Telematics
Paul Sermon

"Telematic Dreaming" began in Finland in June 1992. I received a commissioned from the Finnish ministry of culture to take part in the "Koti" exhibition, the Finnish word for "home", at the Kajaani Art Gallery. The title of the show was drawn from the notion of home as Jean Baudrillard presented it in his essay "The "Ecstasy of Communication". The commission came at a time when I was currently exhibiting "Think about the people now", a hypermedia joystick orientated programme produced on a Commodore Amiga computer. The piece focused on the media interpretation of the events in London's Whitehall on the annual "Remembrance Sunday" in 1990, when a man in the crowd set fire to himself in protest. The programme allowed the user to reconstruct the events through the misleading accounts of the media. The work was awarded the Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Electronica in 1991 and was later exhibited at the MuuMedia festival in Helsinki in 1992. It was here that I made the original contact with the "Koti" exhibition.

By this time I was very enthusiastic about starting a new project that would deal more directly with my earlier research in the area of telematics. This was really my background. Previous to "Think about the people now" I had been working on several art-telecommunication and computer networking events, initially as a student of professor Roy Ascott and later as his colleague. As a student at the School of Fine Art in Newport, South Wales, I was enthralled by Ascott's vision of a networked community and its global authorship. However, It was in the form of a "telematic workstation" we were manifesting this view that presented a conceptual problem for me. To understand a telematic art event you must be able to comprehend the dynamics of the computer network, which is only possible by accessing the network and interacting directly on the artwork yourself. This required a new criterion, the artist and the viewer become one in the same thing - a user, and the artwork is in an endless transformation of interpretation. This was the concept five years before the WWW had exploded onto the Internet, when public access was extremely less than it is today. We were setting up "telematic workstations" (clusters of Macintosh computer terminals), in public exhibition spaces and festival sites, connecting them via modems to the European Academic Research Network (EARN), now referred to as the Internet, and exchanging E-Mail letters, texts, reports, stories, poems, riddles, lies and confessions, we even found elaborate ways to convert simple images into asci text and attach them to E-Mail messages. These telematic events involved a large number of contributors from around the world, of which the "Digital Art Exchange" at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and the Hochschule fur Angewandte Kunst in Vienna had collaborated with us on numerous occasions. It was the very last project of this kind I took part in that I felt most satisfied with. In March 1991, two weeks before the end of the Gulf War, we installed a telematic workstation at the Watershed Media Center in Bristol, concurrently to similar installations in Vienna and Pittsburgh, entitled "Texts, Bombs & Videotape". We performed a telematic critique, demonstration and satire of the media war in the Gulf. This particular workstation succeeded in manifesting the interactive discourse in the form of a performance, the workstation itself became a simulation of the TV news room scenario, reconstituting information - making media about media. It was this project that brought me towards the concept for "Think about the people now" and consequently to Finland the following year in 1992.

It was the decision of the "Koti" exhibition curators to use Jean Baudrillard's essay as a starting point for a new installation. Initially, it would not have been my first choice, since "The Ecstasy of Communication" is contra to the concept of my previous telematic work. However, Baudrillard's theoretical position does identify the problematic form of the "telematic workstation", which was extremely influential on the development of "Telematic Dreaming" and later works. Whilst I am in support of his opinion, I am not of his critique. The following quote is taken from a much earlier essay entitled "Xerox and Infinity" that clearly identifies Baudrillard's position.

"The celibacy of the machine brings about the celibacy of "Telematic Man". Exactly as he grants himself the spectacle of his brain and of his intelligence as he sits in front of the computer or word-processor, the "Telematic Man" gives himself the spectacle of his fantasies and of a virtual "jouissance" as he sits in front of his "minitel rose". He exorcises "jouissance" or intelligence in the interface with the machine. The Other, the sexual or cognitive interlocutor, is never really aimed at - crossing the screen evokes the crossing of the mirror. The screen itself is targeted as the point of interface. The machine (the interactive screen) transforms the process of communication, the relation from one to the other, into a process of commutation, ie. the process of reversibility from the same to the same. The secret of the interface is that the Other is within it virtually the Same - otherness being surreptitiously confiscated by the machine."

Jean Baudrillard "Xerox and Infinity" pages 5. 6. ISBN 0-33701-88-9 Touchepas. Originally published "Le Xerox et L Infini", Paris 1987

"Telematic Dreaming" is an installation that exists within the ISDN telephone network. Two individual interfaces are located in separate locations, these interfaces in themselves are dynamic installation systems that function as customized videoconferencing units. Double beds are positioned within both locations, one site is blacked out, the other illuminated. The bed in the light space has a camera situated directly above it, sending a live video image of the bed and a viewer/user laying on it, to a video projector located above the other bed in the blacked out room. The live video image is projected down onto the bed with another person laying on it. A second camera, next to the video projector, sends a live video image of the projection on the bed back to a series of monitors that surround the bed in the illuminated location. Quite simply, the telepresent image functions like a mirror that reflects one person within another persons reflection. "Telematic Dreaming" deliberately plays with the ambiguous connotations of a bed as a telepresent projection surface. The psychological complexity of the object dissolves the geographical distance and technology involved in the complete ISDN installation. The ability to exist outside of the users 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. The users consciousness is within the telepresent body controlled by a voyeurism of its self. The cause and effect interactions of the body determine its own space and time, by extending this through the ISDN fiber optic network, the body can travel at the speed of light and locate itself wherever it is interacting. In "Telematic Dreaming" the two users exchange their tactile senses and touch each other by replacing their hands with their eyes.

The success of "Telematic Dreaming" introduced me to Jeffrey Shaw from the "Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnology" (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany. Shaw l ater invited me to become an Artist in Residence at the ZKM, to research and produce a new telematic installation for the "ZKM - MultiMediale 3" in November 1993. It was my intention not to deviate too far from "Telematic Dreaming", to produce a work that was very similar in its technique and form.

"Telematic Vision" is an installation that exists within a telepresent space, located between two large blue sofas that are geographical separated. A video camera, situated directly in front of one sofa, sends a live image, of a viewer/user sitting on it, to a chroma-key "blue-box" video mixer. Another camera situated in front of the other sofa sends an image of the second sofa and another person to the same video mixer. The two sofa images are mixed together, putting the two dispersed viewers/users together on the same sofa and telepresent screen. The combined image is finally fed to a series of monitors that surround each sofa, making it possible to control the body at a distance from all angels around each sofa. In many ways the sofa and the bed amount to much the same thing, they can transform themselves into each other, as a "sofa/bed". The semiology of the bed, that proved to be so effective in "Telematic Dreaming", is also present within the sofa and is equally as effective. Where "Telematic Vision" and its sofa differ from "Telematic Dreaming" and its bed, is in the scenario and theater of its spectacle. The sofa finds itself between the bed and the television, whilst it retains the semiotic reference to the bed, it also refers directly to television. The television and sofa are caught up in an inseparable scenario. In "Telematic Vision" the sofa is the seat from which the spectacle of television is viewed, and the only spectacle that is viewed is the audience who sit on the sofa.

In both works, "Telematic Dreaming and "Telematic Vision", the viewers/users can only communicate by visual gestures, vocal contact is not possible. They have to adopt the role of silent performers, without them the installations are only vacant spaces of melodramatic potential. As an artist I provide the context, I design the dynamics of the system around an object of psychological complexity, such as a bed or a sofa. For this reason, the work is extremely intense, and audiences are sometimes reluctant to take up the role of the performer. This is usually because they are initially concerned about performing in front of an audience. However, 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. The performers lose consciousness of the embarrassing situation they had previously assumed and become the user. They do not notice that the local body is moving in local space, they are only aware of the distant body interacting in telematic space. A new heightened perception of the self is developed. The performers actual body can only be viewed from within, whereas the users telepresent body can be viewed from a far. Bringing your self back to your actual body is as hard as getting yourself 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. "Telematic Dreaming and "Telematic Vision" can clarify that my body is wherever it is interacting, and that it can interact wherever I chose to telepresent it.