8:27 p.m. 5.Sep.99

"16 Sessions": the C5 Basement Tapes

David Hunt on Emotions in motion at Ars Electonica.

"Live and Direct," the early MC mantra, is beginning to take on new meaning on day 3 of Ars Electronca, especially among the profusion of impromptu web-based radio broadcasts at the Open X forum from where I type. It's a jungle in here to say the least, and the feng shui of the joint is positively humming with the din of Gregorian chants, corporate sponsor infomercials, and the constant whir and buzz of the latest Serbian anti war dispatch on B92net.radio. Pirate transmissions never sounded so good-or so graphically enhanced for that matter.

Brett Stallbaum of C5, a San Jose, California based artist collective, provided a rare moment of clarity when I sat down with him to discuss his "16 Sessions" project originally commissioned for the Walker Art Center's exhibition "Shock of the View." C5 specializes in the growing field of "information mapping"-in this case, taking algorithmic code and assigning it human characteristics.

Users grasp and manipulate a 6 sq. inch clear acrylic cube with a high-res motion tracking system. As the cube moves in a free-flowing fashion, motion data across x,y,z coordinates is recorded and depicted on a Silicon Graphics workstation. Each "sample," as it is defined, consists of one interaction beginning with the cube being picked up and ending with the cube being set down. The results are then mapped and assigned an "agency" or personality profile. Imagine a handwriting sample, but instead of an analysis of script on a page, "16 Sessions" provides a more physical, more spatialized range of motion, and hence, a more accurate gauge of a user's true identity.

Agencies come in 4 flavors, 8 short of the 12 Jungian archetypes, but right up there with the 4 sales types given in any corporate personality test. Following the introvert/extrovert behavioral model, agencies run the spectrum of loner, blossom, spread, and fold. For instance, a graphic depiction of a loner resembles a simple line hinting that the typical loner is more reserved and less likely to aggressively manipulate the cube. Blossom or spread, on the other hand, are vibrantly coiled spirographs, in synch with a more expansive juggling experience, and hence more bubbly persona.

"16 Sessions" is indicative of the coupling of 3-D topographic systems with human expressive modes leading to what Stalbaum describes as C5's focus on the "ontology of information," or the way in which data behaves. It's reassuring to know that while video artists are conflating the landscape with the mediascape, the topographic with the ambient hum of industrial machinery, net artists are searching farther afield-uncovering complex strings that reveal our existential core, rather than our Technicolor surfaces.

On 7.Sep.99, Brett Stalbaum posted the following reply to the RHIZOME RAW email list:

"David gives me too much credit for the clarity of my explication;-) I do want to clarify that 16 sessions is a c5 research project that involves contributions from all c5 shareholders, and that the data was collected from Not to See a Thing by Joel Slayton. Full documentation can be found at the Walker Art Center."