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MARIA BEATRIZ DE MEDEIROS

Performance art and digital bodies (Corpos Informáticos)

We aim at discussing here the possibilities of performance art in telepresence – an artistic activity that has been developed by the Research Group Corpos Informáticos since 1998. The video-conference technology via computer World Wide Web allows this artistic language: they are fleshless bodies communicating, moving, meeting at the computer World Wide Web – spectral presences capable of performing.

The research group Corpos Informáticos was created at the University of Brasília (Brazil) by researchers, professors and students from the Visual and the Dramatic Art Courses in 1992[2]. The central concern of this research in Contemporary Arts is the human body mediated by technologies: the existing human body is daily crossed over by imperceptible or perceptible technical elements from the most tender age; the body of the other is constructed in the same way - the image of other bodies (spectral) also makes us aware of our own – printed, broadcast, distorted, corrected images… one that becomes object of desire, desire of being, desire of becoming, and yet desire of manipulating, of possessing; our bodies and their prostheses – be them means of locomotion, reading, seeing, hearing, or creating – all of them are somehow interactive; finally, bodies constantly re-dimensioned by new technologies, and soon new bodies, new consciences. This body-technology amalgam is what the research group Corpos Informáticos has reflected upon.

Brief history

Since the creation of the group, we have put on exhibitions and performances, we have done urban interventions and done web-art research (www.corpos.org), and we have produced texts (www.corpos.org/papers), and have participated in national and international conferences.

In 1995 and 1996 in Brasília and São Paulo, respectively, we put on exhibitions whose openings were performances and video-performances: exhibitions that were set at the moment of the public opening, recording the actions of the setting up, and the sticking of photographies and labels, editing them live and displaying them on television screens. In 1996 and 1997, we had various shows and urban interventions with swings (one or more in each show). On the swings were a video cassette player (on the lower platform), a television set (on the middle platform), and a performer (on the higher one).

In 1998, we put on an exhibition in Brasília. It was indeed our first work with performance in telepresence, though we did not use this term: watching cameras and antennas, and cell-phones calling a telephone in the centre of the gallery.

In the last four years, we have focused on research in Performance in telepresence: Performance Art, with the use of technologies for videoconference (www.corpos.org/telepresence and www.corpos.org/telepresence2). Performance art is an event (a happening); it happens live, it is ephemeral art, it has physical presence, and it is open to the participation of the audience. However, Performances in telepresence happen at the computer World Wide Web: they are deterritorialized bodies reorganized (re-orphans) in monitors that are dispersed in the world. The Net, ditto, net of communication, is in fact net of information. In the Performances in telepresence, subjectivities connected in real time engender Art in group in actual communication: interlocution.

We have experimented diverse softwares: Net Meeting, CUSeeMe, Ivisit, among others. The Ivisit (www.ivisit.com) program that we have recently used, is a free video-conference program that users can, in real time, share images, videos, sounds, texts, messages and sites, via Internet or Intranet, allowing the maximum of 20 internauts [3] in each room. Anyone can create one’s own room. For the Performances in a specific place and in the Internet, there are printed and electronic invitations. For the Performances done only through the Internet, there are only on-line invitations. Guests and internauts can take part in both. We have never acted as moderators, asking internauts to leave, be them there for curiosity or for self-exhibitionism. To reach a greater number of participants on line, we keep on performing for many, many hours.

The most remarkable participations of Corpos Informáticos with Performances in telepresence via the computer World Wide Web in collective exhibitions were at the: Biennial of MercoSul (Porto Alegre, 1999), Medi@terra (Athens, Greece, 2000), FILE (International Festival of Electronic Language, MIS, São Paulo, 2001 and 2003), Vermelho gallery (São Paulo, 2003). We would like to outstand the following individual exhibitions: Intrasite (Montreuil, France, 1999), InfoPorto (Brasília, Brazil, 1999), Gallery of the Caixa Econômica Federal Bank (Brasília, Brazil, 2002), Teatro do Centro da Terra (São Paulo, Brazil, 2002). We have performed many times in telepresence on line only: this is the means of its language! However, neither the Art market nor the press, not even the pairs are ready for works done just virtually: physicality is still necessary for the recognition of the work.

The works done via the WWW since 2000 have brought us in contact with artists whose lines of research were similar such as Yara Guasque (São Paulo), Daniel Seda (Group Neo-Tao, São Paulo), Renato Cohen (PhD Professor, researcher, writer, and stage director, São Paulo. (), Johannes Birringer (Group AdaPT [4]) and much is being developed in excellent collaboration. In the late one, we utilize video streaming (Quick Time) and Ivisit.

All these experiences have taken us to different reflections: the concept of Performance (Performance Art) – an ephemeral and presential art turned virtual; the spectral body and its enormous capacity of arising emotion, affection; and the concept of group. The work in group requiring so much opening to the participation of all its members is now open to numberless participants with different perceptions of interlocution. This communication, a truthful sharing, is it only an idea of encounter? It sometimes represents numberless hours of performance in telepresence, and the computer requires the body to really prostrate itself in front of it. For each computer we employ three people: a performer, a receiving controller (camera and microphone), and a computer operator. There are e-mails in all directions for both preparation and posterior analyses.

On Performance Art

The uniqueness of the language of Performance art is happening in life (in actual presence and in real time), and being open for the audience participation, sometimes making the audience its co-author. Video technology allows the performance to happen in quasi-real time; however, its presence is a ghostly one, a spectral presence that we name telepresence. The interest of numerical technology in the communication net, the Internet, gives performance the possibility of being interactive in real time; and this possibility perfectly comes upon the artistic language of Performance. In a web-conference, the so-called communication net, actually the information net, only becomes communication net through the possibility of interaction.

Our investigation lies on the possibility of survival of a digital body, of a numerical flesh body; it lies on the possibility of survival of a sensual body turned into image, i.e., a body that became presence through the bombing of rays of light engendering the sensation of movement, a possibility of effective interaction. Desire of real time. Is the perception that the desire of the other exists capable of giving pleasure? Is the perception that the desire of the other exists for me capable of giving aesthetic pleasure? Does beauty exist in the image of the other on the monitor screen, or is it apprehended upon my knowledge that the other who is there desires to be with me? Performance art on telepresence is possibility of being together without being physically real, though present. A real body, absent, though present through teleperformance.

The philosopher Mikel Dufrenne thus defined aesthetics:

"The object of aesthetics… is, generally speaking, what concerns aesthesis, the feeling, the sensible, the taste and what is experimented (goûté). […] All the flesh in the world can be experimented (goûtée) as an aesthetic object…

“Experimenting (Goûter) a landscape is not only to contemplate from a privileged point of view, but also to penetrate and wander there (érrer), to feel the live air, or the heat of the sun on the face, to hear the birds singing, to smell the grass, to get in carnal communion with all the erogenous zones of the sensible.” [5]

Therefore, we would say that aesthetics is that which refers to the senses, what involves and impregnates them, what gives pleasure, but also what gives displeasure. Displeasure also mobilizes the senses. It also impregnates us with the flesh of the world. This makes us think about the photographer Witkin [6] who, I believe, allows us to experiment the flesh of the world, a flesh that takes us by assault and allows us to be possessed in dismantling displeasure.

The television and other temporary objects

The radio and the television were called means of communication; however, communication implies interaction between subjectivities. The radio and the television are means of information. The telephone and the Internet in actual time (text, chats, and telepresence) allow communication. Both require a partner and participation, i.e., to become active part. Here, communication and transportation coincide: there is voice teletransportation by the telephone, there is teletransportation of moving image and voice by the Internet.

Umberto Eco, in Kant and the Platypus speaks of prostheses and mirrors. Prostheses would be extensive (they extend our senses), intrusive (they intrude into our bodies), and also magnifying (they amplify minuscule spaces and reduce huge spaces), and occasionally, deforming. Mirrors would be prostheses that do not deceive – paraspecular images: absolute doubles, incapable of lying, with no indicting values; images in which type and occurrence coincides.

“Thus, and always taking into account a theoretical point of view, what appears on the television screen is not a sign of anything: it is paraspecular image that is apprehended by the observant with the belief we give to a specular image.

(…) We do not doubt the television because we know that each prosthesis, extensive and intrusive, does not provide us with signs in a first instance, but only perceptive stimuli.” [7]

Therefore, our trust in the mirror – paraspecular image – would result in a general trust in television, and, in front of it, there would be a tendency to undervalue the interpretative strategies. We ought to emphasize that Eco alerts us to be working “from a theoretical point of view”; however, if we take into consideration Bernard Stiègler’s analyses, i.e., from a practical point of view, the television carries out this capacity of suppressing the possible critical judgment not because of its specular or paraspecular image, which we trust, but, because as a temporary object, its flux coincides with the flux of conscience.

“The result is that the time of the consciences, which synchronize and homogenize simultaneously, becomes the organic matter of the industries of communication, for what these industries sell are not programs, but the audience to the advertisements. The programs are employed to attract consciences to be sold.” [8]

Thus, the television and also the cinema - which Eco asserts to be signs we do not trust – and the videogames have contributed to “destroy the spirit”[9]. It is the destruction of the “time of conscience”, and consequently, of the spirit, by the adoption of the time of the temporary object.

Even if temporary objects are conscience makers or the very conscience itself, according to Stiègler, these objects are not capable of communication. They are implantations, intrusive and constitutive prostheses, incapable of founding subjectivity because there is no interlocution. Thereafter, there is a number of individuals semi-capable of words, almost incapable of being responsible for their deeds. These are made up individuals mined in their ability of building personal thoughts and criticism, inept to decide upon their own destiny.

Telepresence

Some authors state that one of the factors that engenders the desire for telepresence comes from the fear of the actual world. An individual may be fearful of reality, and this fear has always existed. However, this fear is much more present today due to the fact that some idols and “stars” have their bodies sculpted or shaped or, many times, presented in magazines with “corrections” made directly on the photographs. These beings do not exist; they are truly non-places (according to Marc Augé). Many adolescents, incapable of looking like their sculpted idols, have a feeling of self-rejection; they become locked inside themselves; they deny themselves and spend their lives communicating via computer. This communication, mainly in telepresence, though slow and obscure, is the possibility of meeting the other who is not physically present; it is the possibility of meeting and communicating – not necessarily rejecting reality.

In advertisement, cinema, in the numberless video-movies that we bring home, the bodies are not only perfect, but also winners. In actual life… One day parents were their children’s idols. Nowadays, confronted with supermen and wonderwomen, parents have been put in checkmate.

Sick and somber minds confined in gray cubicles and cold cities may not desire actual bodies. They may hide their flaccid and pale skin, but this is not a rule: the actual body, naked, twisted, fat and decayed is exhibited with no psychological complex, or with some complex, but truly naked exposing itself with no prejudice to an audience; it is exposed and, bizarrely, it makes way. I believe that artists such as Richard Billingham, Ron Mueck, Jenny Saville, and Joel-Peter Witkin, amongst others who display their “disfigured” bodies, who simply widely open anyone’s body which is far from the aesthetic rules imposed to the body today.

The one who fears reality, presence, can not perform in telepresence.

The bodily experience through telepresence is incomplete, for it does not allow touching; and the sense of smell is not conveyed to it yet. In fact, the experience of the spectral presence is just ghostly like; due to the bad quality of the image, with no possibility of secretions and contaminations. However, relationships may be kept through Internet and in telepresence a long way off. This aspect is referred to as negative by some authors. Letters written and sent by postal mail also allow the existence of relationships between human beings who have not seen each other for decades, and these letters were never considered negative: they are very important documents when we think of correspondence between two great writers. What was never considered is that these writers formed ghettos with whom they shared assiduous postal mail, and could understand their thoughts.

Levinson, in the article cited, remind of Freud who states “writing is the voice of the absent person”. Writing, somehow, also allows the spectral presence, even if it is more ethereal; and we do not fear it even when Socrates, or more recently, Jacques Derrida [10] remind us of its danger as phármakón: medicine and poison. Telepresence is of the same order: poison and medicine; however, it allows communication in actual time; it comes close to a dialogue, which Socrates praises: live word, place of interlocution.

Telepresence is spectral image because it has no physical presence. The spectrum referred to by Derrida is the absence of the father; it has no origin; it is immutable and, as it is, dead. Telepresence is sensible; it comes from the father; it is live logos.

Considerations

It is necessary to emphasize the necessity of a critical work. The new techniques allow us to experiment with the novelty. It necessarily causes fairy enchantment, and enchantment inhibits critical capacity. There is enchantment for what we do not know, and some, before the first experiences with new technologies – when confronted with the novelty – soon call it art, forgetting that art should generate percepts and affects, as Deleuze and Guattari wanted [11], or yet, it should bring its very world, as Mikel Dufrenne wanted. [12]

“The absent element, I allow myself to suggest, is the human being […] Art, […], has become an endangered field in modern life, […] it engages in a desperate battle against disdain and the final abandonment of desert houses. It is due to this fact that, with all our flattered mechanical efficiency, with all the superabundance of energy, food, materials, goods, there is no proportional improvement in the quality of quotidian life; it is due to this fact that the great majority of ‘well-housed’ people of our civilization live their emotionally apathetic, mentally torpid existences with insipid passivity and weakened desires – lives that contradict the actual potentiality of modern culture.” [13]

In fact, we live in a society that has serious problems, as Lewis Munford has warned since 1952 (!), and, for sure, telepresence will not be the first instrument to redimension life; we can expect otherwise, as did Munford, that after turned into art, performance in telepresence will be capable of repopulating life, making the human being present, and engendering the desire for actual presence, and then fully allowing the restitution of subjectivity in interlocution.

Bibliography

Barthes, Roland, Le plaisir du texte. Paris: Seuil, 1973.

CELANT, Germano e WITKIN, Joel-Peter. Witkin. Zurich, Berlin, New Yotrk: Scalo, 1995.

DUFRENNE, Mikel. “Objet esthétique e objet technique”, in Esthétique et philosophie. Tome 1. Paris: Klincksieck, 1967.

DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Félix, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? Paris: Minuit, 1991.

DERRIDA, Jacques, A farmácia de Platão. São Paulo: Iluminuras, 1997, p. 96.

ECO, Umberto. Kant e o ornitorrinco., Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1997.

FOREST, Fred. “Pour qui sonne le glas, ou les impostures de l’art contemporain”, in Quaderni, no 21, Paris, fall 1993, pp.119 a 140.

FOUCAULT, Michel, A ordem do discurso. Inaugural class at the Collége de France pronounced on December 2nd, 1970. São Paulo: Loyola, 1996.

IRIGARAY, Luce. Être deux. Paris: Grasset, 1997.

KUNZMANN, Peter; BURKARD, Franz-Peter, and WIEDMANN, Franz. Atlas de la Philosophie. Paris: La pochothèque, Encyclopédies d'aujourd'hui, (1991) 1993.

MEDEIROS, Maria Beatriz (org. e introduction). Brasília, Mestrado em Artes, UnB, 2002.

MOLES, Abraham, ROHMER, Elizabeth, Théorie de Acts. Vers un Écologie des Actions. Bruxelles: Casterman, 1997.

MUNFORD, Lewis. Arte e técnica. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1986 (1952), p. 16 e 17.

Paul Levinson, an interview with Jeremy Turner: www.intelligentagent.com/Levinson_interview.html.

STIÈGLER, Bernard. “O preço da consciência”, in Arte e tecnologia na cultura contemporânea, MEDEIROS, Maria Beatriz de (org. e introduction), Brasília, Mestrado em Artes, UnB, 2002.

TEIXEIRA, J. G. Lima Cruz (org). Performance, cultura e espetacularidade, Brasília: UnB, 2000.

Maria Beatriz de Medeiros is a visual artist, post PhD at “Collège International de Philosophie”, Paris (“VIRTUOSE” Scholarship and Research Grant from the Ministry of Culture, Brazil); PhD in Fine Arts and Arts Science and M. A. in Aesthetics at “Université de Paris I”, Sorbonne.

Instructor for Graduate and Undergraduate courses at the Visual Art Department of the University of Brasilia, Brazil; researcher and consultant for the National Council for Scientific Research (CNPq), Brazil. Has been awarded several grants and research fellowships for the coordination of the project on contemporary art and technology: Research Group “Corpos Informáticos”.

The CORPOS INFORMÁTICOS Research Group has been conducting research on contemporary art and new technologies since 1992. The Group’s work involves videos, video-installations, performances in Telepresence and web art which are presented not for visual passive contemplation, but rather to involve the spectator and to make him/her part of a continuously embryonic work of art.

The group now is formed by Maria Beatriz de Medeiros, Carla Rocha, Cyntia Carla, Mayra Miranda and Rodrigo Salgado.

[1] Maria Beatriz de Medeiros (Bia Medeiros) is an artist, Ph D Professor at the University of Brasília, and coordinator of the Corpos Informáticos Research Group (Digital Bodies).

[2] Nowadays, the group is constituted by the following researchers on Art: Carla Maria Alves da Rocha (specialist in Art and Multimedia, Temple University, PA, USA), Ana Cecilia MacDowell (specialist in sculpture, Tylor School of Art, PA, USA) Maria Luiza Fragoso (doctoring in Multimedia, Institute of Arts, UNICAMP, and assistant professor at the University of Brasilia), Viviane Barros (scholarship student PIBIC/University of Brasília- UnB), Cyntia Carla (scholarship student IC/University of Brasília- UnB- CNPq), Robiara Becker (computer science specialist). Sporadic participants, ex-members: Frederyck Sidou (assistant professor at the University of Uberlandia), Rita Gusmão (assistant professor at the Federal University of Minas Geais), Alice Stefania (actress, Cia Piramundo de Teatro), Andre Felipe Silva (designer). We also work with others artists such as Renato Cohen (University of São Paulo), Daniel Seda, Johannes Birringer (University of Ohio), amongst others.

[3] "Internauts", as we call the user of the Internet (Internet + astronaut) in Brazil.

[4] http://www.dance.ohio-state.edu/workshops/ipstheory.html

http://www.dance.ohio-state.edu/dance_and_technology/birdman.html

http://www.dance.ohio-state.edu/workshops/ips3.html

[5] MEDEIROS, M. B. "Bordas rarefeitas da linguagem artística Performance", in Performance, cultura e espetacularidade, Teixeira, J. G. Lima Cruz (org). Brasília: Ed. UnB, 2000, p. 31 a 37.

[6] According to Germano Celant, "Witkin's photographs seem to move in a universe of perversity and sacrilege, touching upon all that is taboo, forbidden, hallowed. They draw from the cauldron of life and death, of normality and difference, and make these interchangeable, subjecting the imagery to a kind of diabolical surgery where sacred and profane, pain and pleasure, masculine and feminine are dissolved and transformed, intertwining with one another and creating a forbidden hybrid." CELANT, Germano e WITKIN, Joel-Peter. Witkin. Zurick, Berlin, New Yotrk: Scalo, 1995. p. 9.

[7] ECO, Umberto. Kant e o ornitorrinco. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Record, 1997. Translation: Ana Thereza B. Vieira. P. 313. In the French translation by Julien Gayrard, ed. Grasset, Paris, 1997, we read: "Donc, et toujours d'un point de vue théorique, tout ce qui apparaît sur l'écran de télévision n'est signe de rien: c'est une image paraspéculaire que l'observateur appréhende avec cette même confiance que l'on accorde à l'image spéculaire."

[8] STIÈGLER, Bernard. O preço da consciência, in Arte e tecnologia na cultura contemporânea, Medeiros, Maria Beatriz (org. e introduction). Brasília: Mestrado em Artes, UnB, 2002.

[9] Idem.

[10] DERRIDA, Jacques, A farmácia de Platão. São Paulo: Iluminuras, 1997, p. 96.

[11] Deleuze, Gilles and GUATTARI, Félix, Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? Paris: Minuit, 1991.

[12] Dufrenne, Mikel. "Objet esthétique e objet technique", in Esthétique et philosophie. Tome 1. Paris: Klincksieck, 1967.

[13] Munford, Lewis. Arte e técnica. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1986 (1952), p. 16 e 17.