Riff Raff

What's the Situation(ist)? Over the last few months you may have noticed an intimidating group of very bald men in dark sunglasses and bright orange crew jackets prowling through the streets of San Francisco. They move with great purpose, equipped with hand-held Internet devices and magnetic-strip security cards, making statements like "We are your fashion beta-testpilots" or "We are human Net-agents exploring high-pressure teamwork in uncontrollable environments" or "The popstar is the coder is the architect is the shareholder is the pilot is the designer is the manager is the system is etoy." Despite what you may think, this is not a publicity stunt for The X-Files, nor are these intergalactic bounty hunters sent back in time to search for misplaced alien technology (though that might be close). This is etoy, a technological art crew founded in the Swiss Alps in 1994 by seven media artists based out of Zurich. The etoy.AGENTS, as they prefer to be called, circulate between the U.K., the U.S.A., Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Austria, creating art out of corporate aesthetics, Net technology, telecommunications, pop music, security systems, and cyberculture. In the past, etoy has staged digital action shows, live performances, sound productions, and art exhibitions in Vienna, Lucerne, and Tokyo, but their best-known work has existed only in cyberspace with data events and Internet art that, as they put it, "deconstructs the space behind the interfaces of the world wide web." One such piece of Web artistry took the form of a digital hijack wherein the etoy.AGENTS took 1.4 million technology tourists hostage for typing in key words like porsche, startrek, bondage, fassbinder, etc. For this etoy won the most coveted prize awarded to electronic artists at the Prix Ars Electronica held in Austria in 1996. For years, servers in Budapest, Vienna, Zurich, San Diego, Amsterdam, and Tokyo have linked etoy.AGENTS and their art shows on the Net with thousands of art theorists, etoy fans, tech journalists, and etoy.SHAREHOLDERS. (Like everything else, etoy is a commodity with salable shares owned by the likes of pop star Laurie Anderson, actor Rutger Hauer, and art collector Gianni Agnelli.) Now, believing the pioneering days on the Net are over, etoy has decided to return to the material world and, more specifically, to San Francisco, where they plan to make their home inside the etoy.TANK. The etoy.TANK is a bright orange, 10-ton, 40-foot cargo container that combines architecture, performance, music, digital art, and "future entertainment." (It also serves as transport for the etoy.AGENTS and their luggage -- etoy.HEADPHONE-SETs and standard-issue F1-overalls with etoy.SPONSOR-LOGOS.) According to etoy, the tank houses Web site stations, servers, a render-farm, a sound studio, a voice box, a conference room, and sleeping quarters. It will become the showpiece of etoy.CORPORATE-IDENTITY and a stage for the etoy.LIFESTYLE. Its arrival in San Francisco will coincide with the reopening of the blasthaus gallery -- supposedly the first tech-art gallery in the United States -- at its new location at 41 Freelon (in SOMA, near Brannan and Fourth streets). blasthaus, which has been on intimate terms with tech "terrorists" like the Bureau of Inverse Technology, Perry Hoberman, Negativland, Stelarc, and Survival Research Laboratories, will be a perfect new home for the etoy.TANK. Folks wishing to view, join, or buy shares of etoy can attend the blasthaus grand opening party on Friday, June 26; those unable to shift their pixellated gaze can check out www.etoy.com. (S.T.)

The essence of Lilith Riff Raff's favorite pinup, essence -- the poetically lowercased S.F. singer/songwriter/chick-with-a-harpoon -- won a big online contest thingy recently. The prize was the opportunity to open up the first Lilith Fair show on June 19 in Portland, Ore. To essence, we offer our congratulations. To essence's fans, we offer the latest photographic glimpse of essence's personality, tumbling forth like so many curled tresses. (J.S.)

Come Join Us, the Flames Are Lovely Splashing sounds and drums drifted through street-level windows outside the International Center on Oak Street last Saturday night. Curious. Inside, at an event called the "Flambe Lounge," a sea of large hats, neon lights, and clownish attire threatened to drown the conversations about bad dates and good drugs. Six years ago, affiliates of Survival Research Labs began the event as a fund-raiser for the annual Burning Man festival. Then, as now, all proceeds went to the Burning Man project. This year, revelers first met a ticket-taker, then myriad drummers, and finally more male frontal nudity than a high school gym class. A woman wrestled with a pair of 3-foot Day-Glo tentacles and led a stream of aquatic clowns through the wrought-iron entrance, like a Barnum & Bailey train disaster splayed across the Great Barrier Reef. Another woman asked no one in particular who had been to Burning Man. No one in particular answered. "You're all virgins," she screamed. "Burning Man changed my life!" A swelling mass of bodies grew in the main room, dubbed the Builder's Lounge, replete with stage, sculptures, and the wooden arms and legs of the Man. Judging from the character hodgepodge -- suits to ravers -- all sorts of city dwellers still want to be a small part of the ever-widening phenomenon known as Burning Man. Downstairs, bodies lay prostrate at the edge of an art deco pool. Naked partiers frolicked with inflatables; couples coupled secretively in corners. Riff Raff, clothed and uninterested in inflatables or anonymous sex, opted for Jack Daniel's and a visit to an information center-cum-fun house dubbed the Nebulan Abduction Center. A pair of robed attendants with foam hats told us to concentrate on information processed since conception. All we could think of was food; they left us alone and gave us a receipt. The top floor -- home to toilets, Burning Man home movies, and smokers crowded around a window -- housed hippies, hipsters, and partiers, like a rave in the old days, before the club kids developed uniforms: relaxed. At Burning Man, the experiences out on the playa may transform lives, but the "Flambe Lounge" accomplished something smaller: It fueled the faithful; it raised much-needed funds (Burning Man is still noncommercial and unsponsored); and it probably made a couple of converts before the house lights came up around 2 a.m. (R.A.)

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