Preemptive Media is an interdisciplinary team of three artists, each based in different parts of the U.S.: Brooke Singer is based in New York; Beatriz da Costa is based in Los Angeles; Jamie Schulte is based in San Francisco. They are a group of artists, activists and technologists who are making their own style of beta tests, trial runs and impact assessments based on independent research. Preemptive Media (PM) are especially focused on creating practical applications in response to social issues. They are included in the exhibition, VAPOR, at Southern Exposure in San Francisco which runs through May 3, 2008.
ArtSlant's writer, Laurie Halsey Brown, had occasion to speak with Jordan Geiger, who co-curated VAPOR along with Alison Sant. VAPOR is a survey of new art, architecture and design that takes our declining atmospheric conditions as subject matter, medium and metaphor for creative work. Preemptive Media's project for the exhibition is titled AIR, which includes an object that individuals can use to test the air quality. This process creates self-knowledge and empowerment versus relying on the government or the science community for information.
Laurie also had a conversation with Jamie and Beatriz recently at the Brain Wash Cafe & Laundromat in SOMA, as Jamie was waiting for his laundry before they flew out later that day for the opening of the Feedback show in NYC at Eyebeam. Both conversations are presented below.
To see more about Preemptive Media, check out their ArtSlant Profile (here).
AIR Device Screen Close Up; Courtesy of Preemptive Media
Laurie Halsey Brown: How do you see PM's AIR project in relation to other projects?
Jordan Geiger: AIR is rather interesting when considered against their other projects. Seen together, a line of inquiry emerges - around the ubiquity and proliferation of data that we cannot see but that we generate; and that in a sense generate us. On the one hand, this is an emergent and growing theme in lots of art and related fields these days. Yet PM seems with each work to point out ways that space and definitions of the public grow fleeting relationships, thanks to technology. With AIR, the space in question is air itself; and the revelation of local and remote pollutants as a kind of ownership, a contested area of rights. Who has the right to pollute, and where are they? That question itself becomes visible. With Swipe, another PM project, the bar is a host to its drinking visitors - but it delivers back to those visitors and awareness of the data they amass and reveal whenever their driver's license is swiped. The unlikely meeting of traffic law enforcement and, for example, earnings data, becomes palpable in a printed receipt. We live today with an awareness that we carry around this "second body" (the "data body," as theater director Marianne Weems calls it) but PM uses the bar and its technical mechanisms to make it visible and to let us question its absurdity, its exposure.
LHB: How do you see their AIR project in relation to the other works in the exhibition?
JG: The AIR project forms an important hub of the show's more lab-like, interactive projects. These are all located by the show's storefront window, a cue to their availability for checkout. As artworks, these can be jarring for some, for the paradoxical reason that you can not only touch them, but take them out for awhile. In fact, you ought to. Like AIR, Futurefarmers' Civic Cycle and Natalie Jeremijenko's Clear Skies? masks are both really incomplete, inert, without use. Of course, these works also all build a sense of a moment, a zeitgeist: we see the growth of a sort of work now. Artists are using technologies to confront climate crisis, to wrestle with more than the fascination factor that works with telepresence might have given in the past. For some in our visiting public, it may be startling to realize that there is such a body of work at all, at such an intersection of science, art and activism. For others, it is enriching to see that the culture of such work is so developed now that movements within that culture are focusing on our such pressing environmental issues.
Taking off from Headquarters on Bike; Courtesy of Preemptive Media
LHB: What is your interest in this type of art i.e. what compelled you to curate the VAPOR exhibition?
JG: Our interest in the show is born in much of these same interests; we want to use the show itself as a form of activism. We hope that it inspires, in other words, in several ways - creatively as well as civically. We see that the state of our air and climate today are undeniably in peril, and a source of global concern. We see that creative work is responding to it in marvelously compelling ways - and across diverse fields, from art to design and architecture. We see that it is happening here and beyond (our curating brought us to consider work of this sort in several parts of Europe for example).
Southern Exposure has served as a vital and wonderful venue to host such a show, as it is one of the few places of its sort to undertake risk-taking shows of contemporary art, and to support work by people who in many cases are not yet established. It's also apparent that our region is great for its rare mixture of environmentalism, technology, entrepreneurship and progressive politics. For that very reason, the show can also serve as a sort of mirror. It lets us all reflect on our image, and consider how well we are matching it today. Are we all being as active (if not activist) as we could be in response to our air conditions? Are we fostering the sort of challenging, innovative, and enlightened culture that we could? These concerns inspire and fascinate us, as much as the climate crisis at hand provokes us to action. This of course is the reason that the exhibition itself is augmented by so many public programs. The biggest of these is on April 19, 2008, at the California College of the Arts. The Vapor Symposium, as we call it, will be a day-long gathering of people in the show with speakers from the sciences, policy, and related fields. They will be presenting and discussing issues of Vapor, all at the intersection of creative practices and these many other fields.
Swipe Bar from Swipe Performance, Pittsburgh PA, 2002; Courtesy of Preemptive Media
Conversation with Jamie & Beatriz
LHB: Can you tell me about the process of your collaboration? How did you start working together and why?
Preemptive Media: We met when we were all students at Carnegie Mellon; hanging out in bars and talking. We share a concern for similar issues such as power/knowledge, social engagement and topics of social injustice. Some of our questions are: How is behavior regulated? What motivates people? What are the grey zones in policy? We knew our work needed more than one discipline for it to be effective. While we have similar concerns, we have varied backgrounds in the areas of art, engineering and technology. From this diverse background, we look at extreme aspects of an issue in order to create dialogue and to provide tools to ask questions.
LHB: How do you self-evaluate a project for its effectiveness?
PM: Some of the ways we evaluate our work is in seeing how diverse our audience is, how much interaction with the public took place and if we facilitated dialogue. We feel successful when receive e-mails from similar organizations that utilize our work to move the issues forward. Our goal is to get people thinking and acting.
LHB: How does working predominantly with the support of arts/cultural organizations - as artists - enhance the effectiveness of your work?
PM: Artists are allowed to have opinions, which isn't always the case in other fields. But our working within the realm of art is balanced by our work as individuals in various fields outside the art world, so as not to stay in a ‘bubble' and become homogeneous.
LHB: In relation to your project AIR that is included in the VAPOR exhibition, you use a grassroots approach geared toward individual experience in order to have people question science and collect their own data. Could this ultimately create useful information?
PM: That's certainly possible but first we would like people to copy the process and realize that they can do something even if they're not scientists. We want people to ask: who are the experts?
LHB: Would you like to extend your audience to include other aspects of the art world, such as showing in museums and selling your work in a commercial context?
PM: We are always interested in expanding our audience.
LHB: How do you see your work in relation to other collaborative groups based in SF such as REBAR, Futurefarmers, The Living etc.?
PM: We all have a similar collaborative energy that is interdisciplinary and socially aware.
Swipe Card from Swipe Project; Courtesy of Preemptive Media
ArtSlant would like to thank Jordan Geiger and Preemptive Media for their assistance in making this interview possible.
-- Laurie Halsey Brown