From August 17 to November 24, 2002, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Numbers, A New Work by Kristen Oppenheim as well as Agent Ruby by Lynn Hershman and World of Awe, Chapter 2 by Yael Kanarek, two works recently commissioned for e.space, the Museum’s innovative online gallery. E.space was inaugurated in the spring of 2000 with selections from the Museum’s permanent collection of Web sites—the first such collection assembled by a U.S. museum. This will be the first time that e.space is given physical presentation in the SFMOMA galleries. “I am pleased to be able to present SFMOMA’s online works in the Media Arts galleries. Visitors will be able to access these cutting-edge works in the context of the Museum for the first time,” states Benjamin Weil, SFMOMA curator of media arts, who organized both the e.space gallery presentation and the Kristen Oppenheim project. E.space is jointly organized by Weil and Joseph Rosa, the SFMOMA Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design.
Numbers, A New Work by Kristin Oppenheim
Kristin Oppenheim is primarily known for spare sound installations that draw on the relationships between sound and personal experience and memory. Numbers, a five-channel video work commissioned by SFMOMA, borrows from both the artist’s previous work with sound and her interest in photographing children.
Over the past decade, Kristin Oppenheim has been exploring the means by which we recall, revive and share childhood memories and the emotions associated with them. Oppenheim constructs sculptural, experiential environments that preserve the rawness of those feelings or serve to trigger them in viewers’ minds. Though her investigation is by nature autobiographical and introspective, the universal character of the memories and emotions she mines points to a common terrain of shared experience. In many cases, an adult can be stimulated to access or recover long-dormant childhood memories by witnessing the experiences of a youth in his or her care; Oppenheim’s Numbers installation, with its close-ups of children’s hands playing a game of the same name (also known as patty-cake), suggests that artistic evocations of childhood can perform a similar function.
Oppenheim’s art is characterized by its performative quality. Early in her career, she presented sound works in white rooms that were empty except for the physical presence of the audio equipment itself. She recorded herself singing fragments of popular songs a cappella and reading poetry that she had written or found, then presented these recordings in minimal settings. Her installations eventually came to incorporate theater lighting, as if to underscore the sense of a performance, albeit one from which the performer is physically removed. The naked voice best incarnates this strange tension between absence and presence; it acts as a link between past and present, constructing a space of both personal memory and collective experience.
Oppenheim carefully integrates the architectural setting into her artworks in order to maximize the impact of the audio component and foster the intimacy required to share the primal feelings in which she is interested. In Numbers, a single video of anonymous children’s hands is projected out-of-sync onto five different surfaces to overwhelming effect. Though the representation of patty-cake, a nearly universal childhood game, initially may seem allegorical and idyllic, the unsettling aural effects and the self-conscious staging in the gallery create an atmosphere of angst, a flash of memory that may feel closer to a nightmare. This disjunctive effect is heightened by the unsynchronized, multiple projections of the video, which cause the rhythm of the hands to appear manipulated, disjointed and inhuman, as if mechanically rendered.
In conjunction with the exhibition, SFMOMA will present public programs including an artist talk with Kristen Oppenheim on Thursday, October 24, at 7 p.m., and an Art and Conversation lecture titled So She Sang on Friday, October 25, at 11:30 a.m., both in the Phyllis Wattis Theater.
Agent Ruby by Lynn Hershman
Lynn Hershman has worked in photography, video, installation and interactive and online art. Her 53 videos and seven interactive installations have won many international awards. This multimedia body of work addresses the social construction of female identity and related issues of social conditioning, most often through the narrative construct of an alter ego or “agent.” In her second feature-length film, Teknolust, 2001, for example, Hershman introduces Agent Ruby, one of several female SRA’s (self-replicating automatons) who interact with the scientist who modeled them after herself.
In Hershman’s online project, Agent Ruby returns as an Artificial Intelligent Web agent that is shaped by and reflects her encounters with users—thereby simultaneously being part of the real and virtual worlds. Ruby converses with users, remembering their questions and names, and is ultimately able to recognize their voices and have moods corresponding with whether or not she likes them. Her mood may also be affected directly by Web traffic. Agent Ruby is seeded to user servers and is downloadable to users’ desktops or Palm OS handheld computers; it is multiplatform, integrating PC, Mac and Palm operating systems.
According to Hershman, Agent Ruby is designed to have a self-perpetuating life cycle of three phases:
The Web Site is the hub from which the entity searches and returns communication.
Beaming/Breeding Stations allow users to replicate Agent Ruby onto their palms, shifting information directly.
Ruby Speech Synthesis and Voice Recognition enables users to speak directly to Ruby. Users will also be able to drop information into a site that will be collaged onto a cumulative billboard revealing an overview of world concerns and the shapes of the patterns this information takes.
In this way, Agent Ruby “will challenge the legality of genetic DNA ownership by creating a virtual entity comprised of the aesthetics, experiences and interests of users. This ‘tamagochi-like’ creature will be an Internet-bred construction of identity that will flesh out through cumulative virtual use, reflecting the global choices of Internet users,” says Hershman.
Agent Ruby will be downloadable to users’ handheld devices using WideRay-powered beaming stations. Museum visitors will be able to point their own handheld device (Palm-Powered PDA) at the WideRay Jack mobile caching server to download the Agent Ruby application. WideRay provides the network infrastructure to enable high-speed transmission of data and applications to handheld devices on location.
World of Awe, Chapter 2 by Yael Kanarek
A new-media artist, Yael Kanarek has been developing her interdisciplinary project, World of Awe, since 1995. In the process, Kanarek has been merging the aesthetics of the desktop with those of the browser, pointing to the blurriness between that which is local and that which is remote in the realm of the network. Exploring storytelling schemes articulated with specific attention given to the design of multilayered user interfaces, Kanarek pioneers new immersive fictional forms.
At the core of World of Awe is The Journal, an original narrative that uses the ancient genre of the traveler’s tale to explore virtuality through the connections between storytelling, travel, memory and technology. World of Awe, Chapter 2 introduces the user to previously unpublished entries from The Journal. (The first iteration of World of Awe was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial exhibition.) Chapter Two is loosely based on the themes of destruction and mending, establishing relationships among what the artist terms “skins”: human, interface and land. The chapter also begins the dissemination of The Journal over the network. A new function is available to the visitors: By signing one’s name, World of Awe tracks the visitor’s movements through the two chapters. Once the visitor “generates a map,” a drawing of his/her travels through The Journal is printed. Thus, the relationship to travel and the imagined geography of the Internet is further enhanced.
Major support for e.space has been generously provided by the James Family Foundation.