13 May, 2009

Riffing on Brent Scott Riffing on Socrates (was Meeting with BS)

When we left off, Brent Scott was the subject of a feature length documentary on his evil genius and its spawn, Insex.com. In the series posted here, I chronicle my experiences with Scott and the esemplastic project of aligning his earliest recorded artistic projects with what would become the leit motif of Insex and the radical revisioning of BDSM as play and performance art.

A harbinger to Scott's successful 1995 show at TransHudson Gallery in Jersey City, NJ, the installation at Carnegie Mellon authored by graduate student Peter Choppin drew on faculty member / artist Scott's expertise with electro-stim (presumably CMU awarded candidate Choppin the MFA). In manINFESTation Scott's elaboration on these foundational efforts would ultimately get him dismissed from CMU, but it seems the art world preserves its fascination with what he aestheticised, codified, and from which we can only hope he profited handsomely with Insex.

A 2004 exhibit by the trans-disciplinary artist Noelle Mason examined the responsibility we take or don't for acts we do not commit, much as may be said to be embodied in the myth and history of Socrates, and in its updating in the fall of Brent Scott and Insex. While I don't doubt that the influence of Insex will be observed by future art-historians to be wide and durable, I haven't the faintest idea whether Ms. Mason is read in the Scott way of world-making. However, certain foci in her oeuvre lead me to believe there may be something to the idea, and not merely for the death obsession observed by certain critics. If her piece L'il Sparky had not been lifted wholesale from the State of Florida, it would otherwise have been found sprinkled liberally throughout the Insex playbook.

Were I disinclined to extend the benefit of a doubt, I might wonder if Ms. Mason's artistic fascination with the smallness of human empathy and the entailments of same (e.g., capital punishment, Abu Ghraib, etc.) didn't appropriate liberally from Mr. Choppin's graduate thesis, the one supervised in part by the same Brent Scott who had already learned full-throttle performance SM while on leave in Japan during the Vietnam War (one wonders whether he ever caught any of the legendary Eikichi, or perhaps the early GSC Project shows, now considered touchstones in the evolution of Japanese performance kinbaku) and who was then on the cusp of devising the now infamous and widely copied "Live Feed". Consider Mr. Choppin's thesis project description:
"A human subject was suspended in a television studio. Electrodes were placed on various muscle groups in the subject’s arms and legs. The electrodes interfaced with a four-line telephone system. This system allowed the TV audience to remotely control the muscle system of the human subject by using their touch-tone phones to send mild electrical shocks. Callers could speak to a hostess who greeted them and explained how the system worked."
And now Ms. Mason's for Mise en Scene:
"Inside the room a woman stands in darkness, wire electrodes issue from her arms and legs. She is surveilled by four closed-circuit night vision cameras that feed her real-time infrared image to corresponding monitors imbedded in each of the outer walls. Under each monitor is a large, red video game button. When a viewer presses one of the buttons a light turns on inside the box switching the video image from infrared to color. Consequently an electric shock is administered to one of the performer's limbs causing her muscles to seize from the jolt until the button is released / light is turned off."
All three artists observed a principle in making and consulting on these installations; people are much more comfortable with being sadistic from a remote position than they would be under intimate circumstances, indeed they are so reconciled that they can be induced to pay handsomely for the pleasure. Thus the outsized success of Scott's Live Feed franchise. According to Graphic Sexual Horror Insex had at its height some 30,000 registered subscribers. Recall that in my daliances with nawashibari.com we considered 275 a banner month and were quite content to hover around 240.

While I do not have access to video of Mr. Choppin's thesis project, I do plan in a future installment on this thread to upload video taken by Brent Scott of manINFESTation from the TransHudson exhibit. In the meantime, Ms. Mason's Mise en Scene is edifying in its own right, and perhaps but an early one in a line of examinations of the human propensity toward cruelty for entertainment's sake pioneered by Brent Scott.

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