KIT by Eduardo
Plug-in: Vacancy Kit Touches the
Electronic Body by
Art in the Computer Age
Vacancy KIT by
Parachute Magazine, June issue, 1995, Canada
As one neared the dimmed space
of the installation Vacancy KIT, the first surprise
was the awkward presence of a pentagon formed by construction
rubble, occupying the total width of the central floor space
and blocking the entrance area from the remainder of the gallery.
On the perimeter of this pentagon, five props mimicking concrete
blocks -- the ones found to protect the limits of vacant and
parking lots -- reproduced the impression of a street site
but, even more convincingly, of a movie set. Attached to the
fake blocks, safety belts conveyed a sensation of either being
taking off or trapping you down, with the exception of one
block, which served as support for an operational computerized
unit. Among the rubble, one could find specially crafted "electronic
cards", alluding to credit or banking cards that populate
quotidian life. These were used to activate the video screen
on top of the concrete block. Adding to the scene, manipulated
sounds borrowed from videogame arcades interfered with the
installation, attracting attention to a sui generis experience,
a deviation from the conventional contemplation mode of a
gallery show. This unusual, non-aestheticized manner of displaying
objects worked curiously as an invitation: gallerygoers had
to literally walk on the work in order to fully experience
KIT - a "flux" of
collaborators based primarily in Britain -- directly aimed
to establish a mise-en-scene, between the decomposing spirit
of our cityscapes and the possible alternatives of urban fl‚nerie
reconstructed through the virtual worlds of screened technology.
The physical reality of abandoned buildings and empty urban
spaces, juxtaposed with the synthetic path toward a de-materialized
digital universe, inspired considerations about the destructive
and progressive consequences technology has on the cultural
destiny of city life. The installation offered an alternative
"walk" in the city, a city dispossessed of the romantic
urbanity of nineteenth century Europe, intensely lit with
its green boulevards and central parks. The present unpredictable
end-of-century economic and political directions have violently
affected the North American metropolis, raising issues concerning
space, occupation and circulation. Is this a script for the
urban inhabitant, to be entangled inside the housing unit,
"walking" now through the personal computer's cyberspace,
digital satellite systems and home electronic circuitry? If
this is an influential occurrence, whose life is it affecting?
As in being in a movie, the
tendency was to want to penetrate the installation even further,
somehow performing on the set. The found "credit cards,"
this little plastic icon of contemporary culture and definer
of our daily contact with a machine-like world, were distributed
as an activating device for the hidden data processor that
the visitor inserted through a series of alternate slots.
Then, about forty different vignettes were presented portraying
images from Vesalius' depictions of the nervous system, nineteenth-century
representations of prosthetic bodies, and Modernist models
of utopian futuristic cities, to small, thought-provoking
kinetic narratives that commented on the body's presence in
the landscape and on personal agency. These sequences examined
the validity of cybertechnologies shaping society in a new
(virtual) cityscape in contraposition to the mechanized ways
of production initiated by the Industrial Revolution. As in
smartcards -- an extension of the common credit card that
will unite the functions of keeping one's education, employment
and identity records, providing banking services, financial
management, library and videostore borrowing privileges, health
and social insurance registry, medical and genetic data, etc.
-- KIT's circular narrative suggested a travelogue in the
city, only possible through the technical endorsement of compressed
The Industrial Revolution fostered
eloquent support for Modernist body and city utopias, a free
thinking exercise initiated in the last century and practiced
by artists and architects up to the 1960's, predicting the
future interdependencies of people and machines. Future Systems,
Archigram, the Metabolists, Le Corbusier and experiences like
Brasilia promoted the art of forecasting from a deterministic,
exclusive formal perspective, dissociating the city from its
social constituent tissue. Comparatively, videogame machines
devise a linear narrative of conquering through images of
physical prowess and violence. The calculated storyboard,
conceived to focus on a predominantly male-oriented clientele,
determines that all the games valorize conquest through events
that consistently present a rectilinear form: start/fight/new
level/flight/ other level/flight/fight/game over. As in a
ballgame, in a war or a street fight, it does not matter:
the pattern consistently repeats itself, conferring a single
option of evolution, namely, victory through force.
Opposing the videogame structure,
Kit redefined the narrative of the screen through a circular,
flexible model, dissimilar to the one observed at the Casino
Royal, a videogame arcade downstairs from Observatoire 4.
Using hypertext -- a sequence of distinct but interrelated
texts or image-blocks opening onto each other, in which one
can gain access in a non-linear, dynamic order -- KIT's reciprocal
screen never repeated itself and gave the visitor a chance
to partially decide on a route or to get muddled up in its
illogical continuity. Even if presented in an unexpectedly
slow pace compared with the new videogames' almost synchronous
responses, the gaps between the vignettes released the users
allowing them to construct their own subjective recountings
in a significant way, through the virtual creation of imaginative
prospects within this undefined but accessible space.
Multifunctional software, which
seamlessly integrates various tools, and domestic processing
units, which generate databases and organize total entertainment
centers, charge different perceptual body nodes. Megahertz,
gigabytes, and multiple-task platforms, as well as tactile
management of keys, joysticks and mouses are simultaneously
dictating new body responses on a radical scale perhaps only
comparable to the advent of nineteenth century machinery.
The transformed body digests the extreme technological shift,
assimilating new conditions of time and space in a cathartic
whirl, where vision, mind and flesh dissolve into the seductive
electronic world of the screen.
Vacancy KIT posits
itself between recent critical accounts assessing technology's
impact in today's society from a skeptical perspective (William
Leiss' Under the Technology's Thumb, Ursula Franklin's
The Real World of Technology) and the current information-age
infiltration in everyday life through mass media exploitation.
Sidestepping both schemes, it created an open scenario for
investigation which questioned the phenomenon more than it
established a conclusive viewpoint. The artist refuted traditional
prognostic descriptions of the future city and the future
body and, instead, decided to evaluate past representations.
Reciprocity became a format where the visitor could turn into
a critical agent of information, denying a fixed isolated
position, reflecting technology more than an entity separated
from the complex circuit of social and cultural connections.
The artists were not simply presented as the entertainers,
but also as the catalyst of cultural procedures, confronting
populist forms of high-tech amusement by displacing sophisticated
strategies of digital representation to render visitors with
a pleasant but reflexive and challenging experience.
The shifting reality of
contemporary urban life is being radically reshaped by the
instistent non-democratic decisions about the city's architectural
fate and the vast occupation of virtual spaces by compacted
information and networking communication. It is improbable
that the presence of such technological influences would go
unrecognized, but to be ingenuous enough to celebrate these
developments without assessing the real consequences only
serves to support the political blueprint of the dominant
status quo. Closer in strategy to the Situationists and the
activist tradition -- who understood the city as an organic
and complex body of languages -- KIT avoided the mistake of
simplistic appropriation and consequent exclusive exaltation
of technology by overlapping it with the coarse reality of
street life and by distancing themselves from idealist futurisms.
If technology can advance the articulation of human agency
and thereby consubstantiate political mandates through democratic
processes, it also faces its own incapacities to provoke genuine
social, economic and political changes. This paradox addresses
the notion that it is not technology per se that draw the
differences, but the ways it is being used and by whom: Who
is passive and who has agency. At the same time technology
offers participatory alternatives of exchange, it also creates
abysmal distances between those to whom technology is made
available and those that are denied accessibility.
Vacancy KIT Touches the Electronic Body
The Hour newspaper,
January 26, 1995, Canada
Hey kids, it's hip, it's cool,
it pushes all the right buttons - it's Vacancy KIT!
Created by a collaboration who work under the name KIT, Vacancy
KIT explores dichotomies while containing many of its
own. Simultaneously low- and high-tech, physical and abstract,
it's fun for the whole family.
Strap your little sister to
one of the five concrete blocks bordering the pentagram of
rubble and go wild. People do, according to KIT: "Some
people just go wacko, it's good because the intention wasn't
to be precious about it". Precious, they're not, but
this doesn't mean that Vacancy Kit is simple. On
the contrary, as one layer of meaning is stripped away, another
is revealed. It is a complicated web they weave, existing
in actual, conceptual, and cyberspace. Vacancy Kit is
where technology and superstition meet, it is the belly of
the beast. The pentagram of rubble simultaneously represents
the military and the magical, the Pentagon and the pentacle.
Contained in one of the concrete blocks is a computer that
is accessed by inserting "credit" cards that are
found strewn in the rubble.
"It's like a slow video
game, so you have to endure it, almost, " says KIT of
the computer images. "The footprints that walk through
are about being disembodied within the computer, what it means
to enter a cyberspace. The loss of one body, or sacrifice
of one body to gain another, an electronic double."
KIT uses notions of the body,
both biological and electronic, as the departure point for
their fantastic voyage. "As much as it's about the physical
body, it's about the fictive body, " says KIT. "It's
like the idea of schizophrenia, fictive characters. It also
pertains to how you have to search through video games for
characters. Playing the game without knowing where you stand.
Not knowing if you're looking for something or being looked
for. We were trying to play at negating a single voyage, a
single expectation from the video game."
Vacancy KIT also explores
ownership of ideas, information. "It seems everyone's
scrabbling about trying to find some kind of mandate for how
we should run ideas, ideologies. How you can make money in
cyberspace being a fluid kind of mechanism that anybody can
access, " says KIT.
Scary or not, the future
will come. Artists like KIT are creating a pertinent dialogue
about how we choose to deal with the computer revolution.
Who will own and control the body in all its permutation?
How do we navigate and justify the borders we erect? How do
we integrate the electronic body with the biological? Whose
game are we playing? The last word goes to KIT: "force
yourself to get over any philosophical crap quickly, and just
play the coolest system ever made."
Art in the Computer
The McGill Daily
Newspaper, January 15,
The works of KIT, the name of
a British art collective, explore the theory and practice
of "interactive art". Their area of study is assembling
and packaging art, much like a kit.
Their name is intended to classify
them as a "single gendered authorship" which means
they refuse to submit to traditional labelling by gender.
According to the artists, they do not have "one purpose",
rather their mandate is to provide a "visual or physical
kit for the audience to take away", as well as inspiring
the viewer "to construct their own ideas" from the
art. Their last piece was in the form of postcard puzzle pieces.
Viewers took pieces home to construct into various forms,
and then mailed them back for the artists to assemble into
the original form.
KIT's current project, titled
Vacancy KIT, differs from their last piece, the hands
on experience is limited to the studio. The set up is rather
large, though the focus of the piece is limited to one computer
The innovative format allows
the viewer to interact with the computer using any sort of
simulated credit-like-card. The participant then embarks on
a technological voyage involving a cornucopia of images, specifically
related to the human body. The advancement and predominance
of computer systems is a strong theme in Vacancy KIT.
The artist admit to their addiction to video games, the influence
of the film "The Fantastic voyage", as well as the
pervading existence of "transient bodies" adrift
The piece utilizes medias
ranging from the stone age to a post-modern futuristic realm.
Be forewarned, however, if you plan to visit Observatoire
4; the exhibit includes one piece only, hence the title.