Tardis variations

Mutley Media producers Kathryn Bird, James Verdon and Grant Hilliard get into their booth, with some prodding from David Varga

This exchange was conducted by e-mail with three people in two states talking to one another on a project that roves over distance, time, interpretation and single-project status.

DV Booth—a definition, please! A travelling cinema space? Prototype for future new media exhibition and distribution?

GH It’s best understood as a highly modified photo booth.

JV For me, primarily, it’s two things: a site-specific new media installation—

KB —purpose-made for the screening of short interactives—

JV —and a customised venue for the exhibition of linear and non-linear film, video, sound and desktop authored artwork.

GH And through the process of using it visitors have the opportunity to contribute to and access a companion Boothsite on the web.

KB It might actually be considered as the physical incarnation of a web site.

GH As an object it honours the form and function of the ‘classic’ black and white photo booth, preserving the contract of the vending machine: $4 in the slot for a strip of four different portraits.

KB So you get this familiar token made strange; a photo strip, which is—as always—a photo souvenir of a sequence of moments, but is in the case one which also souvenirs a particular, customised screening experience. Consider then that it is the filmmaker who gets to determine the exact points within the screening of their work in which the Booth will take its photos of its mini-audience. Photos the visitor might then choose to see pasted into our Boothsite photo album—a cumulative record of all who sit in it, all over the country.

DV Your call for entries will be announced soon. What are the selection criteria?

KB We’re opening a national call for entries for short, time-based, purpose made work to screen in Booth. Work can be produced in any format in the span from super or high-8 to high-end desktop generation and will then be pressed and accessed to a series of CD-ROMs, each containing a curated ‘season’ of around an hour of material—or around 20 works.

GH We will be asking each program maker to structure their three-minute piece around four designated cut points; each point is both a literal trigger for the Booth’s camera eye to take its portrait of the viewer, and a potential cut point between any one work on the CD-ROM and any other. Booth works as a kind of editing suite, offering each visitor the option of editing together sections of the contributed works into amalgam ‘films’ in various improvisatory ways.

DV To what extent will artists need to design their ideas around its sonic/physical space?

KB To a great extent. For all the things it is and all the ways it works, it is primarily a venue. We were interested in this notion of a ‘film’ production practice that could also be site-specific.

JV It’s a chance to redress some of the disempowering aspects of exhibition for work of this nature. To take an example, desktop work is often exhibited either on a videotape loop if linear, or on a desktop machine if non-linear; often time-sharing with other works, unoptimised for any pieces with regards to navigational access and calibration of hardware and with no independent technical support to ensure the work will in fact be displayed or interacted with as the artist intended for the duration of that show. Booth can target specific works and treat them in the best way possible.

KB Booth sets out to lock down a series of known’s for contributors to riff around in configuring the environment, we’ve artificially extended those aspects of the screening situation which always lose out—like sound.

GH It was important that sound not be an afterthought to vision; a true stereo field is produced by speakers inside the Booth, as well as a separate speaker system in the equipment cavity of the box that gives a ‘voice’ to the Booth.

DV What outside participating will be possible for web browsers?

JV Via the Boothsite, the remote visitor can rifle through the archive of photo strips of all Booth visitors, access the evolving soundscape, check information on touring, on contributing artists, on ways to contribute to the curated CD-ROMs, as well as being linked very directly into the physical Booth via a (broadcast delayed) live video feed signal from the Booth itself.

DV Tell us about the video postcard. Are there any other ways the Booth will ‘archive’ its travels and the presences of the people who visit it?

GH We’ll be asking people to bring along 30-second VHS video postcards of their town, which can be fed directly into the Booth via a VHS slot, digitised and posted to the web site.

KB If we’re going to have some representation on the Boothsite of where the Booth literally is, we want it to come filtered through local versions, shot on domestic equipment, edited in camera and contributed direct-to-Booth. The total Booth experience is shot through with various plays between what a visitor might ‘put in’ to the Booth (like their image, their voice) and what they might take away.

JV A visitor gets to manipulate his or her own image before taking away the ‘hard copy’ record of the session in the edition of the photo strip, but also to upload their strip to the Boothsite to join other portraits in an online photo album, or send an email from the Booth—their photo portrait plus a short message.

DV How soon before the box in question hits the highway? And where will it go? What are the logistical problems of getting the booth on-line in remote areas and does this limit the Booth’s frontier?

GH The Booth is set to begin its tour in force at the start of next year, looking towards a Perth launch. Obviously there are still vast areas of Australia that have no local access to the Internet, even thought diverse groups are agitating for change. The National Farmers Federation, for instance, is active in trying to ensure on-line access for its members. The map of local service provision could be very different by mid-1997, but it is crucial for the Booth’s success in remote areas that we can tap into the shifting ground of local access. It is a situation that redefines ‘remote’ and ‘local’ in Australia. You can be living only a couple of hundred kilometres from Sydney and still have to dial STD to be on-line; the touring Booth serves to underline such anomalies. In developing the Booth we have been guided by two central questions: who has access and to what?

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 25

© David Varga; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 1996