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Yvonne Spielmann

Interview with Bill Seaman

Bill Seaman, Gideon May, The World Generator, 1996-1997
Spielmann I like to discuss further what you describe as recombinant mode and generative process. Is there not a limit where the enforced increasing of complexity, multiplicity and polyvalent meaning pools somehow collapses and eventually turns into the contrary, eventually resulting in self-destruction? As we know this kind of ambiguity has been a major challenge for many artists working with machines, and the idea of self-destroying or self-consuming artifact had a strong impact on twentieth century arts.

Seaman This is a very interesting question. I think that great poetic works always tend to have a kind of openness about the meaning such that each time one returns to the work, other layers of meaning are revealed. If we take this model where there is always a potential to release new meanings, I am interested in making a structure where one can experience an accretive meaning or one that is being added to over time as well as through contextual exploration. One becomes directly connected to the generative process of constructing alternate contexts. Even if the environment becomes completely chaotic, because one has been conceptually active through the entire process, then it potentially makes a more complex meaning as opposed to a dissolution of meaning. It is almost a paradoxical idea that as the further away you move from the initial meaning actually the more engaging and the more interesting meaning becomes because you are at the same time reflecting on how abstraction functions as a part of that meaning.

Spielmann My understanding of a paradoxical situation is that there are at least two opposing types of images or whatsoever media present at the same time and place and what becomes apparent and perceivable in an artwork is the point or process of combination. Mostly the resultant form will show a simultaneity of contradictory features, a new mixed form that was created through the paradoxical form.

Seaman I would suggest that paradox does exist normally and our ability to reflect on it through textual language is limited, but in a system like The World Generator you can observe paradox as it arises and you can participate with it as a conceptual entity over time. Thus a potential relation is provided in virtual reality that becomes a means to enter into an experiential relation with paradox over time.

Generative Systems

Does your idea of emergent meaning involve a self-reflexive process on both sides, where the activity of the viewer is somehow mirrored in the self-reflection of the medium, which through accumulation and recombining reveals structuring principles of virtual media?

Seaman There is a set of media-elements available for exploration in each use of the work and a different meaning emergence that arises as each user recombines those media-elements, so potentially each participant has a different experience of the same piece. The more time you spend with each work the more you will realise certain poetic constraints within the media elements that have been loaded into the system. I take an active role in loading certain qualities in these media-elements and I do not hide a certain kind of probability for a particular range of experiences. It is not like taking anything and throwing it in and letting people recombine it. I author the variables and then the variables are explored by the participant through inter-authorship.

Spielmann With the montage and collage techniques as developed in twentieth century arts we usually can clearly specify what the individual elements are and say that they have a form but the function changes in different contexts. Whereas in your virtual piece The World Generator, not only function and meaning of elements are changing, but also the form has a constantly shifting quality.

Seaman Exactly, the form itself is mutable. Each environment changes in the way that it is constructed by the participant and can shift through abstraction. There are also abstraction algorithms built into the system itself, i.e. in The World Generator one can highly abstract media elements. One can make a transparency or can operate with stretch or elongate the image and along with that one can apply different behaviours to the image. So what before was a still image sitting in a space, might later be rotating or abstracted. If I have ten rotating images that are intersecting they may create a dynamic new image that is emergent out of the behaviours that are being combined.

Spielmann It looks like montage and collage in your work are no means for tension and spectacle but rather promote a constant flow of image, music, and text. Herein, I recognise an aesthetic strategy that is mainly developed in video arts where the concern is with the continuous characteristics of electronically processed information, a notion specific to video that transgresses the idea of a coherent single unit image in favour of a constantly moving and shifting type of image. This notion of flow, also described as non-fixity and instability, seems to be even more appropriate to higher complex media such as virtual reality where the open structure refers to many different layers. I am curious to learn if and how you try to foster a sense of ambiguity when dealing with an open structure. Does it describe your concept of ambiguity to say that things are never really settled even if the order of things is fixed on a videotape?

Seaman I am interested in a specific ambiguity as a poetic strategy. I choose an element that would have a set of different readings, a kind of layered meaning or field. For example, you are looking at something but then a little bit later another media-element makes you rethink that element. So, yes, there is a notion of relativity and unfixity of meaning that is constant in my work. But at the same time I am very careful about choosing those things that I put into the system of a work like The World Generator so that unfixity means a rich unfixity, namely a resonant unfixity as opposed to a chaotic unfixity. Let us say you have a pun and then you might have another pun and when you come across them they inform each other so that the overall experience of a set of media-elements is greater than the sum of its parts.

Spielmann I am assumed that the modular system is essential to your work and I am interested in what you would define as the smallest unit of a module.

Seaman This becomes an interesting question because in The World Generator I have 3d models which are individual units, I have still images, movies, poetic lines of text and I have musical loops—all of which are individual units. When those individual units begin to be interpenetrated and fragments of images are wrapped onto objects the evocative nature of the environment can shift back and forth between an initial module and even fragments of that module. Even the tiniest fragment of a module can still be contributing to the overall evocative nature of the environment. The definition of the smallest part would essentially be based upon an individual’s experience of a media element and on the level of abstraction. I would say, as soon as a media-element becomes evocative and this might mean just a motion of particles or the colour of a particular part of an image... it is really difficult to say what is the smallest piece. It is definitely not a frame or a pixel. We might say whatever becomes evocative within the environment is the smallest piece.

© 2003 FDL