One July evening in a backyard in Toronto, I happened to illustrate my deep obsession with Peter Greenaway to Gabe Sawhney. Along with Shawn Micallef, Gabe is responsible for the celebrated new media art project , which allows cell-phone flaneurs to listen to true stories about the urban places they walk through. Gabe informed me that Greenaway had become a VJ, and would be doing his North American premiere at a massive festival of electronic art in California. He and Shawn were going as representatives of the Canadian Film Center’s Habitat New Media Lab, which would be hosting Greenaway’s event.
“Can I come?” I asked, stunned.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Gabe. “You can sleep on our floor.”
One month later I became perhaps the first new media groupie as I followed [murmur] to San Jose for the combined event of the inaugural ZeroOne festival of electronic art and the 13th Symposium of the Inter-Society for Electronic Art (ISEA). Greenaway cancelled his appearance two days before my flight south, but I went anyway, planning to witness the festival like an innocent bystander. I played a role-playing game as a deer with a human face galloping through a forest, let a vat of archaebacteria predict my future in words taken from the Apocrypha, and gazed wonderingly through a microscope at a one millionth-scale version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s building Fallingwater. I spent the whole week feeling deeply startled. San Jose seemed tipped on the crest of a wave about to break off in a new direction and douse everyone with something strange and new.
On my first day, I started with Taiwanese artist Shu Lea Chiang’s project BABY LOVE. Candy- coloured teacups fitted with steering wheels and enourmous babies made of pink rubber floated in a sludge-paced swirl through the sunlit atrium of San Jose’s geodesic city hall. A wireless device fixed to the wall allowed you to upload songs from your ipod to the babies, who then “sang” them. If you bumped another teacup, the babies traded songs. Thinking about the spectacle of white babies in teacups, I asked Cheang if the piece commented on colonialism or racism. She looked shocked, and said, “No! It’s about cloning!”