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This article was written for 'Content-Type' in 2001, which I conceived of as an idea virus, later as the site evolved, I was to think of these texts as symptomatic of the Media/Art Identity Crisis in style of delivery.

"...Karskrona2 is a "free space" ...it is inhabited by at least part of the same community of individuals as the real city, bringing the challenge of virtual reality into the lives of neighbours and friends. To what extent will it be a fulfilment of individual or collective fantasies? To what extent will it conform to the pattern of Karlskrona? What new possibilities does the internet's "free space" offer to an existing community?..." {superflex]*1

Like Marshall McLuhan's 'anti-environments', Danish artist-company Superflex use virtual copies of real environments in networked space to explore alternative ways of being and perceiving reality. The citizens of Karlskrona participate through avatars and meet in the real city centre to view the virtual Karlskrona and "consider the divergences between Karlskrona and Karlskrona2" *2. As one citizen wrote: "I began spending more and more time online, in the calm and satisfying and hassle-free zones of the virtual city and by this time the two places, the real and digital versions, resembled one another very little. More and more it was becoming possible to live, work, shop, chat, hustle and hang out in the virtual world for days on end, interaction in real life being something to avoid wherever possible, and I wasn't slow to follow the trend."*3

The idea of free space to explore alternative ways of being is not a new one, in fact it is the very stuff of science fiction. What is interesting about Superflex is their overall approach encompassing art, commerce, community and technology. Their earlier (1997) and still ongoing project 'Biogas', which is an attempt to develop ecologically viable energy supplies in Tanzania, Africa, is described by Dan Cameron as their 'quintessential project'. Superflex have explained that: "The African organisations have a very real reason to be interested in the project because there is a genuine need for the product. Furthermore, they are interested because we come from a different vantage point. We don't want to help the way an aid organisation does. Instead we offer a functional product that they are able to use on their own terms." *4 The Biogas project has been related to the Earthworks art of the 1970s, which "was in many ways an extension of Robert Smithson 'non-site' principles into the real world, but with a social dimension conspicuously lacking..." *5

Anti-environments and non-sites, have since been reappropriated by Superflex within the more flexible technological environment of the early 21st century. They have been able to combine local and international site based concerns with a 'business' approach to technological production. Their attitude with virtual Karlskrona is to view the internet as a "local network rather than a global communications tool",*6 to enhance local understanding of the community and its constraining structures. Like some net artists, Superflex see the arts institution as simply a venue for promotion, "The group aims for direct social engagement in producing projects with clear social relevance, using the art institution for marketing and promotion" *7, as well as partners in the development of a social project, "the art institutions and their representatives are not assigned an outstanding role, they simply represent potential partners in cooperation with their own specific interests." *8

This approach is being followed by FACT in Liverpool. The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, they have just announced their second Superchannel: Tenantspin, 'the UK's newest online broadcasting channel', which will be launched on 22nd March at Tate Liverpool and online at superchannel.org. As a collaboration between Superflex, FACT and Liverpool Housing Action Trust, Tenantspin is the latest channel to be added to the Superflex Superchannel. It will be managed by 'residents of Liverpool's oldest tower blocks', and as such provides "new forms of 'home' entertainment for local communities, it builds new social networks on and off line and it enables local and global communication and representation where it did not exist before." *9 There will also be a book to accompany the project, titled 'Supermanual'.

Tate Liverpool, is the venue for promoting the event, and Superchannel:Tenantspin is the programmed context for community participation. Superchannel has already been developed from a pilot project into a 'three year on-line community broadcasting programme' so it should have the potential to continue. It is intriguing to know whether there are many 'divergences' between real and online life for the Liverpool residents. Are they being seduced into life online? As Karlskrona citizen Will Bradley put it: "Imagine how well the virtual city might work if it could find a positive relationship with the real world, instead of bein used, more than anything, just to escape. Imagine what could have happened in a city that was worth saving." *10

Sarah Thompson 14.03.01

*1 , *2 Superflex, Karlskrona, http://www.superflex.dk

*3, *10 Karlskrona2, Will Bradley, The Modern Institute 1999, http://www.superflex.dk/articles

*4 http://www.superflex.dk/articles

*5 Into Africa, Dan Cameron, New Museum of Contemporary Art New York, After All 1998, http://www.superflex.dk/articles

*6, *7 Washington Project for the Arts/ Corcoran (WPA\C) presents Superflex, 16.03.01 @ 6.00 pm as part of the Mutable Monument, http://www.wpaconline.org, Newsgrist, Joy Garnett, 10.03.01

*8 Acknowledging the Complexities and Contingencies, Barbara Steiner, 1999, http://www.superflex.dk/articles

*9 SUPERCHANNEL LAUNCH, Alison Edbury, FACT, 12.03.01