by Peter Courtemanche, Curator of Scrambled_Bites
The name Scrambled_Bites refers to a meeting place amidst food, discussion, and collaborative art practice. The idea originated when the artists and I were talking about serving scrambled eggs for a brunch discussion group that would end a weekend of artist talks and presentations. Diana Burgoyne invented the name: "Scrambled" to describe our intention of blending data from many sources and "Bites" which refers to food and eating but is also the precursor of contemporary data-speak: bits and bytes.
The main intention of the project was to create a data stream that received messages from multiple electronic installation and performance works. These messages were mixed together into a single stream on the Internet -- much like an audio or video stream, but composed of numbers relating to audience interaction, temperature, light, wind, and other parameters from artists and arts venues around the world. This data stream was then sampled and fed into different software and robotics systems at various locations.
Scrambled_Bites was a year-long project initiated by the Western Front artist run centre. It was intended as a forum for research, demonstration, and critical dialog. It included three artist-in-residence projects, a variety of talks, informal workshops, presentations, and a three day streaming event for Art's Birthday.
The Western Front has been active in Vancouver since 1973. The organization operates as a curatorial collective with five programs: Media Arts, Exhibitions, Performance Art, New Music, and Publications. These programs take an interdisciplinary approach to the production, presentation and critical discussion of contemporary art. The organization has been involved in telecommunications and network art since the mid 1970's. Over the years the medium has evolved from primitive e-mail systems, through slo-scan video, telephone music, fax art, and Internet mediated streaming events.
Many of these exchanges have been conceptualized as Telematic social gatherings: video-phone events that connect artists from opposite ends of the globe in late-night/early-morning animation, noise and poetry events. Everyone drinks copious amounts of tea while waiting for the technology to work and the time zones to overlap.
The history of communications and exchange art parallels (and in some cases predicts) the evolution of the technology that we use to connect over distances. The idea of developing a community of artists who are connected through an ephemeral global network dates back at least to the mid 1800's. Many early dreams about radio and telecommunications predicted a system that would be open, multi-directional and shared. In 1915, Velimir Khebnikov imagined an elaborate system of writing on clouds and communicating with sparks that would be used by fishing villages along the Volga. In the early days of the Internet, Jeff Mann's TV Freenet (created in a Western Front artist residency in 1994) predicted a future where the TV audience becomes the content generator through an elaborate interface of old and new technologies. Both Khebnikov and Mann imagine a system that includes input from many different devices, a system that allows people in different parts of the world, working with different types of technology, to feed into a common output (the shadebook or the television screen). One goal of Scrambled_Bites was to enable participating artists to connect devices to the data stream in multiple ways, using different forms of Internet connection and software.
One of the inspirations behind this project was an interest in subverting or "messing with" the concept of Internet streaming at a fundamental level. This was done by introducing a new self defined form of streaming and reducing the entire system to something very minimal. The Scrambler (our home-made server software) did not stream audio or images. Instead it transmitted a slow collection of numbers that were largely abstract and removed from their origins. The Internet and communications technologies in general can rapidly become vast complex systems. The intent of the Scrambler was to strip back this complexity to reveal the basic underpinnings of data flow, exchange and intersection.
Scrambled_Bites was also aimed primarily at linking physical spaces and not having a large web presence. In part this was an attempt to pull networking projects away from the single user screen and into a more social environment. Within an activated space one can view electronic installation and exchange art as a more interesting way to interact with people, computers and networking than the single user screen embodied through the Graphical User Interface. This removal of the screen was most evident during the Art's Birthday celebrations which connected installation and performance works at twelve locations around the world. In this case the data stream was generated by remote sensors and then used to activate a variety of machines including drink mixers, a popcorn maker, dancing skeletons, a cake crusher, sound generators, and an electric frying pan for cooking "data crêpes".
Scrambled_Bites included a number of parts: a group residency with artists Diana Burgoyne, Ken Gregory, Matt Smith and Sandra Wintner; the development of the Scrambler (the data streaming software); artist talks, discussion groups and presentations; an Art's Birthday streaming event; and this publication.
All of the artists involved in this project have taken a unique approach to either sending or receiving data. The objects, sensors and human interaction that generated numbers and the many means of expressing this data in a physical space provoked much interest with artists and audiences alike. The scope of the final outcome of this project was much greater than anticipated, giving cause for further discussion and future connections. Many thanks to all the collaborators on Art's Birthday with their spontaneous energy in pursuit of a wired celebration.
(Peter Courtemanche, February 2004)
Essay from Scrambled_Bites / Art's Birthday, published by The Western Front Society, Vancouver, 2004, ISBN 0-920974-03-1.
"Every fishing settlement was equipped with its own field for sending out airskiffs and its own set for conducting ray-talks with the whole terrestrial globe. The spark voices heard from the other end of the earth were immediately printed on the shadebooks."
Velimir Khlebnikov (translated by Gary Kern, 1976), snake train, excerpt from "The Steppe of the Future", 1915-16.
"There's a growing recognition that the culture industry is doing for our culture what the forest industry is doing for our forests. The Big Media want to sell us 500 more channels where 'interactive TV' means you get a 'buy' button on your remote. On the net there are an infinite number of channels; every viewer is also a transmitter, and this has seen the blossoming of an incredible on-line culture. We hear that in the future we'll be able to send video over the phone. I want to prepare for this using desktop video technology, low-power transmitters, VHS cassettes, the Internet, and whatever other means necessary."
Jeff Mann, article about TV Freenet, FRONT Magazine, volume 5, number 4, March/April 1994.
"To experience cyberspace is to engage fully in a computer mediated mental territory. It is at once disembodied, distributed, intimate and public.
The territories are not physical. Their roots are technological; the space they unfold is entirely formed of human thought, some previously recorded, but much of it live, recorded as it happens, in such vast quantities and so chaotically that it would seem impossible to control.
Thought is predicated on its physically cultural and biological source; its collective potential for reality generation in non-physical territory is as yet undetermined. In cyberspace, art is the continuous sculpting of communication -- the result of interactions and participation. It is increasingly informed by economics, politics, technology, and cross-cultural communications, as each of these impact the representation of the human data stream."
Anna Couey, excerpt from "Line Drawing: Information Intersections and Cyber Cultures", SCAN+, Special Supplement Issue, Volume 4, edited by John Conomos, 1993 (in Artlink Vol. 13, No 1).
"Lev Manovich called the GUI (Graphical User Interface) the greatest artwork of the second half of the 20th Century. I don't think of it as an artwork. I think of it as genius, but not as an artwork. To me, an artist would be ... taking us away from this and developing other potential interfaces. For example, installation artists ... are creating other kinds of ... relationships to spectators and users. Rather than having a television model of looking at something, installation art and interactive work, closed circuit work and open networks are ... developing different ... relationships to screens and bodies."
Margaret Morse, excerpt from CADRE Invitational Transcript: Margaret Morse, Switch | Journal -- Issue 18, March 24, 2003.