This Conversation May Be Recorded for Training Purposesby Daniel Baird
The Boyd Cycle is a military strategy developed by Col. John Boyd in an effort to explain the success of U.S. fighter pilots in the Korean War, despite their having inferior planes. Boyd concluded that U.S. success was rooted in the flexibility of their approach, of their ability and willingness to change strategy based on ongoing assessments of an unfolding situation; Boyd codified this tactic in the “O.O.D.A.” directive—Observe, Orient, Determine, and Act. Now, the complex and continuously changing evaluations prescribed by the Boyd cycle are largely carried out by computer chips linked with elaborate networks of information-gathering satellites. Application of the Boyd cycle is not, however, limited to military strategy: A cursory search of the World Wide Web shows that the Boyd Cycle is regarded as a useful blueprint for an aggressive approach to competition of any kind, whether it is enemy fighters or business adversaries. That military strategy, technology, and business are intricately intertwined should come as no surprise.
The hanging sculptures which comprise Dan Devine’s This Conversation May Be Recorded for Training Purposes offer a subtle, idiosyncratic, and elegant exploration of a series of metaphoric feedback loops which take the Boyd Cycle as their conceptual point of departure. In “Combat Management in a High Performance Culture” (2002), crystals real and artificial hang from a series of brass hoops, and at the top is a wireless camera and an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen. The camera tracks the piece’s viewers, transmitting the image to the LCD, where it smolders, pale and eerie. The piece’s title links intense commodity and art culture with military strategy, the camera implicating the viewer, and the hanging shards, which Devine purchases on Internet auctions, create correspondences between new age mystical religion and rarefied technologies. The suggestive title of “Syntactic Attack to the Internal Logic May Cause Catastrophic Failure” (2002) points to the fragility and vulnerability of any strategic system, whether it is human consciousness or a programmed chip. Along with the wireless camera and small LCD screen, this sculpture has both shards of crystal and agatized dinosaur bones dangling from brass hoops. Devine’s use of material, here as elsewhere, is richly ironical. Crystal is an item of luxury and mystical hubris as well as a scientific resource, and dinosaur bones are at once evidence of mass extinction and geological process and collectible tchotchkes. “Syntactic Attack to the Internal Logic May Cause Catastrophical Failure” asserts the continuity between hard, geological history, interior design, and sinister surveillance to technologies.
All of the sculptures in This Conversation May Be Recorded for Training Purposes, as Joseph Masheck points out in the excellent essay accompanying the show, resemble oddly cobbled together chandeliers. Not only do Devine’s sculptures link interior design with military and corporate reason, but they are also shabby and lyrical. The past eight months or so have been a reminder of the failures of sophisticated military and corporate strategies: terrorist conspiracies proceed unnoticed, the wrong village gets bombed, vast corporations unexpectedly collapse. Devine’s titles speak for themselves—“Cascading Deterioration Within the System” (2002), “This Chip Will Disintegrate in a Deceased War Fighter” (2002); his work suggests the hokey origins of technology, the troubling proliferation of military modes of thinking, and the inevitable flaw in the heart of the system.