Vacancy KIT



Vacancy KIT by Eduardo Aquino  

Plug-in: Vacancy Kit Touches the Electronic Body by
Lucinda Catchlove  

Art in the Computer Age
by Rebecca McKechnie  



Vacancy KIT by Eduardo Aquino
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 it.

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 data.

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.



Plug-in: Vacancy KIT Touches the Electronic Body by Lucinda Catchlove  
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 Age by Rebecca McKechnie 
The McGill Daily Newspaper, January 15, 1995, Canada

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 screen.

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 in cyberspace.

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.