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16 Sessions

Randall Packer, 1999
"It is less a question of the artist interpreting the world than of allowing existing or hypothetical biological processes, mathematical structures, social or collective dynamics, to speak directly. In this sense art no longer involves the composition of a 'message' but the creation of a mechanism.... A new type of artist appears, one who no longer relates the course of historical events. This new artist is an architect of the space of events, an engineer of worlds for billions of future histories, a sculptor of the virtual."
--Pierre Levy
"The future of identity is tactical."

As an idea, "hybrid" is slippery. A hybrid can be viewed as a synthesis of forms in which elements such as object, performance, and space occur simultaneously. Duchamp's Large Glass might be thought of in this way. A hybrid might also be viewed as a migratory process in which the work evolves through a sequence of permutations along a trajectory of formal structures.

The current work of C5, the artist collective and Silicon Valley start-up associated with San Jose State University's CADRE Institute, takes a migratory path. To understand 16 Sessions as a hybrid is to view its complex operations on multiple levels.

The broad, "macro" view of the work begins with Joel Slayton's installation Not to See a Thing, which was part of the San Jose Museum of Art's recent exhibition Alternating Currents: American Art in the Age of Technology. The installation, a classic study in the way we look at the artwork as object in physical space, was the engine manufacturing the raw data we now see recontextualized as data agencies in virtual space in 16 Sessions.

C5: Theory as Product has held a series of public conferences and private meetings in which theoretical position statements generate interpretations of the meaning and significance of collected data. The results of these performative interactions among C5 members have contributed to the framework of 16 Sessions as a Web-specific artwork.

The trajectory from physical object to virtual object via the performative process is also revealed in a "micro" view of the installation. A large cube located in the museum's Sculpture Court is displayed on three surveillance cameras positioned to define its Cartesian coordinates on the X, Y, and Z axes (the first stage of virtualization). The cube is modeled in miniature and situated on a sculpture pedestal (return to physicality), inviting viewers to lift, rotate, or extend its position. This performative gesture on the part of the viewer-participant is mirrored on an SGI computer, where the cube is returned to its virtualized state as an animated object moving in relation to a graphical Cartesian grid. Meanwhile, the viewer's actions have generated volumes of positioning data that have migrated to their new home in 16 Sessions.

Finally, this UR-like motif -- the virtualization of an object via the performative process -- may also be applied to 16 Sessions' own evolutionary path. Data agencies, presented as virtual information maps derived from the installation, are mingled with the network identity (IP address) of the Net user, who chooses to have a particular session processed. A kind of dance occurs between the user's IP address and the algorithm of the data agency that acts upon it. The mingling delivers a list of IP address permutations.

Subsequent interaction with these new IP numbers launches the user into a stratum of the Web that seems to transform the very nature of the Web's topography. The Web is no longer experienced as a virtual representation of geographic space, or as a hallway of common portals; rather, it is a kind of underground substructure opening out into the Net's vast underbelly.

One of the unique characteristics of digital information is its ability to easily change from one form to another; its context can be altered, but its uniqueness is preserved. Data do not care where they live. As C5 says in its theoretical investigations into autopoietic data systems, "The data organism is a self-perpetuating system that maintains its identity in a changing environment."

16 Sessions is an extraordinary and original exploration of the micro-universe that lies within our information structures, taking nothing for granted and exposing the seemingly alchemical properties of those structures. In a world growing increasingly rich with data -- and with opportunity for mining those information riches -- 16 Sessions leaves little doubt that C5 stock is on the rise.

Randall Packer is a media artist and curator on the faculty in the Department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley, and artistic director of Zakros InterArts (http://www.zakros.com).
Randall Packer, 1999. First published by Gallery 9/Walker Art Center for 16 Sessions by C5.