Telematic art is transcending and challenging the entire history of humanity’s understanding of art, communication, and connection. In Roy Ascott’s article, “Is There Love In The Telematic Embrace?” he says that current technology is making us question what it means to be human. At first glance, I thought that was an interesting and silly statement. When I stopped and considered his statement deeper, I realized he’s right. As we integrate machines more and more into our daily lives we are having to distinguish ourselves from them. That struggle pours over into art and how people’s relationship with technology will redefine art.
Telepresence is when a group of technologies allows a person to feel as if they were present or to give the appearance of being present at any location other than the one they are physically in. The technologies like facetime, holograms, digital projections, and live video streaming allow us to extend our presence beyond our physical space. Many digital artists are embedding this concept of telepresence into their art by having people virtually participate in their art. This unique hard-to-define art, created with technology and any number of participants/creators/observers, is called telematic art.
Ascott points out that traditionally art was on or a physical medium, such as a canvas or sculpture. Telematics is radically changing the way make and experience art. Telematics is a general term for technology that encompasses telecommunications, sensors, wireless communications, computer science, multimedia, and the Internet. When used to make art, the resulting art piece is no longer only a physical object. We may see part of it on a physical object like a wall, a screen, or piece of paper but the core essence of telematic art is digital and free-flowing. It’s millions or billions of pulses of electricity traveling through the air and wires. Therefore a piece of telematics art is a sum of many parts.
Another aspect of telematics art is that it is not done in isolation. A telematic artist does not simply go into their studio alone spend time and emerge with a piece of art. Telematics requires that there be roles for people to play. They can be an author, facilitator, participant, and/or an actor. This requires that telematic art pieces involve usually groups of people. This involvement looks very different for different pieces of art. As telematic art is growing, artists are questioning and challenging the relationships people have with each other and with digital technology. They are trying to stretch the limits of how love is defined. If we can love people when we communicate face-to-face, can we love people when we can communicate through a digital medium, if so, how much and is it different? These are questions telematic artists are wrestling through.
Telematic Drum Circle
A great example of telematic art is the Telematic Drum Circle.
In this installation, up to 16 people at a time from all over the world can go to a website and log into it. From there they choose which one of 16 drum sets do they want to control. Once they choose they can begin to control an actual drum that is placed in another location with all the other drums. People at that installation space can then watch the drums perform together as people around the world control. Projects like this question who is the artist. Is the artist the person controlling the drum, is it the person who made the computer program, is the orchestrator of the event? In telematics, none of those matters, what matters is the collaborative nature of the piece itself.