About Terminals


Victoria Vesna

Terminal Dead Line

Terminals is labor of love that took an agonizingly long time to manifest. The process of creating this book/CD-ROM/Web piece was as painful, difficult and unsettling as it is when watching someone die. Many deadlines were set and many deadlines were missed. Yet when it was ready for completion, closure came quite painlessly and swiftly. Like death itself, it took a long time to come to terms with it, but once we allowed it to present itself, we were shown how mysterious life is and how important it is to recognize death.

We began working on the project in 1994 when Liz Brown, the curator of the University Art Museum at UCSB, and I were invited by a group of scholars who were organizing a theory conference to propose an art show as a complementary event.1 Almost immediately I concluded that the reference to technology should not be just metaphorical but should take on an active form, and started conceptualizing how the Web could be used in connection to museum spaces. This, I felt, would address yet another death card presenting itself to the art world-the shifting relationship of artists working with digital media to the established hierarchy and privilege of physical realms. Death, meaning change, not the end. A change I was welcoming and gladly participated in ushering in.

At that time I became a member of the policy board of the ICA, and found a person on the board with whom I was able to exchange ideas and put them in action very well-Connie Samaras. While discussing ICA policies, it occurred to me that the criteria for selection states that "proposals must involve two or more UC campuses". Why only two? Why not propose all campuses participate via the Web? And, why not have all University Museums participate as well? Inspired, I wrote the first draft of the proposal and passed it on to Elisabeth Brown who, excited by the idea, worked with me on finalizing it. Connie was reluctant but intrigued, and decided it was worth a try. To my relief, she finally agreed to become the required collaborator from another campus. We could have never predicted that the ensuing project would result in several years of sharing so much personal joy and pain.

In the next three years, not only was it the first show that ICA sponsored which was connected to a conference, but the first multi-campus exhibit with four museums participating simultaneously, and the first time a multi-campus show was working in relation to an online project. Faculty from UC campuses were joined by artists from around the world-all sharing a common interest in exploring the idea of death and dying. At UC Santa Barbara, Liz Brown exhibited coffins from Ghana,2 and Francesca Guerra-Pearson organized a closing memorial event (there was no opening). At UCI, Connie Samaras presented Sheree Rose Levin who created an installation, In Memorium, dedicated to her long time partner, Bob Flanagan; at UC Santa Cruz, Maggie Morse, together with E.G. Crichton, organized an exhibit, Mortal Coils: Mourning Becomes Electronic and UC Riverside joined the group with their show. In Our Sights: Artists Look at Guns. At each museum there was a terminal-pun intended-with an online show that each campus organized in tandem with the physical exhibitions. By the time the conference took place, the art project had assumed a life of its own, and from that point on, it seemed to have its own trajectory that we could not shift or influence much.

And just as a slow death has a way of bringing to light many things we would rather not face, so too we had to deal with many disappointments and resolve many conflicts, which I will refrain from listing. Suffice it to say, it became clear that the classical paths of art and theory did not connect well to the complex, collaborative, interdisciplinary road we were treading. Those clinging to traditional notions of "original" art work and "copyright" fell by the wayside and missed the opportunity to risk the dangers and excitement of being online, of reaching places and minds outside the small circles of art and academia.

Two years ago we were sure that the project had reached completion, and thought it would be a good idea to have documentation of it, a catalogue, a CD-ROM perhaps. Once again we were supported by ICA, and it seemed simple and pretty straight forward thing to do. But, that's not what the project had in mind. It resisted closure, and whenever we tried to work in that direction, something else would take priority forcing Terminals into a back processing mode. In response we put out a new call for papers and art work, and moved towards terminals 2.0.

During a particularly long gestation period, we experienced the death of one of the artists who participated in the version 1.0 of the project-Christine Tamblyn. When I received her images the first time around, it did not cross my mind that she may be actually dying. She was about to begin her new job as assistant professor at UCI when she found out she had cancer. Tragically soon after, Connie would agonize over Kathy Acker's untimely death, while both of us pondered the meaning of Sheree Rose Levin's installation in the UCI gallery, dedicated to Bob Flanagan, who finally succumbed to cystic fibrosis. Real death had reared its head at us, and Terminals ceased to be a theoretical or art project, and became something much more. People who were in our lives had passed away suddenly, and as a result our motivation shifted dramatically. We felt a responsibility to honor these three people, and decided to dedicate the project to them. When Connie miraculously ended up receiving diaries of all three artists, we knew that this was something we had to put out, no matter how painful. In the end, it was this feeling of responsibility to honor and disseminate that finally allowed us to reach closure. Not pain, not sorrow, not agony or even a dark sense of humor could do what the feeling being responsible accomplished. It was for them that we did this. Like all memorials, this is meant to preserve the memory of their brief stay here on earth, during which time they managed to question, challenge, push and touch many people. All projects that are part of Terminals have a common thread they share-there is personal story of death in the background of each, quietly looming, holding the gift of appreciating life all the more through acknowledgment.


[Introduction by Connie Samaras]