Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I have always been something of a rusty hinge when it comes to squeaking on about the convergence of art and technology.

My first rants on this subject date back to the Mac Plus days of 1989, when I first began group conferencing on the WELL. That first encounter with "virtual" community (no web yet, remember) pre-dated by a few years the buzz over Virtual Reality, and by four years, the appearance in the fall of '93 of Mosaic, the first popular graphical web browser.

The initial version of Telecircus.com, which offered the first official websites for a bunch of local arts groups like Burning Man and The Residents, launched the following summer and looked exactly like this.

From then to now, it's been one twisty Wild Melt-O-Mouse of a ride; from desktops to laptops to PDA's to cellphones to blogs to vlogs to sensors and to GPS - one ongoing revision that plows under whatever came before, which in turn serves to fertilize the ground for the next leap forward.

There is no art without some form of technology. The origin of the word itself, from the Greek word "techné," says it all - "art, skill, craft, method, system." The ah-ha for me has always been around new communications technologies, and how they have generally served to extend the influence of the individual, as an increasingly autonomous node in an ever-expanding "network" of other similarly autonomous individuals. Rather than burying us all in grim and desolate anonymity, the cumulative effect of such cyber-evolution has been to greatly extend the reach and range of individual expression. The monstrous flows of talent referenced here in the right-hand sidebar provide ample proof as to the complexity of that diffusion - even within the narrowed spectrum of alternative art/circus.

You may choose not to consider yourself a "techy"-type person - fine. But like it or not, you cannot help but be increasingly drawn into, and at least partially defined and empowered by your various "networks" - by the reach and range of your multiple communication and collaboration connections.

Concurrent with Moore's Law, which defined the long-term upward trend of increased power and lowered cost in silicon circuitry, has been the unintended effect that such expanding power has had on the way that our daily lives shape, and are in turn shaped by, such inter-personal networks.

This drawing from around the same mid-60's time period as Moore's Law is from Paul Baran, the inventor of packet-switching and co-founder of the Institute for the Future.

Look at these three drawings and you can see how he saw networks growing increasingly decentralized, to the point today, where each of us (as in the third diagram) is a central node of our own network.

It will not be long before broader and faster untethered bandwidth give us each the ability to set ourselves up as a fully-featured hub of a "geospatial" web that while integrating GPS, social software and web 2.0-like features, will enable us to maneuver (as individuals and in groups) simultaneously and freely through both physical and information space.

Seeing as how circus is among the MOST collaborative of art forms, it has always seemed to me that activating and layering live circus performance/community "models" with the latest information technology models would result in an optimum new model of collective AND intelligent fun - fun that would be at once scientifically rich with deep "meaning" and pARTy-ful resonant with immediate "experience."

Many of us more experiential types tend to put distance between ourselves and these seemingly "invasive" technologies because we imagine them to be soul-less or unfeeling. That may be of course true to some extent, but consider how all technologies of the past have had to mature to a point where they too could became transparent to the various artistic and scientific efforts that served to shape them.

What is particularly different about the new mobile technologies that surround us today is that they are not entirely independent of our physical selves. Rather, they hold a position within us more akin to poetry, in that the range of these tools are increasingly integrated into the fabric of our daily lives, and so altogether more a visceral extension of us as individuals - who faced with a crumbling socio-political safety net, have taken to leveraging life inside these personal networks as a kind of alternate life plan.

One summer night back in the mid-1980's, before I had ever touched a computer, I was in Lafayette, Louisiana playing pool and drinking beer with my daughter's Cajun side of the family, when at some point, her fun-loving Aunt Janice, lifted her Dixie beer and referred to her local circle of friends as "party scientists." Impressed with the verbal and metaphorical fusion inherent in the notion, I took that as a company name and so have spent the last 20 years tracking our collective progress towards the convergence of those two alternating currents.

The rise of the Internet has of course provided us with the three-ring and four-dimensional circus of a medium that we need for advancing this convergent cause. Every major step forward seems to involve some further erasing of the wires and concealing of the gimmickry that would keep our art from taking wing and becoming "real" magic of the sort that will ultimately enable us to ascend to that highest of high wires and to balance there for a time - seemingly without effort and in angelic defiance of gravity.

Check out this video, from a recent TED conference, and tell me if the task to which this man has applied network technology does not "feel" like art.

For more info on this rather amazing fellow, Jonathan Harris.. go to his personal website