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Telepresence & Bio Art:
Networking Humans, Rabbits and Robots,
Eduardo Kac,
University of Michigan Press, 2005
311 pages
ISBN 0472068105

This book is full of profound insights into effects of media, technology and telepresence. Kac has explored the field thoroughly and describes his reflections with great scrutiny. I think that there may be little left that is not mentioned here.

The book is ordered into three main sections and consists of different essays written between 1992-2002. Some of them published before in other journals:

I. Telecommunications, Dialogism, and Internet Art
1. The Aesthetics of Telecommunications (1992)
2. The Internet and the Future of Art (1997)
3. Beyond the Screen : Interactive Art (1998)
4. The Dialogic Imagination in Electronic Art (1999)

II. Telepresence Art and Robotics
5. Towards Telepresence Art (1992)
6. Telepresence Art (1993)
7. Telepresence Art on the Internet (1996)
8. Origin and Development of Robotic Art (1997)
9. Live from Mars (1997)
10. Dialogic Telepresence Art and Net Ecology (2000)

III. Bio Art
11. Emergence of Biotelematics and Biorobotics:
Integrating Biology, Information Processing, Networking, and Robotics (1997)
12. Transgenic Art (1998)
13. Genesis (1999)
14. GFP Bunny (2000)
15. The Eighth Day (2001)
16. Move 36 (2002)

Messy notes follow:

Very enlightening introduction by James Elkins about Aesthetics, History and Dialogism.

p.4 again the track that i am following: "the communication process itself became the work" "dematerialisation of the art object"

p. viii "For much of the art world, one of the purposed of an artwork is to produce a certain feeling, an affect, in the viewer." James Elkins in the introduction.

Gilberto Prado's "connect" - an endless fax between two fax machines. What was the message?
More here: (also local)

Introduction page xi

"Telecommunication, Dialogism and Internet Art""Here I defend the notion that telecommunications media enable the creation of truly dialogical art, which I define as art based on interactions among subjects."
(Don't we have this art already - and its called "language"? People communicate via spoken and written words. "Written" sending messages across time and space. Only because the new messengers are new, original soulless technical devices adds a novelty factor which excites participants and a public ... until they numb to it. And the scene moves on, driven by originality Think of all the "shadow-interaction projects of the early nineties when of-the-shelf video tracking software became available.)

"Telepresence Art and Robotics"

"... my development of an aesthetics of telepresence based on the coupling of telematics and robotics. I define telepresence art as enabling the participant to have a sense of his or her own presence in a remote environment."

Kac differentiates between telecommunications and telematics and avoids great confusion by doing so.
One is communication and dialogue, the other about "going there" and "doing" something!
This is a desperate cut to bring clarity into hopelessly complex and ambiguous field defying any categorisation as both practices employ the same devices and technologies.

1. The Aesthetics of Telecommunications

p.3 "images and graphics stand not as a "result" but as documentation of the process of visual dialogue promoted by the participants."
p.4 "... the communication process itself became the work."
"dematerialization of the art object" since Duchamp (language, video, electronic displays, printing techniques, happenings, mail art, etc.)

"The new immaterial art is collaborative and interactive and abolishes the state of unidirectionality traditionally characteristic of literature and art. Its elements are text, sound, image, and eventually virtual touch based on force-feedback devices. These elements are out of balance; they are signs that are already shifting as gestures, as eye contact, as transfiguration of perpetually unfulfilled meaning. (I have no idea what he means by this.) What is commuted is changed, re-changed, exchanged. One must explore this new art in its own terms, that is, understanding its proper context (the information society) and the theories (poststructuralism, chaos theory, culture studies) that inform its questioning of notions such as subject, object, space, time, culture, and human communication. The forum where this new art operates is not the materially stable pictorial space of painting nor the Euclidian space of sculptural form; it is the electronic virtual space of telematics where signs are afloat, where interactivity destroys the contemplative notion of beholder or connoisseur form to replace it with the experiential notion of user or participant. The aesthetics of communications operates the necessary move from pictorial representation to communicational experience."

p.7 "[...] one can ask to what extent artists who create telecommunications events don't restore the same hierarchy they seem to negate by presenting themselves as the organisers or directors or creators of the events they promote-in other words, as the central figures from which meaning irradiates."

Other artists on aesthetics of communication at large and of telecommunications or telematics in particular: Roy Ascott, Bruce Breland, Karen O'Rourke, Eric Gidney, Fred Forest.

"Artists are endowed with instruments with which they reflect on contemporary issues, such as cultural relativism, scientific indeterminacy, the political economy of the information age, literary deconstruction, and the decentralisation of knowledge; artists are able to respond to these issues with the same material (hardware) and immaterial (software) means that other social spheres employ in their activities, in their communion and isolation."
(That would be nice.)

"It is not with sheer enthusiasm for new tools that the artist will work with communication technologies, but with critical, sceptical approach concerning the logic of mediation they entail."
Haha. Wish it was! This is an ideal vision. Reality is that most media art projects out there are mediocre, technology driven, fantastically content free besides being inaccessible, obscure and cryptic. There is hardly any skilled, transparent and critical engagement with timeless or contemporary issues but an arms-race of ever more overwhelming and inundating technologies employed for their own sake by well meaning idiots.

Among the exceptions: Ken Goldberg with "Dislocation of intimacy" at
How can we know? On Telepistemology.

Interactive architectures, chronology:
Vladimir Tatlin ...
Lazlo Moholy-Nagy "Light-Space Modulator," 1930
Nicolas Schöffer "Tour Lumière Cybernétique," 1963
Toyo Ito, "Tower of the Winds," 1986

- Early Telegraph art by DADA, Duchamp, Tsara!!
- Early telephone art (and the comment that the telephone is not described with the attention it deserves. Absolutely! Especially if we look at the comparison between video-phone and traditional audio-phone.)

"Telecommunications and computer systems when they converge create an electronic space which presents radially new possibilities for the artist. I is an interactive space in which the locations of the participants are irrelevant. The message system is not simply "send-receive"; meaning is generated out of negotiations between participants in the system who, because of computer mediation, can access this new information space asynchronically - that is, without constraints of time of space such that times of access, of input and retrieval need not be linear."
Roy Ascott in "Electra: Electricity and Electronics in the Art of the Twentieth Century, Paris, 1983 p. 398
(What mailing lists were and blogs are now.)

Some project connect people by phone, fax, mail, electronic data exchange - others connect places with the same technologies. (One use to call a PLACE - before mobile phones. Now we call mobile INDIVIDUALS.)
Kac resolves this problem by creating two distinct categories: Communication Art and Telepresence & Robotics, both having their individual chapters in the book.

p. 50 "Traditionally, as in the sign/idea relationship, representation (painting, sculpture) is that which takes its place as absence (the sign is that which evokes the object in its absence). Likewise, experience (happening, performance) is that which takes place as presence (one only experiences something when this something is present in the field of perception.) In telecommunications art, presence and absence are engaged in a long-distance call that upsets the poles of representation and experience. The telephone is in constant displacement; it is logo-centric, but its phonetic space, now in congruity with inscription systems (fax, email), signifies in the absence more typically associated with writing (absence of sender absence of receiver). The telephone momentarily displaces presence and absence to instantiate experience not as pure presence but, as Derrida wrote, as "chains of differential marks."

McQuail, Windahl (1981): Communication Models For The Study Of Mass Communication

p.51 "Contemporary artists must work with the immaterial means of our time and address the pervasive influence of new technologies in every aspect of our time."

From the appendix: The first of three Futurist Radio ideas:

Three Futurist Radio Syntheses from 1933

Translated by Eduardo Kac
F.T. Marinetti and Pino Masnata

Drama of Distance
11 seconds of a military march in Rome
11 seconds of a tango danced in Santos
11 seconds of Japanese religious music played in Tokyo
11 seconds of lively folk dance in the countryside of Varese
11 seconds of a boxing match in New York
11 seconds of road noises in Milan
11 seconds of a Neapolitan aria sung in the Hotel Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro

4. Negotiating meaning: The Dialogic Imagination in Electronic Art

p. 103 Dialogical is a term familiar in literary criticism and philosophy - but new to the arts.
They are tropes, metaphors that support analysis of cultural products that are materially self-contained. (a book itself is not a dialogue)

Works of art created with telematic media are communication events in which information flows in multiple directions. These events aim not to represent a transformation in the structure of communication but to create the experience of it. (???)

1. identify and articulate the field of dialogical art
2. clear difference between dialogical and interactive art
3. dialogical art is intersubjective
4. real dialogues media can explore and develop radical dialogical aesthetics.

Interrelationships and connectivity are theoretical concepts, but tangible processes.

Why not slow and meditative?

Dialogical art has collapsed the sender/receiver bipolarity of Jakobsons schematic communication model. (Addressee - Message - Addresser incl. Channel, code and context)

contingency + immediacy.

Meaning emerges in dialogical relations with the other.

The spirit is not in individuals, but between them.

p. 111 "The ontological rubric of "visual arts" is unable to express the gamut and complexity of the experiences developed with a truly dialogical framework."

p. 112 quoting Suzie Gablik:
"Modern aesthetics, concerned with itself as the chief source of value, did not inspire creative participation; rather, it encouraged distancing and depreciation of the Other. It is non-relational, non-interactive, non-participatory orientation did not easily accommodate the more feminine values of care and compassion, of seeing and responding to need. The notion of power that is implied by asserting one's individuality and having one's way through being invulnerable leads, finally, to a deadening of empathy." Suzie Gablik, "Connective Aesthetics: Art after Individualism"

p. 113 Quoting Vilem Flusser:
"analytic psychology is able to show that what we call an individual psyche is nothing but the tip of an iceberg of what might be called a collective psyche. Ecological studies are able to show that individual organisms must be understood to be functions of a relational context best called an ecosystem. Politological studies can show that "individual man" and "society" are abstract terms (there is no man outside society, and no society without men), and that the concrete fact is intersubjective relations. This relational (topological) vision of our position coincides with the relational vision of the physical and biological sciences propose to us with regard to the physical world. The physical objects are now seen to be knots within relational fields, and the living organisms are now seen to be provisional protuberances out from the flow of genetic information. Husserl's phenomenology is possibly the most adequate articulation of this relational vision, and it is becoming ever more adequate as our knowledge advances. It states (to put it in a nutshell) that what is concrete in the world we live in, are relations, and that what we call "subjects" and "objects" are abstract extrapolations from these concrete relations."
Vilem Flusser, "On memory (electronic or otherwise)"

He calls the visitor and interactant.

Aaron Marcus, 1972
"An X on America" Drawing an X on a map and calling public phones located there.

And from the notes:
My objective is to propose the creation of art that transforms unidirectional communication systems into dialogical media. Thus, by "dialogical media" I literally mean media that enable the experience of dialogical interaction in real time. (Of course, it is possible to create dialogical interaction with asynchronic systems or media, such as mail art, but my emphasis here is on synchronic interaction.) As a result, the meaning I ascribe to the word dialogicalis different from the meaning assigned to it by Bakhtin, for whom a novel is a complex utterance and therefore a part of a larger dialogue. Likewise, the way i imply the word monologicaldiffers from Bakthin's theory.
Mmhh, not sure. Wasn't recently someone killed by a collapsing Richard Serra sculpture? This is and extreme case, but very dialogical!!

6. Telepresence Art

p.139 "Telepresence is pursued by scientists as a pragmatic and operational medium that aims at equating robotic and human experience. The goal is for the anthropomorphic features of the robot to match the nuances of human gestures. In this search for an "operational double," to use Baudrillard's term, humans wearing flexible armatures will, scientists believe, have a quantifiable feeling of "being there." While it is clear that actions will be performed by telepresence routinely in the future, I do not think that the ability to execute specific tasks, which captivates scientists, is what will interest artists working with telepresence. It is certainly not what stimulates me. The idea of telepresence as an art medium is not about technological feat, the amazing sensation of "being there," or any practical application whose success is measured by accomplishing goals.

I see telepresence art as a means for questioning the unidirectional communication structures that mark both traditional fine arts (painting, sculpture) and mass media (Television, radio). I see telepresence art as a way to express on an aesthetic level the cultural changes brought about by remote control, remote vision, telekinesis, and real-time exchange of audiovisual information. I see telepresence art as challenging the teleological nature of technology. To me, telepresence art creates a unique context in which participants are invited to experience invented remote worlds from perspective and scales other then human."

p. 141-142: Core data
"At different levels we subordinate local space to remote action, promoting what Baudrillard so succinctly describes as "the satellitization of the real." What we understand by communication is changing because because physical distances of the public space no longer impose absolute restrictions on certain kinds of bodily experience (audition, mobility, vision, touch, proprioception) as they once did.

In his essay "Signature Event Context," Derrida points out the multi-vocal nature of the word
communication "We also speak of different or remote places communicating with each other by means of a passage or opening. What takes place, in this sense, what is transmitted, communicated, does not involve phenomena of meaning or signification. In such cases we are dealing neither with a semantic or conceptual content, nor with a semiotic operation, and even less with a linguistic exchange."

It is this opening, this passage between two spaces, that defines the nature of the particular communication experience created by telepresence art. This opening is not a context for "self-expression" (of the author or participant); it is not a channel for communicating semiologically defined messages; it is not a pictorial space where aesthetic formal issues are structurally relevant; it is not an event from which one can clearly extract specific meanings."

p. 145: Core data!
"As we enter the age of telepresence we seek to establish an equivalence between 'actual presence' and 'vicarial presence.' This vicarial presence is destroying the organising principle upon which our society has, until now, been constructed. We have called this principle the law of proximity: what is close is more important, true, or concrete than what is far away, smaller, and more difficult to access (all other factors being equal). We are aspiring, henceforth, to a way of life in which the distance between us and objects is becoming irrelevant to our realm of consciousness. In this respect, telepresence also signifies a feeling of equidistance of everyone from everybody else, and from each of us to any world event."
Abraham A. Moles, "Design and Immateriality: What of It in a Post-Industrial Society?," in The Immaterial Society; Design, Culture and Technology in the Postmodern World, Marco Diani, ed. (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1992), pp. 27-28.

Wow, someone has formulated it to the point!!! Thanks for digging out this jewel! Its like a voice of reason from a distant epoch resonating into ours where it is, to late since the longest of times.

And it is also exactly my reality live in "Sheffield" but actually i live on iChat with all my people there day and night. I don't need to be here. Here i breath and eat etc. but my home is voices of blogs and a sense of presence on aim.

last update: 11/19/02012 0:59

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