Automatic Update

The Yoshiko and Akiomorita Media Gallery

June 27-September 10 2007

Automatic Update

Interview with Jennifer and Kevin McCoy

Interview by Sabine Himmelsbach for Edith Russ Site for Media Art, 2006

You both have studied film and electronic media. I know that you have worked with video before (which unfortunately I haven’t seen yet). Can you talk about the development of your work from these early video productions to the elaborate sculptural structures you have created in the last couple of years? What has induced this development, this change?

You can trace the origins of this change through our increasing insistence on some aspect of creating live images, or performative sculptures. Early in our collaboration we made work in different forms (interactive installation, sound works, performances, etc) which had in common the idea that visual arts could interrogate narrative. The crucial tool in this endeavor turned out to be the computer although certainly it could be done with other means as well. In works like Horror Chase or The Kiss the film footage is of course, pre-recorded, but its playback is handled live by the computer. This can be seen as kind of an interim step between single channel video and the sculptures we make now. The current work also handles the generation of the images in real time, produced live by the attached cameras. The importance of the current sculptures is that they present the fragments of what could constitute a story, but the temporal aspect (the video projection) is needed to make some sense of it. I guess the real question is why live? Why this focus on something happening rather than the traditional notion of the artwork as a recording of a gesture or a place or situation? Thats more complicated but seems to have to do with the idea of transformation, of seeing something working or changing or even just happening in a steady-state. For us it is the difference between the way a live performer can activate a space compared to watching film or tv. The stakes are higher and the jump between what is seen and what is made is greater.

The database works in the exhibition are for me also a reflection of changed consumer habits, regarding the screening of film and video. With the VHS recorder and DVD player it’s up to the viewer to decide, if he wants to see a sequence over and over or watch the film in its linear version. Are you questioning how the media affects peoples lives?

One of the effects we are examining is the feeling of the overwhelming vastness of the media landscape. There is more than you will ever see, even in the context of a single TV show. So there is a feeling of desparation and being overwhelmed, but that at the same time feeling open to the new possiblities that come from that new situation. We feel that memory is a key player in this situation. The idea that one's memory of a show are placed next to real memories and become part of your mental collection. Certainly though, newer technologies have increased the fan's capacity to scan and rewatch and obsess over media fragments. We find that these fragments are often enough to trigger the whole experience of the original narrative.

In your exhibition STOP MOTION at the Edith Russ Site for Media Art the selection of works shows your move from conceptual related works to a more personal approach. Early works are dealing with film references, the grammar of film and the deconstruction of film language to create an awareness of the underlying structure and codes, while in the last series of works you are creating fantasies, staging your own live as a film set. Can you talk about that change and your motivations?

We hate to see this as a change! The secret is that earlier work of which you speak had a hugely personal approach to conceptual art. That was really the humor of it. What does it really mean to break up something as slippery as narrative into categories? Isn't that totally subjective? Whose categories? Christian Metz's? Carl Jung's? Its psuedo-science, especially in our formulation of the work. What is funny about the project is that it looks like taxonomy but it is personal narrative. We picked tv shows that had very personal relevance to our upbringings. One way to see these database projects is as self-analysis through fan culture.

The other secret is that the newest work that contains personal stories is actually conceptual art totally based upon the idea of categorizing narrative through genre. It is another way that people construct reminiscenses. People remember things in terms of genre ("It was like in a movie!") and we have chosen material from our own lives to demonstrate this. The humor here is that the personal revelations could almost be anyone's. There is nothing idiosyncratic here. In the case of the Double Fantasy series, the most you can say is that they are real fantasies!

Your current work Double Fantasy (Religion) is part of a series of works that deal with personal fantasies. How do the topics of the individual works of the series relate to each other and what has inspired you to choose these?

This series becomes a way to extend our collaboration to a time before we met. In each of the four projects, we remember an earlier time from our childhoods or adolescence and then try to recall what our fantasies had been. What does a child dream that sex will be, for example, and what fuels those fantasies? So each of the Double Fantasy sculptures present an "establishing shot" where one can see each of us as children or teenagers, a scene that is intercut with what the imagined fantasies might have been. We tried to choose the topics most important to us at those ages. Double Fantasy I relates to the idea of play and portrays us as very small children (the models of us are about the size of a grain of rice)! Double Fantasy II focuses on sex and portrays the kind of minimal sexual experiences that fuel fantasy and fulfill it. The poses, of course, are extremely genre specific. That is a time of life and a topic completely overwhelmed by media imagery. Double Fantasy III is about career and Double Fantasy IV is about religion and mystical experience. This last, shown here in the exhibition, was the most difficult to plan for and to express visually but was fully satisfying in the end because of the way it uses very standard images like the crucifix and the grim reaper, but is somehow able to communicate intensely personal experiences none the less.

You mentioned earlier that you use the computer as a crucial tool to interrogate narrative, but that this could also be done with other means. In your works, the functionality of the technology is made visible, for example in The Kiss, to make clear that the video is edited live. In the miniature-filmsets, cameras and lights are included, whereas the computing processes responsible for the editing are hidden. What aesthetic importance do the technological aspects have in your work?

We see it as a matter of emphasis. We are in no way interested in mystifying anything about the process going on in the work. Often it is fairly practical concerns that determine the way the work looks. With The Kiss it was important to point to the fact that the images are being edited and resequenced live, a point that upon first glance might not be very evident. The work is edited live because we want the viewer to have an experience that is both closed and open in that they initially see that the images are repeating, but as they watch they notice small differences and unique occurrences, reminding them that no situation is ever fully grasped. Still, in this installation, we could only point to the existence of the computer in the room and so allude to the fact that the computer makes the sequence. One cannot actually see the computer working after all, you just know that it is turned on, trust the environment of the exhibition, and make assumptions. On the other hand with all the miniature film sets, we present the material being shot as real objects, so that there is little question that the cameras are live. The computer chip, though hidden, is there but not emphasized because even if it were presented sculpturally, one still can not actually see it working. You know that it is working though, because we give the viewer all the evidence in the "space" between the sculpture and the video projection.

The term STOP MOTION refers to a special technique used in animation. Could you explain why you used that expression for the title of the exhibition and it what sense it relates to your works?

The process of making something using a stop motion effect means that the filmmaker must break down a gesture into its constituent parts and completely examine every frame. This kind of analysis as a conceptual tool makes sense to all the work in this exhibition, but in different ways. For example, in The Kiss, motion is literally stopped, so there is a play on words there. That project really is an animation in that the computer plays back a series of digitized film frames. It is not video at all, not continuous except in its perception. In the miniature film set projects like Eternal Return and Double Fantasy IV, a stop-motion process happens at its most minimal as each project has only a small number of possible shots which are completely set up and stylized the way a claymation artist would work but with very very reduced means. They are a cinema of stopped motion. For the database projects, we see "stop motion" as more of a command to the viewer and to ourselves, an invitation maybe to interrupt the flow of narrative to consider alternative editing structures and to allow a deeper critique of the way images are handled in popular media.