By Paul Sermon
As the title of this paper suggests I will be referring to the process within my work from the realization of the videoconferencing installation "Tlematic Dreaming" produced in 1992 to the recent development of the Internet project "Heaven 184.108.40.206" initiated in April this year. Over these past five years my work has come full circle, from a sense hesitancy to certainty, to hesitancy, a process which I suspect will be repeated in the next five to come.
Keywords; Telematic Dreaming, Sensory Shift, Extended Body, Voyeurs, Deus ex Machina.
This initial hesitancy was provoked by the Finnish exhibition entitled "Koti - The Baudrillard notion of Home", for which Telematic Dreaming was commissioned and first realized in June 92. The exhibition catalogue opens with a quote that reads:
"The celibacy of the machine brings about the celibacy of "Telematic Man". Exactly as he grants himself the spectacle of his brain and of his intelligence as he sits in front of the computer or word-processor, the "Telematic Man" gives himself the spectacle of his fantasies and of a virtual "jouissance" as he sits in front of his "minitel rose". He exorcises "jouissance" or intelligence in the interface with the machine. The Other, the sexual cognitive interlocutor, is never really aimed at - crossing the screen evokes the crossing of the mirror. The screen itself is targeted as the point of interface. The machine (the interactive screen) transforms the process of communication, the relation from one to the other, into a process of commutation. i.e.. the process of reversibility from the same to the same. the secret of the interface is that the Other is within it virtually the Same - otherness being surreptitiously confiscated by the machine." Baudrillard, J. (1987).
Telematic Dreaming is an installation that exists within the ISDN digital telephone network between two locations - or in two installation parts that function as customized videoconferencing systems. In the first part - A video camera is located above a double bed in a very bright space. The camera image picks up a birds-eye view of the exact size of the double bed beneath it - a queen size bed is exactly the same ratio 1:3/4 as video format. The double bed is covered in a blue sheet, and has a person lying on it. The camera image of the person lying on the blue bed is then chroma-key mixed with a pre-recorded videotape - replacing the blue area of the screen with the videotape image. This final output image from the mixer of a person appearing to be lying on a bed of video images is fed into a videoconferencing system, converted into a digital signal and sent via an ISDN telephone line to another videoconferencing system in a geographically distant location - the second part.
In the second part, the digital signal is converted back into an analog video signal and fed to a video projector situated above another double bed. The live video image is projected down onto the second bed, this time with a white sheet, and another person lying on that, in a very dark space. A second video camera, situated next to the projector picks up a birds-eye view of the life size live projection of the first person with the actual image of the second person on the same bed. This camera image is fed directly to two video monitors either side of that bed, in the blacked out projection space. And back to the first illuminated space, via the videoconferencing systems and ISDN line, feeding four more video monitors that surround the blue bed. The projection space became the main point of focus as a gallery based installation due its visual presence and ease of communication and interaction over the blue bed.
Telematic Dreaming encountered all the "jouissance" the text was advocating, it was the Baudrillard essay in practice, a certainty for extending the body beyond the screen to a distant simulation of it. The other - the body at a distance - being no less of a simulation than the carbon original. The physical movements of the carbon body were talking place locally whilst its cause and effects were talking place remotely, simply extending the sensory inputs from the cognitive process. To explain this process of sensory shift we can use a far simpler model.
"Blindfold yourself and take a stick (or a pen or pencil) in your hand. Touch various things around you with this wand, and notice that you can tell their textures effortlessly - as if your nervous system had sensors out at the tip of the wand. Those transactions between stick and touch receptors under the skin (aided in most instances by scarcely noticed sounds) provide the information your brain integrates into a conscious recognition of the texture of paper, cardboard, wool, or glass. These successes must depend on felt vibrations set up in the wand, or on indescribable - but detectable - differences in the clicks and scrapping noises heard. But it seems as if some of your nerve endings were in the wand, for you feel the difference of the surfaces at the tip of the wand." Dennett, D. C. (1992).
In Telematic Dreaming the sense of sight has been exchange with the sense of touch, the stick or wand in this case being the visual simulation of the body at a distance, placing your finger nerve endings in the telepresent body. And so the shift of senses occurs - touching with your eyes as if you are touching with your hands. In the same way a blind person will improve and rely on the sensory inputs of sound and touch, the loss of touch in Telematic Dreaming is compensated by the sense of sight. Not unlike the visual sensory input of pain that is often stimulated prior to the momentarily numbed nerve endings of the tissue at the cause of it - the cognitive process of pain taking place via the eyes - regardless of where they are located.
Telematic Dreaming would suggest that Daniel Dennett is correct in his thesis on the process of conscious experience. The remote location of the senses from your brain have no bearing on it. The differing delays in millisecond between sensory inputs are sorted, rearranged and processed in parallel within the conscious experience of the whole. In Telematic Dreaming these time delays are greatly exaggerated, due to the speed of ISDN videoconferencing, taking up to 1.5 seconds between the moment of cause and effect. Resulting in experiencing, and to some extent understanding, the cognitive process in slow motion - the sorting and processing of events in parallel, during the momentary lapses of time between the cause and effects that race back and forth between the local and remote body.
The cognitive ease of extending the body in this telematic space is aided by the semiotic complexity of the bed that preoccupies the mind whilst the process of sensory shift takes place almost unnoticed. The telematic communication experienced is heightened when the technology involved is secondary to the primary point of importance - being the bed - deeming the videoconferencing technology invisible by the signification of the bed. The videoconferencing technology of Telematic Dreaming has become invisible in the same way the technology of language is invisible and unrecognizable. Just as reality does not exist before language defines it, the reality on the bed does not exist before the video media defines it. All new technology is in the same process of disappearance, becoming increasingly harder to visualize and deconstruct. Users are often reluctant to enter Telematic Dreaming due the potential interaction that is being signified by it. Entering and exiting Telematic Dreaming are the most complex moments. Once overcoming the embarrassment of entering the bed, the audience member becomes less concerned with the local body and far more with the distant telematic one, and when leaving the bed the complex situation is returned to.
In 1993 at the ZKM - The Center for Arts and Media Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany - I produced Telematic Vision for the MultiMediale III exhibition. The installation consisted of two large blue sofas in remote locations. The users sitting on each sofa were chroma-key mixed together into the same image, appearing to be sitting on the same sofa, made visible by a large video monitor in front each sofa. The installation represented the font-room, television / sofa, scenario.
"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." Kusahara, M. (1996).
Telematic Vision concentrated on the concept of telepresence and the extended body more directly, favoring a telepresent chroma-key situation in both sites over the localized interaction of the projection surface in Telematic Dreaming. The chroma key site alternatively referring to the screen as the point of interaction through which the telepresent extension of the body takes place. Telematic Visionís sofa / television scenario and lack of audio contact exploits this situation, enabling communication and interaction of the melodrama in early silent cinema to unfold within a theatrical space created between the sofa and television monitor. Telematic Vision is a vacant space of potentiality, it is nothing without the presence and interactions of the participant who create their own television programme by becoming the voyeurs of their own spectacle.
In April this year the Internet project "Heaven 220.127.116.11" was initiated in collaboration with my colleague Joachim Blank at the Academy of Graphic and Book Arts in Leipzig. The primary focus of the project concerns a CU-SeeMe reflector and WorldWideWeb site running on the same server (18.104.22.168). The Heaven reflector functions as a multipoint videoconferencing system over the Internet. With an access capacity of twenty five users, each sender can receive video images of all twenty four other users simultaneously on their own CU-SeeMe client.
http://22.214.171.124 Web Site Introduction
"Suppose we told you about a machine that receives live images from Heaven - would you believe us ? And if we said you can connect to this machine via a CU-SeeMe reflector - would you try it ? Can you believe in a machine that connects you to the globe any more than a machine that connects you to heaven ?"
"In the latter part of 1996 a group of international scientists were successful in developing such a machine. The output of this classified technology has now been made available for public viewing via the Internet. A CU-SeeMe reflector 126.96.36.199 now brings live images of Heaven directly to your computer screen. This reflector has unrestricted access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Download the necessary CU-SeeMe software and connect to Heaven 188.8.131.52 today."
A further introduction to the project, written in collaboration with Timothy Druckrey.
"The concept behind Heaven 184.108.40.206 concerns the notions of faith and belief in the Internet as a presence in the world beyond your screen. Claiming to put you in direct contact with Heaven via the net, the project aims both to suspend disbelief and to challenge convictions that situate users in an omnipresent, immaterial, and virtually theological predicament: Is a live video image of a person on the net any more believable than a live image from Heaven ? Is the boundary, as Albert Camus once suggested, between "sanctity" and "idiocy" simply a matter of degrees ? Is the pious electronic bond between dedicated computers a kind of Turingesque transubstantiation in which the penetent (that's penitent) users are lulled to unite through benevolent hosts ? Is the border between the techno-logos and the theo-logos so resolute that they cannot share in the joys of tele-logos (that's teleo-logos) ? Is the notion of virtualization so different from the equally vague evocations of so-called visionaries ? And whilst most people would not confess belief in the irrational claims of a direct Internet link to the angels on cloud nine, they would assent to the tel-imaginary rationality of a talking-head video window that chats "Hi, I'm Bob from Sydney, how ya all doing ?" at 1.5 fps. Indeed, this is the Turing test with a twist, an electronic "other" whose plausibility is rooted deeply within the system of technology, a kind of irrefutable image - perhaps a shroud of Turing - in which identity and representation are joined by an act of faith. So, the belief in CU-SeeMe, no less in technology itself, is as much a desire for intimate communion (that's communication) - between private and public spaces, as it is a measure of an increasingly destabilized idea of subjectivity and materiality. It's tenuous digitized image and text are encoded signifiers of an "other" whose presence is hinged in a system in which the indistinguishability of person and machine is less and less clear. Nobody wants, or expects, to find CU-SeeMe-bots here, and least of all in Heaven. Yet, CU-SeeMe has become a sacred image of cyberspace, caught between so-called "truth" and so-called "fiction"." Blank, J., Druckrey, T., Sermon, P. (1997).
The project contains many differing links that serve to contextualise the project, including a link to "Cyberwar, God And Television", an interview with Paul Virilio.
"All in all, I believe that this divine dimension raises the question of transcendence, that is to say the question of the Judeo-Christian God for instance. People agree to say that it is rationality and science which have eliminated what is called magic and religion. But ultimately, the ironic outcome of this techno-scientific development is a renewed need for the idea of God. Many people question their religious identity today, not necessarily by thinking of converting to Judaism or to Islam: it's just that technologies seriously challenge the status of the human being. All technologies converge toward the same spot, they all lead to a Deus ex Machina, a machine-God. In a way, technologies have negated the transcendental God in order to invent the machine-God. However, these two gods raise similar questions." Virilio, P. (1994)
220.127.116.11 CU-SeeMe Reflector Introduction
We have two permanent CU-SeeMe connections on the reflector. That are met with some hesitancy, assumed to be clients, Heaven links, avatars or even CU-SeeMe-Bots. They appear to be having reasonably intelligent conversation with each other and Iím sure they would be happy to answer your questions. But please donít expect an elaborate response, as accessing Heaven is still an extremely complex technological issue, but I can assure you we are working on it.
Baudrillard, J. 1987. Le Xerox et L'Infini. Paris:
Touchepas, p.5-6. Dennett, D. C. 1992. Consciousness Explained. London:
Viking, p.47. Kusahara, M. 1996. The Museum Inside The Network. Tokyo:
NTT Publishing Co., Ltd, p.127. Virilio, P. 1994. Cyberwar, God And Television.