In anticipation of A Few Zines, Amy Balkin sent over a story intended for the never-published fourth issue of her and James Harbison's zine, Lackluster.
I was happy to save the interview with Phil Patiris from the proverbial dustbin:
In this 1996 interview, Phil Patiris speaks to James Harbison, co-author of the zine Lackluster, about what the artist himself describes as, “the world's longest work in progress…Future Shack.” Future Shack is a video whose epicenter is the Biosphere 2 project. Biosphere 2 is a structure that was built in Oracle, Arizona in the late 1980s to house a closed ecological system and serve as a prototype for space colony habitation.
Future Shack progresses to expostulate on the information age, the rise of the information class, and how the Biosphere can be extrapolated right into people's homes. Patiris is a pioneer of one of San Francisco’s foremost time-based art meccas, Artists’ Television Access. He is also the creator of the video work, “The Iraq Campaign: A Television History in Color” (1991), made during the first Gulf War.
Phil Patiris: Anyone who's been raised on Star Trek and the Space Program has encountered the idea of colonizing space, and the Biosphere 2 project is an attempt to experimentally determine whether people can live for extended periods of time in a completely sealed environment. The purpose of the Biosphere project is to build such an environment here on earth and then to put people inside for an extended length of time - the first crew was in for two years - to see if they could manage a small ecosystem.
The project is a definite brainchild of the 1970s and ‘80s. By the late ‘80s financing for such a project was obtained from Ed Bass, one of the Bass brothers. The Bass brothers, by the way, are major shareholders in the Disney Company. Ed Bass kicked in $150 million, and they built this large, glass greenhouse that they called Biosphere 2. Biosphere 1of course being the earth; and Biosphere 2 is the replica of the earth. And they built it in the Arizona desert near Tucson.
My interest beyond the general interest in space fantasy and colonization comes from the fact that I had a few friends who worked on a promotional video for the Biosphere while it was still being built. One of them actually was the stepson of somebody who worked at the University of Phoenix, which was involved in the educational aspects of the Biosphere Project, so there was a little "in" there. He happened to be a video producer and he and a couple other people went down to the Biosphere and got to roam around with their video equipment for several weeks, taping the inside of the unfinished Biosphere. Not many people got inside the place. So that was fascinating.
And what made it even more fascinating was that the main person on this (video) project, who was a devotee of the Biosphere and all that it represented, once he got in there, began to find out that all was not right in the Bio-world. He got discouraged, and so he pulled out of the video project after having collected about $103,000 already. And they took him to court. They didn't just sue him for breach of contract; they sued him with criminal racketeering charges. They basically threw the book at him. He was drawn into it of course, and my two other friends were drawn into it, and I got a real taste for how nasty the supposed progressives of the Biosphere can get when it comes down to legal and money matters and the preservation of their well-crafted image.
James Harbison: Well, do you think the investors were so nasty because it wasn't a very sound investment?
PP: They were nasty because, like most true believers, they don't have a sense of humor. They take themselves way too seriously, and couldn’t handle any kind of criticism whatsoever.