Masks, Mem­branes, Pas­sages: Notes on Par­tic­i­pa­tion and Net­worked Per­for­mance


Session Title:

  • Intimate TV: Webcamming & Social Life-logging In the Surveillant-Sousveillant Space

Presentation Title:

  • Masks, Mem­branes, Pas­sages: Notes on Par­tic­i­pa­tion and Net­worked Per­for­mance




  • Panel:  Intimate TV: Webcamming & Social Life-logging In the Surveillant-Sousveillant Space

    In 1972, Robert Whit­man, one of the founders of the fa­mous col­lec­tive of artists and en­gi­neers Ex­per­i­ments in Art and Tech­nol­ogy (E.A.T.) in the six­ties, con­ceived the per­for­mance News that was broad­cast live on WBAI New York radio and can be con­sid­ered as a fore­run­ner of today’s par­tic­i­pa­tory cul­ture and dig­i­tal media, more specif­i­cally of con­tem­po­rary artis­tic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in the field of net­worked per­for­mance. In News the par­tic­i­pants, who were spread across var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in the city, tele­phoned to the radio sta­tion and de­scribed what they were see­ing. A net­work of voices was then woven, a city sound map that jux­ta­posed pro­saic re­ports and tes­ti­monies of every­day life marked by sub­jec­tiv­ity and po­etic de­scrip­tion.  News laid the foun­da­tion for a sub­se­quent se­ries of per­for­mances, in­clud­ing works such as 21st Cen­tury Hap­pen­ing and Local Re­port, in which the basic struc­ture is sim­i­lar: thirty peo­ple at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions of a city, who call (with five-minute in­ter­vals be­tween each call) and de­scribe what they see at that mo­ment. The calls are broad­cast live through the in­ter­ven­tion of Robert Whit­man who ends the call when the par­tic­i­pant cre­ates a co­her­ent image.

    Whit­man’s per­for­mances News, 21st Cen­tury Hap­pen­ing and Local Re­port are based on tech­no­log­i­cal net­works and also work the net­work from a con­cep­tual and ex­pres­sive point of view as far as they cre­ate an as­sem­blage of audio and vi­sual frag­ments, and be­cause they in­voke the rhi­zomatic, dif­fuse and af­fec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of our mem­ory. In this sense they are ex­em­plary works to in­tro­duce the theme of par­tic­i­pa­tion and “live” com­bi­na­tion in the net­worked per­for­mance with the par­tic­u­lar­ity of also giv­ing us a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive on our sub­ject of study. In 2004, Jo-Anne Green, Michelle Riel and Helen Thor­ing­ton (ed­i­tors and cu­ra­tors of the pro­ject) de­fined the scope of net­worked per­for­mance as being any live event based on a net­work, par­tic­u­larly dig­i­tal net­works. Nowa­days, the ubiq­uity, mo­bil­ity and con­ver­gence of dig­i­tal media en­hances the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence of telep­res­ence that is en­twined in the dis­trib­uted na­ture of net­worked per­for­mance. This paper in­tends to con­tribute to a crit­i­cal re­flec­tion on ex­per­i­ment­ing with au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion in artis­tic prac­tices of net­worked per­for­mance.

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