A Topology of Body and Space by Machiko Kusahara

Paul Sermon's Telematic Performance
 

Is the body capable of being transported via computer communications? At what level of existence can we sense the reality of the virtual body lying around or sitting in virtual space?

At this point, I believe we have begun to embrace doubts about virtual space, which is thoroughly dominated by the visual, and electronic space, which overflows with ambiguous signs and filmic images. Multimedia, should enable us to manipulate filmic images, text and sound on our own. Virtual reality still mostly relies on the visual senses (and in a highly dissatisfactory state, at this point). Both are engaged in an attempt to mount a communications system in which we cannot even send visual images at a satisfactory speed, and they are still a far cry from the claims they advertise. It is surely distrust of the membrane of the substance-less visual imagery created by electronic signals that has precipitated a nearly abnormal rise in the interest in skin and corpses, as well as the desire to return to a material physicality of body. Within this context, if we are to question the meaning of the body in relation to virtual space, is it possible to demonstrate anything more than a simple transposition of sensory faculties -- specifically, the replacement of the sense of touch with that of sight?

The tele-conference system is a mechanism that symbolizes business in an information society. Yet in the hands of Paul Sermon, this mechanism becomes a highly paradoxical matter. In Sermon's work, instead of using a non-existent shared space for the practical purposes of business talks, primitive forms of communication or desire such as non-verbal gesture and bodily contact temporarily and ambiguously create intimate, personal and risky relations between complete strangers. Selection of the other party is nearly impossible here. The thrilling relationship with the person on the other end, materially close yet far, and most likely someone who one will never actually meet, lasts only during the interval of the performance. It is as though this performance has opened a small hole in the space of daily life and joined the gap with ISDN links.

The overlapping of the familiar sight of the TV monitor with reality deconstructs the meanings held by these everyday landscapes. In Telematic Vision, the couch potato state of sitting alone in front of a TV and staring at the screen is transformed into a scene likely to appear in an old American home drama -- that of an affectionate couple or a happy family, seated on a sofa of classic design, watching TV together. And yet, the teleconference system which plays out nostalgic scenes of "sweet home" is both a tool of business -- the diametrical opposite of family -- and a member of the same class as the TV game, which invested the TV monitor with a different meaning and drove scenes of family togetherness into extinction.

Within this series of works that employ the teleconference mechanism (including Telematic Seance), Telematic Dreaming surely has the most powerful impact because of the dissimilating effect of the bed, a sign shared by everyone. By putting audience participants in that familiar situation from TV drama of getting into bed with someone one has just met, this work drives one, or the member of the audience before one's eyes (the performer), into a state of bewilderment. Members of the audience are placed in the positions of the actor who plays out a bed scene on stage or before a camera, or the voyeur who peeps in on the acts of others. This is a secret act taking place in a public space, and that public space is a virtual space that does not exist in reality. Furthermore, despite the fact that the body is the only means of communication therein, the body of the other party is ghost-like, without substance. This contradictory situation not only confounds the audience, but also, after first releasing them from the logic and restrictions of daily life and dismantling the various elements of signatory identity and the biological environment of the body, it enables experimentation with and enjoyment of the role the body plays in communication.The virtuality of the space enables it to maintain both theatricality and the context of daily life at the same time.

In the interstice between material physicality and an informational space in which electronic signals collide, Sermon reverses the meanings and sensibilities tied to daily life and provides us with an opportunity to think about the essence of communication. Commercial applications like bringing a shopping bag into virtual space and filling it with items for purchase picked up with a 3D mouse are nothing more than a proxy for real experience, but a good artist is capable of liberating people from such patterns of daily life and creating a topos wherein they will discover something about themselves.