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Mobile Revolution: Part 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2: Chris Jagers interviews Dean Terry in regard to new mobile technologies.
Art making is usually thought of as Intimate. Mobile devices are
usually thought of as a mass consumer product. But you combine both, so
what kind of status does the mobile phone have for you?

mobile phone is the most intimate piece of technology most of us have.
It is with you  – and very close you  – all
the time. It’s with you in the bathroom, next to your bed (or in it),
everywhere. How does it feel when someone touches your phone? This
intimacy distinguishes the mobile experience from
the work-like, static desktop experience where you are in a fixed
location, indoors, working on software that is unaware of anything but
itself, and on an Internet that does not take into account where you
are or who is around you.

The mobile device is
potentially a powerful art making machine. It captures and manipulates
images, sound, video all while tracking your social network and
location, which connects you to place. A lot of art over the centuries
is about place. Artists have an opportunity to think about place in new
ways, creating a layer of digital information that the mobile ecosystem

Artists who may have had no interest in new media art in the past
may find new kinds of ideas possible. They may use the mobile device as
a kind of sketchpad, taking photos, recordings, voice notes, archiving
web links and messages from friends. My friend and colleague John
Pomara, a painter, uses a small camera this way and has worked it into
his process, with some very compelling results.

You don’t have to go anywhere to "make art" when a mobile device is
your tool. You are always already there. Students often ask me how to
get better at photography and video, for example. In addition to
learning the history and theory, what I tell them is to take hundreds
(or thousands) of photos and videos per day. Most of them have phones or small cameras
that do this. I advise them to have the device ready to record within a
few seconds – not at the bottom of a bag or pocket. Take advantage of
it’s immediacy, which is part of it’s intimacy.

It’s interesting that location-based innovation is happening simultaneously with "real-time" communication tools, like Twitter.

Mobile changes how you think about time. I noticed at one
point that I often only had 30 seconds at a time to make a video or
take a photo or to write something. Having a couple of mobile devices
with me all the time gave me a few options, all of them compressed in
time. I called it "expression compression" and dubbed this manner of
working and its results "microart" and described it as
"microexpressions of the multitasker." Last year I designed an
exhibition around the idea called Real Time, which was shown at the Dallas Contemporary, and then travelled to the Pompidou in Paris via
a mobile film festival. The idea was to subject other artists to this
same restriction and time compression. So, with John Pomara, who
co-curated the show, we gave them mobile phones with video capabilities
and had them make 30 second videos every day for 2 months. The day the
show opened, there was no art. The art came as people sent in the
videos from their phones everyday. The public were also invited to send
in videos. Everything was projected on walls at the contemporary and
presented on the web simultaneously.

iPhone 3Gs?

As I write this, I await the arrival
of a new iPhone 3Gs. For years, millions of people have had camera
phones. Now millions of people will have video cameras in their pocket.
But these are mobile video cameras that can record anything, anytime,
and, more
importantly, can be shared on the network instantly. They also record
exact gps location. The commonness, ease and extent of transmission of
this kind of video causes behavior changes, and this changes what video
is and means.

So yes, the mobile experience is changing how we think of video.
But it’s
still fixed. It’s still linear, and not inherently interactive or
participatory. But the conditions under which video is taken (or as I
prefer to say, performed) are quite different, and I wonder if we are
entering a post performance world. Being on film or video has gone from
being special and rare to common and disposable. I have noticed that in
a social media context the expectation and standards for performance
and authenticity have changed. Being on video, in the past, meant
"performing" because it wasn’t all that often that people were on
parties, events, etc. Now many people are "on camera" every day.
Sometimes only for a few seconds. Most of the time, what they are doing
is not special or particularly interesting. It is not interesting, but
it is much more important socially. It may be
that you are in someone else’s video nearly every day. And you may be
aware of it or you may not. You are always potentially in someone’s
camera lens. There are
opportunities for artists to explore, critique, invent, and subvert
this area.

Is your Mobile Lab research primarily for art, business or both?

work in a university setting, which gives us the ability to not be
under immediate revenue and business development pressures. This luxury
is a benefit to our partners who are under these pressures. We try and
look forward beyond the next quarter and anticipate future uses and
implications of next generation technology. We spend a lot of time
brainstorming, arguing, testing, and imagining not only how people
might use emerging technologies, but how they affect relationships,
social capital, and culture.  We take these discussions and formalize
them into collaborative research projects. Some of these projects are
for art, resulting in exhibitions, experiments, and tools that artists
and others can use for expressive uses. Others have a business
component to them, but also always a cultural aspect, a mindfulness
about how what we are doing interfaces with society.

Can you talk more about the relationship between art and business?

Regarding art and business, there is a large amount of befuddlement
and mythology surrounding the relationship between the two. (The idea
of art as a part of business never came up in my two years in graduate
school, not even once. It’s as if everyone is pretending that what we
were doing was somehow separate from the rest of the economy).  Art is
a business of course, it is a "content" business with a particular
economic structure and a set of business models. Insofar as it’s model
is based on scarcity and control it is threatened by the Internet.

How does this relate specifically to traditional artists?

One of a kind works will generally continue to follow the old
model, but with significant changes in the power of artists to market
their own work via the network. I know a couple of painters, Steven LaRose and Dennis Hollingsworth, that write interesting blogs and use
other social tools to extend their community. One test is to type your
name in Google. What comes up? Is it what you want? Do you have control
over it? In my view, it’s your responsibility to control your search
stream and online identity. In many respects, you are who Google says
you are.

The challenge for art, like with other content businesses like
music and media, comes when you have work whose native form is digital.
You still see people artificially limiting their work to create rarity
so that they fit into the conventional model. It doesn’t make sense. It
is analogous to charging for content on the Internet. Better to give it
away and reap the benefits of a larger audience.

Regarding the artists relationship to business, the applied
creative thinking that artists provide is valuable to business culture,
though you sometimes have to look for groups that see the value. It’s
better to influence products and services early on than be frustrated
or manipulated by them later. Diversity of perspective is a good thing,
and it’s obvious when things are designed without it. We recently did
an exhibition where Samsung provided phones to artists who then gave
them feedback on the camera and communication functions.  The engineers
there were very curious how what they had made worked in an art

What Macro changes do you see happening?

With an entire culture "creating" now – photos and video and all
manner of content – it is an opportunity for artists to provide
inspiration for new directions and to make critiques where needed.  All
this is especially true in emerging technology where the developers
often have little idea how their inventions will be used. Twitter did
not anticipate many of the uses it has been put to (including 140
character novels, performance art, a protest tool, new forms of
journalism, etc). Think of the role of Twitter in the recent Iranian
uprising. The same is true of mobile technology. For example, I want an
external bluetooth microphone for iPhone video documentary projects.
Until someone in Apple’s hardware engineering understands this, it
cannot happen. This is one of the key roles of MobileLab, to influence
products so they are better creative tools.

There’s also the startup experience, which you, Chris, have experience with. I found intensive training as an artist was
excellent, if not complete, preparation for building a startup. It
takes every ounce of creativity, energy, and focus you can muster. I
think of my experience in the dot com period as one big performance art
piece. I was playing the role of "startup founder" in a highly fluid
and exciting time and place. I see successful artists and successful
startup founders I know as having very similar traits.

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