Conflux Conversation with Adam Wolpa

By Ben Schaafsma

In early June, G-RAD’s Ben Schaafsma and George Wietor, plus Calvin College’s Adam Wolpa presented the PLANT! project at Provflux. Last month, Ben and Adam attended Conflux in Brooklyn. Here is their take on those events.

Interview now available in MP3! Download.

B: So we went to this conference, Conflux, a few weeks ago. How did you like it compared to Provflux?

A: Well. I don’t know. I guess in a way I liked Provflux more because of a more activity based perspective, or there was more involvement, I think. Everyone who came was able to get in the mix a bit more and then this one – it seemed like you could just be a fly on the wall.

B: Right, it was hard to tell who was there for the conference and who was just walking by. I think the problem was that small McCaig Welles Gallery – using that as a home base rather than using a more multiuse facility that could house lectures and group activities.

A: Yea, and people were staying there.

B: ... yeah, all in one place. I think it’s funny how those conferences that are all about getting to know people and that concentrate on the exchange of ideas and things like that, tend to – Conflux was a good example of, how it didn’t do that. It seems like that would be at the top of the list of priorities for putting this conference together – like creating a forum where people can get together and are kind of forced to spend time with each other.

A: Yeah – and I think that technology had something to do with that because when we first arrived at Provflux we were greeted by people. I mean, we had to find people initially – our first interactions were .. these people were talking to us, but when I first arrived at Conflux, it was actually before you got there, and in that room about this size there were about 6 people all on their laptops, ya know. It seemed like everyone was just in this technology interface.

B: I think that is kind of a symptom of Glowlab [see: Glowlab's Myspace account ] and the people who put it together too. Not necessarily, I don’t think it was people like that that ruined the conference, I think people like that were attracted to the conference and [technology based projects] were more upheld than the more experiential, analog projects.

A: Yea. And that’s what really ...

B: [interrupts] I felt like the water taxi was very Providence.

A: Yea, and I think that one and maybe that desk project.

B: Yeah, the desk project was too.

A: [music heard in the background] Ummm...

B: Is that R. Kelly?

A: I don’t know. Yeah? Yeah, so what was I going to say – oh, the thing about Provflux that really kind of got me excited and inspired was that experiential activity that was going on; the bike tours, the critical mass, the grilled cheese cart, even having the lectures or the presentations outside was really inspiritational to me and it started to change the way thought about making art.

B: I was a little skeptical when we first came to Provflux. There was just a sign with a spray painted “Provlfux III,” and then we walked in and there was empty beer cans, it was just totally disheveled and no one around. If we were to have gone to Provflux and it would have been like Conflux and activity and people doing stuff – had I experienced that first before experiencing Provflux maybe it would have been different.

A: Yeah.

B: But the lecture series I thought was the strong point of Conflux.

A: Yeah, I thought so too. I like all those presentations.. A lot of them had to do with mapping, which I think is a really strong component of psychogeography that, I don’t know, I guess some of the other project did too – Trace did in a way. I really liked that aspect more than the lifesize Othello game.

B: I thought the New York ... what are they called ... the New York Sound .. New York Acoustical ... New York Acoustic ...

A: The sound seeker folks?

B: Sound seeker, yeah. I thought that was really good, combining actual – if you talk about experiential being analog and the use of technology being digitial – a good combination of the two. That was exciting.

A: The other thing too, about both of the conferences, and I think this relates to psychogeography, is one being Providence and the other in Brooklyn – I think that really flavors how you experience it. Because when you are in New York there is so much stuff to do ...

B: ... so much going on

A: .. it kind of gets washed out a little bit. Not to say that Providence doesn’t have a lot going on, but ...

B: ... it’s a different pace.

A: Different pace .... Different aesthetic.

B: Different space and aesthetic too, yeah.

A: I think, too, that when we were in Providence, and we would run into people and we would say, “We’re here for Provflux,” everyone knew what we were talking about, but in New York you say, “conflux,” and it’s like no one has a clue because it’s just another thing. It’s just – how much goes on in New York. Even when we trying to find that gallery, Curls and I we went – we were out in Brooklyn, and stopped by this gallery and we were pretty close – and we told the guy what we were looking for and he said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

B: It’s seems more like Glowlab isn’t so much a community – a group that works within a community, rather than just representing and bringing to light different groups who have similar ideas all around the country. Whereas Provflux was put on by PIPS, who has a constant presence in Providence and in their neighborhood. So I think that’s important.

That’s why I think it would be great if Grand Rapids were to do something like that because I think PIPS and G-Rad have a lot of similarities as far as having a hold or a community or being part of a community.

A: So we should do something like that – how would we do it? What do we do?

B: I’m not sure.

A: You just organize it.

B: You just organize it.

A: You just organize it and people show up. Put it out there. Come up with a name.

B: Those psychogeographers are crazy, they’ll go anywhere.

A: There were people in both of these conference, there were people, like these people came from London to build this desk. There were people from all over. It was really exciting.

B: I mean I didn’t meet a lot of people from Conflux, but at Provflux being in Providence coming from Grand Rapids, that’s a long way. There were people from Milwaukee and ... Texas?

A: Yeah, Texas.

B: I’m trying to think of what my favorite project was. I think the water taxi would have been my favorite project had we – I think it’s better as an idea that never happened, because it could have been disappointing, but it could have been awesome as well.

But I think the sound seeker map was my favorite project. I always like the intergration of Google technology.

A: I liked that one a lot, I actually liked liked ‘Have a seat,’ quite a bit. I felt like that it was really exciting for me to see people using it.

B: yeah, we saw people using it as a hot sauce bar ..

A: An then someone on their wireless which is good, people just taking a load off. Yeah, I liked the “Have a seat.’

B: It was funny too how a lot of people, even the people who attended Conflux, thought it was the city that put them there. It was a pretty seamless integration, it wasn’t obvious and obtrusive like a lot of the other projects seemed to be – like the ‘butt bouncers.’

A: A lot of that stuff didn’t seem to go anywhere; the butt boncing, the otherllo game, the desk or even the people who had the ‘adopt-a-land,’ a piece of land or something – the ideas just seemed to fall flat, unfortunately. So, maybe the idea of some of the stuff in Provflux wasn’t as compelling but it worked, like the bike tour of all the wieners ...

B: ... the Hot Weiners, that was great. And the progressive runway.

A: That’s right

B: I didn’t even see it, but I keep talking about that to different people.

There’s a lot of things that are very New York-ish that weren’t explored, like what makes New York “New York,” wasn’t involved in a lot of these projects.

A: So that conference could have been anywhere.

B: Could have been anywhere, and Glowlab can be anywhere too – there use of technology and what they’re interested in. Kind of like, well not so much - I was going to say Temporary Services. How they go out and interview different groups, but they are more involved in localized projects that are specific to Chicago.

A: They’re centered in Chicago?

B: Yeah, at Mess Hall.

A: Really Glowlab is from Mess Hall?

B: No, no, no – Temporary Services. Glowlab is from New York.

A: I see, I see.

B: I don’t know if Glowlab has any type of headquarters really. It seems like they would have used their headquarters for the conference, but instead they used McCaig and Welles.

A: It was funny running into people there. I saw a few people form Provflux, but then I ran into this guy Evan Fischer from Iowa and Kevin Hamilton – wasn’t expecting him to be there, but it makes perfect sense.

B: Yeah, it does.

A: That guy is a pro – he’s really good.

B: Kevin Hamilton?

A: The way he introduced all the speakers and his questions were really smart. Kevin if you are listening to this, you’re the man. You are awesome.

B: I think his Grand Rapids connection was the most exciting for me there, especially with this issue of LAMB too – to realize that there are people thinking about the same things in all these different types of disciplines connecting it all together.

A: We haven’t talked about this yet but, that’s one thing that I really like about the psychogeography framework is that in an interesting way it brings together, mostly artists, but you get artists and then cartographers and then engineers and just sort of dilettantes. You kind of get a nice mix of people. That doesn’t always happen in the art world, I don’t really mix with people in that way.

Urban planners, architects.

B: Did we meet any urban planners? I guess that guy, he was more a civil engineer that cut the books in half, or was he a straight up cartographer?

A: He was a cartographer. But I guess I was thinking of Zwaggerman and Tom Cruise.

B: I don’t think I would go back to Conflux, I don’t think I would waste my time. What I experienced on their website was no more than I really experienced as far as what they were offering in Brooklyn, except the lecture series. But Provflux, I’ll be there next year.

A: Be there next year, right?

B: Or maybe it’s going to be in Philadelphia because that’s where the CNU conference will be next year.

A: There was talk of that.

B: Yeah, I think that Kickball Jesus is still pushing for that. I’d be interested in having one in Grand Rapids sometime.

A: Yeah, this could be a headquarters.

B: The DAAC, NEST...

A: Because you definitely need a central spot.

B: Even Division St in general I am sure could be fine.

Watch LAMB online to download and listen to the audio podcast of this interview session.

Posted on October 12, 2006 5:35 AM


Reading your interview, I wish I had been at the Proflux…and I really think that GR needs to host a conference. My number one issue with Conflux was how inaccessible it was for us – or at least me. I mean, we spent a couple hours in Williamsburg; just waiting to figure out was the hell was going on – and besides the lectures, nothing really happened. We did participate in that ‘Trace’ thing, but the server was down (or something) so it never really worked anyway. I think the ‘Clusterings’ and the Canoe project appealed to me, but again…it never really happened. Perhaps, this is the downfall of the psychogeography as artistic medium. That is, I think the projects are so concept-driven that they often fall apart in material form. I wish more emphasis would be placed on the experiential aspect of the project – or at least better organization and interaction between individual groups.
Furthermore, I don’t really know what to think about psychogeography’s larger social implications. What is really achieved in these conferences? There seems to be a pretty select group that is interested, but besides the, maybe, 1000 pyschogeographers in North America – who does it affect? What now do I understand about my relationship with space that I didn’t understand before conflux? And maybe I’m looking at this wrong – like the fact that the whole of Chelsea affects a similarly introspective subculture – but in comparison to new urbanism…I think that psychogeography has some structural issues.

Posted by: Curls on October 14, 2006 2:56 PM


You might be interested in Mark Shepard's response to the subject of locative media/media art and its relation to pyschogeography, mapping, and urban play.

In evaluating locative media projects claiming or aspiring to a Situationist agenda, I often find myself questioning to what extent their deployment of mobile technologies ends up actually reifying this rationalization of patterns of use or movement. Put another way, to what extent do conventions for the use of consumer mobile technologies actually contribute to CIAM's agenda in their codification of modes of interaction with and within the contemporary city? Perhaps the most pertinent question for locative media might be: how might these technologies be (mis)used in an attempt to counteract (rather than reinforce) an ongoing rationalization and commodification of urban life? It would seem less a question of "locating" oneself, perhaps more one of getting lost...

Posted by: empty streets on October 23, 2006 2:01 PM

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