I explore media in transition. My research encompasses film, video, print, digital arts, and the web. I'm interested in what artists and writers are doing and in what critics and scholars are saying.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Telecommunications Media Art: LiveForm:Telekinetics and “Hole in Space”

I’m amazed by how simply checking my e-mail often leads to interesting discoveries. Some of my best leads come from listservs and mailing lists. From a thread in empyre on networked performance, for example, I recently learned about LiveForm:Telekinetics (LF:TK), a project co-founded by Canadian artists Jeff Mann and Michelle Teran that “re-imagines the familiar objects and utensils of our everyday social spaces as an electronically activated play environment, capable of transmitting the physical presence and social gesture that comprise such a vital element of human interaction.” In “transgeographic temporary performance zones, centered around wireless Internet access points,” LF:TK has orchestrated events such as “Telematic Dinner Party” (2002), which involved venues in Amsterdam and Toronto where thirty guests interacted with one another and played games “across the ocean in a mediated mechatronic middle-space” (see video documentation).

Telepresence Picnic” (2004), “a mobile, transgeographical, public intervention that takes place anywhere a network exists,” stages mobile feasts in public and private wireless hotspots. So far, nomadic groups have experimented with mobile “picnic kits” in Montreal, Amsterdam, and Perth, Australia (see video documentation). This iteration of the LiveForm:Telekinetics Project was commissioned by the Waag Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam, a “knowledge institute operating on the cutting edge of culture and technology in relation to society, education, government and industry.”

As a historical precedent for this type of performance, one contributor to the empyre discussion mentioned Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s 1980 “Hole in Space,” a “public communication sculpture” facilitated by satellites that brought together passersby outside both the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City, and the Broadway department store in the open-air Century City shopping mall, Los Angeles. On three consecutive evenings in November, these people glimpsed live video images of their counterparts at the partner site, leading to a lively bi-coastal exchange. I wasn’t at either venue, but I have seen video documentation of “Hole in Space,” one of many networked events that Galloway and Rabinowitz coordinated, as their own archive, housed at Electronic Café International in Santa Monica, CA, and available online, makes clear.

I first met Galloway and Rabinowitz in the mid-1990s at the Electronic Café, which they founded in 1984. During the next five years or so I attended several memorable events there. Two stand out in my mind:

THREE CITIES / MULTIMEDIA TELE-CONCERT: ECI-Santa Monica, ECI-New York, and ECI-Affiliate Studio X in Santa Fe [1994]. Featuring Morton Subotnick, David Rosenboom, Steina Vasulka with Leo Smith and J.B. Floyd. Produced in collaboration with the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Funding was provided to CalArts by AT&T. The three part evening began with a performance by Morton Subotnick, in New York, who played the Yamaha Disklavier in Santa Monica using finger controlled midi triggers. The second part of the evening was a bi-coastal tele-collaborative concert between David Rosenboom, Dean of the CalArts School of Music in Santa Monica, and pianist B. Floyd and trumpet player Leo Smith in New York City. In each city there were two Disklavier pianos, the one played by the local artist, the second one playing the notes activated by the pianist in the other city. The third part of the evening featured Seina Vasulka in Santa Fe playing a MIDI violin which controller laser videodisk players in both New York and Santa Monica. As she played her violin in Santa Fe she controlled and selected sections of the videodisk showing her playing the same piece 20 years earlier.”

The second event that made a strong impression was a play in which cast members at the Electronic Café, Santa Monica, and a venue in NYC communicated with one another via computer screens in a live production. Unfortunately, I remember the dynamics involved better than details pertaining to the play, such as its name or when, specifically, it was performed, although I think it was produced by CalArts students, c. 1995 or 1996. (I didn’t recognize the play among ECI’s highlights for those years.)

Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace, a traveling exhibition that Steve Dietz curated in 2001, includes a Telematics Timeline covering telecommunications media art that pre-dates the Web. Galloway and Rabinowitz provide short video clips documenting “Satellite Arts Project” (1977) and “Hole in Space.” They also contribute their ecafe manifesto, “The Challenge: We Must Create at the Same Scale As We Can Destroy” (1984), which begins: “If the arts are to take a role in shaping and humanizing emerging technological environments, individuals and arts constituencies must begin to imagine at a much larger scale of creativity.”

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