Aspects of the Aesthetics of Telecommunications






  • For the past fifteen years, increasing numbers of artists around the world have been working in a collaborative mode using telecommunications. In their “works,” which we shall refer to as “events,” images and graphics are not created as the ultimate goal or the final product, as is common in the fine arts. Employing computers, video, modems, and other devices, these artists use visuals in a much larger, interactive, bi-directional communication context. Images and graphics are created not simply to be transmitted by an artist from one point to another, but to spark a multidirectional visual dialogue with other artists and participants in remote locations. This visual dialogue assumes that images will be changed and transformed throughout the process in the same way that speech gets changed-interrupted, complemented, altered and reconfigured-in a spontaneous face-to-face conversation. Once an event is over, images and graphics stand not as the “result,” but as documentation of the process of visual dialogue promoted by the participants. This unique ongoing experimentation with images and graphics develops and expands the notion of visual thinking by relying primarily on the exchange and manipulation of visual materials as a means of communication. The art events created by telematic or telecommunication artists take place as a movement that animates and unbalances networks structured with relatively accessible interactive media such as telephone, facsimile (fax), personal computers, e-mail, and slow-scan television (SSTV). More rarely, radio, live television, videophones, satellites, and other less accessible means of communication come into play. But to identify the media employed in these “events” is not enough. Instead, one must do away with prejudices that cast off these media from the realm of “legitimate” artistic media and investigate these events as equally legitimate artistic enterprises. This essay partially surveys the history of the field and discusses art events that were either motivated by or conceived specially for telecommunications media. The essay attempts to show the transition, from the early stages, when radio provided writers and artists with a new spatiotemporal paradigm, to a second stage, in which telecommunications media, including computer networks, have become more accessible to individuals and through which artists start to create events, sometimes of global proportions, in which the communication itself becomes the work. Telecom munications art on the whole is, perhaps, a culmination of the process of dematerialization of the art object epitomized by Duchamp and pursued by artists associated with the conceptual art movement, such as Joseph Kossuth. If now the object is totally eliminated and the artists are absent as well, the aesthetic debate finds itself beyond action as form, beyond idea as art. It founds itself in the relationships and interactions between members of a network.