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The Internet, a Tool for Art?

 

 

Immateriality and Telepresence

The term immateriality was used by the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard in the title of his exhibition "Les Immateriaux" in Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1985. With this exhibition he tried to show, in which way telecommunication media heralded the vanishing of materiality in arts. Since then reality would be presented more and more in the immaterial space of those media. Of course internet artists use less hapticly tangible materials and instead create virtual, digital images and structures.

Today the word "space" doesn't anymore just describe something physical like a geographic location. It is also used in context of virtual spaces, that are entered only by the users mind, not her body. Terms for virtual space, for instance, are "cyberspace" or "chat room". At the same time the so called "telepresence", rendered possible through the medium, enables the user to have "interactive" relations to other "tele-existences" in different places, to computer programs and tactile perceptible data. The artist Eduardo Kac predicted in 1995 in his essay "Telepresence Art", that

"eventually several people from different countries will routinely meet in a remote database and interact through their graphic projections using telecommunication systems. In this case, then, we might also speek of being 'telepresent in cyberspace'"

Also the imagination of time is significantly changing, because virtual space is not dependent on geographical distances:

"The shortest distance between two points is no longer a straight line [...]. Today, in the age of satellites and fiberoptics, the shortest distance between two points is real time. The ability to commute information instantaneously, to sent and receive sound and images immediately [...], accounts for the decreasing social relevance of the extensity of space in regard to the intensity of time"
(Kac, Telepresence Art, 1995)

Further Kac explains the for him most important point about telepresence art: While other media only provide one way communication, connection in virtual space is bidirectional - every user, as well as the artist, is sender and receiver at the same time.

"The idea of telepresence as an art medium is not about the technological feat, the amazing sensation of 'being there,' or any practical application the success of which is measured by accomplishing goals. I see telepresence art as a means for questioning the unidirectional communication structures that mark both high art (painting, sculpture) and mass media (television, radio)."

An interesting point is, that Kac is known as a bio artist, interested in the relations between (human) body and technology. In 1997 he was the first person having a microchip implanted in context of his work "Time Capsule", in 2000 Kac got famous with his piece "Alba", a genetically manipulated rabbit that glows in the dark.

For his piece "Genesis" (1998/99) the artist took a quote from the Bible, Genesis 1:26:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth"

He translated the words into Morse code and finally into the base pairs of DNA and implanted the genes (delivered from a laboratory which creates genetic sequences on demand) into a bacterium. The bacterium grew in a petri dish, which was placed under UV light and a webcam. Users could watch it online and remotely switch the lamps on and off.

eduardo kac genesis(image: Eduardo Kac, "Genesis", exhibition view)

"Kac intended to present the viewer with a philosophical problem, a dichotomy: If the viewer disagrees with allowing man to have dominion over nature as the quote from the Bible suggests, then in order to destroy the idea (i.e. activate the UV light which causes mutation in the genes, thereby altering the statement), he must assert his own power over nature, thereby in a way contradicting himself. A viewer with the opposite viewpoint would have the opposite-but-equally-problematic dilemma."
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduardo_Kac)


"Genesis" shows, that virtual space is not "unreal", that the mind is not separated from the body and decisions we make in virtual space are not "less important". We create and destroy, through our thoughts, our words and our fingers clicking buttons.

In times of web 2.0 we are "telepresent" 24 hours a day - on Facebook, on Skype, or in 3D-worlds like Second Life. We have avatars, images representing ourselves, gestures are being integrated in our writing. We wear mobile phones on the body, little machines containing our connection to virtuality. We are always telepresent, even if we're not online and our virtual lives and real lives function in intermixed coexistence ;-)

 

avatars in second life(screenshot of "16Minds", Theresa Krause)

"Genesis" by Kac was inspiring for my own piece "16 Minds", a piece I did in Second Life. For about 3 weeks I have been paying avatars for exposing themselves in a virtual exhibition space, which was connected by webcam to the real exhibition space at ISEA 2010 in Dortmund.

 

 

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