Eduardo Kac. Questioning the objectivity of space

Published in Arch’it in Italien and English

MLP: Your installations strike immediately the imagination of an
architect because of their ability to be in space questioning the
concept of space itself, as well as the concept of presence in space.
Every installation is in fact the project of a circuit between at
least three different spaces: a real space (as a gallery), a virtual
space (a web site) and one or many other real spaces (an other
gallery or other places around the world connected to the first space
through webcams activated by the web site, as in Teleporting’s Web
Site), and every time remote action is able to have physical
consequence in real space. Using a De Kerckhove’s expression, it
seems to me that your installations could be considered as “connected
architectures” that is as systems of relations or of correlation
between the different spaces in which we happen to live, space built
on the border or on the overcoming of the border between real and
virtual, multi-users universes able to connect local and remote


 KAC: It is clear that the old sender/receiver model of
semio-linguistic communication is no longer enough to account for the
multimodal nature of networked, collaborative, interactive
telecommunication events that characterize symbolic exchange at the
beginning of twenty-first century, be it in art or in the ordinary
intercourse of our daily affairs. As a hybrid of robotics and
telematics, telepresence adds to the complexity of this scene. In
telepresence links, images and sounds are transmitted but there are
no “senders” attempting to convey particular meanings to “receivers.”
In his essay “Signature Event Context,” Derrida pointed out the
multivocal nature of the word communication. “We also speak of
different or remote places communicating with each other by means of
a passage or opening. What takes place, in this sense, what is
transmitted, communicated, does not involve phenomena of meaning or
signification. In such cases we are dealing neither with a semantic
or conceptual content, nor with a semiotic operation, and even less
with a linguistic exchange.” It is this opening, this passage between
two spaces, which defines the nature of the particular communication
experience created by telepresence art. This opening is not a context
for “self-expression” (of the author or of the participant); it is
not the channel for communicating semiologically defined messages; it
is not a pictorial space where aesthetic formal issues are
structurally relevant; it is not an event of which one can clearly
extract specific meanings. My telepresence works employ telerobots
designed and built specifically for each project. Through the
telerobot the participant gathers images, hears the remote sounds,
and/or affects changes in the distant environment. The shortest
distance between two points is no longer a straight line, as it was
in the age of the locomotive and the telegraph. Today, in the age of
satellites and fiberoptics, the shortest distance between two points
is real time. The ability to commute information instantaneously, to
send and receive sound and images immediately (“i-mmediately, or with
no apparent medium or means?”), accounts for the decreasing social
relevance of the extensity of space in regard to the intensity of


MLP: From the point of view of the construction of space, an other
surprising element concern, in fact, the “position” of the user: visiting one
of your installations it is not simply like going through a space in
the traditional way, but it is more like exploring a device which
dislocate, overturn, or simply push further the borders of the
traditional experience of space. For exempla, in Rara Avis the
visitor has to face a double point of view: external to the cage and
turned to it, and internal to the cage and turned to the visitor. In
Darker than Night the user has instead to explore the space through a
kind of echolocation system exchanging signals with other real bats.
In other words, these installations seem to invite us to think about
how the experience of the body in “real” space can be extremely
expanded through electronic technologies…

KAC: By asking humans to temporarily take the point of view of
another life form, my goal is to point out that there are as many
realities as there are sensorial systems to aprehend them, and
intersubjective experiences to construct them. My work integrates
cognitive ethology, consciousness studies, cybernetics, and
dialogical philosophy, as in the work of Uexküll, Griffin, Nagel,
Maturana, Bakhtin, and Buber. I’m in agreement with Abraham A. Moles,
who wrote:  “As we enter the age of telepresence we seek to establish
an equivalence between ‘actual presence’ and ‘vicarial presence’.
This vicarial presence is destroying the organizing principle upon
which our society has, until now, been constructed. We have called
this principle the law of proximity: what is close is more important,
true, or concrete than what is far away, smaller, and more difficult
to access (all other factors being equal). We are aspiring,
henceforth, to a way of life in which the distance between us and
objects is becoming irrelevant to our realm of consciousness. In this
respect, telepresence also signifies a feeling of equidistance of
everyone from everyone else, and from each of us to any world event.”


MLP: Let’s reflect for a moment about the “machine”, that is about
the technology or the tools which make it possible to your
installations to be “circuits”, from the loop of Essay Concerning
Human Understanding, to the interactivity between different spaces
(real, virtual, actual, remote) and different life forms (human,
animal, vegetal) of all other installations. It seems that the
machine, from being an instrument of alterity and alienation, it has
now become a networking system: even more than a classic instrument
of communication, a system to relate different kind of things, in
other words a system to overturn not any more a physical distance but
to overturn the “difference” itself, not only between here and
elsewhere but also between subject and objects…

KAC: Networking is both a technical means of linking disperse
entities and an intellectual tool to perceive the ultimate
connectivity between all there is. In my work I have pursued both
meanings of “networking”. My point is not to eliminate “difference”,
which is impossible, but to create more complex ways to examine the
interplay between similarity and difference. In other words, to allow
us to see that inspite of difference, the similarities are much
stronger than we once thought. Telerobotics and molecular biology are
some of the tools I have enlisted to this end. Consider Maurice
Marleau-Ponty, for whom our not-sameness to each other is not a flaw,
but is the very condition of communication. He wrote: “the body of
the other — as bearer of symbolic behaviors and of the behavior of
true reality — tears itself away from being one of my phenomena,
offers me the task of a true communication, and confers on my objects
the new dimension of intersubjective being.” For Marleau-Ponty it is
in the ambiguity of intersubjectivity that our perception “wakes up.”

MLP : From my point of view, your installations look like perfect
metaphors of the emergent sign which characterize our epoch compared
to all the previous: the emergence of a new space-time dimension
where organic and non organic elements experience a new continuity,
stronger and more powerful than the simple physical continuity, a new
condition of “webness” rooted first of all in our control over the
deep codes of life and language. In Genesis for example the
alphabetic code, the biological one and the digital one, experience a
kind of symbolic convergence…

KAC:  In the nineteenth century the comparison made by Champollion
based on the three languages of the Rosetta Stone (Greek, demotic
script, hierogliphs) was the key to understanding the past. Today the
triple system of Genesis (natural language, DNA code, binary logic)
is the key to understanding the future. “Genesis” explores the notion
that biological processes are now writterly and programmable, as well
as capable of storing and processing data in ways not unlike digital
computers. Further investigating this notion, at the end of the show
the altered biblical sentence is decoded and read back in plain
English, offering insights into the process of transgenic
interbacterial communication. The boundaries between carbon-based
life and digital data are becoming as fragile as a cell membrane.

MLP: I’d like to ask you just a last question, where I’d like to shift the focus
from the objects or objectives of your research to the creative process
itself: can you tell me something about the process through which you
develop a piece?

KAC: All my works have in common the sets of issues that preoccupy
me, which revolve around questions of communication — communication
not as transmission of information but as a living process. Since I
have no regard for the anachronistic notion of “style”, each work
evolves its own material and networking solution. I’m equally
concerned with the aesthetic and the social aspects of verbal and
non-verbal interaction: linguistic systems, dialogic exchanges, and
interspecies communication. Once I have identified the strategies I
need to pursue in order to convert an idea into an artwork, I then
seek the means to implement the project. This is often a lengthy
process, involving research, dialogue, and interdisciplinary effort.
The work is often produced in the same distributed manner it is
experienced, with coordinated efforts in multiple cities


Edoardo Kac web site

About paesaggisensibili

Architect and senior fellow of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology of Toronto University, I'm a member of the board of directors of the Italian National Institute of Architecture (IN/ARCH) in Rome, where since 2003 I am in charge of the Institute Master Programs. My studies are rooted in the fields of architecture and philosophy of science with a special interest in biology and anthropology. Key words for my research are: Man, Space, Nature, Technique, Webness, Ecology, Relations, Interactions, Resources, Energy, Landscape, Footprint, Past and Future. My goal is to build critical understanding of the present to suggest useful strategies to build the future.

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