Turntablist PC , (Jacobsen, 2004)
Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen
As technology gains ubiquity in popular culture, the rules and contexts that govern its use have begun to draw our attention. From lawsuits against Napster to federal hearings about Microsoft s Internet Explorer, the problem of digital rights management is becoming a mainstream phenomenon. Exploring this clash between mass consumption of technology and personal use, Danish artist Mogens Jacobsen creates work that challenges the incorporeal existence of digital objects and the physical incarnations they assume. From examining the legal restrictions of file sharing in Crime Scene: Installation for 2 Computers, where a copyrighted file is transferred between two computers ad infinitum, to creating a PC-turned networked record player with Turntablist PC, Jacobsen s work explores how mass culture is striving to amalgamate and restrict digital objects into categories that previously only existed for physical ones. Gizmodo recently caught up with Jacobsen to discuss his work and why media art is often laid to rest on the fringes of the official, commercial art world.
Interview and images after the jump...
Name: Mogens Jacobsen
Education: Studied mathematics but after a few years slipped over into film- and media-studies.
Affiliation: Independent artist and co-founder of the non-profit Artnode Foundation in Denmark
Crime Scene: Installation for 2 Computers (Jacobsen, 2003)
Gizmodo: Your project, "Crime Scene: Installation for 2 Computers" examines the legalities of file sharing over the Internet. What were you trying to achieve with the project? And why was the project illegal in Denmark?
MJ: For many years I was always discussing new media art with folks from the art world — gallery owners and people from museums. They all seemed very interested in this new media art scene. But it always ended up with this new media art being defined as multimedia art —stuff with computers showing impressive interactive graphics on a screen or projected on a wall. So I wanted to get away from the multimedia thing, which I essentially see as an idea the computer industry has invented to sell us computers as home entertainment centers. I wanted to make something that was utterly boring! The piece would consist of very dull office-style computers. And it should not be interactive nor should it show any fancy graphics. And the theme of the piece—file sharing—is something I personally have been quite baffled by the discrepancy between the legal stuff and what goes on in the real world. And at the same time I really tried to figure out what was legal and what not. But in the end I gave up. So I made this installation with the simplest possible setup: A network of 2 computers sharing files—just sharing the files. Not utilizing the files, not using them for anything, not playing the MP3 files. After showing the piece at the Electrohype Gallery in Sweden, I was asked by a group of museum curators and public servants from the Ministry of Culture, if I wanted to participate in a study regarding problems with showing new art in museums. We had a lot of meetings with representatives from the music industry and with attorneys. It all ended up with a paper saying that the piece is illegal to sell or even to exhibit in Denmark.
Gizmodo: With "Turntablist PC" you combined a turntable with an old PC and converted it into a server that allowed for remote access over the Internet. Depending on the distance and location of the visiting user, the turntable will spin in certain directions and for a specific amount of time (i.e. If you are west of the project and far away it will spin counterclockwise and play the entire record, whereas if you are east and close to the project it will only play a small amount and spin clockwise). The Internet is often thought of as a technology that eliminates distance as a mediating factor in connectivity. Why are you re-introducing distance as a key component to online interaction?
MJ: That is exactly the point! The piece plays on the concept of local and remote. Even when a technology tries to remove distances, it brings focus on the idea that you have to accept there is something going on at other distant places. Some years ago I read the book Vom Verschwinden der Ferne by Peter Weibel. In this book there is a comprehensive review of telecommunication and art. And essentially not much has changed since we had first forms of electrical communications like cable-telegrams, radio and telephony. The speed of communication might have accelerated, but culturally I still find the world a huge place.
Power of Mind / Memory (Jacobsen, 2004)
Gizmodo: "Power of Mind / Memory" consists of a web server powered by a couple hundred potatoes (The Danish national food) that hosts an interview with chief of staff lieutenant-colonel Poul Dahl. As the potatoes dry out, the interview fades away and the text is replaced by heart symbols. Is this project a comment on the temporality of organic power sources? Or is it a political statement about the fleeting nature of negative sentiments by this public feature?
MJ: I was working on my computer one evening and suddenly Mr. Dahl was on TV defending the use of torture. He was a very rational and polite speaker. So I made this thing where a collective of potatoes was trying to keep his words alive. But I guess it is an homage to the powers of nature. The potatoes are organic and fragile—they die, rot and fade away. And they take the ugly words with them—to dust.
"Skip (Jacobsen, 2004)
Gizmodo: Skip was an experiment in building a "reactive record player that replaces the standard stylus with two ultra-bright white LEDs that are modulated by four sine waves at different frequencies, while a 12" mirror disc rotating on the turntable reflects the modulated light. The LEDs fluctuate their illumination based on vibrations sensed from the floor. What was your impetus for building this project? Also, "Deep Maus" connects a mouse with the turntable to create sound from the simple act of placing a mouse on a spinning record? Why is this physical connection of the two objects important?
MJ: Skip and Deep Maus are based on my personal fascination with analog audio and vinyl records. It started in the 1980s, where I ran a record label with a friend of mine. We published a lot of really bizarre records—anything from noisy electronics to acoustic guitar duos. And when I got involved in media art—or more specific net.art—I made a whole bunch of pieces with reference to records. One of these is still online; Everorange from 1996. (http://www.artnode.org/art/jacobsen/eart/orange/norange.html)
Deep Maus (Jacobsen, 2001)
Gizmodo: What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different from your past projects?
MJ: I m trying to do more pieces based on eccentric custom-built gadgets. I m really trying to move away from the graphical user interface; doing tangible pieces that don t look like muscle technology". I would much rather prefer my things looking quirky and boring. So at the moment I am re-doing an installation for a show in France. And most of the work actually goes into removing the GUI-based interface and going for a version that is console/command-line based.