Henry See


A man sits reading a book. He looks up briefly as you enter the room. He continues reading. How he reacts subsequently depends upon how you move through the room.

In Regard, I wanted to take a few simple visual elements and see how their recombination could develop into a more complex level of dialogue, a dialogue without words. The parameters of this dialogue are those of public and private space. If you transgress the figure's private space, he will react in one fashion; if you respect his private space, he reacts in another. Actor Pierre Lebeau, well-known in Quebec and in Europe through his work with the Theatre Ubu, brings his entire body into play. From facial grimaces to sweeping gestures, Lebeau creates a figure at times curious, at times playful, at times menacing.

As in my other work, I am interested in the appearance of intelligence which computer creations can invoke. By building a coherent world, based upon simple rules, we can create the illusion of intelligence. Understanding how this illusion succeeds can help us to pose necessary questions when confronted with systems which disclaim the illusion.


I have had a love/hate relationship with computers from the first time I had to program a simple addition problem on a PDP-8 thirty years ago. It took ten years before I touched a computer a second time. That was in a typesetting house where formatting tags had to be embedded in texts the way HTML tags are embedded in web pages. But it was a step ahead of the rolls of paper on the PDP-8. When, ten years after that, I began playing with HyperCard on the Macintosh, I loved the directness of it. It was simple. I could begin to control the machine. I felt I was writing with it.

Sometime between my first and second encounters with the computer, I had a desire to make films. But films cost a lot of money and require a large team of people. When I discovered the Macintosh in the mid-80s, I thought it might be the tool for making film-like creations. HyperCard made that a reality.

From 1987 until 1994 I produced a series of hypermedia works (The Glenn Gould Profile, A Memory Project, The Odyssey, and B*rbie's Virtual Playhouse). Each of these works contained some element of criticism of the medium. Ten years later, hypermedia is called multimedia and has gone to Hollywood. Now it costs a lot of money and takes a team of people.
I have always resisted the idea that we need to use the latest and fastest computers and software to make these creations. If we don't take the time to master our tools, then we are never really writing with them. Continual upgrading of software and hardware means we never have the time to learn them, to make them ours. One must make the decision to stay with one's tools long enough to explore them in depth. Even if the fashion is to move as fast as one can.

Computers are fascinating because they are the ubiquitous technology of ourage. They have become our model for understanding ourselves, the metaphorby which we measure ourselves. But they are only a metaphor. The brain islike a computer; the brain is not a computer. Too many people forget thisdistinction.

In January 1995, I began working in a research centre in Montreal on information visualization and personalization adapted to the Internet. With the closing of the centre in the summer of 1996, our research team formed a company, Merz.Com (http://www.merzcom.com), to commercialize our software, a series of Java-based information organization tools.