QUESTIONS by JOSEPHINE BOSMA
Josephine Bosma: It seems you are experts in finding the longest route from point A to point B. Are there any specific area's or terrain in which this specific expertise is best perceived? Do you have a preference for certain domains to work/ move in this way?
Auriea Harvey: One good example of this comes from analyzing the routes that Internet data takes from place to place. Even if the web page you look at is stored on a server located next door may have had to travel circuitously around the globe before it reaches you. The longest route from point A to point B is best perceived from very far away much like the view from an airplane. One examines the pattern made by the various routes to point B and can find pleasure in those patterns.
Michael Samyn: I disagree. The best way to perceive the longest route between point A and point B is to not perceive it at all. To be so immersed in it that it becomes so omnipresent that you lose any sense of direction. Like a kitten playing with wool.
AH: We use the Internet to connect these distances. We are perhaps the last big believers in the digital promise of utopia. Even in our work for clients we are constantly seeking the best route, which we find more often than not, isn't the most direct. If one wants to draw an eye one must concentrate on the ear.
(MS: Note that I first read this expression in an essay by Kees Vollemans. It has been haunting me ever since. I'm not sure if it was originally his)
(AH: Note that I first heard this expression from Michael when trying to draw an eye. It has been haunting me ever since.)
Rather than linking directly to the point we seek to show a viewer the route which may be the most entertaining. The exhibition we have planned for the makeworld festival is another example of this principle. We see exhibiting a website in a gallery setting as not showing the webwork itself but just a copy of that original so extreme is the difference in context but we also see it as not a good enough copy or facsimile of the work as the alteration of context changes the work into an object away from an environment. Because of the artificiality of the surroundings in a gallery setting (As opposed to a chance network encounter) the work takes on a whole new meaning. Thus we as designers of this exhibit must do some problem solving. The only solution we see is to make an effort to take the work even further out of its original context. We are taking our work even further away from its original net-based environment by not showing the copy at all. In this instance we prefer to connect people to the elements which make up the original web work. Sound isolates them from their physical surroundings putting their heads somewhere else giving them the sensations of our site. It is an attempt to recreate the virtual environment in their heads. In this way we reconnect people to what is essential in the work by offering them the superfluous elements: soundtrack audio of surfing through, in text the minute thoughts and ideas that went into the work, the sight and scent of a rose.
MS: First of all, the format of this exhibition required us to call ourselves experts in something. This caused something of a minor identity crisis. One of the main reasons being, probably that we do not consider ourselves experts in any one thing. If we have any expertise, it's in combining all sorts of little mini-expertises together. So, for your information, here's the list that this mini-crisis caused. You will notice an evolution caused by drifting between three styles: poetic, ironic and factual.
experts in interactive design experts in Wirefire experts in Linear and Non-Linear WirePresence experts in Network Sex Drives experts in 404Kissing experts in Frozen Time experts in Passionate Computing experts in Desktop Tragedy experts in Bread and Games experts in the future experts in despair experts in cognito experts in everything experts in alpha et omega experts in destruction and creation experts in total nuclear war experts in heat experts in hard and soft experts in clination experts in to experts in two experts in the air experts in carnation experts in deed experts in diana experts in solence experts in satiation experts in excile experts in ternet HA HA experts in-game experts in deprivation of the senses experts in depth experts in suspending disbelief experts in one another experts in smoke screens experts in bad taste experts in clouds experts in development experts in sickness and in health experts in oral sex experts in Fellatio et Cunnilingus experts in tongues experts in the machine experts in mind experts in cluded experts in losing experts in and of themselves experts in operation experts in a pillar of cloud and in a pillar of fire experts in ethnical cleansing experts in Beauty and Truth experts in the Golden Section experts in perspective experts in trompe l'oeuil experts in freedom of expression experts in oil on canvas experts in museum quality artwork experts in contemporary art experts in open information distribution experts in the crucial bridge between the ironic and post-ironic worlds experts in challenging the traditional art selling system and the institutionalized establishment of curators and directors experts in levelling the distinctions between art and life experts in questioning the need to show our work in a museum experts in the harmonious collaboration of art, technology and society experts in Internet-based artworks experts in interactive Web sites and multimedia narratives experts in complex virtual environments full of visually sophisticated images and evocative sounds experts in cutting edge interface design experts in user experience design experts in empowerment of the people experts in permanent revolution experts in social upheaval experts in political correctness experts in the truly international character of the World Wide Web as a medium of communication and direct distribution experts in compelling and seductive narratives experts in an unabashedly romantic aura that is all the more impressive for its emotional honesty and directness experts in allusive, elusive and provocative alternatives experts in the real power of the Internet experts in end-to-end solutions in online learning, advertising, e-commerce, CRM, and entertainment experts in return on investment experts in customized solutions experts in rich media entertainment on the internet experts in computer-human interaction experts in high-impact Web design experts in next-generation animation and interactivity experts in the future of art and entertainment experts in the longest route between point A and point B
This list in and of itself is probably a good illustration of one way in which we are "experts in the longest route between point A and B". Trying to find the longest route between point A and point B as a design technique. When we start a design job (which includes the works of art we seem to produce), we make long lists of everything that could have something to do with the projects. And somehow, we are able to put all of those elements in the piece in one form or other. We are maximalists. It's not that we cannot make choices. Anyone who has seen our work will have to admit that its underlying structure is often very rigid and simple. Maybe we are experts in data compression. Or maybe we are experts in making one word say more than a thousand pictures. Another side to "the longest route between point A and point B" is the client side. Obviously, the Western capitalist world seems to think that everything needs to be designed in order to shorten the distance between start and end, question and answer, consumer and product. We are simply not very interested in that kind of efficiency. And on a politico-philosophical level, we think that that kind of efficiency is potentially very harmful. The longest route between point A and point B is about joy. A is a given, and so is B. Neither gives pleasure. Neither gives pain. Maybe point A is birth and point B is death. A person's humanity can be measured according to the length he or she is willing to give to the route between point A and point B. Or in social terms, a society is as humane as the route its members can afford to make the route between point A and point B.
But that's not what I wanted to say at all. For me, calling ourselves experts in the longest route between point A and point B is a design statement. I'm afraid that at this point in time, I can't seem to find any words that explain it better than that phrase.
JB: What is it that makes you look for the longest route instead of the shortest? Is it an interest in slowness? Is it a desire for precision? Or is there an element of obstinacy and rebellion in it, a rebellion against the pressure of deadlines and fast living perhaps?
AH: This could be considered a very paradoxical route. Auriea is point a and Michael is point b. Thus the longest route from Auriea's hand to Michael's was through the Internet but perhaps this longest of routes was also the shortest. Ours is in one way an interest in slowness because it is always our desire to take away the rush to click. There is a bit of rebellion in the urge to connect physical spaces with digital ones. One may consider the Internet the longest route because the data must travel the globe without you but this long trip is nothing compared to that of connecting minds and ideas which one can only write about and not see or feel except through the proxy of its host language or culture.
MS: Not slowness but endlessness. The greatest distance between point A and point B is infinity. The ideal is to never reach point B. Not because of failure, but because the route towards point B is so much more interesting than actually reaching it. Not slowness, but richness (not quantity, but quality). If we design a search engine, we hope that people never find what they were looking for. Not because the application that we designed failed or people failed to figure out how to use it. But because we were able to show them something that was infinitely more interesting, enjoyable, etcetera than what they were looking for. In a way, this may be considered our secret art guerilla. We design an object that is useful and usable. Beyond a doubt. And then we add to that layers and layers of meaning and possible interpretations. And on top of that we design a system of seduction. And this is our area of expertise, or at least where we would like to be experts in: the seduction of people in the quagmire of pseudo hallucinations that we spin for them. Maybe being experts in the longest route between point A and point B is not unlike being the Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood when he shows the girl the beautiful flowers off the path in the forest. In that sense, I guess, we are Evil. Obstinacy is definitely part of it too. We prefer depth to speed.
JB: In what way do you think people, and most of all your colleagues, could benefit from your expertise? Are you interested in sharing your knowledge at all?
AH: Everyone could benefit from finding a longer route. Perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place. Seeking ways to look and find the best solution and not only the most expedient. MS: I'm glad you ask a question like this because it puts the focus on our work as research. And that's how we like to see it. We are very modest about the amount of knowledge that we may have acquired during the research project. I feel that we are still very much in the middle of it and have not done any real discoveries. But maybe those discoveries are our infamous point B that we should postpone reaching as long as we can. I think our most important contribution to the evolution of a new grammar for interactive media thus far, is that it is not necessary to throw everything overboard when working with new media. There are many things from the past that can be very useful to the present. One of our major discoveries was linearity, e.g. On the other hand, we also advocate a radical eclecticism of methods. Purism has no place in interactive media. In multimedia, hypermedia, the singular is dead. Everything is plural. Embrace everything! (yes: design equals politics equals sex)
JB: If one would want to follow in your footsteps what would be the best way to proceed?
AH: The beauty of the longest route, as embodied by the Internet, is that it is always changing. It is impossible to take the same longest route twice therefore one is always following in our footsteps. MS: Haha. The internet analogy would also mean, that we travel in bits and pieces. A file does not travel as a whole on the internet. It is split up in tiny packets that all follow different routes and is then put back together on the other end. But during the travel (which often takes less than a second) the packages travel over the whole world and mingle with zillions of other packages that are parts of other files. I think internet users do the same.
JB: Do you mean then that all of us already are experts in taking the longest route from point A to point B, simply by working with the internet?
AH: If one is able to think of using the Internet as traveling the wires then perhaps. Some people simply use the internet and others live there. Truly taking the longest route means you have to feel the journey. Time collapses and the person across the ocean feels like he is right next to you and breathing in your ear. Taking the longest route must mean having a vivid imagination. Do traceroutes turn you on?
MS: I wouldn't want to restrict this to the internet nor to being an expert or not. For me, the internet is a funny and coincidental illustration of this principle. And I don't think it is necessary to be an expert in order to enjoy the longest route between point A and point B. I would like it if the word 'expert' kept its meaning of extreme knowledge and experience. I wouldn't want to see it watered down in slogans like "everyone is an expert". This being said, people who are comfortable with the net as part of their lives, must definitely have developed a strong expertise with the longest route between point A and point B (maybe this is a form of Sadean "masochism" -learn to adore what you abhor!). And maybe an expertise like this is required to enjoy our work. Many people on the internet, on the other hand, just use it as a tool. Those people still have a long route to go.