Paul Sermon - Holder of ZKM stipend 1993

By Margaret Morse

Telematic Vision 1993

Interactive ISDN based telematic installation. First shown at the ZKM-MultiMediale 3, Karlsruhe, 1993 with a connection to The Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe.


In "Telematic Vision," sofas in two different locations are combined into one virtual sofa by means of ISDN telephone links that transmit live chroma-key-edited video images from sites at a distance from each other. The images are then combined by a remote chroma-key system and transmitted instantly back to monitors in both sites. This "telematic" vision, also often called "telepresence," allows one to see, be seen and to act from afar in another physical or virtual scene. A minimum of one person per sofa allows the distant participants to sit next to, on top of, far apart from each other, gesture and otherwise interact telematically in virtual space on the monitor by moving freely in their own respective physical environments. The system reflects the viewer in a way that includes the reality of a different person elsewhere. A live television image may run concurrently behind the users, providing imagery that has no counterpart or referent in either physical space. Except for the suggestive metaphor of the sofa, there is no predetermined program. This form of interaction may be defined as an "open system" that depends solely on the users' level of participation. (Drawn from the artist's statement)


The media are more than conduits; they are also"places" or virtual realms, each with its own characteristics. Where do two people talking on the telephone meet, but in cyberspace? The virtual bed of 'Telematic Dreaming' in June 1992, and the table of 'The Telematic Séance' in April 1993 give that shared virtual realm a metaphoric shape freighted with semantic values. "Telematic Vision" developed this project further by swapping the bed metaphor with the less intimate sofa from which participants watch closed-circuit, live television of themselves.

Of the three modes of interaction -- human/human, human/machine and machine/machine -- "Telematic Vision" belongs primarily to the first and seemingly the best understood. Virtual space in this installation appears at first to be a one-to-one analog of physical space and its cause and effect relationships. However, media do not only transmit, they transform symbols that are exchanged in specific ways. The psychic effects of seeing the image of one's own body folded into hybrid imagery or of the experience of agency within this virtual realm are not so easy to anticipate.

In 1992, "dreamers" on a bed in Helsinki and on another bed in Lapland were united on one virtual bed on screen. The artist "discovered the ability to exist outside of my own space and time. A live video projection of my body, on a bed 500 miles away, was psychologically alarming." He describes consciousness as racing "back and forth between the cause and effect of the remote and local body form. It is a means of extending consciousness through a technological extension of the body."› Another participant in the Amsterdam incarnation of "Telematic Dreaming," Susan Kozel›reports experiencing a little electric shock at the virtual "touch" of a partner on screen. With the use of a blue-screen sheet, a participant could also "erase" part or all of his or her cyber-body. "Dreamers' could overlap and meld their images into monstrous condensations of body parts or "cyber-bodies." (Note that the distant body appears more distinctly on screen than the more spectral look of the local on-screen body.)

By not transmitting sound, Sermon has chosen to explore the visual and kinetic codes of proxemic relations, that is, the relative distance of human bodies in private/social exchange, rather than verbal exchanges. A cyberspace couple on the bed can interact in any way gesture allows. The dematerialization of gestures and objects tendered, far from undermining their meaning, makes images and actions naked of anything but symbolic meaning and all the more powerful therefore. Thus, the stage has been set for an exploration of the effect of symbolic acts on the pysche. Is this virtual realm utterly free and without consequences in the physical world? More often than not, Susan Kozel reports the behavior of visitors was predictable, constrained by an automatic code of behavior for sexual and social interaction called forth by the "bed," to which can be added, mutatis mutandi, "couch." Here is room for play and innovation; however, far from being an open dream space that escapes the inscription of gender, race or other embodied marker of meaning, the virtual sofa and bed are naked of all else but such symbols.

However, the installation of Telematic Vision, evokes more than symbol "couch," it invokes a familial scene of›television watching in the living room. Machiko Kusahara has pointed the irony in using what amounts to a teleconferencing›system dedicated to business uses and related to the video game for this purpose. "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." However, that "family" is composed of strangers, reunited electronically just for the length of a spontaneous public performance in a haunting reminder of utopian values that these media have themselves undermined.


Paul Sermon's experiments with "telematics" or "telepresence" continue research that began in the late 1960's using satellites to link live interaction in sound and image between two or more sites. (Cyberarts)› This strand of experimentation also has predessors in the closed-circuit video and installation art of the early 1970's.› (Morse) Artists of the time experimented not only with "narcissism, but with temporal and spatial displacements of body and its image that reveal the gap between a body and its imaginary self or "identity." (Lacan)› Sermon's sofa is the site of a collective imaginary, a public "family" reunion, albeit as a surreal composition of bodies without a counterpart in physical reality, akin to the condensations Freud identified in dreams. What the "live" mixture of bodies in Sermon's work exposes is the far from explored field of human relations as they have become inflected with and transformed by technology.


Kozel, Susan, "Spacemaking: Experiences of a Virtual Body," Dance Theater Journal 11 n.3 (Autumn 1994), pp.12-13, 31 , 46-47

Kusahara, Machiko.› "A Topology of Body and Space." published?

Lacan, "The Mirror Stage"

Morse, Virtualities "Virtually Live"

Sermon, ars interview