Ouija 2000 Curatorial Statement

Curatorial Statement
Heidi Zuckerman-Jacobson

Full Curatorial Statement (pdf)

Ken Goldberg, an artist and engineering professor at UC-Berkeley, uses robotics technology to create projects that investigate age-old questions of epistemology: "how do we know what we know?" His particular interest is what he terms "telepistemology", where the knowing is at a distance and mediated through technology. This issue is increasingly relevant as more and more information is disseminated both "officially" and "un-officially" on the Internet. Goldberg is part of a handful of artists combining cultural criticism with creative engineering to produce art for and about the Internet. His projects involve "telerobotics" -- mechanical operations that are activated by remote viewers.

Ken Goldberg/MATRIX 186 Ouija 2000 was presented at the 2000 Whitney Biennial and at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive as MATRIX 186.

Ouija 2000, is an on-line Ouija board with its planchette mounted on a robotic arm. It answers a selected slate of questions pertaining to users' lives in the next millennium. Open 24 hours a day, users come together via the Internet to "play" with up to 20 others at a time. Each remote player places both hands on his or her mouse. Minute mouse movements are detected and transmitted back to a central computer in Goldberg's Berkeley laboratory. The computer combines these inputs and moves a telerobotic arm in response. Players monitor their collective actions via live streaming video.

Thus, the answers to questions will appear as if by "magic" or "mystical intervention" as no single user can control what the answers will be. This mode of control reflects the well-known statistical Central Limit Theorem. Ouija 2000 was the first collaboratively controlled robot on the Internet.

Goldberg intends Ouija 2000 as a critique of conventional notions of contemporary spirituality. Thus, in his introductory text for the project, he creates a pseudo-history of the Ouija board claiming that, "although their workings and origins remain shrouded in mystery, 'talking boards' are the world's oldest telecommunications devices." In this project, Goldberg couples epistemology with another esoteric source: mysticism.

Ken Goldberg/MATRIX 186 Ouija 2000 was Goldberg's first one-person museum exhibition.

by Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator, 1999


Ouija 2000 project team: Steve Bui, Rory Solomon, Billy Chen, Bob Farzin, Jacob Heitler, Chris Perkins, Derek Poon, and Gordon Smith.

Special thanks to Gil Gershoni for graphic design.

Thanks also to Michael Idinopulos and Joan Sulaiman for discussions.

Ouija 2000.