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

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sat Jan 11 13:53:55 EST 2014

On Fri, 10 Jan 2014, Johannes Birringer wrote:

> 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..
Thinking about this, think of this as a parenthesis, I've always felt that 
duplication or remediation of physical activity in virtual worlds can be 
deflecting or worse; the power of Abramovic of course and with Ulay was in 
their flesh; what happens in remediation is that a plane of inscription is 
created which is untethered, which is specatcle, as she was in her 
activity in NYC recently.

Reneactment I find a bit frightening in the face of current slaughter/ 
extinction and I wonder if someone might re-enact those rare earth mines 
in SL?

> 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-f? - namely that there are none.

But to contradict myself, there are to the extent that pain is numb, 
inert, and that things (think arousal) may be conjured up; the 
consequences per se may be nothing, but the effect/affect on audience is 
something else. And for my own referencing here, I'd bring in Bharata's 
Natyasastra, which postulates a complex dramatological system of codes 
with which actors might portray pain or death for example, the audience 
comprehending and feeling, through the system of codes, what is portrayed
- certainly similar chains of inscription and hermeneutics occur in SL.
> 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?
I'd ask you in return, what does it mean to "speak of embodiment" at all, 
for example, in relation to the problems raised in Scarry's writing on 

> 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.
> http://stern.networkedbook.org/body-language/
> 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.
> http://whiteelephantonwheels.blogspot.com/2013/12/william-kentridge-refusal-of-time.html
> 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 haven't read this but this is a bit of a misinterpretation I think 
(correct me if I'm wrong); this is the holographic model and references 
the cosmic event horizon of the universe; it's also not saying that this 
information is ever retrievable (it's not), so as a "universal archive" - 
one would have to look elsewhere.

> 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)?
I'd love to have other people enter in here; I'm not that familiar with 
the sources. I do think the metaphor of the black hole is problematic, but 
that's my own difficulty with cultural uses of science.

Apologies for my ignorance,

- Alan

> regards
> Johannes Birringer
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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