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Think about the People Now, 1998, courtesy of Paul Sermon. Golden Nica Award, Prix Ars Electronica, Linz

How do user-determined narratives effect presence?
Does telepresence fragment or augment presence?
Does telepresence take place 'between' sites?
Is presence always located?

Paul Sermon writes:

'My work in the field of telematic arts explores the emergence of user-determined narrative between remote participants who are brought together within a shared telepresent environment. Through the use of live chroma-keying and videoconferencing technology these divided audience participants enter a video installation and initially suppose they entering a passive space - sitting, standing or sometimes lying within it. Their presence within the space is recorded live on video camera and mapped in real-time, via a chroma-key video mixer, with an identical camera view of another participant in an identical installation space – combining two shots of live action by replacing a blue or green back drop in one image with the image of the other. The two spaces which can be any geographical distance apart are linked via an H.323 internet videoconference connection, making it possible to link and combine these telematic installations and there performing audiences between almost any location in the world.' (in Zapp, 2004)

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'This is essentially how all my installation projects function, but what is most surprising for the intended viewer is that they form an integral part within these telematic experiments, which simply wouldn’t function without their presence and forced participation within it. The audience participant rapidly becomes a performer, or at best an actor within these spaces, by observing their body within a telepresent space represented on self-view video monitors in front of them.'

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'As an artist I am both designer of the environment and director of the narrative, which I determine through the social and political context that I choose to play out these telepresent encounters in. This is exemplified in my installation “There’s no simulation like home” produced at Fabrica Gallery Brighton in 1999.' (in Zapp: 2004)

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Images from Earth Signals, 1990, courtesy of Paul Sermon

For the full article see: Broken Document IconUnknown File

Telematic Dreaming (1992)

Here Sermon utilised two beds set in different locations. On one bed, in a space inaccessible to the audience, was the artist himself; on the other bed was the spectator. Through a camera, the bed on which the artist lay was projected onto the bed in the exhibition space so that ‘a visitor can lie or sit with “the artist” on this bed and both can react to each other and make contact, at a distance’ (Mulder and Post, 2000: 75).

Telematic Dreaming took place:
Between two local sites at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford England, April 1999 (in permanent collection).
Between two local sites at the Spazio Mostre dei Portici in Turin for ArsLab 3 December 11th 1998 to January 31st 1999 (catalogue printed).
Between two locations in Amsterdam for the V2 Organization, The Netherlands, January 1998.
Between two local sites at the Maribor Cultural Center for the 3rd Slovenian International Computer Arts Festival in Maribor, Slovenia, October 1997 (catalogue printed).
Between the Ars Electronica Center Linz and the Global Village Festival Vienna via 64 Kbit ISDN, February 97.
Between two sites in Linz Austria, for the Ars Electronica Center Linz via 64 Kbit ISDN January 97.
Between Zone Gallery Newcastle and Camerawork Gallery London via 384 Kbit ISDN for the ExMachina Exhibition London/Newcastle UK, November 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at the Kulturvermerke Symposium in Gmunden, Austria, October 21 to 27 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at the Ciberria Festival in Bilbao, Spain, October 3 to 10 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at ARTELEKU for the Advanced technology and cultural dissidence worshop in San Sebastian, Spain, August 19 to 23 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at the Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona for the Sonar 96 festival in Barcelona, Spain, June 13 to 15 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at the Kunsthalle Wien for the Wunschmaschine Welterfindung exhibition in Vienna, Austria, June to August 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at the Créteil Maison des Arts for the EXIT exhibition in Créteil, France, March 1996 (programme printed).
Between two local sites at the Portuguese Telecom Gallery for the Images du Futur exhibition in Lisbon, Portugal, February to March 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two remote sites in Tokyo for the InterCommunication Centre (ICC) exhibition, Tokyo, Japan, November 1995 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at the Images du Futur exhibition in Montréal, Canada, May to September 1995 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites in Maubeuge for the VIVAS 95 Exhibition in Maubeuge, France, April 1995.-
Between two local sites for the Ik + de Ander Exhibition in Amsterdam at the former Amsterdam Stock exchange in The Netherlands, June to August 1994 (catalogue printed).
Between two local sites at the V2 - Unstable Media Festival in s'Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, October 1993 (programme printed).
Between Kajaani Art Gallery and Helsinki Telegalleria for the Kajaani Koti exhibition, supported by Telecom Finland, June to August 1992.

Susan Kozel describes her emotions in seeing the piece as follows ‘by observing monitors around his bed, he was able to respond to the movements of the person. The effect was astonishing: it was one of contact improvisation between an image and a person, between ghost and matter.’ (Kozel, 1994a: 36).

In watching the piece, what is striking is that the virtual ‘presence’ is reduced to a flat image and yet it is clearly this image that leads and even directs the piece. As Kozel notes, 'the intimacy between the two divergent bodies was compelling. The people tended to be shy of Paul’s image on the bed. It was common for them to sit upright on the edge of the bed and tentatively reach for his hands. He responded slowly, gently, making his movements match theirs. He danced with them. It became clear that the position of power was Paul’s. Paradoxically, even though he appeared as a projected image he was still able to intimidate. (...) In his work Paul’s body became virtual (i.e. a projected image), yet the rapport between image and person was very real and evoked a social and sexual dynamic familiar to us all.' (Kozel, 1994a: 36)

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Telematic Dreaming ‘deliberately plays with the ambiguous connotations of a bed as a telepresent projection surface.’ (Sermon in Wilson, 2002: 520). It is precisely the context of the bed that makes the experiment more socially charged.

Sermon describes this experience as follows 'the ability to exist outside of the user’s own space and time is created by an alarmingly real sense of touch that is enhanced by the context of the bed and caused by an acute shift of senses in this telematic space. (...) once the viewer takes on the role of the performer they lose contact with the audience and discover that the actual performance is taking place within the telematic space, and not on the bed or sofa (..) Bringing your self back to your actual body is as hard as getting your self onto the bed or sofa in the first place, and being able to communicate in the actual space and the telematic space simultaneously is almost impossible.' (Sermon in Wilson, 2002: 520)

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Interestingly, the socially changed environment of the bed almost intensified both the performer and the viewer’s experience of the piece. What appeared to be happening here was the absorption of the real into the virtual. The use of the medium in fact re-focused the viewer’s attention so that the viewer perceived themselves as within the screen in the first instance and outside the screen only if and when distracted from the world of the screen itself. Thus, for instance, Kozel describes her experience of performing the piece as follows 'the bed became my performance space. Our movement occurred in real time, but in a space which was entirely created by technology. I was alone on my bed, moving my arm and legs in physical space as if in some sort of hypnotic ritual dance, yet in virtual space I carried on intense physical improvisation with other unknown bodies.' (Kozel, 1994b: 12)

Moreover, as Sermon points out 'when you move around in the bed, you actually look at a monitor, looking at your own body movement. That body is really where the effect is, and where your body effect is, is really where you are.' (Sermon in anon, 1994: 87)

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Kozel describes this experience as ‘one of extending my body, not losing or substituting it.’ (Kozel, 1994b: 13). This appropriation of the representation as a prosthetic part of one’s own body explains Kozel’s reactions when faced with threatening behaviour by one member of the audience who had a knife and made her feel uncomfortable (Kozel, 1994b: 13), or another who elbowed her in the stomach and made her actually feel physically shaken (Kozel, 1994b: 31), or, even more brutally, when two members of the audience literally assaulted her virtual image, an incident so horrific that Kozel detached herself from her virtual persona in what she describes as ‘an involuntary act of self preservation – a primordial reaction in a sophisticated technological context.’ (Kozel, 1994b: 13).

Telematic Vision (1993)

Here, two sofas positioned in two different locations were integrated virtually through ISDN telephone links. These transmitted live chromakey-edited video images through which participants could interact telematically in the virtual space created on the monitor by moving in their own respective environments.

Telematic Vision took place:
Between two locations in the Millennium Dome Play Zone - London, UK, January 2000
Between the Stadthalle in Gütersloh and the ZKM in Karlsruhe for the 1998 Carl Bertelsmann Prize giving ceremony, September 1998
Between two locations at the Siggraph 98 Touchware art show in Orlando, USA, July 1998 (catalogue printed).
Used as a television stage set for the WDR Cyberstar 98 Prize giving ceremony, between two locations in the Komed Building at the Media Park in Cologne, Germany, June 1998.
Between the Museum fuer Kommunikation in Bern and the Teo Jakob shop window situated in Bern central train station, Switzerland, June to August 1998.
Between two gallery sites at the Croydon Clocktower Gallery, Croydon, London, England, September to November 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between the two exhibition gallery sites at the 3rd Lyon Biennale, France, December 1995 to February 1996 (catalogue printed).
Between two remote sites in Tokyo for the InterCommunication Centre (ICC) exhibition, Tokyo Japan, November 1995 (catalogue printed).
Between two exhibition halls for the German Telecom stand at the CeBIT 95 in Hannover, Germany, March 1995 (catalogue printed).
Between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Marina Hotel for the ISEA 94International Symposium of Electronic Art in Helsinki, Finland, September 1994 (programme printed).
Between the Netherlands Design Institute in Amsterdam and the Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany, June 1994.
Between the Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe and the Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) Multimediale 3 exhibition in Karlsruhe, Germany, November 1993 (catalogue printed).
Between the Media Park Koeln and the ZKM in Karlsruhe for The interActiva 93 in Koeln, Germany, September 1993 (programme printed).

Viewers found themselves sitting on a real sofa watching a television that was broadcasting their own presence in the ‘real’ space. They could see themselves as another would see them. As in Sermon’s words, viewers were able to create ‘their own television program by becoming the voyeurs of their own spectacle.’ (Sermon, 2003).

However, once a viewer from the other remote location also sat on their own sofa, the two images were merged and viewers could see themselves sitting alongside the viewers from the remote location. Once viewers were connected on the television set, they could start to explore the possibilities of interaction offered by the virtual encounter through a joint telematic vision.

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see Paul Sermon's statement about the piece at [link]

The Tables Turned (1997)

Similar dynamics were explored in The Tables Turned which consisted of a table and a number of chairs set in two different locations. The drawers of each table contained fragments of texts and objects. One or more viewers sitting at one table could interact virtually with the viewers sitting at the other table and attempt to create a coherent narrative by putting together the fragments re-composing the last verse of William Wordsworth’s Ballad ‘The Tables Turned’ (1798) after which the piece is named (Schwarz, 1997: 146). Viewers could also just try to interact with one another by hiding parts of their own bodies through a glove or mask and see how they could superimpose themselves upon the viewers in the other room.

The Tables Turned took place:
Between the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, via 384 Kbit ISDN for the Cibervisión 99 Festival, November 1999
Between two local sites at the ZKM Media Museum for the Net Condition Exhibition in Karlsruhe, Germany, September 22nd 1999 to January 9th 2000 (catalogue printed).
Between the Ars Electronica Center Linz in Austria, and the Windows over Europe Festival Stockholm, Sweden, April 1998.
Between the Ars Electronica Center Linz and the Global Village Festival Vienna, Austria, March 1998.
Between two local sites at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria, December 1997 to September 1999.
Between the ZKM Karlsruhe and the Ars Electronica Center in Linz via 384 Kbit ISDN for the ZKM Media Museum - Exhibited at the ZKM Multimedial 5 in Karlsruhe, Germany, October 1997 (catalogue printed).

As suggested by Sermon, in The Tables Turned: 'viewers start to explore the space and understand they are now in complete physical control of a telepresent body that can interact with the other person. The more intimate and sophisticated the interaction becomes, the further the user enters into the telematic space. The division between the remote telepresent body and actual physical body disappears, leaving only one body that exists in and between both locations.' (Sermon, 2003)

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The viewers’ relation to their own telepresent bodies in this piece was almost prosthetic-like, as if the virtual body was more of an extension of the real than a representation of it. As indicated by Sermon, the better the interaction, the less aware the viewers appeared of their ‘real’ surroundings, thus, at least for a moment, allowing the viewer to exist virtually, between locations. Here, as in Telematic Vision, distant geographies were therefore allowed to be seen in a flickering moment of co-habitation.

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See Paul Sermon's statement about this work at [link]

Does telepresence double presence?
Do events happen twice in telepresence?

Paul Virilio points out that when individuals communicate in real-time through interactive techniques, 'the direct, face-to-face contact is made possible by the absolute speed of electromagnetic waves, regardless of the intervals in time and space that actually separate them. Here the event does not take ‘place’ or rather, it takes place twice. The topic aspect gives way to the teletopic aspect, the unity of time and place is split between the transmission and reception of the signals, both here and there simultaneously, thanks to the technical wizardry of electromagnetic interactivity.' (Virilio in V2, 1997: 339, original emphases).

According to Virilio, an event occurring in a telematic encounter that is the result of the overlapping of two or more locations, as is the case of Sermon’s Telematic Vision and The Tables Turned, occurs 'twice’, in the real and, ‘simultaneously’, in the virtual. This suggests, in Virilio’s words, that: 'the ‘real’ and the ‘represented’ are being switched optically in such a way that the body of the observer is the only thing still present in his here and now and becomes the last mainstay of someone who is otherwise immersed in a virtual environment.' (Virilio in V2, 1997: 339-343)

The interplay of the real and the virtual is schizophrenic in nature. The observer is still physically in the ‘real’ and yet what they see represented is not a mere ‘representation’ of themselves but a technologically mediated real, a ‘switched’ real. Not only in Sermon’s works are the virtual and the real intertwined, as if engaged in the chasing game of real, virtual and mediation, but also they are interdependent, the condition sine qua non of their mutual existence.

The above extracts are from Gabriella Giannachi's Virtual Theatres: an Introduction [link]. The images are courtesy of Paul Sermon.

Sermon's extracts quoted as Zapp 2004 are from Martin Rieser and Andrea Zapp, Networked Narrative Environments [link]

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