At home with Jacques Lacan

Paul Sermon, 2004

Jacques Lacan suggested in his early psychoanalytical writings that the human psyche is constructed as a mirror image that we contemplate as if it is on stage in front of us. This metaphor has become significant for the present developments in new media art, as we can observe a similar process of identity construction through a digitally mirrored world in networks and installations. Artists in this field are increasingly experimenting with interactivity as an open system that embodies generative data and what I call a ‘user-determined’ narrative, set up as a deliberate contrast to a closed system of finite variables that default back to their original state upon leaving the piece. Likewise, the role of the audience in this context is far more complex and cannot be labelled anymore simply with ‘user’, although this still seems to be a popular term for the participating public. This user (or ‘browser’) is rapidly becoming a performer or even actor, often represented by avatars and agents within these new environments. To a certain degree, networked projects portray the increasing performing role the individual is adopting in media culture and in general society: omnipresent in endless phone-in radio stations, ubiquitous surveillance observation, or globalised Reality TV.

The audiences form an integral part within these telematic experiments, which simply wouldn’t function without their presence and participation. Initially the viewers seem to enter a passive space, but they are instantly thrown into the performer role by discovering their own body-double in communication with another physically remote user on video monitors in front of them. They usually adapt to the situation quickly and start controlling and choreographing their human avatar. Nevertheless, the installation setup in the form of an open accessible platform offers a second choice of engagement: the passive mode of just observing the public action, which often appears to be a well-rehearsed piece of drama confidently played out by actors. Compelling to watch, it can be a complex issue to discover that the performers are also part of the audience and are merely engaging in a role. The entire installation space then represents two dynamic dramatic functions: the players, controllers, or puppeteers of their own avatar, absorbed by the performing role; and the off-camera members of the audience, who are themselves awaiting the next available slot on the telematic stage, soon to be sharing this split dynamic. However, the episodes that unfold are not only determined by the participants, but by the given dramatic context. As an artist I am both designer of the environment and therefore ‘director’ of the narrative, which I determine through the social and political milieu that I choose to play out in these telepresent encounters.

Commissioned by BEAP - The Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth
Produced by Paul Sermon, Curtin University Visiting
Research Fellow 2004

Exhibition: Perceptual Difference
The John Curtin Gallery
Curtin University of Technology Perth, Western Australia
8 September - 12 December 2004

My own work in the field of telematic arts explores this performing aspect and the emergence of a user-determined narrative by bringing remote participants together in a shared telepresent environment. Through the use of live chroma-keying and videoconferencing technology, two public rooms or installations and their audiences are joined in a virtual duplicate that turns into a mutual, visual space of activity. Linked via an H.323 Internet videoconference connection, this form of immersive interactive exchange can be established between almost any two locations in the world.

QuickTime movie explaining the mirror room (5MB)

PDF installation cable diagram (2MB)