[-empyre-] LF:TK

Dear Helen, Michelle, Chris, Sally, et al;

Apologies to Helen for not writing sooner and sorry, but this is going to
be a long one. Helen asked me to contribute to this discussion by talking
about LiveForm:Telekinetics (LF:TK) a project carried out in collaboration
with Canadian electro-kinetic artist Jeff Mann. LF:TK is an ongoing
artistic proposition for networked realities that are embedded within
everyday spaces. We examine social spaces, transforming physical spaces
into connected environments, where communication between two physical
spaces is mediated through ordinary objects such as furniture, cutlery,
utensils, toys and bric-a-brac. As artists, we are not thinking about
functional items, or objects of convenience, rather a more poetic
reimagination towards the objects that we coexist with, looking at the
surreal aspects of subverting an object's use and the social context in
which it is placed and producing alternate 'psycho-social narratives'
(Anthony Dunne) about our relationships to objects and how we inhabit

Embodied gesture, food, body language, music, social ritual, preparation
and the physical space are important ingredients in the creation of a
shared experience. It is important for us to not only investigate/play
with different physical interfaces, but understand how they actually
function socially by staging live events which are more like social
gatherings, like a picnic, dance or dinner party, than traditional
performances. During these events, there are energy ebbs and flows as
people fall in and out of interest, and alternate between being
'performer' or 'audience' member. (in an Erving Goffman sense)

Our first 'pilot project', which took place in 2001/2002, involved several
connections between Amsterdam and Toronto. Within a four month period Jeff
and I worked collaboratively with 8 artists and technologists to create
The Telematic Dinner, a table installation populated by sensored and
kinetic wine glasses for signaling to each other, motor controlled wine
bottle pourers, embedded screens containing a chat and video-mixing
environment between the two spaces, and a hacked 'Billy Mouth Singing
Bass' animatronic fish for mediating speech. During the final event 15
people in Toronto and 15 in Amsterdam sat down together for 5 hours to
share a meal. Although at first a strange and awkward situation for many
of those involved, it was interesting to see how people adapted to this
playfully absurd environment and started to really use the gadgets on the
table. So it was not 30 people making a performance about a dinner, but 30
people having dinner together, a social situation augmented with these
technological interfaces.

This was a good initial experiment for us, but perhaps too literal, both
in our decision to use a dinner party as our interaction model, and also
the functionality of the objects themselves which were directly linked to
the social codes and gestures of a dinner situation, therefore making them
still too 'rational'. A step for us was to start to look at the
environment itself as a communication interface rather than a single
object, which is how we relate to objects within everyday situations. If
I'm in a cafe, it is not only the coffee cup that I'm using as a single,
autonomous object, but how it is part of a complex network of people,
objects, codes and gestures, that form that social environment. This was
something that we wanted to develop further. Also, although we had used a
familiar environment of a dinner table, the events themselves took place
within a gallery setting. Therefore we also wanted to create an
installation that could be moved around and placed within different
real-world settings. In 2004, through funding provided by The Canada
Council for the Arts and HGIS and within Waag Society's Connected!
programme, we were able to explore this new terrain.

Through the recent phase of the work we have started to think about
everyday hybrid realities as anarchic, nomadic experiences,
transgeographical, public interventions, or Telepresence Picnic Parties,
taking place anywhere a network exists. These connections can take place
within the same city or between cities. We are particularly interested in
the wireless phenomenon and the subsequent structural change within the
city. The proliferation of wireless access points makes any location,
however insignificant (s.a an alleyway), fertile ground for a connection
to take place. My network card and KisMac software has just logged 41 open
and closed networks from where I am sitting in a studio in Toronto.

For the installation that we created a collection of sensor controlled
kinetic objects, each with a characteristic movement, emulating an
embodied gesture, but a variety of non-verbal, body language with no
immediate symbolic meaning, such as the way you move your hands while
talking, or how your body moves when dancing. Each object is made up of
two or more objects (s.a. cheese grater and scissors, colander and wine
opener, bowl and straws) combined in such a way that their original
function is eradicated and the resulting hybrid ?moves between the poles
of kitsch and surrealism? (Anthony Dunne). Each object can either be
played live, or movements recorded into it and played back, much like a
jukebox.. The installation is meant to be played to music, so that the
installation becomes a choreography of movement and gesture that people
create together.

During BEAP04, in Perth we attempted a couple of experimental linkups from
public parks throughout the city. In December we held several events
around public and private networks (café and home environments) throughout
Montréal and Amsterdam. We would like to do more Telepresence Picnic
Parties, in as many cities and sites as possible, making new friends and
picnic partners along the way. People that are interested in participating
in an event are also invited to participate in the preparation of it. In a
workshop like setting, people are asked to help build objects, prepare
food, and assemble the picnic that is then taken out into the city.

Finally, documentation from past events, illustrated recipes and blog
entries form part of our growing archive, a community cookbook for
electronic picnics.

I realize this is a bit of a monologue and I haven't really addressed some
of the questions and comments posed so far. However, hopefully this
posting can contribute in some way to the discussion.

Michelle Teran

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