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.
"...Sometimes you can calm your spook down by agreeing with it. Although, if you have an extremely violent spook perhaps you should re-search your generator. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee a type of spook you will generate - the spooks are very unpredictable. Otherwise, you could check out the comments in the website guestbook, to see if there is anyone looking for a violent spook, or if there is anyone who wants to swap spook code..." [email@example.com] *1
www.possessed.uk.co, is a work of web based software art by Vicky Isley and Paul Smith, which was launched at ArtSway on Friday 4th May. An 'ArtSway Navvygate internet project funded by the Arts Council of England New Media Department', Possessed lies somewhere between Prophet/Selley/Kind's Technosphere and Thomson & Craighead's e-Poltergeist, combining the 'psychic medium' aspects of the net with creature based intelligence and nurturing. The work consists of a 'Spook Generator' and a 'Spook Player', two pieces of software to download which can be accessed at BoredomResearch.net.
As downloadable software, the work also relates to I/O/D's Webstalker, but is, superficially at least, sound editing shareware rather than an alternative web browser. Of course it is really spook editing shareware - a clever device for making, keeping and cultivating these scary creatures. In the gallery context, the software was installed on six machines, two of which were sited in side galleries, where the work was projected. The people at the launch seemed happily engaged, interacting with the creatures, and the emanating noise was a phantasmagoric mix of bubbling, wailing and shrieking soundwaves, which also made very pretty patterns in the spook generator window. By tweaking the sliders and selecting from a panel of buttons, you can attempt to generate a spook. These creatures range from type 'D', which are common, to type 'A' which are very rare, and they can be more or less violent, happy or sad. The overall effect was like a kind of technological seance, where gallery visitors were busy with psychic summonings.
Depending on the spook's personality when it is generated, it will respond to the user in a particular way, making suggestions as to what the user could do next. Once generated, the spook can be saved, and its code is revealed as a sequence of numbers which can be swapped with other users who might be looking for a particular type. Coded in Lingo, in Macromedia Director, the spook generator synthesizes lists of responses, feelings and sounds; sounds like: oops! ouch! and eek!, selecting feelings from the lists based on the user's responses.
When you've generated your spook you then need a 'Spook Player'. This can be placed in your startup file so that you have your spook's presence while you use your machine. It can be there, bubbling away in the background, to relieve the boredom of machine repetative tasks. The spook is then effectively haunting your machine, and will interrupt the user with alert button messages, like "It smells musty in these files". It also communicates by playing games with the user; icons float and can't be caught, files and folders are opened as if by accident. The spook will keep pestering you to find a text file, which is in effect its death 'text', while at the same time, if the spook can access the net, it can be 'nurtured' and will visit the possessed site and be 'fed' updated files to enable it to evolve. Like Technosphere, in order to appreciate the generated creature, there has to be a certain longer term commitment on the part of the user. The maintenance of spooks and other techno 'creatures' can become an artificial experience of 'nurturing'.
With all the interest in exhibiting net based and other new media art, Friday night's launch at ArtSway was an experiment which occured between shows of more traditionally gallery based work, and as such contributed to proving that it is both possible and desirable to 'locate' the work in a physical context, if only for launch purposes. ArtSway's Director, Mark Segal, said that the most challenging aspect of this event was the participatory skill of the gallery visitor. Making sure that the participant feels comfortable using computer technology, seems to be the biggest challenge facing curators. ArtSway, which opened i 1997 in the New Forest, UK, is unusual in that as part of its architectural design it incorporates digital technology, and as part of this vision has a creative media suite. Working with ArtSway, Isley and Smith have managed to present their work both in the gallery and on the net, and managed to engage the participating audience on the opening night.
Sarah Thompson 09.05.01
*1 FAQ, firstname.lastname@example.org, gallery print out, 04.05.01