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<nettime> Gordana Novakovic: Electronic Cruelty
geert lovink on Sat, 27 Sep 2003 05:17:37 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Gordana Novakovic: Electronic Cruelty

From: "gordana.novakovic" <gordana.novakovic {AT} btopenworld.com>

'Electronic Cruelty'
Gordana Novakovic

(presented at: 'user_mode' Symposium: Tate Modern, London; 2003;
'Consciousness Reframed 2003' Conference: CaiiA, University of Newport,
Newport; 2003; CYBER-SOCIETY-LIVE {AT} JISCMAIL.AC.UK] U.K. Academic List; 2003)

Is it the form of interactive work that separates it from and opposes it to
the tech-spectacle of massive pop-concerts, VJ clubbing and 'shoot 'em up'
online games despite the similarity in terms of the technology employed? Is
interactive work another immersive narcotic or is it potentially a form
through which ritual can re-incarnate?

The ambiguity between fascination and consternation in experiencing
interactive work might be inherent in this art's very nature - a hybrid of
art and science. However, the influence of the installation's body onto the
bodies of participants remains enigmatic.

The world is divided into a complex caste system defined in direct
proportion with the level of technological development. The flux of
financial and information data exchange within a network of interconnected
cities forms the Global City: the a-locus of superpower. The transparent
hyper-real world of the obsolete horizon shaped by new technologies defines
the contemporary aesthetics of abstraction and obsolete bodies. The citizen
of the Global City is bombarded with the obscene pornographic banality of
the mass-media spectacle. Perception fractures and disperses suffocating in
noise. The body and mind are permanently overwhelmed with a kaleidoscope of
noise: street noise, media-noise, electromagnetic noise, genetic noise.

Immersed in the borderless ocean of the city, the contemporary citizen has
the confidence that technological development has harnessed natural forces.
Nature is a trophy, an ornament, an abstraction. The archaic fear of natural
forces is replaced by the fear of technology and eternal progress. The force
that sustains us is also that which destroys us. The network that forms the
blood-circulating system of the Global City is spreading fear like a virus.
Lulled by noise, bewitched by the specatcle of fear, in the
screen-luminescent eternal twilight, global citizens are daydreaming
artificial daydreams.

Interactive aesthetics has arisen in these conditions and unless it strikes
out its own path, it is in danger of turning into another form of
tech-spectacle. Interactive installation, with its paradox of simultaneous
repulsion and fear from the impersonal automatised process on the one hand
and the acceptance of the oneiric immersion on the other is the ultimate
battleground between art and science and between the living body and
technology. The symbolic conflict between man and machine takes on a ritual
form. Instead of attempting to implant or reconstruct primordial ritual
embedded in tribal society, interactive installation can be seen as a
symbolic act of resolving contemporary tensions. Parallels are dangerous but
useful, both where they fail and where they succeed. Consequently, I do not
attempt to equate interactive installation with ritual but merely to use
certain parallels that can shed light onto some specifics of interactive

The definition of interactivity and spectacularity significantly changes
with the hypothesis that interactive installation can take a ritual form.
The root of the word spectacle is in latin specatculum or spectare: to
watch. It is related to the art of theatre that originated in and gradually
replaced the ancient rituals in Western culture. It refers nowadays to the
blend of mass-media and the entertainment industry, reflected in all
segments of contemporary life to the extent that it has become a paradigm
for contemporary social relations. However it can be applied to a certain
extent to ritual and interactive installation, this term is in opposition
with the essence of both: the active participation of the audience is the
conditio sine qua non, either in ritual or in interactive installation.

Spectacularity in interactive installation is of an entirely different
nature than mass-spectacles. It is the fluid, changeable form of interactive
installation that separates it from and opposes it to the uniform immersive
anaesthetic of tech-spectacle. From the screen and virtual space of a
particular personal computer, through endless spatial and dimensional
diversities, interactive work merges virtual and real space each time in a
unique manner. Custom-designed software and hardware architecture forms the
basis of the contrast with typified entertainment industry production. The
technology employed is to a large extent conspicuous as a constituent of the
aesthetic. Non-linearity of segmented and unstable modules, consisting of
loops in permanent change, is entirely circumstantial: intervals of
participation replace continuous duration. It is the fusion of participant
and technology in interaction that defines it and brings it into existence.
In interactive work the process of interaction materialized in
electro-magnetic and sound waves as a different class of matter is replacing
the object of art. Einstein's theory of relativity, Heisenberg's principle
of uncertainty, quantum physics - brought up a new aesthetics. 'Electronic
ritual' can be embodied in an invisible flux - the blend of the
installation's aura and participants' auras in a reverberating process of a
cathartic collective experience within space/time/matter. Interactive
installation as 'electronic ritual' might change the notion of seeing only
through our visual sensory apparatus into an awakening of archaic 'seeing'
as a complex cerebro-emotional process of perceiving the invisible: the
participant 'sees feelingly'.

Participation in ritual is a complete mental and physical engagement located
in a very particular space. It is a closed event of the sacral genre that
excludes spectators and audience. Only individuals that undergo a process of
inititation are invited to participate. Physical activity in its endless
varieties is inseperable from mental processes of total unity with space
resulting in transitions through levels of changed consciousnesses. Ritual
operates in liminal spheres that are defined as a sensory threshold of
changed consciousness introducing participants into esoteric
meta-physicality. Participants reach deep levels of physical
self-consciousness by dissolving their bodies in space and the symbolic
dramaturgy. The entrancing experience leads to archetypal knowledge,
reaching, according to Roy Ascott, even the primordial cell levels.
Spectacularity in ritual functions as a major formal element. It creates a
dramatic tension that symbolically signifies its inviolability and by
designating the distinctness of the event separates it from the perception
of everyday reality. Instead of voyeurisitic spectating - there is active
partcipation. It is the participant who actively creates dramatic tension
through interaction and unity with the otherness of the event. Its
metaphoric language personifies formidable forces beyond human control.
There is an embrace and overcoming of primordial fears through uncanny,
fearsome experiences.

Interactive work and ritual create drama through a language of signs and
symbols in contrast to the logic of narration. The emblematic sonic and
visual language of interactive installation and the specific radiant energy
generated by its body, the reversible stream between the participants and
environment through interaction amalgamates participants' bodies with
installation parallel to the unity of body and space in ritual.
Repetitiveness of the visual and the aural elements within a changeable flow
of audiovisual modules as the common structure of interactive works operates
as a classical mantric, trance-inducing ritual instrument. The sum of
sensational stimuli changes the perception of time, space and matter leading
to mental and physical self-awareness. The process of interaction transforms
the characteristics and the apprehension of the particular space,
incorporating and transfiguring technology.

The omnipresent conflict between man and technology is played out through
the tension between the living body and the body of the installation. The
human body becomes fluid, transparent, immersed and dissolved. Skin becomes
a propulsive membrane. The sum of various sensations increases sensitivity
and level of self-consciousness of the body through a symbolic process of
de-composing and re-composing. The participant's body is immersed in the
environment, it feels and processes these impulses in its own right, reading
the received data within but also beyond the levels of conscious perception.
It is exposed not only to various audiovisual sensations, but also to the
installation's body generating different electromagnetic phenomena. However
a small number of works deliberately instrumentalize these effects, the way
that interactive installations engage our sensory apparatus and the impact
of the installation's environment on participants' personal bio-electric
system is still enigmatic.

The aesthetics and functional mode of interactive installation are
significantly determined through the architecture of hardware and software.
Regardless of their scale and complexity there is a division between works
that can be called 'interactive instruments' and so-called 'responsive
environments'. The structure of the 'interactive instrument' invites
participants to follow a specified routine in order to establish
interaction. Or - they can be lead by the 'shamanic' individuality of
Stelarc, par exemple, whose body is in the role of mediator in interaction.
On the other hand there are so-called 'responsive environments'. Through a
sensory system, the installation 'feels' and 'responds' to the presence of
participants. A particular reaction that can be invoked by responsive
environment is the specific web of participants' trajectories through space
and/or spontaneous gestures, a specific 'choreography' as a form of ritual
activity. They can be immersed into an oneiric environment of intimate
nature that involves the individual in a meditative trancelike experience as
in the works by Paul Sermon; or they can partcipate in Rafael Lozano
Hemmer's spectacular phantasmagoric 'theatre of shadows' in an open public
space. My installation works 'behave' as autonomous entities or as another
partcipant in interaction. They should engage participants in a spontaneous
dialogue of non-verbal communication mediated by non-tactile technology.

With interactive installation, the artwork is a disturbing autonomous
entity, generating itself through an unstable process. The anxiety of
entering dramatically charged dark spaces with unpredictable scenery is
similar to the fear of entering phantasmagoric spheres of the unconscious.
The instant feeling of unease conjoined with fascination releases primordial
fears. Art can have a purifying function in overcoming fear of fear through
the uncanny pleasure of experiencing it in controlled circumstances. We find
examples in ancient cultures' rituals and art works, in medieval scenes of
the Last Judgement and martyridom, from Eleusinian mysteries, through
Dürer's Apocalypse and Goya's phantasmagorias to various interventions on
the human body in contemporary art. The metaphoric language of interactive
installation is a powerful instrument that might create conditions for a
cathartic experience of embracing and overcoming fears procreated by global
spectacle of fear and alienation caused by technology. The ritual nature of
the cathartic collective experience of multiplying consciousnesses could be
used as a basis for releasing a spirituality of a different class in
interactive art that could oppose the materialistic terrorizing abuse of
technology in global spectacle. It can bring about a form through which
ritual can re-incarnate.

Gordana Novakovic (www.infonoise.net)



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