The original Electric Donut was the first video arcade to open its doors in Kristin Lucas’s small Iowa hometown, and there she spent many adolescent hours mastering the then-wildly popular games Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. For this collaborative project in the Media Z Lounge, Lucas and Joe McKay bring The Electric Donut back to life by reconfiguring the lounge into a cafe and video arcade. This seemingly innocuous public space of entertainment and relaxation is converted by the artists into a site that not only plays with our nostalgia for childhood games but also brings to light the ways in which the growing prevalence of technology has instigated feelings of isolation and disembodiment, as well as a sense of being watched and controlled.
Visitors to “The Electric Donut” can help themselves to coffee and relax or play with any number of games developed by Lucas and McKay. The artists’ computer-generated games borrow the visual language of video games that are now a mainstay of popular culture - brightly lit bands of color, animated explosions, and flying spacecraft are found in Audio Pong, Summer in New York, BLAM!, and Electromagnegligence for example - but surveillance cameras mounted on the cafe tables simultaneously create a space of anxiety and potential hazard. Live footage from these cameras is screened on monitors in the gallery while text messages entered by a visitor playing BLAM! pop up on the screen of Electromagnegligence, creating the possibility for surreptitious communication between visitors. This takes participation with the works in “The Electric Donut” beyond playful interactivity into the realm of complicity in being watched. Balancing the benefits of technologies with the knowledge that certain individual freedoms will be compromised is continually at play in the work of Lucas and McKay. Lucas’s 1996 Watch Out for Invisible Ghosts, for example, is a short video about a woman who attempts to adapt to the byproducts of our technological lifestyle-radiation, microwaves, and sound waves-which she finds are incompatible with her body.
Satirizing recent attempts by Mayor Giuliani to create standards of decency in the arts and the methods used by the police and military to maintain order, McKay’s DDC (Department of Decency and Compliance) Fingerprint Scanner asks visitors to submit to a simple invasion of privacy in order to ascertain whether they are potential deviants or compliant members of society. The all-too-familiar yet deeply troubling message of the DDC is “If you are innocent, you have nothing to hide.” Also located in the gallery is Simulcast Vending Machine, which offers free Simulcast take-home kits. These plastic balls are filled with simple, elementary school art class like objects presented as tools “for lifestyle enhancement,” which promise to moderate the flow of numerous energies stimulated by technologies currently vying for space in our atmosphere.
These objects, created without the assistance of digital technology, offer an alternative to slick and overly designed digitally produced works. Playing the role of providing that which we in the information age don’t yet know we need, Lucas has distributed the Simulcast take-home kits in cities from Tokyo to Linz and has spread her Simulcast message broadly via the website www.simulsite.com
. Though a bit tongue-in-cheek and unquestionably playful, Lucas and McKay’s “The Electric Donut” addresses the ubiquity of technology in our lives and seriously asks us to contemplate whether “progress” is always worth the threat it poses when considering the environment and individual well-being. In association with “The Electric Donut” is an on-line forum developed in collaboration with the artists. Members of the public are invited to be a part of a dialogue by posting comments onto the museum’s web site during or after their museum visit.