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Think about the People Now, 1998, courtesy of Paul Sermon. Golden Nica Award, Prix Ars Electronica, Linz
'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)
'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.'
'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)
Images from Earth Signals, 1990, courtesy of Paul Sermon
For the full article see: Unknown File
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).
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)
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)
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)
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).
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.
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.
see Paul Sermon's statement about the piece at [link]
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.
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)
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.
See Paul Sermon's statement about this work at [link]
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]