VisitorsStudio by Furtherfield.org (2006)


http://www.visitorsstudio.org

When placing Furtherfield.org's VisitorsStudio in the context of a 'work' (sic) in the traditional sense, one might have a problem with definitions. For example, VS, an interesting acronym upon reflection, is formally a 'stone soup' model. That is, VS acts as a container, connector, and root node for artists and performers wishing to virtually get together and 'jam' online. This is a brilliant metaphor for an artspace informed by elements of rave culture, where in many cases, the participants network, do their own performances, like fire-dancing, trade 'props', and share one another's presence. In many ways, it almost creates a networked 'Temporary Autonomous Zone'1 in which the participants freely trade media, perform, and chat under the loose rules of behaviour established upon entering the VS.

A loose analogue to the rave can be brought to bear in describing the VS artspace. When entering the VS, participants upload and trade their JPG, SWF, MP3 and other media clips that they can use in the application's 'mixer'. With Version2 released, June 2006, performers can represent themselves through a profile 'pagelet', with image, homepage information and brief notes. And in addition, they can engage in chat directly on the screen as typed input appears either directly beneath their screen name in the space, or within an online IM-style pane.

But what is interesting about the parallels between VS and the rave metaphor is behaviour. Both cultures require a form of kindness. In VS large numbers of participants can theoretically call up large numbers of media clips, creating a potentially competitive media performance. In this writer's experience2, the converse is the case, in that performers often confer about content; who will 'VS' with whom at what time, mainly as the other observers have not wanted to miss what the other performers are going to do. So, in considering the culture that the VS creates, it is reminiscent of elements of DJ, hip-hop, and rave culture, creating a community of interaction/ performance through the remixing of cultural signifiers.

While this writer, as a performer as well as critic, has 'jammed' with other excellent platforms like Quartz Composer and Keyworx3 that allow for distributed server-client events, VS has the virtue of its minimalism. That is, VS operates over a standard Web browser with a Flash plugin, as opposed to more dedicated/stand alone software platforms. In their defence, there are advantages to external MIDI, DMX, webcam controllers and so on. But what is interesting about this space is that it can be used with a modest machine with even a phone modem, which is antithetical to many tendencies of media art. In this way, VS creates a Beuysian mediaspace or channel for the (relative) masses in which openness and access override technical specificity. Of course, with the private sector's current Web 2.0 models of audience-created intellectual property, the very openness of the VS's content model raises issues around creative freedom that are larger than this short missive. What is important is that the VS offers a readily accessible channel for collective creation and community building with minimal toolsets, and this, while not unheard of, is a highly valuable asset in the New Media world.
By Patrick Lichty

References
1. Bey, H. T.A.Z. Autonomedia, New York, NY Anti-copyright, 1985, 1991. http://www.hermetic.com/bey/taz_cont.html
2. I have been part of a few 'performances' using the VS, such as the Dissension Convention performance at Postmasters' Gallery (NY) in August 2004, http://www.furtherfield.org/ dissensionconvention/ and witnessed several others. During these events, I never saw any disrespect for collaborators' creative 'space'.
3. Although a new version of the KeyWorx platform is in development, a version is available at http://www.keyworx.org/