"Collaborationation": The Artwork and its Issues

During some of the richest periods of my life I was painting all day--sometimes community murals and mural-sized studio works--and playing music with friends all night. I have tried to explore some of those issues in my electronic kiosk "COLLABORATIONATION: Garage Bands, Community Murals and Cyberspace".

Much of computer art history to date involves the taking of forms from previous media (photographic "Realism", cel animation) to adapt to new electronic ones. Here the interactive onscreen presentation--now used largely for business or for education and training functions--has become an "artist's meditation" upon my personal content and experience. The Joycean name "Collaborationation" was coined, perhaps evoking both "imagination" and "machination". There actually was a collaborative process in the development of this piece, one involving old musical cohorts from Michigan. Continuing to correspond with several of them over the years, I issued the word that any of their historic garage band imagery they chose to lend would be employed in the work. This stage could be said to be an example of the provacative genre of Mail Art. Only a third of the contributors to the piece actually played in bands with me, but the other two-thirds were from our shared place and time. Some murky portrait imagery I was sent became navigation buttons; in a sense metaphors of empowerment and agency. Garage band musicians were thus enlisted to become "Click to play" icons. Two of the graphics I used arrived electronically, as TIFF (then converted to PICT) files on disk.

"COLLABORATIONATION" was displayed November 4th through December 13th, 1992 as part of the Cyberspace in Music Therapy exhibit in the Cutting Edge Gallery of the Mandell Futures Center at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. The software--created in Macromind Director 2.0--ran on a Macintosh behind a painted cut-out 8' tall mural-like figure, with its trackball accessible through the head of his drum. The figurative facade of the kiosk was based on the drummer for my band nineteen years before, who in his early twenties joined a Russian Orthodox monastery in which he has remained.

The piece's virtual Community Mural allows the user to assemble one set of site-appropriate imagery upon a wall. In a section following the virtual mural my concept of Muralworlds--real-time dimensional spaces whose polygonal "walls" use figurative imagery to access further information--was summarily prototyped.

As always with a piece that is experienced onscreen, graphic design issues merge into computer-human ones. The user control is minimal, and based on my observation of users--including easily distracted kids and teenagers--of electronic displays in the Franklin Institute, which I visited while attending SCAN '91. The onscreen presentation cycles back to the start after user forty-five seconds of inaction, for I assume the museum visitor has lost interest in the kiosk and moved on. Exhibit staff familiar with Macromind Director programmed two additional versions, one which turned it into a timed slide-show presentation visible when the glass cabinet containing all the exhibit kiosks was locked and unsupervised. The second version remained on just the interactive mural screen, for that proved the favorite of young children. I have broken some established computer-human interface conventions, using multiple buttons for the same function (to go to the next screen), but have opted for the entertainment value of variety here.

Color is used to designate different sections of the content. Red designates the Garage Band section, blue-green for the Community Murals section, and a purple background for introductory and summary screens. The grid on which all graphic elements--buttons, text, illustrations and moveable sprites--lie is informal. The piece incorporates different styles of imagery that include cartoons (scanned line drawings then colored), hand-colored 72 dpi bitmap scanned photographs, and scanned color photos. The Apple Scanner (using HyperScan) and the Paint program Studio 8 from Electronic Arts were the main tools. Some design choices, such as the clear and readable Garamond font and the use of drop shadowed text boxes, were conciously borrowed from the style of the instructional disks produced by Apple Computer, Inc. 1985-89. I admit being aesthetically influenced by "Your Apple Tour of the Macintosh", having been involved in its later revisions. I also followed the convention my Apple group followed of animation sequences preceding and leading into information whose navigation is then user-controlled.

What is this piece? A graphic work about music, with no music save for a small cycled fragment accompanying a single frame? Or a piece that's not really about music, but about people who are "not musicians" making music? Then similarly, about people who are "not artists" making art? The fact that this is not in an established genre is exciting and validating to me. I'm pleased that it's my most recent interactive work yet alludes to previous pieces, as well as to my most resonant work in other artforms. It seems to be a sort of hub, a reflecting jewel in Indra's Net (someday, the cyberspatial Net); from it perhaps all my work and thought could be hyperlinked into a continous information space--my "Mosherspace"--linked to the individual works of all my collaborators.

---December 1992

A new and smaller facade of a rock bassist was created for the exhibition of "Collaborationation" at the 1996 San Francisco Open Studios.

The interactive artwork "Fears" by Mercuri, Bhatnagar and Mosher was also displayed in the Cutting Edge Gallery along with "Collaborationation".

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