My beat is virtuality, its allure and its discontents. I'm especially interested in heteronymic practies and in the emergence of a new respect for the idea of a cultural commons. In art as elsewhere, I subscribe to a philosophy of stewardship rather than ownership. This arises first of all from strong affinity; but it is guided by a deliberate refusal to participate in the dominant modes of the current art system, which has trammeled art within forms that are recognizable by institutions and collectible by investors. I champion the affordances of the ephemeral, the collaborative, the virtual, and the immaterial.
I work with both analog and digital media, although most of my projects are heavily computer-mediated and/or programming-driven. Nearly all of them stem from research, whether the subject is the 1st century Roman Republic or obscure aspects of 20th century design. Areas of special inquiry include avatarism, impersonation and improvisation, mixed realities, expanded narrative, and gender and technology, and historical recuperation. Below is more information about these areas of investigation.
Many of my works consider what happens when you work through an extended identity, especially on the internet. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." How do we decide what constitutes a 'real' identity as opposed to an impersonation or a performance? Who has the right to police these categories? What social and psychological forces contribute to the enormous popular engagement in online role-play through game avatars, chatrooms, and pseudonymous forums? Projects exploring this area include avatar-driven performance works such as The Roman Forum Project 2003, Demotic, The Roman Forum 2000, and Virtual Live. I engage the subject from other angles in my recent deployment of a 'real-world avatar' in WISP (World-Integrated Social Proxy) and in my long-running Museum of Forgery project, in which I assume the cultural role and authority of a museum. Writings related to this subject include "All That Is Beyond Hearing", "A Meditation on Virtual Kinesthesia", "Marcel Duchamp and the Museum of Forgery", "25 Propositions on the Art of Networlds", and "The Bearded Lady & the Shaven Man".
improvisation + performance
American ideas about performance are largely driven by conventional notions of Aristotelian narrative adopted from the narrow model favored by both Hollywood and mainstream theater. My performance projects aim to unpack cultural assumptions about what constitutes valid performance, exploring methods of engaging the political dimension of performance (The Roman Forum Project 2003, Galileo in America, The Roman Forum 2000, Demotic, SLQT)and improvisation as a means of challenging audience expectations of a controlled experience (Demotic, The Roman Forum 2003). All of these also use modular scripts as way to undo linear narrative. Most of these projects require special-purpose programming of interface or media elements (e.g. text-to-speech effects). Writings related to this subject include "Media Commedia", "A Meditation on Virtual Kinesthesia", "Did Anyone Bring a Word or an Axe?", and "A World Exhilarating and Wrong"
A great deal of my work involves creating narrative in circuitous ways. I tend toward forms that complicate reading by playing with convention; for example, one of my fictions, "Cylex", takes the form of an encyclopedia of slang from the near future. I am particularly interested in constructing systems to generate narrative, and in improvising narrative by various means, including role-play. For example, large parts of the scripts of several of my major performance works (Demotic, The Roman Forum Project 2003, The Roman Forum 2000, SLQT) were generated through online role-playing environments. They reflect my deep interest in the multithreaded dialogue characteristic of live chat environments, a novel aspect of net-era language use that I have addressed at length in several essays ("A World Exhilarating and Wrong", "Did Anyone Bring a Word or an Axe?", "Stay and Play").
gender + technology
Like many artists working with bleeding-edge technologies and new genres, I am dismayed by the continuing dearth of women in this field and the tendency to valorize these kinds of activities in masculinist terms. I've addressed this directly in several projects, including Reading Frankenstein, which turns Mary Shelley into a 21st century genetic engineer and a-life scientist and World of World, which looks at the tormented relationship between a male gamer and his femal avatar from the avatar's point of view. I am part of the FemTechNet network of women working to enable women and girls to participate more directly in shaping global digital culture. Among other things, I run Wikipedia editathons with the goal of encouraging more women and people of diverse backgrounds to become Wikipedia editors.
I am interested in games, playable media, and gamelike activities such as culture jamming, forgery, and fictive art. I am especially interested in what one might term 'stealth games'; that is, works that do not immediately announce themselves as games or that actively conceal themselves under another rubric. I have co-curated two early exhibitions on games and art: SHIFT-CTRL (2000) and ALT+CTRL (2004), both of which included a number of artists and game-makers who have since risen to cultural prominence. At UC Irvine, I am Associate Director of the Game Culture and Technology Lab, which was one of the sponsors of ALT+CTRL. In 2008, I premiered Playing the Rapture, a performance work about computer games and the evangelical Christian idea of the Rapture at the Baltimore Theatre Project. Writings related to this subject include "WinSide Out", "SHIFT-CTRL", "Stay and Play", and "Marcel Duchamp and the Museum of Forgery".
My design work extends across a wide range of media, and I don't think about it as something wholly separate from other creative work such as art and writing. Rather, it is a specific way of addressing structure and intentions and something that fosters useful forms of critical thinking about the made world. In practice, the most design-centric work falls into three broad and overlapping areas:
—speculative design: projects that posit alternatives to the cultural status quo, such as the Museum of Forgery website;
—visual and environmental design: encompassing sets, projections, installations, and interactive events; and
—communication design: books, websites, fonts, posters.