A Conversation with Hank Bull

on the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire
November 1996

Judy Malloy

Anna and I are pleased to welcome this month's guest on Interactive -- Hank Bull. Hank lives in Vancouver, Canada and has for many years been associated with the Western Front, a multi-faceted artist-run centre.


A jack of all trades, Hank has made cabaret performances, shadowplays, music, a lot of radio, video, etc. In 1979 he met Bill Bartlett and was introduced to a network of artists experimenting with telecommunications.

He has participated many telecom projects since then.

This year he has worked on:

"Shards", Yokohama City Museum a video installation based on a picturephone exchange between Vancouver and Kobe;

"Shanghai Fax - Let's Talk About Money", Hua Shan Art College Gallery, Shanghai, China's first international group show;

"Hypernation - What is a nation in cyberspace?" Oboro Gallery, Montreal a four month listserv discussion followed by Quebec tour with radio narrowcast, video conference, and cabaret.

"Distance" Tokyo International Dance Festival performance linking musicians and dancers in Tokyo and Montreal.

During November 1996, Hank will attend a video festival in France and a "philosophy rave" in Nevada called "Chance". Otherwise he'll be in Vancouver, teaching a course at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, called "Art in the Age of Digital Dissemination."

Hank, it is good to get a chance to hear more about your work!

Hank Bull
It is indeed an honor for me to be welcomed to this distinguished forum.
I intend to take a gossipy approach.
Today I'm in the country at Fragrant Flora nursery.
It's raining and the trees are glistening gold and red.
I am trying to write a prospectus for the 3rd Annual Vancouver Electronic Arts Festival. Dates have been set for May 15-18, 1997. Your ideas are welcome.

Judy Malloy
Today while you were at Fragrant Flora nursery, Anna and I and Sonya Rapoport were having coffee and insulting a local curator with Jim Rosenberg who was telling us about his day job doing MIS for a horticultural business that produces geranium stock. Jim is in the Bay area to attend a conference on horticultural information services. (note that Jim wasn't insulting the curator although I think he enjoyed the conversation)

Fred Truck
I am here in my office, which is in my house, probably a day after the above posts. I am recovering from a very rigorous racquetball tournament, where I managed to win 3rd place in my division and am really wondering right now what the Fragrant Flora nursery is. I originally typed its name as the Flagrant Flora nursery. It's nice to resume contact with you, Hank.

Anna Couey
It's Monday & I'm working at home & the house is shaking. I think it's my landlady's washing machine upstairs & not an earthquake. I'm working at being a citizen today & have pretty much decided how to vote.

I noticed one of Judy's posts that looks like it might work well in this topic, up in topic 92.

I'm thinking about Hank's prospectus. About an e-art festival as a place for creative communication systems, for art works that utilize consumer technology. We talked about the general emphasis on big hi tech installations at electronic art exhibitions with Nancy Paterson last month...& the subsequent exclusion of much of what we consider innovative: telecom art (*not* synonymous w/art on the web!), art cd-roms, hypertext & new media language structures, electronic social sculptures..

Fred Truck
What about it, Hank? What do you think of Anna's idea? Judy? Anyone?

I think it may be the only way to go. Small, but publicized, informal shows. Sort of like the living room art shows. And documented.

It is incredibly foggy here right now. In a few minutes, I'm going downtown to work out and practice my shots.

Judy Malloy
in a few minutes, I'm going into Berkeley. Anna is going to help me load some stuff into the car. (I'm moving) and we're going to talk about these things and our CD-ROM page.

Hank Bull
What a wonderful bunch of posts! Almost enough to make a fence ha ha.

Fragrant Flora is indeed a flagrant collection of fragrant plants assembled by Glen Lewis, aka Flakey Rosehip. Flakey (his mail art moniker) was an image banker collecting topiary and garden kitsch. This obsession eventually took him around the world photographing and writing about the myth of the garden (paradise). Now's he's got serious and started a nursery. My wife Kate is his business partner, which means I get to hang in the country a fair bit.

Write now I'm at the Western Front surrounded by piles and noises.

I'm all for the low tech and informal. The Leipzig Medienbiennale had a good line. In the prospectus, Dieter Daniels asked: "As computers get smaller and smaller, why is it that media art installations get ever bigger and more grandiose?" I do the vast majority of my telecom work with email, a black and white picture phone, and an ordinary telephone.

We are however going to expand our grass roots Electronic Arts Festival next year. The 3rd annual will have some international talent and various trimmings. I have a fond memory of Artswire's intervention at that big NEA do in Chicago back in 94. Would love it if that happened again.

Robin Reidy and Ruby Lerner are coming for supper tomorrow night.

Think I'll try Thai.

Fred Truck
It's still foggy, and now it's raining. Fortunately, I raked a bunch of leaves yesterday, so I won't have to struggle with my lawn in this weather.

Hank, please tell me about the 3rd Annual Electronic Arts Festival. Thanks.

Hank Bull
Ruby Lerner and Robin Oppenheimer just left. Ruby says Hi to all her Artswire buddies. "I love it here, the weather was clear today and I got to see the snow on the mountains. I'm moving!" Ruby is president of the AIVF and publisher of the Independent. She is here to launch a special issue on the NorthWest, which contains, just for Fred, an article on the Vancouver Electronic Arts Festival.

The EAF as it is affectionately known, started as a grass roots no funding thing, with hands on workshops, local talent, a cabaret. Year 2 we got a grant and lots of press. Year 3 we hope for corporate partners, international talent, program guide, live web site. Dates are set for May 15-18, 1997. We are still formulating the program so (he cautiously opened the box and peered inside...) and ideas, hot people, proposals you have, just send them along. We will finalize soon and get the word out in Feb. We still don't have a lot of money or a real administration but we are hoping that this year's do will ramp us up to serious for 98. This will be an annual event.

As I joined Interactive tonight, I scanned over some of the cyber events listed here. It is a pretty rich territory. I think it is time that these events started happening simultaneously in several cities and on the net.

As for supper, I made hot shrimp soup (Tom Yam) with local shrimp, green curry coconut chicken, sweet and sour ginger fish, Nam Prik veggies, Gado Gado... at one point we had four chefs all a-chopping. At the last minute Thecla Schiphorst (Lifeforms) showed up, but the food was gone, so I have go downstairs where Eric was entertaining his own crowd (move night) and cadge a plate of meatloaf and mash.

If I can work it in on Thursday morning, I will show this chat to my students, so tell us a joke. Actually they are heavy into the MUD. Any MUD jokes?

Just reading this over, what I mean by "on the net" is the idea that a festival could take place that feature net performances, panels, concerts, etc., using RealAudio, CUSeeMe, email, conference, IRC, the works. Perhaps the net is an ongoing festival in any case, but something could nevertheless be formalized. For EAF3 we will do some videoconference concerts linking cities across Canada for example.

Hank Bull
This is a test upload Since tomorrow I'll be on the road. And may have to use the long distance phone To gain access to my server at home. I know it'll add to my phone bill

But talking with you gives such a thrill
That I can't resist.

Hank Bull
Greetings from The Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. My
class is on the next machine deconstructing the new Skinny
Puppy CD. The course is called "Art in the Age of Digital
Dissemination." We are working in a MOO (Digital University),
building websites and, today, having a look at the resources of
Artswire. Like so many artschools, this one trying to preserve
ceramics and drawing while at the same time keeping up with a
new generation of students who have already migrated to

Nick has a message for you: if you ever go to Quebec, stop by
in North Hatley and say hello to Michelle.

Fred Truck
Thanks for the info, Hank. I am interested in participating in EAF, and
will outline some ideas later. I spent a sizeable portion of my morning
driving around running errands, and working out. I am feeling the very
pleasant kind of warm fatigue associated with cooling down from an intense workout.

Judy Malloy
I'm feeling an unpleasant bone-tired fatigue caused by cleaning my old place on crutches (I'm on the crutches not my old place) and pushing around furniture here in my (very wonderful) new place.

I just read Hank's postings while eating some blintzes and sour cream and I feel much better. Hello Nick!

I too am thinking about EAF.

Anna Couey
I spent most of the day being sidetracked, & added a Free Burma logo to my web page http://www.well.com/user/couey/ Tomorrow in Berkeley there is a demonstration against Unocal doing business in the slave state of Burma. I'm not sure what there is for dinner. We had leftover spinach pasta w/brocoli & cauliflower in shallot-mustard butter for lunch, with Ak-mak & persimmon + asian apple pear.

Hi Robin! Hi Ruby!

& hello, after the fact to Hank's class. Alas I have not yet made it to Quebec.

I like the online festival idea - a lot! In combination w/local events, would be great. On all continents?! well, ok, maybe I'm dreaming into the future, too. In the short term, & smaller scale, it'd be fun to do some kind of link thru Interactive. The NEA model is a good idea, we might also be able to do a public web-based conferencing thang with public access sites at least set up in the SF/Bay Area. Just riffin....

Fred Truck
I am finally warmed up after going to the Northwestern vs. Iowa football game, which Northwestern won, 40-13. Whatta game. I cooked up a really good chili this morning, and Lorna made some cornbread, and we had a great lunch. Out of the corner of my eye, as I am typing this, I am watching the Alcohol Funny Car NHRA Select Finals.

In spite of my sports saturated environment, I have been thinking a huge amount about how interactive art is presented. Museums are working with a number of restrictions. One is that people spend, say, 30 seconds with something before moving on. This means that any kind of exploration, or extended dialog, is put in a negative cast before it begins. Another stricture is the notion that what interactive art is about is the interactive movie, something that can be shown, with some input from the viewer to influence the event.

What is the best way to show something like a CD-ROM, or some of Judy's works, for example. Or telecom? Have you had work like this, Hank? if so, how have you shown it?

Hank Bull
Anna, I share your view of "communication systems as organic sculpture". Bio Art gives a new spin to the old dance of art and life.

Fred, do you ever bet on those football games?

Judy, how long you been on those crutches?
How fast can you go?

As for interactive art in museums, that's a big one, something to sleep on.

I've just uploaded a longer text about the Chance conference in Las Vegas. PLease let me know if you got it ok.

Fred Truck
Hi, Hank--No, I never bet on games. I've only bet once in my life, at a horse track. There was this horse I just couldn't refuse. He was named:


I put a dollar down and he won!! I ended my betting career right there.

Anna Couey
Hm, I see no long text about the Chance conf. Did you put it here?

One of my jobs these days involves working at the SF Public Library, which has developed an Electronic Discovery Center for children & youth. It provides access to the library's collection of CD-ROM's for children/youth & access to the web. Walk in access in a public place that people are used to hanging out in seems to work - the EDC is usually packed with kids! Course, age may be a factor too.

Whoops, gotta run a quick errand. Back soon!

Anna Couey
Hank, you have a long history of making/participating art that works as organic communication systems yourself! What makes them live, how do you keep them from withering on the vine, how do they catch hold & take root?

Judy Malloy
People also cluster around the CD-ROM players in bookstores. Eastgate has managed to get its titles in some book stores, but I do not know if anyone is buying them.

implicit hypertextual link - Hank I'd love to hear more about working in china with the MONEY faxes. Do you speak Chinese? How did a show in Shaghai called LET'S TALK ABOUT MONEY come about?

The crutches, the horrible crutches, 2 1/2 years (minus some months when I graduated briefly to a cane before the hardware failure inside my leg) Someone at PARC said it was proof that one can learn to work with a bad interface.

The philosophy rave on chance is elusive.

Hank Bull
Just in from the airport. I've been in Las Vegas at a wicked weekend called "Chance", organized by Chris Kraus and Art Center University, Pasadena. When the blurb came up on my email it was an immediate gotta go. I was seduced by the name, the venue (I've always loved Vegas) and the players -- an impressive and diverse list headlining Jean Baudrillard, Allucquere Rosanne Stone and Diane di Prima, and including Calvin Meyers, an anti-nuclear activist of the Paiute tribe; Sheppard Powell, an expert in the I Ching; Shirley Tse, a Hong Kong/American artist who works with plastic and mutation, plus more. Great marketing.

Quite a few people converged from New York, California, and a smattering of various elsewhere's including Canada, to Whiskey Pete's Casino, a hardcore cardboard castle on the Nevada California stateline for what was billed as a "philosophical rave".

Proceedings began with dense audio by DJ Spooky, a thinker's mix of industrial and haunting sounds. No beat, what they call "trip hop". It swept from the mind jangling cacophony of slot machines outside and set the scene for an articulate introduction to the basics of Chaos theory by Marcella Greening. There followed an engaging talk by Shirley Tse, who deconstructed the western duality of culture and nature in the context of her own post-coloniality. She comes from Hong Kong where the synthetic has become nature. This has led her to explore plastic as a metaphorical life form, capable of mutation, migration and metamorphosis. It was difficult to see any overt relation between this interesting presentation and the theme of "chance". I felt similar about the reading by of memoirs by Diane di Prima -- beautiful but what's Beat got to do with it?

The star of opening night was Sandy Stone, who delivered theory as performance art in a series of flamboyant vignettes. Changing wigs and gowns like personalities, she explored the littoral between people and prosthetics, body and self, or selves. Populated with phantom limbs, virtual lovers, ghosts and alter egos, her universe is one in which multiple personalities are not dysfunctional but ways of realizing a fuller participation in the world, "at the end of the mechanical age." Her work is truly interdisciplinary, not only in her blend of styles but in her ability to fuse theory and practice.

Day two started with a straight forward but, I thought, somewhat dubious exposition on the I Ching. My doubts of the previous day increased as the program ensued with a series of truly dreadful rock bands, a Butoh performance, and other irrelevancies. An explanation by Calvin Meyers of the predicament imposed by the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump on by his people, the Paiute Moapa Band, some 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas was followed immediately by an account by New York stock broker Douglas Hepworth of how the market crashes -- illustrated by a series of rather glib anecdotes. There was little opportunity for audience interaction or networking. Things were going downhill.

But the event was finally redeemed for me by the voice of Baudrillard, who delivered a difficult and poetic text written for the occasion. "It is no longer a question of freedom but of destiny, " he said, referring to the current ecological crisis. Opposing the fractal and the fatal, reality and virtuality, life and death, chance and change, he stressed our need to rediscover curiosity and community, though not is those precise words. I've got it on video and will try to pull some quotes. His language is clear but his ideas are full of reflections, reversals, ironies and inside outs. Furthermore, his delivery is magnificent. Got the gift of the gab that guy.

For icing on the cake he emerged again towards midnight in a gold lame suit and recited aphorisms with yet another questionable rock band.

There was more to Chance -- readings, a terrific book table and exhibitions in the hotel rooms. I intend to develop a fuller review, exploring the curious East Asian sub plot for example, and including some of the colourful backdrop (like the Tyson/Holyfield upset) but I wanted to get this bit of advance gossip up fast as an Artswire scoop!

I took a chance on Chance. In spite of some shortcomings, it was still quite a coup for the organizers to have pulled it off. They are to be congratulated. The event was a success not least because it was a felicitous meeting of scenes from New York and L.A. and left a number of provocative and open questions about luck, fate, chaos and human destiny.

Hank Bull
I have just tried for a second time to upload a report from the Chance conference. The first time was by pasting into the web site, the second by uploading a textfile using xmodem.

Meanwhile, a few notes on interactivity. The San Francisco library setup sounds good. I like libraries because they are not stores. Interaction, as has been often said but not often enough, is something that happens between people. A library is one place where knowledge is not commodified.

The idea of organic sculpture, that culture itself is a living organism, that mutates, evolves, matures, rots, -- it's a useful metaphor. Languages too can be endangered species. Think of the number of song forms, costume designs, recipes and magic spells now lost forever. Think too of the fragile scraps of art that have been preserved over the millenia just because a few people had the care to hide them under the bed or pass them on to their granddaughters. My final politics as an artist is to join that little throng of people who care about art and put it first. History is littered with the corpses of artists who backed idealistic causes -- the Spanish intelligentsia welcomed Napoleon with open arms as a great liberator; the Russian Futurists backed Lenin all the way -- so I am afraid I am skeptical of politicians whatever their stripe.

Bit of a rave, but all to say that culture, like a garden, needs to be tended and watered by somebody, and its usually the artists themselves who are the gardeners. I like thinking about yogurt and cheese and wine, that they are all forms of (bacterial) culture. And I joke that arts funding should come under the ministry of agriculture. Usually it takes a long time for a culture to mature, but in todays hot house environment, California wines can catch up to France in a century, and now, with air travel, the net, radio and TV, cultural evolution is doing the post-colonial boil.

That's what's interesting about being in China, and no, I don;t speak a word of Chinese. I entered China for the first time at Xiamen, a coastal port opposite Formosa, with a backpack and an idea about just plunging in. A few days later I bought a radio and was amazed at the shortwave. Good reception 24 hours a day and BBC, VOA always on at several places on the dial. Eventually I met people who spoke English, largely from listening to the radio. (But we are kidding ourselves if we think that English will become the lingua franca of cyberspace. In Vancouver, 33% of the people speak Chinese at home.)

Back to my original point, that the kind of interactivity that interests me is between people. Projects like Shanghai Fax or Hypernation are intended essentially to become conversations, open networks, as full of interruptions, lost threads and ambiguities as real communication. It is important for me to make these conversations global and planetary. That's when you run into the problem of translation, of looking for ways to bridge the enormous differences between cultures. How do you interact with someone who speaks a foreign language, sees the world with a completely different imagination?

I did a piece last year with a friend in Kobe using the picturephone. We agreed no sound, only black and white stills, mainly of hand gestures and facial close-ups, trying to communications, inventing a rudimentary sign language on the spot. It was difficult but at times humorous, surprising and coincidental. Like the vision of the almost totally blind, it is a different kind of perceptual experience, but no less visual, no less meaningful.

Hank Bull
A question about commands. What to I type to see new responses to an item?

Hank Bull
Thinking about the question of interactivity, how it affects museum work, and looking back on the very interesting discussion you had here with Lucia Grossberger-Morales in July, where the "elitism" of the museum venue was called into question, I'd like to offer a couple of observations.

As I said above, my own position is ambiguous. I have always loved museums, ever since I decided at the early age of 12 that art would be my calling.

Big old marble museums with creaky wooden floors and the echo of distant voices -- they're the best.I am a pre-Beatles "long hair" who believes that the core of any visual arts education should be drawing and a study of the classics. Opposed to this is the fact of my own art practice, which exists outside the institution of art, not so much as a critique of the system of museums, commercial galleries, magazines and schools that constitute the industry, as an exploration of other realms.

The HP Radio Show, which was a collaboration with Patrick Ready that aired weekly on Vancouver Co-op Radio for 8 years, was a way of making art outside the artworld, not for an audience of educated specialists but for anyone who happened to tune in. It was an attempt to bring art closer to daily life. The HP Dinner Show, "scientifically designed to help you prepare, eat and digest, your dinner."

Performances, collaborations, video, network projects, all of these sit somewhat uncomfortably in the museum. Museums are for objects and spectacles. My work is more about process. If this is a 60's cliche, so be it. Art for me is a way of living one's life. I am most at home in an artist-run centre. Originally conceived as laboratories for work that wasn't, for whatever reason, containable by galleries or museums, artist initiated collectives, projects, spaces and so on are now a global network. Performance art in Japan, for example, exists only because a community of artists has cared enough to make it happen.

For me the art object is just a trace. Just as the music we here is only a residue of the real music, which is on another, higher plane, silent, so the art object is just the thing left over by the real art activity, which was painting a picture or making some sort of gesture. Is it possible to make an artwork which leaves no trace? I think so. There are forms of music played on the mbira (thumb-piano) by the Shona people for example, which are to be performed as a kind of private meditation, without an audience.

Which brings us to the question of the audience, and the problem of communication.

Anna Couey
(see new responses to all items in interactive: snr see new responses to item 98 in interactive: snr 98)

Anna Couey
i thought your chance report made it hank - resp 21. the system doesn't show you your own responses until someone else responds there, if i'm remembering this correctly. using a conferencing software system is like speaking a foreign language....i forget what i'm not using daily.

haven't see sandy stone perform yet, only the theoretical presentations...

i asked about watering the garden, because my projects usually involved starting a conversation. & i often have wanted them to grow. but the problem is in the growing/growing up. they die without watering. so does one only grow one plant? or does one plant many seeds, & hope that some of them find soil and climate conditions sufficiently nourishing to sustain it. or, does sustainability of a particular plant matter? does the metaphor fall short here...are the fragments of communication enough? the art exhibition structures fall short with interactive work that is conversational. Kind of ongoing, kind of new, kind of the same work. judy's voice is echoing in my ear

closure was never a goal in this piece

michael & i are going to see john zorn tonight, with ellen & alan, & ellen & randy. i'm off to the grocery store. will let the problems of audience and communication mull until i connect again...

Hank Bull
Watering the garden can be a full time job up in Robert's Creek. There is so much work to do! Let those plants get too dried out, miss a couple days, and that's it, you lose them. Glenn's garden is right there where life and art meet. It 's art made of living plants. It has an ancient history full of lore. It is also part of a living ecology. There are some people in Japan developing a centre for art and botany.

Fred Truck
Communication and audience are very difficult problems. I have just recently come to see that there is a big confusion in this area. As usual the confusion is compounded by money, but briefly... ...the question is the difference between a mass audience and one made up of individuals. For example, my work in virtual reality has been happily situated in the flight helmet metaphor. One person experiencing my work, in much the same way that a Renaissance painter constructed the perspective experience for one person. But there are other ways of doing virtual reality--projection systems allow you to have tons of people, and hundreds of points of view. I prefer the single person audience, because you can address the issues of the individual directly and without metaphor. Of course, you can do similar things with mass audiences, but it is more complex and less convincing for me.

The point is, disk based media seem to work more like books for me, in the same way the best telecom, though it is broadcast, seems to work. I think the audience for interactive work is one similar to the book audience--person to person. It has yet to be developed thoroughly. There is no institutional support for it, because institutions often seem to need the blockbuster, the mass audience, and as funding disappears, this will be even more accentuated. When people ask me who I did my work for, I always tell them--My son's generation. People 19 and younger. The future.

Hank Bull
I like your attitude towards the individual viewer, Fred. I was recently reading a book about Eastern and Western Art which illustrated a print by Hokusai that was copied in oils by Van Gogh. That same day by chance I saw the print in a museum. I was astonished not only by the coincidence but by the fact that Van Gogh has had the same experience as me -- he had looked at that same print. One often has that sensation before a painting, that the artist "was here" actually touched this object. With the print there is a kind of refraction caused by the mass production of the image. By the time it gets to a movie theatre near you the connection is perhaps a little thin -- we become ratings -- but with net distribution it is once again possible to talk about the "niche market of one".

On the net we are once again individuals, that's certainly how I feel talking in this space. It's because we can speak to the group. The CHANCE conference was interesting in this regard. In discussing the I Ching, Sheppard Powell used the terms "creative and receptive". I think these are a good alternative to active and passive. Interactive is an over used word. The poor old audience takes a bit of a beating here. George Lewis reminds us that listening to live music can be a highly involving experience. This is where receptive works better that passive.

The relationship of the listener to the concert, or the viewer to the art work, runs parallel to the relationship of the individual to the group. What is the status of the individual in today's society. Everywhere around us the rights of the individual are under attack. We make a big noise about freedom. Tried to exercise any lately? When we make a deal with China and say "later for the human rights" we are saying that we don't care about rights, not only China, but right here in Canada/America/wherever. The captains of industry in Hong Kong or in Davos, have the same attitude towards human rights as the leaders of China. They want stable mass markets and docile workers, not expressive individuals.

The individual, like the notion of freedom, is also eroded by the current world situation. Massive population growth, global migration and ecological crisis create a situation where responsibility takes over. Artists are now expected to be accountable for the images and sounds they generate or appropriate. You can't take the high rode any more, saying "I'm an artist and I can do whatever I want" or, as Duchamp said it, "The only responsibility of the artist to society is not to be responsible to society." Or maybe I'm wrong about that... anyone see the Basquiait movie?

Chaos theory, the distribution of identity over the network, the end of Newtonian physics make individuals over as phase patterns, hybrids, determined as much from without as from within. There is no more God to tell us who we are. We have to make it up as we go along. So what do you do about the rights of the individual, the viewer, the listener, in a situation like that? As an artist I try to put the audience into production mode, not to shirk my own responsibility for the work, but for more or S to skip: to engage some kind of real communication, which, as Brecht pointed out, is a two-way process.

Fred Truck
I agree that interactive is an overused word, or more likely, a misunderstood word. As it actually exists in computer game structures, or in most multi-media works, the idea is to provide an illusion of more choices than the user can conveniently exercise. If it is understood in these terms, and a good structure is set up, it can be very effective and provide the user or viewer or participant many passes through the work. I like the notion of illusion, because of its connection with classic art principles used so effectively in the past. This provides the electronic artist of today with an opportunity to explore supposedly trashed out idioms.

But, I also agree with you, Hank, that opening up the work to the user's creativity is a possibility, although I am not sure how this is to be done, except on a case by case situation. I targeted hackers with my CD-ROM BOTTEGA, inviting them to hack my work, and providing code accessible files for them to work with. I have not gotten any feedback on this yet, but it is still early.

What are other ways to open up the work?

It got cold today...again, but it supposed to warm up. I had an awful workout.

Judy Malloy
>two way communication

- and I see you, Hank, in constant motion as your prose is and that energy generates communication.

I have become rather the opposite (more so with the enforced inactivity and narrowed horizons of disability)- moving away from the ebb and flow of the globally traveling telecom piece to somewhat the same place Fred is - the one individual interacting with the one narrator (not me no matter what the reader thinks) in a close relationship to the work enhanced by the computer's ability to manipulate the material to mimic thought processes to draw us in at the heart of that interaction.

Like all art, we electronic artists are diverse - each planting different seeds in different ways.

Fred Truck
Hank, how do you envision the role of the artist in telecom pieces? Is the artist's role different from that of the respondents?

Hank Bull
This is an interesting process for me. I realize that my prose is in constant motion, not so say scattered. What you are getting here is fairly close to the chaos of thought, dealing with several questions at once, darting to the next association before this one is more than half formed.

To try and answer Fred's question directly, I used to think that the net would completely breakdown the barrier between the performer and the audience, the writer and the reader. On a listserv discussion everyone is indeed contributing to a collective text. But even there, the need for a good moderator is clear. I have often taken that role in telecom pieces, trying to create a situation in which people can collaborate and working as a kind of coordinator. Recently, however, in the last 6 months, I have taken to producing carefully rehearsed video conference works that are presented on a stage in a formal theatrical setting. When they work, these pieces can be quite emotional. I play the piano, accompanying a singer in another city (Montreal). One feels the closeness, the intimacy but also the unsurmountable distance. We will do the piece with videophones and two dancers next week, linking Montreal with Herouville in Normandie, France.

Your idea of supplying the source code with your piece reflects a similar choice. Either you decenter yourself and your control of the work in favour of a communal experimental process, or you perfect the code, control it, sell it and try to make a living that way.

Nintendo Super Mario 64 has been causing squeals of delight in my house this last month or so, and I don't even have kids. It is surely one of those situations in which the player is presented with too many choices. The game is highly involving, quite friendly to people, and astonishin in its sophistication. Whatever one thinks of the exploitive or capitalistic aspects of video games, one has to admit that this is a whole new way of relating to an artwork.

Yes Judy, we are a diverse lot. I have to keep reminding myself that there is no master narrative here. There are so many ways to make art. Sounds simplistic perhaps but each of us has to figure out our own way. Culture is something we make, as opposed to consume, and we each make our own. I am not particularly convinced that I am on the right way, but I plunge ahead anyway, letting my hands do the thinking, guided by intuition and desire.

That's where my conviction comes from. It's extremely subjective. I am grateful for this opportunity to talk about what makes me tick, to try and understand what it is myself. After a few more days of this I'll be on the move again, to France, but I would be happy to continue this conversation after I come back on December 5.

Anna Couey
yes, let's continue this conversation after you get back too!

i like the creative/receptive duality...a good response to the problem of overload when we are all creating collaborative work & each want everyone else to participate in *our* project! & i used to think the world was too full of objects...that if i dematerialized the work i'd contribute to decongestion. ha!

i am still very interested in working collaboratively, directly involving audience. the projects i have in my mind to do have art meaning, but also function outside the art world. they are tools of sorts that engage people in communicating, not just for the sake of it, but so that their expression accomplishes something. trying to weave the poetic & the practical. & to grow them into nonart contexts. i'm not sure it's really taking on more responsibility - i'm a lot less dogmatic about what that means than i used to be :-)

of course, communication isn't a purely functional exercise. i'm enjoying imagining right now, what it's like to be at one of your video conf performances, hank. receptivity is necessary to fertilize imaginations.

Hank Bull
Work that functions outside the art world. So many artists are taking this route. On one hand it signals a return of art to the everyday workings of the world, it's re-integration into daily life. On the other hand, it's sad that the art world has such a hard time accepting socially integrated art. Today I rehearsed by long distance phone with Su Schnee, me on piano in Vancouver and her singing in Montreal. These are pricey rehearsals but worth it I think. We're getting quite good at singing on the phone. I find that video-conferencing is like any other medium: you have to learn how to use it. Each time we try, it gets a little better.

Hank Bull
Tonight I'm getting ready for our Las Vegas potLUCK. I made squash with Indonesian ketchup and Brazilian black beans. One of the discoveries about this trip was that there is now all kinds of vegetarian food in Vegas, and I never once saw a marshmallow salad. This was real stuff like lentils and veggy stir fry. Anyway a few friends will show up to look at our home videos and deconstruct Jean Baudrillard.

Fred Truck
Hank, I'm curious to know exactly what you meant when you said:

>Work that functions outside the art world.

Do you mean that the work doesn't fit into the economics of the art world? Or that the work doesn't fit into the formal categories established by custom? Or something else?

What I am seeing happen here is that, due to the disappearance of funding, alternative support spaces are in very bad shape. Or ceasing to exist. This means that unless artists have in the past relied on their own finances to do their work and distribute it, they are either finding more marketable forms for what they do, or are doing something else altogether. Like academics.

Judy Malloy
Hank - I have missed this conversation over the last week and hope very much that you will be back when you return from your travels!

Hank Bull
Back in town, after 10 days in France. I showed a collection of Western Front video productions and did a solo performance for the 10th Annual Video Art meeting in Herouville, Normandy. There were literally hundreds of tapes screened at this large event, plus installations, interventions by art school media departments from various countries, a large Canadian focus and the 2nd international meeting of video art distributors. Just for the Canadians, it was the largest Canadian video event since 1984 and the largest ever outside the country. Very impressive.

To pick up on Fred's comments, was this event "outside the art world"? It was certainly outside the art/media market (with one notable exception: Jean Luc Godard in person to introduce his new film, quite a thrill) and as such defined a kind of alternative cultural terrain. This is just the ecology that is now being laid to waste by funding cuts everywhere, even in France, though that is a country with benefits we never dreamed of. I met with film makers in Paris who had just attended a demonstration over changes to the artists unemployment insurance program. It appears that workers in theatre, film, dance, even licensed street performers, are eligible to receive unemployment insurance. How 'bout that! In spite of whatever happens, France I think will always be a country that is proud of its culture, and not in a chauvinistic way either. My trip was partly paid by the French government; and the number of exhibitions etc by international artists in Paris outweighs the locals. Special case perhaps. Paris is really an international city of culture. We all depend on Paris for some part of the myth at least and often for a real part of the serious thinking and feeling about contemporary art.

But what I meant about the art world was something a bit different from "alternative" arts groups. It's the dancer who becomes a physiotherapist, the photographer who starts a plant nursery, the performance artist who becomes an Aids worker;-- people who, for whatever reason, economic of philosophical, elect to develop an aesthetic of practical involvement in the world, who abandon the realm of symbolic gestures to work directly with people, nature, social systems. For some, they don't care even to call it art anymore, but others see this kind of work as art practice.

I find myself very much still inside the art world, but I am interested in process, life as art, collaboration, networks and thought patterns. That intention to make art that actually changes the world is interesting to me. I see those artists as shamans in a way, healing the sick, making real things happen.

Judy Malloy
Hank, you're back! Our lifeline to the world or so it seems to me lying here on the couch looking out at the rain pouring down on the green valley as I tap away on my ever present laptop and ward off the chill with hot apple cider.

Transcript of A Conversation with HANK BULL, Item 98, Interactive Art Conference, Arts Wire.
Posted to the Web with participants' permission. For information about republishing, please contact Anna Couey and Judy Malloy.

Conversations with Artists