The third issue of a quarterly arts magazine, this time published on CD ROM, by Rachel Steward, London, 1995
Let us take a closer look at the object in the picture. It is a white cardboard box filled with slips of paper, a few colour leaflets, and a transparent, round-shaped plastic container with a cork in the middle. Inside the container is another object: a shiny disk - commonly known as CD ROM - with a notice saying: ENGAGED. In front of us, there is a piece of art, no doubt. It would not make any difference if the disk concealed in multiple packing were of no use at all, that is, it did not carry any digital information; what is more, this object, which by function accomplishes itself within the virtual space generated by computers, would gain significance as an object.
Yet this CD ROM contains important information. It is an issue of an "engaged" and experimental arts magazine which on presenting fresh works, examines and promotes other relevant forms of publishing. Rachel Steward, the editor-publisher of the quarterly, invites contributors by advertising and allows the artists to decide what medium the magazine appears in. Thus each issue is published in a different medium: on a T-shirt, in the form of a large colour poster fly-posted around London, sealed within a supermarket tin, and on a CD ROM described above. Poet-performer Steward has shown Maciunasian ambition as she decided to challenge conventional ideas about publishing and redefine it, and what is more, to flourish it as a financial enterprise.
Looking at the digitized image of the CD-object, its close relationship with the Fluxobjects is obvious at the first sight. Both aesthetize everyday commodities, the novelty of published materials, extend traditional art forms, and support works made/performed in contribution by several artists. It might also be a point of interest that Fluxus was originally designed as a periodical and the fact that it exceeded magazine format was due to Maciunas´ financial policy, the basic idea of which was to cover the costs of publishing from the profits of other art projects. There is a striking resemblance between Fluxyearbox or Fluxus 1 released in 1964 and ENGAGED CD ROM: the former consists of envelopes containing works by a couple of artists in the form of photographs, texts, wax records, magnetic tapes, cuttings, as well as - strange it might seem -, a pair of gloves packed within a wooden box to inable mailing.
The ENGAGED CD ROM presents the works of ten digital artists within the virtual walls of a 3-D rendered public lavatory. The works that examine the potentials of digital technology by making use of a variety of multimedia tools such as text, sound, music, noise, video, and animation, are interesting individually but the CD ROM as a whole, concerning its idea, structure, and design, is one of the most exciting CDs. To begin with, the cyber convenience is neither merely a scenery with stereoscopic effect, nor a surface of aesthetic design but "real" cyberspace where each element has a specific function. On entering the central room in order to discover the non-linear spaces of this tactile subterranian world, we see wash basins and hear the sound of dripping water (missing are the sense of touch, which is substituted by the mouse, and smell, which we readily do without in this case). The towel reel offers information about the third issue of ENGAGED, the condom vending machine turned into THE LONELY ARTS COLOUMN shows the editor´s advertisements, and in the attendant´s room we can peep into the secrets of publishing usually kept behind the scenes, find information about the other issues, and listen to an interview with Paul Ramsay and Oona Campbell. Urinals are located in another room. As we turn the button on the door, water falls, we hear the sound of footsteps, and we are right inside the realm of one of the ten (eleven) artists. Though the joining of the arts and the urinal might well be seen in the Duchampian sense, it is rather to be understood as a public space that stretches at the crossroads of different ideas and points of view where traditional and new, real and virtual, and, last but not least, art and life confront each other. The basic idea came from a fine arts project made by STRIKE, a group of artists in a public lavatory in Spitalfields, and of which the CD ROM contains two works. On the upper part of the horizontally divided screen, there are two texts, the descriptions of two works: one above the other. The upper text, which we currently read, is black while the other that is below is grey indicating that it is out of use but accessible. On reading "Inventory" a camera makes a half-circle inside a run-down building - probably a public lavatory - in the lower part of the screen while a voice comments on the objects shown by it. The voice designates them, describes their size and material as though it took an inventory of works of art. At the same time, the spoken words are being written below the video frame, and as nothing gets erased they continuously form a black mass of illegible words, that is, a calligraphic image of spoken language. When starting to read the description of the other work, the grey text changes black in the upper part of the screen, and new images appear above those of the former one in the lower part of the screen constituting another layer of images. Suppose that we started "Inventory" again, it would not erase the other but form another layer on it like successive cultures do in time and space.
ENGAGED 3 is a fresh and exciting work on CD. It is still strange though that concerning publication, we more readily accept new technology than everyday commodities: for me, CD ROM as a medium of publishing seems almost conventional compared with a T-shirt. I wonder if Fluxus artists would have made a CD ROM if it had already existed at that time?