A virtual conversation between two artists


A virtual conversation between two artists by Inês R. Amado and Ximena Alarcón

 

We are two artists working around issues of interconnectedness of inner and outer journeys, through the use of dreams and of technology. For this publication, we are generating an article about our states of creating, of learning and of exploring technology, together with the effects and emotions that these produce. We are engaging in a technology-mediated dialogue (Skype, Google Drive, zoom microphone and video recorder) and sharing our dreams, to reach an all-inclusive understanding of these experiences involving the mind and the body, immersing them in a relational process.

 

We draw a connection between the body, the mind, consciousness, emotion and self-awareness, and have created a journey of “autopoesis” as addressed by the work of Umberto Maturana and Francisco Varela: a continuous exploration or production of ourselves. We are locating our journeys within a time frame unconstrained by the cognisant intellect, but nourished by the wisdom of the mind and interweaved by historical chances, when our mutual experiences overlap. We pause to explore aspects (creative, aesthetic, social, philosophical and poetical) that link these experiences. This process allows a flow of energy and information shared with each other.

                                Vamos falar,

                                                                                dialogar,

                                                                trocar,

                                intercambiar,

divagar …

                                vamos sonhar!

 

                Neste sonhar há realidade,

 

                                                há criatividade,

 

                prazer e lazer

 

Mas há também indagar, ponderar, há análise, sistema e co-produção.

 

Neste duplo sonhar há dar e receber, há trocar e alargar conhecimento e razão

 

Let's talk, dialogue, share, exchange, digress ... let's dream!
In this dreaming there is reality, creativity, pleasure and leisure
But there is also inquire, pondering, there is analysis, system and co-production.
In this double dreaming there is give and take, exchanging and expansion of knowledge and of reason.

 

Vamos a escuchar y explorar

 

         Nuestras techno ilusiones

Nuestras cosmovisiones

 

Entretejiendo con lazos etéreos

 

Las razones                         por las que hoy estamos aquí

 

Cuestionando nuestro sentido de pertenencia

 

Con nuestros sentidos

Razones para estar

 

Casa,     territorio,                              eter

 

Sonido,                                 memoria,                             lenguajes

 

Creaciones

 

Let’s listen to and explore, our techno illusions, our Cosmo visions.

Let’s interweave with ethereal wires the reasons why we are here

Questioning our sense of belonging, with our senses

Reasons to be … Home, territory, ether … Sound, memory, languages

 

Creations

 

Questions and answers

[28-02-2013, Leicester – St. Albans]

 

What were the first technologies that you used in your life?

Inês: This is a difficult one, as I had a phobia of technology. But I do remember as a teenager having a very basic photographic camera and a tape recorder. Computers however were something to be either frightened by or ignored, left to accumulate dust and cobwebs, (at the University of Hertfordshire, where I worked back in the early 90s).

For me to use a computer was something very difficult, but my camera and tape recorder, at that point, were great fun. Yes, I had a terrible feeling of worry and of dislike for the computer. I used the camera and a tape recorder all the time, as for the computer before 1997, hardly ever. 1996/7 is a very important marker of time, of space and of creativity, through a series of new and forbidding technologies I managed to do something that had never been done before.

 

Ximena: I did use radio transistors and tape recorder with radio. Also a yellow transistor radio that went incorporated into headphones. They all were very colourful: Sesame Street, and my red tape recorder. I loved all of these. I use to leave them on under my pillow to go to sleep. The tape recorder was my very useful technological tool that accompanied me to my community work. It was red, and had the perfect size and great power. Its design was beautiful. My father gave it to me on my 15 year old birthday. The transistor radios were part of my childhood, 70’s and 80’s. I used my tape recorder from 1987 until 2001, when I left my country. Now I am amazed thinking how these early relationships with technology influenced my work as an artist.

 

Which technologies allowed you to create?

I: Back in 1996/7 I had to use all sorts of technologies, including ISDN lines from BT, computers and other technologies which were extremely new then. It was through the process of using computing systems, video cameras and sound recorders, that I created Sands in Time, a piece of work composed of four very large sandblasted glass panels with a text in clear glass relief - the imaginary pages of an imaginary book - evoking the notion of renewal, regeneration and transformation in a natural and man made environments. This installation was the first live video immersive installation to be live on the Internet (1997).

 

There is a socio-historical connection between the Azores and London and I wanted to bring to the fore that connection as well as to question perceptions of time and space. The Internet was then, and still is, an incredible tool to address these perceptions as well as issues of dislocation and of displacement.

The live site-specific installation at Trinity Buoy Wharf Light House, in London, brought live video from the Azores via satellite (I was able to use three hours of the Middlesex Hospital’s satellite connections, every day during three weeks).

Two lighthouses

Two Lighthouses

 

These images were layered and fused with other live images from Trinity Buoy Wharf and Canary Wharf. Each individual viewing the installation became an integral part of the work as if absorbed and immersed in between the two pages of a book. Thus all the elements that composed the work became one multi-layered, multimedia, and transatlantic experience.

Audience engagement, interaction, and participation are part of the material essence of the work hence activating the public beyond that of the passive observer and questioning both the role of the artist as well as the role of the viewer / participant / maker and challenging the work, through the involvement of the public, both in situ and through cyberspace, enabling a richer and more enlarged understanding of the situation in which the artistic phenomenon took/takes place.

 

Sands from Ines Amado on Vimeo.

Sands in Time

 

X: In 1990 I used a Pentax photo camera, which I loved. My brother Cesar gave it to me as a present. It was my aesthetic foundation and I created audiovisuals derived from still images.  Later I produced TV and radio. Although I never touched the editing audiovisual technology, I made decisions of sequencing, developing a rapid eye and ear.

In 1997 in Barcelona I learnt to program in Lingo to create computer screen based interactive multimedia. This experience helped me to identify myself as an artist. I was able to experiment with all media in a single machine, establishing relationships between actions and the material triggered by the user on an interface; it was like having a black canvas in a multimedia theatre. I was in charge of all the creation process, from the idea to the final production. I realised I had more control than before over the audiovisual material and was able to develop new aesthetic ideas; that fascinated me. I was able to break the linearity of audiovisual narratives and to express concepts going beyond the written discourse. When people experienced my work Interactive Metro (1998), I felt that this was an immersive experience for them and they were touched in a subconscious level.  I interrelated two technologies: screen-based interactive multimedia (fragmented but cinematic), and the underground transportation system. This was the foundation for Sounding Underground[1] (2009).

 

 

Interactive Metro from Ximena Alarcón on Vimeo.

Sounding Underground

 

In 1998 I learnt history and technologies of sound art and used my Sony tape recorder to capture soundscapes. My fascination with listening, recording and mixing sounds was open to creative possibilities. I created my first sound installation A to Z[2], inspired in memories of literacy. Internet was a good metaphor for connectedness but its slow speed and its aesthetics did not attract me. Years later, and parallel to my process of migration, Internet aesthetics and bi-directionality, became very attractive to me. I thought that through Sounding Underground – a virtual sonic environment that connects listening experiences in London, Mexico and Paris metros many people could use the interface to upload their sounds.

 Sounding Underground

Sounding Underground

 

The complexity of its technical realisation and the in-depth ethnographic process that informed the work suggested that individual experiences of listening deeply to a common underground infrastructure could extract essences of the space, and that the assemblage of it in a shared interface, could become an emotional catalyst for anyone who interacted with it on the web. The environment didn’t need hundreds of data and people to accomplish its function. This perspective contradicts the accumulation of information experienced by social media, and makes a different intimate space to wonder.  We are not linked and mediated only by technology but by something else: Jung’s collective unconscious, which is present in interstitial spaces such as underground passages and the space of dreams.

 

Which technologies allowed you to play?

I: Today I find Skype an incredible tool with which I can be playful and creative. My computer today, unlike yesterday, is an extension of my creativity, by using different tools and programmes I am able to create video, sound and creative writing. I am very attracted to a combination of sound, object, and/or video. Issues of migration and of dislocation are always present.

 Screenshot of connecting using Skype

Connecting …

 

Facing the OtherHere and Now was a site/space-specific installation in Lisbon, Portugal, July 2011. The installation was inside a shipping container outside the entrance to Centro Cultural de Belém, the Cultural Centre of Belem. CCB is situated in the historic district of Belém in Lisbon from where the ‘Age of Discovery’ and colonial adventures were launched in the 15th century. (CCB was built to mark a new Portuguese adventure, succession to the European Union.) Facing the OtherHere and Now investigated and addressed notions of national identity, urban space and migration within the context of a former imperial society coming to terms with the political and cultural after-life of colonialism in its different facets. These issues related to the symbolic location of the containers in the historical district of Belém in Lisbon, a place marked physically and visually by buildings, gardens, museums, banners designs and symbols relating to the discoveries; the complex histories of trade and colonialism between coloniser and colonised.

 Facing the other

Facing the Other – Here and Now

 

In 2012 I created Relocated, a sound and object installation work that reflected upon current issues within the EU. A united Europe where the unity seems to be only present in the obliteration of the individual and the individuality of each country. The orange together with the orange tree is a reminiscent and a reminder of those other objects extrapolated from Cyprus in days gone by. History does tend to repeat itself! In this piece I used the orange as a metaphor for a world where migration and globalization, dislocation displacement and relocation, conflicts and disputes, are second nature along with the demarcation of territories and pan-global hybridization. The orange is also used in this piece as an expression of temporality over time and space.

 Artist's installation in Cyprus

 Installation, Cyprus

 

X: I like to play with sonic improvisation in networked performance. First in 2008, as part of the process with participants when creating Sounding Underground, I created Listening and Remembering: networked improvisation for four commuters[3]. This was a co-located improvisation where participants expressed memories with their voices, as they were triggered by the sounds of the metro; they interweave those through a common interface that allowed the recording and playback of theirs’ as well as others’ memories.

 Listening and Remembering improvisation in progress

 Listening and Remembering: networked improvisation for four commuters

 

Continuing with my interest in real-time encounters between people and the spaces created by their interactions, now I’m exploring the ‘in-between’ space in the migratory context through telematic sonic performance and using the Deep Listening practice. Letters and Bridges[4], between Mexico City and Leicester, explored this space through letters that different migrants have received from people they love; they exchanged also a letter with their counterpart about feelings towards the place where they live. Inês, I reconnected with you when you exhibited Relocated and you participated in Letters and Bridges as a performer and Deep Listener! This was a great experiential connection between our works. Migratory Dreams[5] interrogates the space of migration as manifested in the dreams of Colombians living in London and in Bogotá. The free space of dreams allowed sharing between people from the same country to express their experiences of migration in a transcendental manner.

 Migratory dreams performance

Migratory Dreams.  Photo by Laura Criollo


Being overwhelmed with information

[28-04-2013 Leicester – St. Albans]

 

X: This week was very hard for me, in terms of an overload of information, on Wednesday I don’t know how many emails I received and how many I responded to but it was really really hard, and I finished very late and went to bed at 1am. That night I didn’t have dreams, it was like my internal hard drive, my brain was completely out, worried, overwhelmed with everything I had to do …

Yesterday a student told me something funny and interesting; she asked me how am I, and I said that my startup disk was full, and she said ‘you should remove some memories of childhood and that will open space’, this resonated with me. Well, I guess the transistor radios are memories of childhood incorporated in my experience. Our memories are experiences.

 

I: Yes, experiences that mark and define, although they may hold us back and not allow us to dream.

 

Having dreams

Having dreams is a faculty that we humans share with other ‘warm blooded animals (birds and mammals)’ (Ione, 2005, p.71).  As noted by Lewis, and according to Dr. Michel Jouvet it seems that ‘we need regular, periodic dreaming to preserve our very individuality, and that dreaming is a time for essential genetic reprogramming within the brain’ (idem). During sleep our subconscious is free, unguarded and adept to bring together past, present, and future, as dreams seem to be timeless, unimpeded by the cognisant intellect. Bodies are not the structure that we might have imagined, but are a process - change is our continuous reality - and as Persian Sufi mystic Rumi states: “we have come spinning out of nothing”. One could say that we are molecules of dreams.

 

“The mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information, consciousness included. Mind is shared between people. It isn’t something you own; we are profoundly interconnected.” (Daniel Siegel, quoted in Patty de Llosa, 2006) We cannot survive without dreams, just as we cannot fulfil our journey without the memory of our beginnings.

 

Sharing Dreams

 

First dream: The flock of birds and the ethereal embodiment

[04-04-2013, Leicester - St. Albans]

 

X: I am going downstairs at four in the morning; this is the time and light when in this hemisphere the world is waking up. I am in a house where there is a window or a door to the back garden; it is more like a yard, where there are clothes hanging to be dried by the sun. What I see is a flock of ducks, and it is massive and the wings and the flapping and the sound that they make is so beautiful. I say, in the dream, that I haven’t heard this sound before; and I also say that it is one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard, and I want to record it at the same time that is happening; but I don’t find a microphone to record it, and I call Ron and try to explain what happened and when I show the scene to him the birds have gone. All that was left was the movement of the clothes that are hanging. 

 

 

I: What is your feeling in relation to the clothes?

 

X: It was scary, because I thought there was a person or a presence there, like the perception of someone inhabiting the clothes, and there is a kind of sadness, and abandonment, it is like if I were missing things because of my rejection of technology, which I have been doing the last few years because it is harming my body (sitting long hours by the computer because of the amount of information).

My body hurts

Little toes and little fingers hurt because of the computer

I want to read in an old fashion way

 

At the same time I am missing things that are beautiful to capture …

 

I: I think … when you were talking, what I was visualizing, was something much more ethereal, transient, and quite beautiful and in a way those clothes for me encapsulated that transient moment; because they stayed behind and, on one level, they were grounding the experience; but on the other, they were moving in the wind, and actually in a way continuing the movement of the birds that had flown away, in a way they were saying to you that, that unique moment was still present. So the clothes were the physicality or the embodiment of that moment, in terms of movement and of sound; and that moment is still present in your memory and that is something to be cherished.

 

 

[13-04-2013 St. Albans-Leicester]

I: I’ve been thinking of the amazing image of the birds singing and the residue of that singing to me is like an ethereal presence that actually is ethereal because it is so beautifully liquid, but not diluted, a presence that stays; the clothes bouncing, they recover and embrace that moment that is so important, they encapsulate it, they are an open arena for some continuous action. There is a parallel between that retrieved moment and us at this precise moment in time. Not physical but ethereal, metaphysical. I’ve been thinking of how to incorporate, absorb and also make it emerge through sound movement…

 

 A Dream-Dream

 

Second dream: The house - temporal refuge - and the open space of the mind

[13-04-2013, St. Albans-Leicester]

 

I: I had a dream last night: It's been very difficult, a difficult dream …

 

The house …

            

What my dream was … I was somehow picking up some plastic bags and some clear containers, they were like plastic drawers, they were partly damaged, I was picking these up, and someone came along, next to these things, there was a kind of ruin: the outer walls of a house without a roof, just standing there, this ruin doesn’t have a ceiling but it has a door. And I went in because I didn’t want to be seen, the person outside came along and locked the door, although I wasn’t really frightened, I was assessing the situation and felt … I think I felt humiliated. Then I saw that within the ruin there was a hole here, a square hole, and another there, thus I decided that I could climb up, by putting one foot on each of the holes, then, I somehow manage to get out and that’s the dream.

There was something else, as I was picking the containers up they felt very specifically useful, I was collecting them to put materials to do some work with, some sculpture possibly, or maybe drawings whatever, I was visualising those boxes as the bases to tiding my materials up to make some artwork.

 

… someone at the door and the person locked me in. I was hiding away.

 

X: I like that you are active in the dream and thinking of survival resources and how some elements can help you to keep the things that you really need.

 

I: Yes, just different materials, that I have in the studio, and objects that I collect, and I think there were books as well.

 

I escape and I don’t know what happened next.

I don’t have any memory about it.

 

A ritual[6]

 

X: Let’s start from the point when someone locks the door: the trigger for you is to escape.

 

I:  I am drawing … I am drawing trees in the room. I am pushing the walls out. It’s soft now, almost like plywood, actually cardboard, oh, it’s just like out of a box. I am stepping on it, I am waving good-bye to the house, to the ruin. I am in a forest or something. The sounds are lovely, there are birds… there are some ground animals, maybe moles, ferrets, something underground that I cannot hear, only perceive. There are peacocks on the trees. It’s warmish, with lots of lighting. I am coming out into a field of green grass, and there are cows on it. I am just sitting down. I am touching the grass and the grass has dewdrops, and I am feeling the wet grass with my fingers. I am just letting go. I am just lying down now, and my arms are open and the sun is really shining, and I think now I am with you.

Home Video 

X: I am opening the arms, and when I did that the sun came through my window …

 

I: We are extending, prolonging each other’s thoughts, feelings and dreams.

 

Birds ... house ... when you asked me to extend the dream, you were accompanying and enabling me to lengthen the dream and to explore further thoughts and possibilities.

 

X: For me the house – home has become my body

Really, the house is my body, it is not these walls

All this is kind of impermanent.

 

I: I think belonging is the home and the home is the body and the body contains the mind. I think that to quite an extent you are describing the very essence of being in exile, and you know, we are as people that have come out our own country exiles, all of us, the migrant is an exile, no matter how we have come here; intellectuals or manual workers. And we are here there, and nowhere. We are there that is the ideal place, because we cannot be There. When we go back to our own countries… the feeling is: where is home, where is home?


Connecting Poem

 

X: I am looking forward for a time when we have a friendlier relationship with technology that is linked with the relationship we have with the earth. A balanced relationship; initiatives such as the new environmental phone, Fairphone, which profits will go directly to the miners, as part of a different kind of economic model.

I: We need systems that are recyclable, and ecologically sound. The accumulation of material goods has to stop. We have to readdress all these issues as we – the earth –  cannot sustain this approach anymore.

X: We have to design systems, technologies, practices, routines that are very different from the ones that we have experienced. If we look at the history of our artistic experience in 1997, the technologies we used challenged us to achieve what we imagined and created. Then, we see 15 years later, that many of these ideas are technologically possible to do ...

Would you repeat the Sands in Time installation?

 

I: No, I don’t think so …

The space was so full of equipment. One massive area within the lighthouse was completely taken by the equipment; it was monstrous, there were pieces of hard technological gear that were so cumbersome… all of which have been replaced by software. But of course at that point I didn't know anything about how to handle it all. It was Dave who dealt with all the technical bits. I had the support of the Portuguese television, who were sending me live footage from the Azores, three hours every day, also Middlesex Hospital satellite time, and three dedicated ISDN lines from BT, which was quite unusual …

 

The place where I was, at that point in time, was very different from yours. I was a sculptor. For me to handle that extremely technical project was rather overwhelming, a breakthrough, it was massive! I was at the time dealing with sculptural issues and addressing precisely the effect of producing more objects in a world already so saturated with objects. So this was shifting ground for me on so many levels.  Working with live video and all the technologies necessary to support its various conceptual and physical needs was for me an exquisite experience, but tremendously difficult. I didn't have any barriers in conceptualising the piece, everything was possible because I was so naïve about what was or was not possible in technological terms.  And that's how I managed to overcome ‘impossibilities’; I had a concept, which I felt was sound … issues of installation of site specificity had been addressed before within my work, so the remaining was basically resting on challenging technology, and relying on the expertise of Dave Lawrence who was my wonderful assistant/collaborator.

 

X: For me, Interactive Metro was a kind of prototype for something that I imagined was possible to do: people connected via webcams, in real time from different parts of the cities and they could project images from what was happening there; this is how we could perceive the sense of any city with the metaphor of the underground. Many things are buried; I was coming from communication sciences, and I was thinking that I was creating a new medium. I wanted at the same time a media art piece, and a medium of communication. When I looked at the existent technology, and at what I had in my mind, these visions didn't match, because of the aesthetics ... Internet was basically text. At that time, in Europe, artists were experimenting with streaming video. It took me ten years to clarify the idea, and find the core, which eventually was music. I had many ideas; eventually, I didn't do what I initially wanted, but I created a virtual environment that I feel good about and that defies this amount of information that we have to deal with. I didn't create a medium, but a space that is a catalyst of feelings. Without including thousands of samples and of people, this nevertheless represents a collective memory. When interacting, people connect with personal and collective feelings.

 

I: Reassessing your question, I wouldn't want to do it now because I also have moved on. However in Sands in Time I dealt with fundamental issues that I have been addressing throughout my career as an artist. Issues of temporality were really dealt with in a temporal format. Also the individual "I" was pushed out of the studio, out of my comfort zone, and thus enlarged and challenged into focusing on an inclusive, participative, physical and ethereal experience.

 

X: Yes, like you I feel that I have moved on. Although we work with different beginnings and materials, our work has many connections. And we have dealt with a large amount of information, data, and have been challenged by technologies.  For example, even if I had made use of webcams, for my initial idea, I would have found that I had been acting as a big brother, observing every single aspect of the world, which is what Internet represents in relation to many corporate driven social media.

You focus on specific individual experiences and of course you use the media to extend the idea of connection.

 

I: Yes, from the individual to the collective.

 

X: My evolution has been towards telematic performance, as it allows a straight connection between individuals who have a reason to connect.

 

I: From the collective experience into the individuality of each experience …

 

 

References

Bosnak, R. (2007). Embodiment, Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel. East Sussex: Routledge.

Jouvet, M. (2001). The paradox of sleep: the story of dreaming. Translated by Laurence Garey. MIT Press, A Bradford Book

Ione [Lewis, C. I.] (2005). Listening in Dreams. IUniverse Books.

De Llosa, P. (2011). The Neurobiology of “We”. Parabola Magazine.

 

Credits

 

The sound poem Connecting includes the file called Garden Evening, taken from freesound.org, and recorded by the user NML http://www.freesound.org/people/NLM/sounds/72932/



[1] http://soundingunderground.org

[2] http://ximenaalarcon.net/sounds/A_to_Z_XAlarcon.mp3

[3] http://artes.ucp.pt/citarj/article/view/27

[4] http://networkedmigrations.wordpress.com/letters-and-bridges/

[6] I invite Inês to amplify her dream. I am using practices inspired by Robert Bosnak’s experience of Embodiment (2009), and Ione’s teachings (2005) in creative power that ritual can bring from our dreams.