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Trapped to Reveal - On Webcam Mediated Communication and Collaboration

 

Annie Abrahams

 

I am not a performer, I use performance to do research.

I am not a researcher, I use research in my performance pieces.

I am a performer who uses research as a medium.

I am a performer researching encounters.

-03 2011 Annie Abrahams

 

Background

Texts by Sherry Turkle, Brad Troemel, Boris Groys, Jacques Rancière and Michael Goddard on Guattari and Berardi, that I have read recently, and an interview I had with Maria Chatzichristodoulou, helped me to better understand my webcam performance practice. Besides being a tool to experiment with machine mediated collaboration and communication, these performances also reveal ordinary, vulnerable and messy aspects of human communication.
 
In her book Alone Together Sherry Turkle [1] describes how we hide more and more behind technology, and how intimate communications become something to avoid rather than to look for. Smartphones help us to flee our fear of the other. We learn to control our relations via interfaces and are adapting our behaviour to this new situation. Facebook for instance teaches us how to simulate intimacy, how to make relations easy, clean, and free of danger. Brad Troemel in Why You Should Make Yourself Someone Else Online argues along the same lines; "The process of image management on Facebook is already less an outpouring of expression than it is an exercise in omission of information about one's self." [2] So these relations also become superficial and make us ask, "Who are we when we don't perform? Why can't we show our vulnerable, messy sides? Why can't I be boring and cherish solitude anymore?"

How can we aim for a better, happier world if we don't allow ourselves to exist, if we are not ready to confront our sloppy sides and take them as a departure point for our thoughts and actions? How can we pretend to change a world if we are not even capable of looking honestly at ourselves? Maybe we should answer Guattari's question, "Why have the immense processual potentials brought forth by the revolutions in information processing, telematics, robotics, office automation, biotechnology and so on, so far only led to a monstrous reinforcement of earlier systems of alienation, an oppressive mass-media culture and an infantilising politics of consensus?" [3]

Maybe we should pay less attention to change and agree with Boris Groys that "…change is our status quo. Permanent change is our only reality. And in the prison of permanent change, to change the status quo would be to change the change—to escape the change." [4] Maybe this would be possible if we could be more interested in what he calls (after Agamben and Benjamin) weak visibility and weak public gestures. Maybe our humanity can be saved through an attention for simple daily, repetitive, always returning actions, for unchanging affects and desires.

Maria Chatzichristodoulou also touched upon this in the article she wrote about my show at HTTP Gallery (now Furtherfield Gallery) in 2010 "Abrahams's Still Life is commonplace, messy and malleable. It is about the 'banal' reality of everyday life, time passing by, people crossing paths in fractured, desperate or indifferent attempts to communicate. This everyday quality opens up Abrahams's Shared Still Life to movement, dust, miscommunication, and shared absence." [5]

In a society where authenticity and privacy become endangered it is important to find ways to access our vulnerabilities and doubts, to make them public, to cherish our messy side. We need to make space for the beast in the beauty, to go back to reality, to claim the human. "We need to trap reality in order to make it available for thought." (Paraphrasing Jaques Rancière's "Le réel doit être fictionné pour être pensée". [6])

 

Motivation

When people started discussing, dreaming of and glorifying the advantages of Internet collaborations I was very sceptical. Experiences in the past with for instance the French collaborative website called lieudit.org (1998 - 2000) [7] showed me that it was very difficult to negotiate and overcome political and philosophical differences. In fact the advertisements for a lot of the social web devices made me angry, I felt vexed.

Did nobody understand that collaboration using machines wasn't easier, maybe not more difficult either, but simply different from ordinary face to face communication?

The Big Kiss performed with Mark River (of MTAA) in New York (2007) [8]  might have looked like an intimate performance, but it was closer to a "drawing à deux" session than to a real kiss, even if it did awaken intimate feelings just as drawing a kiss-on paper might have done. Susan Kozel talked about similar findings in her article Spacemaking: experiences of a virtual body. "It was a variation or extension rather than a technological replica." she wrote on her experience in the Telematic Dreaming performance by Paul Sermon. [9] In the performance One the puppet of the other with Nicolas Frespech (Paris 2007) [10], we felt most intimate when we didn't exchange anything, when we were waiting, when nothing happened. Earlier telematic projects such as Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway's Hole in Space (1980) and Electronic Café International (1984) [11] or Paul Sermon's Telematic Dreaming (1992) [12] did explore relational possibilities in machine mediated environments, but paid little attention to it's moments of failure or it's messiness as integrated parts of the relation. I felt it was time to explore the relational conditions and behaviour of humans living in an increasingly technologized society again.

So I began thinking about using the webcam interface developed by Clément Charmet (panoplie.org) [13] in 2006 for an artistic research project on machine mediated collaboration. At the end of 2008 we did the first tests for Huis Clos / No Exit during the Laboratoire International de recherche Interactive digital media on stage, organised by NU2's at L'Animal a l'Esquena, in Celrà, Spain.

Other contemporary artists such as Mette Ingvartsen in her project Where is my privacy (2009) [14],  also ventured into this terrain and started using webcam communication in their performance and dance practice. During seven months Mette Ingvartsen, Sirah Foighel Brutmann and Manon Santkin experimented with how to make a choreography together without ever seeing each other or working together in the same space. They used YouTube as their only form of communication, with one single restriction; to never upload videos of their dancing! Martina Ruhsam and Mariella Greil used a scripted Skype session to talk about collaboration in dance practice during a presentation for the On Collaboration symposium at Middlesex University – Performing Arts on 4 May 2012. [15]  Gretta Louw in her 240 hours lasting performance Controlling_Connectivity [16] asked how the internet changes us? For ten days Gretta shut herself up in a gallery in Berlin and removed herself from any analogue contact with the exterior world, while at the same time and in contrast to her physical disconnection, she connected to an examination of the effect of the explosion in social media and the Internet on our perception of time, social interactions, and psychological functioning. Helen Varley Jamieson has been developing a practice of cyberformance - live performance on the internet – for over a decade. Make-Shift [17] made together with Paula Crutchlow is her last cyberformance project where she uses webcams in an intricate play between  dispersed audiences.

All these projects use webcam communication, but none of these sets out to explore it's specificities and potential to reveal human behaviour.


Interface for the performer - leftside controls - middle shared surface - right chatwindow.
Testing the server capacity with 24 remorely connected women.

 

The final performance interface, developed in 2009 by Estelle Senay of x-réseau / Théâtre Paris- La Villette, unites several performers, each in his/her own environment while executing a performance protocol in front of a webcam, in one single video projection. From their isolated positions, scattered in space, these performers share a place of expression and responsibility, a playground, a laboratory.

 

Performers are alone together

*They are connected, using a webcam, to a shared interface where they can see images and hear the sounds from all the other performers and themselves.

*This interface has the form of a grid.

*They share image boundaries and can interact spatially with the other performers.

*The sound the performer hears is a mix of all the sounds from the other performers. 

*Because of network delays the way the interface has been constructed, no two performers receive the same images and sound at the same time.

*To avoid delay - difficulties while speaking, performers cannot hear their own voices, and cannot judge their participation in the total sound environment.

*The performers must wear a headset to avoid feedback.

*The performers execute a protocol or script together. Sometimes this is just a simple rule, sometimes a few pages of text, but there are always open instructions that need to be negotiated by the performers during the performance. See the annexes for some examples.


 

Before each performance the performers need to be instructed. For the internet only performances there are private technical test sessions. For the mixed real life and internet performances there is a minimum of 3 hours of technical preparation. Email exchanges complete this. See the annexes for an example.

 

Projects

In this exposition I use material from three performance series I work on. These three projects have different meanings and intentions but share a similar approach that I will try to describe, in order to get a grip on their shared specificities. The results of the individual projects will not be discussed in detail.

Huis Clos / No Exit (2008 – 2012): An ongoing networked performance series investigating and staging the limits and possibilities of machine mediated collaboration. On the sidelines the project also researches combinations of online and real live performance in theatrical and contemporary art situations.
8 Performances, 4 workshops, 1 demo, texts, protocols, videos, photos, reactions: bram.org/huisclos
 
Angry Women (2011 – 2012): An ongoing networked performance project experimenting with collaboration and group dynamics around female anger.
5 Takes, videos, analyses: bram.org/angry/women/

Conversations between Antye Greie (aka AGF) and Annie Abrahams. (2010 – 2012) An ongoing series of streaming performances where Annie and Antye explore their online relation, using, text, sound, images and the internet. The project will end as soon as they meet for real.
13 Sessions, videos, text: bram.org/meeting/AGF/

 

Video illustrations

 

Huis Clos / No Exit - Tout va Bien
demo - performance for the "Self-Reflexivity and Cinéma Verité" session curated by Martine Neddam
Studium Generale 2011 "Cinema Clash Continuum - Film & History in the age of Godard"
30 March 2011, Rietveld academy, Amsterdam
With Balthazar Berling, Lola Bezemer, Rozemarijn Hermans,Tirza Kater, Alexander Laurie and Anna Orlikowska

 

15 min of waiting, adjusting before the 27 min on Anger in the Angry Women Take 2 performance.
 With Martina Ruhsam, Pascale Barret, Laurie Bellanca, Anne Laforet, Hedva Eltanani, Karen Dermineur, Simona Polvani, Lizvlx, Sabine Revillet, Ursula Endlicher, Albertine Meunier, Hortense Gauthier.

 

Le cri de la victoire. 1.06 min of joy after more than 40 min on Anger in the Angry Women Take1 performance. 7 07 2011


Preferences, the first of 9 Domestic Streaming performances in the frame of A Meeting is a Meeting is a Meeting; the first series of online remote Conversations between Annie Abrahams and Antye Greie aka AGF.

 

Research?

When studying biology (doctoral degree in 1978) I had to observe a colony of monkeys in a zoo. I found this very interesting because I learned something about human communities by watching the apes. Nowadays I observe behaviour on the internet with the same curiosity and interest.

To illustrate my approach, some citations from an interview Maria Chatzichristodoulou conducted with me in 2011 [18]:

In my art I often act as a scientist. My work is experimental, in the sense that my performances are experiments. I ask a question. Then I create a situation, using formal protocols and rules, that I hope will give an answer to my question. ... Often, especially if a performance outcome is confusing to me in relation to my initial question, I collect responses from observers that might help me better understand the process or the outcome. My projects are not immersive –I want the observers to keep a certain distance, I want to make them think. ... I don't want the audience to be immersed in my performances. I want them to be distanced; in fact, I don't want them to be an audience at all, I would prefer to think of them as involved observers. ... Maybe a performance is for me, as an artist, what an article is to a scientific researcher –that is, a way to make public, to share, something that you think is important for other people to know about or to feel.

Nothing is ever repeated. Whenever I work with performers twice I take care to change the protocol. There are no rehearsals, only tests.

I don't impose, I propose. I offer a situation. I do not explain. I let the performers be, let them take possession of the proposition, use it as they think it suits them so we can watch them trying, evolving, progressing, navigating between their individual presence and collective construction.

As a biologist I had to start with a hypothesis in order to prepare my experiment and to be able to use the results to either confirm or deny this hypothesis. As an artist I use the structural aspects and the rigor of research in a performance situation in order to reveal human behaviour. The performance is both the experiment and the outcome of the experiment. Human behaviour is my aesthetic material.

Besides trying to get grip on what was happening via written texts I also issue videos after the performances. Some are proof or witnesses; some have the status of stand-alone videos, others of remixes or even cinema. They are as real as the performance moments were, but they exist in a different conceptual frame and serve other goals.

For an interesting approach to the relation between art and research, to which I strongly connect, I refer to The artist as researcher, page 7 - 8 of Helen Varley Jamieson's thesis Adventures in cyberformance - experiments at the interface of theatre and the Internet. [19]

 

A question of control?

The performances in the frame of Huis Clos / No Exit, Angry Women and Conversations are all concerned with communication in a dispersed group of people connected via webcams. The project Angry Women is about anger and not, for instance, about love or sex and although the experience would be completely different if we changed the subject, I am sure it would still be as much as before about collaboration and group-dynamics.

The projects situate a condition of lonely togetherness, of life constructing a commonality, of being together and sharing this condition of co-responsibility, of scripted auto-organisation.

In a certain way the performers exist in two distinct spaces and this puts them in a double-bind situation and brings along gestures of noise, the sound of loneliness and an aesthetic of attention.

Because the performers are looking at a mirror image of themselves, they lose spatial control and can't trust their body while doing simple actions as trying to touch something at the right side or left side. While the bodies are absent / have become images that disorient in the interface, the bodies exist in front of the computer. But there they are constrained due to the fixed position and the manipulations imposed by the webcam and headset, and sometimes even more so due to computers that have to be carried and cables, which link them to the Internet (they make me think of umbilical chords) that have to be monitored.

 

 

The performers are incapable of knowing, by changing the position of one's head as one does in real life, who is making what sound or who exactly is saying what, because all the sound of the different individual performers is coming in through one pair of earphones, so the performer evolves in a unified sound environment. Moreover the image interface is pixelized and of low quality, (streaming needs compression and I purposely have chosen to use home conditions and material that most people who have an Internet connection have available) so details are lacking and the performer cannot see subtleties in the face or in body expression. Besides she is incapable of watching all of the different images at the same time. The view will wander across the screen. There cannot be a complete overview.

An additional issue here is network-delay. No two computers will receive the streams exactly at the same time. Sometimes the difference will be milliseconds sometimes it can be up to several minutes. Curt Cloninger wrote about this special space time continuum that one experiences in web-performance while we were preparing our web performance Double  Blind (love) in 2009. [20]

So, in general, perceiving what is going on is difficult and interacting is hazardous – there are the technical difficulties that affect attention, but there is also the desire to stick to one's role as a performer, the notes taken beforehand. There are the prepared scenarios to follow. There is the difficulty of acting within a universe with limited feedback, the desire to control one's image, the difficulty of seeing oneself perform, of facing this image. The webcam is not only mirroring our image but is also a mirror and the performers have difficulties avoiding narcissistic behaviour.

 

Conclusion
 
In my web performances the performers have so much to do and so little control that their communication both suffers (becomes more difficult) and prospers (becomes more honest) due to these conditions. The performers are so occupied by their interactions, that they don't have time to negotiate their image as they normally would on the Internet and so, almost without being aware of it, they show their vulnerabilities and doubts, their messy and sloppy sides, their "hidden code". They go beyond self-representation and the control that this requires.
 
This means that during the performances the performers are sort of trapped and can't escape revealing normal human behaviour. In this respect my artistic approach is very close to those of Artur Zmijewski and Phil Collins, of whom Claire Bishop in her article Social Turn, Collaboration and its Discontent says "Rather than positioning themselves within an activist lineage, in which art is marshaled to effect social change, these artists have a closer relationship to avant-garde theater, performance, or architectural theory. As a consequence, perhaps, they attempt to think the aesthetic and the social/political together, rather than subsuming both within the ethical." [21]

Collaboration as an art practice is highly debated. In her article (2006), Claire Bishop opposes the political and the artistic aspects of collaborative artistic practice and deplores the often ethical approach prevailing above an aesthetic approach in the reception of these works. [22] I would like to think that as soon as you consider collaboration not as necessarily consensual, you can go beyond these binary problematics and start navigating in a domain that doesn't make you choose between politics and art. A domain that uses difference and singularities to open up a new space of being with others and thereby enable new unspectacular ways of communicating. [23] Maybe this would help developing a precarious regime of aesthetics based on speed, intermittence, blurring and fragility as Bourriaud suggested. [24] But I suggest we replace speed with attention. In this perspective it would be interesting to explore the operationality of Jean-Luc Nancy's concepts of "we" and "being with" as I met them via the article The Joy of Co-belonging? by Martina Ruhsam, in my performance practice.

 

Reactions Experiences

In fact I think that the series Duet - Satz as well as the first series MeetingS – ConversationS work on the idea of affect as perception of our existence in the world, our vitality and becoming, and so, too, of our ability to create and share other times and spaces. Affect implies bodies and, as it makes them porous, it also moves through the intercorporeal world…
...Something, however, is common to this series: their willingness of plastic and relational experimentation undoes the "spectacle" on the screen and allows us to experience, in an intimate and poetic way, what is to "be in relation to", in what it has of gift, proximity, failure and mismatch...
… "Occupy breath", that is, "occupy one's own body" is a principle of performative and political rupture with the spectacle of the manipulation of the affections, typical to the dominant neoliberalism, which leaves us precisely "breathless", able to spend money but no time, immersed in permanent crisis and alertness…
Extract from "On Duet - Satz, A letter to Annie", Margarida Carvalho

 

...yes, i agree that watching ones-self makes it a very difficult experience; i think i would like to try if/when we do it again, to cover up my own image - even if i'm just putting a bit of paper over it on the screen; so that i am not constantly distracted by what i look like. then it may be more possible to speak and listen at the same time, or at the least to remove the level of self-censorship that inevitably comes into it when you are faced with your own face...
...but the attraction to look back at myself was always very strong; sometimes i was checking the placement of my head and shoulders in the frame, or the light, or being self-critical about "how" i looked or sounded; or self-consciously trying to "be" angry.
Extract from "On Duet - Satz, A letter to Annie", Margarida Carvalho

 

...delays, offsets, difficulties to orient, voice and speech identification errors, direction errors, escapements, the delicate orchestration, fleeting, fragile, the large grid, the ability to place the view to the others
and straight ahead, to these others one cannot see... the fact that we are not truly together, yes we are, no not, and to feel that fiction is possible...
Julie Chateauvert

 

...Although I have to say that my perception of the total picture was very very limited when I was participating because I was so concentrated on what I might say and I was really working on staying in a state of anger also when I didn´t talk. I was also nervous – mainly because of the mirror-situation – and therefore clinged to the notes that I had prepared in advance – being quite unable to really listen or watch what the other women did/said...

 


...I enjoyed the multiple frames and all the heterogenous ways of how to deal with this situation. What I like a lot is the contingency that the performance implies and exposes. It is obvious that it is not really clear or determined for us what is going to happen. That makes it very interesting to watch...

 

 

...What I was really struggling with is the mirror-situation – you mentioned. The fact that we permanently had to watch our own faces while trying to express anger made it quite difficult.
And it is visible in the results (in some faces more, in some faces less) that we are quite busy with how we look, with caring about our images – the picture. This aspect is not very interesting for me. But it can hardly be avoided when working with webcams...

Martina Ruhsam

 

I think it's impossible to look at yourself and express yourself (truthfully) at the same time. (it's like you losing yourself)

Ienke Kastelein

 

...in terms of performance this felt to me like an improvisational session, in the jazz music  sense, when one plays with others developing the performance based on a sense of care not only for one's act but also for what everyone else is doing in that time-space continuum.

Paula Roush

Extracts from an email exchange between participation artists after Angry Women Take 3 &4

 

It awakens your senses in a destabilizing world (difficult to film one's own mouth!), improbable responses (laughter, discomfort...) while penetrating the privacy of the Other using computer tools - collaboration of human thought outside the human body.
.. Which brings us to all kind of ethical and philosophical thoughts, and makes these experiments meaningful.
Aurélien Garcia  participant in the workshop

Aurélien Garcia  participant in the workshop Huis Clos / No Exit - On Collaboration Session 3 CNRR/TPM et INGEMEDIA/Université -Sud Toulon-Var. 01 2011

 

The crash, the bug  pushed me a little in my entrenchments and so showed another presence to the world... to be seen figuring out how to make an image without controlling it, not to be seen, leaving behind me something that orders: We must always "do good and even better". Not going on the stage, tension and erasure, leaving behind the referential and already previously constructed plastic object...

Emilie Schalck after Huis / Clos / No Exit - Training for a Better World, 12 2011, CRAC LR Sète.


…we developed our language  -- on the fly. The language of the six of us, as artists, net artists, language speaking, visual language "speaking" selves...
It felt like touching upon and establishing an early grammar of this new – our  – language... and improvising on it…

Ursula Endlicher participating artist

 

…I liked the aesthetic of colours/shapes/noise etc, as well as, when we were apparently stuck in front of our webcams, thinking about our condition of net artists performing a miscommunication and realising how it was actually so real.

Paolo Cirio participating artist


…by attempting to be properly sensual and sociable we performed network discomfort and uncertainty. It felt like an intense vacuum.
My words are understood by all but don't I understand anyone else's words.
I am excluded from future conversations with the others by my own mono-cultural being and perspective. It is not the same as being deaf though, more like aphasia. The fact that I don't understand the others' words sensitises me to the tone and timbre of their voices- taps into a more emotional part of me. I feel like a teenager.

Ruth Catlow participating artist


…I would like to be in the place of the spectator. I like to watch them. I try to play with the screen, I draw a heart. I feel desperately alone. I wonder how other people define themselves in this performance, who are they? The body is not present, we are faces, we are not exhibiting ourselves on Chatroulette. We reveal a big spectacle of loneliness… of misunderstanding, poetic situations conditioned or not, failed attempts, frustrated desires ... what I call a connected world finally disconnected!…

Nicolas Frespech participating artist


Webcams are narcissistic devices, they always present you with your own image while you're talking to someone else.
In your performance you have six persons looking at themselves through their webcam and looking at the others who are looking at themselves...
Where narcissism becomes kaleidoscopic...

Martine Neddam assisting in NimK

 

Lost in space and time, on a true tower of Babel.
I hesitate about "on" a tower of Babel or "in" a tower... the English may not be correct, but "in" translates better that I felt myself, as part of the audience, inside the (virtual) Tower of Babel: this tower doesn’t go up but fans out in all possible directions.

Ienke Kastelein assisting in NimK

 

I had before me a model of our civilization as it is: six people very individuated, identifiable by their language, their faces, their sex, all in their private space with the desire to create something together using their differences. In a way I found this performance very political: it showed us all the tensions of being both unique and multiple, the difficulties both technical and relational that entails having to invent a common ground that does not erase any particularities.

Bérénice Belpaire assisting online

Extract from reactions to Huis Clos / No Exit - On Translation NimK Amsterdam 29 05 2010

 

 

Thanks to Pall Thayer and Jan de Weille for proofreading.


NOTES

[1] ^ Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011)

[2] ^Brad Troemel, Peer Pressure (Link Editions, 2012) p 98

[3] ^ Michael Goddard, "Felix and Alice in Wonderland: The Encounter between Guattari and Berardi and the Post-Media Era" generation-online.org/p/fpbifo1.htm [accessed September 16, 2012]

[4] ^ Boris Groys ,"The weak Universalism", e-flux journal 2011, e-flux.com/journal/the-weak-universalism/ [accessed September 19, 2012]

[5] ^ Maria Chatzichristodoulou, "If not you not me, Annie Abrahams and life in network", Digimag 54 Mai 2010, digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1793 [accessed September 16, 2012]

[6] ^ Jacques Rancière, "Le Partage du Sensible", page 61, Esthétique et politique, Paris, La Fabrique, 2000, ISBN 2 913372 05 8.  scribd.com/doc/60926879/Le-Partage-Du-Sensible-Jacques-Ranciere [accessed September 19, 2012]

[7] ^ lieudit.org was a website co-administrated with at least 8 other French artists, whom I never met.

[8] ^ Annie Abrahams, "The Big Kiss", 2007, bram.org/toucher/TBK.html [accessed September 16, 2012]

[9] ^ Susan Kozel,'Spacemaking: experiences of a virtual body', 1994, art.net/~dtz/kozel.html [accessed September 16, 2012]

[10] ^ Annie Abrahams and Nicolas Frespech, "One the puppet of the Other", 2007, confront/sphere/indexeng.html [accessed September 16, 2012]

[11] ^ Overview of "Telecollaborative art projects of ECI founders Galloway and Rabinowitz, 1977 to present", http://18thstreet.org/public-programs/art-archive/pacific-standard-time/kit-galloway-sherrie-rabinowitz-electronic-cafe-international [accessed October 15, 2012] For Hole in Space see http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/hole-in-space/ [accessed October 15, 2012]

[12] ^ Paul Sermon, "Telematic Dreaming", creativetechnology.salford.ac.uk/paulsermon/dream/ [accessed September 16, 2012]

[13] ^ From 2006 – 2009 we organised the Breaking Solitude and Double Bind web-performance series around the idea of the internet as a public space of solitude.  panoplie.org/2008.panoplie.org/#//DoubleBind [accessed September 16, 2012]

[14] ^ http://metteingvartsen.net/2011/09/wheres-my-privacy/ and http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=576FC16B78A5B702

[15] ^ Mariella Greil and Martina Ruhsam,'I want to work with you because I can speak for myself', http://vimeo.com/41489283 [accessed September 16, 2012]

[16] ^ Gretta Louw, "Controlling_Connectivity", Art Laboratory Berlin 2011. controllingconnectivity.tumblr.com/controlling_connectivity [accessed September 16, 2012]

[17] ^ Helen Varley Jamieson and Paula Crutchlow, "Make Shift", started in 2010 creative-catalyst.com/make-shift/ [accessed September 16, 2012]

[18] ^ Maria Chatzichristodoulou, "Annie Abrahams, Allergic to utopias", Digimag 58 October 2010, digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1902 (accessed September 7, 2011).

[19] ^ Helen Varley Jamieson, "Adventures in cyberformance - experiments at the interface of theatre and the Internet" 2008 thesis available from creative-catalyst.com/thesis.html

[20] ^ "We don't have the luxury of being 'in' the same time, and so much traditional composition is based on the assumption that the performers have the luxury of being in synchronized time. Our compositional variability (changes/differences) will have to be based on blunt phases (loud/soft, complex/simple, monotonous/erratic, a cappella/instrumentally-accompanied, etc.) Who knows what others we will develop. Each of these phase shifts can be initiated by either of us. We will just have to be attentive to each other. And these phasings in and out will be sluggish and gradual, because we share a time with each other that is similar, but not exact." Curt Cloninger in "loK8Tr, Matthew Pioro, about the dangers and pitfalls of online collaboration" by Matthew Pioro pour Musicworks Issue 106 spring 2010 The future of radio, from web 2.0 to second life, 20-03-2010.

[21] ^ Claire Bishop, "Social Turn, Collaboration and its Discontents", Artforum (February, 2006)

[22] ^ Martina Ruhsam, "Dramaturgy of and as Collaboration", Maska XXV 131 -132, (Summer, 2010) p33

[23] ^ Nicolas Bourriaud, "Precarious Constructions. Answer to Jacques Rancière on Art and Politics", classic.skor.nl/article-4416-nl.html?lang=en [accessed September 16, 2012]

[24] ^ Martina Ruhsam,"The Joy of Co-belonging?", June 2012,  fabricoftrust.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/the-joy-of-co-belonging-symposium-in-zagreb/ [accessed September 16, 2012]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trapped to Reveal - Annexes

(back to the main text)

 

An example of an email exchange during the preparation of the performance - demo and workshop Huis Clos / No Exit - Tout va Bien at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in May 2011.

Huis Clos / No Exit – Tout va Bien Performance -demo and workshop 30 03 2011 in the frame of Tout Va Bien – Self-Reflexivity and Cinéma Verité curated by: Martine Neddam. Tout Va Bien is part of the Rietveld academie's Studium Generale 2011 : CINEMA CLASH CONTINUUM:FILM & HISTORY IN THE AGE OF GODARD:
More information
http://bram.org/huisclos/toutvabien/indexang.html

I spend one afternoon with the students to prepare this demo – performance. Before we had some email exchanges. Here is the content of one of these mails: "
I don't want to tell stories, neither am I interested in his stories - in history, maybe in her stories, but that's another subject. We live in a time where it is very difficult, mostly impossible, to take position intellectually. We are asked to occupy positions that we can't defend. "There is too much information available".
We live in a time where we are almost completely immune to images of distress coming to us from all over the world, they have become at the most material for our continual need for adrenaline. It is as if images (and film?) sedate me.
I don't want to tell stories.

Reality needs to be fictionalised in order to be reflected upon. (Rancière)
I want to fictionalize reality in order to be able to think about it.
I'm not interested in these fictions, but in the way we produce and use them.
Reality needs to be trapped in order to be available for thought.

I am interested in your story.
I am interested in language as something lived, chaired, incarnated, not as a system. I like multiple voices, doubt and fluidity.
Non matrixed Non mimetic Meta fictional
I am not a performer , I use performance to do research.
There is no failure.
If you didn't yet, please listen to Alan Kaprow's 11 rules to make a happening http://ubumexico.centro.org.mx/sound/kaprow_allan/Kaprow_How-To-Make-A-Happening_Side-1.mp3

there are only rules no norms (as in an psychiatric hospital)
you are in a huis clos, you cannot escape, you are caged in, you are gridded you are both my research subjects as my co-researchers
not your sensibility, not your intellect but your capacity to act will be our point of attention our behaviour, our way to interact, to be together is what we will show

there is no priority for either expression or thought, both will serve the "geste"
nothing spectacular, ordinary interactions, difficult to control because of its mirrored movements in the webcam image, because of delay, because of unusual communication circumstances
nothing is what it seems (co-construction kissing is drawing with the tongue, do you know what I mean?)
no time to control the mirror image of yourself, you construct with the others, no time to reflect on its impact on you, something will escape, something what you wouldn't show under normal circumstances. You will reveal. Something will be trapped
This is probably best "illustrated" in : Patriotism http://vimeo.com/14063215 and Preferences http://vimeo.com/14062448 and in "On translation" http://vimeo.com/12736847 These were all very open performances with almost no script, with only an intention at the beginning.

So my performances are like experiments.
In an interview Maria Chatzichristodoulou asked me: Do you consider much the type of experience that you want your audiences to have while attending your performances? How important is this to you?
I answered: This is an important question, and one that is not easy to answer. As mentioned earlier, I don't want the audience to be immersed in my performances. I want them to be distanced; in fact, I don't want them to be an audience at all, I would prefer to think of them as involved observers. Those observers are not important for the development of the piece as such –at least that is the case for performance works where audiences are not invited to become actively involved as participants. In those cases my focus is on my performance partner(s) and on what is happening between us/them, rather than on those observing us.
My intention it to test what, and how much, we can share between us, and how those relationships can develop. At the same time, the performance would not exist without the people observing this; the exchange would not make sense without their presence.
Maybe a performance is for me, as an artist, what an article is to a scientific researcher –that is, a way to make public, to share, something that you think is important for other people to know about or to feel. So it is clear that I cannot perform my work in solitude, I need people to share it with. The question of liveness though remains for some of my performances that do not actively involve the audience, and this question is: does it make a different to how audiences experience the piece whether this is streamed live, at the moment of its making, or whether it is pre-recorded and broadcasted at a different time? I don't think that there is a single answer. This reminds me that, for some time now, I have been musing on making a webcam movie...
More : http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1902

There is certainly more to say, for instance about you seeing yourself in a mirror situation interacting with others - what does this do to the image you have of your identity to how you negotiate/construct your identity?
And does this performance act as a prologue to ..., does it make the public, you the performers consider differently what will come afterwards. Do you know Peter Handke's Sprechstücke? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offending_the_Audience

Hartelijke groet Annie

 

A short protocol for 231 Assimil, an online / offline performance for the 24rd Stuttgarter Filmwinter Festival, January 22nd 2011.

We show our faces and start with our names.
I will first say Annie and you will repeat my name (please:)) then Igor and last Nicolas' name.

Then we will do the words (first saying the word in our own language, than in all three and only if we did that all three we can go on with the next step)
"I", (pointing our fingers to ourselves) "ik" in Dutch
"you", (pointing to the webcam, the public) "jij" in Dutch "he" ( I will be pointing to one of you and look to the other, you will just say the word in your language) "hij" in Dutch
"she" (you will both point to me but look in the webcam) "zij" in Dutch "we" (I will open my arms as if trying to lay them on your shoulders, you will do the same with me) "wij" in Dutch

After that we all three will introduce at least two other words each that we will "learn" to the others. We can do bodyparts , but also objects because we can just say "no ..........." (geen ........... in Dutch) when we cannot show the object.

We continue learning more words till the 5 minutes are over, but as I said if it takes longer, it will be longer, we will do at least two words each.

The last one will be the navel, nombril introduced by me.

As soon as we succeeded the navel/nombril I will put down my webcam (please stay filming you both)and will cut the streams. All will be black again.

 

 

A more complicated protocol for the performance Huis Clos / No Exit - Training for a Better World on December 2nd, 2011 in the Crac LR in Sète. (French)
 

Annie Abrahams avec David Lavaysse, Emilie Schalck, Marguérite Leudet, Simon Nicolas, Sophie Valero et Valérie Severac http://bram.org/huisclos/training/CRAC/indexang.html
 
16h – 17h Regarder le protocole avec les performeurs, les installer. Se décider qui se mettra où dans la salle de projection et dans quelle ordre on apparaîtra.
 
17h - 18h performeurs libre de se concentrer comme ils veulent

18h retour sur place – Préparations. Installation des performeurs dans leur lieu 18h30
 
18h30 on éteint l'expo
 l'admin met tout en streaming.
 
Les performeurs se connectent à l'interface, ils mettent leur webcam vers l'espace autour d'eux et nous faisons des testes son guidé par David, dès que ces testes sont ok, les performeurs mettent le volume duson de l'interface à 0, enlèvent le casque et s'installent dans leur activité

19h 10 au plus tard (19h au plus tôt)
l'admin arrête le stream.
 
Tout de vient noir, c'est le signe pour arrêter votre activité perso et de vous remettre le casque, de remettre le son à peu près là où il était et surtout ne touchez à rien d'autre.
Ce noir peut durer entre 30 sec et une minute, voir plus.

Dès que vous vous voyez à nouveau dans l'interface vous refait un test son guidé par Emilie cette fois. Ne vous pressez pas, prenez le temps qu'il faut.
Une fois les tests ok vous prenez la webcam et bougez la caméra lentement vers votre oeil (sans montrer votre visage!)
Une fois qu’il y aura 6 yeux assez stables sur votre écran commencez à compter. De 0 à 73 ou plus. Il n’est pas dit qui commence et quel sera l’ordre, à vous de le trouver sur place. L’ordre n’est pas fixe.
1   2    3             4            5,6,7,8,9 10, 11                12
13                             etc.              73 voir plus.

 
Après 73 une personne, qui en a marre de compter encore plus commence à bougez la webcam lentement vers une autre partie de son visage (ne jamais montrer beaucoup, ne pas filmer ce qui vous entoure, ne que des parties de votre visage), les autres suivent et vous commencez à poser des questions Ne que des questions, vos questions – Pourquoi? Comment? Où? Qu'est-ce que c'est? Quand?

Pendant ces questions vous jouez avec les parties de votre visage (regardez, réagissez à ce que font les autres, n'oubliez pas votre oreille, vous pouvez tourner la camera lentement, ne faites rien de brusque ici, pendant 10 sec faites aussi un mutant (pas plus)), le jeu (questions, parfois une réponse, mais pas d'échange) continue pour aller lentement (prenez le temps, amusez vous) vers 6 bouches.
Dès qu'il y a 6 bouches vous vous présentez en commençant avec numéro 1 : Je suis David, je suis numéro un, j'aime …….. puis no 2, puis 3 etc. No 6 dira à la fin je n'aime pas ….

Puis lentement, lentement commencez à vous montrer, lentement en entier (buste large), dès que tous les 6 en buste large vous souriez bêtement pendant au moins 30 sec, puis et vous posez votre caméra et votre casque (le casque assez proche de vous, si possible)

Quand vous êtes toutes les six visibles et stable dans l'image à nouveau on commence la partie "danse" (ballet saccadée une danse des robots) Mouvement en répétition, Dès qu'il y deux personnes qui font le même mouvement les autres s'y joignent, dès qu'un mouvement est repris par tous, le dernier de ce mouvement peut initier un nouveau mouvement (pas toute de suite, laissez un mouvement s'installer, surtout quand il est beau dans l'image) et ainsi de suite.
Pendant le troisième mouvement vous commencez à faire du son (attention votre casque est au sol, donc il faut le faire assez fort pour que nous entendions), juste des répétitions de a, o, eh, e, des syllabes etc.

Pendant le cinquième (le son continue, évolue, devient méditatif, attention gardez un niveau de son assez élévé) vous reculez tous et vous commencez à tourner en rond. Restez dans l'image, mains un peu écartées. Vous essayez de tourner aussi longtemps que vous pouvez. Avant de tomber, de perdre l'équilibre vous dites une fois très fort "Qu'est-ce que je fais pour changer ce monde?" puis vous rampez, (hors image si possible) vers la caméra et votre casque, prenez d'abord le casque et puis filmez votre nombril (ne montrez pas le reste de votre corps)
Ces nombrils ils restent un temps, vous dites encore " Qu'est-ce que je fais pour changer ce monde?" et des variations, vous reprenez souffle, on entendra votre souffle, petit à petit le calme s'installe et vous enprofitez, vous pouvez même vous allonger (mais attention, il faut qu'on voie le nombril tout le temps).

Lentement, pas trop vite, le public doit s'ennuyer de ces nombrils, vous mettez la caméra sur une surface unie et vous vous levez et vous allez marcher vers le centre, le public, vous filmez, le mur, le sol, vous commencez à dire une liste de tout ce que vous avez acheté la semaine qui vient de passer. Au début vous parlez tous en même temps. (ceux qui sont près de la salle de projection marchent lentement)
Vous êtes devant le public (ou derrière) que vous regardez fixement. Dès que pendant 20 sec il n'y a plus personne qui parle de ses achats je fais sonner de la musique (daisy daisy), vous commencez à danser, (la caméra danse aussi).
 
Quand le son s'arrête vous demandez à quelqu'un du public de vous aider, tenir l'ordinateur, la webcam et le casque et de vous filmer de sorte que la partie haute de votre corps reste visible, Puis vous faites un cercle ensemble (dans l'image). Il faut tenir cet image 1 minute. (vous pouvez échanger, parler avec la personne qui vous aide, améliorer l'image)

Vous sortez brusquement de l'image et quittez la salle, laissant les personnes qui vous aident et le public perplexes.
Après quelques minutes vous revenez, reprenez les caméras, webcams, ordis etc. Vous filmez le public et vous leur donnez des compliments (pour l'ensemble, mais aussi pour les individus, pendant ce temps vous balayez le public avec votre caméra, en vous arrêtant ici et là sur un individu, rapprochez-vous un peu)
 
Puis vous reculez, vous allez en reculant et en complimentant vers la sortie, retour vers votre place d'origine, dès que vous ne pouvez plus filmer le public, vous tournez la caméra immédiatement vers vous et vous vous auto complimentez pendant que vous vous éloignez, je suis belle, originale etc. etc.
vous appuyez sur stop streaming (mais ne pas avant de vous avoir donnez au moins 6 compliments à vous-même)
 
Fin
 
Poser l'ordi, casque, webcam, revenir vers la salle.

 

 

(back to the main text)

 

 

 

 

 

This article is an edited version of "Annie Abrahams, "Trapped to Reveal - On webcam mediated communication and collaboration," originally published in Journal for Artistic Research, 2 (2012). Its original form can be found at http://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/18236/18237/0/0.

 

Annie Abrahams has a doctorate (MPhil) in biology from the university of Utrecht and a MA from the Academy of fine arts of Arnhem. In her work, using video, performance as well as the internet, she questions the possibilities and the limits of communication in general and more specifically investigates its modes under networked conditions. She is known for her net art and collectif writing experiments and is an internationally regarded pioneer of networked performance art. She has performed and shown work extensively in France, including at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and in many international galleries including among others Espai d’Art Contemporani de Castelló, Spain; the New Musem, New York; the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art, Yerevan; Furtherfield gallery (formerly HTTP) in London and NIMk in Amsterdam; festivals such as the Moscow Film Festival; the International Film Festival of Rotterdam and the Stuttgarter Filmwinter, and on online platforms such as Rhizome.org and Turbulence. Websites :bram.org, aabrahams.wordpress.com, metalogues.tumblr.com

 

 

 

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