This article was written for 'Content-Type' in 2001, which I conceived of as an idea virus, later as the site evolved, I was to think of these texts as symptomatic of the Media/Art Identity Crisis in style of delivery.
"...in essence, what the viewer/participant does in the installations, or via a terminal interface to online projects, has some effect on or is affected by someone or something located somewhere else..." [Telematic Connections: The virtual Embrace] *1
Telematic art has come of age. Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace, intitially at the San Francisco Art Institute and then touring, and online at the Walker Art Gallery, is a compendium of works and theoretical texts which exist both on and offline. Roy Ascott's phrase "the telematic embrace" has been used to frame the exhibition, which is a fitting tribute to his long term vision and faith in the potential of telematic art. Curated by Steve Dietz of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Telematic Connections is not afraid of looking at past works and historical context. The 'Telematics Timeline' is an open source document which can be added to online. In the gallery "it is a beautifully constructed time-line of telecommunications and networked art, stretching back all the way to the 1920s."*2 It is refreshing to find names like Billy Kluver and Theodore Nelson on the website, creating context of science and technology in the arts and especially the networked arts.
The website itself is very effective, and well worth the transportational effort. The different zones in the exhibition are mapped into and informed by the website. There is TELE-REAL, DATASPHERE, TELE-WOOD (aka Hollywood for tele people) and of course TELEMATICS TIMELINE. Randall Packer's 'Telematic Manifesto' gives both contemporary context through theoretical extracts and art play through the linkages within the work itself. One of the key terms he lists is 'Gesamtelewerk', coined by Roy Ascott in the 1980s, a play on Gesamtkunstwerk and a vision for tele arts practice.
Interacting with the site I explored the different zones. So much work has been brought together that it is impossible to summarise - it becomes a personal journey. I logged on to Ken Goldberg's 'Ouija 2000', a telematic ouija board in the DATASPHERE zone. Goldberg himself has a tele word - 'telepistemology', which means knowledge mediated through technology. He is somewhat sceptical about the faith in technology, and the accompanying gallery exhibit 'Mori', a collaboration between Goldberg, Randall Packer and others is "the sound of an impending earthquake, derived from real-time data of the Hayward Fault's movements - the tectonic time bomb which could one day level the San Francico Bay Area." *3 In this work he is looking at whether we can tell that something is live, whether telematics is partly a question of faith or mystical belief, and whether this matters. The ouija board is a similar telepistemological 'test'. While apparently influencing a real live ouija board, visible through a web cam, questions were asked for me such as "will Aurora fall in love again?", "will Russia have a military coup this year?", "should Aurora spend more time offline?". You can chat to participating others as well. Despite myself, I found it quite spooky.
"Cyborg's eat what they see and become what they eat" *4 says the somewhat tyranical 'Tillie the Telerobotic Doll', Lynn Hershman's work which also includes 'Cyberoberta', plays with perceptual channeling through the 'ether' or in this case the web camera. We are affected by our beliefs and experiences in the data sphere. As part of the TELE-REAL section of the site, this work allows you to see a webcam image through the doll's eye. Vicariousness, distancing and roboticization of the human are the messages beamed out by this work. The doll's eyeview is a sinister cliché but it still made me feel uncomfortable. Lynn Hershman is interested in issues of identity and describes the work as "cyborg wetware with machine augmentation" *5 Both Internet and real world images are captured by the dolls which become a metaphoric hybrid. In the TELE-REAL zone "telematic connections in a hybrid of virtual and actual reality" are presented, and exhibited in the gallery as installations.
In 'A Topology of Body and Space'*5, a critical text by Machiko Kusahara on Paul Sermon's work 'Telematic Vision' 1993, one of the classics of TELE-REAL, he describes how Sermon is "creating a topos wherein they [the participants] will discover something about themselves." *6 This is the free space of telematics, projections of data topologies which can be interpreted in highly personal ways.
*1 RHIZOME_RARE, Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace, Patricia Quill, Director of Communications, San Francisco Art Institute, forwarded by Joseph Nechvatal, 07.02.01
*2, *3 RHIZOME_RARE, Report - "Telematic Connections" in San Francisco, Jason Springarn-Koff, 12.02.01
*4, *5 http://telematic.walkerart.org/telereal/hershman_index.html
"Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace" was organized by Independent Curators International (ICI)