More Tommy Cooper than David Blaine

The show looked a little modest. Not really an exhibition and not quite a performance. A display certainly but hardly a blockbuster. But it was certainly large-scale, worldwide some would say.

It wasn’t technically difficult to put together. Just a laptop and a camera. He half wanted it to be big, loud, an event somewhere between Queen at Live Aid and GirlTalk, crowd-surfing to accompany digital surfing. But that wasn’t going to happen. It was just a little too quiet. He’d considered it in terms of ‘live-coding’ but there was no music. No sound even, beyond the click of keys and the whirr of the fan. He’d thought at one time that it might be akin to VJing. Visual certainly, a performance maybe. The visuals even had a form of narrative but again, it wasn’t quite it. The show wasn’t on the screen it was in his working.

But he was there. The invitations had gone out. The billing had been announced: “Practice-research: live on stage”. He opened the laptop lid and raised his fingers over the keyboard. I wouldn’t say there was a hushed expectancy but perhaps a curious pause. He typed the words and seconds later the canvas filled with traces. Countless colours and shapes from all over the world collided and danced, clashed and fought. He conducted them, pulling one to the front like a maestro bringing up the cellos. He made some bigger for a moment and then shrank them back. With a flick he brought in new traces. Just from over there. Just from then. He played with them and then shut them down. Blank.

An anti-climactic uh-huh. “So, searching…”

After a moment he raised his hands again and picked them off one by one. He stole. He pickpocketed. He pilfered. Stepping gently through the archives he purloined and with a deft touch, placed them in his own archive. And just as quietly… he’d gone.

A puzzled eyebrow raised. “So, screengrabbing…”

He raised the camera and pressed. The screen showed the effects. Two traces of light refracted through software. One a familiar icon, the other a frightening blank. One a visible trace, the other an unvisible presence. One ready and eager to play and be played with, one sulking, anti-social. He moved them around. He sent them places and watched as they changed. He tried to keep control and then watched as he lost it.

An under-whelmed sign. ”So uploading…”

Finally he said: “I’d like to introduce to my camera, the apparatus that has made all this possible…” The crowd leaned forward slightly, expectant. And that was where it all went wrong. More Tommy Cooper than David Blaine. He wanted to show them protocol in all its glory. The camera that made global visuality; that deconstructed intellectual property, image ethics and power; that drew new scopic relations and relationships. He’d wanted to be Steve Jobs pulling out an apparatus that drove new media and business relations and strategies, that was so powerful it’d become everyday.

But he reached into his laptop and pulled out… nothing. All he could say was: “sorry, it seems to have withdrawn from view”.

It wasn’t really a very impressive show. Anyone could have done it. In fact many had and would go home or to Starbucks and put on the same show, even just for themselves. There was nothing particularly new. Maybe he should just have posted the instructions and like La Monte Young left it at that. One of Young’s Compositions 1960 said: “draw a straight line and follow it”. His could equally have just been a post-it note or a Tweet with: “Do a Google image search”, “Screengrab a Flickr group”, “Take a RAW/Jpeg photo and share it”.