PERFORMING DATA
Type of project: exhibition
Where: Laznia CCA, Gdańsk, Poland
When: 16 April–26 June 2011
Artists: Monika Fleischmann (GER) and Wolfgang Strauss (GER)
Artistic director of the project: Prof. dr hab. Ryszard W. Kluszczyński
Organizers:
Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk;
The National Centre for Culture, Warsaw, Poland Cooperation: Gdańsk 2016;
Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie; Goethe Institut, Warsaw, Poland;
Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. The exhibition was realized in scope of the Art & Science Meeting Project

Performing Data: perception of a world in motion

by Monika Fleischmann, Wolfgang Strauss

Before we had computers, the essence of life was information. Today we live with the permanent noise of information, and the essence of life is the complexity that results from our automated lives. For artistic-based research and computer science collaborations, this means establishing places for transdisciplinary research and exchange. We, the authors, have created such environments as artists and co-founders of Art+Com (1987) in Berlin, and later as artists and scientists with our research department at the GMD – the German National Research Center for Information Technology, MARS – Media Arts Research Studies (1997).

Different disciplines speak different languages and have different values. Within long-term EU research projects, we have established transdisciplinary styles of teamwork. To get artistic research financed in a technology-driven environment, we have been hiding artistic questions behind technical issues. During the last 20 years, our research has concentrated on virtual and mixed realities, interactive installations, participatory environments and public performances: The YOU_ser not only becomes a consumer,1 as Peter Weibel puts it, but also a Data Performer.

The motif of Data Performer relates not only to the visualisation and reification of immaterial data, but also to the actions and performance of the viewer. Data Performers are involved in space-time environments which we call enterable spaces of thoughts (begehbare Denkräume). The viewer becomes a participant in an interactive plot. Inspired by Aby Warburg’s neologisms, such as a “space of thought” (Denkraum), we have developed an aesthetic of the interactive space of knowledge and thought.

Interactivity as a field of research
The notion of “interactivity” in computer science implies mutual relations between software and the user, involving an exchange of information. In a globalised world, under the banner of omnipresent media interconnected in networks, this understanding of interactivity as a human- machine relation is juxtaposed to a substantially modified paradigm of interaction. A person communicates not only with the machine, but, in the first place, in a kind of media reflection, with himself or herself. Via on-line services like Facebook, Flickr or YouTube, people present themselves in an interactive way and seemingly expose or exhibit themselves in order to communicate with others, or just to get noticed. Feedback information from the social and technologically intermediated world of connections influences the self-esteem and personal development of an individual.

Apart from the interactive paradigm of the mirror reflection through media, which is a central theme in our work, for example, in Liquid Views2 (1992-93) the metaphor of the Mirror of Narciuss, or Rigid Waves3 (1993) about Narcissus and Echo, and in Home of the Brain4 (1989-92), providing a metaphor for a totally new form of public space, we are interested in the notion of knowledge and the issue of its further transfer via digital tools. We develop tools such as Semantic Map5 (2001-04) for the discovery of knowledge or artistic installations such as Energy Passages6 (2004), treating a data flow as linguistic space. We see interactivity as the perception of a world in motion – as the movement of thought. And we ask questions such as: How does the notion of knowledge change in the perspective of the evolution of the internet into a global medium of knowledge?

“Recognising and deciphering relations is a unique ability of humans. The purpose of education is to strengthen it”, states anthropologist Michael Wesch.7 He understands learning as a process which involves the destruction of all previously assimilated concepts. “Truly great moments of education have nothing to do with memorising, but with reshaping. When you learn something really new, you need to demolish the walls of your already established architecture of thoughts. Destroy all what you have thought is true”.8 This is one of the most important features of the medium. In order to transform information into knowledge, people need to make choices, compare, evaluate, and interact with others. Instead of intellectual and technical automatisation for the process of converting information into alleged knowledge – as computer science does – media art combines automatism of the machine with the act of uncovering its structures. Data Performers, data mapping and visualization are used in order to give a new structure to the already existing knowledge, and, thus, to rediscover it (Home of the Brain, Semantic Map, Energy-Passages, Media Flow). Here, knowledge is not only acquired through reading or listening, but also through the use of the body.

Interfaces for body knowledge and knowledge discovery
We have two major areas of artistic-based research in the knowledge arts, one is to study bodily perception with sensory interfaces in interactive environments, the other, how knowledge can be created. In both of these areas, the notion of interactivity plays an important role. We understand interactivity as a contemporary mode enabling the user/viewer to construct their own impression on a certain issue in an artwork. Interaction can be described as a process of constituting knowledge through performative acts. Interactivity is the central strategy of our stagings, with their complex relations between reality, representation and presence. We understand the interface as a dispositif for the interplay of perception, thinking and action in the mixed reality, where real and virtual presence permeate one through another. By means of sensory interfaces, we examine, above all: touch and touchlessness, grasping and comprehension of spatial perception, and the sense of balance. On the one hand, we put the body in the focus of our interest and address the problem of the bodily knowledge of an acting subject. On the other hand, with interfaces for recording, storage and intermediation, we support the activities of the researching subject.

We are interested in the knowledge which is emerging through digital activities. More precisely, this concerns semantically related data which allow for establishing relational connections within data-stocks and for the visualisation of contexts. “Can you imagine that they used to have libraries where the books didn’t talk to each other?”9 In this retrospective statement by artificial intelligence researcher Marvin Minsky, which inspired us years ago when we heard him speaking at Ars Electronica in 1990, we recognise a digital transformation of Warburg’s space of thoughts.

Our stagings anticipate the body as resistance that causes distortions and the irritation of perception. Automatic processes of perception are interrupted by stop and pause, and the focus of attention shifts. Literary scholar Mark B.N. Hansen put it this way: “the body is a primordial and active source of resistance”.10 Only those moments of distortion allow for a reflective distance in the participating viewer. Only those moments enable a consciousnessaltering dialogue with oneself or others. An almost bodily immersion in data flows brings productive moments of interference and pause. In this way, the participating viewer experiences the feeling of presence. The transformation of the viewer from a passive consumer into an active participant in the staging relates to the double requirement expressed by Peter Matussek in Performing Memory: “Staging means not only to put something on stage, but also to put someone in a scene”.11 In the case of staging in media art, questions arise, such as: What do players and viewers see and hear? When do we play, and when do we become the object of the play? With our artwork and tools we attempt to reflect on these questions.

From Virtual Reality to Floating Interface and Fluid Archives
In the following section, we briefly describe different projects and approaches of “touch” as the interface between human and machine. The body is the interface for disembodied digital information, which – metaphorically speaking – is tangible and graspable in a virtual space of thought. From Virtual Reality (Home of the Brain) to Mixed Reality (Murmuring Fields), from Fluid Interface (Liquid Views) to Floating Interface (Media Flow), from the performance of the body in space to the database aesthetics of density, we shape the interactive space of thought and the interactive processes of action. These artistic works produce productive moments of disturbance, and consequently a feeling of real and virtual physical presence.

Berlin – Cyber City (1989-91)
Berlin after the fall of the Wall. A virtual walk leads us deep inside the city. The walk is understood as a movement of both body and mind and is the interface/metaphor for travelling with a finger over a map. The traveller discovers fragments of Berlin’s history with a finger sensor over an aerial photograph displayed on a table. The virtual model of Berlin presents layers of past, present and future of the city exemplified by Potsdamer Platz: Nazi times, Stasi times, and also a possible future. The installation as a social sculpture allows for the once estranged citizens of the divided city to meet each other and share their memories at the table, which became an interface/symbol of common discourse.

Home of the Brain (1990-92)
The viewer moves around with a data glove and goggles in an architecture of the thoughts of four philosophers – Joseph Weizenbaum, Vilem Flusser, Marvin Minsky and Paul Virilio – listening to their ideas concerning the future of our culture. The subject of this installation is the metaphor of virtual space as a stage and the ability of the viewer to move around in a world of ideas that “touches” the body and broadens the perception. Through this vision of networked public space for meetings and conversations, we promote an artistic image of future internet culture. “Never before was it possible to operate within the thoughts of others”12 – as media theoretician Derrick de Keckhove commented in this first artistic project with immersive virtual reality interfaces.

Liquid Views (1992-93)
The face of the viewer is reflected on a computer screen. When he or she touches it, it is blurred like a reflection on the surface of water. The reflection is not only a poetic examination of remembering and forgetting. It is also a technically induced experience of imaging, which shows the view of the self from the outside. Media art historian Claudia Gianetti observes that Liquid Views “stresses the duality existing on the one hand between world-observation and self-observation (self-knowledge), and on the other hand the sensorial relationship of tension between the immateriality of the virtual and the materiality of the physical body”.13 Writer and hypertext author Michael Joyce describes this work as associated with cinema as well as with verbal narrations. “A woman greets her past self as if a sister or a lover, (...) a man attempts to trick the self he was instants before (...). Those metafictions (…) are, of course, tales produced by an external viewer. The interactions (…) present themselves to participants and viewers in layers of narration. Those simultaneous streams of private and public meanings are not unlike our common experience of space in ordinary life, whether over a kitchen table or over a table in a cafe”.14 The interruption of nextness into stillness – like Joyce suggests, annuls the gap, “inserting it and us again into the present moment, interrupting the present with the present, interrupting the insistence of what is next with a liquid now”.15

Murmuring Fields (1997-99)
Imagine a stage as an audio archive where you can play sounds simply by moving your body. Collaborate with others in the creation of an audio landscape! The participants feel their own bodies more intensely while listening to the sounds and noises. “Poli-tic-tic-tic,” says Flusser’s voice, as the performer bends forwards and backwards, thereby interpreting a piece of the philosopher’s statement. The space has been furnished with data, with audio files full of words, syllables and sounds. The body becomes the source of reflexes and sound reflections. Participants play in this audial space with their own bodies as if the bodies were proper instruments. The effect is a woven network of sounds, sometimes smooth, sometimes shredded, machinelike, but always an answer to a movement. They bring to mind György Ligeti’s sound textiles. An invisible optical interface (video camera) capturing movement connects the space of data with the space of activity. The interface of the observing camera addresses the problem of the visibility of the body and raises the question of what bodily thinking could look like, or, for instance, speaking bodies. Art historian Oliver Grau perceives both Murmuring Fields and Home of the Brain as spaces for reflection sending us back to Aby Warburg and states that both works create a new kind of Denkraum. 16

Electro Field Sensing (1998-2002)
The EFS interfaces expose an invisible body, detecting and measuring its physical states. The Energy Meter (1998), a light box with colourful bulbs, indicates the actual “energetic status” of the viewer through the changing intensity of light. Behind this, the idea of an apparatus called a “theremin” is hidden, one of the first electric musical instruments invented by the Russian physicist Leon Theremin around 1919. It can be played without being touched. The performer modulates the pitch and the volume of the sound by the movement of palms placed between two antennae of an electric resonance circuit. In our experiments, we modify the electronic system and show how the invisible “energy of the body” becomes visible thanks to Electro Field Sensing technology. The MARS Bag (1998) reacts to the natural electric field of people or the environment by changing colours or uttering sounds. Wih Info-Jukebox (2002) and PointScreen (2005), we further developed the touchless, biosensoric interface and obtained a U.S. patent.17 The EFS interfaces reverse the paradigm of interaction. The EFS does not wait for data to be introduced by a person, but instead “senses” his or her (electric) field of “energy status”.

Netzspannung.org (1998-2004)
The educational platform around media art was constructed when adequate courses did not exist and the availability of educational materials was limited. By means of the platform, artists and scientists offer insights into their works and present analyses of particular works. Both lecturers and students are guided on how to construct and play virtual musical instruments, or how to stage an exhibition of robots made of garbage. The inclusion of projects from more than 20 universities into the platform created a kind of a virtual college of media art, offering education in the field of digital media.

When working out the concept for the netzspannung.org portal, the idea of search interfaces enabling access to the archive was already on the agenda. Basically, there are two strategies of access to the electronic database: “sharp” searching and “fuzzy” browsing. Searching assumes that users know what they are looking for, that they will be able to define the subject of their interest, and, if necessary, will be able to make it more precise or expand it. During browsing or flicking, the main goal of the users is to give themselves an opportunity to be guided or inspired by the outcome of their findings. Our tools of knowledge stimulate browsing and discovering. Offering different ways of access, filtering, navigation and contextualisation, we encourage active and constructive handling of digital information. The visualisation and access of an archive as a living data network becomes a tool of cognition by means of semantic knowledge maps. Through the interplay of image and time-based visualisation, the viewer forms a picture of particular documents enclosed in an archive, and a picture of the archive as an entity – a work that belongs to the art of knowledge.

Semantic Map (2001-04) of netzspannung.org
Archives are conventionally organized on the basis of subject-specific systems. However, because no crosssubject system exists yet for the interdisciplinary field of media art, a new method of contextualizing and visualizing content was developed. The Semantic Map is an interface that structures and visualizes all the content of netzspannung.org according to semantic criteria. It provides the user with different possibilities for “rummaging through” the database to discover content and connections. The Semantic Map was specially developed so that the platform’s heterogeneous content could be presented in a common frame of reference. The netzspannung. org database comprises documentations of media artworks, projects from IT research, design approaches, and themes connected with media theory and aesthetics/art history.

Media Flow (2006) of netzspannung.org
The installation Media Flow of a Media Art Archive is an all-encompassing browser which makes the archive of netzspannung.org accessible in a simple way. Two parallel media streams, one made up of images and one of words, flow through the space as a large data projection. The word stream shows keywords, authors and titles of the archived documents. Using an integrated text-to-speech-module, the words are spoken out by a computer voice. Alongside the representation of text and image, they build an acoustic description of the archive. The media flow together with the acoustic sphere create an impression of an immersive space. The synopsis of overview, context and detail allows an all-embracing navigation through the archive. It combines the usual access via keywords with the new approach of an associative network of terms combined with visual search possibilities. Image and text intertwined as one Media Flow provide the viewer with a suggestive image of both the whole archive and particular documents.

We willingly agree with Lev Manovich when he suggests understanding a database as a “symbolic form”,18 as he follows in his thinking the “philosophy of symbolic form” of Ernst Cassirer and the study of art historian Erwin Panofsky about the central perspective as a symbolic form. The portal Netzspannung.org is a realisation of the database principle as a cultural form. The diversity of content and innovative methods of access were appreciated by Peter Weibel, director of ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe: “Netzspannung.org and its breakthrough interfaces create new structures of data and thinking. Semantic Map was counted as one of 100 most innovative products of the future, presented by Nobel Prize winner and physicist Theodor W. Haensch in the publication under the same title, as one of the ideas showing new paths which are changing our lives. Media art becomes here an art of knowledge”. Derrick de Kerckhove says “Knowledge has never ceased to expand”.19 Therefore our interfaces are created with the image of an ever-expanding archive in mind – the boundaries of what is visible are invisible. They are constantly shifting, are ontologically untraceable, and escape all hierarchic orders.

Energy Passages (2004)
Hundreds of words from daily news in the form of a data stream turn up in urban space accompanied with whispering computer voices. The newspaper as a public space of activity speaks the language of power. Energy Passages allow the passersby to take over the public space through breaking and fragmenting the power. Sociologist Sherry Turkle describes this installation as an evocative object stimulating reflection: “The notion of a spatial experience of the discourse of the news within a city space and the possibility of deconstructing the newspaper captures the fragmentation of how media is experienced by citizens in a culture of simulation. It thus mirrors and realizes an important cultural and political moment, turning it into an object for reflection”.20 As soon as the passersby have picked single words, related theme networks of ideas emerge in the data stream in the form of an audiovisual echo. “A stream of prepared meanings, the act of holding them and creating new connections between them – the sole perception of two simple processes gives us the feeling that we are looking at real mental flows of a city”, says playwright Georg Stuck, commenting on the project.21 Sound researcher Holger Schulze made an observation about the synchronicity of the information stream and sensual experience.22

Media scientist Peter Matussek emphasised the role of the reader and the text: “In this staging, writing is emphatically enlivened – not by a mere motion of a picture, which flirts with is own fall in a compensative outburst, but as a media related practice of the staging of performative reading, where the role of the text is just as significant as the reader’s. The installation makes us realize that the future of writing in the age of silicon is less connected to the ‘secondary orality’ as it is to the pictorial, sculptural and architectural forms of expression”.23 The staging of daily news in the form of performative loud reading in urban space confronts the passers-by with fragments of opinions coming from the mass media as well as individuals. It reflects a sense of awe at the moment of recognition of so many all-at-once simultaneous presences.

Conclusion or ongoing research questions
We are considering the issue of how the visualization of digital data can be read and experienced as a staging, and whether such production provides an enhanced insight. The basic questions that lead to current research issues are: How is knowledge created? What kind of knowledge arises? Is there knowledge resulting from interactivity? Is there knowledge through action? How or to what extent is thinking an action?

Brenda Laurel asks for an interface-design with a dramaturgical perspective already in 1991. In her book Computers as Theatre,24 she compares the computer screen with a stage that puts the user at the center of the action. With the theatre metaphor, she follows previous models of knowledge storage and memory spaces. In the mediaarchaeological review, we find the scenic staged Teatro della memoria by Giulio Camillo (1480-1544), which was rediscovered by Frances Amelia Yates in The Art of Memory. In the context of media art, the computer is a memory theater, as has been noted by Oliver Grau25 and Peter Matussek.26 Following Giulio Camillo’s classification system, which struggled with his Teatro della Memoria against the loss of the body as a medium, we intend with our interfaces to enable an inner activity for visitors that is now described as a “flow” experience.

Today, the Theatre of Memory is an interface based on algorithmic operations. Information is reduced, the view is staged over sightlines. The interface is an operational picture that stimulates our perception for the redesign of (new) knowledge. While theatre interprets reality, the aim of digital scenic staging is to make our daily presence, which is a Mixed Reality of the real world and its technical intermediaries, graspable. Media art not only interprets reality, but also makes the viewer part of the (immersive) picture. It encourages him or her to actively participate in the shaping of the image of the world and to reflect upon changes within their own mental images (Denkbilder).

Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss; the German artists and scientists Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss are considered pioneers of interactive media art. The work of Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss has earned them the Golden Nica of Prix Ars Electronica and numerous other honorary awards, and is constantly archived by ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie) in Karlsruhe.

References:
1. YOU_ser: The Century of the Consumer, (2007), the large exhibition at the ZKM also shows the work of Fleischmann & Strauss. http://on1.zkm.de/zkm/stories/storyReader$5591
2. Liquid Views, (1992-93). http://www.eculturefactory.de/liquid-views
3. Rigid Waves, (1993). http://bit.ly/160oj1m
4. Home of the Brain, (1992) Golden Nica of Ars Electronica.
http://90.146.8.18/en/archives/prix_archive/prix_projekt asp?iProjectID=2479 5. Semantic Map, (2001-04) www.eculturefactory.de/semantic-map
6. Energie Passagen, (2004) http://energie-passagen.de/englisch.html
7. Wesch M., http://umanitoba.ca/ist/production/streaming/podcast_wesch.html
8. Wesch M., http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/what_is_21st_century_education.htm
9. See Fleischman M., Strauss W.(November 6-7 2008)
Performing the Archive: Building Knowledge Space” in Seeing…Vision and Perception in a Digital Culture.CHArt Computers and the History and Art. Twenty-fourth Annual Conference, University of London. http://www.academia.edu/624856/ Performing_the_Archive_Building_Knowledge_Space
10. Hansen M.B.N., (2006), Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media, New York – London.
11. Matussek P.(2001), Performing Memory. Kriterien fuer einen V ergleich analoger und digitaler Gedaechtnistheater in Paragrana Internationale Zeitschrift fuer historische Anthropologie, No. 10. Muenchen. http://www.peter-matussek.de/Pub/A_39.pdf
12. de Kerckhove D. in discussion with Fleischmann & Strauss following the lecture Virtual Walk Through Berlin – Visiting A Virtual Museum by Fleischmann M. at the Imagina 1992 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Zitiert nach: Interactivity as Media Reflection between Art and Science by Monika Fleischmann, Wolfgang Strauss in The Art & Sci. of Interface & Inter. Des., SCI 141, pp. 75–92, 2008. C. Sommerer et al. (Eds.) Berlin Heidelberg 2008 http://netzspannung.org/cat/servlet/CatServlet/$files/444446/Interactivitmediareflection- fleischmann-strauss2008.pdf
13. Gianetti C.(2004), Observer dependency / Endo-Aesthetics in MedienKunstNetz, http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/themes aesthetics_of_the_digital/endo-aesthetics/scroll/
14.Joyce M.(2000), Other mindedness. The emergence of network culture, Ann Arbor.
15. Ibid.
16. Grau O. (2003), Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, Cambridge, Mass., p. 217.
17. Fleischmann M., Strauss W., Li Y., et al., Gesture-based input device for a user interface of a computer, http://www.patentgenius.com/patent/7312788.html
18. Manovich L.(1998), Database as a Symbolic Form, Cambridge, Mass, http://transcriptions.english.ucsb.edu/archive/courses/warner/ english197/Schedule_files/Manovich/Database_as_symbolic_form.htm
19. de Kerckhove D. (2000), Medien des Wissens – Wissensherstellung auf Papier, auf dem Bildschirm und online in: Maar Ch., Obrist H.U., Poeppel E.(eds.), Weltwissen Wissenswelt, Das globale Netz von Text und Bild. K.ln, pp. 49-65.
20. Internet website of the Energy Passages project, Press/Public Voices: statements by Christiane Paul, Holger Schulze, Peter Matussek, Sherry Turkle, Itsuo Sakane and others, 2004; http://energie-passagen.de/presse2.html
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid.
24. Laurel B. (1991), Computers as Theatre.
25. Grau O. (2003), Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, Cambridge, Mass.
26. Matussek P., Computer als Gedächtnisheater, http://www.peter-matussek.de/Pub/A_33.html.

Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Medienfluss

Performing Data at Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art



Performing Data at Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art


Fig. 1: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Berlin-Cyber City, 1991


Fig. 2: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Home of the Brain, 1992


Fig. 3: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Liquid Views, 1993


Fig. 4: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Murmuring Field, 1999


Fig. 5: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Energy Meter, 1998


Fig. 6: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Semantic Map, 2004


Fig. 7: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Media Flow, 2006


Fig. 8: Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Energy Passage, 2004


Voices, gestures, contact

by Luca Farulli

Not every sound is a voice – points out Aristotle in his De Anima. The voice is a unique sound which, in human mind, is accompanied by mental images – Phantasmata (phantasms), thanks to which it can restore that what is no more, yet still exists – in other words, a remnant. It happens – writes Aristotle – because “voice is certainly a sound that has significance and is not like a cough, the noise of air respired...”.1 The soundsvoices are the substance of Monika Fleischmann’s and Wolfgang Strauss’s installations, defined as Denkraeume – spaces for thinking. The voices are particularly characteristic in the interactive strategy proposed by the artists, just as they are responsible for ist inherently poetic character.

What voices-sounds are we talking about? Or, more precisely: What levels, what layers of voices-sounds are we dealing with? The first answer, obviously, will point at the sounds present within the installation: a simulation of water sounds in Liquid Views, the babel of streaming words in Energy Passages, the voices of philosophers in Home of the Brain. However, such an answer would not entirely suffice as it does not tell us anything about the poetic nature of the artistic strategy of Fleischmann and Strauss in terms of interaction. The question needs to be reformulated in a more specific, radical way: For whom are the voices of the sounds? – Only for those who can create an image, impulsively restoring a feeling; an image which reflects the beholder himself in an altered state. It is not about the static property – memory, but the dynamic one – imagination. According to Arjun Appadurai, “electronic mediation and mass migration mark the world of the present not as technically new forces but as ones that seem to impel (and sometimes to compel) the work of imagination“, which “is neither purely emancipatory or entirely disciplined”, but is a “space of contestation in which individuals and groups seek to annex the global into their own practices of the modern”.2 Imagination is hereby understood as a force responsible for self-projection, as a field of birth of an image being “dialectics”, because it becomes instantaneously outlined in the moment of “maximum tension between dialectical oppositions”, along Walter Benjamin’s definition, suspended like a “phantasm” “between the visible and the invisible, the material and the immaterial, the palpable and the impalpable, the voice and the phenomenon”.3

In this regard, Liquid Views provides a model explaining the ontological status of the viewer inside artistic environments of Fleischmann and Strauss. The specific nature of their interactive strategy goes beyond the mere realization of the work, beyond simple reactions to the realm presented by the medium. Water surface simulated on a screen, lying horizontally, attracts viewers who, seduced by the sounds of water, begin their tour de force experiencing the work. They can see their own portrait reflected on the liquid surface that reveals its depth thanks to light stones which contrast with the blue of water. The act of observing oneself opens up during observation of the surface that, itself, encourages a touch. A touch disturbs reflected image and breaks the charm of the contemplated mirror picture. Testing the surface by touch results in an increasing negation of the experience, with distance so typical for contemporary visual, panoramic tradition. However, in this case, the touch opens the door to the image – and the image turns out to be alive, so the touching gesture returns to the viewer as a “touched being”.

This is the first voice accompanied by a representation of a mental image. he act of touching does not really apply to the surface of the actual water, or to the reflected image: what touches the viewer is another water, a feeling which is frozen within in form of an image-time, subjected to the self. Such kind of a mental image, woken up by a sound recognized as voice, does not represent the return of something totally bygone: it constitutes a proper dialectic image, within which “that what happened” “shimmers” in the present “cognition”.4 It is exactly in relation to the substitutional role played by Phantasmata (phantasms) against feelings, or as a result of interdependence between mental images and feelings, that each act of thinking is related with an act of imagination: “mental images are like present sensations, except that they are immaterial”, writes Aristotle, because without them, “the soul never thinks”,5 and it does not even reflect upon itself.

Considering all that, Liquid Views dramatically shifts the scope of effect of the myth of Narcissus towards a gesture made by the viewer as a premeditated act, not a merely reflected one. Shifting the emphasis in reception of the myth of Narcissus becomes clear and evident in the moment when the viewer notices his/her reflection on the water surface, but also on the screen visible for all the visitors nearby. The play of reflections functions on a number levels, with serious implications in terms of processing the viewer’s own image. The first, general level is “experiencing oneself in a possible being other”, which the subject does thanks to the “aesthetic” dimension within which it acts.6 The second level appears when the viewer notices that his/her own representation, the most intimate image of those which may concern him, becomes public – visible to others. Eventually, the viewer’s own representation, shared with the public, literally located in the middle of a “marketplace”, the centre of contemporary visual culture, is a betrayal of a kind; and the apparatus responsible for processing the living image observed by the viewer involved both emotionally and intellectually, is actually the system of control, an eye that gives away the observer at exactly the moment he/she is observing.

The temporariness in which the realization takes place is like a level of participation, opening up for others in an analytic way in which, during experience gaining, a space is reserved for critical realizations, for reflection, as if in an epic theatre of experience.The dimension of conscious, meditative experience appears again to mark participation in the interactive installation Home of the Brain. Here, too, voices-sounds are found, but they are of different kind. Thanks to data-glove and data-visor, viewer enters an environment where four constructions are arranged so they bring to mind tents in a military camp. Each tent is marked by its own word, written in specific colour. It is a camp of four thinkers, four philosophers,7 visited by viewer with technological prostheses on who is exploring the environment whipped by electronic wind resembling breath.

The levels of participation can be recognized, but there is also a reference to other philosophers represented in traditional iconography, namely the three philosophers-astrologists of Giorgione and Del Piombo. They, too, seem to be striving to look into future, standing by the entrance to a cave, holding astrological instruments. In Home of the Brain the thinkers are represented, and yet absent: in tents, the viewer encounters voices and not physical people: voices which utter the message, the prophecy of the four philosophers concerning the future of digital culture. The voice, says Roland Barthes, “is not the breath but indeed that materiality of the body emerging from the throat, a site where the phonic metal takes shape”.8 An answer comes from Italo Calvino who reminds us that “a voice involves the throat, saliva, infancy, the patina of experienced life, the mind’s intentions, the pleasure of giving a personal form to sound waves. What attracts you is the pleasure this voice puts into existing: into existing as voice...”.9 So here comes back the voice which enlivens a mental image, a phantasm, allowing the viewer to imagine the body which comes with that voice. The aesthetic experience, dominated by the passivity of listening, in which the viewer participates, is exactly what Hans Robert Jauss defines as “the suspicion of disobedience”, which, again, implicates the freedom of listening, as opposed to listening understood as obedience. Here the viewer becomes the actual performer, who gives form to the knowledge contained in the installation, experiences it in a participatory way, managing and recomposing the knowledge disintegrated into fragments, into circulating, dispensed quotations. The seriousness of the encounter of the viewer and the knowledge, which, thanks to the voices, becomes “atmospheric”, results from the very fact of recognition of the number of sentences or voices making for the texture of our modern state, our cultural identity of present beings. The identity which is like a carpet woven from diverse threads, differing voices, edited like a film which develops by leaps, to use a phrase so dear to Walter Benjamin. Multiple pieces of knowledge, similar to those which form Passagen-Werk, or the “panoramatic” vision of Paris–Capital of the Nineteenth Century; an endless tangle of links which create an image of modernity as infinite “integration without the Inside” (Odo Marquard).

Finally, we approach the voices in Energy Passages, the work which enters the public space where people stroll or gather. The pavement of Salvatorplatz in Munich serves as a screen for words picked up randomly by the computer from the language used by Süddeutsche Zeitung. Abstracted from the context, devoid of the pedestal of significance, cut off the roots, the words spread around the place, screened like silhouettes of colour and light: flames of colourful light mounting people, buildings, public places. The first energy level: luminous words moving dynamically like colourful butterflies or projections from a stained glass window. In the state of luminous energy which takes in spiritual value, the words “touch” the viewer, including the most absent-minded ones (zerstreut). They touch the viewer just like the hand of someone who has returned and needs to remind the others about his presence. The words projected on the ground are the same words which form sequences of our thoughts: a remnant which returns and becomes visible and externalized. This stimulating aspect of mimesis is accompanied by an additional element related to the energy of words: the state in which the language is not only a stream of light or a stream of terms, but the word in the form of a sound. The square is not only a surface for the image. In a way, when we go back in past, the public place becomes a space where the written word restores its power of the spoken word.

The same words which are screened on the pavement as written ones are enlivened by voices which utter them and fulfill the place like the Greek agora, the ancient forum where public debate would take place. The significance of this property of language does not lie in the problematization of the assumed secondary orality, but in the assumption of communication dimension where the exchange of energies takes place, a passage “from-to”. The word, limited to its property of vocal energy, breaks the rigidity of the linguistic order of writing and its hierarchic structure and regains its fluency of dialogue, its fighting efficiency. The word returns thus at the disposal of the subject who reconfigures it like a performer. But the living word, coming from its own context, and breaking free from its pedestal which binds it permanently to a fixed role, this absolute word – or, if we may say so – this vertical word, is the word-feeling: it is so because the word touches that part of the soul which, according to Aristotle, produces phantasms, mental images of a feeling, of an emotion which is past yet active in the geologic bed of our consciousness, the substance of our identity.

Conscious gesture, characterizing the reception of works of Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, shows the relative and dynamic nature of our identity. It can achieve its aim as far as the “reception in distraction” (to quote Walter Benjamin) enabled by art “represents a covert measure of the extent to which it has become possible to perform new tasks of apperception.”10 The specific way of becoming aware is integrated with another property specific for art – the aesthetic value, which, according to the famous definition by Kant, is “but an example” and allows for the “exploring morality” (Hans Robert Jauss), and for the testing and examining of our forming identity.

Luca Farulli professor of Aesthetics Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, Italy.

References:
1. Aristotle (2008), De Anima, transl. by Hicks R.D., New York: Cosimo Books, p. 61.
2. Appadurai A. (2003), Modernity at large: cultural dimensions of globalization, University of Minnessota Press, p. 4.
3. Mirzoeff N. (2002), Ghostwriting: working out visual culture, in: Journal of visual culture, Vol. 1 (2), Aug., p. 239. Full text available at: www.nicholasmirzoeff.com/Images/Mirzoeff_ghoswriting.pdf
4. Benjamin W. (1978), Paris – Capital of the Nineteenth Century, in: Demetz P. (ed.), Walter Benjamin, Reflections, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp. 146-162.
5. Aristotle (2008), De Anima, pp. 91-93.
6. “In aesthetic behavior, the subject always enjoys more than itself. It experiences itself as it appropriates an experience of the meaning of world which both its own productive activity and the reception of the experience of others can disclose, and the assent of third parties can confirm. Aesthetic enjoyment that thus occurs in a state of balance between disinterested contemplation and testing participation is a mode of experiencing oneself in a possible being other which the aesthetic attitude opens up...”– Jauss H.R. (1982), Aesthetic Experience and Literary Hermeneutics, trans. by Shaw M., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 32.
7. Weizenbaum–hope–green; Flusser–adventure–red; Minsky–Utopia–blue; Virilio–disaster–yellow.
8. Barthes R. (1985), Listening, in: The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art and Representation, trans. by Howard R., Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p. 255.
9. Calvino I. (1988), A king listens, in: Under the Jaguar Sun, trans. by Weaver W., New York: Harcourt Brace, p. 54.
10. Benjamin W. (2008), The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, Jennings M.W., Doherty B., Levin T.Y. (eds.), New York: Belknap Press, pp. 40-41.

Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss, Liquid Views