Gai Tong Ap Guong, 2005

Gai Tong Ap Guong [Chicken with Duck Talks], a one hour long DVD video artwork, presented as a street level art installation in conjunction with Red Dive’s project entitled Peripheral City: City of Refuge.

“The mere smell of cooking can evoke a whole civilization” – Fernand Brandel

“Do not dismiss the dish by saying that it is just simple food. The blessed thing is an entire civilization in itself” – Abdulhak Sinasi

“Sweet, sour, bitter, pungent – all must be tasted” – Chinese Proverb

Video Documentation:
[tubepress video=”73Zh-Gu7Fus”]

Project Description:

Chinatown New York City, the largest Chinatown in the United States, is currently expanding do to a variety of economic and political forces in the city and on the far side of the globe – but how will the gentrification of the whole Lower East Side effect this bastion of history and culture? Since 1878 when the first Chinese grocery store, Wo Kee, opened on Mott Street, and in the same year the U.S. Supreme Court denied Chinese the right to become American citizens, the people of Chinatown have had the dual struggle to both survive on a daily basis and at the same time preserve their rights and culture. In the present moment The Asian American Arts Centre is battling eviction by landlords bent on gentrification. What changes are happening in the neighborhood and how can its value be preserved? What are the simple every day familiarities and pleasures that define culture on a daily basis?

Gai Tong Ap Guong  makes use of audio, video, photography, and puppetry. It combines documentary photographs, traveling imagery of the street level built environment and interviews with the people who live in the neighborhood. Audio and text on screen is in both Chinese and English.

The title refers to a common saying in Cantonese about culture clash. It translates something like “(When) Chicken with Duck Talks (Neither Understands.)” A typical fixture in many restaurants in Chinatown, skinned ducks and chickens, often with the heads and necks still attached, hang in front windows as an appetizing enticement.

Gai Tong Ap Guong uses the traditional saying as a means to pose questions to the local inhabitants about their own neighborhood and cultural change which has occurred or is currently going on around them, and attempts to capture the almost hallucinogenic density of daily experience in Chinatown.

Corky Lee (Additional Black and White Photography) 

Teri Chan (Interviews) 

Raul Rothblatt, Eric Jiaju Lee (Musicians)

Special thanks to Maureen, and everyone at Red Dive, and to Mr. Choy, Mark, Mike, and everyone at Silkroad.

When We Came, 2004

A one hour, two channel video work, commissioned by the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art.

Video Stills:

Photo Documentation:

Video Excerpt:

(Note: Best watched in High Quality – Click video once to play, then after video begins click the “HQ” icon on the lower right. Video will restart in High Quality.)

[tubepress mode=’playlist’, playlistValue=’41558420184570AA’]

Download PDF of the New York Times Review: 

VIDEO REVIEW; “The History of Peekskill, as Collage” By BENJAMIN GENOCCHIO, Jan 23, 2005

Project Description:

“When We Came” tells the story of Peekskill from the dawn of human beings, and uses the Hudson River as a point of focus. The mirrored video makes reference to water as reflection and to the flip side of history that we are seldom aware of, an angle from which our own language and perceptions seem foreign and “other”.

It begins with the text of an African creation myth from Ghana. Africa – the origin point for human kind. A great number of African Americans originally came from Ghana and most passed through Almina Castle in Cape Coast, a Dutch fort in the slave trade. Peekskill has been a key center in African American development and resistance in the New World since before the Revolutionary War.

The African myth explains the origin of Water Sun and Moon, and why Water still lives with us on the earth. Peekskill is about water, about the Hudson River. It formed from a retreating glacier at the end of the last ice age. It is a New World that has been continuously being rediscovered for the last 12,500 years. The early Native American Paleo People, the Shield Archaic people, the Mahicans, the Iroquois, the Wappinger, and the Kitchawak an Algonquian people, who lived in the town of Peekskill or Sackhoes, as they liked to call it, before the European peoples ever even arrived.

The story of Peekskill is about visitors coming up the Hudson from New York. This includes Jan Peek, for whom the town is named, (“Peek’s Creek” in Dutch) who lived in the settlement of New Amsterdam which was later renamed New York. Jan came up the Hudson to trade with the Kitchawak at Sackhoes. Other New Yorkers also traded goods by boat and later by car and train. They brought ideas too. Young Russian Jewish women fleeing the nightmare of the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire and trying to start a better life free of labor exploitation. African Americans coming up from the AME Zion Church, and from Harlem, working towards equality. Soho artists driven out by soaring real estate prices looking for a place to create and express their art.

They came from other places besides New York too. The Italians, the Irish, the Chinese as they built the railroads. The British first to burn the place, and later to establish families. African Americans fleeing slavery in the South via the Underground Railroad. Equadorans, Guatemalans, and others from even further South, looking for a better life.

There is a long and tumultuous history of arrivals in this place, filled with great strife and great beauty. We are only the current caretakers and ours is a momentary passing in the long history of the river valley. The “Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk” – as the Mahicans would call it when they first came 6000 years ago. “The place where the waters are never still”. In this work we too arrive. The strangers, the outsiders, the new comers. We try to document, to make a record, so others who come after can know what we experienced, how we felt. So they might see what we saw – when we came.

Conceived by Paul Clay, Video Mix: Paul Clay,  Audio Mix: Arrow Chrome.

future.surface.(text)ure, 2003

“future.surface.(text)ure” Art in General – The Armory Show, New York

Commissioned by Art in General, around the time of its 20 year anniversary, and in conjunction with the exhibit “Reconfiguring Space: Blueprints for Art in General,” which was a two-phase competition to redesign space at Art in General. The one hour long video artwork on DVD served as a multiple released at a benefit in association with this exhibition, and was then presented at Art in General’s booth at the Armory Show.

Video Stills:

Project Description:

future – The time or a period of time following the moment. Events that will or are likely to happen in the time to come. A prospect of success or happiness. Likely to happen or exist.

surface – To apply a surface to something. To work a mine near the surface. For information or facts to become known. To rise to the surface. To come out of hiding.

texture – The feel, appearance, or consistency of the outer part of a substance. A rough or raised finish. The tactile quality of the surface of a work of art.

text – A work, regarded in terms of its content rather than its physical form. A piece of written material regarded as conveying the authentic or primary form. Computing data in written form, especially when stored, processed, or displayed. A script. A work chosen or assigned as a subject of study. A textbook. A passage from the Bible or other religious work, especilly when used as the subject of a sermon, or lesson. From Latin textus ’tissue’, from text – ‘woven’.

future.surface.(text)ure explores Art in General both as a building and as an institution, using the ideas of future, surface, texture, and text. Though non-narrative, it borrows elements of the theories of Mircea Eliade, historian of religion and founder of the Chicago School, to weave an hour long video collage about architecture, time, and meaning. Other influences include Futures Studies, Environmental Psychology and Interstitial Urbanism, recent work on architecture and terrorism, as well as theories of digital and relational architecture.

The work applies multiple simultaneous surfaces through video mixing, layering and collage. The images are at times hypnotic and disorienting. They seem liquified, dematerialized, and are used to make the familiar seem strange. Certain qualities in the video even suggest the spy, thriller, or horror movie genres. A man in a trench coat walks briskly past, clutching a valise. The camera in first person perspective, crouches, peering slowly around corners, through doorways, and up staircases. The whole thing has a real, gritty, Downtown New York, Lower East Side feel. Yet it also evokes the future and the digitization of experience.

According to Eliade there are two kinds of time, “sacred” and “profane”. Profane is the mundane everyday existence of linear time with a past, present, and future. Sometimes we can have encounters which take us out of the normal and open us up to another level, or plane of existence – an expanded timeless awareness. Shamans are said to be able to travel to this timeless, sacred, or origin time, but anyone, regardless of religion or lack there of, can have this kind of revelatory experience. When we do, we can be exposed to the fundamental organizing principles of meaning in our lives. The idea is that a kind of axis mundi opens up a transition point between planes of existence. Suddenly multiple times exist simultaneously and a kind of permeable surface opens where boundaries dissolve and we cross over to this other state. A different way in, than using the front door.

For Eliade these sacred crossover encounters or “Hierophanies” give structure and orientation to the world. Profane time/space can only be divided up geometrically, it has no qualitative differentiation and thus no orientation. Treating something as sacred is in contrast to treating something with disrespect, irreverence, or even simply undue familiarity, and it is a way to identify value. As the word “sacred”, in all languages, universally denotes to cut, to set apart, to mark off, then future.surface.(text)ure seeks to make manifest what Art In General is, and what sets it apart.

Futures studies attempts to to gain a holistic and systemic view by examining not only possible but also probable, preferable, and “wild card” futures. It tries to make us aware of our unexamined assumptions through novel approaches. These include “backcasting” which, (unlike forecasting that tries to predict the future based on current trend analysis), approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposite direction. This issue of future, time, and alternative approach is very much at the heart of future.surface.(text)ure.

Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field and defines the term environment very broadly to include social settings, built environments, learning environments and informational environments which can all be studied together. In the book from the Interstitial Urbanist school of thought entitled “The Ordinary City” the urban world is described as a site of co-presence of multiple spaces, multiple times and multiple webs of relations, tying local sites, subjects and fragments into globalizing networks of economic, social and cultural change. In both areas of study this notion of simultaneous overlapping networks of experience occurs, and the idea is echoed in the structure of future.surface.(text)ure.

In the post 9/11 world, the danger of architecture being a target for terror resulted in new kinds of urban anxiety. This in turn led to an increase in the sometimes totalitarian technological systems for monitoring and control in the name of safety, and a new kind of architectural paranoia. future.surface.(text)ure focuses on this issue by highlighting related infrastructure such as security monitoring systems with power, alert, and armed status lights, telecommunications wiring, fire extinguishers, fire alarm pull boxes, and even features like the uncommon new frequency of helicopter surveillance in the neighborhood.

future.surface.(text)ure also explores notions of data space, and how Art in General as an entity inhabiting architecture positions itself and networks out into the world, as well as how the institution is working with artists and architects on visions for the future. This includes an awareness of how marketing works as a kind of rewriting and fictionalizing to tell a mythic origin story of an institution. In the video, physical surface texture is divided into grid structures and text pixelates in and out of legibility, suggesting the digitization of architecture and communication.

Infrastructure can be defined as the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise and future.surface.(text)ure focuses, in great detail, on a long list of infrastructural elements including light switches, track lights, water and sprinkler pipes, heating pipes, electrical conduit, stand pipes, fire escapes, stair rails and uprights, signage, rigging hardware, expanded metal mesh window guards and more. It also lavishes extended moments on extreme close ups of basic construction materials including concrete, diamond plate steel, expanded metal mesh, and brick.

Architectural design and urban planning are big subjects but ones which tend to reduce the rich physical materiality of lived experience into a set of restricted concepts associated with design. Buildings become toy objects and fundamental experience is vacuumed away in order to create an efficient and streamlined environment in which to plan. This reduction has many positive effects, freeing the mind, and allowing one to conceive totally new notions about materials and spacial relationships. But it also has a negative side in that we no longer see the “there” which is recorded in memory, the “not new” of the rusting fire escape, and the scuffs on the floor that document the passing incidents of human presence.

In our mundane existence we often see architecture in relation to our immediate use of it, going to a meeting in the office or installing an artwork in the gallery. It is easy forget that the timescale of architecture greatly outlasts us. Urban structures survive on a longer time scale than the “people-years” of the short lived human inhabitants who briefly pass through them.

Through extreme close up videography, cutting, layering, and video filtration, future.surface.(text)ure looks at the social, temporal, and spatial ordering of Art In General. By de-structuring and turning upside down, and inside out, it seeks to reach a new and altered perspective. Lonely, elegiac, contemplative. The video becomes a sacred journey into the heart of this Lower East Side mainstay, to find orientation and meaning.

While exploring the back way of Cortlandt Alley we hear dogs barking, reggae music with it’s relation to spirituality and with its strongly accented subsidiary beat, and we see the puffs of steam rising from vent pipes, and the profusion of steel bars which make up the complex network of fire escapes. As the camera dangles down sixty feet to the street below, swinging to and fro, we can feel the pulse of the city hiding below the surface.

future.surface.(text)ure seeks to provoke an epiphany regarding our place within the larger scale of the physical existence of the city. The minute unseen details of urban infrastructure flow past us, like ghosts in a visual poem about the built environment – an architectural elegy for a lost New York.

You Are Here, 2003

You Are Here – architecture, retail, and locality:  an art installation and live audio/video performance contemplating the neighborhood of SoHo and the nature of shopping and retail design, created for the Diesel Denim Gallery, a clothing store where 70% of the space is devoted to the presentation of art, and which is located in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.


Project Description:
There are seven basic elements of the installation:

1. Foam Core Wall:
A 40 foot long by 12 foot high fake wall built from 1/2″ Foam core. It is a one to one scale replica of the actual wall opposite to it, but in mirror image. The wall promotes the idea of the store existing as much in the design phase as a foam core white model as it does in the “real” phase. The mirror image is also a kind of reference to the mental inversion of the “Gruen Transfer”.

2. Floor Sticker:
The 22 foot long vinyl floor sticker with a red dot and the phrase “You Are Here” refers to both the placement locator help found on maps in public spaces, but (like the foam core wall) also serves to suggest that the shoppers are not in an actual space but a space modeled around them and to control them. As though they are ant sized in a model box designed to look like a store. The fact that part of the sticker seems to be sitting underneath the actual brick interior wall of the store serves to further dematerialize the structure.

3. Plexiglas Plaques:
Six hanging C prints on plexiglas 32″x48″ which contain elements of text, and when taken together say the following: “Shopping can be a disorienting experience. Have we found the right place to fulfill our dreams? Where are we in socio-architectural terms when we are in Soho shopping? You are Here.”

4. Clothing rack hanging Plaques:
1/8 inch thick, 24 inch by 30 inch mat white plastic plaques, designed to hang among the clothing that was being sold. These are intended to be roughly the same size as the garments themselves and are hung on hangars, just like the clothing. Text written in black marker in Seven different languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Korean, gives pointed information about the historical development of retail architecture and the effects on shopping. (This turned out to be a particularly effective intervention in that Soho is filled with tourists and with so little support in the US for foreign visitors, they strongly gravitated to, and took interest in, something written in their native language.)

5. Map of retail development and in-store design:
A 73 inch wide by 77 inch high hanging map printed on the vinyl used for architectural “building wraps” (the very large scale billboards on the exterior of buildings) displaying visual details about the interior and exterior of the store, details about the individual interventions in the installation, text info about the neighborhood and the history of shopping, and time lines for the Evolution of Retail Mechanisms, Retail History, and the Diesel Denim Gallery. Important developments such as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, and the first know use of mannequins are noted. The history is tracked into possible futures including synthespian sales staff.

6. Satellite view of the store with data overlay:
Hanging print of Satellite view of the neighborhood along with data overlay relating to retail space use in the neighborhood of Soho.

7. Interactive 3D Fly through:
A computer and projections at the back of the store, behind the foam core wall containing an interactive 3D fly through of the store with slabs floating in space giving information on everything from the number of daily visitors to the store, to the amount of air that passes through the air conditioning system each month.

8. Video projection:
Video projection from three projectors, of the video collage made during the live mix performance, Which included a walk and drive through of SoHo, close ups of design details about the store, text on retail Design, live video of the audience in the space, and 3d fly through of the info time lines.

Project Description:
When I was first approached by curator Sebastien Agneesens about the possibility of creating a work for the Diesel Denim Gallery I thought, what kind of artwork could possibly stand up to the retail environment and not get eaten by it, not turn into advertising for the products around it? I decided the only likely work would take on the structure of retail architecture itself, as a subject, and though it would still be ground up and consumed, it might transmit its meaning virally in the process.

As is pointed out in the brilliant and encyclopedic tome “The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping”, shopping is everywhere these days. The museum, the airport, the nightclub, the university. Shopping is blending with or replacing, almost every kind of urban activity and has become one of the main ways we experience life in a city.

Though shopping is one of the most temporary and unstable types of urban activity, contemporary cities are attempting to use it as the main building block or foundation for civic life. Shopping is not a viable alternative to fundamental communal activities and services, because it doesn’t necessarily last. Shopping has a vital place in society but should not be made to do the job of institutions.

Shopping architecture is cheaply made because like fashion it must constantly change. Buildings can last for 5000 years, but shopping architecture is currently typically viable for only about 3 years before it must be completely transformed into something new.

The timeline for retail development is so brief that stores go from model to completion to obsolescence in almost no time at all. Retail architecture is ephemeral, lasting a brief moment. Existing as much in the design and model phase as in the actualized phase, the store itself is there for such a brief time in historical terms as to make it like a momentary reflection, like a model, hardly real.

Even when realized, retail architecture is often so cheaply built as to be a facade. Like a Hollywood back lot. Like a movie set.

The store exists as much as data as it does as physical building materials. Realtime information tracking, computer modeling of consumer behavior, constant monitoring of shoppers through multiple forms of surveillance media. The store as a virtual and data construction is much larger and more real in some ways than the puny physical location. Even the idea of “brand” and the projection of brand out into the world as advertising can be considered part of the virtual extension of a store.

But the physical locale has its advantages and has a depth and breadth unknown to the virtual trackers. The window washer who wants to address issues of race with passers-by. The gum on the sidewalk that records a trace of the life of a breathing person at this locale, the stone, the iron, the rain on your face. The beauty of being alive in the present moment.

Shopping spaces are designed to delight, but also to confuse and mesmerize. In retail architecture huge amounts of time, money, and research is devoted to this. Scripted disorientation is used to actively confuse shoppers so that they become more susceptible to making impulse purchases. The Gruen Transfer, (named for the first shopping mall designer,) is a psychological state where movement slows, eyes glaze over, jaws slacken and the mind temporarily ceases to function properly because it is experiencing too much input. The exact distance in feet and the number of seconds it takes to induce this debilitated state is actively measured in contemporary retail design.

In ancient times there was a market outside the borders of the city. People went there to exchange goods. There was no buying and selling organized inside the town. In the current era shopping is one of the major forms of urban activity. Imagine a modern city where there was no shopping. What kinds of activities would you do in a city like that? What would be important? What would you care about and devote time to? What might constitute meaningful civic and urban interaction?

Shopping, like advertising can’t simply be discontinued because it is being used in contemporary society to fill deep seated needs, and there are currently few social structures to replace it. If we at least begin to become aware of the lengths to which designers go to alter our consciousness as we go about the process, then we can begin to shape our own outcomes from the experience.

Toward this goal, the project records, through multiple forms of digital media, the local environment in the neighborhood surrounding the gallery. It gathers, in this case, intimate details of life in Soho, New York. In addition it creates an architectural and mediatic intervention into the actual space. Research on the historical development of retail, information flows, the nature of shopping and the meaning of place is presented in dynamic visual, audible, and textual form, heavily layered and worked.

Media forms include a stripped back 3D computer model of the entire store with text replacing products, a 3D data map of retail and shopping, satellite photographs, digital video, still photography, and audio samples. All these mediatic elements are combined in an A/V performance work created live, in the gallery, and then subsequently on display for the duration of the installation.

Shopping can be a disorienting experience when we are offered so many possibilities regarding place, design, and personal style. Have we found the right place to fulfill our dreams? Where are we in local, architectural, geographical, virtual, and cultural terms when we are wandering around in Soho, shopping? The project gathers the mediatic traces, then lays it all out for you. At the Diesel Denim Gallery – YOU ARE HERE

Concept and realization: Paul Clay with curator Sebastien Agneesens
Live Video Mix: 
Video – Paul Clay 
Audio – Arrow Chrome
3D Data Mapping: Jose Salinas, Architect, founder of Knobs Design
3D Animation: Paul Clay, Willyum Delirious, Jose Salinas
Publicity for Fictive: Berit Fischer, Naiying Kuo
Installers for Fictive: Julie Allen, Mark Power, Chang-Jin Lee, Yukiko Hayakawa
Translations for Hand Written texts: Jose Salinas, Yukiko Hayakawa, Sebastien Agneesens, Berit Fischer, Julie Allen, Chang-Jin Lee
Curated by: Sebastien Agneessens – Formavision
Special thanks to all the people at Diesel, from those at the top who approved this thing to those who did publicity, install, letting us in after hours, and supporting us as we did the work. You made this event possible. Thank You.

You are Here is a project of Fictive, a loose constellation of multi-disciplinary art creators, and a kind of fictional arts collective founded by Paul Clay and composed of whoever happens to be working on aproject at any given moment.

Dis-Play, 2002

A one hour long live video mix performance which contemplates the meaning of locality and place in contemporary society, presented first at Magazin 4, Breganz, Austria, and then as part of the 10 year anniversary of the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria


Project Description:
Imagery and sonic details of the local space are meticulously recorded. This includes everything from stair rails, handles, and window joinery, to snippets of street conversation. Following this details of the street level built environment in the city and the surrounding vicinity of the place to be contemplated are documented. This imagery is then mixed live in real time on the evening of the performance, along with live cameras, text about place and architecture, and performative elements evoking the nature of recording, inscription, and display.

Despite its use of carefully gathered documentary detail, the live mix and filtering process attempts to devalue contentism or focus on narrative elements. Instead it evaluates the raw visual and aural content, and reconfigures this to tell its own story, more as nonfigurative painting is understood to convey meaning. Multiple simultaneous video projections created by mixing a host of inputs including videotape, infrared cameras, and computers are employed. The work brings the energy and structures of the club and alternative happening scenes into play with a slightly more contemplative and philosophical approach to generating meaning. The work is an attempt to use the current tools available in new media to explore the age old question of what it means to be, to inhabit.

The work also has a strong ludic component. A reshaping of the interaction of the individual with the environment – not following a normal culturally dictated path or set of instructions. Not even directly accomplishing a culturally prescribed or proscribed goal. Discovering. playing. Like a Trickster figure, the artist comes to your “place”, like the very first human being, like the character of Coyote in Native American myth, loving life, sharking around and looking for things, not following the rules or even aware of them, gouche and unschooled, what does he see? What gets recorded? What can be revealed? …and then there it is, its all on display. Displaced and played with. Creating a sacred event or performance, a celebration, where the core qualities of a place may by chance be revealed. Dis-Play.



Some Background Theory about Dis-Play

How natural and man-made places embody meaning – the spirit of place:
“There was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting. There were many colors on the hills, and the plain was bright with different-colored clays and sands. Red and blue spotted horses grazed in the plain, and there was a dark wilderness on the mountains beyond. The land was still and strong. It was beautiful all around.” – N. Scott Momaday

Native American plains peoples have a huge respect for land and place, born partly out of harsh environment, but much more from thousands of years of tradition. They understand the value of knowing a place through deep lived experience. We, also, can feel deep meaning in volume and expanse in the natural environment. Everyone who has been to mountains, deserts, forests, and oceans knows this on a visceral level.

In addition there are small localized physical forms in the land which bespeak place on a gut level. In Iceland there is a belief that “Hidden Men” or spirits exist in places that have a special character. Roads get built around significant boulders or depressions in the environment lest the spirit of the place be disturbed and cause bad luck. Why is this the case? Simple-minded folk tradition? Maybe not.

We can feel the specialness of the place around the boulder, and if it is removed the valuable experience is gone. The feeling IS a manifestation and can be understood as the spirit of the place. Removing the boulder disrupts the spirit, with grave consequences for those who will have an emptier life as a result of its loss. The mystical invades directly into our 21st century experience. As film director Hal Hartley put it after shooting there: Try to use the rules of what you believe. In Iceland, they don’t apply. You can attempt to fight the volcanoes, the ice, and the sea – but you will not win. These things have a truth far beyond our meager knowledge.

Aboriginal peoples in South Asia carry a sacred stick with them as the community travels from place to place. They understand the stick they carry as a direct connection between heaven and earth, and that the stick is at the center of the world, or rather, IS the center of the world. The center shifts and travels with them as they go. They are always in the spiritually vital center place.
Similar spatial meanings to those we experience in the natural environment are also conveyed to us, in varying degrees, through architecture – but in the case of architecture we are making the boulders and sticks.
Architecture as natural human excretion:
James Turell once said to me he thought people were much like hermit crabs. Having no shell of their own, but needing one always, they would go from one empty shell to another as they go about their business, home, to car, to building, finding/making new shells and staying protected.
He also said he didn’t believe we had much more control over the urban sprawl of Manhattan, than coral do over the Great Barrier Reef. It is a process we are a direct and active part of, but do-not/can-not control. Architecture is a physical manifestation of our “being” on the earth. The outcome of a system we only think we regulate, an actual material excretion of our collective physical organism, a trace of who we are. What information is contained in that trace? How does how we conceptualize what it constitutes change what it actually is and means for us?
Inhabiting – Home and the center of the universe:
“In every dwelling, even the richest, the first task of the phenomenologist is to find the original shell” – The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

We can feel the same gut level responses to the volumes of the built environment as those of the natural if we but allow ourselves to be attuned to them. The marking of the passage from the world of the secular to that of the sacred and back again, feeling the little openings onto some other kind of experience, the sense imbued in us by structures and the expression of physical and design forces within them, the reach and extension, the amplitude of a space, the vaulting and volume, the materialization of ideals. Yet, as Bachelard says, conveying the meaning of place is not simply about describing the architecture and built environment of an area, not a kind of travel brochure enumerating the picturesque features. Rather it is about getting down in between the crevices in the cobblestones, the alleys between the sky scrapers, and getting to the liminal core: what does it mean to inhabit, to have a place which is home? What does it mean to be in a place which is yours, or to go to a place that is someone else’s? To navigate memory as well as the physical environment in the street.
Mapping and addressing, limits of the 3D Western perspective:
In the documentation for an artwork Laura Kurgan did at Storefront for Art and Architecture, a GPS manufacturer’s brochure is quoted as saying “GPS receivers are fast becoming small enough and cheap enough to be carried by just about anyone. That means that everyone will have the ability to know exactly where they are, all the time. Finally, one of man’s basic needs will be fulfilled.” Part of the failure of insight on the part of the brochure maker is the belief that dividing everything into a Cartesian grid and plotting points on it constitutes knowledge of place. It is far more than a geographical question. Knowing where you are is not just a matter of orienting one’s self in Western 3D space, but of having a sense of one’s relationship to ones surroundings and the universe. When someone faints and they don’t remember at first where they are, they do not regain an understanding from being told a GPS location, they know as they remember the circumstances of their life up to the present moment.
Screens, Media Networks, virtual architecture, and augmented space:
Answering the question of what place means is further complexified by our current ability to operate telepresently across aural, visual, and textual networks and to be at play in a set of ever shifting data nodes across a variety of fields from geopolitical, to corporate database, to global market.
In order to handle this additional layer of place the developed world is becoming increasingly display-centric. We rely on displays in our phones, PDAs, computers, televisions, cars, digital audio players, and domestic appliances to help envision, direct and control the necessary flows of data. These aspects of place are more and more being integrated into architectural design, so that the design contains both physical and data space. It is currently referred to by a variety of names including Virtual Architecture and Augmented Architecture. It should be noted that this is not a reference to 3D models used as a design guide for building, but rather to screenal and data space directly incorporated into the finished architecture. A new part of the built environment.

As Lev Manovich notes in his The Poetics of Augmented Space: “Going beyond surface as electronic screen paradigm, architects now have the opportunity to think of the material architecture they are normally preoccupied with, and the new immaterial architecture of information flows within the physical structure, as one whole…the design of electronically augmented space can be approached as an architectural problem.” So the question of how data travels and impacts place gets addressed through architecture.
Travel, morals, and cultural flows:
Data isn’t the only thing that travels and effects meaning. The physical movement of people also has a huge impact on place and tradition. There are effects on both those who travel and those who are visited. There is an aspect of societal escape in travel. College kids on spring break in Florida operate on an entirely different set of moral standards than they do at home. There is a traditional Japanese saying which translates something like: “Shameful acts committed away from home may be forgotten.” Travelers, when away from their “place” lose certain cultural restrictions still in force for those who stay at home, because the forces of place no longer hold full sway.

Interestingly, this liminality, disruption, or displacement actually takes place for local residents of a place which is visited. Flows from one way of thinking meet with local internal flows blending or bubbling up in fluid dynamic. The outsiders bring a disruption of world view, a change in the status quo. Local moral and cultural disruptions can occur, a complex combining of things jostled together and not yet sorted out. A sometimes uncomfortable reframing of point of view is forced on all concerned. Many things are kludged on top of each other that exist temporarily or temporally in mixed form – keyed cut and layered on top of each other in crazy, unorganized, not yet properly mediated form – the new world view, not yet sorted, and the liminal areas dangerously exposed. Hidden truths about unquestioned assumptions are brought vividly into focus. Things spiral dangerously out of control only to be brought back into new kinds of patterns. Secret trysts with travelers which go unreported to wives or boyfriends. A longing for the artificially conceived exotic place of the travelers origin, or where they have passed through, and a wish for release from local cultural responsibilities and oppressions. An expansion of who one can be. Real places taking on iconic meanings for visitor and visited.
Tricksters and ludic behavior:
Travelers can take on qualities of the trickster figure from Native American myth. Paradoxically, the trickster helps to define place by failing to follow the normal locally-dictated path or set of instructions. He will not even directly accomplish any culturally prescribed goal. The figure of Coyote is a good example. Typically arriving on the Earth just before the first human beings, he is gross and not yet fully formed. Though utterly uncultured (because he has arrived to invent it) he runs about goofing off and causing problems, a bad boy, but in the process he lays the groundwork for what people will make, and how they will need to behave in order to get along. It is his undirected energy, ludicrous and ludic, which helps define how things should and should not be. A visitor discovering, playing, inadvertently revealing the qualities of culture, and place.
Observation and recording:
For the visitor interested in exploring and capturing these qualities of place, recording poses an interesting dilemma. Recording impacts negatively on ones ability to experience and understand, and yet is vital to help fix the observations one is able to make. Recording, say for example through video or photography, is a very shallow or hollow capturing of the total truth of place. It disrupts the process of actually being there and participating, and in no way comes near to describing the full view of those visited. The camera can’t track back far enough to get the smell and the fact that your daughter skinned her knee here three years ago, or that you secretly dream of owning a house on that hill one day, and in your mind it represents the fulfillment of the life you were meant to have but have not yet achieved. That when you see that tree, or that corner Bodega, you feel a tiny almost buried thrill in your heart because you KNOW you are home. As visitors, we can’t be in the shoes of the people, we can only do “participant observations” from our own perspective.

In attempting to record someone else’s place, one inadvertently gets documentary based on the momentary ephemera of one’s own lived experience. So be it. With luck, one can also capture a bit of the economics and metaphysics of the built environment. What is gum on the sidewalk like? How do traffic systems work. Where should cars stay out of? Where should they stay inside of? What materials are used to build and how do they get joined together? Showing the functioning of contemporary culture on a physical/anthropological level. Again, what are the traces, and how can the more ephemeral meanings which do get recorded in this shallow, pale, or freeze-dried form, be most effectively reactivated and displayed?
Live video mixing, mediatic criteria, and the politics of filters:
Converting media into digital data creates “the unforeseen option of addressing not only images (by frames) but even every single picture element (pixel). Images and sounds thus become calculable and can be subjected to algorithms of pattern recognition – procedures which will “excavate” unexpected optical statements and perspectives out of the audio-visual archive which, for the first time, can organize itself not just according to meta-data but according to its proper criteria – visual memory in its own medium (endogenic).” “not only images become addressable in mathematical operations, but their ordering as well can be literally calculated.” – Wolfgang Ernst, A visual archive of cinematographical topoi: Navigating images on the borderline of digital addressability

Though Ernst is discussing of the philosophy of archives, the algorithms he refers to are exactly what video mixing is based on. Filtration of video signals devalues subject and instead favors formal elements such as volume of luminance, hue and chroma, contrast, and scan line or pixel variation across time. The artificial conceptual structure of line drawing can be applied as filter by selecting edges and augmenting or flattening them. All of the filtering is based on the mathematically analyzed visual properties of the images, on what Ernst calls the genuine “mediatic criteria” of the image.

Visual properties are further complexified by The blending of multiple live video streams so that they mutually infiltrate one another and exhibit permeable boundaries, the primacy of the individual frame broken through keying, cutting patterns, and other algorithmic means of compositing. Paradoxically, this seeming obscuring of the image through manipulation actually opens up a whole range of meaning-generation similar in some way to non-figurative painting. It thus reanimates the ephemeral messages, allowing us to bring them to the fore, and to add depth, to amplify the weak signals, to make these simple things full again, to allow them to be multi-vocal once more. It makes it possible to put back meanings which get lost in the shallow process that video recording constitutes, to reconstitute, and to add new meaning as well.

The meaning of display:
To display is to expose to view or allow to appear, to reveal. It is the presentation of signals or data in visual form, or the physical object on which the data is manifested. Display is a revelation of things which are already there, but need a mechanism, a guide or some letting-loose in order to be fully seen or understood. Video not as screen but as extension, architectural, intellectual, amplified light, but not only in terms of lumens. Amplified across a whole series of Axes, datacly, mediatically, socially, poetically, to reveal not only mass and structure but a narrative of the soul. The screen as gate of heaven, as entry point, passage, membrane, a plane or liminal transition moment onto the sacred beyond. An opening onto, an event horizon.
The sacred and the everyday:
“People sometimes get good at blotting out the sights and sounds and smells around them…perception, when it resurfaces, can catch them by surprise.” – Tony Hiss, The Experience of Place

The possibility of a special encounter, a moment’s awareness, exists at any given instant and can be triggered by encounters with physical places. It’s where these spirits or potential moments of contemplation and awareness reside. In spaces. In localities, in a particular place. A billion little gates to heaven, waiting to be discovered. The values of the sacred reside deep in the heart of the everyday, in the cracks in between categories, in the things we make. the spiritual is directly embodied in physical form in the built environment. It contains our “hidden people”. the extruded aluminum of the prefab window sills in Tokyo or the molded plastic fender of a bus in New York City contain, in physical form, the triggers of familiarity, the qualities of volume and form, the manifestation of the spiritual value of home and place, of our deepest unvoiced feelings. Talismans of the built environment. The hidden can come out and speak to us.
“People tend to suppress that which they cannot express. If an experience resists ready communication, a common response…is to deem it private…and hence unimportant…relatively few works attempt to understand how people feel about space and place, to take into account the different modes of experience (sensorimotor, tactile, visual, conceptual) and to interpret space and place as images of complex-often ambivalent-feelings.” – Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience

With Dis-Play we celebrate the mundane and often overlooked qualities and meanings in the built environment, the things you can’t quite put a finger on. We honor the importance of locality and site, bringing everyday experience to the plane of the sacred and contemplative. Looking at a hand, a brick, a street, a piece of chewing gum, we see the world we have created.

“That’s why we seize the moment try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it, cuz we consider these moments golden” – Eminem

It is an attempt to get a grasp on, or gain insight into – who we are, to get in touch with ourselves through the portal of architecture and the street level lived experience. Architectural details, interior and exterior elements merge and mutually infiltrate one another, the screen becoming a mediation plane between the secular and the sacred, a permeable membrane our souls can pass through to see beyond the detail – to the whole of the picture of who we are, at this moment, on the planet. What is it that we are? And where are we, not just in the universe, but directly, right now, locally? To define where we are in a way that you can know it, not just conceptually, but on a gut level, in your heart. Like a taste on your tongue. Like a scent memory that takes you right back to the moment. Like a place you know. Like home.

Digital Vista, 1999

Installation involving a 3D Computer model consisting of a navigable mile-wide virtual cube of visual and textual information.

In the group exhibit BAD SCIENCE, INTERACTIVE INSTALLATIONS AND FABRICATED DIALOGS, presented by mixed mess@ge, in association with The DTW Gallery, New York City

View screen captures:

Project Description:
The title refers both to the look of digitally produced landscape, but also to what’s on the horizon if present trends in our cultural perception of space continue. The work can played with like a big video game you fly around in and explore, but my hope is that for some it may be viewed as a sort of critique of western visualization. It is about the Western historical perception of landscape in the most basic sense.


Digital Vista
Review by Chris Jordan

Digital navigable environment projected on surface of metal tube cube approximately 8′ x 8′ x 8′; two facing surfaces covered and used as digital projection space; pillows, carpet, keyboard and trackball.

Digital Vista is a multifaceted artwork that questions the massive societal movement towards all things virtual. It blurs the boundary between digital and tangible through viewer interaction, both physical and mental. The traditional role of artist-audience is torn down through the collaborative and interactive nature of the installation.

This is a participatory artwork, utilizing the calm stillness of Zen to create a gateway into the virtual experience. The real life space, contained within the square mesh, welcomes you as well as supports you through the virtual experience. Once you are seated and Paul has coached you, like the Zen master, on the controls, you begin the exploration. The first thing you see are three dimensional green lillypad-like extrusions floating on a cyan background. Zooming into these stark structures, you notice gray tombstone-like obelisks on them. Further navigation towards these obelisks reveals simple words and phrases on their surfaces. As you stop and look around these spaces, you begin to notice words combining into more complex thoughts as different obelisks line up in 3 dimensional space. While shifting around these cubes, the combinations change; some disappear, some emerge, positions are altered, and you begin to realize the delightful complexity of this experience.

Your mind soars, dreamlike, while your body rests comfortably within the peacefulness of the cushioned cube. For me it felt like an out of body experience. I zoomed from lillypad to lillypad, creating different motions, rhythms, and phrases out of the objects. It was exciting, thinking of Burrough’s work with audio cutups in the 50’s, conjuring 3D meaning out of the recombination of words. The smooth response of the system allows you to hunker down in a cluster of cubes, and spin around, the words and shapes combining in a blur of meaning, form and phrase fusing into one.

As I became more immersed, the starkness of the environment created a feeling of walking through a graveyard. I then interpreted these tombstones as a memorial to the actual words written on them. Initially the flash and discov- ery of this virtual space gave the Digital Vista meaning, showing humanities moth-like draw to all things bright and shiny. But paradoxically it is a statement on how that flash is eroding society’s connection to not just literature, but the use of words. We see this every day, as more and more people turn on, and tune out. People have been reading less and less, opting instead for the somnambulism of television, and the bang of video games. Digital Vista not only questions that shift in society, but creates a memorial to the casualties in this future atmosphere.

The Dadaist notion of the “Exquisite Cadaver” opened the 20th century with word play exploration as an art form. Now at the close of the century, Paul Clay’s Digital Vista is appropriately representing the use of language or words as the modern Cadaver.

Project Credits:
Digital Vista by Paul Clay
Text: Karen Williams with additional text by Paul Clay and Ed Pastorini.
Early versions of the presentation included contributions by Yuki Takagi, Willyum Delirious, and Jamie Leo.

Fictive Boutique, 1999

An illusory retail space and lounge environment…experience the joys of actual shopping - without the hassle of having to take it all home.

An art installation and set of performances at the temporary site EXPO | SURE, 242 Elizabeth Street, New York City, presented through the Downtown Arts Festival, in space created by Pompei AD for Levi’s® Vintage Clothing, festival sponsor.


Design Images:

Photo Documentation of Installation:

Video Documentation Stills of Performance:

Fictive Boutique Video Stills:

Fictive Boutique Video Excerpt:

[tubepress mode=’playlist’, playlistValue=’0A1237D6EA525A5D’]

Project Description:
The idea behind Fictive Boutique was to create a fake clothing store where people could “shop” but where nothing was actually for sale – a way of provoking thought about boutique culture and the nature of shopping.

Fictive Boutique occupied the front third of a former retail space in Nolita, procured by the design firm Pompei AD, as a “Pop Up” display space showcasing New York artists. Three projects were chosen with curatorial input from the Downtown Arts festival. The DAF for 1999, and the entire Expo Sure event was sponsored by Levi’s®. The project Fictive Boutique was one of three projects chosen for the exhibit.

In addition to the fake clothing store installation, Fictive Boutique also included a series of live performances in which dancers performed a set of choreographed actions in the “dressing rooms” of the boutique and were captured by multiple video cameras. These video feeds were further manipulated by two VJs, live, in time to music from a dj, and were combined with text about the nature of shopping. A live audience watched the spectacle as it was projected onto the walls of the space. 

A few random thoughts: As shopping has become the main form of activity in public space, boutiques in Nolita and the surrounding Downtown area have become a breeding ground for emerging culture. They have begun crossing traditional boundaries of what a store is supposed to do and be, and are creating spaces where creative people come to hang out and exchange the kind of day to day information that, through the process of accretion, actually creates positive growth and change. 

Young designer/artists are making small numbers of items, or even one-offs, not solely as a means to generate samples, but as the actual mode of production. This low volume means low profit, especially if the clothing is priced so that like minded individuals can afford it, but the process of making what they love and controlling the content of what is produced outweighs, for them, the drive to purely do business. The argument goes “ignore everything you’re supposed to worry about and make the things you yourself want to see in the world. Opportunities will follow, allowing you to continue.”

Along with this is a radical shift from emphasis on design to emphasis on styling. In  Tokyo a great number of contemporary street fashion mags have sprung up because kids are combining elements of clothing from so many different cultural esthetics into a single ensemble, that the process of simply reporting on new designers doesn’t reveal any of this whole alternative cultural aesthetic.

In Italy a new class of design professional- a cross between fashion researcher/color predictor and actual designer is occurring as professionals buy vintage, style it, cut, paste and modify, assign alternate colors through swatching, and then advise clothing companies all the way through the production process. They don’t do fashion sketches, and don’t have final say, yet they are essentially the original authors of the clothing’s aesthetic.

Along with this also goes a general shift from things mass produced back to an appreciation of hand crafted work. As styling begins to have similar weight to design, there is now a new process of using historically iconic, mass produced items, in association with radical craft pieces and young designer’s one-offs to create a look and make cultural statements through clothing. In the current fashion era, people aren’t so ready to let others control what there is to wear. Each individual becomes, in a way, his or her own designer.

Conceived and Produced by: Paul Clay
Choreography: David Neumann
VJs: Paul Clay and Willyum Delirious
DJ: Hiro
Live Performance: Miho Nikaido, Terry Bartlett,
David Neumann, and Yukiko Takagi
Clothing Design: Yukiko Takagi
Interior Design: Paul Clay
Presented by:
The Downtown Arts Festival 
Expo | Sure 
Levi’S® Vintage Clothing
A Project of Fictive. 
Mark Power, Torsten Schneider, Toshimi , Arron 
Cantor, Joe Foley, Shelly McGuinness, Clement Remy, Noriko. 
Patterns Advisor: Lise Kovar
Special Thanks: 
Levi’s ® Vintage Clothing 
Ron, Alison , Michael , Lynn, Laura ,Zoe, Jonathan, Vajra, Henry, 
Shannon, and everyone at Pompei AD. 
Simon, Craig, and Downtown Arts Projects 
Lipe, and everyone at LANGUAGE 
Joe Plotkin, and 
Peter Scharff and Scharff Weisberg 
Apple Computer
Shoes for the performance generously donated by: 
Norman Smitherman through Suzi Funahara and Antenna 88. 
(For more info, Contact # 212.645.0700)