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[Nettime-bold] Interview with Mark Bain

Interview with Mark Bain-- by Molly Hankwitz and David Cox
January 2000

Jan 3, 2000
Artists' Television Access, San Francisco CA

MH: Can you talk about the origins of your work and key ideological
determinants that lead you to proceed with a body of work looking at
resonance and sonic waves? I mentioned a project I thought of using the
Brookyn Bridge as a huge sound instrument. It makes a great humming noise
if you've ever stood down below it. It  really vibrates and hums
wonderfully.There seems to be a bit of an interest at the moment in wave
theory and notions of transmission of energy and there a reason
for that sort of resurrgence of interest, do you think?

Bain: It has been a  connecting of two different elements in my past, one
being, my coming from a family of architects and engineers. I've been
around architecture all my life with my grandfather and father and even
great grandfather. At the same time, in my youth, working a lot in sound,
even playing in bands and things like that. Where those two elements having
collided has influenced the work I am doing right now...As far as sound and
structures, I have been looking for a certain dynamic that is connected to
solid structures and architecture. One of my key interests is looking for a
liveliness in stable elements, and, in looking at that, seeing that stable
items are essentially not stable, are instable, in fact, so I'm trying to
mine these areas --these hidden messages--you might say---of transferring
through architecture.

I've developed a multichannel system, about 46 geosensors, that I can plant
in different places that are  highly sensitive vibration transducers that
pick up energy which travels through solid materials, and because solid
materials have molecules, the energy travels efficiently so you can really
listen to areas from great distances. So when you talk about mic-ing the
Brooklyn Bridge, of course,  that is possible. I've even thought about
doing a whole series of monuments, like doing the Eiffel Tower, doing, you
know, the Arc de Triomphe or some other places. Lately I've been doing live
mixes, basically running a multichannel array of sensors into a mixing
console and doing a live mix to sort of put it together on  two channel DAT
and then I've also started to work with a DV camcorder and using the
audiotracks on that to record audio while recording visually the object
from which I am recording the sound. For example, on something like the
Eiffel Tower or Brooklyn Bridge, it would probably be interesting to use
sensors that have radio beacons or radio transmitters so that I could get
far away from the subject, videotape it and mix it at the same time, and
still listen to the object...

DC: Your work seems to examine carefully this idea of there being a secret,
a hidden meaning a kind of sub-meaning to buildings and architectures and
the intervention of time seems to be an influence with your high speed work
as well, films like INSTABILITY, where there is this emphasis on events
over time and the hidden becoming revealed through scientific means by
revealing patterns that would go unnoticed otherwise both sonically, with
the buildings, but also visually, with the films and that seems to overlap
a little bit with the culture jammer ethos which seeks to reveal hidden

Bain: People aren't used to listening to their buildings. They might listen
to the inside, or sounds outside spaces, but not to the actual architecture
itself, so it is always interesting to get that sound and  do something
with it and lately I've been doing these projects where the sound is
recorded and then installed into other architectures so it's  the
transference of one architecture's acoustic energy into another's. What is
interesting about those projects is that for the most part people have a
really hard time dealing with those sounds because they are quite heavy.
And that is the strangeness of it. These sounds are very very heavy,
low-frequency, and maybe not comfortable. You can have a comfortable space
or, for example, the field I recorded in was a beautiful,
beautiful field with this nice vision of a landscape except the sound
underneath was like a heavy trembling, it was almost like a sound of fear,
sound of energy, sound of something, kind of crazy.

MH: This phrase of "architerrorism," with which you have referred to your
work, is this still a pertinent idea to you, the idea of terrorizing
buildings, as in the 'projectiles' project?

MB: For me, the idea of "architerrorism" is interesting in relation to
general architecture because, to a certain degree, developers and
architects are terrorists in the sense that most common
people who live in the street or who live in these buildings don't have
ownership on the properties, and so the decision to make buildings or to
develop areas of cities or towns is really out of their hands. They might
have some sort of voting connection to the city or something, but otherwise
its pretty much just "money talks" and for me I have a problem with the
fact that that is considered legal and  right, yet, some of my  projects
might be considered "terrorist" so maybe we should sort of flip those

MH: Hypocritical in that you are doing it for art and who is the real

MB: A perfect example  of this that is happening right now is Paul Allen
who used to be with Microsoft, bought out the Seattle Seahawks, and then he
used it in a game with the city.  He threatened to pull the Seahawks out of
Seattle unless Seattle built him a new stadium. Now Seattle already has a
stadium, for football, built in 1976. It's a beautiful structure, actually
a structure that my grandfather worked on or built in his firm. So in
February, next month, they are going to implode this huge concrete stadium
so that they can build a new stadium and to me that is completely absurd.

DC: How does  that tie over with some of the events happening recently with
the events for example of the WTO in Seattle, with this unwillingness to
take lying down the values of big money or big corporations?

MB: I'm not sure how many people from Seattle were actually involved with
the WTO. I think a lot of those people were from the outside, from
elsewhere, which I think is good--and Seattle is just an area. But with the
example of the King Dome, its...uh well... we've been highjacked.  Even at
the time when they were voting it in. Essentially Paul Allen funded a whole
ballot that was off-season voting, in other words voting that didnt take
place at the normal time and rallied all the Seahawk fans to go out and
vote for this amendment to keep the Seahawks in Seattle thus to demolish
the old stadium.

MH: So the politics of architecture and urban planning are very closely
linked to arguments related to public and private, and where those
interstitial lines overlap. Your work is very much about that in a
sense,the public and private, those kind of marginal borders areas.

MB: Yes, i think so.

DC: So what is going on with your work now, especially the issue of
 the retrieval of artifacts. I remember when we visited you in Boston last
year and you showing us your collection of sort of retrieved, found seismic
paraphernalia from MIT.

Bain: Scientific debris.

DC: Is that hunter-gatherer impulse still at work? And how?

MB: That's a certain archeology of technology that has to be considered.
There is a strange wastage out there of technology where there is a certain
time-frame where things are new and they have to be new and all the old
gear gets thrown out even it works perfectly well and that's
very common. I see that wastage and there should be something done with that.

DC: And do the Dutch sympathize with this?

Bain: Yes, I think they do but the prblem with holland is its just too darn
clean! There aren't as many scraps to be had. It's a lot better coming over
here to the States. In fact I've done projects in Holland and have had to
come to the States to actually get my materials and ship them back.

DC: Is that because America is more wasteful or because its not as good at
being clean?  I mean what's going on culturally there, as you see it.

Bain: Its larger, more industrial. There is more money here, more technology.

MH: So who is influencing your work now? Who is stimulating your work?
Julia Scher?

MB:  She's a freind of mine and she certainly does some interesting stuff
with her surveillance installations. She's more of a personal influence.
Other people more: Matt Mullican, Gordon Matta-Clark, of course, the
Dadaists. Right now its interesting because there is a certain trend I'm
noticing of artists working in architecture as a sort of vehicle working
within or against or some how involved with art and architecture and its

DC: What about the Situationist International and Constant and the idea of
the destruction of the derive and playfulness?Are these ideas that you are
familiar with and which resonate in your work?

MB: Well, certainly play and the idea of taking back a certain amount of
energy out of your city and the derive also of going through spaces. There
was quite a nice show at the Witt deWitt in Rotterdam last year, of all of
Constant's work. He was Dutch. That was quite amazing to look all that work
in one place.

MH: Amsterdam had quite a lot to do with the Cobra movement and the
development of new ideas about the role of architecture in a more open-
minded kind of society where commerce was less the defining paradigm.

MB: Of course Holland is a strange place architecturally anyway; its all
reclaimed land. There's this fear of water in a sense or there's always
this idea they are below sea level.

DC: They are always keeping water at bay. The dykes and such.

MB: Yes,  for example I was involved in a show at De Appel in Amsterdam
called 'An Architecture' and that involved installing 4 mechanical
oscillators into a non-loadbearing wall that was acting basically as a
diaphragm. When I activated it it was pumping infrasonic air throughout the
whole building--this is a 3-4 story building--and that was extremely
effective but the problem  with Amsterdam is that all the buildings are
connected  side by side and so the neighbors complained that objects in
their  living room were moving around on their tables...

MH: Spirits at work! (ha)

Bain: (ha) then they  called the environmental police who shut down
my project. It was only open for one day at the opening and then was shut

DC: What's happening in the future. What major projects are you getting
ready for now?

MB: Now, I'm working on an interesting project which will be at Expo 2000
at Hannover. Its nice because it involves enough funding that I can do a
creative project. Its going to involve robotic lighting systems and
architectural spaces using just light and shadow influenced by Moholy-Nagy
early Light-Space Modulator. I'm collaborating  with my brother John, and
we will be working with off-the-shelf robotic lighting units that they use
in theaters and clubs and things, and basically going into the guts of
these things and reworking them completely.

DC: I saw a copy, I think, of the Light-Space Modulator at the Bauhaus
Museum in Berlin.

MB: The original one is at Harvard, so if you ever get the chance to see

MH:   Moholy-Nagy is obviously interested in what happens when you automate
the  abstract collision of light on surfaces and the kind of patterns that
result from the mechanization of the direction of natural forces which I
suppose is also, the tendency of Dada to invoke, shall we say, the latent
forces at play either in pictures before they're cut up and stuck together
or in the natural world before it is mediated by technology. So are we
still in the Dada period and is it going to continue well into the new

MB: It still feeds into a lot especially some of the New Conceptualist
work. The Light-Space Modulator has always been considered as the object
and what's interesting about that is that Maholy-Nagy never really
considered it as the object. He looked at it as what was happening with the
light, patterns on the wall, in the space itself. That's what I'm
interested in completely.

MH: People tend to look at your resonating motors and that's not really the
work, it's the effect of the work, isn't it?

MB: Yes, it's  terrible especially for my documentation. It's completely
difficult to do documentation except for my recordings because if you put
it on slide all you see are the small motors or in the installations you
might see large cracks, a cracked wall which i've had in one project, or at
one point I had a floor that collapsed  as a result of these devices. On
another project I'm using one of these machines that is one of these
things, a Stairclimber for old people to go up their stairs. I've installed
this machine in my studio where I have a large window in the space that is
maybe about 6 ft. high meters up and I built a 6 meter beam at an incline
that's shoved through this window so what you do is ride this chair outside
the architecture...

DC & MH:  Great. (hee, hee)

Bain: You pass the envelope of the wall. and then outside my studio is this
non-used space, like this garden, no one is back there, all this grass with
a nice view of the canal. I essentially got selfish and built the chair for
myself --it's a way to add a new space to your building--so that I could go
outside and read or have coffee or something like that.

MH:  Where the most sympathetic areas of the world for your work? Is it
Japan, or?

Bain:  Well, when i was doing the project at De Apple there was a
curatorial program of about 5 people and one of the people was this
Japanese woman who was terrified of my work. She was scared shitless about
my work. She thought I was going to bring the building down. She was one
person who didn't want me to be involved in that show. Japan yeah, maybe it
will be a strange facination for them but  certainly being in Europe, I
certainly get more support and openess for my ideas and because of that
exposure, then I can bounce back to the States and there is increasing
interest in my work here, so that's good.

DC & MH: We should be winding it up now. Thanks.

Bain:  Thanks.

(c) all rights reserved, Hankwitz/Cox, 2000

Molly Hankwitz is an architect and media curator from the United States.
David Cox is a filmmaker and Lecturer in Digital Media at Griffith

molly cox

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