Transmediale Festival Journal, online, 2017

Q&A with David Blair
Wax, or the Discovery of Television among the Bees, 85:00 [cc:, freely downloadable]

And Waxweb, online work

Inke Arns: To me, the video Wax sticks out as a singular piece. I don’t really know any projects to compare it with. What were your inspirations content-wise and also formally?

The work had a long gestation, through the accelerating media environment of the 80s, and somehow always managed to sit outside of the way I made it. Oddly, it started as a sort of mainly non-verbal graphic/glitch video [1981], at a time when I had no access to video editing or camera, but could record that, in a duplication house where I worked. I thought I would write to finish it, so I went to the New York Public Library, with a game [1984]… I called all the pre-1960 books about bees, keeping artificial language and mechanical television in mind, and somehow, almost immediately, found something that combined all three. The project expanded. Then there was editing, then there were real-time graphics, then computer writing, then the feature form [but it wasn’t a movie], then computer graphics, then non-linear editing. After the end, the internet. And it was always something else, like an iceberg from the 4th dimension.

The simple reason for that, I guess, is that my inspirations were mainly metafictional, and easy to identify… Hoffman, Borges, Pynchon, in the literary tradition of the grotesque, and e.g. Paik, video about video that wasn’t about video. So the story was always a representation of itself, and of the world, and of its place in the world.

Elvia Wilk: As both a video and an expansive online project, I imagine Wax and Waxweb could be presented in a large variety of ways. What was the original or ideal context in which you hoped it would be experienced by viewers? How was it presented at transmediale?

Again, it was always meant to be presented as something other than what it was. For instance, it was a video, but I transferred it to 16mm to project in commercial cinemas, back when video was extremely rare at the movies. So it was a movie, but then it was streamed across the internet [ ]. Then it was reconfigured into a non-timebased, but networked form, for Waxweb.

I’m just about to launch the first episodes of the project I’ve been working on since Waxweb, and which also incorporates both Wax and Waxweb, called “The Telepathic Motion Picture of THE LOST TRIBES”. This ostensibly has a television structure, 26 seasons, 26 episodes per season. Unlike regular television, it takes place in many places, all at once, like a live switch. Yet it is also an audio novel, with lots of black. I use the formal structures of the two previous projects [and some of the story/visuals, embedded in a much larger matrix] as a sort of machine to make THE LOST TRIBES, and yet this new project is also a making machine. There is no ideal form for presentation. There is only the audience. Listeners, looking, or of course, the reverse [senders, thinking].

Inke Arns: Wax fits perfectly into the current trend of so-called “neo-paganism” or esotericist approaches to technology. There will be several similar positions presented in the Alien Matter exhibition this year, such as Johannes Paul Raether and Suzanne Treister. What was your inspiration to connect technology with esoterics?

Well, I should be very clear that outside of the form and the particulars which riddle the movie or its other protoplasmic transfigurations, this is/was a secular project with secular, mainly ethical aspirations. That is not to deny that the project was eerily haunted by the future of the past or it’s reverse throughout the -making of- period… the coming of the first Gulf War, or, more plausibly, after thousands of miles of travel, meeting the descendents of the author of that book mentioned above in their apartment down a long block from the Public Library.

There’s a reason churches and pagan structures are built to visit everywhere, including inside books, or things people eat… it is always useful to place the unknown of time and its synchronic structures periodically on the strata of synchoric space, or among symbols on a page, or among all the moving pictures, so we that we can technically mark the unknown where we are while we’re going there, in the middle of life or a story, even if that happens in reverse.

Lots of people in recent years have picked up the past of technology, or of media [e.g media archaeology], and used the indecipherabilities of these past inventions and their mutable history to retell and make visible the invisible machines that make our mental spacetime. A magic lantern is a sort of pagan object, but there’s no pope.

Elvia Wilk: In 1993 the film was the first movie to be transmitted over the internet. How did your collaboration with Sun Microsystems, which enabled this, come about? Could you speak to the central metaphor of the plot, the beekeeper’s relationship to the bees, in relation to how movie viewing has exploded online in the last decade, or to internet use more generally?

Well, to be literal… the guy who ran the Amiga store in the East Village quit, got involved with high speed internet, asked me if my movie could be the first movie on the internet, then put Wax in a VHS machine connected to a Silicon Graphics machine connected to a T1 line connected to the mbone, a sort of two way television that let you talk to the living. Posting about the event on David Farber’s Interesting People list made NYTimes correspondent John Markoff go to Sun HQ, where he wrote up the transmission on his own as if they were involved, but they were just on tv too.

Bees apparently make wax and then accurate hexagons by standing a certain distance apart. When I looked up bees in books at the library, there were an indefinite number of oxymoronic pairs of opposing metaphors made from these social relations… in 17th C. England, they were used to explain why to abolish the monarchy, and why to restore it.

If, retrospectively, I am to make a connection between these two facts, I can only guess that I and others always stand a certain distance apart, in relations that lead both to endless transmission and contradictory reception of all kinds of images on all kinds of screens, mainly mental but made from plastic and metal, and that this must go on until communal thinking replaces all of this, somehow, and all paradoxes are absorbed. I am told a quantum age will do this for us.

Inke Arns: Why are Jacob Maker’s bees a Mesopotamian breed? This obviously has special significance—could you expand on it?

Out of the 70’s into the 80’s, many things happened. For instance, the appearance of literal minded Christian warriors around a President who it seemed had only ever been in the movies. Friends of mine in the previous decade read The Late Great Planet Earth, a narrative prophecy that mapped biblical events both to time’s endgame, and specific places in the East. Most of those were in Israel, but then of course you have your older parts of the bible, more pagan as you might say, closer to the end of time… Mesopotamia.

With television as a sort of trope, you have to have action at a distance, and for ethical connection you not only have to have improbable transmission from, you also have to have improbable transmission to places that are far away. Basra, Iraq, unfortunately, was closer than I imagined, when I made my personal spacetime imagination of what might be bad, which was simply based on what I guessed was all around and not so far away.