Digital Art History Chapter 1 Chapter 1, cont. Chapter 2 Chapter 2, cont. Chapter 3 Chapter 3, cont. Chapter 4 Chapter 4, cont. Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Chapter 4



Skeptical about the techno revolution, philosopher Paul Virilio tells us that real time is prevailing over real space, “reducing the world to nothing.” Virilio is the author, among other books, of Bunker Archeology (1994 [1975]), Speed & Politics: An Essay on Dromology (1986 [1977]), The Information Bomb (2000 [1998]) and, most recently, Strategie de la deception (1999).

The sphere of information has superimposed itself on the geosphere, effectively reducing the notion of distance to the zero-point. While deeply immersed in the ‘inforeality' as an individual, Virilio is deeply repulsed by cybertech’s fundamental seductive and corrupting attack on the basic propositions that underlie human existence. This creates a tension in Virilio that reflects of the tension of digital culture.

The politics of 'Real Time' emerge from the immediacy of the new environment. He was among the first to perceive the dangers as well as values in the new technologies, which he considered accidents waiting to happen; he saw images as weapons. Even the body and its sensations become suspect, since the body is being colonized by technology.

Recognizing the interesting aspects, he maintained a critical attitude. Our society of leisure has developed an aesthetics of play, but the imminent home installation of domestic simulators and virtual space rooms for game-playing, poses many questions, and in particular this one: "What is a game once the virtual invades reality?" Can electronic addiction can lead to virtual addiction? Is it an expansion of narcissism?

“You could say that drugs are a game people get "hooked" on. Those who are addicted to card games or the roulette table always end up playing Russian roulette. Games and death, games and accidents, are related. When you play at chance, you are compelled to play and thus no longer free to play; and a physical or mental death occurs. Now video games or the more sophisticated games of tomorrow's virtual reality will induce this same desire for death. A desire to cross the boundary.”

“To live in one reality and then, from time to time, enter another, through a night of drinking of hallucinogens, is one thing. But to live all the time through telecommunication and the electronic highway is another. I don't think we can even imagine what it may provoke in people's minds and in society to live constantly with this "stereo-reality." It is absolutely without precedent. Play at being a critic. Deconstruct the game in order to play with it. Instead of accepting the rules, challenge and modify them. Without the freedom to critique and reconstruct, there is no truly free game: we are addicts and nothing more.” (PV)

The social world has been permanently altered and reduced by digital life in the electronic format. We have all become somewhat like Stephen King’s “Lawnmower Man”, overwhelmed by the changes technological advancement has forced upon our humanity. Nature is about to be ‘upgraded’ with a retrofit.

“Television has become a "museum of accidents"; cyberspace an accident of the real". Globalization is a hoax, virtualization is the reality, and we are fast approaching the day of the big accident", when virtual reality finally overpowers the real thing. Comprendez?”
There have been three industrial revolutions: 1) transportation, which favors an equipping of the territory with railroads, airports, highways, electric lines, cables, etc. It has a geopolitical element. 2) The transmissions revolution, including Marconi, Edison, radio, television. From this point on, technology is set loose. It becomes immaterial and electromagnetic. 3) Transplantations; implants. Nanotechnology, the possibility of miniaturizing technology to the point of introducing it into the human body, means we can sustain the human body through more than simple chemistry, as a hyperstimulated biomachine.

Therefore, he thinks interactivity is to real space what radioactivity is to the atmosphere. (1997)
In a way, fiat lux is the first word in a number of big productions including Virilio's. It can be followed, as we all know, with lights, camera, action. The consequence is the destruction of the time continuum. By having space/time, the fourth dimension, invade the materiality of the world all is turned into light and time into a 'tele-presence'. (David Cook)

Past, present and future - that old tripartite division of the time continuum - then cedes primacy to the immediacy of a tele-presence, which is akin to a new type of relief. This is a relief not of the material thing, but of the event, in which the fourth dimension (that of time) suddenly substitutes for the third: the material volume loses its geometrical value as an 'effective presence' and yields to an audiovisual volume whose self-evident 'tele-presence' easily wins out over the nature of the facts.

The geometry of the commonplace now has its time invariant future in the "place of the no-place of a teleaction". Teleaction takes over as the perpetual presence of the digital world. Time is condensed into the zone of the present much like a type of black hole that refuses to allow the future or the past. The 'eternal' present replaces eternity. We all become photons or, at least, are subject to a 'photon' effect. Our path interval becomes that of the shinning light, the sun, the screen. Thus all theories of 'presencing' come down to the cliché of 'life in the fast lane' for the 'now generation'.

This is what the teletechnologies of real time are doing: they are killing 'present' time isolating it from its here and now, in favor of a commutative elsewhere that no longer has anything to do with our 'concrete presence' in the world, but is the elsewhere of a 'discreet telepresence' that remains a complete mystery.

As Virilio suggests, the mystery remains. It is up to us to embrace it.

Telematic Embrace

According to Roy Ascott,
“our increasing tendency as artists to bring together imaging, sound, and text systems into interactive environments that exploit state-of-the-art hypermedia and that engage the full sensorium, albeit by digital means. Out of this technological complexity, we can sense the emergence of a synthesis of the arts. The question of content must therefore be addressed to what might be called the Gesamtdatenwerk—the integrated data work—and to its capacity to engage the intellect, emotions, and sensibility of the observer.“The past decade has seen the two powerful technologies of computing and telecommunications converge into one field of operations that has drawn into its embrace other electronic media, including video, sound synthesis, remote-sensing, and a variety of cybernetic systems.

These phenomena are exerting enormous influence upon society and on individual behaviour; they seem increasingly to be calling into question the very nature of what it is to be human, to be creative, to think and to perceive, and indeed our relationship to each other and to the planet as a whole. “The "telematic culture" that accompanies the new developments consists of a set of behaviours, ideas, media, values, and objectives that are significantly unlike those that have shaped society since the Enlightenment. New cultural and scientific metaphors and paradigms are being generated, new models and representations of reality are being invented, new expressive means are being manufactured.”

Telematics <> is a term he used to designate computer-mediated communications networking involving telephone, cable, and satellite links between geographically dispersed individuals and institutions that are interfaced to data-processing systems, remote sensing devices, and capacious data storage banks. It involves the technology of interaction among human beings and between the human mind and artificial systems of intelligence and perception.

The individual user of networks is always potentially involved in a global net, and the world is always potentially in a state of interaction with the individual. Thus, across the vast spread of telematics networks worldwide, the quantity of data processed and the density of information exchanged is incalculable. The ubiquitous efficacy of the telematic medium is not in doubt, but the question in human terms, from the point of view of culture and creativity, is: What is the content?

This utopian proposal is the ideology of such media theorists as Pierre Lévy and Roy Ascott, (Telenoia, in which the collective, participatory nature of telematic art represents a new catalyst for the realization of socially and philosophically motivated aspirations. As Weibel concludes, “Net art has become the forum in which many of the liberating hopes of the historic avant-garde are expressed in new terms.”

Since the 1960s, British educator, artist and theoretician Roy Ascott has been an outspoken practitioner of interactive computer art, pioneering the place of cybernetics, telematics and interactive media in art. Ten years before the personal computer came into existence, Ascott saw that interactivity in computer-based forms of expression would be an emerging issue in the arts. Intrigued by the possibilities, he built a theoretical framework for approaching interactive artworks, which drew from roots in the avant-garde (Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus, Happenings, and Pop Art, in particular), with the cybernetic theories of Norbert Wiener.

Ascott's thesis, "Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision" from 1966, begins with the premise that interactive art must free itself from the modernist ideal of the “perfect object”’. Like John Cage, he proposes that the artwork be responsive to the viewer, rather than fixed and static. But Ascott takes Cage's premise into the realm of computer-based art, suggesting that the ‘spirit of cybernetics’ offers the most effective means for achieving a two-way exchange between the artwork and its audience.

“Whether by narcissistic self-reflection, passionate attraction, possessive desire, or the harmonization of multiplicity in unification -- hearts, minds, and bodies crave connection with others. These are just some of the qualities that characterize the enigmatic romance of technology and intuition as well as the sentiments of the artists, scientists, and philosophers who have attempted to conjoin them. My work addresses the dynamic relationship between technology and intuition and their philosophical roots in and points of intersection with reason and metaphysics. These "loving" couples have been conventionally constructed as the dialectical locus of utopic and dystopic formulations of the future, often manifested in theories of global consciousness and its wicked step-sister, or draconian big brother, global surveillance. Part of my project is to problematize these binary oppositions and to suggest a more nuanced reconstruction of the relationship of technology and intuition with regard to the future.” (Ascott, 1997)

Cyberception, <> is Ascott’s term for extension and refinement of our senses: qualitative change in our being, a whole new faculty, the post-biological faculty of “cyberception”. Cyberception involves a convergence of conceptual and perceptual processes in which the connectivity of telematic networks plays a formative role. Perception is the awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation. Cyberception heightens transpersonal experience and is the defining behavior of a transpersonal art.

We are in the middle of a process of complex cultural transformation, but to what extent is this matched by the transformation in the way we see ourselves? Reframing Consciousness covers a wide-ranging discussion on the interaction between Art, Science and Technology, and goes on to challenge assumptions about ‘reality’.

Loosely themed around four key elements of Mind, Body, Art and Values, Ascott leads the investigation through the familiar territories of interactive media and artificial life, combining them with new and ancient ideas about creativity and personal identity. Art has long been preoccupied with questions involving the mind and consciousness. But it is discovering that new possibilities emerge from creatively applied technology.

Becoming Virtual

In viewing multimedia's broad historical chronology, we see the timelessness and cyclical nature of human expression – from the collective intelligence, dreams, and immersions of the initiatory caves of Lascaux to recent digital forms of immersive experience and altered states of consciousness. The roots of art are intimately linked to mind-bending ritual and primal spirituality. We have grown from shamanism to technoshamanism that manipulates our neurology intentionally and scientifically with an artistic itentionality.

This notion is expressed through such works as conFiguring the CAVE, created in 1997 by Jeffrey Shaw, Agnes Hegedues, Bernd Linterman and Leslie Stück for the CAVE system at the InterCommunication Center (ICC) in Tokyo, Japan. According to curator Toshiharu Ito, conFiguring the CAVE articulates the “fourth dimension that exists between the work and the viewer. In that space, the viewer's awareness and bodily experiences can be restructured and recreated.”

In describing immersive forms, “we cannot,” according to Margaret Morse, “fully anticipate what it means to experience that realm until we are inside.” Interactive multimedia is experiential and sensory, you don’t simply observe the object, you are the object. You enter into and become part of the landscape, not just a detached observer. The medium functions as an extension of the self, a reconfiguration of identity, dreams, and memories – blurring the boundary between self and exterior.

Are we becoming virtual? Pierre Lévy describes virtualization as “that which has potential rather than actual existence. The virtual tends toward actualization.” The revolutionary nature of multimedia, from Wagner to virtual reality, lies in its potential to transform the human spirit.
In his book "L'idéographie dynamique " (The Dynamic Ideography) Pierre Lévy postulates the existence of a new language that would go beyond the distinction between text and image to provide a dynamic representation of thought models. This new language would radically alter the role of the creator who would work on interfaces, transforming the "spectator" into a creative actor. A second book entitled "Les arbres de connaissances " (Trees of Knowledge), co-authored with Michel Authier, develops an application of dynamic ideography in the field of forms of knowledge.

We do not think by making logical deductions or following formal rules; we think by manipulating mental models which, most of the time, take the form of images. This does not mean the images resemble visible reality, they are more of a dynamic map-making. If a dynamic ideography were created, it would constitute a computer-assisted imagination. It would help us construct much more complex mental models than we can with the structures of our mind and enable us to share these mental models with others.

What would we do with such tools? Give people models of kinds of environments with a certain number of actor-objects - ideograms - capable of a degree of interaction between themselves and with the user. What would the person do?

Envisage possible scenarios based on these models: consider the standard scenario provided, alter the behavior of the actors, invent other scenarios, etc. and then maybe send the new scenario back to the originator of the standard scenario or share it with others. Clearly such a micro-world could have economic, industrial, educational, ecological or political consequences by making interactive imaged representations of collective phenomenon that concern us.

by Iona Miller and Burt Webb, c1992

ABSTRACT: The advent of virtual reality technology opens up a whole new dimension for therapy. Psychotherapist and client may enter an electronic simulation, which allows them both to occupy a shared imaginal space. The parameters of the system and environment can be programmed to display specific archetypal imagery, which is known to influence the deep psyche. The ability to interact with the system provides a means of intervention and transformation.

The therapist, as electronic shaman, either guides or follows the client's process. He chooses from a repertoire of archetypal encounters those images, which fit most closely, thus amplifying the "cybernaut's" imagery experience. Distinctions of inner vs. outer become experientially moot. Therapeutic interventions, impossible in consensus reality, become readily available without standard ethical considerations.

The shaman's flight into the netherworld to retrieve a "lost" soul becomes a literal reality experienced as a co-conscious journey. The discernment and non-directive attitude of the therapist insures that the client will not be traumatized. The perception of universal and personal metaphors is enhanced and amplified, rather than imposed. As in hypnosis, the client maintains the possibility of "escape" back into consensus reality, simply by closing his or her eyes.


Virtual Reality (VR) is one step beyond computer visualization. Through VR, we can actually "climb into" a synthetic visual and aural environment, or simulated "reality", and experience visceral responses to that world. Mankind has always used symbols, imagery, and metaphor to facilitate changes in consciousness. This is traditionally the realm of the shaman, magician, and more recently, the psychotherapist. In this era of seemingly magical technologies, we may combine both technology and technique for exploring the imagination to create a new modality. "Magician/therapist" is the informing myth of VR Therapy.

Since VR technology already exists, we should consider its application to communication and therapeutic interactions. "Virtual" means to have the same effect but not the substance of physical reality. In terms of psychological impact, virtual reality may be "as good as" or even better than physical reality. It is a safe environment to learn and practice new responses, choices and skills. This technology allows us to create whole universes at our fingertips, to improvise "realities".

Synthetic realities are created by generating synthetic visual, audible, olfactory, kinesthetic, and/or tactile input. The 3D effect, scenery altering in relation to the roving point of vision, is created by showing slightly different views to each eye. Bob Jacobson describes the universe inside cyberspace.

A "virtual world" is a unique, intangible but highly designed information environment generated by a computer and transmitted by "virtual interface" technology to a user who "enters" the virtual world via appropriate sensory mechanisms. The virtual world environment can be as complex as a three dimensional "sense surround" comprising seamless visual, aural, and tactile cues; or as simple as a computer conferencing system.

Virtual Reality simulations seem so real because the right hemisphere of the brain makes no distinction between symbols and the symbolic reality they represent. Hypnosis, used to by-pass the critical mind, could be very effective in creating an enhanced sense of "reality."

This suspension of disbelief is why experiential psychotherapies work. Through the manipulation or transformation of symbols, the emotional brain can experience changes as real as those induced through the external environment. Change the images and the attitudes associated with them change also.

In Virtual Reality, the map is the territory, even though we may keep reminding ourselves it is still representative of the deeper layers of the psyche. In Virtual Reality, it is axiomatic that "imagination is reality." The combinatorial and symbolic possibilities are endless, just as they are in dreams.

The participant’s engagement in the scenario is immediate, and compelling. The seemingly impossible becomes permissible. In VR you do not necessarily even have to have a body anymore. Or, you could chose an option and become an animal, or even an inanimate object. This could be therapeutic if it broadens awareness. Consciousness, or the sense of being, is liberated from the constraints of normal time and space and egoic perspective.

In the near future, perhaps the best metaphor for the Virtual Reality experience is that of a vehicle. While both parties are seated in comfortable chairs, their two points of view will be able to "fly" through a computer-generated space. Emphasis here is on the visual and auditory modes. These sensory inputs constitute about is 97% of our information absorption, so this combination can be very powerful. For therapeutic purposes, the program can draw on cross-cultural symbols of transformation.

In the mid term, it will be possible to move around in a space with some tactile feedback that will allow the therapist and client to interact with computer "objects". Emphasis here would be on adding physical mobility in a complex space and interaction with small objects to the visual and auditory modes. This will permit participation in physical activities such as "rituals" including "magical implements."
In the future, it will be possible to interface directly with the brain and realistically simulate "reality." Activating the same brain stem block, which prevents actual movement during dreams, will prevent actual motor activity. All senses receive congruent input and virtually all types of experiences become possible.

In order for a clinical system to be practical, one of the critical elements will be an "authoring system". This will be a computer program that a non-computer graphic specialist will be able to use to construct "worlds" and interactive scenarios. It will be highly interactive and should contain generic settings, human forms, objects, textures, etc. Initially, it might be sort of a three dimensional "cut and paste" system of elements. The design system should be readily understandable to the therapist in terms of visual "primitives" which would include archetypal forms.

During actual excursions into "therapy space", the therapist would control the "world" with some sort of hand tool. Current work is focusing on a sort of wand, which would give the user immediate control over the visual elements in the space. It will function like a sort of super "mouse," or "scepter of power."

Biofeedback would be very useful for registering the reactions of the client to the different elements and experiences in the therapeutic space. Actively driven brain entrainment through resonance is another off-the-shelf option.

Preliminary set up for a particular client might consist of running through pictures of settings, objects, people, etc. which might have significance for the client. The results of the survey would then be used to program the visual experience in the therapeutic scenario. Or, it may be something like a program for desensitization of a phobia through role-playing in consecutive rehearsals.

The therapist could see the space differently than the client. For instance, the gaze of the client could be tracked and the therapist would see a set of cross hairs where ever the client was looking. A colored graphic display of biofeedback information on the client could float in the air next to the cross hairs.

Virtual Reality Therapy is not prescriptive. It merely requires immersion in the flow of the on going imaginal process. Virtual Therapy is not treatment by a computer, but through the computer generated interface. Both therapist and client enter the "electronic dreamtime" of virtual possibilities. Virtual Therapy is a shared journey, which can either be pre programmed much like guided visualization, or an extemporaneous "guided dance" provided by the therapist who follows the client's emergent response.

The psyche employs metaphor as an encrypting system for storing and retrieving many kinds of information. Root metaphors are cross-cultural, part of our collective heritage, and sometimes transpersonal. We become aware of these archetypal patterns in our life through our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual interaction with the outer and inner world. Some experience, especially (pre verbal) trauma, becomes stored as epistemological metaphors. When these are de coded in experiential process-oriented therapy, they reveal what the experience was like. They form the foundation for "how we know what we know" about our experience and perception.

Metaphors, like imagery, are subject to transmutation and transformation. They have been widely employed in therapy for a wide variety of purposes. Root metaphors lie at the basis of a person's self image, who and what they perceive themselves to be. In therapy, when we change the metaphor the attitudes, feelings, beliefs, and injunctions of the client are modified automatically. An excursion into chaos and consciousness in the electronic dreamtime could certainly be influential if guided properly.


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