Bodies © INCorporated is a project that actively incorporates the idea of avatars with the intention of shifting the discourse of the body from the usual idea of flesh and identity. It is planned to have a number of artificial intelligence programs integrated into the environment over which there wouldnt be too much control. An avatar IS, but a member is made, and frequently the force, energy, purpose or will of a corporate Entity will utilise the vehicles of a member in order to contact the physical planes. Every members Body represented is the locus of the contradictions of functioning in the hi-tech environment, while being in the Meta-Body, the Entity in the business of service.
Mission Statement Bodies © INCorporated
As I came to find out, Bodies © INCorporated is an outgrowth of an earlier project byVictoria Vesna, Virtual Concrete, which is mutating into her two current collaborative projects, Datamining Bodies and notime. Datamining Bodies is a timed interaction between the viewer and a virtual body which contains seven layers of textual,visual and aural data. The site installation is in a mine.
Building a Community of People with No Time (a.k.a. notime) is a community of bodies created by busy people who have no time to stick around and watch what happens. The bodies are created by filling out a form and then left to interact and finally to visually disintegrate into pure data remnants. Links to her current projects can be found on her personal website at: time.arts.ucla.edu/
Victoria Vesna assumes multiple roles as an artist-scientist-sociologist,social provocateur and professor and chair of the department of Design/Media Arts at the UCLA School of the Arts. Her artistic path has evolved from video/performance based art into a new hybrid of online/site installation pieces.The current works deal with data, space, time, our connections to each other and to our physical and/or virtual bodies, as well as the networking of the collective body.There is a broader cosmology these projects fit into as well. It is referred to as ops:meme, Online Public Spaces: Multidisciplinary Explorations in Multiuser Environments1. Vesna explains that a meme is the social equivalent of a gene; a cultural concept that is passed down from generation to generation. Examples include the idea of a Supreme Creator, the importance of the individual or an electronically interconnected world community. As she continues to develop projects and they intertwine with each other, I think we will begin to see this larger conceptual idea fulfilled.
The evolution of the mutating Bodies © INCorporated project has been a fluid (if bumpy) process modified by audience interactions with the artist and project. The original concept, Virtual Concrete,2 consisted of a female and male outline on a concrete walkway with text from the net, including dialogue from various sex chat rooms, transferred to the surface. In order to really read the piece, viewers had to crawl over it. This was then broadcast using CU-SeeMe and streamed to the website. The installation experience was successful but Vesna wanted to provide a way for the web audience to interact also. She asked viewers to describe the kind of body they would want in cyberspace via a questionnaire and received an overwhelming response from viewers. She says that she had never imagined anything but conceptual text bodies for the project, but people were clamoring for the real thing. In an interview with Gary Crighton 3 she said, This created a problem for me &I was in a creative impasse for a period of six months. I finally came up with an idea to use textures which had meaning attached to them. The meaning of each texture was derived from alchemical or new age texts and company marketing. I thought that this kind of contradiction perfectly illustrates the kind of bodies we are collectively projecting.
The different realms in which the bodies exist grew out of a need to deal with technical frustrations in a way that worked in the context of the project. Orders for bodies backlogged as the programmers worked to make the 3-D bodies a reality; Vesna referred to them as being in Limbo .After a long time with no resolution it was proposed that the bodies be annihilated with a virus so that body owners could start fresh. Vesna preferred the idea of letting people choose their own death, thus the Necropolis realm was created. Another realm, Showplace, was added later to further the idea of a corporate community and is described as a place where bodies are displayed, shares can be earned for your bodys look, and where you can view other bodies and interact with them.
Victoria Vesna, Female Body from Bodies © INCorporated, Website.
Victoria Vesna is charting through uncharted territory with imperfect tools. Im excited by her ideas but the premise of these projects is much more promising than the online reality. The exception may be in the installations, where variables can be more easily controlled to ensure success. My own experience began as Jane Shmoe websurfer. Because I wanted to approach my research for this article initially as a neutral participant, I avoided reading reviews or articles prior to the experience. I will recount my experience and some of the questions that came up for me. The URL I have been given for the Bodies © INCorporated site is defunct. I do a search which brings up many sites with links to Bodies © INCorporated but almost all of these reference the earlier URL. I feel like I am in a cyber ghost town where once exciting things and people have lived but all of it has been abandoned long ago. Only the structures remain.
Victoria Vesna,Bodies © INCorporated at San Francisco Art Institute,installation, 1997.
I finally get a correct link where I am greeted by a large, impassive copper head with a copyright symbol stamped on the forehead. A scrolling ticker tape banner with the date April 7, 2000, and presumably the most current update on the project, rolls past. A counter with days, hours, minutes and seconds records the time since the sites creation.
I enter and read through the standard disclaimer, which highlights the irony of the nonsensical legalese inherent to every website and product manual in the must-cover-our-legal-ass section that they all have. THE BODIES IN THIS SITE ARE PROVIDED AS IS AND WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED & is as helpful in your decision-making process as the WARNING! Contents may be very hot.disclaimer on your McDonalds coffee cup. Vesna seems to be poking fun at our collective corporate concerns.
But, ever the troublemaker, I have to wonder what would happen if someone really did sue Bodies ©INCorporated Maybe for emotional damages, claiming they were psychically traumatized by the experience. Would the legalese protections stand up in court? Was there a real concern that this project might need legal protection?
In addition to the disclaimer there are sections on restrictions of use of material, cause for termination and limitation of liability. I dutifully read through these although with most sites I just click agree and go on. The language is so obtuse that you never really know what youve agreed to anyway. After I have accepted my liability, a warning page (telling me I will be sorry if I don t read it) proceeds to inform me what plug-ins I will need to download. I take the warning seriously and attempt to download the plug-ins for Netscape 4, Real Audio and a VRML compliant browser. My first attempt I am dialing out with a 36k modem that is only doing about 26k on my phone line and I am unable to download before my modem times out. Second attempt occurs after several weeks when my DSL is finally installed. I am able to download everything I need after many attempts and with great excitement go back to the site. I am ready to make a body!
Three different VRML browsers and many hours later I am finally able to make and see my virtual body. Making the body through filling out a form and seeing it take shape was the most interesting part of the experience for me. Able to choose from male or female arms, legs, torso, and head and several textures, I choose to make all parts female except for my pair of strong male arms. Chocolate, described as sweet and moist; the integrative force, interweaving and balancing; marketing element is my texture of choice, along with clay legs and cloud arms. I laugh as I think of having clay feet and worry about how difficult it will be for this body to move. My choices are arbitrary to some degree and yet at another level I am fulfilling a desire for the projection and protection of this body. I am obviously still at the Ego stage of evolution in this environment.
My virtual body is a very generic, slender, androgenous body with Caucasian features. A boring, but idealized body very unlike my own. Is this intentional on the part of the artist and if so what purpose is served? Is it a comment on what is considered desirable in the current corporate culture? You are informed that with enough shares in the company you are allowed to purchase custom parts. Are you allowed to purchase different ethnic facial parts, fat, scars, body hair if you have enough shares or only more perfect Caucasian parts? Is this pattern also a reflection of the business world where we are only allowed more individuality as we rise in rank?
Now its time to check out the environment. The navigation bar on the side lists the Limbo, Necropolis and Showplace realms along with the following categories: Information, Marketplace, PR Materials, Missiom, Chats. The project introduction in Information states in part: Bodies © INCorporated is an investigation into social psychology and group dynamics, actualized in corporate structure. It is a collaborative project on many levels...At surface, Bodies © INCorporated is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on some of the more obvious contradictions of corporate culture, particularly for those working with art and technology. &From within computer networks we constantly project ourselves, and play complicated identity survival games.
Reading down the page the project introduction ends with this sentence: The show &will materialize again this month (January 23, 1997) at the San Francisco Art Institute."
Hmmm &that was three years ago. Three years is a long time in cyberspace.
The internet ghost town has materialized again, this time maybe it will be complete with ghost bodies.
Victoria Vesna, Bodies © INCorporated at a Los Angeles venue, installation.
The genealogy of the project is included in Information and was very interesting to me as an artist working with technology. It accurately portrays the difficulties in executing this kind of project and the massive amounts of input and labor from fellow collaborators. Vesna credits her partners and collaborators often as a source of labor and ideas. I wonder why the collaborative nature of these projects is not made more apparent in reviews. It almost seems that the art critics that write about her envision her as the brains while the other contributors (mostly male) are viewed as mere workers carrying out her vision. It seems an ironic reversal of the male/female relationships that still exist in many corporate organizations.
Marketplace introduces the idea of shares and corporate promotion through acquiring of shares. The aspect of promotion is explained in more detail in the mission statement. As you participate in the community and acquire shares, you progress from Member to Adept to Avatar with a corresponding shift in your spiritual motivation from Ego which invests itself in its body to perpetuate its identity to Will, a temporary manifestation where the body is a tool for making contact. Marketplace also sells items for shares, much like the current corporate web store. You can purchase a company t-shirt made with a texture that either coordinates or contrasts with the body youmake for three shares. Details about how to obtain additional shares are discussed but there are no links to follow through on this concept. For instance, I am told if I submit a dead philosophers quote that is accepted by the board it is worth a minimum of 10 shares, but no link or further directive exists.
I dont realize it at this point but this is a foreshadowing of what is to come on this art journey. Links that dont work or dont exist, submit buttons that submit nothing, one-way chats, screens that pop up blank and stay that way. Is this intentional or just the debris of abandoned ar(t)echnology? In her interview with Gary Crighton, Vesna has stated that she &wanted to create a space that was not democraticor even user friendly and to question how we operate in this environment.4 But she has also stated that: At a deeper level, Bodies © INCorporated addresses such issues as the legitimacy of cultural institutions as the only socially sanctioned site for display of art, and the ways in which structures of physical and ephemeral spaces effect our collectively embodied behaviour.5
Victoria Vesna, Infant Body from
Bodies © INCorporated,Website.
This starts to raise some disturbing questions about this project and internet art in general. Why change the venue if it is still directed to the same people who would be seeing it in the museum? Museums have one free day a month so that anyone may go in and see the art, not just those who can afford to. Will this same access be afforded when the project is on the web? And if a fairly tech-savvy person with a stable computer and a DSL connection is having trouble getting the project to work, how will others with less fare?
Is it not for them whoever they are? Who are we collectively? The concepts of corporate culture, body ownership and individual and collective rights bring up issues of gender, class and racial power struggles that do not seem to be addressed here. Is this project and others like it primarily for the site installations and only an afterthought as a stand-alone site? Is it aimed at the technologically sophisticated, male-dominated Caucasian digerati collective? The art maker/art consumer collective? The human collective? Does the artist have any responsibility to address these issues?
PR Materials again references corporate infrastructure. Here we find the graphics and sound files generated from the site-specific installations and the Mission Statement, another corporate concept. It then proceeds to define in detail the functioning and spiritual aspects of Members, Adepts and Avatars.
I am never able to get Chat to work (and shouldnt it be titled Break Room or Lunch Room? When I was a cubicle worker I seem to recall that that was the only place we were allowed to talk to each other). I want to talk to another participant and ask some of these questions that are occurring to me. I am not picky and attempt to talk to either live or dead bodies as the prompt instructs. I am able to type in a message on the live side but dont know if it goes anywhere or if there is still anyone alive and able to chat. Maybe theyre all dead and just havent made it over to Necropolis yet. The dead side takes me to a dead link. Is it a joke or more malfunctioning HTML?
When we enter into an installation piece or a website, book, movie or performance piece or any artistic experience that asks us to suspend our current reality for the fantasy of the artist, every detail either contributes to the experience or takes away from it. Artists continually confront issues of craftsmanship versus intent. Does the craftsmanship or lack of it communicate something? If I make an installation piece that includes a chest of drawers that wont open does it contribute to the content and flow I am structuring or is it an unintentional slap of reality that disrupts the experience of the piece? If I run into a technical problem does my solution contribute or detract? When I move on to another idea should I continue to support the participants who are involved with the previous idea or remove it from active status? Who is my intended audience and why? Will they have access to my work and how? If, as a Caucasian, woman artist, I use a white male-dominated concept (the corporation) and medium (technology) is it necessary to address that aspect? I dont have the answers to a lot of these questions yet, but I think they are legitimate questions that artists working with new technology need to address. I hope they will be addressed in Vesnas newest projects while they are still in the early stages."
Alexander Chislenko. Legacy Systems and Functional Cyborgization of Humans, 1995: www.lucifer.com/~sasha/articles/Cyborgs.html
Gary Crighton. New Media Notes: Art and Technology in Ireland, Doubling Bodies: Victoria Vesna, August 1998 www.artistsireland.com/nmn/articles/vesna98_1.html
Jennifer Gonzales. Walker Art Center: The Shock of the View; Appended Subjects and Hybrid Incorporations: Bodies © INCorporated:
Donna Haraway. The Ironic Dream of a Common Language for Women in the Integrated Circuit: Science,Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s or A
Socialist Feminist Manifesto for 55 Cyborgs: www.cc.rochester.edu/College/FS/Publications/HarawayCyborg.html AND web.new.ufl.edu/~brueggcyborg2.html
Leonardo online: Women, Art and Technology Panel Discussion: www-mitpress.mit.edu/e-journals/Leonardo/isast/womenpnl.html
Christopher Newfield. Corporation H: time.arts.ucla.edu/projects/bodies_inc/ newfield_essay.htm
Jyanni Steffensen. Decoding Perversity: queering cyberspace in Parallel Gallery and Journal: www.va.com.au/parallel/x1/journal/jyanni_steffensen/robot.html
Victoria Vesna Biography: www.arts.ucla.edu/bio/full_bio.htm
Web works no. 8 ; Le magazine electronique du CIAC: www.ciac.ca/ magazine/archives/no_8/en/oeuvres.html
Faith Wilding and Critical Art Ensemble. Notes on the Political Condition of Cyberfeminism: www.obn.org/cfundef/condition.html
Experience Bodies © INCorportated at: http://www.bodiesinc.ucla.edu
Eileen McGarvey is an artist, teacher and troublemaker interested in exploring bodies and the online art
experience. Her current online exploration The Body Project may be found at: bodyproject.freehosting.net
CyberIsms: Voice, Identity & Communication in the Virtual Realm