First conversation_rough_cuts with Maja and Nik, 6 April

This conversation got off to a rather weird start. This was because I took an angle focusing almost solely on the technological dimension of reality generation and responsive environments – what were supposed to be our discussion themes. I also seemed to be making some sort of attempt to stir up something like “controversy” in order to ferret out possible novelty in what is already a very well canvassed and documented area of FoAM's work. This attempt came off as bizarrely downbeat, circular, and stunningly maladroit, in the end “stirring up” little more than baffled, monosyllabic replies and the perplexed concluding question: “Why didn't we talk about the topic?” (A career as talk show host or interviewer for Playboy is possibly not for me.)

Maja's interest in responsive environments first emerged from direct experience of virtual reality. She was impressed how it seemed to blur the edges between media and matter, where you could feel the media becoming tangible and responsive. Virtual reality was at the time very cumbersome, expensive, and accessible only in research labs. She became interested in recreating such virtual reality experiences for larger audiences outside the lab, and making them accessible in arts festivals and public spaces. The focus from the outset was on “affordable mysticism”: “the belief that the convergence of art and technology would provide a window into mystical experiences that were up to then accessible [predominantly] through drugs or religious experiences.”

Even though, according to Nik, the audiences of FoAM's initial mixed reality installations remained quite small-scale and “exclusive” (in the sense that they were not mass-marketed for example), “a lot of the people who went through these things hadn't really experienced anything like that previously.” For Maja they were “a small but significant step forward” in the state of the art, especially with tXOom, which couldn't be called exclusive as it had such a wide range of participants coming in from the general public. Designing these environments was like gardening. You can “design the initial state of the garden, plant the seeds, create the beds and design the overall framework, but once you've done your thing you have to let it grow and the only thing you can do is prune and cultivate a bit.”

At which point in the conversation, the interviewer observed: “So on the one hand there's these threads, but on the other, there's not. There's things that haven't been threads.”
“What do you mean? Such as? Which threads and not-threads?” queried the interviewees, a little puzzled at the peculiar change of direction.
“Hmm, I'm not sure, that's what I'm wondering…”
“Like, what things haven't been followed through?”
“Yes, and what things have, like, the aesthetic… How do you see the aesthetic from these early things following through to now?”
Maja attempted to bring the conversation back to something vaguely on-topic: “Plants have invaded more. I can see the aesthetic still being developed, but using different media. But it still has a very similar sensibility to me.”

Another thread has been “transformation and transmutation and translation – all the 'trans' things,” which “we're still exploring … but not in the context of a media-centric installation.” They have reemerged in such areas as biohacking, geomancy, and “weird peripheral usages of technology in the Facebook age.” However, Nik notes, the context of an installation perhaps made “some things easier to explain … given that it's essentially isolated from the rest of the world. …You can treat the installation as something like an experiment or a test case or a temporally closed system, and look at how these principles operate within that closed system or that constrained setting.” The ideas can risk becoming “much more diluted, ephemeral” when taken into more familiar settings or contexts. In sum, the path from “then” to “now” has not really been an arc but a constant oscillation with “inhabited theory” the ideal balance: “having theories emerge from experiences, and inhabiting theories and testing them out in real life.”

Interviewer: “How have you been misunderstood, and misunderstood yourselves, in this process?” Maja: “We are not a sect. If we were, we would have been much more affluent.” She elaborates: “When the ambiguity is cut through from one angle, when people are trying to describe [FoAM] in a sentence, it usually cuts through and takes one side of it, and everything else remains – ambiguous. It seems like we are this and not that, while we think that we are both this and that.”

  • f15/maja_nik_1.txt
  • Last modified: 2015-04-14 13:59
  • by alkan