By Cammie Lee & Megan Pai

“CAPSULE” is many things: a book, a transcript, an imprint, a timestamp, an experiment in the art of gathering… but ultimately, it began and exists as a living conversation. The text is a fictional round table discussion, fabricated from excerpts drawn from nine two-on-one interviews conducted over the summer of 2021. The result is a collaborative exploration into (cyber)space/time, and a physical re-enactment of the way we connect, browse, and communicate online.

Participants include Wendi Yan, Laurel Schwulst, Lawrence Lek, Eric Li, Rindon Johnson, Leslie Liu, Ben Denzer, Jonathan Zong, and Tiger Dingsun, and all interviews were conducted by Cammie Lee and Megan Pai.

What did you learn about the participants through viewing their digital spaces?

We expected to fall into a different rabbit hole with each conversation, depending on the formal and conceptual priorities of the artists' respective bodies of work. We hoped to simultaneously learn about the individual's creative practice, as well as to understand their interpretation of topics ranging from interface design and internet subcultures, to broader concepts of privacy, accessibility, and representation online. We were lucky to speak with individuals who were already thinking critically about how tools are active agents in the creative process. This truly enabled us to balance the aspects of a more traditional artist interview with a discussion that was rather speculative and abstract in nature.

In addition, it was interesting to see how everyone had a different system for organizing, archiving, and accessing files and other information on their computers. Some of our participants had more structured forms of organization, with different folders corresponding to years or different projects, while others placed everything into a single folder with the files listed chronologically. Others still also used external systems outside of the build-in hardware of their devices, such as Are.na channels for archiving websites and PDFs, YouTube playlists for archiving videos, and Notion for creating lists, collections, and even journal entries.
Did you come to the conversation with any expectations?

We began with the proposal that our digital devices are both a physical environment tailored to fit one's functional and aesthetic preferences, as well as an extension of the mind. In the same way that visiting the home of a friend allows for the maturation of trust in a relationship, we wanted to "intrude" on the private, digital space of creators to establish a physical connection through technology. We framed each conversation as a digital "house tour," asking our collaborators to share a number of virtual artifacts such as a page from a notebook, a piece of trash, and a self portrait. However, in many of our conversations, we discovered that this binary of house/body could be a bit reductive. Lawrence Lek, for instance, told us that he didn't think of his computer as either an extension of his body or as a house, but rather as a studio space for his work. He also mentioned that he uses a separate computer other than his primary work computer for leisure activities, such as watching movies or television, which seems to present the desktop or laptop as a "room" that someone moves in and out of throughout the day. Through the participant's interpretation of these prompts, as well as their navigation to each object, we were able to see how our collaborators structured their technological environments as complementary to their creative practice.

“By using the screen-share function, their screens would literally overtake our own computers, dramatizing the difference between the computer as an object and as a conceptual space that reflects the habits and preferences of the person using it.”

Was doing the project via Zoom vital to the conversation? How would it have been different in person?

The project owes its existence to the world's collective move online as a result of the pandemic. Our ability to think critically about technology hinges on this shared experience of acclimating to digital workflows and means of communication. Hosting the conversations over Zoom also made it possible for us to speak to a much wider range of artists and creators who we would not have been able to talk to otherwise, due to the vast spatial and temporal distances separating us. In addition, Zoom was much more suitable for coordinating a fluid shift between the desktop and the interview. In a way, it made the experience of digital space feel much more physical, as though we were literally stepping inside the computers of our participants. By using the screen-share function, their screens would literally overtake our own computers, dramatizing the difference between the computer as an object and as a conceptual space that reflects the habits and preferences of the person using it. We learned through both the content of the PDFs, screenshots, and websites shared with us, but also through the process of (screen)sharing itself.
How did you balance both ideating and participating in the project?

While we entered the early conversations with a particular set of questions, our thoughts naturally evolved as we gathered more perspectives. It was wholly rewarding to understand that in the end, the two of us formed the common thread of the narrative. We had successfully carried the unique contemplations of our collaborators from one conversation to the next, which ultimately allowed for the piecing together of dialogue that was otherwise fragmented across space and time.

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