Sunday, May 2, 2004

Mobile Connections- Day 2

The day kicked off with Matt Adams of Blast Theory discussing hybrid performances and audience participation in their mobile mixed reality games. Riffing on Hakim Bey, Matt introduced the idea of TPZs: Temporary Performative Zones.

Their Uncle Roy All Around You game has been running in Manchester, taking a strangely intimate look at matters of absence and presence. It requires you to get close with people far away, and to enter into social contracts with complete strangers. Given our increasingly interconnected worlds, this raises the particularly interesting issue of what responsibility we may have to distant people.

A few audience members accused him of selling out because they have collaborated with industry. And frankly, it surprised me to see several panel discussions get hung up on utopian vs. distopian discourses, where art was almost expected to comprise some sort of "pure" practice, completely divorced from capitalism. It seems a shame to me that when people were trying to work with existing social practices and institutions they were attacked; acceptable critical practices seemed to be limited to only working outside of everyday life. As if that were possible.

This tension resurfaced later on when Tom Melamed was asked what was the end point or ultimate objective of the Mobile Bristol project. He said he hoped it would never be finished, and I wondered why an end point would be preferable. There was also much talk of (to use Marko Peljhan's phrase) freedom in the electromagnetic sphere. He claimed that the battle over a publically owned telecommunications infrastructure has already been lost and that artists and designers should be focussing on technologies for people that don't have lots of leisure time and money. While I certainly agree on one level, this focus on efficiency to the exclusion of pleasure seems oddly mechanistic and restrictive. The wireless spectrum is still up for grabs, and I wonder how artists, designers and researchers can change telco policies if they do not engage the people who make them.

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