[-empyre-] setting fire to avatars, collapsing realities

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Sat Jan 11 09:21:59 EST 2014

dear all

In the beginning of this month's debate, Patrick Lichty proposed for the first week that we look at 
"Interaction, Performance and Introductions to Bodies and Space",  and in his own opening statement
he spoke of "caricatures" of remediation (re: Abramovic) of body art in virtual worlds, when bodies are removed
and then went on to ask about affect and empathy generated in such virtual worlds. Amongst references to his
own work, he mentioned 

>>While I think what the cognitive chain of affect->sense->feel is
much better served by Nathaniel Stern, I would like to approach the subject
from the opposite side of the coin.

and asked about "evidence" for real affective interaction in virtual spaces..

Alan Sondheim sent a series of fascinating missives and at one point argued that
setting fire to an avatar is setting fire to nothing, and I was wondering whether this
could be discussed further, as I assumed he was talking about the consequences of
burning an avatar or of an auto-da-fé -   namely that there are none.

When I expressed my skepticism about the virtual, over the past week, or argued that "interactivity"
in the performance arts turned out to some of us as a limiting concept  (and not an "institutiuonalized"
discourse or practice) and an aesthetically encumbered technical instrumentation, I was also implicitly
trying to question what folks mean when they speak of embodiment. What kind of embodiment? 
and kind of "real affective interaction?

Perhaps examples could be usesful, and since Patrick mentioned Nathaniel Stern's work, I tried to have a look,
not at his new book (Interactive Art & Embodiment), which I don't have available, but at some of his complementary open writing
or networked book 'in production" where he speaks, in one chapter, about some of his interactive installations and provdes
some clips on the functioning of "enter:hektor", the odys seres, "elicit", and "stuttering" -  all works seemingly connecting
audience action (gestural) with language or words that flash up on the screen.


Watching the audience groping for words, or, as we had mentioned this week, grappling with "shadows",
I could not help remembering a number of similar works in dance and installation art which solicit this kind
of actor/audience groping (in a mimetic or mirror mode, not now thinking yet of kinetic empathy and anything neurophysiological).
I wonder what others here think watching the interface, and the accompanying statement on the networked textsite that

>> thisbody of work can, perhaps, be described as an exploration of the interstitial itself – revisiting between technology and text the dangerous spaces of enfleshment, incipience, and process>>

I looked for the danger but didn't see it, but then I thought of another example that did affect me in many ways, too long to go into here,
but I had been following William Kentridge's work for a while, and his "The Refusal of Time" I believe is currently on view in New York in a 'roughed up' space at the MET.


I also found the sound (Philip Miller) and thus could listen at the words and sound of the installation,

http://www.philipmiller.info/audio/the-refusal-of-time/ - jwplayer

having read somewhere in an art review that (Alan Sondheim might appreciate this) that the audience in this installation by the South African artist
might not only be riveted by an extraordinary inventiveness (of the visual animations and the machines and objects built to move inside the space),
but also comforted by a "vision of a universe where, by the postulates of contemporary physics, we are eternalized – for if we accept the tenets
of string theory as presented here, then pictures, snippets of conversation, and even emotions [affect?] are all part of a kind of universal archive,
preserved forever on the edge if a black hole."

I never found Kentrdidge's  work that reassuring, as it tends to probe quite deeply, scathingly, into the historical and political layers of the unreconciled story of his
country;  I was intrigued by the spoken words that come through the music

>How do we know we are in time?<

What kind of silence/noise (or not) is breathlessness  [Kentridge exhorts us to breathe, not to forget to breathe,  reminding us of the body's measure of time passing on]? And is writing ever silent or always so? 
when breath stops or is held in (refusal of time?) -– the music of Miller tells us ––"a black hole in the shape of a full stop swallows the sentence."

But the sentence about this is spoken clearly, while the music blurbs and stutters and slinks and glitches, and disturbs us, thus affecting our real bodies in space (not virtually)? 

Johannes Birringer

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