Within the development of instant
communication technologies, some questions about time are being
raised. The real-time interaction and simultaneous communication
is currently explored by many new media artists. According to
Paul Virilio, the electronic communication has pointed at the
new feature of time: its depth. It is a term connected with optics
and sharp seeing. Both in a movie and within the Internet this
depth depends on a distance. Surfing the Web, browsing for information,
we decide how far and precisely we want to dive into the stream
of time. Particularly those artists who work within the Internet,
deal with the issue of time. From a user’s point of view,
perception of a net art project requires some time: time to load
a page, time to decide which link to follow, time to gather some
understanding. Browsing the web is a journey in time and in virtual
space. The Internet is also the first and foremost a technology
for real-time interaction.
New media artists, notably net artists,
analyse the issue of time. Their field of interest includes time
as a whole, their own time and the viewer’s time. There
are a few approaches one can distinguish: comparing time to some
other values, manipulating real-time transmission and previously
fixed images, playing with time and treating time as a commodity.
Time as Colour
As Colour by Christopher Otto, the passage of time is
imagined as a colour change. The colour of a square is directly
set to the time of the day, while red set to the hour, green to
the minute and blue to the second, allowing the viewer to gain
a new perspective on such everyday systems of knowledge.
A similar attitude is presented by Valery Grancher. In his project
Heat he creates a clock based on heart rhythm. After
filling a form, submitting one’s pulse, name and date of
birth, a user can see his very precise age, with days, hours,
minutes and seconds included. The clock is still running, with
the chosen speed, allowing the participant to see the time elapse
and compare the speed of his own life to other people’s.
Another piece where time is involved
is Letters through time – by Richard Rinehart.
This project is an effort to measure changes that happen to people
over time. Participants write letters to themselves in 20 years
time into the future or 20 years into the past. According to Rinehart’s
statement, "we are attempting to compress time, bypass
experience, and thus ensure some kind of continuity."
The issue of continuity is vital here. Participants are also encouraged
to read, compare and interpret each other’s letters. This
project invokes a sense of presence in past or in the future.
This is a kind of browsing in time, in search for information
about one’s own identity. Richard Rinehart comments on his
project: "Is it possible to catch the wind in a bottle?
Can we have fun trying?"
Here and Now by David Crawford is
another piece analysing what happens when two people on the opposite
sides of the globe are telecommunicating. The familiar definitions
of physical locations and even time zones are no longer applicable.
The projects consists of four animated sequences referring to
The possibilities for the manipulation of the time measurement
are creative and extensive. Provoking and interesting effects
are achieved when time units are visualised.
Time as Commodity
Calling himself a freelance conceptual
Mandiberg offers his time for sale on his website, among many
personal items and belongings. He encourages viewers: "My
name is Michael Mandiberg: I am for sale! Buy my objects and time
and dismantle my identity!" Clicking a thumbnail on
"Buy My Time Here" links the viewer to a form,
where all the possibilities of time spending are listed.. Actions
listed by Mandiberg are differentiated – from doing nothing
at all to any task invented by a viewer. There are currently 186
tasks offered by Mandiberg himself, including knitting, blowing
nose or screaming.
The selected task can be done up
to 8 hours per day and costs $20 per hour. After filling the form
and paying, a user will get a confirmation that the selected task
has been fulfilled. In fact, a user becomes uncertain about this
transaction – he’s not able to check if the task was
really done. However Mandiberg tempts the viewer: "you
can control my time as well"
This concept refers, ironically,
to the model of 9 to 5 job, but also Mandiberg’s actions,
selling his privacy, goes that far as a reality show parody. One
can possess not only his current time – one can buy parts
of Mandiberg’s past, by purchasing letters written to him
or birthday cards sent by his mother. Buying those items, a participant
starts to own and browse an alternative past: memories of things
and events he had never experienced himself.
Peppermint in his project "Use me as a medium" ,
conducted via Ebay in 2000, offered himself for auction as a medium
to make art. The high-bidder was supposed to email specific instructions
or directions to Cary Peppermint to perform. Then the bidder would
receive a 5-15 minutes VHS tape of Peppermint following these
This is a similar attitude to this
presented by Mandiberg, though selling Peppermint’s time
on auction was a separate action. The auction lasted from Feb-24-00
to Mar-02-00, attracting 10 bidders, and ended with the result
of $107.50, meeting the presumed reserve.
There is one more issue of time
possessing, this time for commercial purposes, as the Swatch company
attempted. In 1999 Swatch launched its own, universal standard
of time: "Internet Time represents a completely new global
concept of time: No Time Zones. No Geographical Borders. Swatch
has divided the virtual and real day into 1000 'beats.' One Swatch
beat is the equivalent of 1 minute 26.4 seconds. That means that
12 noon in the old time system is the equivalent of @500 Swatch
beats. Every watch is equipped with a new universal time created
by Swatch. It is the same all over the world. The current time
24h divided into 1000 units (beats). 000 Internet time is midnight
in Biel, the home of Swatch (during Swiss winter time). This is
equivalent to UTC+1 (Universal Time Coordinated, former GMT, Greenwich
Swatch aspired to create a brand
new standard of time. It could be attractive, because Internet
users were aware of the confusion made by time changes and the
GMT. That kind of attempt would be reasonable within the context
of international chats or any communication channels. Nevertheless,
it was considered by new media theoreticians to be rather controversial.
Geert Lovink engages in polemics with this statement, arguing
that there are many times, not one time, and that the diversity
of time is endangered by this action: Let the net.times roll,
and let us come up with an open source standard, a virtual time
which belongs to all, and nobody.
What is real-time? According to
Derrick de Kerckhove it is the speed we can create a thought or
an image with. Therefore, a perfect hypertext should be as quick
as that. Images in real-time should update without a noticeable
Paul Virilio stated in 1995: "The
big event looming upon the 21st century in connection with this
absolute speed, is the invention of a perspective of real time,
that will supersede the perspective of real space, which in its
turn was invented by Italian artists in the Quattrocento."
Virilio introduces the terms: "Small
Optics" and "Big Optics". The first one is based
on geometric perspective, common in film. It involves such terms
as: far, close, near, whereas "Big Optics" is real-time
transmission of information.
One of the earliest pieces analysing
the issue of real-time transmission was Ping Project,
by HdK, Berlin, supported by Art+Com, Berlin. The main idea of
.ping was the visualization of the Internet itself. Ping is a
software which checks if there is a possibility of sending a message
to the chosen destination within the Internet.
The three main components of .ping
were: the interactive map, the virtual camera and the datascape.
.ping translated the objects arriving on the map in the WWW into
3D objects and integrated them in the datascape. The visual datascape
was composed from all WWW-map elements. 3D logos were used as
an orientation from a higher level to recognize the structure
of the space. The TV-viewer could interact with the space via
the network, and could be present in the net-space via a live
camera. The .ping project made the Internet structure
An Internet user rarely realises
all the aspects of global telecommunication and probably never
analyses its specific features. A perfect, simultaneous real-time
communication is not possible yet. There is always some delay,
often unnoticed by viewer. Net artists are aware of this delay
and its connection with communication technologies. Real-time
is always involved in the Internet communication, not only when
using webcams or chatting.Lev Manovich states that: "While
it appears that the element of time delay (…) is eliminated,
in fact, time enters the real-time screen in a new way".
An attempt of time measurement with
a conceptual search for universal qualities and an utopian twist
is seen in a project Timeless
by a group of Polish artists 4! (Pawel Dziemian, Michal Grochowiak,
Marcin Gwiazdowski and Jakub Jasiukiewicz). It is supposed to
propose a new way of dealing with time as the length of time and
the speed with which it flows is accorded to movements of sun.
The project is suitable for wireless networks as it can be downloaded
on a mobile.
One of the artists working on real-time issue
is Cary Peppermint. His actions "The Mashed Potato Supper"
and "Conductor Number One: Getting In Touch With Chicken"
were one of the first real-time performances conducted over the
In the Conductor Number One, Peppermint
was placed inside of a pine box, assuming the role of "conductor".
He explained it: Within this box I will perform with hopes
of attaining energy which may allow effective completion of a
circuit or rather, a chicken called *resistor*, placed into a
second box approximately 5 meters away. The *resistor* will be
privy to a telephone with a direct line from and to the *conductor*
, an answering machine, and a video/CU-SEEME connection. As *conductor*
I will be assisted by my own telephone with direct line from and
to the *resistor*, a video camera, and a CU-SEEME connection.
Participants called *batteries* both local and remote, will utilize
me as *medium* and/or *exorcist* for a ritual involving perceptual
boundaries, and possible transcendence of these boundaries. World
wide participants participate via a total of 4 possible screens
of interaction involving CU-SEEME, Real Audio, and a World Wide
Web Site. Integral components of this ritual are participants
in the physical exhibition space and on-line guests via CU-SEEME.
All participants will actively assume the role of *batteries*
. These groups are encouraged to communicate via CU-SEEME CHAT.
Thereby Conductor Number One created
a circuit in which Peppermint became the conductor and participants
were called batteries in effort to contact a chicken who was a
However, Peppermint in the interview by Luther
Blisset stated that those actions were only specifics moments
in time and he did not relate them to new media art or technologies.
He admitted though that the real-time event superseded in importance
the actual event.
In his further project, Conductor Number
9, Peppermint again presents a human inside a wooden box.
A video monitor is placed on top of the box, displaying the real-time
image of the human inside the box. As Peppermint explains: "The
real-time human provides audio/visual exercises for participants
to contemplate and/or actively employ. The human inside the pine
box exposes both a "symbolic death" via his media entombment
and a splintered being or otherwise "schizophrenic referential
of being" via the paradox of observing (in simultaneity)
the real-time event and the actual event itself."
One of the current online performances is Locomotion
(2001) – a project involving movement performance in time
and space. Stabile Seitenlage, a group of artists from
Augsburg, presenting their video installation "teil".
According to their statement, this is an interactive experiment
on perception, taking place in two separate rooms within the exhibition
space. In the first room the visitor is asked to perform a movement
that is projected in real-time and superimposed with the motionless
silhouette of another visitor in the second room. Merging the
opposite states of static and dynamics within one projection enables
the observation of himself as well as the visual communication
with a projected person in another room. This disintegration of
the classic interface structure creates a situation in which the
observer gets immersed in a world that is simulated and characterised
by media, but at the same time can be experienced physically.
The performances in real-time are becoming increasingly
popular, as confronting the previously recorded images with those
moving in real-time creates a new dynamics. These performances
touch on the issue of the inevitable intermediary in real-time
communication: the interface. This refers to what Lev Manovich
notices, in his genealogy of the computer screen: "The
idea of temporality – the classical screen displays a static,
permanent image. The dynamic screen displays a moving image of
the past, and finally, the real-time screen shows the present."
Therefore, the image can be continually updated in real-time.
These projects explore the ways in which new digital tools modify
our relationship to time, space and performance environments,
both live and online.
Fake Real-Time Interaction
Some of the net artists explore the issue of
real-time by searching for its limits. In 1998 Elisabeth Diller
and Ricardo Scofidio launched a net art project Refresh.
It was their first project for the web. They used office webcams
with the intention of examining the role of live video technologies
on everyday life.
A webcam is a camera that takes pictures at set
intervals, that can range from 15 times per second to once per
hour, then instantly transmits the images to a web server, where
the image becomes simultaneously available to anyone on the web.
Diller and Scofidio have constructed fictional narratives, using
text and fabricated images. This creates a juxtaposition of the
live and the fictional images.
There is a set of twelve images, one of them
live and refreshing when clicked; the other eleven have been done
for this project using Photoshop. People appearing in those fixed
stories are hired actors. None of the people from the actual location
appear in the fabricated images. The stories, which range in time
from a single day to several seasons, concentrate on subtle changes
in behaviour as a consequence of the acknowledged presence of
the camera in the office: a gradual change in dress style, the
activities of an after-hours cleaning crew, a ritual of stacking
paper, one person's discreet and incessant ordering of take out
food, and a potential office romance unfolding by the water cooler.
There is nothing shocking or dramatic in sight. In fact, everyday
conventions are slightly modified, either to perform for or to
hide from the camera. Elisabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio comment
on their project: "The live cam phenomenon can be thought
of as a public service, or a mode of passive advertisement, or
it may be a new type of exhibitionism, or self-disciplinary device.
The desire to connect to others in real time may be driven by
a response to the "loss" of the public realm. But, however
varied the motives, live cam views always seem casual and lacking
dramatic interest and content; they appear unmediated. Despite
this apparent innocence, cameras are wilfully positioned, their
field of vision is carefully considered, and behaviour within
that field cannot help but anticipate the looming presence of
the global viewer." The issue of ‘liveness’
or rather real-time transmission, according to Diller and Scofidio,
appeals both to technophiles and technophobes: "For technophobes
who blame technology for the collapse of the public sphere, liveness
may be a last vestige of authenticity -- seeing and/or hearing
the event at the precise moment of its occurrence. The un-mediated
is the im-mediate. For technophiles, liveness defines technology's
aspiration to simulate the real…in real-time. Lag time,
search time, and download time all impair real-time computational
performance. But whether motivated by the desire to preserve the
real or to fabricate it, liveness is synonymous with the real
-- an object of uncritical desire for techno-extremes."
The projects shows similarities to conceptual and new media experiments,
especially to the classic work of Ira Schneider and Frank Gillette
Wipe Cycle (1969).
Another artist exploring the issue of real-time
communication is Mouchette,
one of net art pioneers. Mouchette herself claims to be a 13 years
old girl from Amsterdam. Despite this, her true identity is unclear.
Her website includes various projects, among them Flesh and Blood.
The project shows a face of a girl, pushed against the screen,
her tongue out, her eyes closed. She seems to be licking the screen
from the inside. There is also a text: "Finally I can
get that close to you. Do you also want to come that close to
me? Yes? No? Put you cheek on the monitor. How does it feel?"
Then a blank form – ready to share the viewer’s experiences.
Mouchette asks the viewers to try how her tongue tastes like and
the email the impressions to her. Those provocatively naïve
questions do not require a direct answer. A far more important
question is raised: is real-time interaction possible? In fact,
her face is pushed against her scanner. However, this almost tactile
contact proves to be a hoax.
Mouchette questions the point of contact, the
interface, the closeness. The intimacy she proposes to a viewer
is as artificial as her identity can be. This is not only a fake
real-time communication or even a fake interaction. Mouchette
goes even further, simulating a physical contact. She creates
an interface. A viewer can see her face on the other side of the
flat screen. Encouraged to lick the screen, a user experiences
the physical features of interface – and at the same time
– the impossibility of any communication.
Lev Manovich concludes: "(…) What
this means is that the image in a traditional sense no longer
exists! And this is only by habit we still refer to what we see
on real-time screen as ‘images’. It is only because
the scanning is fast enough and because sometimes the referent
remains static, that we see what looks like a static image."
The Internet is a medium inevitably based on time. However, considering
its hypertextual structure, time on the Internet is no longer
linear. This includes, as Paul Virilio says: The twin phenomena
of immediacy and of instantaneity.
On the Internet, on the flat screen, as physical
space is simulated, time is being questioned as well. This is
a crucial shift in our relation to space and time.
Paul Virillio argues that the information revolution
has changed the current situation so much, that traditional notions
of what is "here" and when is "now" are no
longer applicable. This also applies to the issue of real-time,
which is so significant in net art projects. The speed of information
flowing in real-time makes "now" or "then"
Although the categories of "now" and
"then" are blurred, the Internet communication still
requires time. The diversity of times: the universal world’s
time, the artist’s time, the viewer’s time, is still
a fascinating subject for new media artists.
As Virilio states: "The primacy of real
time, of immediacy, over and above space and surface is a fait
accompli and has inaugural value (ushers a new epoch)."
Undoubtedly, as time and space have been always tied together,
in the Internet the physical space is simulated, and, in fact,
superseded by virtual space.
New media artists exploring the issue of real-time
interaction and the time as a whole are still trying to answer
the question: If there is a navigable cyberspace – does
it imply navigable time as well? While the capability of real-time
image capturing and processing has become widely available, time
itself and its passage still slips away, even in this age of telematic