MediaPackBoard: a decade of intervening into public space
In 2005, artist Valerie LeBlanc prototyped her first MediaPackBoard (MPB). Slung over her shoulders an altered backback suspends a colour monitor, its glow transmits quotidian encounters during peripatetic journeys captured on a handheld camcorder, pre-programmed artists’ videos, or televised broadcasts pirated from the free analog airwaves. By now, the MPB is an object of dated technology, but the technology alone is not LeBlanc’s main concern. Long-term collaborator and contributor to this publication, Daniel H. Dugas, reminds us of the MPB’s very first slogan, “Mediated World on the Street,” which clearly focuses our attention on the mediation afforded to a decade of urban street-level performances by the MPB interface.
The MPB was born of LeBlanc and Dugas’ nomadic, networked, self-determined lives as artists; lives similar to those reflected in early artist-run culture and contemporary pop-up galleries. As artist-run cultural workers Renato Vitic and Michael McCormack observe in their essays, from Calgary to Halifax, MPB follows early DADA and later FLUXUS performances where spontaneity and participation were seen as interventions into the status quo, and particularly disruptive to commercial and institutional exhibition models famously characterized in Brian O’Doherty’s 1976 Artforum essays about the white cube. Since Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valises (1935–41), there has been a long and significant history of mobile galleries in which artists have modeled diverse ways to control the contexts of their own production outside of the gallery space. MPB borrows directly from Andre Malraux’s mid-twentieth-century museum without walls and Robert Filliou’s Fluxus La Galerie Légitime (circa 1962), or his exhibitions in his hat, which experimented with the democratization of the image and its endless recontextualization and circulation instigated through everyday encounters with the public. These and other such works used collaborative and dialogic performative actions to disrupt assumptions about the status of the artist and the role of art and media in society. McCormack further explores the history of media artists controlling their means of production and distribution starting with Nam June Paik’s experiments with the Sony Portapak in 1965. These early remediations of media, which critiqued the ubiquity and influence of mass media and big broadcast on our daily lives, still resonate on MPB’s screen.
MPB extends these earlier experiments into the discourse of event-based social interventions and relational practices common to 1990’s post-studio production. LeBlanc’s MPB situates the artwork as a social interstice. In his essay, Dugas discusses the MPB as a “technology-mediated performance” with “four modes of operation: participatory, exploratory, diffusion and a hybrid form of participatory/diffusion which involves collaborative group performances which involve guest carriers and curated video programs.” Here Dugas discusses how MPB’s portability enhances mobility and allows LeBlanc to collaborate more easily with other artists and engage a wider audience within various public contexts outside the confines of her studio. It is the MPB interface that facilitates experiments in context-specific programming and conflates the roles of the artist, curator and audience. Perhaps most importantly, the MPB allows the simultaneous production and circulation of images, and thus raises questions about who controls content and to what end.
Vitic also analyzes MPB in terms of its interstitial potential, which is mediated not only by technology, but by its “performance mode,” or how the relationship of the performer’s body can be understood in terms of spatial dynamics or proxemics, and idiorrhythmy, the communal relationships between the artwork, artist and viewer/participant. In the case of MPB, LeBlanc observes “the nature of the technology sets a formality and creates the presence of an ‘other’ with the camera and the monitor.” MediaPackBoard’s sustained relevance is perhaps secured in its ability to provide a place where the subject/object divide, which is often most pronounced on the urban street, can awkwardly dissolve into one another on the face of the screen. Or, as keenly noted by Dugas, the MediaPackBoard reveals how we have all entered into “a world of screens.”