[-empyre-] Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual

Charles Baldwin Charles.Baldwin at mail.wvu.edu
Tue Oct 2 21:45:17 EST 2012

October on  - empire- soft-skinned space:

Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual

Moderated by Alan Sondheim (US) and Sandy Baldwin with invited discussants Johannes Birringer (UK), Maria Damon (US), Fau Ferdinand (UK), Deena Larsen (US), Jon Marshall (AU), Monika Weiss (US).

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Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual

The "real" and "virtual" are increasingly entangled concepts. We reserve the former for the events of everyday life, tending to the body, physically caring for others. We reserve the latter for our online presence, which appears on the "clean and proper screens" of our digital devices. Magazines like _Wired_ both emphasize this difference, and describe the incursions of digital technology into real bodies and worlds.

Rather than adopting a technophilic position, we argue that pain, suffering, and death itself are troubling, appearing in various forms in virtual environments ranging from Facebook to Second Life. Pain, death, and alterity, negation, define who we are to a very great extent. For the month of October, we will examine the issues that arise here, including the representations of pain and death within the virtual; the social and political consequences of naive technophilia; the illusion of digital eternal life; and the very real space of the body itself in the midst of social and other media.

Sandy Baldwin and Alan Sondheim maintain a long term collaboration into impossible and inconceivable bodily experience in Second Life. More recently, they began a philosophical dialogue on the pain of the signifier which directly informed Alan.s residency at Eyebeam.

This month's October edition of -empire- entitled Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual, is moderated by Alan Sondheim (US) http://www.alansondheim.org/ , writer, artist, and philosopher; and Sandy Baldwin (US), Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University.

Week 1:  Monika Weiss (US), Alan Sondheim (CA) and Sandy Baldwin (UK)

Monika Weiss is a Polish-American transdiciplinary artist whose work examines relationships between body, history and postmemory. Her performative installations, films, objects and sound compositions enact historical and cultural memory in the context of gesture, trace, and language. Organized by Lehman College Art Gallery, City University of New York, in 2005, "Monika Weiss-Five Rivers" was the first retrospective exhibition of the artist's work to date, which was reviewed in The New York Times. Recent solo exhibitions include Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, Poland (2010) and Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile (upcoming: December 13, 2012 - April 7, 2013). Recent projects and exhibitions include also Muzeum Montanelli, Prague, Kunsthaus Dresden, ArteBA, Buenos Aires, and Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami. Educated first as a classical musician and pianist, Weiss continues to compose sound environments in her work. Weiss splits her time between New York City and Saint Louis where she is currently professor at Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. Weiss' work is represented by Galerie Samuel Lallouz, Montreal. The artist's own writing appeared in _New Realities: Being Syncretic, Springer_, Wien/New York (2009) and _Technoetic Arts_, Intellect, London (2006).

Alan Sondheim is a Brooklyn artist/theorist whose latest book is _Writing Under_ (CLC/WVU Press). He recently released a new album with Fire Museum, and has upcoming performances in both virtual and real worlds with Sandy Baldwin. His film and video have been shown internationally. He works with virtual wounded and/or deceased avatars, and their relationship to illness, melancholy, mourning, and death in the real world; results include a series of performances in Second Life and OpenSim (virtual worlds), texts, and installations. He starts with avatar animations made from altered motion capture equipment, in order to create "inconceivable" and alien avatars, movements, and environments. He examines the political and cultural dimensions of this within social media and virtual worlds. He is concerned with returning the virtual to the real, indicating that more is at stake in the former than 'just manipulation' of avatars. Much of his writing is concerned with the above issues, as well as the phenomenology of the analog and digital and the aesthetics of code. He also works with his partner Azure Carter, and Foofwa d'Imobilite in live dance/ performance; this feeds back into the avatar work.

Sandy Baldwin is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University. He is a teacher, writer, and artist. He is Executive Editor of "Electronic Book Review," Editor in Chief of the Computing Literature Book Series (WVU), project director for the Consortium for Electronic Literature, and member of the Executive Board of the Electronic Literature Organization. With Alan Sondheim, he maintains a long-term collaboration exploring performance and bodily interiority in virtual environments. He has created artistic game mods, and more recently directed "Coaldust," an agitprop theater group performing in MMORPGs. He is the author of several books of "codework" writing published by Blazevox. His current critical and theoretical work explores net-based writing as an unstable, entropic, and absurd (re)working of interior bodily states.

Week 2: Fau Ferdinand (UK) and Jon Marshall (AU)

Yael Gilks aka Fau Ferdinand is a performance and visual artist. She is a member of Second Front - a performance art group using Second Life as a platform. She co-directed Odyssey, a contemporary art and performance simulator in Second Life, with Liz Solo.

Jon Marshall is a failed playwrite, avante-rock musician, and novelist. He is also an anthropologist, interested in the history of science and the occult, and since 1994 studying online interaction and the social usages of computers. His work includes writing an ethnography of the internet mailing list cybermind _Living on Cybermind: Categories, Communication and Control_ (Peter Lang 2007) and editing the Cybermind Gender Project for the online journal _Transforming cultures_ (http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/TfC/issue/view/40). More recently he has vered into editing a book on the disruptive psychology of climate change, _Depth Psychology, Disorder and Climate Change_ (JungDownunder Books 2009) and is currently co-authoring a book called _Disorder and the Disinformation Society: The Social Dynamics of Networks and Software_ (forthcoming Routledge).

Week 3: Johannes Birringer (UK) and Deena Larsen (US)

Johannes Birringer is is a choreographer and artistic director of AlienNation Co (www.aliennationcompany.com), and co-founder of a telematic performance collective (ADaPT).  He has directed numerous multimedia theatre, dance, and digital performances in Europe, the Americas, Japan and China; collaborated on site-specific installations, and exhibited work at film and video festivals. Author of _Theatre, Theory, Postmodernism_ (1991), _Media and Performance_ (1998), _Performance on the Edge_ (2000), _Performance, Technology and Science_ (2009). Founder of Interaktionslabor (http://interaktionslabor.de), and co-director of DAP-Lab, Brunel University (London), where he is Professor of Performance Technologies.

Deena Larsen has been a hypertext/elit/new media writer since the early 1990s. Her first work, _Marble Springs 1.0_ (Eastgate Systems, 1993) explores loss, death, pain, and suffering by showing connections in a virtual world. _Marble Springs 3.0_ (http://marblesprings.wikidot.com/ ) now showcases these ties in a wiki where tags take readers through adultery and alcohol, death and deafness, stillbirths and secrets. Deena has merged her own real-life pain of losing her soul-mate with her virtual work. Deena met the love of her life, MaJe Larsen (nee Mary Jean Kindschuh) in 2006. On their first date, MaJe read the tattered notes of Deena's hypertext mystery novel, _Disappearing Rain_, on Deena's living room wall and understood the virtual multi-dimensionality of the work immediately. They had four and a half years of electronic writing, true love, hospitals, and death (MaJe saved Deena's life by advocating for good, innovative doctors as Deena was dying from complications from a rare disease, but MaJe did not survive her own battle with ovarian cancer). They wrote one work together, _A Modern Moral Fairy Tale_ and, as they were writing, they each knew that MaJe's portion was also her eulogy. The salmon history MaJe crafted (http://www.deenalarsen.net/mmf/s1.html ) represents a taoist attitude toward death and suffering, using zen koans as a navigational aid to underscore the cyclic nature of pain and death in a virtual world.  This guest discussion is dedicated to the memory of MaJe Larsen, 12/18/1958 - 10/18/2012.

Week 4: Maria Damon (US) 

Maria Damon teaches poetry and poetics at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of _The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry_ and _Postliterary America: From Bagel Shop Jazz to Micropoetries_, co-author of several books of poetry and online projects with mIEKAL aND (_Literature Nation_, _Eros/ion_, _pleasureTEXTpossession_, _E.n.t.r.a.n.c.e.d_) and one with Jukka-Pekka Kervinen (_Door Marked X_), and co-editor, with Ira Livingston, of _Poetry and Cultural Studies: A Reader_.

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