Amerika Online

Surf-Sample-Manipulate: The Pseudo-Autobiography of A Work-In-Progress

Mark Amerika

"Now, as art becomes less art, it takes on philosophy's early role as critique of life. As a result of this movement out of art and back into everyday life, art itself becomes integrated into the workings of everyday life by situating itself in corporations, universities, governments and the vast electrosphere that houses the pluralistic cultures they thrive on. So it's now possible to reject the print-centric, paternal paradigm of a distanced, objectifying, linear and perspectival vision. In the age of network cultures, the eye touches rather than sees. It immerses itself in the tactile sense it feels when caught in the heat of the meaning-making process. This meaning-making process, which manifests itself as kind of electronic media event one is responsible for having created themselves as a result of having become a cyborg-narrator or avatar-presence in the simulated worlds of cyberspace, is actually part of a greater desire to become part of a socio-cultural mosaic."

Or so says Abe Golam, who, having moved around the various immersive environments created by the GRAMMATRON program, eventually finds himself entering the sim-city called Prague-23.

(In a nearby link, Golam continues: "This desire to pull from, yet reintegrate into, the cultural mosaic of life is religious in orientation but once again presents itself as narratological discourse. Its self-reflexive writing strategy crosses a dangerous border, the place where "I" explodes into I. This new I, the role played by femininity as a utopian gesture toward the readymade, is capable of sprouting monstrous erections of difference that when dressed in the oil of promiscuity, enable the new I to obliterate that initial desire into something like essence. But this essence is cleverly concealed inside a body of work that refuses to submit to the spiritual subversion that takes place within my organically-grown system.

"I am everyone. God is the Devil.

"The I doesn't speak for the egotistical me. It is the subject of my madness, my obsession with putting out fires. With dispossessing the natural.")

Prague-23, one of the main locations for the story to take place in, is loosely modeled after various dream-cities pursued by artists like Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, Arno Schmidt, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Italo Calvino, James Joyce and the "psychogeographical" foundations of Situationism. Most of the screens that the navigator encounters when moving through Prague-23 are made up of sampled data from an unspecified number of cross-disciplinary sources. This occurs as a result of having employed an ongoing creative principle I've practiced in my novels called "surf-sample-manipulate." This "surf-sample-manipulate" practice, when broken down to its root meaning, is really nothing more than the latest manifestation of the Modernist desire to mix the elements from "the real world" with contemporary phenomena materializing in "the art world" -- a desire Modernism pursued by bringing the art of collage into its formal mix of (anti-)aesthetic devices.

Whereas collage itself has been around since we've been able to historicize art in culture, the technique was first used as a radical formal device in painting by the cubists. Picasso and Braque, looking to move beyond the problems presented by analytic cubism, were hoping to challenge the illusionistic preference of all painterly art coming out at the beginning of the century and so began incorporating found objects into their paintings. As mentioned earlier, it was shortly after cubism came into art's historical current that Marinetti, Duchamp and Schwitters, to name a few, all began appropriating objects from the material world in order to better explore the idea of painting in the modern world. Eventually these ideas, which were part of an overall shift in 20th century art to move the subject matter of art away from nature and into the culture itself, flourished in the post-Pollack work of artists like Robert Rauschenberg whose "combines" took us into a categorical no-man's-land where ontological chaos and the seductive application of pop-culture imagery and brand-name identity onto the fetishized art-object, subtly pointed toward the move beyond material postmodernism and the eventual entry of the (virtual) Avant-Pop.

But as all valuable tools and formal innovations eventually risk losing their potential liberatory power by getting absorbed into a cultural tide that insists on the continual proliferation of new consumer-friendly processes, so the art of collage, which reached its apex in material postmodernism, must also now look for alternative spaces to exhibit its radical recombinations of anti-aesthetic drift. Whereas the use of extra-material from the detritus of everyday life has become almost commonplace in the garage-sale poetics of the contemporary art world, the ability to convert much of our contemporary cultural work into easily manipualble binary code, sets up a new environment from which to engender new contexts of meaning and, if possible, create para-media constructs that assault the banal production values inherent in mainstream culture.

The GRAMMATRON strategy of "surf-sample-manipulate" (i.e., to surf the culture, sample data and then change that data to meet the specific needs of the narrative) works on two fronts: one, the so-called "creative content," that is, the text, images, music, and graphics are many times sampled from other sources and digitally-manipulated so that they become "original" constructions that are immediately imported into the storyworld as supplementary data and, two: the so-called "source code" itself is many times appropriated from other designs floating around the Net and eventually integrated into the screen's behind-the-scenes compositional structure. The great thing about the Net is that if you see something you like, whether that be "content" or "source code," many times you can just download the entire document and manipulate it to your needs. In fact, it wouldn't be entirely suspect to suggest that "content" and "source code" are one and the same thing, since as far as the Web goes, one cannot simply exist without the other.

I see this as first an anti-aesthetic gesture, similar to the one Duchamp showed us with his Readymades, but I also see it as employing what Derrida might call a "signature-effect" that brands the ephemeral creator's imprint on the "material" "at hand" (the "bytes" "at hand"). In Hypertextual Consciousness, I refer to this process as a kind of pseudo-autobiographical becoming, that is, a process by which the cyborg-narrators, teleporting themselves into cyberspace and accessing various fragments of everyday digital life, begin selecting whatever data they wish to download into their operating systems only to then filter it through a personalized collage-methodology that essentially does what it will with the data, integrating its binary code into their ongoing ungoing narrative discourse which, masquerading itself as a "work-in-progress," continually experiments with its ability to "manipulate" symbolic space in ways that will purge the interactive-artist of any conventional portrayal of "subjectivity" and, instead, render into vision the object-oriented matrix of cultural tendencies now developing as a result of the convergence of network technology and (anti-)aesthetic practice.