[-empyre-] Alan Sondheim, opening comments

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sun Jan 5 17:50:49 EST 2014

Thank you Patrick, for inviting me, and for your opening remarks. I want 
to talk a bit about my experiences in virtual world performance, which 
emphasize several things - that the virtual is always with us, and 
predates/presages the currency of digital virtuality today; that 
performance work in virtual worlds is fully entangled with the "real"; 
that the virtual is always real, and the real is always virtual (the rest 
is undifferentiated/differentiated substance) - and that, as Heinz von 
Foerster would have it decades ago, the determinative of culture and 
organism might be formal negation, a turning-away. All my performance work 
is interactive, online often with Sandy Baldwin, and with audience as 
well, both within and without the gamespace. I'm fascinated with the 
ability to create physical collapse - very often near the end of a 
performance I'll destroy the sly-platform, and all of us, including 
audience, will fall a kilometer or so, to the ground. Language entangles 
all of this activity - to the extent of occluding the screen at times, so 
what is going on can only be inferred.

I find the apparent clarity of virtual worlds disturbing; everything of 
course is defined by protocols, scripts, and the digital in general, so 
that everything exists as if it were in a "clean and proper room," to 
borrow from Kristeva. My avatars and environments attempt to contradict 
this as much as possible, "smearing" boundary and object, so that what's 
present relates more to Lynn Margulis' superorganism, than to a body 
composed of articulations, parts, and well-defined flows. The world as I 
see it is a melange of affect and effect, analog and digital. There are so 
many ways everything entangles:

through the use of dancers simultaneously presenting in front of the 
screen and within the virtual world;
through performances described and embedded in real-world behaviors or 
mixed realities;
through the use of multiple live video projections in relation to the 
virtual worlds;
through the presence of horrific or distorted images in virtual worlds 
that clearly "originate" in real-world scenes, bodies, deaths;
and so forth.

I'm involved in the MacGrid project, a very large array of sims based on 
the OpenSim architecture, originating among Canadian artists and 
scientists (I gave the keynote speech at a conference/workshop on the 
project at McMaster University in Hamilton last year). There is a lot of 
work being done there with neurophysiologists and others on the use of 
such virtual worlds for biological research; as this plays out, we will 
increasingly find such worlds as central to our making sense of the world 
around us in general.

Advantages of virtual worlds (by which I mean digital worlds): people can 
meet from all over the world, interact live in a virtual space, and 
interact with any performance or presentation going on; the worlds permit 
manipulation of physics and avatar appearance in almost unlimited ways, 
which gives us the ability to experience other possilities of being; the 
software is relatively portable and intimate; the possibility of 
communality therefore exists on many different levels.

I should note that virtuality now ranges from AR thru Kinect and wearables 
and it's becoming clearer that our language, our symbolic habitus, itself 
is both virtual and malleable; that virtuality may well escape the analog/ 
digital distinction as it develops an increasingly neurophysiological 
basis and implementation; that culture and virtuality are and always have 
been, deeply entangled; that culture is trans-species and "occurs all the 
way down"; and that the world is far more entangled in general than we 
might ever have imagined under the dual signs of modernism/postmodernism.

In relation to Stelarc, I wonder if he does not _have_ a body, and even 
the particulation of the body - does not this reflect something beyond or 
behind us? And what selves are there, and are there shelves, not selves?

Thank you greatly,



Here is a slightly updated bio -

Alan Sondheim was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; he lives with his 
partner, Azure Carter in Providence. He holds a B.A. and M.A. from 
Brown University in English. A new-media artist, writer, and theorist, 
he has exhibited, performed and lectured widely.

Sondheim finished a successful residency at Eyebeam Art and Technology 
Center in New York in March 2012; while there, he performed with Foofwa 
d'Imobilite and Monika Weiss; created a series of sound pieces based on 
very low frequency radio and building vibrations; produced a number of 
'dead or wounded' models of avatars usings 3d printing technology; and 
worked on a series of texts dealing with issues of pain and its relation 
to the virtual. He continues to work on these themes, which he presented
at SXSW Interactive 2013. Last year, he spoke at HASTAC on animal
and plant extinctions and similar themes at Subtle Tech; he also spoke and 
demonstrated on a glitch panel at South-by-Southwest in Austin.

Sondheim's writings include Writing Under (West Virginia University Press, 
2012) the anthology Being on Line: Net Subjectivity (Lusitania, 1996), 
Disorders of the Real (Station Hill, 1988), .echo (alt-X digital arts, 
2001), Vel (Blazevox 2004-5), Sophia (Writers Forum, 2004), Orders of the 
Real (Writers Forum, 2005), The Accidental Artist (Fort/Da), 
Azure/Nature/Digital (Blue Lion, 2009), The Wayward (Salt, 2004), and Deep 
Language (Salt, 2010). Sondheim's videos and films have been shown 
internationally; some of his work with Foofwa d'Imobilite is documented at 
http://foofwa.com .

In 2008, Sondheim had a solo installation and nine-month residency at the 
Odyssey exhibition space in the virtual world Second Life; he currently 
works in the Odyssey sim and the MacGrid multi-server virtual world. He 
has performed for LowLives and the Virtual Futures conference (both 2011). 
Sondheim has worked on augmented reality pieces with Mark Skwarek; he 
continues to work with motion capture files created at Columbia College, 
Chicago; and has been creating complex performances in OpenSim, Second 
Life, and MacGrid. Last year, he was also keynote speaker at the MacGrid 
Workshop/Conference in Hamilton, Ontario.

In 2008 he was on an eight-month National Science Foundation (NSF) 
consultancy at WVU. His research is in the art and aesthetics of codework, 
body and behavioral modeling, virtual environments, and avatars in 
general. In 2007, Sondheim was also the recipient of a New Media New York 
State Council of the Arts grant. Sondheim's digital work is archived at 
Cornell; his tapes and other materials are archived at NYU's Fales 
Collection, Bobst Library; and much of his curatorial and written work is 
archived at Ohio State University's Avant Writing Collection in Columbus.

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