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Roy Ascott, "La Plissure du text," 1983

Areas: telematic art, dialogical,
Roy Ascott’s “The pleating of the text - a planetary fairy tale” (“La plissure du texte”) was one of the first events called telepresence art and consisted of 14 groups (some sources count 11, others 15) of participants based in Paris, Vienna, Hawaii, Pittsburgh, Australia, Amsterdam and other places around the world. Participants collaboratively wrote a story together over a period of three weeks. Each group/city was assigned an archetypal fairytale character and Roy Ascott started the event with the lines “Once upon a time ... ” from the main venue in Paris, the “Electra” exhibition. A group would begin writing a story over a day’s course and pass it on to another group via the I.P. Sharp Computer Mail Box system. This group continued the story. Over the course of three weeks the narrative developed. If one looks at this story today it leaves little of the appeal and excitement it conveyed during the period it was created. Ascott says about this: “The result was a huge Joycean collage, entirely unreadable of course, but the process of telematic collaboration was the real content of the piece.” (Ascott in Popper)**1** We realise that the work of art was not the story as such, but the context and the communication that led to its creation. The whole was more of a performance than telepresence. As these technologies are commonplace now we may even say that this piece could not be repeated with the same effects upon the participants and audience today.
Art historian Frank Popper writes “in this type of event, it is not the exchanged content that matters, but rather the network that is activated and the functional conditions of the exchange. The aesthetic object is replaced be the immateriality of the field tensions and by vital and organic energy. [...] Finally, the event activates a new phenomenology of virtual, deferred, or remote presence and evokes a feeling of the Kantian ‘sublime’, a sense of truly inexpressible awe.” (Popper, 1997, 126)
This “inexpressible awe” seems to be created by the new technology that allows the remote parties to communicate in real-time from time zone to time zone. Robert Adrian, himself a Telematic Art pioneer, also commented about it: “the content is the contact” (Popper, 1997, 134). Ascott used this new global networking technology with the hope that providing the participating artists with a platform to easily connect and exchange ideas which would facilitate collaboration on a local as well as a global scale and would provide a “tangible immersive experience.”**2** Frank Popper comments on this: “For Ascott, the art of our time is one of system, process, participation and interaction. As our values are relativistic, our cultures pluralistic, our images and forms evanescent, it is the processes of interaction between human beings which create meaning and consequently cultures.” (Popper, 1993, 125)
TToday this type of artistic event has almost disappeared and other telepresent properties are explored that make less use of communication then transmission of real time data of different sources. Technically, this is very similar yet its results are entirely different. Instead of connecting people with people, which is done via the mobile phone network and other technologies, people are connected with places - which leaves space for contemplation, awe and excitement. A fact indicated by the persistent popularity of webcams. Other telepresence pieces of that time included live audio-visual connections (“Hole in Space,” by Rabinowitz/Galloway among many others (Wilson, 2003, 487)). Again we see an example that when a channel is enhanced by a synchronous visible or audible channel that allows people to see and hear each other, its utilitarian communication qualities dominate. The imaginative or contemplative telepresence aspects are lost to the dialogical properties of the communication medium. The telephone has a low transportation, physically we stay here while being immersed in the conversation.***1*** A Videophone draws us out of this psychologically immersive acoustic inner space - and more into the telematic visual space of the screen. Depending on real-time characteristics, bandwidth and quality of display technologies the realism and thus probably immersion increases as well. As a result transportation might increase as well, in the sense that one looses the awareness for the immediate physical place to a certain degree, but as said earlier, communication channels between people will always dominate the geographical telematic characteristics. The space folds and becomes Now, while telematics as such do leave opportunities for reflection and contemplation, especially when they are non-dialogical or when no agency is involved requiring real-time responses. Ben Shneiderman says in a different context “it’s hard to speak and think at the same time.” (Shneiderman in Thackara, 2005, 172-173)
Creating a dialogue was of course the intention of these early telepresence art projects. Communication, collaboration, exchange and talk, linked to the spirit of Happenings seemed perfectly suited for these new and expensive high-tech media usually controlled by corporations and now at the hands of subversive artistic activists.

***1***Experiencing the telephone is still an external event and only relatively internal. The difference between using a regular telephone and a binaural headset is fundamental. The telephone is a voice reaching one ear from the outside while a headset creates the hallucination right between the two ears as an inner voice, speaking from the inside.

**1**“Joycean collage,” Ascott quoted by Frank Popper, source: The archive of The Western Front Society, Vancouver, Canada: http://www.front.bc.ca/details.p?record=2393 accessed June 29th 2006.
**2**Roy Ascott in an Interview with Sabine Breitsameter in January, 2003. At http://www.swr.de/swr2/audiohyperspace/engl_version/interview/ascott.html accessed June 29th 2006

last update: 11/25/02008 15:43

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