Artist explores cyborg interaction

October 8, 2009
Red and Black
link to original article

Artist explores cyborg interaction
By Michael Prochaska

As a reporter, my job entails bringing words to an art form, be it music, art, or cinema. Though facts are our friends, emotions are enemies – and journalists can hit a brick wall when trying to encapsulate the emotional baggage embedded in artistic vision.

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to surpass my duties as an observer and become a part of the very art subject to my writing. When I asked New York native artist Clarinda Mac Low for an interview, I received an invitation for our conversation to be publicized in an art gallery hundreds of miles away.

Mac Low’s investigation into technological communication is called Cyborg Nation, a performance of public dialogue. Mac Low sits in a room, surrounded by random statements taped to the wall, wearing a portable media costume, with a microphone, camera, and video projector.

This is what she refers to as SCOPE (Self-Contained Performance Environment). She posts signs throughout the space with a phone number that enables a spectator’s conversation with the artist to be projected to an audience.

“People want to speak to me directly, but instead they have to speak to me on the phone, even if they are standing right in front of me,” Mac Low said. “I’m investigating the different modes in which we communicate right now.”

Mac Low believes in different levels of communicative intimacy.

“People will talk to me [on the phone] in a way that they may not talk to me face-to-face,” Mac Low said. “It would be more formal in person.”

Cyborg Nation explores human dependence on machines. While some classify technology as an inherently evil or good entity, Mac Low sees it as a neutral force able to sway one way or the other.

“[Technology] does everything. It’s supposed to make sense of everything we do with each other,” Mac Low said. “Technology is limiting and it also frees us, and the tool is only as good as the tool user.”

Mac Low stressed that humans are handicapped without machines. “The whole SCOPE idea is how to live with our machine love without letting it destroy us,” she said. “We started being humans when we began using tools. There’s no going back.”

Another sociological insight examined in SCOPE is unity. There’s a common notion that technology isolates society and promotes anti-social behavior, Mac Low attempts to disprove this idea.

“What [I’m] exploring is how you can create more empathy, more presence and more interconnectedness, rather than more alienation, through a machine,” she said. “But there’s no sure result in art…I never find the answer [in art] because there is none.”

When our interview came to a close, I realized I would have to write a story that will be published to thousands of strangers about a woman I have never met.

Is this the correct use of technology? Like Mac Low, I have yet to discover an answer.