Over the course of my residency at Flux Factory in Long Island City, New York, I am recording a series of studio visits with other artists-in-residence (aka Fluxers), as well as outside artists collaborating with Flux for its various public programs. Through its studio residency program, Flux Factory supports approximately 30 emerging artists each year from a range of creative disciplines and international locations. Flux commissions new work through quarterly exhibitions, and residents produce public events at a prolific pace.
For this interview, Christina invited Caitlin Foley and Misha Rabinovich, faculty at UMASS Lowell, to talk about their ongoing project, Total Jump. Artspace in New Haven, CT commissioned Foley and Rabinovich to present Total Jump for Game On! on view at the Goffe Street Armory, October 15 and 16 from 12-6pm.
CF: Tell me about your project for New Haven City-Wide Open Studios
Misha: We are creating a multiplayer game that facilitates a worldwide coordinated jump. This came out of the idea that we could cause a massive earthquake if we organize everyone to land in unison. The near impossibility of accomplishing a Total Jump and the ease and fun of training for it invites the audience to bridge the gap between a postmodern pluralistic world and the necessity of global coordinated actions in the face of the Anthropocene.
Caitlin: The first version of Total Jump Training was a one to two player game where participants time their jump to land on zero. This was included in A Wicked Problem at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts. To help create a playful energetic environment our friends Gold Bikini wrote Jump Up!, which has lyrics about the concept, specifically for Total Jump. For Game On! we are excited to present an eight player, immersive installation of Total Jump where participants stand in a circle facing both the animated projection and each other.
Misha: We also released the first version of the Total Jump Live phone app (available for iOS/Android) to coincide with City-Wide Open Studios, which people are using to practice jumping, and for us to send notifications for global jumps.
CF: I realize that Total Jump functions as a metaphor. Do you joke about how this technology could be applied to larger societal movements?
Misha: For us it started out as a joke, but since then it has been exhibited at EFA Project Space in NYC, and Boston Cyberarts Gallery, among others. The fact that people actually want to try it means that it is entering into the non-ironic territory.
Caitlin: In some cases we were amazed that people love this as much as they do. It has been really fun and heartwarming to see.
Misha: There are also instances where this jump has been attempted. MythBusters organized a group jump at the Stewart & Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in 2010 and calculated how much meat would hit the ground, using seismic measurements.
CF: How does this work relate to the rest of your artistic practice and other artists’ work that inspire you?
Caitlin: Total Jump connects to some of the ideas evident in our mobile sauna project. We were thinking about neighborliness and noting that people in our culture often don’t get to know their neighbors unless there is a disaster — whether large or small. We wanted to contribute to creating a culture of neighborliness that is not dependent on calamity. We may be in the midst of the sixth extinction, but people don’t necessarily feel the depth of this. This jumping game creates a bonding experience in a fun and playful way that’s accessible and connects these ideas for us.
Misha: The Estonian singing revolution is an historic example. This was a series of events that led to Estonia’s exit from the USSR. People held hands along the Estonian border and sang together, and throughout the country groups would burst out into song to be in solidarity with each other, as a way to remember their heritage. It creatively led them back to independence. Another example is an action by Christoph Schlingensief, the German performance artist & theatre director. He invited people to take part in an anti-chancellor swim in lake Wolfgang, Austria. Four million bathers were organized to enter the water, with the intention of raising the water level and flooding the area. The idea is that the critical mass would overwhelm the conditions, and cause a paradigm shift in some way. Law enforcement prevented the demonstration from taking place.
CF: A lot of times we talk about future potentiality in a very abstract way. Those historical precedents validate the real possibilities of creative work. Have you thought about doing any programming along with Total Jump to build on larger ideas of collective action?
Caitlin: For me there is still enough openness in the piece that it can be ironic while it is also sincere. In one of the animations for Total Jump characters surround the world, jump and then the world breaks. Joint action can be a powerful and positive tool, however, one of the reasons we are experiencing climate change is mass action. For example, there are an immense number of people driving cars and contributing to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There is a dual interpretation: the jump can symbolize coming together for the greater good and also the impact we as a species are having on the earth.
Misha: The anthropocene has come, but we don’t really know what that is. Intellectually we can know it, but we don’t feel the power of that collective agency. It reminds me of Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut. It takes place in a techno-dystopia, inspired by his work at GE. At the end there is a cataclysm. Everyone destroys the technology and then out of this total revolt, people are bored. One of the characters starts to fiddle around with broken pieces of technology and makes a little automated thing for entertainment, and everyone is really into it, starting the cycle again. In our animation the earth cracks and then another earth comes out of it. We wanted to stage a poetic interpretation of the anthropocene, and ask where our cultural power is leading us.
CF: Earlier this summer we talked about the debate between Claire Bishop and Grant Kester regarding antagonism. For a work to be successful does it need to be shocking or aggressive?
Misha: Well everyone jumping at once and causing an earthquake could be pretty catastrophic. The geologists we have spoken with say it is unlikely, unless we lined everyone up at the San Andreas and other fault lines. From the Grant Kester point of view, maybe it could lead to advocating for other actions that bring us all together. Any infrastructure that builds synchronicity, like the one enabled via our app, could easily be instrumentalized for different goals, however. We are open to that though, and people should get in touch if they want to schedule a global jump to coincide with their needs, for example during an event, and hopefully get a worldwide audience.
CF: Technology can have a way of over-inflating how important we feel socially, and yet we still might not believe that we can affect anything within a political spectrum. The proposed image of people lining up on a fault line is really powerful. It reminds me of the Francis Alÿs piece, When Faith Move Mountains. It’s exciting to think that something very physical could result from the otherwise intangible experience of engaging with tech.
Caitlin: The phone app offers the possibility for people to jump no matter where they are. People around the world can jump simultaneously. Potentially they can jump across the room from each other and see each other in the real world, therefore forming a bond. We are interested in the complex social issues within this intersection of physical and technological experience. Even during an installation of the training game, one of the gallery assistants was a little nervous about jumping and seemed to feel ridiculous. People have reservations about how they appear taking an action. The way people use the app could be really interesting. If you get a notification when you are walking down the street, would you stop and jump?
CF: I think this brings up the public/private dichotomy. We live so much of our lives online- we might feel comfortable engaging politically in the online realm, but hesitate to go out and protest in the street. The two actions feel really different, but one can affect the other. There is still a certain power and presence to the physical world.
Caitlin: What’s exciting in the phone app is the possibility of existing in both spaces simultaneously.
Caitlin Foley and Misha Rabinovich work collaboratively as artists and curators to create works which engage ideas and practices involving sharing communities, livable ecologies, and the transmutation of waste. Among other things they create interactive games, installations, and happenings where audience participation is a key component of the work and its message. Projects such as their DS Institute Sweat Battery actively creates/engages a sharing community through the collection of sweat from participants using our mobile sauna, presents an alternative ecology for energy production, and transforms sweat “waste” into power to charge cell phones and symbolize collective energy. Their work has been exhibited in the US, Canada, and Europe at such venues as EFA Project Space (NYC), Flux Factory (NYC), the New Museum’s Ideas City Festival (NYC), Marymount California University (LA), the Torrance Art Museum in (LA), the Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse, NY), SIGGRAPH (LA), High Desert Test Sites HQ (Joshua Tree), Prague Biennale (Czech Republic), KCHUNG Radio (LA) and the Arts Center of the Capital Region (Troy, NY). Misha is an Assistant Professor of Interactive Media and Caitlin is part-time faculty in the Art and Design Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.