers. 'Fax' represented graphical capability (what we would now interpret as the www. graphical interface). 'Phone' implied real-time communications and wireless communicators (what we would now identify as the internet, cell phones and wi-fi networks). Networking meant using the phone for something other than conversations. 'TV' - well, it's still TV. The glowing screen that everyone watched is still the glowing screen that everyone watches - it's interactive promise largely unfufilled, though it is used as a 'monitor' more in every home. There was some interest in Worldpool from journalists, and some from academic quarters such as the photo-electric art department at the Ontario College of Art and the McLuhan Institute at U. of T. But basically, I do not think this activity was taken too seriously within discourses of contemporary art. Having said that, some critics (then and now) did write with these activities in mind. The other thing to remember is, there was not a huge divide between projects like Worldpool and other artist-run centres and initiatives including microgalleries, performance spaces, earthworks and urban street works, indie music, film and video, self-publishing zine projects, artist-run magazines, mail art networks and other related activities. I personally think it would be false to suggest that telenetworking is more like the internet as we know it now than like the embodied contemporary art contexts and nets of that time or this.


JT: In my interview with Robert Adrian he mentions how the WorldPool Collaboration in 1977 was at a time when experiencing the fax medium back then was equivalent to experiencing "magic". I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who felt that any good science was "indistinguishable from magic". Do you feel that there is still "Magic" left in some of the newer technological experiences out there? Or in other words, do you see Telecommunications Media as having metaphysical properties?
JD: As I said a bit earlier, I am more cyberskeptical now, more reluctant to inscribe technological change with a spiritual dimension, though there are good books like 'techgnosis : myth, magic and mysticism in the age of information' (Erik Davis) that outline the links and terrain quite persuasively.
In my own work I'm very interested in human/animal interaction, and the possibilities for developing more interfaces for non-human users. But, I think this has more to do with conditions of communication and embodiment than with magic. For humans and non-humans labour under the same conditions, and are instrumentalized economically in the same ways - reinscribing the inequities of the flesh (including race, geographic location) to the so-called disembodied conditions of cyberspace - embodied networks complicate 'mass' culture and its versions of magic. I am also interested in the psychological idea of the unconscious - a late 19th century development that coincides with the first moving pictures (often of animals). Persuasive links have been made between photography and our apprehensions of death (see, for example, Lippit - 'Electric Animal') and certainly these intersect with spiritualities of many stripes. I am working on a spectral cartography - a ghostscape, if you will - that imbricates human and fox bodies, my memories and archive - so I am interested in the possibility of shimmering time in layers of densities of opacities... This feels witchy but it comes from a representational impulse, rather than something that would transcend the body - or create 'life' from code formations. I am curious about what we find life-like in these discourses. I am too embedded in the flesh and local issues to ascribe 'magic' to technology or information carriers. if we view magic as a kind of liminal understanding - an apprehension of what we don't understand - it would be incorrect to locate magic in 'telecommunications media', for these are so authored, copyrighted, and built to construct us as consumers within existing power formations. Having said that, good science (scientists) and good art (artists) peel back the curtain on the philosophical puppet-masters (Descartes, for example) whose paradigms are 'the real glasses we wear' (Andy Patton). And when these are removed from our noses, it feels like magic.
JT: What is your opinion on the current state of telematic art and/or emailed art?
JD: It's weird, because even though I teach digital publication and am exposed to a lot of student projects, and engage in exchange with other artists and teachers, I still feel out of the loop in terms of what's happening now. I sometimes feel like we have to make it happen - to improve links and connections, project formations - to really know and produce these projects. One tendency I detect - my students are more concerned now with building talk-back and responsive interfaces than they were in the past. Here is a trajectory - from text-based nets, to graphical animation, to telecommunications structures and avatar-based interactions.
JT: What kind of future do you envision for telematic art and/or emailed art?
JD: More curatorial, educational and microcollectivity-based group projects. More flesh connections on the ground. More attempt to build flesh contact - more work on addressing flesh problems like hunger.
JT: Are you actively interested in the increasing trajectory towards video-game environments (avatars and bots) and software emulation as an art-form? Is there a place for this in the new Worldpool collaborations?
JD: I certainly am involved in creating environments. I notice my students are more into quiz-like structures than games. Avatars and bots must be fleshier. There is definitely a place for this in Worldpool, for Worldpool is about inclusiveness, about contact in the flesh and on working surfaces.
JT: Do you have any advice for online artists of today's generation?
JD: I worry that only 7% of the world's population has access to a telephone, or to clean drinking water. I would advise people to be countercultural, never to see this as a stepping stone, and to be alert to what goes in and out of your body, to what it does in a day. Note the bodies you consume, and those outside your window. Your next project is inside your refrigerator, or attached to it with a magnet. You needn't look far. 
Judith Doyle is an artist working in film and media. In 1978 Doyle co-founded Rumour Publications with Fred Gaysek at 720 Queen West, Toronto. Titles include "Kathy Goes to Haiti" by Kathy Acker, and Worldpool, an organization of artists using telecommunications technologies such as slow-scan video transmission, proto-fax machines and early portable computers. She is an Associate Professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design (Integrated Media), and is currently doing graduate work in Interdisciplinary Studies at York University, where her focus is on urban wildlife and the representation of animals in new media.
Jeremy Turner is the current Digital Archivist working on contract at Open Space in Victoria, Canada. He is also an interdisciplinary artist, writer, composer and curator. He is a Co-Founder of the 536 Media Collective in Vancouver. In addition, he is a Co-Producer of the very first Machinima Documentary, "AVATARA". To date, he has conducted interviews and written articles about innovations in New Media for: C-Theory, Shift, Intelligent Agent, Extropy, Rhizome, Offbeat and Front Magazine. He is on the Board of Editors for the Digital Salvage Online Journal hosted by Trace Reddel at the University of Denver, Colorado.