This work-in-progress artist talk presents two projects, Blue Boar, 2009-2011, and Witch Pricker, 2013, in the context of a new work being developed in 2016 that will address the topic of accountability through performative code-based interface.
Blue Boar, 2009-2011, used a programmatic and sculptural interface to place a contemporary gallery visitor in the Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts. In this work, a participant was placed in the 1692 trial of Mary Bradbury, my 10th great-grandmother, who was convicted at the age of 75 of turning herself into a blue boar. A participant who engaged with the installation assumed the role of the accused as their facial likeness was live captured and projected, as part of a luminous blue boar apparition, onto a sculpted pig form.
Blue Boar, 2009-2011 influenced Witch Pricker, 2013, in concept, approach, and materials. Each investigated local histories of witchcraft and justice systems in contexts of witch hysteria. Each paired fabric and sculptural materials with programmatic interface. The conceptual baseline for these artworks was established by the role of the participant; Witch Pricker, 2013, placed them in the powerful stance of the tester while Blue Boar, 2009-2011, placed them in the abject stance of the accused . blurringartandlife.com/vb/boarnbmaa.html
Witch Pricker, 2013, emerged from researching witch persecution in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, where I relocated in 2013 to pursue my PhD research with CRUMB at The University of Sunderland. This work was based upon a 1649 event in which a group of Newcastle residents were accused and brought forward. Their trial-by-ordeal was to be pricked with a pin; those who bled were deemed human, those who did not bleed were found guilty of witchcraft and were executed. In the Witch Pricker installation, visitors pricked metaphorical strawberries with a pin provided on a central plinth (see video). The artist-written code (C++, openFrameworks) randomized, then tallied, the number of ‘witches’ found, then printed a receipt showing this total. A visitor could take the receipt to the gallery desk to receive chocolate coins for each witch discovered. Considerations of code’s materiality and performativity while running within the system of the artwork, notions of control, and the implication of a participant in a violent act through a game-like interface are inherent to this project.
Cycles of Accusation
In June 2016, I will develop the next work in this series while I am a Toolmaker-in- Residence at Signal Culture in Owego, New York. This project will be a contemporary investigation of accusation and accountability through interface. Through my presentation at ISEA2016, I aim to investigate; what examples of contemporary ‘witch trials’ in their many forms could be performed through this evolving work? What new role(s) can be tested in a participatory installation context? How can the role of the code that underlies the work be more directly implicated and revealed?
- Victoria Bradbury, Code Performativity in Witch Pricker, Open All Ports 15th Biennial Symposium on Arts and Technology Conference Proceedings (New London: Ammerman Center, Connecticut College, 2016), 9.
- Victoria Bradbury, Alfred University, New York State College of Ceramics, School of Art and Design, USA