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August 30, 2004

new questions

What is ____?

Among the questions raised by the organizers of this blog are the recurring: What is Performance? performance? performative? And within that discussion, what is authorship, interaction, participation?

As I try to get a grip on the extent to which ubiquitous/pervasive computing is already with us, I keep wondering if these questions are still relevant? Can we ask a question about today in language that resonates with earlier meanings?; with, for instance, an earlier understanding of human autonomy, separateness, centrality?

The blender responds to your yelling at it ; your 'weather coat' tells you it's going to rain; your skirt changes visual properties upon contact (see UrbanChameleon) or reacts to urban noise, or visualizes pollution and urban exhaust as it travels through the fabric. Two large handsome bowls in the park ring with sound as you move your hands around their insides, introducing a peaceful drone into a noisy environment--and then--they (the bowls) reach out and incorporate that noisy environment itself into the sound you're making–and suddenly it's all very easy to live with.

While many of these technologies may never filter down to practical or aesthetic consumer use, the number designed to alter the way we live/experience our everyday lives is truly impressive; the domestic technologies alone astonishing. From load sensitive floors, tables and shelves (www.equator.ac.uk)--to magic carpets, which have actually been around for awhile--to color-changing textiles, to responsive tools and gadgets such as Hiroshi Ishii’s musicBottles--open one and music flows; open two and the second harmonizes--to intelligent rooms and cooperative buildings--to mobile computing where computation spans a multitude of situations and locations. "Now," as William J. Mitchell writes in Me++ The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, "nothing need be without processing power, and nothing need be left unlinked." And with all these linked things and places "charged with properties traditionally associated with living bodies," (Chris Salter), how can we not reevaluate the definitions, categories, disciplines, institutions etc. by which we comprehend the world?

And shouldn't we be cautious when using language that still contains the outlines of earlier understanding to grasp today’s activities? Say the word performance and tell me you don’t immediately sense the centrality of the artist-actor?

One further thing: If you check in with a person like Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, you’ll find I only scratched the surface of what's beginning to happen. He'll tell you that "we're realizing that if molecules can compute" (which he says they can), "if nature computes, you can actually use a computational language to ask nature questions of fundamental theoretical and experimental interest…" AND, "it's beginning to invert how we understand our place in the world."

I have only one solution for myself in this blog – and that is to begin a history of networked performance and of the technologies that have altered our understanding of it. Hopefully it will allow me/us to see not just what artists have already done, but how the meaning of the language we use has altered. I welcome any help I can get.

Posted by newradio at August 30, 2004 10:33 AM