Telepresence, Touch, and Art at the Interface
- Winner, 2018 Anne Friendberg Innovative Scholarship Award, sponsored by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies
264 pp., 7 x 9 in, 54 b&w illus.
- Published: February 24, 2017
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: February 17, 2017
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An examination of telepresence technologies through the lens of contemporary artistic experiments, from early video art through current “drone vision” works.
"Telepresence” allows us to feel present—through vision, hearing, and even touch—at a remote location by means of real-time communication technology. Networked devices such as video cameras and telerobots extend our corporeal agency into distant spaces. In Here/There, Kris Paulsen examines telepresence technologies through the lens of contemporary artistic experiments, from early video art through current “drone vision” works. Paulsen traces an arc of increasing interactivity, as video screens became spaces for communication and physical, tactile intervention. She explores the work of artists who took up these technological tools and questioned the aesthetic, social, and ethical stakes of media that allow us to manipulate and affect far-off environments and other people—to touch, metaphorically and literally, those who cannot touch us back.
Paulsen examines 1970s video artworks by Vito Acconci and Joan Jonas, live satellite performance projects by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, and CCTV installations by Chris Burden. These early works, she argues, can help us make sense of the expansion of our senses by technologies that privilege real time over real space and model strategies for engagement and interaction with mediated others. They establish a political, aesthetic, and technological history for later works using cable TV infrastructures and the World Wide Web, including telerobotic works by Ken Goldberg and Wafaa Bilal and artworks about military drones by Trevor Paglen, Omar Fast, Hito Steyerl, and others. These works become a meeting place for here and there.
Here/There brings together media studies and art history in groundbreaking and insightful ways: linking drones to the history of video art, as well as tracing the history of telepresence in both fields. Redefining the interface as an index, Paulsen confronts and explores the deeply contradictory nature of the interface—the ways in which it is both here and there, live and recorded—while also addressing the ethical implications of screens that enable users to touch without being touched in turn.
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Professor, Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
Here/There offers both a prehistory and an alternative account of telepresence and teleaction through a detailed exploration of artistic production made with video. Paulsen focuses on artists whose distinctive contribution is their ambition to make 'both sides of the screen matter.' Confronting head-on the ethical-political challenges associated with these increasingly dominant technologies, Paulsen argues compellingly that, 'In the face of doubt, one must act with care.'
Kate Mondloch, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Oregon; author of Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art
In this lucid and persuasive analysis of telepresence and touch, Kris Paulsen tackles the philosophical complexities of the interface with elegance and rigor. Here/There offers compelling readings of canonical and contemporary artworks that will engage artists and curators as well as theorists of art and media.
Maeve Connolly, Director, MA in Art & Research Collaboration, Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology; author of TV Museum: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television
At a time when the New York Times publishes stories in virtual reality and drones are the new aces, Paulsen strips away the myths of telepresence to bare its surreptitious workings. Marshaling cogent examples from the 1960s to the present—from the invention of the computer mouse and satellite performances to Internet and videogame art—this well-researched book will leave readers convinced that an interface is not built from plastic keys or glass screens, but from their unexamined faith that what's here is also there.
Jon Ippolito, Professor of New Media and Director of Digital Curation at the University of Maine; coauthor of Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory
Touch is often thought to be obsolete in today's media culture—we lead 'mediated' lives, so goes the dictum. Kris Paulsen's theoretically sophisticated but also highly readable book shows how layered and complex this issue really is. By tracing the manifold intersections of art and technology, the work demonstrates the broad engagement of artists and experimenters with touching. Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Joan Jonas, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Ken Goldberg, Harun Farocki, and many others have explored its cultural denigration and ideological ramifications, while reimagining and reinventing forms appropriate for electronic and digital environments. As Paulsen convincingly shows, remote touching, whether by video, satellites or drones, has become a fact of life—for better or for worse.
Erkki Huhtamo, Professor of Design | Media Arts, and Film, Television, and Digital Media, UCLA