1.14 / Review

KYO FORTUNE (6000) TELLER LIVE W/ 6000 NEW APPS AND LIVE CDMA DRUG LAB

By Carol Anne McChrystal May 5, 2010

Glue Club’s sprawling and diffuse project KYO FORTUNE (6000) TELLER LIVE W/ 6000 NEW APPS AND LIVE CDMA DRUG LAB (2010) addresses digital media’s limitations of physicality through a series of reroutings, arbitrary significations, and a blitz of inane information. The San Francisco-based duo consists of Harry Crofton and Jen Kirsten. Their practice addresses the way constant linkage to the ceaseless network of the internet, mobile devices, and virtual social networking disrupts human connections. In KYO, the device is not an extension of the person, but is itself personified. The paradox it takes on is almost already cliché: social-networking apps intended as a means of identity construction don’t personalize, but instead objectify. KYO jars viewers into considering how these devices and networks shape their own interactions by stripping each one bare and exposing its skeleton.

Glue Club’s approach to making art follows gut impulses. KYO grew from a desire to work collaboratively and “have a really great time,” said Kirsten.[1] For the project, Glue Club bought a mobile phone and reassigned its purpose, utilizing a playful tactic by linking the phone’s name (Kyo) to Miss Cleo of the Psychic Readers Network infomercial fame. Unlike Miss Cleo, the Kyo Fortune service offered free psychic texting in March 2010 to anyone who dialed the number listed on San Francisco fliers. The readings were akin to spam, Facebook status updates, and other forms of white noise that litter the information superhighway, and word of the service spread nonchalantly in conversations around the city. This text became the site for Glue Club’s creative act: “It’s a tool, now it has power, it has potential,” Crofton said. “The audience is there and we texted them a piece of art. There’s no question about where it’s going to go…the context creates itself.”[2]

This type of act that opens up everyday space for a new purpose is at the heart of Glue Club’s practice; in KYO, it stemmed from a sort of psychic trauma induced when the space between humans and their technological devices becomes ungraspably abstract. Similar to the device that ninety-one percent of Americans carry around every day, “new” and “new new” apps became available for Kyo over the course of the month. Documented on the project’s Facebook page, these apps grew like tumors and tumors upon tumors: a camera, beer can, lighter, phone book, and other junk were glued directly onto Kyo until it became an actual physical burden for the artists. Simultaneously, Kyo facilitated a covert drug operation pushing a newly invented substance called CDMA, produced in Glue Club’s Bayview lab. Consisting of CDs smashed to smithereens in the sunlight and distributed in prescription pill bottles, CDMA references media consumption as addiction and attempts to reunite the digital with the physical.

The third manifestation of KYO was located at Bay Area 51, an intentional community of artists and musicians, music venue, and peer-based learning center located in the Bayview neighborhood on the outskirts of San Francisco. Here, after a month of fortunes, Glue Club staged an app yard sale populated with dumb objects. This Frankensteinian conglomeration of “apps” consisted of beers, broken calculators, and plugs glued onto scraps of spray-painted wood and assigned arbitrary functions like “eBay,” “Online Banking,” and “YouTube.” Like Conrad Bakker’s endeavor to reroute economies in Untitled Project: Garage Sale (1997), KYO employed interventionist tactics to examine easily commodifiable art and its context, struggling to make sense of the ubiquitous datasphere of disembodied information by using literal translation and arbitrary inscription of meaning.

My New New Apps, 2010; digital image. Courtesy of the Artists.

KYO FORTUNE (6000) TELLER LIVE W/ 6000 NEW APPS AND LIVE CDMA DRUG LAB, 2010; performance. Photos: Keturah Cummings.

The ultimate destruction of Kyo took place at Bay Area 51 shortly after the yard sale and right before the band Pocahaunted was due to play. It was an assault of sensory information; donned in CD-laserdisc dashikis, the ADHD duo aggressively demanded that viewers “get connected” by raising their phones up and grabbing hold of a cable. As the concluding gesture, Kirsten inputted Mad Libs style Google searches into a keyboard attached to the Kyo drug lab—“fat kid on skateboard eating French fries,” “flavored credit card”—while Crofton rifled through a box for the search results. Each result yielded a container of processed food, which was dumped onto the floor, mixed together, and scraped into a waffle iron in an effort to download a waffle for the bemused audience. While cooking up this final attempt to make the notion of “the grid” physical, Crofton delivered a sermon (seemingly derived from a session of the Surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse) about those “confused on purpose, confused of purpose, and to confuse the purpose.”[3] Glue Club performed a kind of subjectivity that insists on embodiment in a world that favors the binary feedback of pattern and randomness; the resulting dynamic collapses noise and signal into one.

Necessarily a live performance, KYO attempted to physically produce the type of alienation caused by an endless barrage of new consumer technologies and their invisible infrastructures. Although KYO casually and mysteriously inserted its presence into local social circles and raised compelling questions about the relationship of user to device with nuanced humor, the final performance played prescriptively into the hands of a Paul McCarthy-esque onslaught of sensory overload performance art. Instead of playful hilarity, the experience was overbearing, like hanging out in an evangelical church with annoying ringtones for twenty minutes. Kirsten and Crofton’s belligerent tone was met with puzzlement and discomfort—neither because it was difficult to view nor because the audience was effectively socially alienated—but because it was framed contextually within the party atmosphere of a live music performance. I was disappointed that the last moments of KYO operated in a self-contained symbology; though framed outside of a gallery context, the final performance did surprisingly little to reroute the already existing context, audience, or functionality.

Though Glue Club’s strategies are tied to Situationism and Surrealism, in KYO play and absurdity were overwhelmed by didactic associations with reification, consumption, commodification, addiction, and alienation, coming too close to an illustration of basic Marxist tenets. Like Viennese Actionism or Happenings, Glue Club is interested in rejecting object-based, commodifiable art practices in favor of a more totalizing art practice. And though some aspects fall short, the piece’s exploration of art’s dematerialization in relation to alienation in a dematerialized world has potential to grow. Ultimately, their genuine effort to unite art practice with daily life grows out of a simple and valid concern: “People don’t have enough fun because they’re always on their phones just talking about having fun, trying to find the party,” said Kirsten. “Where’s the party? Where’s the next party? I’m the party! The party’s right here!”[4]

 

Kyo Fortunes were available in March 2010. KYO FORTUNE (6000) TELLER LIVE W/ 6000 NEW APPS AND LIVE CDMA DRUG LAB app sale and performance occured at Bay Area 51 in Bayview on April 3, 2010.

 

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NOTES:

[1] Kirsten, Jen. Interview with the artists, April 11, 2010.

[2] Crofton, Harry. Ibid.

[3] Crofton, Harry. Ibid.

[4] Kirsten, Jen. Ibid.

 

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