- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
I'm sitting at a trendy bar in central Edinburgh, waiting for the infamous Jaygo Bloom - VJ, artist, and provocateur - to turn up. I'm early, which gives me a bit of time to sip some wine and test the sound equipment I've got with me to record our conversation. Just as I've exhausted possibilities for entertaining myself with a minidisk recorder, Jaygo turns up, all smiles and florid fashion statements. He sits down and orders a beer, and I barely have enough time to turn on the recording equipment in order to catch him talking about a video piece by Bruce Nauman, Stamping in the Studio (1968), where he is "stomping around the floor", and how seeing this work inspired Jaygo to begin to incorporate video into his primarily sculptural practice. Nauman's work was a "reaffirming of where I am and what I am watching now, and where you are, and your relationship to what you are watching."
Awareness of the present moment is a key theme that Jaygo touches on throughout our conversation. After describing the impact of Nauman's video, he continues, between sips of lager, saying that video as a medium reminds you constantly of where you are, whereas film wants you to engage in suspension of disbelief. Jaygo expresses his preference for monitors versus big projections, since small monitors draw people in to what is happening in the moment, and draws them closer to objects.
Objects are an important part of this conversation, since Jaygo hasn't simply left his sculpture training behind when working with real time visuals. Jaygo goes on to remark that "...in our consumer society, we're always upgrading and upgrading, and through all of that upgrading, we're actually removing ourselves from a huge part of the world, all these places that use all this obsolete tech, and from the word go they've had to deal with it, modify it, make it do what they want it to do." Frustration at the tyranny of an upgrade-driven techno-culture is a common refrain coming from several directions, and Jaygo is one of the loudest in the chorus. "I'm sick of that new in front of new media," he admits.
Digging a little deeper, we uncover how this feeling of disgust for the manufactured need for the newest and shiniest hardware feeds a larger philosophy. He says that "...the development of the work comes from my interest in sampling, and how I use sampling as a tool, as a way to re-assimilate and personalize this crazy influx of information and communication that surrounds me as I turn around every corner. We can't compete as artists with the beginning of the 19th century with such an amazing amount of art, music, and film - a lot of really special stuff. Sampling allows me to go through that, make it a bit more personal."
This sentiment regarding sampling is not unique in and of itself - it is, in fact, how many artists who use sampling might describe their relationship to the material. But Jaygo takes the ethos of sampling, a mainstay in DJ and VJ culture, to its logical conclusion with the re-use of hardware in his work, in effect, "sampling" obsolete pieces of hardware. He also eschews the new, novel interfaces because the old, evocative interfaces help him achieve another goal within his work: to get audiences involved to the point where they are no longer audiences, but participants.
For example, Jaygo's MARRAKATTAK piece uses the simple and familiar interface of the maraca as a video controller. Using something as recognizable and simple to manipulate and use as a maraca instantly empowers people to get involved in driving an aesthetic experience for themselves. When no one is using the MARRAKATTAK machine, there is no image, which is intended to send a message to members of a "society that is bored of being passive but too lazy to do anything about it." Jaygo agrees that the maraca as controller is intended to be simple, that it's "...about putting it in a context for other people to react to and relate to."
In describing the relationship between the interfaces he creates and the visuals that are generated, he says: "I want to see analogue to digital, or I want to see digital to analogue, I want to see this push and pull, this relationship within it. [My work] is utilizing all of the same sophisticated tech [as other VJ work], but housing it in the familiar, which a granny could pick it up and understand in five minutes. Physical interfaces are really important." Jaygo is constantly experimenting with physical interfaces, using even himself as a guinea pig, as he relates a tale about how he has recently painted over the buttons on his home telephone in different colours, obscuring the numbers. It's just another way for him to re-think the telephonic interface, poke around it, see what lessons might be there in that familiar interface once it's made unfamiliar. The idea of invoking simple interfaces is also present in his Tao Joystick project, which works in unison with any games console and creates semi-random AV compositions. Usually plugged into some delightful piece of obsolete tech, such as an Atari game system, the joystick itself needs no user's manual, wall text, or introduction. Even disguised as part of an art piece, the familiar interface acts as its own call to action.
I turn to asking him about how he got to this place, where though he remains in control, he is turning the stage around, and inverting the hierarchy of DJ and VJ at the top, receptive audience at the bottom. It seems to be simply a matter of things being more interesting for Jaygo when relationships between audience and performer are more fluid. He refers to his work with Pointless Creations as a way of flattening the hierarchy without the demand for participation that his other work involves: "...put them [the audience] in the spotlight rather than the work. David Bernard (Pointless Creations) makes it a point that all visuals are projected outwards towards the crowd. Rather than our visuals being selected to be above the DJ, or above the crowd, we project the light into the crowd. We should be complementing or enhancing the scene, not taking a centre stage within it."
The more we chat, the more it becomes clear that while Jaygo is clearly at home generating imagery the way that any other VJ would, what really drives him is creating opportunities for others to interact and have a narrative experience, sometimes referring to his works as "participation devices". The way he speaks about his work isn't at all the kind of paean to freedom and improvisation you might expect from someone who often works with live visuals. He describes the integration of strategies from gaming as a way of imbuing his work with a narrative context, and he sings the virtues of "restricted controls and a limited palette", because "to have restricted controls means that I can have more control."
Through discussing the more conventional VJ setting, and how Jaygo and his compatriots still manage to subvert it, we loop around once more to discussion about connections between putting the audience centre stage and performance. The work is about "gameplay as performance, and elevating the level of that performance to high performance. So that you as the player are actually the performer as well, and I put you on the stage." On the heels of talking about putting the audience centre stage, as a performer in worlds that he devises and controls, Jaygo then remarks, "I've always been on the outside of the outside", as he drains his glass. This wry remark ends up as the statement that stays with me the longest after our meeting. The outside of the outside isn't always the most comfortable place to be, but as Jaygo's practice proves, it might be the place where others are comfortable enough to create alongside you, living in the moment.