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International Journal of

Volume Three Number Two and Three

ISSN 1479-4713

International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media | Volume Three Number Two and Three
Performance Arts and Digital Media
Volume 3 Number 2&3 – 2007
Special Issue: Performance and play: Technologies of presence in
performance, gaming and experience design (Guest editor: Lizbeth
Goodman with Deveril, Esther MacCallum-Stewart & Alec Robertson)

97–99 Performing and Being (There) live and online
Lizbeth Goodman International Journal of

101–102 Part 1: Performance futures: Bodies in movement, viewed through multiple screens
Introduced by Lizbeth Goodman
103–121 Performing self beyond the body: Replay culture replayed
Lizbeth Goodman
123–138 Performing in (virtual) spaces: Embodiment and being in virtual environments

Arts and Digital

Jacquelyn Ford Morie
139–150 Being there: Heidegger and the phenomenon of presence in telematic performance
Martha Ladly
151–165 Ersatz dancing: Negotiating the live and mediated in digital performance practice
Helen Bailey


167–168 Part 2: First, second and third spaces: Digital narratives and the spaces of performance
Introduced by Lizbeth Goodman

169–181 Hotel Pro Forma’s The Algebra of Place; destabilising the original and the copy in intermedial
contemporary performance
David Fenton
183–195 Orienteering with double moss: The cartographies of half/angel’s The Knitting Map
Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis
197–208 The warfare of the imagined – building identities in Second Life
Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart
209–222 Embodied narrative: The virtual nomad and the meta dreamer
Denise Doyle and Taey Kim
223–236 Playing the third place: Spatial modalities in contemporary game environments
Axel Stockburger

237–238 Part 3: Complexity: The theory into the practice
Introduced by Alec Robertson

intellect Journals | Theatre & Performance

239–252 Emergence and complexity: Some observations and reflections on transdisciplinary research
involving performative contexts and new media
Dave Everitt and Alec Robertson
253–267 Reconstruction theory: Designing the space of possibility in complex media
Karen Cham
269–279 Emergent objects: Designing through performance
Alice Bayliss, Joslin McKinney, Sita Popat and Mick Wallis
281–294 An approach to the design of interactive environments, with reference to choreography, architecture,
the science of complex systems and 4D design
Alec Robertson, Sophia Lycouris and Jeffrey Johnson

295 Index

ISSN 1479-4713

9 771479 471004 www.intellectbooks.com

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International Journal of Performance Arts

and Digital Media
Volume 3 Number 2-3
The International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media draws its contri- Editor
butions from researchers and practitioners placed at the rapidly developing David Collins
interface of new media technologies and performance arts. As such, it acts as a School of Intermedia and
forum for both creative thinking and innovative practice in theatre, dance, Performance Arts, University Centre
music and live art. Contributions cover work that is either domain-specific or Doncaster College
where disciplines are in convergence. High Melton
The journal actively encourages debate and cross-disciplinary exchange Doncaster DN5 7SZ
across a broad range of approaches. Such debate may extend into associated E-mail: david.collins@don.ac.uk
implications for teaching and research at both undergraduate and postgraduate
Associate Editors
The spectrum of topics identified in the scope includes areas such as virtual
and physical bodies, distributed non-linear performance, interactive performa- Alice Bayliss
tive installations, and real-time music performance interfaces, among many University of Leeds
others. However, all subjects within or across the disciplines will be considered. E-mail: A.Bayliss@leeds.ac.uk
This journal presents an innovative platform for lecturers, researchers, stu- Steve Dixon
dents, practitioners and educators in music, theatre, dance and the live arts to Brunel University
both learn and contribute. Furthermore, it allows researchers and software/ E-mail: steve.dixon@brunel.ac.uk
hardware developers with an interest in the performance arts to become more
involved in the debates surrounding their work. Sita Popat
University of Leeds
Editorial Advisory Board E-mail: s.popat@leeds.ac.uk
Philip Auslander – Georgia Inst. of Technology, USA
Johannes Birringer – Brunel University, UK Book Review Editor
Glorianna Davenport – MIT, Cambridge, USA Barry Smith
Jane Davidson – University of Sheffield, UK University of Bristol, UK
Scott deLahunta – Dartington College, UK
Duncan Holt – University of Hull, UK Editorial Assistant
Susan Kozel – SMARTlab, University of East London, UK Julie Northmore
Simon Lock – University of Lancaster, UK
School of Intermedia and
Gary McPherson – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Lisa Naugle – University of California, Irvine, USA Performance Arts
Kia Ng – University of Leeds, UK Doncaster College
James Oliverio – University of Florida, USA High Melton
Gordon Ramsay – University of Nottingham, UK Doncaster DN5 7SZ
Paul Sermon – University of Salford, UK E-mail: ian.gostling@don.ac.uk
Jenn Sheridan – BigDog Interactive Tel: 01302 553553 ext 4215
Kate Sicchio – University Centre, Doncaster College, UK
Barry Smith – University of Bristol, UK
Andrea Zapp – Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

The views expressed in this journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily
coincide with those of the Editor or the members of the Editorial Advisory Board.
International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media is published three times
per year by Intellect, PO Box 862, Bristol BS99 1DE, UK. The current subscription
rates are £30 (personal) and £210 (institutional). Postage for each volume is free
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© 2007 Intellect Ltd. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal ISSN 1479-4713
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the USA provided that the base fee is paid directly to the relevant organization. 4Edge, UK
PADM_3_2-3_00-FM 11/28/07 6:40 PM Page 96

Notes for Contributors

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These notes can be referred to by contributors to any of Intellect’s journals, and so are, in turn, not sufficient; contributors will
also need to refer to the guidance such as this given for each specific journal. Intellect Notes for Contributors is obtainable from
www.intellectbooks.com/journals, or on request from the Editor of this journal. For additional guidance on submissions, review-
ers guidelines or general information, please contact David Collins. Email: david.collins@don.ac.uk.

96 PADM 3(2&3)
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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Editorial. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.97/2

Performing and Being (There)
live and online
Lizbeth Goodman SMARTlab, University of East London

As each live performance team struggles with issues of documentation, so

too do mediated performance teams struggle with issues of technological
change and rapid ‘upgrading’ of systems that outstrip most academic
budgets and project time frames. Some of these same issues impact on
creative design teams: whether for scholars studying user-centred design
methods, or for practitioners engaging in research and knowledge
exchange projects.
At the same time, many of us fight to beat the daily clock, to expand the
space-time continuum just far enough to cram in that much needed ‘spare’
time before and after the full-time working day, to allow for reading and
scholarly reflection, creative writing or design work, rehearsal, performance,
filming, editing and more critical reflection.
There is rarely enough time to engage in both the time-based arts and
the scholarly consideration of them, and yet, we make time, all of us,
somehow. This work matters, and is developing rapidly, and is shaping the
scholarly as well as the practical parameters of the next generation (of stu-
dents, or researchers, of makers, producers and of consumers or – in com-
puter terms – of ‘users’).
This is itself a feat of considerable complexity and dedication to design,
and in some senses can also be seen as a form of ‘magic’, or of creative
invention the rules of which cannot be shared because they are reinvented
with each act of engagement (whether intentional or not) with the social
necessity of making time for work that matters.
Within all this, the academic domain of performance art has, in recent
years, had its borders further challenged by the advent of game studies and
theory, and the interplay of design and experience design with the fields
once recognisable for their focus on bodies in spaces. In addition to includ-
ing representatives from art, fashion, design and architecture in any given
performance team, it is now typical to include experts from a much wider
range of disciplines too. Drama and theatre studies have made room for
live art, performance art and also mediated performance and embodiment
studies. With the growth of all these distinct but overlapping fields, ideas
have evolved along with the scholarly community’s vocabularies and critical
frameworks for engaging and analysing with the emergent ideas, so that in
2007, a study of performance and play also reaches quite naturally and
seemlessly into the domains of computer science, informatics and

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engineering (with work that engages with artificial intelligence and robotics,
including computer vision, sonic design etc.), psychology (with virtual
reality studies), education (with the increasingly common focus on role play
and interaction design in virtual learning environments and online games),
on gender studies (in terms of avatar role play), philosophy and phenome-
nology), critical theory (with the theoretical framing of time-based arts and
media in terms of their cultural status and complex ideological systems and
impacts). The list goes on . . .
Within this increasingly interdisciplinary academic world, scholars and
practitioners are, quite sensibly, seeking out new methods of working
together to address key concerns with shared vocabularies and joined-up
thinking and implementation strategies.
The authors in this special double issue of IJPDM were all encouraged
to address their own work in relation to the wider field: to consider the
impact of play in its widest forms to their own work, and to show some of
the steps that lead between performance, digital media, game studies and
play in design.
In Part 1, the focus is on Performance Futures, with a focus on Bodies in
Movement as viewed through Multiple Screens. The authors in this section
were invited to address their own subjects whilst framing larger issues from
the fields of Performance and New Technology, Psychology and Virtual
Reality, and Dance Studies.
In Part 2, the focus shifts to the domains of scholarship that reach back
towards performance from Gaming and Experience Design, with authors
contributing from the fields of Theatre, Game Studies, Cultural Studies and
Digital Media, and Art and Design.
Finally, in Part 3, the last four papers engage with the theory of complex-
ity as it is employed and evolving in both the scholarship and the practice of
design, from performance to play to the design of new modes of thinking
about design. This last section includes work gathered at the Design for the
21st Century event on Magic In Complexity, held in London in February
2007. That work brought together an unusual group of artists, designers,
technologists, performers and scholars, engaged in two different strands of
work and thought, from Emergent Objects to the theories of Complexity
Science as applied to the 3d and 4d design arts.
As all the papers in this double issue show, the technologies that allow
us to view and review, play and replay, both ourselves and our technological
framing of selves, have developed to such an extent in the past few years
that what was unimaginable only a decade ago is now ‘reality’ or embodied
in ‘virtual’ reality.
The authors whose work now fills the pages of this double issue have
addressed these ideas, these modes and modalities, in their bodies, their
performances, their interactive films and digital narratives . . . and have re-
viewed their work for scholarly presentation here, in order to invite
response and ‘replay’ from the wider community of readers too.
Yet, it is notable that there is an increasing resistance in the scholarly
community to fixing ideas in time by printing on paper. Some scholars, and

98 Lizbeth Goodman
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many students, have arrived at a point where it is either not possible to

read the bulk of academic texts that appear, or is no longer seen as relevant
to engage solely with published text. The work in this issue is thus pre-
sented to the public at a time when the status of the book as a designed
artefact is in question – to a greater extent than in previous generations –
and when it is now common for students to comment that they no longer
rely on the reading of texts, ordering of books, use of libraries for their
scholarship. Whether we like it or not, it is a fact of the academic culture of
2007 that many now rely on Google and Wikipedia as tools for study.
In summary, this double edition of IJPDM has two main objectives:

1. To engage thinkers and makers in the world of performance and digital

media in a transdisciplinary discourse, committed to the page but
reaching beyond the frame of that page, and beyond the boundaries of
play in its many and varied forms; and
2. To inspire thinking across disciplines and to encourage reflection from
paper to paper, idea to idea, as each informs and re-contextualises the

Thanks to David Collins, editor extraordinaire and remarkably (or ‘astound-

ingly’) present and intuitive collaborator. May this first inter-action be just a
step along the road to many more creative engagements and moments of
magic in complexity.
Lizbeth Goodman University of East London
For the SMARTlab Research Team

Performing and being (There) live and online 99

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Introduction. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.101/2

Part 1: Performance futures: Bodies
in movement, viewed through
multiple screens
Introduced by Lizbeth Goodman

The first section of this special double issue on play in performance and
new media looks, and relooks, at the body and its frames. Each frame is
considered as a reflective surface in the hall of mirrors of multiply layered
fictions and mediated stories, that John Barth describes in ‘Lost in the
Funhouse’, as discussed in the first paper in this part.
The term the body, refers, for the purposes of this section at least, to the
visceral form of the human as s/he engages in space and time, and makes
an impact on others through the act of being present, whether live or on
screen. The focus here is on the body as placed: the space it takes up in
lived experience and within the alternative frame of screenic presence. The
work revolves around the notion that each body and each body memory,
gesture, deliberate and multiply framed staging of self in performance leads
to another layering of communication as bodily inscription. The four papers
have thus been gathered around the central theme of multiplicity in framing
embodiment, and each engages in a deliberately polysemic act of writing
about the body and embodiment, with an awareness of the presentation of
the ideas both in print and in digitally mediated formats. In each of the
papers, the themes of replay are considered: in other words, each piece
engages with the theme of the role play of self in the increasingly media-
tised and theorised worlds in which we live and present ourselves daily.
The first paper tackles a subject of long-standing concern to researchers
working on the body and embodiment: the subject of self in replay culture.
This paper reaches back through a decade of ideas and critical, performa-
tive and screenic experiments in re-presentation of bodies of all shapes and
abilities, across a wide range of media formats. The paper is deliberately
wide ranging, as the themes set the scene for the papers that follow in all
three sections, even as they summarise and analyse a set of ideas that have
been developing for a decade, and that will be replayed in new form in work
to come. The focus on the emergence of new forms of body images in the
age of ‘mechanical reproduction’ takes up Benjamin’s classic argument and
applies it to the body as an increasingly commodified and designed ‘object’
in its framing and reframing in early 21st century culture.
The second paper, by artist/scientist Jacquelyn Ford Morie, draws upon
the author’s long career in virtual environments and experience design,

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focusing on the performance implications of this emergent high tech media

landscape. The paper takes some of the same themes raised in the ‘Replay
Culture’ article – those of embodiment, or play and role play, of the theatri-
cality of performance, and the shifting boundaries of ‘real space perfor-
mance’ – and replays these in relation to a study of Virtual Environments:
seen as a new frontier in performance and digital media, and as a sphere
influenced and shaped largely by teams led by women artists as well.
The third paper, by musician and digital media expert Martha Ladly, con-
siders embodiment, presence and absence in virtual spaces beyond the
complex, high technology screens of VR and VE, in the domains of small
screen mobile technologies and real space performance stages and streets
as well.
The fourth and final article, by dance expert Helen Bailey and her team,
studies and considers the negotiation of the live impulse and images of
liveness as framed and mediated by digital performance practices.
By placing these four papers together as a set, though they are written
by authors of different generations and cultural backgrounds, and from a
wide variety of disciplines, this section aims to raise a few questions and to
offer the first stabs towards paths for finding answers.

102 Lizbeth Goodman

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.103/1

Performing self beyond the body: Replay

culture replayed
Lizbeth Goodman SMARTlab, University of East London

Abstract Keywords
This paper re-views the field of performance studies through the lens of a large performance
body of the practical work in new media performance and technology tools cre- play
ation. It thus engages critically with the author’s own earlier ideas about play, replay
replay and the performance of self: taking a new position informed by an altered presentation
view of performance that has developed in recent years with benefit of both re-presentation
hindsight and the applied method of multimodal vision. Working live as a mover self
and director who has taken a visible physical place in mixed ability performance presence
work, the author argues that the framing of self in performance which is per- engagement
sonal, is complicated not only by theories of agency and the frames in which per- erasure
formance and performance theory are both viewed and reviewed, but also by the digital media
shifting nature of ‘self’ as the body and one’s ways of engaging through the body live art
both age and change. The paper has been written specially to set the scene for live text
and raise key issues discussed elsewhere in this double issue of IJPDM. It shares blog
the body of a decade’s research (1987–1997) and another decade’s further wiki
research and reworking of ideas around the omni-presence of media and the per-
formance of text and other forms of representation in the digital age (work con-
ducted since 1997, but focussing on original practice-based research
performance experiments and shows staged for these purposes between 2000
and 2005). The paper takes its own media, for example the paper on which it is
to be printed – as one of the subjects of study – exploring key theories of repre-
sentation and gendered performance re-viewed from the lens of the new media
age of the early years of the 21st century, as they are now ‘replayed’ here, but for
the first time in print, on paper.

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element:
its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it
happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history
to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the
changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as
well as the various changes in its ownership. The traces of the first can be
revealed only by chemical or physical analyses which it is impossible to
perform on a reproduction; changes of ownership are subject to a tradition
which must be traced from the situation of the original.
(Walter Benjamin 1936)

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Breaking apart and reforming the notion of the self

What does it mean to commit to paper the research outcomes, expressed
here as ideas inscribed in text and destined for print, of a few decades –
when that work has explicitly aimed to remove the fourth wall not only from
the theatrical stage but also from the framing mechanisms of screenic tech-
nologies? What does the act of enactment entail in a body of work that
spans theatre, dance and technologies for social inclusion, the joint aim of
which is to empower audiences and ‘users’ of all levels of ability to engage
equally, across what was known has been called ‘the digital divide’: to
empower action and free participation on a world stage? . . .
This paper explores the many and varied ways in which new technolo-
gies call us out of ourselves and our moments of being in shared time-
space with others, and beckon us through the screen to other places,
sometimes but not always coincident with our social, educational and cul-
tural needs. As the moment in which we write is, as I and others have said
and written before, ‘always-already-gone’ even as it is documented, it is the
ironic but deeply engaged sense of being present that persists beyond the
moment of enactment, or the moments of archival in digital form. Our acts,
staged, filmed and lived, are all recorded and viewed even as they are expe-
rienced, and before they are stored in human memory, so – I would argue –
before they are fully lived. In Britain, the most highly surveillance-marked
country on Earth, the act of ‘being’ in terms of play is marked in each
moment by the certainty of knowing that each moment is indeed recorded
and (perhaps) watched by distant others.
In this context, methods for re-embodying self (and other(s)) in the
multimodal world are offered daily, but are rarely clearly labelled as such. In
previous eras, it might have made sense to try to label the multimodal per-
formances that we, many or most of us, embody. But now, given the speed
of technological change combined with the shifting relationships that we all
have to the notion of ‘present time’ in the age of telematics, it seems less
important to label and tie down any concept or mode of communication or
performance, and more important to capture instead a sense of the multi-
ple streams of embodiment, and connection, that develop between bodies
and minds in performances, staged and screenic. In this paper, the focus is
on performances by and with people of mixed ability: a form marked by the
absence of limbs and by stillness and silence as well as by movement and
speech, and therefore a perfect focus for a study of multimodal communi-
cations (or the expression and experience of ‘self’ in and through multiple
senses beyond the seen and heard).

An important aside – the self in flux, over time and in space

The term ‘mixed ability’ is used here to refer to a state between all possibil-
ities of movement, the remembrance of movement and the limited set of
movement vocabularies that parts of the body are willing or able to make
unassisted. Mixed ability performance is now a speciality of the SMARTlab
team, who make work that pushes bodies to work together, live and on
screen. This phase of work, informed deeply by the Theatre Games training

104 Lizbeth Goodman

PADM_3-(2-3)_03-GOODMAN 11/30/07 8:06 AM Page 105

of Clive Barker and by subsequent years of work in physical theatre and 1 RADICAL: Research
comedy, has all informed our professional theatre practice, which Agendas Developed in
Creative Arts Labs, a
addresses a core theme; that of being in a state of being that is in constant partnership of
replay, time-shifting between body states and memories of body states. This SMARTlab (UK), the
BBC (UK), the WAAG
recognition of the importance of re-placing the embodied self, or of the Society for Old and
body in real space and in screenic space, in the age of the digital, was the New Media
starting point for a new phase of research that coincided with a series of (Amsterdam), L’ecole
events (see Goodman 2007a,b) that led to collaborations with a new group d’Angouleme (France),
of performers and technologists who were, and remain, equally engaged in et al. Funded under he
Framework V IST
a quest for re-embodiment in multiple spaces. (Interactive Society
These performances have involved six years of dancing with women and Technologies)
men in wheelchairs: some of whom have suffered spinal break or other Programme. See
Goodman 2002b and
serious injuries, others of whom dance despite chronic severe Cerebral 2003b.
Palsy, and related conditions that limit their freedom of voluntary move-
ment and speech. The SMARTlab team has become in effect, adept at
looking away from itself in order to sense and become part of the body of
someone else in dance, virtual interaction or synthesised speech and
musical interface experimentation (see for instance, the results of the The
Interfaces Project, detailed online: www.smartlab.uk.com).
The story of self in replay culture, is the story of sexuality in perfor-
mance (the title for the book that I chose not to publish when it was first
ready to print, as discussed below) as framed and reframed over a number
of years with feedback and interaction from a number of sources. It is a
story of stories within stories, many told by pictures and some told by ges-
tures. It is a story reframed in a house of mirrors like John Barth’s
Funhouse. This paper is the first sustained attempt to remove the story
from the funhouse and to look at it from each of a series of modalities, and
perspectives, at a time.

Back to the future – a series of radical breaks through

the frame
A piece devised by SMARTlab, Flutterfugue, was devised to showcase a
range of performance technologies created by out team and colleagues in
the course of a large European Commission Project,1 and brought women
and (performing) artists into the mainframe of funding from Europe. That
work is documented elsewhere, with focus on the aims and outcomes of
the research that led to interaction between robotics and haptics engineers
with animators, dancers and puppeteers in the Mediatheque showcase the
SMARTshell tools that were created for it. What was not documented at the
time was the radical reframing the evolving image of self in performance
that evolved, invisibly, on two parallel tracks at this time: on the one hand,
through a move back into live performance – though this was not con-
sciously construed at the time in terms of terms of ‘self embodiment’ since
the work in this show and its series of accompanying workshops was linked
to closely to movement with Jayne K Rose, and with the other performers
using wheelchairs and robotics to enable their live, embodied engagement.
This process of becoming part of another person, or being directly silently

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2 The original QTVR and in real time improvisation by the ‘flow’ of another person, deserves
Globe is now a classic major consideration here: not only as a stage in the body of work under dis-
example of ‘old
technology’ but as the cussion but more generally, in terms of a larger argument developing about
first to be made on the liveness of improvised ‘being in space’, in the age of the digital.
the reconstructed
Globe, it remains as a As part of another person’s body, the move back through the frame to
marker in time. See: live embodiment on stage did not seem so radical at the time, as it did not
www.smartlab.uk.com/ feel ‘like me’ on stage. At the same time, or in parallel, this body of work
Also see Owens and involved a large and very conscious element of translation between disci-
Goodman 1996; and plines: as project director yet not only devising, choreographing and per-
the Theatre Games
workshop video for forming in the showcases, but also researching, writing, presenting,
the BBC OU, new chairing, moderating the UK lectures, seminars and symposia – and this is
Shakespeare course, the part that made the most lasting difference to the academic work and its
discussed briefly in
Goodman 2007. The phase shift – I also engaged in the academic and practical translation of the
interactive strategies meanings, needs and intentions of the engineers and robotics experts to
developed by the BBC
team are discussed in the dancers to the animators to the theatre directors to the visual artists to
Goodman 2007 and the medical teams and disability experts . . .
in Goodman, The earliest experiment with stillness on a mainstage that set the path
Williams, Coe 1998
(transcript of our in this direction (of stillness and reflection) for the SMARTlab team was the
BAFTA awards Globe Theatre 3d render: the first widely available 3d (Quicktime VR, or
QTVR) reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe, in which London Equity
3 VIP: staged at the union actors were not permitted on stage. Therefore, the academic
Theatre Museum as
an experimental research team for the BBC Open University Project – the same team who
workshop on still make up the core of the SMARTlab today – took up still positions at key
puppetry, people and
performances on places in the space, and held those poses for a full day of still shoots. In
stage and screen. BBC that work, there was plenty of time to think about the role of the body in
production crew, with space as a marker of presence.2 Through this work the idea of the body as a
footage gathered
specially for the MA in marker for others and as a vehicle of translation and imagination for others
Gender and was developed, in many senses, at many levels. And in that time, invisibly
Performance (Live and
through the Screen), even within the research team, our focus shifted from solo performance
known as the experiments single authored works in what was then still recognisable as
Extended Body Project Performance Studies, to multiply authored work by interdisciplinary teams
(course co-directed
with Susan Kozel). with common goals: from the ‘art’ to the ‘science’ model.
See Goodman 2001b But here, discussion of a show which played out the theme – self
and 2002a.
replayed – brings us to the Flutterfugue: danced live with a paraplegic
dancer, an able bodied dancer and virtual dancer (in this case a butterfly
avatar in 3d controlled by a Midi slider/puppetry interface and also by early
motion tracking technologies), in which the audience viewed the live show
through 3d spectacles to take in the full effect of the image mix – all this
gave a new frame to the notion of self in performance.
Thus, Flutterfugue, along with the previous major experiment in limited
movement (in the VIP Project, which positioned the sole living body on
stage with massive great marionettes made by Forkbeard Fantasy: listening
to choreographic calls from many but allowing my body only to make the
same small movements that the puppets could make, and only to follow
their lead3) marked a turning point in the research. This heralded a return
to embodied work after years of considering the text and political contexts
of performances. The shift happened in real time and I remember it vividly,

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as it marked itself in memory and on the body simultaneously: it occurred 4 Sexuality in

as I watched a time-shifted rerun of a BBC2 Theatre Workshop on late night Performance was
written as the results
TV. Watching myself in the TV frame, I wondered how this simulacrum of of an extended body
the academic speaking about performance had come from, and where I had of research and
engaged practice on
left my own body, and why it had not occurred to me for so long that my stage and on screen.
body was no longer present in the performance studies work in which I had
5 This early work
been engaged for so long. The wonder led to a major transformation in the marked the beginning
work: a re-introduction of the body to the stage and screen as both a mover of a research thread in
creation of new media
and a thinker about movement, but always already aware of the shifting and assistive
state of both the body and the memory of its movements. technology tools that
Throughout this period, SMARTlab’s work (then operating under the enable people with
severely limited
name of The Institute for New Media Performance Research: INMPR) physical movement to
stretched and shifted between live experiences on stage with both the real enable writing, speech
and the making of live
and the virtual, the body and the simulacrum. The VIP Project evolved with music. See Goodman
more dancers and puppeteers engaging over time and across distance, 2007, and also see the
while the group also extended its study of bodies as extended over time and full documentation of
the Interfaces Project
space through the continued experiments with MA students in London, forthcoming in James
New York, Phoenix, LA, et al. These two parallel threads of work tested the Brosnan’s book for
MIT Press
limits of ‘ownership’ of a body image, a moment in time of any perfor- http://www.smartlab.
mance or indeed the ‘ownership’ of an original . . . The team created simul- uk.com/2projects/
taneous moments, led by distant others. Thus the work raised issues about interfaces.htm

authenticity, presence and absence, multimodal and multi-located experi-

ence. As nearly all the participants were women, the work naturally
extended into study of gender roles with regard to these states of being.
Some of this research found form in the chapters of the book that was to be
published under the name of Sexuality in Performance.4
At the same time, two key ideas, expressed as questions, emerged
How did experimentation with limited movement if expressed carefully
allow for accessibility VIP Project, (particularly through the research phase
funded by the Gulbenkian Trust) and on through to current work with
dancers, writers, musicians and film makers with severe cerebral palsy
today;5 and
How best to document and also share knowledge gained through
embodied practice with technology: how to place oneself in the frame but
on both sides of it too?

Re-embodying performance in the age of virtual reproduction

– real TIME
The shift in terms of considering research outputs from writing and pub-
lishing single authored work for readers of Performance Studies, towards
preparation and moderation of joint publications on group trans-discipli-
nary work was, in retrospect, not just a practical choice but also a political
one. It was in essence a shift in the means of mechanical reproduction,
linked to a shift to understanding multimodal communications (including
silent communications marked and monitored by biosensors and
interpreted by people who spend enough time with the person attempting

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6 The MINDtouch to communicate beyond the body6). While the engagement with ourselves
Project (SMARTlab & and others whose bodies has been altered and whose understanding of
BBC R&D) addresses
these issues with both body politics had thus also shifted was influential to the team’s work at this
technology and time, so too were the evolution of new design concepts in the parallel fields
people. See
http://smartlab.uk. of architecture, product design and systems engineering. For in the models
com/2projects/ of user-centred design and participatory design, a good deal more about
mindtouch.htm the body as part of a complex performance system became apparent.
The work undertaken in this period with people who could not move or
speak re-awakened an awareness of spending time as a method that was not
valued in academic circles: that was not taken account of in practice-based
work where rehearsal, production and documentation of live performances
was included as but made invisible in academic timetabling for performance
researchers. In the increasingly management-led structures of universities, it
was hard enough to argue for reasonable timings for process-based courses
and assessments, without bringing in the additional demands of what is
often referred to as ‘disability time’, where site based witnessing of people’s
own ways and means of interaction could take significant amounts of time
beyond the rehearsal space. And yet this was the time that mattered, that led
to multimodal understanding an awareness of the meaning of the term
‘presence’ in practical as well as theoretical contexts. So, if universities were
unable to deal with the basic truth that some forms of user-centred design
take considerable amounts of time, it seemed impossible that industry or
business environments would consider these issues.
It was with this new and frustrating sense that there would never be
enough time to spend to make a real difference, nor an appropriate
medium through which to enable a rich mix of performers and people to
share their forms of expression equally, that the SMARTlab research shifted
towards Assistive Technology tools creation: a research focus that drew
engineers and haptics engineers to our core team, and that produced a
more scientific style of writing for technology journals and conferences.
That body of group work is now, after it has settled with time, the
subject of study in performance terms once more: it now sits as an example
of a form of interactive performance that demands embodiment in the
system, and a simultaneous ability to look from both sides of the system,
both sides of the frame, to translate the work to the participants and to
audiences and readers alike.
Much of the SMARTlab history (or herstory) has been written over the
years, and that body of work has placed the evolving SMARTlab method in
the context of performance theories and concurrent practices in new media
art, from the earliest writings performance and its political and cultural con-
texts, to the later team articles about the interconnectedness of disciplines
in the making of interactive works: see the short list of the most relevant
publications below for entry to that work. Rather than recap that body of
performance work here, this section will instead review earlier theories of
performance and replay culture from the more up to date frame of a body
that no longer plays as it used to, in an age of technology that replays
before we even have time to play . . .

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So, the discussion below offers analysis and reflection, underpinned by

examples from a range of performance media experiments and workshops
documented on the web and Dvd materials that can be provided for inter-
ested readers.

Replaying replay
The first articulations of theory of ‘replay culture’ (first penned, or written
with digital ink back in the 1990s) was researched and written up in the old
days of technology, when the ability to ‘time shift’ a television programme
to video for viewing at a more convenient time was still a new and relatively
important development.
The published extracts that became best known from this period were
first outlined in the wake of the death of Diana, and likened to the perceived
mass-scale media developments impacting on the fields of performance and
representation at the end of the last century. With numerous books already
published, widely taught and translated, there was no perceived need to put
yet more onto paper in those early years of this new century. Instead, the
focus became reflective of that earlier output, and engaged in a practical and
ethical debate about the value of trees as opposed to more print publica-
tions that could reach wider audiences for free, online, and without the
destruction of the world’s resources. Much of the research output of those
years was thus shared online, in what would now be called a wiki format.
As the subject of the work was ‘replay’, and the multimedia innovations
that could make a difference to our perception, documentation of the live, it
seemed particularly important to take a stand of this kind while also
respecting the needs of scholars, students and the publishing industry. The
arguments of the book seemed to contradict the cultural trend towards
publication in print, and were better supported – and more easily updatable
and customisable by other scholars, performers and students internation-
ally – when the work was made available for free, online. Each iteration of
the argument has been reworked with the participating students and schol-
ars offering feedback and new layers of performance material and case
study footage.
So, this section cites short extracts from a larger body of work that set
up a dynamic of scholarly exchange that continues to this day: The set of
Routledge Readers in Gender and Performance and Politics and Performance,
first published in the years 1999 and 2000 respectively, and the writings
shared in pre-wiki format, online:
Many of the authors whose work appeared in those Readers took posi-
tions on the political aspects of the performative, some in relation to
gender and the performance of sexuality and gendered role play, and others
in relation to more ‘party political’ or historical issues around performance
theory. A dialogue has thus developed over time between authors and prac-
titioners who did not, prior to those publications, often converse directly
about their work. While many other readers have been published before and
since these, they are cited here as markers in the sands of time for a spe-
cific set of debates and collaborations arising from an early invitation to

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engage in constructively critical sharing of ideas, which was the framework

for those books. In that work, Jane de Gay engaged in a good deal of what
can now be thought of as the ‘translating between disciplines’ which is so
much a part of any editorial work on trans-disciplinary subject, but that was
particularly engaged in the late 1990s with debates about the uses of the
digital to capture the live, and with the role of the page, in relation to the
stage more generally. That work and process can, in retrospect, be seen as
some of our earliest work in what is now a common SMARTlab practice:
that of co-publication with teams of authors, in both ‘arts’ and ‘scientific’
formats, and for a wide variety of presses.
However rigorously we encouraged debate and interaction prior to pub-
lication, the resulting books, while widely studied and set, still seemed
limited as resources, due to the very nature of their status as fixed once
they hit print, on paper. The process of putting together those books was as
interesting as the final products. We invited each reader to respond and
interpret, to select readings and reading strategies. Yet, as digital media
was not so advanced: e-mail was relatively new and the electronic exchange
of data files was a novelty, not the norm, in order to respond, readers had to
write to me directly, or to respond in their own classrooms and rehearsal
rooms. Thus, the attempt to involve a real conversation or dialogue once
the book was in print raised an important issue: a similar framing of self as
both performer and critic/audience: that is, what form would be most
appropriate for engaged interaction, beyond the frame of the printed text?
The challenge, seen in retrospect, was in rethinking the very act of
writing about performance, with its inbuilt resistance to treating a text both
as a finished thing, or an artifact, and a living document, or script for
improvisation. Thus, that set of Routledge Readers can now be seen as
both books and as artifacts of an age that aimed to evaluate and document
the playability of their subjects: gender and performance, and politics and
performance. The working techniques advocated for live performance work-
shops by Jerzy Grotowski can still be seen to overlap and enrich the digital
performance practices experimentally and experientially designed by live
artists and performance practitioners engaging with the digital today.
Grotowski’s principles of ‘poor theatre’ with no sets, no props, no make-up
or stage lighting are typical of mass produced digital performances, but
also quite distinct from the higher tech mediated performance technology
showcases that still challenge a performance paradigm, and that Grotowski
did not code in his juxtaposition of ‘poor’, ‘rich’ and ‘total’ theatres.
As argued in the second Reader:

In dance and other types of performance, the live event now questions its own
ephemeral nature; the moment of performance is complicated by asynchronous
participation by audiences and collaborations, while any event is increasingly
likely to be represented, shared, archived, and stored in digital form. The strug-
gle of the performer and artist today, then, must include battles with the real
and the virtual, with ways of making work which are informed by knowledge of
‘new media’ and respect for more traditional and visceral live art practices. The

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same might be said for those who wish to study ‘sexuality in performance’: the
spaces in which our bodies and senses of identity are ‘performed’ and ‘replayed’
will influence the forms of representation as well as the types of reception.
Sexuality is process; performance is process; to replay gender in theatre and
culture is continually to reconsider the place of our bodies in many different
kinds of space, and to replay our own embodiment(s) in both physical and intel-
lectual terms, on a daily (performed but still ‘real’) basis.
(Goodman 2000)

In her book on time-based arts, Andrea Phillips also argues that: ‘perfor-
mance and technology have been intimately bound up since photo-mechan-
ical means enabled firstly, static, and then, durational representation to turn
around our notions of the real, literally re-focusing our idea of our bodies
and, consequently, ourselves’ (Phillips 1998: 11). This statement, even when
replayed nearly a decade after it first appeared in print, still summarises a
number of the concerns addressed in my early writings on sexuality in per-
formance (back in 1999), wherein Walter Benjamin’s notion of ‘the work of
art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ was considered with reference to
still images, video and live performance.
But here, the aim is to replay that argument, considering the impact of
embodied presence in the text and the image simultaneously.
So – take two:
Here is Benjamin on the actor and the image (citing Pirandello): a key
passage, somehow overlooked the first time around:

The feeling of strangeness that overcomes the actor before the camera, as
Pirandello describes it, is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt
before one’s own image in the mirror. But now the reflected image has
become separable, transportable. And where is it transported? Before the
public. . . . Never for a moment does the screen actor cease to be conscious
of this fact. While facing the camera he knows that ultimately he will face the
public, the consumers who constitute the market. This market, where he
offers not only his labor but also his whole self, his heart and soul, is beyond
his reach. During the shooting he has as little contact with it as any article
made in a factory. This may contribute to that oppression, that new anxiety
which, according to Pirandello, grips the actor before the camera. The film
responds to the shriveling of the aura with an artificial build-up of the ‘per-
sonality’ outside the studio.
. . . Any man today can lay claim to being filmed. This claim can best be
elucidated by a comparative look at the historical situation of contemporary
(Walter Benjamin 1936, web)

Years before I first trawled Benjamin for ways to frame the late 1990s page
and stage debates, Peter Wollen took up a similar set of issues in his book
Raiding the Icebox: Reflections on Twentieth-Century Culture (1993: 35–72).
Wollen applied Benjamin’s ideas about art and mechanical reproduction to

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7 Lillo-Martin published the development of cinema which, Wollen argued, ‘can be condemned as a
a revised verion of her simulacrum, a masquerade, a display’.
paper, based on work
presented at the IV These are among the core set of ideas investigated back in the late 1990s.
Congresso But it was not until the research team had engaged, in embodied form live
Internacional de
LÌngua e Literatura do and onstage as well as on screen, in dance with severely disabled people that
Mercosul, the arguments took on research meaning again, in the context of SMARTlab’s
Universidade Luterano work. The research process itself took bodily shape and meaning in the
do Brasil: now
available at process of standing still and then moving on stage, in the freeze frames of
http://web.uconn.edu/ those first complex multi-camera shoots and live performances – wherein
[Cited 28 September movement was literally frozen into frames: first for the QTTV camera model-
2007]. ling (wherein hundreds of still images were stitched together to make a
deceptively simple 3d model that could be viewed from many perspectives),
and then in a conscious modelling of bodily gestural language to match those
of the puppets and robots that shared the stage spaces. And in that process,
movement and stillness, sound and silence, became readable and choreo-
graphable, but most importantly, meaningful, in ways that the theorised study
of movement and freeze frames’ had not shared.
The focus in those early writings on Sexuality in Performance was not so
much on the nature of that display, nor on any given aesthetic or philo-
sophical questions, but rather on the content of the ‘display’ (sexuality, rep-
resentations of gender) as always already at odds and yet engaged in a
strange encounter with the context in which all such displays are replayed:
that is, contemporary theatre and culture, in an age when we have all come
to terms with the fact that we can, if we so desire, take control of the basic
media of recording and replay so that we frame our own experiences of
interaction as ‘theatre’.
A text cited years ago still speaks to these key issues: Jeff Ross, in his
book The Semantics of Media (1997) provided an engaging analysis of the
ways in which we use spoken and written language to describe media,
along with discussion of ‘possible worlds’ and semantics for analysis of
implicit and explicit content in multi-media. Ross’s book included discus-
sion of the ways in which we see, and describe what we see, in films and
other performative and representational dynamics, paving the way for
further exploration of the semantics of virtual performance. Intriguing work
on sign language and the grammar of gestural communication (see for
instance Lillo-Martin 1991, and her work – which seems more important
now, reviewed with a decade’s hindsight on its first framing in my arguments
about layered communicative gestures7) might be applied in exciting ways
to the field of performance, while research bridging the fields of computers,
‘natural language’ and visual communications is opening up new areas of
interest to those of us making and writing about live and virtual perfor-
mance (see for instance McKevitt 1995).
From the vantage point of late 2007, Lillo-Martin’s words sound out to
different effect:

. . . . Where two languages take opposite settings of a (binary) parameter, it

will also be informative to see whether both languages show an acquisitional

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clustering of constructions related to the parameter, or only one language

does. The latter outcome is what we might expect if one of the parameter set-
tings has an ‘unmarked’ status, and is set correctly from the outset.
(Lilo-Martin 1991: 5–6)

Here, Lillo-Martin and her colleagues discuss their CLESS Project, which
studied learned communication patterns in control groups of deaf children
from families where signing (ASL or American Sign Language) was or was
not used at home, and/or was or was not used from birth. The links to my
own practice with deaf children from different language backgrounds is
highly relevant in terms of a comparative frame for my own work, and also
harks to Peggy Phelan’s groundbreaking work on sign systems and the
‘unmarked’ body in the frame of representation.
But there is another relevant frame to weave into this particular house
of mirrors, or this particular funhouse of interpretation. It is the bridge to
the virtual, or the linkages between spoken and written languages and the
language of 1s and 0s which make up digital computer code. Here, Brenda
Laurel led the way in her framing of the debates at an early stage of the
development of ‘virtual theatres’.
In Computers as Theatre, one of the earliest major comparisons between
methods and models of trans-discipliinarity, Brenda Laurel argued that the
intensity of contemporary response to and debate about VR (virtual reality):

. . . mirrors the nature of the medium itself: by inviting the body and the
senses into our dance with our tools, it has extended the landscape of inter-
action to new topologies of pleasure, emotion, and passion. A similar trans-
formation occurred in the Middle Ages, when theatre exploded out of the
textual universe of the monastery into the sensory fecundity that gave rise to
Commedia Dell’Arte, . . . in a wave of sensory, passionate, and archetypal
imagery. It was this coming together of text, body and narrative polyphony
that opened the way for Shakespeare, Grand Opera, and all the vital permuta-
tions of the dramatic impulse that have come down to our day.
(Laurel 1993: 213–214)

In the late 1990s when this ideas was newly coined, the response that
seemed most appropriate was that VR could best be seen, not so much as
a medium to mirror reality, but more as a type of performance, or a mode
of presentation of the live. The term ‘computer-assisted performance’ was
used a few years later, in the rich and evolving field of ‘CAD: computer-
aided design’. VR, then, was a form that differed mechanically and there-
fore functionally from other forms or modes of performance, whether on
stage or in the streets and private spaces (however defined and limited) of
daily life. And years later, students and colleagues including Jacki Morie
(in this journal) have shown through both practice and theory just how
complex and rewarding this journey through VR to virtual embodiment
can be.
But back to the hall of mirrors.

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Replay and the right to reply

Over the years, it has of course proved more and more common, and there-
fore less and less controversial or difficult, to work acros disciplinary
borders and media formats. For all of us who make theatre and write about
it, who create new media programmes and analyse them or teach with
them, these have been heady, busy, exhausting years. Many paths have
crossed on any number of different stages, in various recording studios,
media labs and in the pages of numerous texts.
Inevitably, it is the work that has been most personally charged, and in
which any of us has been deeply involved, that reflects back an image that
is both imaginatively playful and enduring (because multiply layered),
thereby allowing both an enjoyable sense of body memory in the telling or
sharing in image-based form, or rewarding in terms of seeing the next gen-
eration picking up and taking further not only the ‘product’ but more
importantly, also the process.
So it will be for each artist, each reader, each critic. The work of our
bodies informs the work of our minds. How we share that work with others
remains a conundrum, a concern, for many of us as we move from solo to
collaborative performance-making intended to include the audience, not
only as ‘spect-actors’ (in Boal’s terms) but as creators of the work in
progress. Yet there are many choices to make, each of them charged with
issues of ethics, economics and politics: in what terms, in what media, in
live or asynchronous performance contexts, in co-present or mediated
spatial relationships, will any artist or academic choose to work? Which
formats will allow for the energised exploration of ‘politics’ and ‘perfor-
mance’ in the next century?
The notion of the ‘spect-actor’ draws upon Boal’s politics as well as his
knowledge of theatre and of what might now be called ‘serious play’. Boal’s
games for actors draw heavily upon his brutal life experience and his trans-
lation of that embodied knowledge into a theory and method, documented
and analysed in his work as a cultural activist as well as in his writings and
professional practices of and for the Theatre of the Oppressed (1973). But in
Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Boal went further to offer a way of seeing
the spectator of a theatre performance as an engaged, embodied partici-
pant in a dynamic. This work has influenced the methods not only of
theatre, but also of live art, and more recently, of game developers, whose
work is deeply indebted to the role play analyses of early theatre scholars,
as demonstrated in the continuing reference to Boal, Caillois, Barker and
more recently Poulter, in studies of the ‘actor’ or ‘avatar’ in serious games
and play.
I closed Sexuality in Performance (the book that I did not publish in print
but shared instead online, sections at a time as the sections then rewrote
and reframed themselves over time, in what might mow be called a WIKI
format), with a final question that led to the long debate about publication
of this kind of work for me. The question was: ‘Can you really perform on
the internet?’. In Leslie Hill’s words – from her work with Helen Paris on ‘I
Never Go Anywhere I Can’t Drive Myself’

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Considering that futurists predict that the most profound shift to occur in the
Twenty-first Century will be the shift from a place oriented to a ‘placeless’
society, this is something I want to know. As we conduct more and more of our
communication, research and commerce on-line and as the world around us
shifts from analog to digital, physical location becomes less and less of a deter-
mining factor in our ability to do our work, access information, keep in touch
with friends and buy or sell. Having an email account, internet access and a
computer, of course, become increasingly important to our ability to function
as members of a community, to interact with our peers, to access and to make
work. What does this mean for performance? It’s one thing to publish text on
the internet, but how can one conceptually, atmospherically and emotively
make the leap from atoms to electronic bits when it comes to Annie Sprinkle’s
cervix? Scan the cervix, upload it and program it to blink on and off, create
some roll-over text, embed an element of interactivity for the audience, forge
hot-button links to other cervix-related sites? No doubt people would then say
things like, ‘I went to Annie Sprinkle’s cervix last night’, because people tend to
talk about sites they have downloaded as places they have ‘been’.
(Curious 1998, web)

In applying Brenda Laurel’s ideas about computers as theatre, to the experi-

ences of performance company Curious, whose co-creators Leslie Hill and
Helen Paris’s work is stored in digital form on the web for continued replay
and interaction by distant audiences . . . The possibilities and parallels abound
for comparison of performance ‘engagement’ across media. The window into
‘Pandora’s Box’ which Laurel saw early on as opening with VR, can be seen all
these years later as re-opening with replay culture. Indeed, the performance
work experienced in the late 1990s framed the earliest writing about replay
culture, whereas other students and colleagues have built upon this work and
shown how VR and VE can open the window to experience in the house of
mirrors, and equally, how the house of mirrors that is digital technology has
framed our experiences and engagements with our own images, in ways and
to an extent that could not have been predicted even a decade ago.
In this final re-view or reframing as these ideas are about to be committed
to print, Janet Murray’s ways of seeing and expressing the layers and decep-
tively reflective surfaces of new media come to mind – as penned in her influ-
ential book, Hamlet on the Holodeck. There, Murray studied the framings of
digital technology as a tool that can and (now) has engaged in the continual
process of reshaping the role and form of narrative environments in our
culture, and in the funhouses of literary representations, or our frameworks
for visual and imaginative representations as expressed in words.

Digital environments are procedural, participatory, spatial, and encyclopedic.

The first two properties make up most of what we mean by the vaguely used
word interactive; the remaining two properties help to make digital creations
seem as explorable and extensive as the actual world, making up much of
what we mean when we say that cyberspace is immersive.
(Murray 1997)

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8 And it is not Murray’s work, like Laurel’s, made an indelible mark in the sand of digital
insignificant that Celia understanding. Both of these critics expressed early and deep understand-
Pearce also
successfully defended ings of the possibilities of the digital in relation to theatre, text, story, per-
her PhD ‘in game’ or formance and replayable images.
in avatar form:
demonstrating in real Looking back, it is possible to see a sense of premonition in their words:
space and time that for what they recognised in the marking out of VR as a form of theatre, was
the role play of avatar a need for documentation of the live within the virtual, and also a need for
presence is integrally
related to the self- individualised routes through the funhouse of VR.
conscious craft of the This is the very terrain that the SMARTlab team have explored and built
performance of self in
everyday life. in recent years, from the assistive technologies that have made both live
performance and the communication spaces of the digital domain more
accessible, to the through critical and theoretical explorations of these
domains made by PhD graduates including Sher Doruff, Anne Nighten,
Mary Flanagan, Jools Gilson-Elllis, Helen Paris, Sara Diamond, Axel
Vogelsang, Chris Hales, Vesna Milanovic and Fiona Wilkie for example (see
www.smartlab.uk.com/docsmarts for full details and abstracts), but also
and perhaps most strikingly in the very recent PhD submissions of two pre-
vious students and long time contributors to the realm of ‘Replay Culture’:
for example in the work of Celia Pearce, whose ethnography of self and
avatar in the migratory worlds of online gaming and massively multiplayer
environments broke new ground in the fields of experience design, game
studies and performance studies simultaneously,8 and also in the remark-
able work of Jacki Morie, who has invented a new theoretical framework for
understanding gendered ways of making and using virtual environments
based on years of work in creating archetypal virtual memories and testing
these with audiences using botanical and synthetic scent triggers, sounds
and visuals that encourage the viewer to re-frame herself again and again in
the funhouse of what Morie calls VE (virtual environments, or virtual expe-
riences) rather than VR . . . There is nothing ‘real’ about it.
As Steve Anderson argued in his work on ‘Past Indiscretions: Digital
Archives and Recombinant History’:

. . . the narrative logics of the database and search engine have resulted in two
divergent movements – one that seeks to articulate a ‘total’ history that is ency-
clopedic in scope and rooted in relatively stable conceptions of historical episte-
mology; another that exploits digital technology’s potential for randomisation
and recombination in order to accommodate increasingly volatile visions of the
past. . . . Both are enabled by the proliferation of digital information systems.
(Anderson 2004)

What we do, how we choose to act and interact and ‘spect-act’, perform
and play and replay, will differ for each of us, at each moment, and for many
political and personal reasons. One thing only is certain: we will be faced
with such choices in real life and in any number of digital or virtual perfor-
mative spaces as well – even in our own imaginations and dreams: in the
spaces of our own desires.
So we return to the beginning.

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The replay/rebound: the final reframing (for now)

Even ten years ago, the value of books as saleable commodities was still a
major consideration in the process of academic publication. These days,
when every thought is shared online before it hits the page, the controversy
is largely removed from my belief that sharing work online was the best way
to engage with updatable, viewable clips from performance. I realise on ret-
rospect that the edgy nature of this decision a decade ago was to do with
the times: the then-topical debates about the documentation of live perfor-
mance colliding as they did with the period that saw the beginning of the
end for major publications, as the status and role of publishing began to
shift in the digital age. So today it no longer seems radical to suggest that it
may be fairer, more collaborative and more appropriate to a real-time schol-
arly debate about the nature and value of both scholarly performance
research and of theatre performance (which required audiences as well as
readers to view it, even if in video-captured format, before they could
respond) to share work online and to provide online space for responses too.
Years on, the most striking aspect of this ‘debate’ about the page and
the stage, reframed from the end of the era of ‘replay culture’, is this: the
study of scripted plays as drama has retained its form and focus, as it
should be. The study of live performances in various genres has been
reviewed and reframed by scholarship published in the field of practice-
based research and the documentation of performance. The alternative has
indeed become the mainstream and as a result, a different kind of radical-
ism is required in thinking and writing about performance in the age of the
digital. So while it now seems sensible, once again, to commit some words
to the page, it also, simultaneously, seems wise to use the digital stages
and online spaces at our common disposal, to encourage debate and to
invite constant replay of ideas and performance, from many different points
of view.
As more of our theatres close down or give way to shred venues that
house myriad forms and events, we may now consider the role of play, and
of replay, in live culture generally.
Each of us engages daily with a plethora of media and messages, and
they do not always merge. In fact, the medium of the ‘chatbot’ defies the
very idea of the medium as the message, by showing how new virtual envi-
ronments and the AU creatures that inhabit them only appear to learn
behaviours and languages in ways that can seem to respond to us, but are
only, in effect, ‘acting’ (I refer here to the chatbot’ as developed for user
interface and role play games that entrain the ‘bot’ or automated character
in Second Life, for instance, to respond in a ‘learned behaviour’ to the
speaker in the ‘real world’: see Burden 2007: 1). We have moved away from
Artaud’s ‘theatre and its double’ not to ‘life and its double’ but rather, and
beyond, to ‘life and its multiply mirrored others’. Within this new house of
mirrors is reflected and re-reflected the grotesquely exaggerated, and mini-
mally reduced, image of self in contemporary society.
Each of us must measure out our own space in that ‘real news’ or ‘per-
formance space’ as the case may be.

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9 Jack Hanna, Irish I remain, at the end of this dive back into replay culture, as thoroughly
journalist, was the engaged and immersed as I was a decade ago, yet also, in the words of Jack
father of award
winning poet Davoren Hanna (expert survivor of life lived in time-shifted attentiveness to those
Hanna, who died whose speech came differently and in its own time), ‘astounded’ to be here,9
tragically young of
Cerebral Palsy and astonished at the major shifts in technology of recent years, and equally at
related conditions, yet the levels of commitment and energy that scholars, so many, clearly still
who left a legacy of have for reading words on pages rather than screens, at least sometimes.
strong words on
paper that demanded, It is therefore a privilege to share these words, on paper as well as
and still demand, a online, and to challenge thought leaders in many disciplines to share their
certain presence. The
father described his own views, perhaps by responding online.10 The point of all research and
astonishment of scholarship is surely about keeping it alive, keeping thoughts relevant. The
surviving the death of publication of this paper is part of a process of re-engagement, which
both the son and the
mother and pondered begins with the publication but will now evolve as the ideas here are inter-
his continuing acted with by others.
existence and
continuing ability to
write words in The The Invitation
Friendship Tree: a And so to end at the beginning: this paper goes to press, to ink on paper,
remarkable book, and
one that inspired even as a new media experiment is about to be launched by the SMARTlab
some of the practical team. This piece will push the limits of the notion of an event in space and
performances and
also the return to time by performing moments of self for multiple players in real and virtual
writing marked in this space simultaneously.
paper. The team for the next performative research project, called GLAM
10 Readers and (Games, Life and Media). has decided to continue with its dedicated open
encouraged to
respond and to source and creative commons ethos, and in this instance, to share ‘owner-
suggest future ship’ of the ideas of this project, and of the avatars, to the vast and as yet
projects, uncharted communities of East London: the people who currently live
collaborations and
experiments via the where the new Olympic City will be built and whose personal stories and
wiki set up specially journeys and histories will be mapped there. The GLAM team is thus
for this purpose on
the SMARTlab site). drawing a massive to-scale 3d Pirate Map, to show the real treasures of the
social networks embedded in the real spaces of these neighbourhoods.
These can be analysed and experienced, and will be mapped and made
manifest alongside more official government documents and strategies for
the ‘regeneration’ and ‘build’ projects as the clock ticks on towards 2012.
The team is interested in the legacy, in asking not what will happen for a
brief period in 2012, but rather what will be left?
Time will tell. And, as Benjamin predicted, the outcomes of the 2012
build, just like the outcomes of our next major performance experiment
with people of mixed ability inter-acting in person and online in many lan-
guages and dialects, will challenge the very idea of ownership for this part
of London, and for the traditions of its many people, which must ‘be traced
from the situation of the original’.

Anderson, S. (2004), ‘Past Indiscretions: Digital Archives and Recombinant
History,’ in M. Kinder and T. McPherson (eds.), Interactive Frictions, Berkeley:
University of California Press.

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Artaud, A. (1958 [1936]), The Theater and its Double (trans M.C. Richards), New York:
Grove Press.
Austin, J.L. (1975 [1962]), How to Do Things with Words, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Barker, C. (1977), Theatre Games, London: Methuen.
Barth, J. (1968), ‘Lost in the Funhouse’, first published Atlantic Monthly, 1968.
Reprinted by Doubleday Books, 1968.
Benjamin, W. (1968), The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (essay
originally published in 1936). Full English text available at: http://web.bentley.
benjamin.html#top (cited 28 September 2007).
Blakely, R. ‘Web Rivals Plot the Answer to Wikipedia’, The Times, Saturday 8
Septemer 2007, p. 13.
Boal, A. (1979), Theatre of the Oppressed, London: Pluto Press.
——— (2002), Games for Actors and Non-Actors, London and New York: Routledge.
Burden, D. (2007), ‘SLBots’, Daden Newsletter, Daden Limited. Available at:
www.daden.co.uk. Cited 28 September 2007.
Caillois, R. (1962), Man, Play and Games, London: Thames and Hudson.
Castronova, E. (2005a), Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Worlds,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
——— (1997), ‘Creative Imagination and Media-Assisted Learning’, in Literary and
Linguistic Computing, Oxford University Press: Oxford (print and electronic forms).
Goodman, L. and de Gay, J. (eds.) (1999), The Routledge Reader in Gender and
Performance, London and New York: Routledge.
——— (2000), The Routledge Reader in Politics and Performance, London and New
York: Routledge (later translated to Japanese).
——— (2002), Languages of Theatre Shaped by Women, Exeter: Intellect Books.
Goodman, L. and Kuppers, S. (2002), ‘Virtual Interactive Puppetry’, in Leonardo,
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Goodman, L., Tony, C. and Huw, W. (1998), ‘BBC – The Multimedia Bard: Plugged
and Unplugged’, in New Theatre Quarterly, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, Vol. 14, No. 53, pp. 20–42.
Goodman, L. and Perlin, K. (2002a) ‘The Butterfly Project: Summary Paper’ Lizbeth
Goodman with Ken Perlin, in Ruth Aylett and Cañamero, L. (eds.), Conference
Proceedings: Animating Expressive Characters, Imperial College London, pp. 43–44
with interactive DVD of project performance documentation available upon request.
Goodman, L. (2002b), Creativity and Innovation: Ways Forward for the European
Union in Cross-Sector and Interdisciplinary International Partnerships, EC final
report for the RADICAL project.
Goodman, L., et al. (2003a), ‘SPIRITLEVEL: Making & Using “SMART” Tools
Integrating Intelligent Systems & Performance Technologies to Connect and
Empower Creative Spirits in Shared and Distant Spaces’, in G. Craddock (ed.),
Assistive Technology: Shaping the Future, IOS Press: Amsterdam, pp. 89–97.
Goodman, L. and Milton, K. (eds.) (2003b), A Guide to Good Practice in New Media
Content and Tools Creation (by and for artists in the cultural sector). Published
online by HEFCE/AHDS in 2003, print edition following best practice citation
for this volume published by King’s College London, Office for Humanities
Communications Publications number 18, 2005.

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Goodman, L. and Brian D., et al. (2005), Anima Obscura, IBC Amsterdam.
——— (2007a), ‘Performing in the Wishing Tense: SMARTlab’s Evolution on Stage,
Online and in the Sand’ – memorial issue for Clive Barker, in New Theatre
Quarterly, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, NTQ92, Vol. 31, No. 4,
pp. 352–375.
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‘InterFACES: Affective Interactive Virtual Learning & Performance Environments
for People with Physical & Cognitive Disabilities – Playing the Eyeflute’, Leonardo
(MIT Press) special issue on Mutamorphosis, Conference Proceedings/publication,
November 2007.
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‘The Butterfly Effect: Dancing with Real and Virtual Expressive Characters’ full
project paper, in Ruth Aylett and Cañamero, L. (eds.), Animating Expressive
Characters for Social Interactions, John Benjamins Press, ISBN 1 902956 25 6,
pp. 182–207.
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New Island Books.
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——— (2004), Design Research: Methods and perspectives, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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Language + Vision: AI Review, 9: 5/6.
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New York.
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Suggested citation
Goodman, L. (2007), ‘Performing self beyond the body: Replay culture replayed’,
International Journal of Performance Arts and digital Media 3: 2&3, pp. 103–121,
doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.103/1

Contributor details
Lizbeth Goodman is Chair in Creative Technology Innovation at the University of
East London, where she is also founder and Director of the SMARTlab Digital Media
Institute and the MAGIC Multimedia & Games Innovation Centre. She is also

120 Lizbeth Goodman

PADM_3-(2-3)_03-GOODMAN 11/30/07 8:06 AM Page 121

Director of Studies for the UEL practice-based PhD programme in Performance &
Digital Media: a large cohort of professional artists and engineers conducting col-
laborative research into the transdisciplinary fields of technology development and
performing arts, e-health, e-inclusion, wearable tech, virtual environments, haptics
and ‘artsci’. Her main field of speciality is the creation of performances, workshops
and learning games developed WITH, not only for, people with disabilities and ‘non-
standard gamers’ including communities of women, children, and young people at
risk in the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds. Contact: Professor Lizbeth
Goodman, Chair in Creative Technology Innovation, SMARTlab, University of East
London, 4–6 University Way, London, E16 2RD, UK.
E-mail: lizbeth@smartlab.uk.com

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.123/1

Performing in (virtual) spaces:

Embodiment and being in
virtual environments
Jacquelyn Ford Morie University of Southern California

Abstract Keywords
This paper focuses on how the body has been recontextualised in the age of virtual reality
digital technology, especially through the phenomenon of Virtual Reality, and virtual environments
specifically on fully immersive VR environments made as art or performative immersive
installations. It discusses the progress\ion in form and function from other presence performance
digital media or ‘cybermedia’ to fully immersive virtual environments (VEs). art
This paper attempts to explicate the specialised and intrinsic qualities of ‘Being’ embodiment
in immersive VEs, and how it impacts both the experience of the embodied Being
person in the virtual environment, and our thinking about everyday reality. The role play
unique state of Being in immersive VEs has created a paradigm shift in what
humans are now able to experience, and affects how we understand our embod-
ied selves in an increasingly digital world. Because of this, the contributions of
visual and performance artists to VE’s continued development is key to how we
will know and comprehend ourselves in the near and far future as creatures
existing in both the physical and the digital domains. The paper draws upon
twenty years as a professional Virtual Reality ‘maker’ who has trained in both
Computer Science and in Art, and finds fascinating affinities between these dis-
ciplines in the space of the VE where people and performers interact in new
embodied modalities.

Part 1. Rethinking the body in the digital age

The body is the zero point of the world. There. Where paths and spaces come
to meet, the body is nowhere. Michel Foucault Utopian Body.
(2006: 233)

A number of late twentieth century theorists, as well as practitioners of

digital art, have reconsidered the significance of the body in the digital age.
For some, the ‘meat shell’ – or physical aspect – of the body is no longer
relevant. Australian performance artist Stellarc, who accoutres his meat
shell with numerous physical and digital devices, has proclaimed his desire
to replace all the internal parts of his body with mechanical or electronic
substitutes. Hans Moravec, a prominent roboticist at Carnegie Mellon,

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promotes the concept of downloading the essence of the human mind into
a computer, so one may live forever. However, technology is not infallible.
Beyond the fact that most computers have life spans that do not even reach
that of a half-grown child, what of long-term maintenance? Will there be an
army of servant bodies left behind to tend to the machine-encapsulated
brains? Or worse yet, human slaves? Or, will the machines simply be pro-
grammed to tend to themselves until the inevitable post-apocalyptic power
failure? Then wither the no longer electrically sustained silicon-embedded
I believe, as Erik Davis has stated, that these ideas could be seen as
‘symptoms of an arrogant and deadly rift with nature’. Our meat shell is
that which connects us to the natural world most directly. To deny it is to
break not only with what we know but also with how we know.
Body as meat can be contrasted with the concept of body as container
for information, promoted by Katherine Hayles in How We Became
Posthuman. As many feminist critics assert, Hayles maintains that body
concepts reflect gender differences at their core and that the body is a
female concept; disembodiment is a male one. Direct sensory input is
messy, the ‘wetware’ limited and confining (which according to Hayles par-
allels the state of women in society), whereas the realms of thought and
silicon are clean and noble. Yet, Hayles says that today’s situation moves
us beyond this dichotomy, starting to fuse these ideas. Describing this as
the age when we became posthuman, she recognizes that the body is an
integral part of an ‘information/material circuit that includes human and
nonhuman components, silicon chips as well as organic tissue, bits of
information as well as bits of flesh and bone’. The virtual body needs both
aspects: ‘the ephemerality of information and the solidity of physicality or,
depending on one’s viewpoint, the solidity of information and the
ephemerality of flesh’ (Hayles 1996).
Neither has modern science lent much credence to the ‘arrogant rift’ of
Stellarc, Moravec and their similarly minded colleagues. The cognitive sci-
ences, strongly influenced by recent findings from neuroscience, is support-
ing and justifying a mind/body union, finding extreme interdependencies
between our brain’s development and our embodied human state. In
pointed terms, there would be no mind as we know it without the body that
engenders, contains and nurtures it.
This move away from mind as a computer where neurons equate to
electronic circuitry, has begun to take hold in philosophy as well. Lakoff and
Johnson’s foundational work The Philosophy of Mind brings this debate to a
clear resolution, which echoes the neuroscience findings:

There is no such thing as a computational person, whose mind is like com-

puter software, able to work on any suitable computer or neurological hard-
ware . . . Real people have embodied minds whose conceptual systems arise
from, are shaped by, and are given meaning through living human bodies.

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Such arguments deflate the concepts of such notable philosophers as Kant

(‘no autonomous person’), Frege (detached thought not based on mind or
body) and Chomsky (language as pure form) and such movements as post-
structuralism (no decentred monolithic self, whose meaning is only rele-
vant to a particular milieu).
Phenomenologists, from Husserl to Merleau-Ponty, have also brought
the body back into the picture, and their concepts of embodiment have
had tremendous influence on diverse areas of thought, from cognitive
science to the arts. But only recently, with the bridge of cognitive science
adopting empirically derived knowledge about the inner workings of our
brains from neuroscience, has there been any means of vetting the philo-
sophical theories.
It seems clear that all prior philosophical schools of thought have been
based on a priori assumptions, and not empirical data. Cognitive science, a
continuum of related disciplines ranging from the more pragmatic computer
and neurosciences on one end to psychology and philosophy on the other,
now brings a degree of empiricism into philosophical discourse. It has itself
gone through an evolution paralleling, in some sense, that of philosophical
constructs that have to do with the mind. According to Lakoff and Johnson,
the first generation of cognitive science was based on symbolic computa-
tional systems, such as computers. It is logical that this phase developed in
the 1950s and 60s. They argue that such concepts were in synch with the
‘Anglo-American philosophy’ of the time, and were informed by the domains
of ‘early artificial intelligence, information-processing psychology, formal
logic, generative linguistics, and early cognitive anthropology’. Moravec was
a first generation cognitive scientist. Succeeding generations of cognitive
scientists subscribe less and less to the mind-body duality.
When findings from neuroscience about the mind-body connection
began to be published, it became evident that many assumptions on which
early cognitive science was built could no longer be justified. Chief among
those findings was the understanding that our brain and its functioning,
structure and ability to reason is based on the actions of the body, and that
absent such a body there can be no mind as we know it. Antonio Damasio
and other neuroscientists (Edelman, LeDoux and Schacter) have shown
how far from the mark the prophets of disembodiment are. The body and
what it does, how it experiences the world, is responsible for the compli-
cated interweaving of neuronal connections in our brain, out of which our
mind – and perhaps consciousness itself – is constructed. Twenty-first
century science has only confirmed that corporeal intelligence translates
directly into our mental intelligence.
More evidence from philosophy shows that even our most basic linguis-
tic/mental concepts are built upon metaphors so deeply integrated into our
embodied self that they are taken for granted. Phrases such as: life is a
journey, these two names are close, face your problems, grasping the
concept, I see what you mean, or weighed down by grief, all originate in a
lived body experience. The discourse between science and philosophy is

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finding mutual benefit, and as Lakoff says, science promises to give us

insight into philosophy in three important ways. It can provide conceptual
analysis, critical assessment, and a means of constructive philosophical

Part 2. The body emplaced within the virtual

The phenomenological discussion and its focus on the lived experience
leads directly into one of the quintessential qualities of virtual environ-
ments (VEs). Because our bodies must be emplaced within the virtual
space, VEs constitute a distinctive medium of embodiment. VEs engage the
body as kinaesthetic input via the specialised interface devices that not only
permit but require bodily actions to be performed sensorially, kinaestheti-
cally, proprioceptively – within a full 3D spatial, yet virtual construct.
When our perception is mediated by the VR equipment yet seems so
real, we must reconsider what does and does not constitute a mediated
environment. VR expert and psychologist Jack Loomis has equated this to
the unaware state most people have of their everyday embodied existence:

The perceptual world created by our senses and the nervous system is so
functional a representation of the physical world that most people live out
their lives without ever suspecting that contact with the physical world is
mediated . . .

Now that we can experience technologically mediated experiences within

virtual environments, the mediated nature of our natural world must be re-
examined. VR philosopher Frank Biocca says that our previous compla-
cency has been shattered by the onset of VEs. Yet this state allows us to
better understand the basis of immediate experience.
The relationship between the body and experience is direct and immedi-
ate, even entwined. Our body becomes the vehicle for sensory experience –
that body which has itself been formed of experience. The body shapes who
we become by compelling our neurons to form their intricate and scintillat-
ing patterns of connectivity. Experience affects how we think, feel and
understand our place in the external world, and it does this by forming the
mind by which we make sense of it.
The body and the space it occupies are part of the full experiential equa-
tion. Merleau-Ponty describes it thusly:

Experience discloses beneath objective space, in which the body eventually

finds its place, a primitive spatiality of which experience is merely the outer
covering and which merges with the body’s very being. To be a body, is to be
tied to a certain world. Our body is not primarily in space: it is of it.

While virtual environment technology still suffers from lack of access by the
general public (due to its historical roots in militaristic strongholds and

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concomitant high cost) those who have been fortunate to experience com-
pelling virtual environments have been put in touch with something won-
drous and expansive. An early, yet pivotal example is the Placeholder project,
done in the early 1990s by Brenda Laurel, Rachel Strickland and team,
which is arguably one of the most embodied virtual experiences ever to be
Placeholder directly recalls Donna Haraway’s notion of our relationship
to other gendered creatures. (Haraway 1985) In Placeholder you are embod-
ied, but not as a human being. You take on the persona and characteristics
of one of four totemic animals: spider, crow, snake or fish, performing from
their point of view, speaking in their voice, seeing with their eyes and even
leaving messages in the virtual world for others to find. The human body is
thus transformed, or, as Hayles says, ‘resurfaced and reconfigured by its
interface with the technology’. This reconfiguration, even if not directed at
performing other species, is nonetheless necessitated by one’s emplace-
ment within the virtual environment, in both the embodied and cognitive
sense. The space and the ontological framework of the space we experience
is an extremely seductive form of reality.

Part 3. The isochronic structure of emplacement

In immersive environments we are embodied – this is one of their hall-
marks – yet, we know little about the body that is experiencing the virtual
environment. Any investigation into this dualistic phenomenon will surely
raise more questions than it can answer. Where do we position the body
that the participant leaves behind in the room? It is the living body, as it
exists, breathes and continues working where it is situated, but it is not the
lived body, which is experiencing the world within the virtual environment.
The VE experient possesses knowledge of two simultaneous bodies. This is
true whether there is a virtual body image or not, or whether there is direct
or interpreted mappings of navigation and movement.
The act of emplacing one’s body within the immersive environment sig-
nifies a shift to a dualistic existence in two simultaneous bodies. VR pioneer
Marcos Novak (in Palumbo 2000) calls the body the ‘threshold between
two worlds’ and there is much evidence to support this view.
Many VR critics have described how participants enter into the world of
the virtual and leave their bodies ‘behind’. I believe that participants do not
actually leave their bodies behind, even though to a bystander or spectator
the physical body may seem to be a form of shed detritus in the room. The
body of the participant is synchronously subsumed into the virtual self that
enters into the world within the screen, which is created in the mind from
what the body experiences. Entering into a territory that is not quite imagi-
nal, and yet not fully based in solid physicality, the self becomes subsumed,
bodily, consciously and subconsciously – dancing with the created space-
Ontologically, simultaneous Being within the real and the virtual worlds
is a situation humans rarely experience, even if one considers the phenom-
enal states shamans enter into in performance of their ritual duties. Much

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1 Presence is a specific
term used by virtual
reality researchers to
indicate the state
where one believes
that the computer
mediated world is
real, to the exclusion
of the physical world.
Much work has gone
into trying to find
what induces a full
state of presence.
Figure 1: The bifurcated self – existing isochronically in both the
real and the virtual worlds.

of the intrinsic nature of Being in an immersive virtual environment under-

scores this profound phenomenological shift. In a virtual environment, our
self exists within a space that in itself does not exist, but that our senses
readily believe is there. In our lifetimes, no greater change of Being has
taken place than this duality of existence at our command.
The lived body has bifurcated and become two. What does this imply for
the lived body? Does it inhabit both spaces equally? Do the isochronal
embodiments affect our conscious Being equally? An actor ‘bodies forth’
(in performance terms) the character he or she is playing in a play or film.
Does a VE participant ‘body in’ to the virtual construction? Are we semi-
embodied in a virtual environment, or dually so, ontologically speaking? Are
these diacritical states of embodiment, or complementary?
We are inside the virtual yet we are also aware that we are still in the
physical world. I believe this is the quandary that makes the concept of pres-
ence1 so elusive. At some level we are aware of our dual perceptions, and
because of this it takes an extraordinary amount of connection to the virtual
experience to overcome, or momentarily forget, this dualistic state of Being.
It is more than a simple ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Such a feeling can
happen in Csikszentmihalyi’s famous state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi 1997),
but the conditions that can bring us to it are far from predictable. I believe
that while this sense of presence is the ultimate goal of many virtual envi-
ronments, the experient may also have meaningful experiences whilst still
aware of the bifurcated nature of this self-ness (Figure 1).
It is true that we have material bodies and that these bodies ‘think’
within their embodiment, yet, as Merleau-Ponty explains: ‘We actualise sep-
arately from the physical body, the body of the anatomists or even the
organism of the physiologist, all of which are abstractions, snapshots taken
from the functional body’ (1962). Experiencing the immersive virtual envi-
ronment, our functional body is within, yet the physical body is not simply
playing the role of a snapshot; it remains the context for our functioning.
Kathleen Rogers, a United Kingdom-based artist whose immersive VR
works include the series Sleepless Dreaming, describes this bodily displace-
ment phenomenon within her work:

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Sleepless Dreaming is composed of computer model houses and interiors

that a participant could navigate through to experience the gravitational
paradox and the heart of VR. In this work a participant was in effect in two
spaces simultaneously. In the real world of the gallery, and moving along a
recurrent corridor of rooms navigating through doorways, along walls and
into a void.

Experiencing a virtual environment provides what Maria Palumbo calls an

opening for ‘a new interrogation of the world and ourselves, and, conse-
quently, the possibility of imagining other possible kinds of space, other
possible ways of being a body-that-becomes-space’.

Part 4. Representation: the imaged forms of embodiment

Once we are in the virtual environment, what form do we take? In immer-
sive VR the physical body itself is shielded from the view by the VR head
mounted display. Early VRs at first made do with the simple representation
of a disembodied hand, correlated to a physical hand encased in an instru-
mented glove. Within the virtual space, one saw this representational hand
floating out in front of the computed ‘eye position’. Moving one’s real
finger caused a similar motion to occur with the virtual hand. Later the
image was expanded to a crude but full body image correlated to the physi-
cal body’s location in virtual space via a tracking system connected to the
head display.
These bodily representations, called avatars (a name borrowed from
Hindu mythology, where it denotes the incarnation of a spiritual being into
bodied form), are more graphically sophisticated today, though not yet to
the level of photorealism. The question these visuals raise is not how real
they look, but whether they are helpful or distracting to the experient in a
VR world. VR practitioners agree there is no single answer to this question.
In his foundational article, The Cyborg’s Dilemma (1997), Frank Biocca dis-
cusses evolutionary consequences engendered by the avatar concept and
the way we perceive ourselves in a virtual environment. He contends that
we have been moving towards ever-more digital representations of our
‘self’ – a ‘progressive embodiment’ of which virtual reality is the most
advanced and sophisticated example.
Michael Heim, noted philosopher of VR, asks what form the cyber body
should take. He questions the range of representation, from a detached
hand to a full body, to no image at all: ‘should users feel themselves to be
headless fields of awareness, similar to phenomenological experience?’

How are users best immersed in virtual environments? I mean this from a
technical-ontological point of view. Should users feel totally immersed? That
is, should they forget themselves as they see, hear, and touch the world in
much the same way as we deal with the primary phenomenological world?
(We cannot see our own heads – just part of our noses – in the phenomeno-
logical world.) Or should users be allowed and encouraged to see themselves

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2 Most avatars in VR, if as cyberbodies? Should they be able to see themselves over their own shoul-
they exist at all, are ders? Should they be aware of the primary bodies as separate entities outside
not customisable,
though the myriad the graphic environment? Should they be able to see other primary bodies
representational interacting with virtual entities? Or should they suspend physical experience?
possibilities inherent
in digital games may Should we see the primary bodies of others in virtual worlds, or does telep-
exert a strong resence mean that we will never be certain of the society we keep, how much
influence on future of it is illusory or artificial? Should we make up the avatars that represent us
decisions about
representational form or be given various identity options by the software designers?
in virtual (1998)

The selection of a body image within virtual environments is not simply an

aesthetic choice; it incurs distinct effects on the structure of one’s percep-
tions within the experience, and therefore on the overall qualities of the
encounter. Our experience is very much influenced by how we perceive our
self, and yet, within most immersive environments, as they exist today, this
choice is still made by the VE designer.2 Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio
reminds us how acutely our thought processes are informed by our (real
and now virtual) bodies:

. . . the body as represented in the brain, may constitute the indispensable

frame of reference for the neural processes that we experience as the mind;
that our very organism rather than some absolute experiential reality is used
as the ground reference for the constructions we make of the world around us
and for the construction of the ever-present sense of subjectivity that is part
and parcel of our experiences; that our most refined thoughts and best
actions, our greatest joys and deepest sorrows, use the body as a yardstick.

Modern neuroscientists view the body as the primary shaper of neuronal

connections constituting our brains, which, in some as yet-to-be-deter-
mined way, create our minds and even our human essence. It also contains
the grammar of experiencing, rule bound by its sensory apparatus and
neural underpinnings, networks and connections. It provides not only our
spatial but also our temporal locus, and we may well question how alter-
nate forms of experiential representations in the virtual domain will influ-
ence and perhaps change our mental development? Answers to these
queries are the domain of future researchers as the numbers of virtual envi-
ronments reach a critical mass; for now we can simply enumerate the
forms of representations and how they are experienced.
The primary modes of embodied expressions in contemporary VEs,
delineated by Heim (above) and others, include no avatar, a mirrored self, a
partial or full graphical personification and an observer’s view of a graphical
avatar that represents the self. I will discuss aspects of these as they relate
to our ontological nature as emplaced in the immersive environment.
No avatar: The simplest means of representation is no representation at
all. This is the first person point of view. The environment appears as
though seen through our own eyes. The views in the virtual world are

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computed with the camera lenses situated at the approximate location of 3 Krueger started
each eye (as there is a wide range in the actual physical parameters of each working in
unencumbered full
experient). This corresponds to the mental model we have of the self that body computer
inhabits the physical world, but in a virtual form within virtual space. applications in the
1960s before virtual
While we are perceptually aware of our physical bodies (seeing the nose reality was named a
in our field of view as Heim mentioned, or even looking down and seeing concept. He coined
our laps), not having a representational body is not usually disconcerting. his own term for his
work – artificial reality
The exception is when we consciously look to see ourselves and don’t, for – and later wrote a
example, when we look down to ensure correct placement of our feet upon book by that name,
espousing his ideas.
a stair, and we see no corresponding virtual foot to place. As Bruce Wilshire His term never caught
explains, ‘. . . in perception it is only because the body is perceptually on, rather Jaron
engaged with the perceivable world that the world is perceived at all, yet it is Lanier’s term, virtual
reality, became the
only because the body gives way to this world beyond it (it is not focally per- accepted designation
ceived itself) that perception of the world can occur’ (Wilshire 1982) (empha- for immersive
sis mine).
Many immersive environments use this mode of (non)representation. 4 Kreuger’s work brings
to mind Lacan’s
Char Davies’ worlds fall into this category, as they are specifically designed concept of the child’s
to take one outside of the ordinary body, even while using aspects of the first experiences with
mirror, and how these
physical body (i.e. breathing) to navigate the environment. She says her encounters help form
work is meant to ‘. . . reaffirm the role of the living physical body in immer- the image of self.
sive virtual space as subjective experiential ground’ (Davies 1995). She Krueger’s work is
extremely attractive to
believes having a body representation would interfere with the connection children and adults
to the physical body. This type of (non)imaged embodiment can allow one alike, not only for, I
suspect, its playful
to remain in touch with their inner conception of their own native, imag- qualities, but also due
ined self. This is the underlying premise for my own virtual environments, to the mirror image
which also use this first-person point of view. present during the
Some VR critics have a very different view of the non-representational
form of Being in virtual environments. Writing in the early days of VR,
Nell Tenhaaf (1996) calls the human in concert with the VR experience a
‘bioapparatus’, and argues that the ‘absence of representation’ in VEs is
what allows them to seem unmediated, and produces a ‘new order of
The mirrored self: This form presents the participant with a view of
himself as captured (typically) by video cameras or other devices that keep
track of the body movements of an individual. Few VEs have yet to fully
employ the mirrored self, with one prominent exception. Myron Krueger,
pioneer of immersivity,3 believes the human body to be the ultimate interface
between the mind and the machine. He insists the body of the participant be
unencumbered, and has worked for many years to build interactive media
based on this philosophy. In Krueger’s installations, the movement and
actions of the body alone cause the desired results to occur, by integrating
mirrored representations of participants. The body image presented in
Kruger’s work is typically a single colour, flat field video silhouette of the par-
ticipant, seen by him (and others) on a screen at the same time as he moves
his own body(Krueger 1983). The mirrored image is intuitive, in that we have
become accustomed to such representations of self since we first learned to
recognise ourselves in a mirror.4 It is nevertheless a dualistic form, though,

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5 This was a state I separating the representation from the physical body spatially, but not tem-
found myself in porally. Such a representation is isochronic with the physical body.
recently. In one demo
world, I had an avatar Graphical personification (partial, whole): When a body image is used, it
representation that raises a more ontological question concerning the nature of that image and
was a graphical
human figure. When I its correspondence to the experient’s own body. Unlike Krueger’s video
looked down at my image that was a spatial translation of the ‘own body’ some VR creators
virtual body, however, elect to use a spatially coincident graphical avatar for the body representa-
I found I was a male
figure, and a naked tion. In other words, the avatar appears to be in the space occupied by the
one at that! person’s mental construct of where they are in the VE.
Designers are not yet able to create a specialised image for each indi-
vidual without a great deal of advance planning, and therefore use a generic
3D model. The design of this model is up to the creator of the work who
can decide to make it humanoid or not, or limit the representation to a
single gender, whereby one could find their female self housed in a male-
modelled body.5
Third person/observed avatar: In this form of embodied image the partic-
ipant takes on an embodied image at an experiential locus that is outside
their perceptual self. An avatar appears, at some distance out in front of the
experient’s physical and imaginal locus. It is obviously related and con-
nected to the experient, in that its motions and actions may be controlled
by the participant’s actions and corresponding decisions. This is what
Freud might call the ‘observer’ or third person view as opposed to the ‘field’
or self view.
This form of body image is most common in games, where players
control an avatar to move through the objectives of the game world, but it
is far less common in immersive virtual environments. Rebecca Allen does
use this form of representation in her Bush Soul series of virtual environ-
ments, allowing the participant to inhabit the 3rd person view/body of an
intelligent virtual agent. The graphical depiction of this agent is not a
human form, but a set of swirling geometric shapes that twirl and spin as
the experient directs it, via a force-feedback joystick, across the colourful
virtual bush landscape. In fact, however, Allen’s design allows the avatar
some autonomy. While the experient provides suggestions to the character,
ultimately it may not fully follow those directions. The avatar/agent has its
own intrinsic behaviour set that can take precedence during the experience
(Allen 2000). This situation sets up a phenomenal dichotomy that ques-
tions whether I myself, or another controls me. In fact, one of Allen’s stated
research goals for this series was to investigate the relationship between
the avatar and the human.
Shared environments: In shared virtual realities, there is also the ques-
tion of the representation of others in the environment with the experient. A
representation of some form seems mandatory, for absent it, the worlds
will appear empty. This poses a larger question: how are forms of self and
other determined? Are there guidelines that might govern how we see rep-
resentations of self and others in shared spaces?
Benedikt maintains that participants should have a body representation.
His Principle of Personal Visibility (1991: 177–179) actually addresses two

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rules of visibility: that you must project an image within the digital realm,
and you must have the right to decide which others in the environment you
want to see. (This strikes an odd note in the name of privacy. If I must be
visible to everyone, but I can turn off representations of others, then others
can turn off my representation. This seems to defeat the purpose of having
a representation at all, and in any case it works only for realms of the virtual
that are truly shared spaces). Part of his rationale for this is to foster
accountability in cyberspace and to nullify voyeurism, but curiously, he sug-
gests a ‘small blue sphere’ as a minimal presence marker for cyberspace
denizens. In spite of a shared space, he argues for a way to be alone, by
turning off the representations of others. What if that is done, but others
can still see you? What sort of snobbery might they conclude is behind
being ignored by that out-of-touch blue ball?
Private, meaningful, immersive worlds are my primary interest here, so I
will conclude with a few more thoughts on the subject of self-representation
within them. A form and metaphor of my body icon that I cannot control
may compete with my own inner representation of self in inhabiting this
environment. In such cases, it may be better to have nothing at all. As
Davies’ work shows, the virtual environment becomes a sacrosanct enceinte;
a sacred, encompassing space, where mind transcends body even as it refer-
ences the body, felt organism even in visual absence. This body, as felt phe-
nomenon, is how we know the world, true as much within the virtual as in
the real. To have no body icon might even be perceived as an antidote to the
commodification of the body in our consumerist, product-saturated world.
Finally, from the phenomenological standpoint, while Merleau-Ponty
views the body as ‘the common texture of which objects are woven’ (1964),
he never had to grapple with new forms of immaterial bodies beyond the
phenomenal, nor with questions about how we might weave new forms of
‘common texture’ from them. This is up to us.

Part 5. Role playing and performance within VEs

Role-playing is direct since it engages both the physical and cognitive ele-
ments of our psyche. Anyone entering into a virtual world is, by default,
playing a role. At the most basic level, he is playing the role of one willing,
or unafraid, to enter into a technically mediated environment.
More importantly, the user is also playing the role that the virtual envi-
ronment imposes on him by the VE. In Placeholder, as mentioned, each par-
ticipant takes on an animal persona such as a snake, bird, spider or fish. To
fully enter into the role, they must act like the creature whose form they
inhabit. Josephine Anstey’s ‘Thing’ character in her VE work The Thing
Growing (2000), compels you to play a starring role opposite itself: a
strange and fickle creature you have freed from its prison, who is at first
grateful and then becomes increasingly demanding.
In any virtual environment that asks the participant to be other than his
natural self, he must play along with the role to get the most out of the
experience. What happens, however, if the person is at odds with that role?
In my VE DarkCon, which had a military theme, the mission briefing gave

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some participants an aversion to playing the lead role of the scout directed
to find information. We found people wanted to able to choose – even in an
ersatz discovery mission – to play different parts. One participant wanted
to be able to see the world through the eyes of a refugee; others thought it
would be more helpful to achieving the mission’s goals to be inside the
mind of one of the suspected rebels.
Role-playing in virtual environments ties neatly into Brenda Laurels’
concept of computers as theatre (Laurel 1991) and relates directly to other
performative aspects of virtual environments. The word performance con-
jures images of the theater, which itself comes from the Greek word the-
atron, a place for seeing, not simply in the sense of watching, but also as
the deeper meaning to see – to behold, grasp or understand. Post-human-
ist theorists maintain that interaction with our technologies allows us to
gain new understandings of our self. Immersive virtual environments
proffer exceptional insights, through expanded concepts of body and iden-
tity and understanding of essence, agency and meaning in life.
In real life we put on different personas to perform specific social roles.
These are often referred to as masks. Within private, immersive virtual envi-
ronments, we most often (though not always, depending on the maker’s
intent) play ourselves. Viewed thus, virtual environments become not so
much a mask waiting to be put on, as an enabling methodology, allowing
us to cast aside the social masks that everyday conduct requires. Despite
some having equated the HMD to a physical mask, it can actually serve in
reverse, a mask that removes other masks. Because of this, I view the per-
formance within the virtual environment more as a metaphorical door that
leads to an understanding of a private and personal self.
The view available to the observer of a person wearing VR gear is that of
the physical body as a text, the body as performer of the virtual experience
for the enjoyment of others. This is a very different kind of performance
than the first person one from within the virtual environment. Many partic-
ipants in virtual experiences are not aware they are performing in a dual
mode. However, there are few instances where a participant is alone while
in the environment; most often others are watching, listening and may
themselves be involved with either facilitating or observing. At some level,
the participant knows this to be the case. Such knowledge can engender
actions that the participant intends to be seen. Yet, if the experience creates
deep involvement on cognitive and emotional levels, then the experient
may become much less aware of their body’s physical performance.
If an experience is convincing and meaningful, the experient primarily
performs the text of the experience, and not the reflexive meta-text of
herself experiencing the VE. This private performance requires no audience
save the performer, observing the inwardly focused experience.
In many forms of new media, the performance aspects have a functional
role. Grounding virtual environments in embodied performances gives rise
to particular phenomenological issues, some of which may share philo-
sophical territory with other forms of embodied performance, such as
ritual, performance art, theatrical or social roles.

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Perhaps the most salient example of a private, performative experience

is Char Davies’ Osmose. Davies says the ‘Osmose swallows the participants –
suitably swathed in electronic gear – into a sensuous, luminous, and deeply
enveloping dreamworld of cloud forests, dark pools and verdant canopies’.
(in Erik Davis 1998). Yet Osmose is unique in that is promotes both public
and private forms of performance. Not only is the experience itself so
engaging that it ‘swallows’ the experient, Davies also allows an external
audience to observe the Osmose participant behind a screen, as a silhouette
engaged in her personal performance. Davies shrewdly imbricates both per-
formative aspects in exhibiting her work, and resolves any speculative con-
flicts thusly:

. . . Osmose is a powerful example of how technological environments can

simulate something like the old animist immersion in the World Soul,
organic dreamings that depend, in power and effect, upon the ethereal fire.
Besides pointing to a healing use of virtual technologies, Osmose also
reminds us how intimate we are with electronics, in sight and sound, in body
and psyche. (ibid.)

Part 6. Performance, rituals and rites de passage

Performances in general, and VE performative possibilities in particular, can
have meaningful and significant effects on those who perform. Victor Turner
(1979) cites experimental theatre evangelist Jerzy Grotowski’s concept of the
theater as a platform for a modern rite of passage, where the stage is done
away with, and the spectator becomes a participant in a liminal activity.
According to Turner, Grotowski’s concept goes so far as to imply the partici-
pants in his theatre will discover their essential selves through these ritualis-
tic performances without standard theatrical boundaries.
Unlike Grotowski, noted performance researcher Richard Schechner
does not disallow the separate audience within theatre’s ritualistic func-
tions. In Ritual, Play and Performance (1976), he explains the ‘efficacy/ritual –
entertainment/theater’ as a general form of performance that embraces

the impulse to be serious and to entertain; to collect meanings and to pass

the time; to display symbolic behaviour that actualises ‘there and then’ and to
exist only ‘here and now’; to be oneself and to play at being others; to be in a
trance and to be conscious; to get results and to fool around; to focus the
action on and for a select group sharing a hermetic language, and to broad-
cast to the largest possible audiences of strangers who buy a ticket.

Virtual environments have much in common with Schechner’s form of

theatre, but those that are meaningful and private are closer to Grotowski’s
concept. For now these ritualistic forms of virtual environments are not
common (Osmose and Ephémère excepted), but nonetheless important in
what human needs they address.
Phenomenology and semiotics are two ways of looking at a thing. The
first embraces the corporeal body; the latter makes of it a sign, even within

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its lived state. The symbol and the experience cannot co-exist temporally. In
living, in our direct experience, we are unaware of our meaning. It is only
when we put on the distancing goggles with their semiotic lenses that we
can observe the signs engendered by that experience. The views are com-
plementary, but not congruent. We move back and forth between these
modes, experiencing and assimilating, in an endless dialogue that informs
who we are, and how we will respond to the next experience.
Ritual action, with its intrinsic, socially construed meanings, may be an
exception because it provides an immediate means of signification during
the actual living experience, while at the same time, as Robert St. Clair says
(1992), it predates and precludes any linguistic retelling of it. Instead we
have a multisensory enclosure, a space apart that serves as a respite from
the layers and simulacra (in Baudrillard’s sense) that confound our day-to-
day existence. Immersive virtual environments, imbued with meaning, are
opportunities for post ritual formulations, created by the shamanistic
efforts of the modern, technologically savvy artist. The VE experience itself
must precede and inform any narrative retelling of it.
Our intimacy with technology – its pervasiveness – appropriates every-
thing, from social activities to those that press deeply into our private
selves. Where is there escape? What respite do we have? Paradoxically,
immersive virtual environments may serve as an antidote to this constant
flux of technology in our lives. It is hard to be alone in this day and age, and
yet, within Char Davis’s work, in a museum full of people, and with specta-
tors looking on, I could be alone with, and find myself at last.

In the act of concluding . . .

In setting out the terms of embodiment in virtual spaces, this paper also
places the subject of VE next to that of performance practice. It defines the
terms: bifurcated body, presence and isochronal embodiments and discusses
forms of embodied representation, including avatars, and the mirrored self.
The paper notes the primacy of experience that must precede personal self-
narrative, and considers the correspondence of virtual environments to rites
of passage and post ritual possibilities of virtual liminal states.
Most importantly, this paper argues that there will always be a need for
our bodies to develop our brains and, by the mysterious means of con-
sciousness, our minds. The disembodiment of much of our day to day
living may push us further into new and unique means of bodily involve-
ment. The ‘segmented self’ engendered by Hillis’ ‘polyvocal polyvalency’ of
our increasingly fractured lives may desire a place of unity, where the only
self there is the one that is core to one’s consciousness. This argument
takes forward my study of immersive experience whilst also contextualising
the concepts of self (and particularly embodied ‘selves’) in relation to
virtual environments.

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Available online at http://emergence.design.ucla.edu/. Accessed 7 April 2004.

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(eds.), Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments, Cambridge, MA:
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Suggested citation
Morie, J.F. (2007), ‘Performing in (virtual) spaces: Embodiment and being in virtual
environments’, International Journal of Performance Arts and digital Media 3: 2&3,
pp. 123–138, doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.123/1

Contributor details
Jacquelyn Ford Morie is a professional artist and computer scientist, widely known as
a passionate VR maven. She is currently a Senior Scientist at USC’s Institute for
Creative Technologies in Los Angeles, California. She has worked in both animation
and visual effects entertainment (Disney, Rhythm & Hues Studios) and has spent two
decades developing virtual environments in US government-sponsored research labo-
ratories. She has recently completed her PhD with the SMARTlab, London. Contact:
Jacquelyn Ford Morie, Senior Scientist/Project Director, University of Southern
California, Institute for Creative Technologies, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA.
E-mail: morie@ict.usc.edu

138 Jacquelyn Ford Morie

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.139/1

Being there: Heidegger and the

phenomenon of presence in
telematic performance
Martha Ladly Ontario College of Art & Design

Abstract Keywords
The phenomenological tradition and Heidegger’s theory of Da-sein – literally phenomenology
‘Being there’ – speaks with distinct resonance to virtual and interactive com- new media
munication, games and telematic performative experiences. In fact, the notion Internet
of presence has greater currency, now that its correlate – absence, and virtuality community networks
supported by technology and the Internet – has become ubiquitous. virtual communication
Hermeneutic interpretation may be used as a lens for current technologically
mediated performance, and the intoxicating idea of being in the world as a con-
stant beginner is translated into a foundational construct for telematic practice.

Presence is an insurrection against nothingness.

(Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, 1959)

Heidegger’s work represented a confluence of thinking within significant

networks that altered the philosophical landscape of Germany in the 1920s.
With the theories set out in his book Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) pub-
lished in 1927, phenomenology became a significant force for intellectual
change, with far-reaching effects in Europe, and to a lesser extent, North
America (Collins 1998). I propose that the phenomenological tradition con-
tinues to have meaning and that this technologically mediated moment
may be an opportunity to give Heidegger’s theory of Da-sein, literally ‘Being
there’, another look. The central tenets of the phenomenological tradition
have distinct resonance within telematic performance and virtual commu-
nication. In fact, the notion of presence has greater currency, now that its
correlates – absence, and virtuality supported by technology and the
Internet – have become ubiquitous.
I believe that the hermeneutic interpretive method may translate as a
lens for telematic performance practice. Telematic performance describes
the process of engagement with the long-distance transmission of digital,
visual or kinetic information, and the interaction of the mind, the body and
the senses, with the information received. As such, telematic performance
can act as a catalyst for understanding the wider social and cultural impli-
cations of digital technology (Kozel 2008). There is also a moment when
telematic practice or process itself becomes a tool. This emphasises the

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layers of connectivity that make up performance processes using networked

technologies (Goodman, Lizbeth, Milton 2004).

Towards a phenomenological practice: being in the ‘Mood’

Edmund Husserl, the founder of the phenomenological tradition, built his
philosophical theories upon the study of consciousness and its object. In
the practice of phenomenology, Husserl required that all preconceived
ideas of consciousness were to be set aside, so that one might observe
what is actually taking place within consciousness; within the here and now.
The great project of phenomenology was to disregard anything that had
previously been said or written about consciousness or the world. Reality
had to be given an opportunity to show itself as itself, uncovered and free
from preconceived notions. Accordingly, once this veil was removed, the
thing that was then revealed, and the way in which it showed itself, was
conceived as the ‘phenomenon’. Phenomenology states that in order to
observe and perceive phenomena directly, a sense of navigating the world
as an absolute beginner is required. An impulse to be open to the evidence
of apprehending things as though for the first time engendered the won-
derful phenomenological battle cry ‘toward the things!’ (Safranski 1998).
There is something entirely contemporary about this credo. What do
teenage video gamers, Second Life online world inhabitants, participants in
the current TV rage for home and lifestyle improvement, or families plan-
ning a trip to the mall for their weekend recreational shopping, not under-
stand about ‘toward the things’?
To be exact, Husserl wanted to demonstrate that the whole external
world is actually present within us; that we are not empty vessels into which
reality is poured (or more contemporaneously, into which ‘things’ can be
poured), but that everything within us relates to something in the external
world. ‘Consciousness is always conscious of something’ and ‘it is not
inside but alongside’ that which it is apprehending. This is not in the
manner of an inner explanation or an interpretation, but more of a descrip-
tion of what the actual phenomenon is ‘in itself’ (Smith 2003). The intoxi-
cating idea of an ongoing experience of the evidence of things that continue
to offer themselves up, as if for the first time, became a foundational con-
struct for Husserl’s pupil, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger described this state
as the phenomenological ‘Da-sien’ or ‘being there’. Heidegger reasoned
that the natural and inevitable experience of being, merely existing in the
world, is not understood by analysis or reduction, but more simply and
directly, through Da-sien (Heidegger 1962).
A relevant contemporary call to action (or perhaps more accurately, to
inaction) is the idea of ‘being in the moment’, a strategy to slow down the
frenetic pace of 21st century living, and to reflect on our current state.
Phenomenologists muse on the loss of control that we feel when over-
whelmed by our state of mind, and the role of mood:

Mood determines our being in the world. We are always in some mood or
other. Mood is a ‘state of mind’. Although we can drive ourselves into a

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mood, the essential characteristic of moods is that they arise, seep into us,
creep up on us, pounce on us. We are not the master of them. In mood we
experience the limits of our self-determination.
(Safranski 1998)

This assertion seems contemporary, and pertinent to a loss of self-determi-

nation through artificially altered, elevated and anti-depressed mood states.
We live in a frantic, bored, frenzied, mediated, medicated world. By con-
sciously stepping off the treadmill of a present that is constantly reflecting
on the past while looking forward to the future, one may take time, and
create space in the inexorable progress. But Heidegger asserts that this
process of examination may also require a measure of boredom, anxiety or
even frenzy. Within an anxious state, the sufferer drifts because ‘the world
has nothing more to offer him, nor has the Dasein-with of others’. But the
drifting progress of boredom and anxiety may also force one to lift the veil
and uncover a state of Being ‘. . . free for the freedom of choosing itself and
taking hold of itself’ (Heidegger 1996). To be in the moment, to really be
there, takes an individual effort of will, and involves a certain amount of risk.
The trick is to be ‘mindfully’ present, to step outside of the constant
whirl and buzz of cultural input and output activity. Although it may seem
contradictory, (and there is of course an argument that any engagement
with technology situates one directly in the space of input and output),
never the less there are corollaries, and attempts to create or mimic still-
ness and mindfulness, in the history of telematic performance. In the early
years, with technology as the major barrier, a simple, mindful recognition of
human presence was often all that could be mustered (Diamond 2004).
Artist Vera Frenkel’s String Games (1974) utilised teleconferencing technol-
ogy to enact a ‘cat’s cradle’ string game over several hours, with five partic-
ipants standing in for the fingers, while performing gestures, word games
and improvised sounds, in studios in Toronto and Montreal. The two teams
played back and forth, broadcasting to each other as playback; each was the
audience for the other, in an agonisingly slow, simple, seemingly juvenile
activity. Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz formed the Electronic Café
International during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, as an artist network,
using analogue telephone lines, digital ISDN lines and then video and
Internet networking, as a space of connection for dialogical performance
(ibid.). The performers, who create simultaneous spaces in time to interact
in various locations around the world, describe their practice as ‘casual’
and ‘conversational’ (Galloway and Rabinowitz 1992). In an effort to
promote both situated and virtual mindfulness, and solidarity, the World Tea
Party (1995–present) celebrates the slow ritual of tea drinking with perfor-
mances, tea ceremonies and telematic Tea Parties, linked remotely
(Diamond 2004). Mood is the shape-shifter of experience, and perfor-
mance is its actor. Taking this one step further, performative act can foster
a collaborative construction of new physical states, levels of consciousness
and awareness. By sharing our moods and states through telematic and
digital devices, we may reencounter ourselves, and others (Kozel 2008).

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The hermeneutic circle of interpretation as lens

‘The purpose of phenomenology is to demonstrate ontology by bringing
together the phenomenon – “the self showing in itself” – with logos (scien-
tific inquiry), a specific mode of letting something be seen’ (Martin
Heidegger, Being and Time, 1996). Interpretation is central to phenomeno-
logical thinking; it is the active process we undertake when we assign
meaning to our experiences. From a phenomenological viewpoint, interpre-
tation cannot be separated from reality; it is an active process and as such, a
creative act. Communication – one to self; one to one; one to many; and
many to many – supplies the means by which we integrate and assign
meaning to experience (Littlejohn, Stephen, Karen, Foss 2005). Leonard
Hawes, in his 1970s treatise on the Phenomenology of Communication states:

The relationships among ontology, phenomenology, hermeneutics, and com-

munication are developed. Communication is both a resource of the social
world and that which constitutes the social world. As such, communication is
hermeneutic – the interpretive and critical scheme – and the ontological foun-
dation of the social world.
(Hawes 1977)

By what method do we distinguish and describe social phenomenon, and

through interpretation, arrive at meaning? Richard Lanigan details a three-
step phenomenological methodology for investigation, analysis and inter-
pretation. Lanigan’s method was distilled from Herbert Speigelberg’s more
elaborate seven-step method, described in his work The Phenomenological
Movement (Speigelberg 1994). The first step in the method is to formulate a
phenomenological description using phenomenological intuition, dealing
with the capta, or conscious experience of the phenomena. The next step is
to make a phenomenological reduction, whereby the observer determines
which parts of the description are essential. The goal is to isolate the object of
consciousness, the thing, situation, emotion or person that constitutes the
experience. The description then becomes a reduction or a depicting defini-
tion, based directly on the experience, rather than on a conception of what
the experience may be like. The final step is to produce a phenomenological
interpretation, an attempt to signify meaning, using hermeneutic analysis.
Lanigan describes it thus ‘. . . the use of hermeneutic is to uncover those
pre-conscious structures of meaning that inhere in the conscious presence
of phenomena’ (Lanigan 1988). The logical difficulty is how and where to
interrupt the process, necessarily creating a fissure in the ongoing experi-
ence. But one must temporarily remove oneself from an ongoing synthesis
of experience, in order to reflect, to create definition, and interpretation.
The process of interpretation is an imperative creative process of the
mind; it literally forms what is real. Interpretation emerges and is identifi-
able through the employment of a hermeneutic circle of interpretation.
Within the hermeneutic circle the interpreter goes back and forth between
experiencing an event or situation, and assigning meaning to the event;
moving from the specific to the general, and back to the specific again, in a

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process of testing and refining the interpretation. The interpretation will

always be subject to changes and shifts in nuance, as the interpreter con-
tinues to traverse the space between experience and interpretation
(Littlejohn, Stephen, Karen, Foss 2005).

Applying hermeneutic practice in mobile communication

I propose using the hermeneutic circle as a tool to reality check an ongoing
understanding of what it means to be present in the world, while at the
same time existing and communicating in a sort of parallel virtual world.
Wireless technologies have added a new twist to the telematic, with dis-
persed theatrical performances, sequential dialogue-driven stories and dis-
covery and adventure games being distributed over mobile phones
(Diamond 2004). When engaging in a mobile phone conversation, we
imagine ourselves into a situated interaction with the other person, pictur-
ing their face, their body movements and gestures and placing the conver-
sation within a scenario that we must imagine. We often have no idea
where, or in what situation, the person we are conversing with may be. This
partially explains the dangers of driving while conversing on a mobile
phone – it is not just the use of the device that distracts us; far more pow-
erful and distracting is the focus of attention on active creation of the imag-
ined scenario with the correspondent in our conversation (Kubose 2005).
The use of the hermeneutic circle is instructive in imputing interpretation
and meaning into the mobile phenomena. First, we must immerse in direct
experience, or the capta, to understand the challenges that we face as dis-
embodied communicators. Using mobile technologies, we communicate
without facial expressions, body language and in the case of SMS (short
message service, for mobile devices), tone of voice, to aid in the nuance of
discourse. Short-form versions of conversations, salutations and greetings
that occur in SMS modes are often open to interpretation. By reduction we
perceive that our virtual communication can become muddled. Short
forms, used for directness and speed, can be interpreted as shouting,
offhandedness or even rudeness; acronyms abound that may be useful to
the initiated but exclusionary to the novice (Plant 2001). When the short
forms acceptable in disembodied communication bleed into the real world,
further confusion results. There is an apocryphal belief that the ‘thumb gen-
eration’ (kids who grew up with cell phones and use their thumbs to dial)
will become illiterate as they now write and even talk with SMS and IM
(instant message) style short forms (Plant 2001). This bleed of modes from
the virtual into the real world begs for interpretation, in the hermeneutic
sense. It would seem that the telematic performance of reality has become
reality indeed, and that the boundaries between performance of the real
and the virtual have dissolved to the extent that they have become one act,
at least in the minds of most young users of the technology.
Hermeneutic analysis of the mobile phenomenon uncovers the prob-
lematic in communication within a space of relatively thin telematic media-
tion. This problem is amplified when the mediation becomes thicker, such
as the immersion that occurs in virtual gaming environments.

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1 http://dictionary. Phenomenology and performance in virtual gaming

Accessed 20 August The presencing (Anwesen) of presence (Anwesenheit) is difficult to detect.
2007. (Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, 1959)

The term virtual is understood as ‘existing or resulting in essence or effect

though not in actual fact, form, or name’; and ‘existing in the mind, espe-
cially as a product of the imagination’.1 The ability to re-construct oneself in
virtual situations and places is a powerful and addictive activity, made pos-
sible through an extension of the body and imagination, essentially assisted
by technology. When we perform in activities outside of our situated envi-
ronment, we have to imagine ourselves into that virtual world.
What is the nature of performance in the virtual gaming world?
Communication played out in cyberspace supports the suspension of iden-
tity, place and time, within the virtual environment:

Virtuality is a concept based on the relative transparency of a technological

system that allows a user to experience a communicative event and to ignore
the technology mediating the experience.
(Downes 2005)

The allure of virtual gaming is the freedom to slip out of one’s skin and
invent another persona in the game world; the ability to communicate and
play with people one has never met, in places one may never visit; to be
operating in a constructed fantasy environment; and the God-like potential
to stand outside our bodies, and watch ourselves perform. All of these phe-
nomena offer gamers a powerful form of immersion, and explain the
tremendous popularity of ‘first person shooters’ such as Doom and the Halo
series. These games, designed from the point of view of the player, place the
participant as the star performer in the game scenario. The player takes on a
persona, sometimes pre-packaged, sometimes more personalised, inside
the virtual environment. In this way, ‘first person shooters’ emulate a sort of
telematic fantasy experience, with the player as a disembodied interactor,
able to control and navigate the environment. Without the direct use of our
bodies we find it difficult to understand, interpret and have a modicum of
control over experience, and so for virtual gamers, the interface device or
‘controller’ has become an important and elaborate performative device. The
Nintendo Wii gaming console offers the best performance of any controller
device to date, with a wireless remote handheld controller that can detect
acceleration in three dimensions. Using one’s body to manipulate one’s
virtual body affords the user an experience of heightened reality and reso-
nance. Experiments in full-body movement within screen-based interactive
environments, via sensors and/or triangulated cameras that translate body
movement, have proven to be even more effective. This allows the player to
use their whole body, not just their fingers, hands and arms, to control the
movement of their character (or ‘avatar’), thus allowing players to become
more embodied within the game activity (Morgenstern 2005).

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But even with enhanced control, are players able to savour their experi- 2 http://www.dpsinfo.
ence, and is this highly mediated telematic performance fulfilling and com/dps/index.html.
Accessed 20 August
authentic, in the phenomenological sense? If authenticity is understood as 2007
the conscious self coming to terms with Being in the world, and within 3 http://virtual-
one’s own experience, then an authentic response to the pressure of says memorials.com/.
of Being in the virtual world, is to adapt one’s body for virtuality. How then Accessed 20 August
to gauge authenticity, when the aim is to make the liminal threshold

A phenomenological praxeology: the embodied experience of

‘Savouring’ and ‘Fulfilling’
Heidegger devised the idea of formal notification in communication, as a
demand that the other person (the one with whom we are communicating),
when shown a thing, must look at it themselves. They must see for them-
selves what is notified (or shown) in order to fulfill that thing, with their own
experience of it. With fulfillment comes the opportunity to savour the thing.
We can only do this if we are present, and in the flow of temporal experi-
ence. The crucial part of this phenomenological transaction is that for it to
be authentic, it must be carried out in person (Safranski 1998). On this
point, Heidegger is adamant. If we cut ourselves off from our essential tem-
porality, we evade the deepest part of reality, and the inevitability that Being
must encounter loss of Being. Without this acknowledgement, our relation-
ship with Being becomes inauthentic (Collins 1998).
There is a sort of cheating of time and space, and even death, in the
virtual world. How can a performer in the phenomenological tradition, rec-
oncile the imperatives of being present, with the ubiquity of mediated expe-
rience? Do you need to be present, when you can communicate, work and
play with people you will never meet, in places that you may never visit?
This expansion of the limitations of time and place extends to even to the
temporal life, in the sense that an on-line persona may even cheat death;
living on, in a sort of virtual state of limbo. The Dead People Server,2 a virtual
home for the recently deceased, and on-line services such as virtual-
memorials.com3 along with the nearly 65 million individual memorial site
citations on the Internet, attest to the virtual world as the home of choice,
for the departed.

Phenomenology, technology and the end of distance

In the inception of its history, Being clears itself as emerging and disclosure.
From there it acquires the cast of presence and permanence in the sense of
(Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, 1935)

Heidegger did not condemn technology; but believed that it was instru-
mental, a means to an end, and hoped that it might also free humanity to
return to the authentic task of Being (Heidegger 1977). Heidegger also
noted the dangers of technology, with its ability to enframe authentic

Being there: Heidegger and the phenomenon of presence in telematic performance 145
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4 http://www.flickr.com/. experience. His criticism of technology took the form of a warning against
Accessed 23 July 2007. the perceived technological transformation of entities into essentially
5 http://www.youtube. meaningless resources, intended only for optimisation. The enormous
com/. Accessed 23
July 2007. power of technology is in the conversion of Being into an undifferentiated
‘standing reserve’ of available energy, to be put to uses that ultimately sub-
6 http://www.myspace.
com/. Accessed 23 ordinate the will of the human subject (Thomson 2005).
July 2007. Heidegger identified the distinctive problem with technology as ‘the end
7 http://www.facebook. of distance’. Grant Kein, in his work on Phenomenology and Technography,
com/. Accessed 23 identifies this phenomenon, and describes the affect of technology:
July 2007.
The speed of modern technology leads to de-distancing of the world, both
8 http://en.wikipedia.
expanding and destroying the everyday world that surrounds. De-distancing is
(website). Accessed 23 not only a spatial issue. Being is temporally grounded, in that time structures
July 2007. the world, ordering the everyday. The everyday is what is familiar, by which we
9 http://www. interpret and estimate our worldly experiences, and it is this everyday experi-
Accessed 20 August
ence that is problematised by the de-distancing of the world (Kein 2005).
2007. As the everyday is re-ordered by technology, so that distance evaporates,
the process of Being in the world is internalised, so that one is left with the
belief that all experience comes merely from oneself. Taken to its logical
end, this takes the form of solipsism. This is a nihilistic view, and it is
encouraging that most young adult users employ technology not so much
as a place to get lost, but more as a highly effective form of social glue. In
fact, the end of distance, for them, is highly desirable. It allows them to be
here, there, and everywhere, in their social interactions (Rheingold 1993).
Personal community networks and sharing sites such as Flikr4 called ‘the
best online photo management and sharing application in the world’,
YouTube,5 which allows users to broadcast themselves and share videos,
MySpace6 ‘an online social networking service, allowing users to share mes-
sages, interests and photos with a growing body of friends’ and Facebook,7
‘the social utility that connects you with the people around you’, have
become the communication tools of choice for the ‘Echo’ generation (Baby
Boomer’s kids). Facebook is one of the biggest success stories in the pack,
with 34 million active members worldwide. Created by Harvard graduate
Mark Zuckerberg, the site started out in 2004 as a digital version of an
incoming freshmen’s photo guide. It expanded over two years to more than
2000 colleges and universities, and then high schools, and when, in 2006,
the founder invited the rest of the world in, Facebook’s website became the
most trafficked site for photo sharing in the world. According to ComScore
Marketing, Facebook ranks as the 7th most trafficked site in the United
States.8 Its popularity has no doubt been due to its functionality, but ubiq-
uity also plays a big part, if you subscribe to the thinking that the larger your
network is, the more effective your network becomes. As on-line social net-
works expand, self-regulation and effective official moderation becomes
more difficult. As a consequence, opportunities for inappropriate activities,
such as Internet stalking, flourish. MySpace users became so concerned,
that a user-group called ProfileSnoop developed a snippet of code to
embed into their profiles that takes a snapshot and allows them to view
anyone who has been looking at their online profile.9

146 Martha Ladly

PADM_3-(2-3)_05-LADLY 11/27/07 5:27 PM Page 147

Facebook’s unique differentiator was a constraint on membership that 10 Interview with

allowed only students who had registered email addresses at their college, Rebecca Ladly
Hoffnung, 24 April
university or high school to join, view and connect with others in their 2006.
network. For parents as well as the kids who used it, there was some confi-
dence in this feature embedded in the technology. Another distinguishing
feature of Facebook is that, unlike MySpace and most other online social
networks and communities, its hook is not its universality, but its locality.
You can’t get much more local than your own high school or college com-
munity. And the people that use the site seem to really appreciate that
about it. There is no doubt that as powerful social-networking tools, these
sites have become indispensable. Providing the capta for this performative
phenomenon, an 18-year-old High School student who used Facebook,

I check it everyday. It’s really easy. I use it for making plans online, it’s faster
than calling, and you can plan things or share homework by IMing, in private
or in public. Most people use the public messaging, and then you can see
who is talking to whom, and about what. I think it’s also about popularity.
Everyone asks each other ‘how many people do you have in your network?
How many people have added you today?’ You can check out anyone’s profile
in your school’s own network and also your friends at other schools, people
who have accepted you into their networks. When someone adds you, it’s fun
because you can check out their photos, see who has added them, and find
out who they have been talking to. The only thing is that it’s pretty addictive;
it eats up a lot of your time. I almost wish I hadn’t joined.10

So we can deduce that most students use their Facebook profiles for thin
communication, as a support for such ordinary routine activities as sharing
music, making plans, meeting up and socialising together, or sharing their
latest experiences of social events, by exchanging photos. And, through
hermeneutic observation, the reduction of this telematic social performance
is found in the virtue of near-presence. An interpretation might be that
virtual social networking and performative activities constitute a phenome-
nological sense of Being in the ordinary world, much as Heidegger would
have described it (Collins 1998).

The place of place and conclusions on the bridge

Towards the end of his life, Heidegger’s preoccupation with Da-sien did not
abate; it was suffused with melancholy and a deep, hopeless, self-knowl-
edge. Two days before his death Heidegger wrote a reflective greeting to his
compatriot Bernhard Welte, a Freiberg professor of theology, and a native of
Heidegger’s hometown of Messkirch. The occasion was Welte’s induction
as an honourary citizen of the town, and Heidegger mused on this, and on
the meaning of home. It was to be his final written communication:

May this feast day of homage be joyful and life-giving. May the contemplative
spirit of all participants be unanimous. For there is need for contemplation

Being there: Heidegger and the phenomenon of presence in telematic performance 147
PADM_3-(2-3)_05-LADLY 11/27/07 5:27 PM Page 148

whether and how, in the age of technological world civilization, there can still
be such a thing as home.
(D, 187, Safranski 1998)

Da-sein, the phenomenon of presence – Being in the ordinary world – is a

vital part of human interaction. Being there, in the virtual sense, is a crucial
part of telematic performance, and carries with it the weight of phenome-
nological meaning. Put simply, the concept has power to rescue us from
the philosophical abyss. Heidegger used the metaphor of a bridge, to
show how sentient human beings can experience nothingness – the
above, the below, the in and the around ourselves – as an extremely per-
ilous place. In his masterwork on Martin Heidegger, Rüdger Safranski puts
it eloquently:

Thus Da-sien is a Being that looks across to itself and sends itself across –
from one end of the bridge to the other. And the point is that the bridge grows
under our feet only as we step on it.
(Safranski 1998)

And so now, in these technologically mediated times, there is perhaps the

risk of non-presence in the world, the loss of Da-sien. This is where the phe-
nomenological tradition may continue to have usefulness, and meaning.
When we are actively constructing the bridge of existence, we may suddenly
apprehend the enormous nothingness within which we are lightly, but per-
ilously, balanced. If we hesitate or loose confidence, we may stop believing
in the bridge, and so disappear, into the abyss. To save ourselves, we must
keep going. Throughout our lives we build the bridge with our presence,
and traverse the abyss, in order to continue Being. This is so that we may
get on with the great project of communication, with ourselves, and each
other, and with the performance of our daily recreation of the world.

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Goodman, L. and Katherine M. (eds.) (2004), A Guide to Good Practice in Collaborative

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site_facebookcom?rnd⫽1146427176600&has-player⫽true. Accessed 20 July 2007.
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Suggested citation
Ladly, M. (2007), ‘Being there: Heidegger and the phenomenon of presence in
telematic performance’, International Journal of Performance Arts and digital
Media 3: 2&3, pp. 139–150 , doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.139/1

Contributor details
Martha Ladly is an Associate Professor of Design at the Ontario College of Art and
Design (OCAD) specialising in interactive communication, a Registered Graphic
Designer (RGD), a faculty member with the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab, and
a senior researcher with the Mobile Experience Lab, in Toronto, Canada. Martha
worked for ten years as a designer and producer with Peter Gabriel’s Real World
organisation, in the United Kingdom. As Principal Investigator, Martha led the
Mobile Nation International Conference in Toronto in March 2007, and is editing an
anthology on current mobile research and design practice. Contact: Associate
Professor of Design, Ontario College of Art & Design, 100 McCaul St. Toronto, ON,
Canada, M5T 1W1.
E-mail: mladly@faculty.ocad.ca

150 Martha Ladly

PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 151

International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.151/1

Ersatz dancing: Negotiating the live and

mediated in digital performance practice
Helen Bailey University of Bedfordshire

Abstract Keywords
This paper will focus on the practice-led research of dance–theatre company, dance
Ersatz Dance and how the Company has negotiated and defined the relation- choreography
ship between live and mediated performance in their work. It will track the access grid
evolving relationship the Company has with a range of technologies. It will stereoscopic video
focus on the impact of recent research using virtual research environments digital performance
(VREs). It will consider the ways in which VREs can provide a new context for
practice-led research in dance. It will focus on the role VREs have played in
defining new methodological approaches to composition and the contribution
to the ongoing debates concerning ‘presence’, ‘liveness’ and ‘virtual embodi-
ment’ in performance.

In the last year there has been a flurry of new publications that address,
from a range of perspectives, the interface between live performance and
digital technologies. These publications Broadhurst (2006), Popat (2006),
Dixon (2007) are timely and demonstrate the plethora of recent profes-
sional arts and academic research practice that investigates what has been
variously termed ‘digital performance’, ‘mediated performance’ or ‘perfor-
mance and new technology’.
This discussion will make a contribution to the development of this
recent discourse by considering specifically the relationship of practice-led
research in dance to a range of digitally mediated environments through
the choreographic practice of Ersatz Dance. It will explore the ways in which
the work of the Company has shifted its concerns from an exploration of
projected pre-recorded video through to the integration of digital anima-
tion, virtual reality and stereoscopic video within live performance, and
more recently the use of the Access Grid as a telematic performance
context. This article will consider how these technologies enable new forms
of practice through the development of new research methods as well as
new practice-led performance outcomes. It will go on to consider how col-
laborative research environments, made possible by Grid technologies, can
contribute new knowledge and understandings to the debates concerning
‘liveness’ and virtual embodiment in performance.

PADM 3 (2&3) pp. 151–165. © Intellect Ltd 2007. 151

PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 152

1 A term coined by Ersatz dance and digital performance

Dr. Angela Piccini as As an Artist-Scholar,1 I have been undertaking practice that straddles
part of the AHRC
funded PARIP: Practice various thresholds for the past ten years with dance–theatre company
as Research in Ersatz Dance. As Artistic Director of the Company, I create work at the inter-
Performance project,
University of Bristol, section between professional arts and the academic research context. For a
to describe practice- number of years, I have been based in the university sector, where I have
led researchers in the received both Arts Council and Research Council grants for practice-led
performing arts.
choreographic projects that fulfil concurrently both professional and acade-
2 The Place is one of
several National mic research aims.
Dance Agencies in the The ongoing focus of my practice-led research is an exploration of the
UK. It has, for a notion of ‘interdisciplinary choreography’. In other words, I have a continu-
number of years,
provided an extensive ing interest in the application of choreographic methodology, composi-
professional artist tional approaches and aesthetic sensibility to a range of different media in
programme that is the context of live performance and beyond that to fields of research that
internationally are not necessarily located in the arts or humanities. In particular this focus
recognised. The on ‘interdisciplinarity’ has led to an engagement with visual technologies
Choreodrome scheme
is part of this and their integration into the live performance context.
programme. It is an I will now outline practice-led research undertaken by Ersatz Dance that
process-orientated highlights the evolving use of technology within the work of the Company.
choreographic In particular this will focus on identifying the shifting relationship between
research scheme for notions of the live and the mediated in performance and how this has been
choreographers who articulated through the practice (Figure 1).
are selected to In 1998 Ersatz Dance undertook research as part of the Choreodrome
professional research and development scheme at The Place,2 London, UK.
This research focused on the use of CCTV within the context of live perfor-
mance. In particular the project explored the use of site-specific, guerrilla
performance in locations that were under surveillance from CCTV systems.
The resulting live performance work, Hyperbolic (1998), was a quartet that

Figure 1: 2:Moving by Ersatz Dance, 2005.

Performers: Amalia Garcia, James Hewison.

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integrated the performance footage from the CCTV surveillance cameras as

projection within the live performance context. This work explored the pro-
duction and re-production of space and visio-spatial relations of power in
terms of spectatorship and voyeurism. Central to this work, from both an
aesthetic and political perspective, was the use of CCTV as a form of video
‘ready-made’ that questioned notions of fiction and reality in the relation-
ship between the ‘live’ and the mediatised in performance.
From 2000 to 2001 the Company toured Save the Last Dance (2000).
Again, this work explored the integration of pre-recorded video material
into live dance performance. However in this work the Company also
explored the non-linearity of digital media as a compositional approach for
the construction of the narrative aspects of the work. Save the Last Dance
took the mediatisation of the then recent Kosovan war as a thematic start-
ing point. This dance–theatre quartet explored notions of ‘placelessness’
and the ‘nomadic’ and was set in a non-destinational space that referenced
a waiting room (Figure 2).
Pre-recorded video material was back-projected onto a door that formed
part of the set, however the door was not opened or used for entrances or
exits by the performers, thus becoming the potential ‘entrance’ to a narra-
tive, allegorical space. The use of the door in this way foregrounded and
delineated a mediated representational space within the work, whilst
drawing attention to the concept of mediatisation as a critical principle
driving the work thematically. The video material provided a further layer of
thematic commentary and a continuous narrative strand throughout the
structure of the work that was compositionally interrelated with the live
In 2002 the Company premiered 24 Acts of Arson (2002) at the South
Bank Centre, London, UK as part of the international performance pro-
gramme. This work marked a shift in emphasis for the Company away from
video to the use of digital animation. For this project the Company collabo-
rated with Animator and Dance Film-maker, Rachel Davis. This project
explored the integration of digital animation into the live performance
context to create an ‘interactive environment’. It focused on the construction

Figure 2: Save the Last Dance by Ersatz Dance, 2001.

Performers: Marcus Capell, Amalia Garcia, Lisa Gunstone, James Hewison.

Ersatz dancing: Negotiating the live and mediated in digital performance practice 153
PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 154

of a critical space that explored the concept of narrative from an intersub-

jective, intertextual perspective. The starting point for the work was an
exploration of various narrative forms, in particular the construction of the
self through auto-biographical narrative and the parallel activity, in the
context of performance-making, of the narrative of process; or process of
narrative; in other words the reflexive, performative construction of ‘the
work’ and ‘the self’.
The set design for the piece comprised a white wall and floor, contained
within a larger black-box space. The white wall and floor were used through-
out the piece as projection surfaces for the animation. The animated mate-
rial covered the white surfaces of wall and floor, the projections on the two
surfaces were synchronised so creating the illusion of a coherent single pro-
jected image across both surfaces.
The animation was constructed alongside the live choreography during
the creative process, so that although the animation was pre-recorded, the
high-degree of integration between the animation and live performance
material created the illusion of interactivity within the final work. For
example a leitmotif in the piece was the projection of an animated network
with which the performers directly interacted. As the performers moved
from position to position in the space, the network grew and extended. The
performers described a series of autobiographical memories and the ani-
mated network built spatial connections between these memories as the
performers moved. This matrix took on the image of a set of synaptical con-
nections, visualising the process of remembering.
As one performer, James Hewison remembered, as a child shouting –
‘I’m a fairy’, a large pair of animated wings appeared to grow out of his
shoulders, the subsequent solo extended his real body into the virtual space
through the closely choreographed interconnection of the live dancer’s
movements and the movement of the digitally animated wings (Figure 3).
Animation and choreography were integrated in this project in order to
consider the concept of inscription: the inscription of the performative
space and the bodily inscription of the performers. The aim was to create a
graphic rather than representational space (Figure 4).

Figure 3: 24 Acts of Arson by Ersatz Dance, 2003.

Performers: Amalia Garcia, James Hewison.

154 Helen Bailey

PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 155

Figure 4: 24 Acts of Arson by Ersatz Dance, 2003.

Performers: Amalia Garcia, James Hewison.

To this end the hand-drawn style of the animation consciously high-

lighted the two-dimensional, inscription surface of the set, whilst attempt-
ing to challenge the slick, coolness of the CGI aesthetic made familiar
through various big-budget Hollywood movies.
In 2006 Ersatz Dance created A Part/In Parts (2006) a new media/per-
formance installation as a result of a commission by the BCA Gallery,
Bedford UK. This site-specific performance was created for the gallery envi-
ronment and performed daily over a two-week period. It explored the use of
Particles, a motion-tracking system, created by New Media Artists
Ziemovitz Maj and Piotr Kowalski, in the context of live performance. The
challenge with this work was to create a live performance work that fully
articulated the interactive capacity of the new media installation to a viewing
spectatorship. The Particles software had originally been created as a partic-
ipatory, interactive new media installation. The performance work therefore
had to compositionally and thematically move beyond a presentational
display of the pre-existing technological capabilities of the installation and
provide a further hybrid located performance.
The work took ‘partiality’ and in particular, subjective spatial positioning
as its thematic focus. The site-specific dance-theatre work, A Part/In Parts
was generated through a series of task-based improvisations using both
movement and text, whilst interacting with the Particles software. The inter-
play between the literal and the metaphorical became important in terms of
highlighting the corporeal experience of the mediated space generated by
the Particles installation. The literal, functionality of the software was

Ersatz dancing: Negotiating the live and mediated in digital performance practice 155
PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 156

Figure 5: A Part/In Parts by Ersatz Dance, 2006.

Perfomers: Amalia Garcia, James Hewison, Diccon Hogger.

fore-grounded through the improvisatory nature of certain parts of the live

performance work, thus providing the context from which the audience per-
spective of the interactivity of the system could be vicariously (and viscer-
ally) experienced. For instance, at one point in the piece, a performer
attempted to count the particles as they collected around her hand. As she
moved to count them, they dispersed and reformed elsewhere, thus provid-
ing an ongoing improvisatory cycle of interactive activity (see Figure 5). At
another point in the piece one of the three performers delivers a textual
monologue that explores, from a narrative perspective, notions of subjec-
tivity and partiality. Whilst the performer was still, delivering the mono-
logue, the particles coalesced on his body and face, so that he as a ‘live’
representational entity was erased by the technology; he became ‘partially’
obscured and mediatised, in this context the technology took on both a
metaphorical and performative role.
Through the discussion of these examples it is possible to discern a
shift in emphasis in terms of the relationship between live dance perfor-
mance and various digital technologies deployed within the practice. In the
earlier experiments such as Hyperbolic (1998) and Save the Last Dance
(2000) a multi-disciplinary approach characterised the relationship. The
technology provided a mediatised component to the live dance theatre
work, enabling a critical interplay between the two idioms. In more recent
examples such as 24 Acts of Arson (2002) and A Part/In Parts (2006) an
integrated approach to the relationship of technologies within performance
has been adopted. The technologies have been integral to the live work
both compositionally and thematically. The aesthetic focus of this evolving
interrelationship has also changed. In the earlier works the multi-discipli-
nary interrelationship was facilitated through a cinematic or filmic sensibil-
ity that was applied to both the compositional organisation of the live and
mediatised material. In the later work, in which a more integrated approach
was adopted, the aesthetic concerns drew on a visual arts/new media

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PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 157

frame of reference. From a research perspective there are themes that have
remained consistent in terms of driving the various experiments. Each
example discussed, from a research perspective, aimed to explore concep-
tualisations of space, spatialities and embodiment within hybrid live/medi-
atised performance contexts. However the key constraining factor to these
experiments was the professional arts funding imperative to create a
product for public performance. From 2004 the Company decided to shift
emphasis methodologically, to a less product orientated approach by locat-
ing the practice-led activities exclusively within an academic research

Ersatz dancing in virtual environments

In 2004 Ersatz Dance began collaborative interdisciplinary research with
Howell Istance and Martin Turner at De Montfort University’s Virtual
Reality Environments Centre. Between 2004–2005 Ersatz Dance were resi-
dent at De Montfort University, this collaborative, interdisciplinary practice-
led research was formalised as the DIRAViS (Dancing in Real and Virtual
Spaces) project as part of De Montfort University’s Institute of Creative
Technologies. The project aimed to explore the ways in which live choreo-
graphic practice might integrate and exploit immersive, virtual reality
Dance technology writer, Scott deLahunta (2002) comments that dance
has been at the cutting edge of experimentation with interactive technolo-
gies, however the results have been largely presented in conventional
proscenium-arch spaces, and the potential of virtual reality environments
for dance has been largely unexplored. He suggests that this might partly
be for practical reasons concerning the prohibitive cost of such technology
and the limited access to it for artists. However he also suggests that even
the most radical choreographers often seem to be limited by a fixed sense
of performance space and time (deLahunta 2002).
At De Montfort University the immersive environment was produced
through the use of a large curved projection screen and multiple projectors
that facilitate a three-dimensional panoramic viewer experience. In order to
experience the 3D projection, viewers wear polarised glasses. Virtual envi-
ronments are projected onto the curved screen and a computer operator
navigates the viewer in a first-person perspective through the simulated
environment (Figure 6).
The DIRAViS project began by creating a simulated environment in
which to locate live dancers. An abstract ‘world’ of static sculptural forms
made from digital ribbons that created helix-like formations, was designed.
As the computer operator navigated through this simulated environment,
the flight path moved in close proximity, around and within the helix forma-
tions. From the spectatorial position, the helix structures appeared to move
out beyond the screen into the shared actual space.
The dancers were placed within this computer generated environment
and an improvisatory structure was established where the dancers, who
were also wearing polarised glasses, were asked to avoid the sculptural

Ersatz dancing: Negotiating the live and mediated in digital performance practice 157
PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 158

Figure 6: Ersatz Dance in 2004 undertaking practice-led research for the DIRAViS
project at De Montfort University’s Virtual Reality Environments Centre.

forms as they moved in the shared space. The improvisation score initially
focused on physically avoiding the virtual structure and generating move-
ment responses in relation to that task. During these early experiments, it
became clear that the performers had to predict the relative spatial position
and motional trajectory of the helix forms, as the three-dimensional image
was calibrated for the spectatorial perspective and not from that of the per-
formers, who were literally immersed in the environment. As the dancers
became more in-tune with these aspects of the environment, the improvi-
sation score increased in complexity. The score developed to focus on the
movement of the performers extending, extruding and reiterating the
motional trajectories established by the helix formations as the computer
operator’s flight path navigated in and around them.
‘Improvisation’ took on a trans-disciplinary function and provided a
score for not only the dancers’ actions but also the actions of the computer
operator. Thus these improvised performances became a ‘trio’, comprising
two dancers and one computer operator driving the VR simulation. All of the
‘performers’ (the computer operator and the dancers) adopted a generative
role in the motional production of a hybrid real/virtual space (Figure 7).
The function of ‘motion’ as a means of establishing this meshing of the
real and the virtual was further developed through the improvisatory struc-
ture. As the improvisations developed the motional properties of the differ-
ent performers became overlaid with a subtle feedback loop of dynamic
movement qualities. This aesthetisisation of the environment through the
performative interplay of the virtual and the real was particularly provoca-
tive. However the computer generated, simulated environment although
‘animated’ by the computer operator in terms of spatial orientation, prox-
imity and motion, was still pre-constructed, it was not ontologically depen-
dent on the improvisation and therefore not truly interactive. Rather the live
performers (both dancers and computer operator) could only ever be reac-
tive to the simulated environment. The constraints of the system meant
that the flight paths navigated through the simulated environment could
not be documented and repeated, therefore the relationship of the dancers

158 Helen Bailey

PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 159

3 Coniglio, M. Troika
Ranch website,
4 Turner, M. SAGE

Figure 7: Ersatz Dance performers improvising in a VR environment, DIRAViS

project, De Montfort University, 2005.

to the environment could not develop compositionally or hierachically, and

could only remain reactive and improvisatory (Bailey et al, 2006).
Troika Ranch, the New York based dance and technology company
comment, on their website, about their view of digital dance and the soft-
ware developments they have made – ‘. . . most electronic media is dead, in
the sense that it is precisely the same each time it is presented – quite dif-
ferent from what happens when a dancer or actor performs the same mater-
ial twice. We want the media elements in our performances to have the same
sense of liveness as the human performers it accompanies. We impose the
chaos of the human body on the media in hope of bringing it to life’.3
The DIRAViS project provided a useful initial set of experiments that
established the choreographic research ideas that went on to form the
basis of the Stereobodies project. One of the most interesting areas of
interdisciplinary discussion that arose was around the concept of ‘pres-
ence’. Within the VR and e-science context, ‘presence’ is understood as
referring to the ability of the user/spectator to experience convincing per-
ceptual immersion within a simulated environment, therefore enabling the
user to understand data or the setting to a higher perceptual level.4 In
other words ‘presence’ as a concept is used as an index of its own repro-
duction or simulation.
On the other hand, the term has quite a different and more essentialist
significance in the context of performance. Steve Dixon, in his recent publi-
cation (2007) suggests – ‘. . . cultural commentators have used presence to
distinguish the material, auratic, proximal “real”; and in performance
studies, to denote the flesh-and-blood performer, there with you in the
same shared physical space’. This highlights the diversity of useage and
understanding of the term across the various subject domains for which
the concept is relevant.

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5 JISC VRE Virtual The Stereobodies project arose in part, out of considering these very dif-
Research ferent definitions of ‘presence’ and how we might develop a further under-
programme, standing of these divergent, yet necessarily interrelated, concepts through
http://www.jisc.ac.uk/ practice. The initial concern was to explore ways in which a representation
programmes/ of the ‘real/live’ performer’s body could be directly intergated into the
pogramme_vre.aspx virtual/simulated environment without having to undergo the disembodi-
6 This refers to Rudolf ment and translation of motion capture and the creation of avatars. We
Laban’s concept of began work, in June 2006 with the CSAGE project at Manchester
‘actual body design’
as the physical Computing, University of Manchester, where Martin Turner had developed
embodiment of shape, a system of integrating stereoscopic video into the access grid context, as a
for example a dancer virtual research environment (VRE).
places her hand on
her hip and creates a
triangle shape Stereobodies and the dancer’s double
between her arm and
torso, the shape is CSAGE is a VRE project that is funded by the Joint Information Services
literally delineated by Council (JISC). A definition of what might constitute a VRE has been pro-
the materiality of her vided by JISC – ‘A VRE comprises a set of online tools and other network
resources and technologies interoperating with each other to support or
7 Laban refers to ‘virtual
spatial pathways’ as
enhance the processes of a wide range of research practitioners within and
spatial traces that are across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. A key characteristic of a
perceived as a result VRE is that it facilitates collaboration amongst researchers and research
of the body or a part
of the body in motion. teams providing them with more effective means of collaboratively collect-
For example a dancer ing, manipulating and managing data, as well as collaborative knowledge
could trace the shape
of a circle in space
with her hand. It is CSAGE was originally designed for scientific purposes and in particular
through the dancer’s the sharing of visualisations for collaborative research projects. The stereo-
motion that the virtual
shape of the circle is scopic environment has the ability to utilise a large, curved projection
made manifest to the screen and multiple data projectors, modified to provide stereoscopic pro-
jection. The user wears polarised glasses in order to experience the effect of
8 This refers to the three-dimensionality created by the stereoscopic projection. The use of two
technique of Contact
Improvisation that synchronised video cameras is necessary to generate stereoscopic video.
was originally The research focus for the Stereobodies project was concerned with the
developed by
American Post-
concept of presence, and how the interrelationship of the virtual and actual
modern Dance dancing body in live performance that this technology offered, might
Practitioner Steve provide new understandings of this relationship. From a choreographic per-
Paxton. It is a duet
form that requires spective this broad aim was clarified into two compositional approaches;
performers to use the firstly to explore the interrelatonship of bodies in space both in terms of
momentum and
weight of each other’s
actual body design6 and virtual motional spatial pathways7 across and
bodies in close between the virtual and real contexts, and secondly, to explore physical
physical contact with ‘contact’,8 or rather the illusion of touch between performers in the real and
one another to create
movement. virtual contexts.
We began by creating a short duet that included five points of contact
between the two performers. The choreographed duet movement material
emphasised virtual pathways in space. We then removed one of the per-
formers, Amalia Garcia, from the duet material. James Hewison, the
second performer then reworked his part of the duet as a solo, which he
danced with an imagined, absent partner. This solo version of the duet was
videoed stereoscopically. This stereoscopic recording of the solo version of

160 Helen Bailey

PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 161

Figure 8: Pre-recorded stereoscopic video of virtual performer is back-projected

and live performer dances choreographed ‘duet’ in the Stereobodies project,
Manchester Computing, University of Manchester, 2006.

the duet was then projected within the CSAGE virtual research environ-
ment. The virtual representation was projected in life-size. Amalia Garcia
then performed the duet with this virtual partner (see Figure 8).
The performance of this hybrid real/virtual duet reproduced the points
of contact that were apparent in the ‘live’ version of the duet. Because the
virtual performer was reproduced stereoscopically the virtual representa-
tion appeared to literally inhabit the same space as the actual dancer. From
the spectatorial position they appeared to move on the same planes in
space, at one point in the duet the virtual reproduction of the dancer, James
Hewison, traced a virtual pathway with his arm through space that seemed
to pass over the top of the live dancer’s head and also reach beyond her
into the space between her and the audience. This use of stereoscopic
video challenges the spectator’s pre-existing frame of reference (the two-
dimensional projected video image), and allows the perception of the spec-
tator to draw on the kinds of responses usually associated with the viewing
of live performance (Figure 8). In this sense the experiment tested the sci-
entific notion of presence within an asethetic context. As with the DIRAViS
project, the use of a pre-constructed virtual environment, in this case a pre-
recorded video representation, provided the illusion of physical intercon-
nectivity and interactivity.
Steve Dixon (2007) suggests ‘when the body is “transformed,” . . . into
digital environments, it should be remembered that despite what many say,
it is not an actual transformation of the body, but of the pixilated composi-
tion of its recorded or computer generated image. Virtual bodies are new
visual representations of the body, but do not alter the physical composi-
tion of their referent flesh and bones. Virtual bodies may appear to be
bodily transformations to the (receiver’s) eye and mind, but no actual meta-
morphosis takes place within the (sender’s/performer’s) actual body. The

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9 Also see Coyne, R

Digital Narrative,
Holism and the
Romance of the Real,
MIT Press Cambridge,
London, England.
10 Access Grid is the
next generation of
video-conferencing. It
uses large-scale
display, typically a
whole wall. Multiple
video streams from Figure 9: Ersatz Dance Performer, James Hewison dances with his virtual
each location involved double in the Stereobodies project, Manchester Computing, University of
in the interaction are Manchester, 2006.
projected onto the
wall, full-duplex audio
with echo cancellation
provides a natural
audio environment in virtual body is an inherently theatrical entity, and there is an enormous
which non-co-located amount of suspension of disbelief going on in relation to it’.
participants can talk
to each other without The ‘theatricality’ of the virtual body in the context of digitally mediated
wearing headsets. The performance is a significant idea. As Dixon and others9 have clearly articu-
environment can lated, the romanticism of the digital and that it’s tansformational capacity
integrate a range of
open source software. can be over stated theoretically and that therefore the actual practice can
seem to ‘fall short’ of these theoretical (metaphorically imbued) claims. The
illusory status of the virtual body in the context of stereoscopic video projec-
tion underlines the inherent theatricality of virtual embodiment per se in the
performance context. However in this experiment the fracture or disconnect
between the live and the virtual was also maintained through the illusory
nature of the ‘interactivity’ between the actual and virtual performers. The
actual performer could not truly interact with the virtual dancer as the virtual
dancer was a pre-recorded representation. Only the actual dancer was ‘live’
and therefore had agency within the performance (Figure 9).

e-Dancing and distributed choreography

Within recent theoretical discourse on technology and performance, the
meaning of the term ‘presence’, has been redefined to include ideas of
telematic or online presence, relating to the concept of the agency of the
participant rather than simply the efficacy of the spectatorial position. In
order to challenge this disconnect between the virtual and the real bodies in
live performance, the project relocated the experimentation into the Access
Grid10 environment. The Access Grid (AG) is an e-Science development ini-
tially produced for collaborative research in the natural sciences. It was
designed essentially as a virtual meeting space (Figure 10).
The duet was placed in the Collaborative Stereoscopic Access Grid
Environment. Each performer was located in a different AG node. Multiple
stereoscopic video streams from video cameras placed throughout each
node were projected as individual windows within the other AG node. So
we were presented with multiple and fragmentary images of the two

162 Helen Bailey

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Figure 10: Access Grid node at the University of Manchester participating a in

a 12-node meeting of UK-based academics.

Figure 11: Stereobodies distributed performance by Ersatz Dance using the

Access Grid and associated grid-based software, University of Manchester, 2006.

dancers bodies from a range of different angles. Figure 11 is a photograph

of the projection wall within one AG node at the University of Manchester.
It is possible to see that the various windows, representing video streams
from other nodes, have been arranged in such a way as to provide a central
image and several further images from different perspectives from the
other two nodes. The central image is a stereoscopic video stream from the
node in which performer, Amalia Garcia was located. Within that image, it
is possible to see a window projected in her space of James Hewison, the
second performer from within his AG node.
Within this distributed environment the performers were able to view
each other stereoscopically from the context of each other’s location. The
duet was then performed within this interactive, telematic context. The two
performers shared the virtual space, yet both performers were ‘live’ and
therefore able to engage interactively with their virtual ‘other’. They were

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PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 164

both present, yet absent simultaneously. Performance theorist, Nick Kaye

(1994) describes the ontology of postmodern performance as contingent
and unstable, suggesting it ‘. . . vacillates between presence and absence,
between displacement and reinstatement’.
Within the AG environment it was also possible to employ a range of
grid-based software tools that have been developed to annotate AG activi-
ties. For the Stereobodies project two such tools were integrated into the
CSAGE environment: Memetic and Compendium. The Memetic system
allows AG sessions to be recorded and annotated, thus providing a frame-
work for meaningful playback of the multiple recorded video streams.
Compendium is a dialogue mapping system that was used in this context to
document and support reflection and analysis, retrospectively, whilst replay-
ing video streams using Memetic. Graphic interfaces from both systems are
visually represented within the image of the AG node in Figure 11.
From the various stages of research undertaken as part of the
Stereobodies project it is possible to say that ‘presence’ in relation to ‘live-
ness’ or ‘live performance’ has an inextricable link with participant feedback
or interactivity within the shared, social space of performance. However
from this project it is also evident that ‘shared space’, no longer refers to a
co-located physical space, but can also refer to the distributed and on-line
collaborative environments that are emerging from the e-Science research

Implications for practice-led research

The collaborative research potential provided through the e-Science devel-
opment of virtual research environments such as CSAGE and Memetic has
significant implications for practice-led research in dance as well as the
broader arts community. The Stereobodies project has provided the initial
context for a brief exploration of this emerging environment as a creative,
performance context, as context for methodological development and as an
environment in which the documentation and analysis of practice and the
creative process can be pursued in profoundly new ways. The author of this
paper, together with academics from the University of Manchester,
University of Leeds and the Open University have been awarded a two-year
AHRC-EPSRC-JISC e-Science grant to continue and develop on the research
initiated through the Stereobodies project. The project, entitled Relocating
Choreographic Process: The impact of collaborative memory and grid technolo-
gies on practice-ld research in dance will begin in September 2007.

Bailey, H., Hewison J., Garcia A. and Turner M. (2006), ‘Stereobodies:
Choreographic Explorations between Real and Virtual Spaces’ at Digital
Resources in Humanities and Arts conference, Dartington College of Arts, UK.
Broadhurst, S. and Machon, J. (eds.) (2006), Performance and Technology: Practices
of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity, London, New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
deLahunta, S. (2002), ‘Virtual Reality and Performance’, Performing Arts Journal 70:
pp. 105–114.

164 Helen Bailey

PADM_3-(2-3)_06-BAILEY 11/27/07 5:34 PM Page 165

Dixon, S. (2007), Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theatre, Dance

Performance Art and Installation, London: MIT Press.
Kaye, N. (1994), Postmodernism and Performance, London: MacMillan.
Popat, S (2006), Invisible Connections: Dance, Choreography and Internet Communities,
London: Routledge.

Suggested citation
Bailey, H. (2007), ‘Ersatz dancing: Negotiating the live and mediated in digital per-
formance practice’, International Journal of Performance Arts and digital Media 3:
2&3, pp. 151–165, doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.151/1

Contributor details
Helen Bailey is a dance artist and academic. She is Artistic Director of dance
theatre company, Ersatz Dance and Principal Lecturer in Dance at University of
Bedfordshire, UK. She has toured nationally and internationally and receives
funding from both research and arts councils. She has taught in UK, Europe and
USA. Her research focuses on the interrelationship between dance, visual technolo-
gies and e-Science. Contact: Faculty of Creative Arts and Technology at University of
Bedfordshire, Luton Campus, Luton, LU1 3JU, UK.
E-mail: Helen.Bailey@beds.ac.uk

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Introduction. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.167/2

Part 2: First, second and third spaces:
Digital narratives and the spaces
of performance
Introduced by Lizbeth Goodman

In this second section of issue 3.2/3.3, the focus of the work shifts from
‘real’ bodies in space and time – as viewed through a variety of lenses and
screens – to virtual bodies and imagined or invented bodies as rendered
across a range of disciplinary spaces. This is a cartography of virtual per-
formers and their journeys.
Here, the questions addressed range from spatial mathematics and the
notion of the copy, to the mapping of the artefacts of real people who have
imagined better spaces in performance and cultural art forms, through to
the interwoven narratives of avatars in their invented spaces, to the ‘warfare
of imagination’ in second life, and finally to the construction of art-based
games based on solid design principles. In each discipline, in each paper,
the solid outline of the human body dissolves a bit further into the medi-
ated frame of technologised states and depictions of being.
David Fenton’s paper opens this section. His study of ‘Hotel Pro Forma’
considers some of the same questions about authenticity and the role of
the ‘copy’ addressed in the opening paper on replay culture. But just as that
piece framed each section with arguments regarding the body in space and
time (as represented by words on paper and images on screen), so this
paper is framed through the addressing of the role of the original and the
copy in the domain of intermedial performance. In terms of ‘The algebra of
place’, the author positions the subject of performance in relation to the rel-
atively stable frame of the stage as compared to the destabilising frames of
complex multimedia formats.
In the next paper, by Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis, the
mapping of cultural impact is given a new frame altogether, in the context
of a folk art/craft project of major proportions. The Knitting Map was made
not only by performance company half/angel but also by scores of volun-
teer knitters in the city of Cork: women who wove the stories of their lives
into a woollen design symbolising and encapsulating the pulses and flows
of each day of the weather and movements of real bodies in the real spaces
and weather patterns of the city. This paper raises questions about art and
craft, creation and design, collaboration and direction, and also about the

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presence of the designed object as both a product of performance and

costume and cartography for community engagement.
A further reorientation of the concept of performative presence is woven
by game play and game theory expert Esther MacCallum-Stewart in the
third paper in this part. In this piece, the work of the emergent virtual envi-
ronment Second Life is compared to that of other mediated forms includ-
ing World of Warcraft: massively multiplayer games that show how players
and ‘users’ engage creatively in each choice of avatar or virtual representa-
tion of self, and how the forms of interaction that theatre makers recognise
as role play have been woven into these new forms, which involve dress up,
deliberate choices about self-representation, and the possibility of reinven-
tion of he self and self image in each new frame. The paper raises issues
about identity when players are not necessarily trained performers but are
engaging in performative play on a massive scale.
The fourth paper takes this theme forward, and delves into the world of
Second Life in a dialogue staged by two artist-scholars whose narrative and
visual journeys through the field of gaming and online worlds crossed
paths at the intersection of theory and practice. Denise Doyle and Taey Kim
engage in a fictional performative crossing of paths that calls to mind the
house of mirrors in John Barth’s funhouse once again. For these young
scholars, however, the journey from art and performance to virtual environ-
ments is not so challenging, as they see themselves riding on a second
wave of experience into Second Life as a performative play space.
Finally, Axel Stockberger’s article explores a new play space, which he
defines as a ‘third space’ in the domain of spatial modalities and contem-
porary game environments. Trained as an artist and experience designer,
Stockberger’s reflections help to reposition the frame around play as a tool
and method, to consider play as space in itself.

168 Lizbeth Goodman

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.169/1

Hotel Pro Forma’s The Algebra of Place;

destabilising the original and the copy in
intermedial contemporary performance
David Fenton Queensland University of Technology

Abstract Keywords
This paper examines two questions that emerged from a viewing of Hotel Pro contemporary
Forma’s contemporary performance The Algebra of Place. It questions how performance
and why the viewer’s perception altered when observing the convergence of live Hotel Pro Porma
and mediatised performance, with particular reference to an altered perception intermediality
of original and copy. It also questions the perception of space, time and the per- mediatised
former’s identity in the performance. In an endeavour to address these questions mimesis
two examples from The Algebra of Place are examined. Theoretically the paper The Algebra of Place
applies intermediality as a conceptual framework to assist in the examination of
these concerns. Then the paper reviews in more detail theories of space and time
in contemporary performance, and theories of performative identity. The result
of this theoretical exploration, in conjunction with the examples from The
Algebra of Place, is a provisional concept – digital mimesis. By articulating a
contemporary repositioning of mimesis beyond imitation, mimesis is proposed
in an attempt to articulate the complex power relations between the original
and the copy in live and mediatised performance. As such, the paper ventures to
provide a lens for theorists and practitioners who examine and create interme-
dial contemporary performance that destabilises the original.

In early 2006 I was invited to observe the creative process of Kirsten
Dehlholm. Kirsten is the Artistic Director and founder of Hotel Pro Forma, an
internationally renowned contemporary performance company based in
Denmark. The new work that I observed from bump-in to opening night was
The Algebra of Place. Dehlholm describes this performance work as ‘. . . a
filmic arabesque . . . an art installation, a film, a performance, seen from
above. An architecture with optical illusions. A filmic narrative that, like an
arabesque, winds its way through many spaces’ (Dehlholm 2005).
Throughout the eighteen days that I observed her process, Kirsten deftly
juggled the technical demands of three video installations, the mechanics of a
revolving screen and the fusion of a DJ and live performer. The result was a
one hour work viewed with a bird’s eye view from the five landings above the
central foyer of Axelborg Tower – Copenhagen. The Algebra of Place proved to

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be a curious and mesmeric work which served as a site specific response to

the architecture of the tower and a provocative inquiry of Arabic culture.
The dramaturgical structure of The Algebra of Place was created in
response to the floor-plan of a hotel. In a moment of inspiration the rooms
of a Canadian hotel, found on a website, formed the perfect structure for a
performance/tour of the work’s concerns. The performance started in the
Main Lobby, which paralleled the actual lobby of Axelborg Tower. Then the
space was transformed through mediatised images to other sites, the Gift
Shop, the Heritage Ballroom, the Summit Ballroom, Club Room, Stage and
finally the Phones, to name a few. Each room in the hotel had a different
style and conveyed different content.
However, the content of the work was not the primary concern of my obser-
vation. Rather, it was the experimentation with the convergence of live and
mediatised performance (Gattenhof 2004) which provided potent examples
for my research. In particular, when I observed the work two questions came to
mind, first why does my perception of the original performance and the copied per-
formance become confused? From this question it is easy to discern that at the
time I equated the original performance as being the ‘live’ performance, and
the copied performance as being the ‘mediatised’ one. The second question
however attempts to breakdown this somewhat simplistic binary. More specif-
ically, I asked myself what was the status of the space, time and the performer’s
identity in The Algebra of Place? By examining these two questions I hope to
draw some conclusions which might be of use to other theorists and practi-
tioners engaged in intermedial contemporary performance.
There are two examples which I want to use to illustrate how The Algebra
of Place provoked a change in my perception of original and copy, and pro-
vided ample opportunity to examine the status of space, time and the per-
former’s identity. The first example is called The Summit Ballroom. Figure 1
below includes two photographs which illustrate this particular section of
the performance. They show the performer lying on the floor with a field of
red projected around her, giving the illusion that she was floating in
abstract space. There was no particular narrative for this moment, or any
moment throughout the whole work, rather the performance seemed to be
a collage of thematic responses to Arabic culture. As I observed, the per-
former’s animated shadow moved out from underneath her and the per-
former stretched out as if to retrieve it. Then, in response, the shadow
stretched out as if attempting to return to the body. Understandably, in
description this moment does not hold the mesmeric appeal of the event.
Yet I provide this example to assist in answering my two questions, as it
provides a succinct illustration.
Figure 2 is the second example from The Algebra of Place. This example is
called The Club Room, and shows the live performer wrapped in a towel as if in
a sauna. Here she floats in a space dominated by large projections of Arabic
men who are in negotiation. When I encountered this example the initial con-
clusions I had drawn about live and mediatised performance required expan-
sion. Later in this paper I articulate how these two examples are different yet
similar, and how they provide a potential answer for my questions.

170 David Fenton

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Figure 1: The Summit Ballroom from The Algebra of Place (2006), photo by
David Fenton.

An intermedial
conceptual framework
First it is necessary to artic-
ulate how intermediality
forms a conceptual frame-
work for my investigation.
Intermediality is a term
adopted by the Theatre and
Intermediality Working Group
(Chapple and Kattenbelt
2006). The working group’s
task was to construct theo-
ries of media and perfor-
mance primarily from
performance theorists, Figure 2: The Club Room in The Algebra of
instead of constructing a Place (Fortuna 2006).
framework from theorists
outside of the field. As a result, they adopted the term intermediality
because it best summed up the interrelationship of different media in per-
formance. Accordingly, I apply intermediality as a conceptual framework to
this investigation because it destabilises the binary position of media
through convergence. Intermediality proposes a change in the position of
the media, the performer and the audience.

Intermediality is a powerful and potentially radical force, which operates in-

between performer and audience; in-between theatre, performance and other
media; and in-between realities – with theatre providing a stage space for the
performance of intermediality.
(Chapple and Kattenbelt 2006: 12)

With these three levels of interpretation for intermediality – between per-

former and audience, performance and media, and in-between realities –

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PADM_3-(2-3)_08-FENTON 11/27/07 5:52 PM Page 172

this conceptual framework destabilises the fixed position of the performer,

the performance and those who receive it. In particular, intermediality is not
exclusively governed by the interaction of technology; instead a base inter-
pretation is the convergence of media in performance. As such, the live per-
former and the audience in contemporary performance are part of that
media. Therefore, when the performer and the audience are incorporated
into the interpretive framework of intermediality, perception becomes the
focus. ‘Thus, intermediality is not reliant on technology but on the inter-
action between performance and perception’ (Chapple and Kattenbelt
2006: 21).
In summary, when an intermedial framework is applied to contemporary
performance it privileges the altered perceptions of reality created in-
between the media, the performers and the audience. Consequently, an
intermedial framework challenges the fixity of the contemporary perfor-
mance form itself, which has implications for my question concerning my
altered perception of original and copy when viewing The Algebra of Place.

Space and time in contemporary performance

Specifically, Chapple and Kattenbelt’s intermedial framework challenges the
fixity of the form by examining it through several well-established theoreti-
cal pathways. It’s their privileging of the theoretical pathways equally and
exclusively from performance theoreticians that confirms their original con-
tribution to knowledge. At first they commence with the semiotic coding of
theatre that is the concepts of body, space and time. Then, to encompass
different theoretical positions on performance, they expand the model from
the semiotic, to the textual and then to the performative.

Recognition of the textual, the semiotic and the performative models in the
same space, irrespective of whether or not one model or the other is domi-
nant in a particular performance, is an important part of intermediality.
(Chapple and Kattenbelt 2006: 22)

In particular the semiotic codes of space, time and ‘the body’ are privileged in
my investigation, however and unavoidably, this initial theoretical position
inevitably becomes enmeshed in theories of the performative and the textual.
When considering of space and time in contemporary performance
practice, Chapple and Kattenbelt’s intermedial framework appears to be
complementary to David E. R. George and Alan Read’s theorising on space
and time in performance. George and Read theorise on the potentiality of
contemporary performance generated by its ambiguity. Provocatively,
George asserts that ‘To create one version of a performance is simultane-
ously to evoke others’ (George 1996: 20). Here George is addressing the
ambiguity of meaning created by multiple potentials evoked in a contempo-
rary performance. His comment agrees with Read’s understanding of impo-
tentiality, in what he refers to as Live Art. ‘It is the exposure to an equivalent
state of impotentiality, shared by performer and audience within Live Art
acts that mark out the experience for me as remarkable . . .’ (Read 2004: 247).

172 David Fenton

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To clarify, Read and George are asserting what does not happen in contem- 1 Chapple and
porary performance is just as potent as what happens. In this way the ambi- Kattenbelt are utilising
guity of contemporary performance generates possibilities which contentious term for
imaginatively evoke other versions of the work for the viewer. contemporary
This notion of ‘potential versions’, supports George’s assertion that Postdramatic Theatre
space and time in performance is doubled. ‘A performance is “present” in a (Lehmann 2006).
spatial as well as a temporal sense, it is happening here. That “here”
however, is similarly doubled and ambiguous . . .’ (George 1996: 21).
Accordingly, both Read and George contend that space and time in con-
temporary performance is destabilised because of a change in the audi-
ence’s perception provoked by the work’s potentiality.
Similarly, Chapple and Kattenbelt contend that it is also the observer’s
response to the work, positioned as they are in-between media that manipu-
lates the space and time of the performance.

In post-dramatic theatre,1 manipulation of space and time is often, but not

always, accomplished through other media operating ‘as performers’ in the
performance space . . . The arrival of the post-structuralist debate opens for
intermedial analysis the gaps and fissures in-between the text, the signs, and
the performance, and provides a location for intermedial discourse through
the body and mind of the performer and receiver.
(Chapple and Kattenbelt 2006: 22)

By applying a poststructuralist perspective Chapple and Kattenbelt’s ‘gaps

and fissures’ in the work are similar to Read and David E.R. George’s poten-
tialities of performance. Both the fissures, gaps and the potentialities of the
work are in this case created by intermedial form, which is located in-
between the media, altering a perception of space and time.
These theoretical assertions clarify my experience of Hotel Pro Forma’s
work. With their application a clearer picture of the status of space and time
in The Algebra of Place emerges. I consider the ambiguity created by the
many potential performances evoked by the work confused my perception
of space and time. This was particularly evident when the live performance
denoted one space and the mediatised performance evoked another.
However, what was even more exhilarating, yet also confusing, was when
these two spaces and times vibrated and converged creating yet another
potential performance in-between the form.
However if we continue to apply Chapple and Kattenbelt’s framework,
the performer is also considered media in the work, and as such I still
require clarity on what was happening to the live performer’s identity when
she interacted with the mediatised performance.

Performative identity
For decades performance theorists have considered contemporary work
from the perspective of space, time and the body. Conversely, this investi-
gation does not utilise ‘the body’ as a theoretical concept to answer my
questions concerning contemporary intermedial performance. Instead of

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‘the body’, identity is used as a theoretical construct, derived from the per-
formative theories of Butler (1990), and influence by the poststructuralist
theories of Derrida (1976), to create an alternate theory complementary to
Chapple and Kattenbelt’s framework of intermediality. The distinction
between ‘identity’ and the ‘body’ is understandably a subtle one, however
‘identity’ has been chosen to circumvent the dialectic of gender, which for
the most part leads the investigation into a binary discourse on perfor-
mance from a somatic perspective.
Paradoxically, to understand Butler’s theories of performativity, gender
is the first construct she questions. Butler’s theories on performative iden-
tity challenge the fixity of gender. In her investigation of the body as a site of
socialisation Butler writes, ‘There is no gender identity behind the expres-
sion of gender . . . gender is performatively constituted by the very “expres-
sions” which are said to be its results’ (Butler 1990: 25). Butler is
significantly influenced by the renowned socio-historical postmodernist
Michel Foucault. She subscribes to Foucault’s notion of ‘subject intention-
ality’, where the subject considers they are the origin of their intent, and yet
have no way of knowing the extent of their actions upon other events, polit-
ical or otherwise.

. . . the effects of the instrumental action always have the power to proliferate
beyond the subject’s control, indeed, to challenge the rational transparency of
that subject’s intentionality, and so subvert the very definition of the subject
(Butler and Scott 1992: 10)

Simply put, the proliferation of our performative acts is what progressively

constitutes our identity. This goes to the heart of Butler’s theory of perfor-
mative gender. Her theory of performative gender is based upon a repeti-
tion of socially acceptable styles and gestures, which when combined,
create the ‘illusion’ of a fixed identity.

Gender ought not [to] be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency

from which various acts follow; rather, gender is an identity tenuously consti-
tuted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylised repetition of
acts. The effect of gender is produced through the stylisation of the body . . .
[and] constitute[s] the illusion of an abiding gendered self.
(Butler 1990: 140)

Butler theorises that if gender is performative, then the performance can

and does change. She argues that ‘. . . the possibility of, indeed even a ten-
dency towards, alteration and modification exists within the process of
repeating the performance’ (Butler in Carlson 1996: 62). At this point in her
theorising Butler acknowledges poststructuralist theories of the textual.
With deference to Derrida, Butler adds that performance is ‘citational’, and
‘. . . like all citation, never precisely repeats the absent original . . .’ (Butler
in Carlson 1996: 62). To clarify Butler’s application of citationality ‘Derrida

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argues . . . that every sign can be “cited, put in-between quotation marks”
and made to signify in unintended, unexpected ways’ (Salih and Butler
2004: 141). These ‘unintended, unexpected ways’ is where Butler takes her
cue for reframing citation from the textual to the performative.
This theoretical pathway eventually leads us to Butler’s most relevant
assertion for this investigation. Butler contends that gender through reiter-
ated performance is ‘. . . a kind of imitation for which there is no original’
(Butler 1998: 1520). This has significant implications for the performer’s
identity in contemporary performance, for Butler’s assertion calls into ques-
tion not only the stability of gender but the fixity of original identity.
To summarise, Foucault asserts that the subject’s actions proliferate
beyond their control, and as such this challenges the definition of the
subject (Foucault in Butler and Scott 1992). In addition, Derrida asserts
everything is text (Derrida 1976: 156); the performance of our gender and
therefore our identity is a text that can be cited. This citation can change
and therefore Butler is suggesting that gender and identity are fluid con-
structs predicated on performance. Not, as we commonly consider them,
stable constructions.
With this field of theory in mind, my question as to what was happening
to the performer’s identity in The Algebra of Place has clarified. I have used
‘identity’ instead of ‘the body’ to frame my question, because I consider
identity avoids traditionally fixed notions of gender. In so doing, I have con-
centrated on the performativity of identity rather than Butler’s theories of
gendered performance. As such, when investigating a live performer from
an intermedial perspective, the performer’s identity can be considered as
unfixed media, or a media continually under reconstruction through perfor-
mative citations. This answers, to some extent, why my perception of per-
former’s identity altered when viewing The Algebra of Place. The performer’s
identity was replicated through the mediatised form, which ‘re-cited’ her
identity, creating her instability.

Repositioning mimesis
Fundamentally, the question about my altered perception of the original
and the copy in The Algebra of Place, as well as the status of the space, time
and the performer’s identity, are questions about the meaning of represen-
tation. Notions of the original and the copy are bound up in traditional
understanding of imitation through mimesis. Equally, in a fictional context,
space, time and identity are also bound up in our understanding of
mimesis which we attribute to Aristotle. But is mimesis purely about imita-
tion? Can mimesis serve in a performance context without fiction? And as
such, does mimesis have a fixed meaning?
Halliwell states, ‘All disciplined arts follow procedures which Aristotle
takes to be analogous to the workings of nature: but only the mimetic arts
have as their specific purpose to produce representations or fictional ren-
derings of the world’ (Halliwell 1990: 11). Halliwell understands from
Aristotle’s Poetics 25 that mimetic acts can represent one or a combination
of three things, ‘actual reality, past or the present, (popular) conceptions of,

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or beliefs about the world; or normative ideas of what the world “ought” to
be . . .’ (Halliwell 1990: 11). Therefore, considered with its traditional
meaning, mimesis is imitation, or more simply ‘. . . where something
stands in for something it is not’ (Piem 2005: 75).
However, contemporary theorists have expanded upon these traditional
understandings of mimesis and the concept is now being repositioned in
consideration of contemporary performance, where fiction and imitation
are not governing poetics of the work. With this in mind Egbert J. Bakker
identifies the principle of mimesis as ‘what people do’ and explains

. . . mimesis is an action noun informed from the verb mimeisthai (to repre-
sent or imitate) . . . Mimeisthai is what people do, not what things are. Thus
mimesis originally does not denote a relation between the text . . . and its ref-
erent, but between an action (i.e. a process) and its model.
(Bakker 1999: 13)

Further to Bakker’s assertion that mimesis is an action, ‘a process’,

Lehmann, while acknowledging the traditional understanding of mimesis
also acknowledges that there are different interpretations: ‘Adorno’s idea of
mimesis – which he understands as a presymbolic, affective “becoming-
like-something” . . . rather than with mimesis in the narrow sense of imita-
tion’ (Lehmann 2006: 39). This is an important concession, for
‘becoming-like-something’ is also the process to which Michael Taussig
frames his theory of mimesis from a postcolonial perspective. He credits
mimesis as ‘. . . the magical power of replication, the image affecting what
it is an image of, wherein the representation shares in, or takes power from
the represented . . .’ (Taussig 1993: 8). Here Taussig defines mimesis
through performative replication, where power is taken and or shared. In
these contemporary interpretations the process of mimesis is an exchange
of power, a process where the copy changes or comments upon the original,
creating a confusion between both.
Taussig’s understanding of the process of power exchange through
mimesis is provided by examples between pre-technological and technolog-
ical cultures. However, Kathryn Rosenfeld uses gender to provide a clear
example of the power process of contemporary theories of mimesis. In her
discussion on drag kings she asserts they are ‘. . . socially “weak” but per-
formatively strong operatives . . .’ (Rosenfeld 2002: 206). She sees drag
‘kinging’ as taking on the representational trappings of maleness, in order
to explore alternative masculinities. ‘It may be that the general culture
offers more ways of being male than female. Yet drag king macho, when it
appears, tends to be more layered and nuanced than macho in the main-
stream’ (Rosenfeld 2002: 206). Consequently, through a mimetic act, drag
kings relocate the power of the centre to the margin. She argues ‘. . . in
such a performance, the copy “poses as” the original, in some ways
becomes it, but also not ceasing to be itself, remaining, in a case such as
the present one where the margin undertakes a mimetic performance of the
centre . . .’ (Rosenfeld 2002: 206–07).

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Digital mimesis 2 Digital mimesis,

How does a contemporary understanding of mimesis illuminate my two ques- although a term
already in publication,
tions? Especially when Taussig’s contemporary understanding of mimesis is has not been
explored through culture and Rosenfeld’s contemporary example of mimesis proposed as a
theoretical process
is explored through gender. What is needed is a theory of contemporary between live and
mimesis from an intermedial perspective, a theory that encompasses the mediatised
destabilisation of space, time and the performer’s identity, which causes the performance. Its
current use is to
destabilisation of original and copy in contemporary performance. And to do describe a process
that mimesis needs to be theorised through a technological paradigm. photographer Dieter
Huber employs in his
Therefore I propose the concept of digital mimesis,2 a contemporary digitally manipulated
interpretation of mimesis coupled with theories of digital technology, as a photographic works
potential contribution to discussions on intermediality in contemporary (Huber 2000). It also
describes a digital
performance. This concept incorporates both form and process, where the archive project created
digital is the form, and mimesis, the process. This theoretical coupling is by Willamette
University, (Anon
affirmed by Auslander’s assertion that the live and mediatised are not onto- 2005). The term also
logically dissimilar. Auslander attributes performativity to both and posits used to describe a
that their difference has been predicated on the potential of their use, which process in 3D printing
which is theoretically
is primarily an historical and contingent one (Auslander 1997: 3–4). closer to my
Ironically, Auslander notes that the digital, based upon binary technology, interpretation. And the
most recent
has the capacity to ‘. . . dismantle cultural binaries, including the distinction publication using the
between copy and original’ (Auslander 1999: 106). In this way the digital term digital mimesis
form, which as Auslander (1999) asserts has the capacity to dismantle copy concerns how
Spielberg in
and original, reinforces the process of mimesis, where there is an exchange collaboration with
of power that destabilises copy and original. Industrial Light and
Magic have created
The concept of digital mimesis assists in explaining what was happen- computer animations
ing to my perception when witnessing Hotel Pro Forma’s work – The of animals for Jurassic
Algebra of Place confused original space, original time and original identity. Park using motion
capture of real
The performance did this through digital mimetic process that exchanged animals. However,
power back and forth very quickly between the live performance and the this article does not
fully articulate a
mediatised. Accordingly, I propose a provisional definition of digital contemporary theory
mimesis as a process where space, time and the performer’s identity are simul- of the power exchange
taneously dispersed and coalesced in intermedial contemporary performance, of mimesis, but rather
the purely imitative,
destabilising the perception of the original and the copy. (Delliquanti 2006).
The words ‘simultaneously dispersed and coalesced’ in the definition
are included to describe the destabilising vibrations created by the interme-
dial form – a flirtation, perceived by the viewer, concerning the fluctuating
separation and unity of space, time and identity. Essentially, this provisional
definition of digital mimesis is an attempt to qualify the complex power
exchange between the media which alters perception. To some extent the
definition answers both of my questions and brings to my attention that
they are connected by causality. As such, it was the potentiality of the
unfixed space, time and the performer’s identity within The Algebra of Place
which destabilised my perception of original and copy.

Examples from The Algebra of Place

To clarify and expand this provisional definition of digital mimesis I’d like to
examine more closely the two examples provided earlier. Figure 1 illustrates

Hotel Pro Forma’s The Algebra of Place; destabilising the original and the copy . . . 177
PADM_3-(2-3)_08-FENTON 11/27/07 5:52 PM Page 178

3 Virillo frames the how space and time are fractured in this live and mediatised performance,
continual flux of space for performance cannot exist without space, whether it is real or virtual, and
and time in the virtual
similarly to the way space cannot be performed without time.3 However, in order to understand
David E.R. George how the performer’s identity is fractured it is necessary to acknowledge
explains the ambiguity
of space and time in Butler’s theory of performative identity. In Figure 1 the performer’s identity
live performance: ‘we is re-cited by the live body performing in juxtaposition to its mediatised
are seeing the identity. In this way Figure 1 is a somewhat literal moment of praxis in
beginnings of a
“generalized arrival” accord with Butler’s theory that identity is not fixed but continually recon-
whereby everything stituted through performative citation (Salih and Butler 2004).
arrives without having
to leave’ (Virillo 1997). Therefore Figure 1 affirms my concept of digital mimesis, where space,
As such, time in both time and the performer’s identity are dispersed and yet simultaneously flirt
the live and the virtual with potential coalescence. This is not a traditional performance of
is associated with the
performance of space, mimesis, one based upon imitation. Rather, it is an example of a contem-
in as much as both porary theory of mimesis, a process where ‘. . . the image affecting what it
are ambiguous and
doubled in intermedial is an image of, wherein the representation shares in, or takes power from
performance. the represented . . .’ (Taussig 1993: 8). In this example the live and media-
tised forms create an intermedial in-betweeness of perception for the audi-
ence. The performance literally confuses the space, the time and the
performer’s identity, provoking the question, `which is the original and
which the copy?’
So far Figure 1 limits the interaction of a live performer to a scale avatar,
but not all examples in The Algebra of Place were this clear. For instance, in
Figure 2 the live performer was placed in a digital field which did not
produce a mimetic imitation of her. Rather, a man was represented, whose
scale varied significantly. Could this be considered an example of digital
Figure 2 includes live and the mediatised forms, and as a consequence
space and time are fractured, yet once again with regard to the performer’s
identity this example is complex. The digital image in this example is
mimetic because it represents one or a combination of these three things,
‘actual reality, past or the present, (popular) conceptions of, or beliefs
about the world; or normative ideas of what the world “ought” to be . . .’
(Halliwell 1990: 11). Yet if the digital field is not mimetically specific to the
live performer how then does her identity fracture? Equally, how can a con-
temporary definition of mimesis, the power exchange between copy and
original, be applied in this example?
I propose that the key is the fracturing of space and time, that when a
live performer interacts with a clearly representational digital image a
translocation of identity occurs. This translocation of identity simply means
that the identity seems to be in several places at once (Giannachi 2004).
One place is the live performer in the corporeal world, the other is the per-
former located in the virtual, where her scale, proportions and even her
interaction with gravity can vary. This is of course an optical illusion.
Nevertheless, what it provides is a fracturing of the performer’s identity
because of the fracturing of space and time. Accordingly, the notion of
translocal identity in performance engages our contemporary understand-
ing of mimesis. A confusion of perception is created in the viewer through

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the mimetic exchange of power, where the copy changes or comments

upon the original. As such, I propose that space, time and identity can frac-
ture even if the digital representations are devoid of scale avatars, because
the identity continues to be translocal.

In conclusion
What then is similar and or different about these two examples? Figures 1
and 2 are similar in as much as they both provide an example of the frac-
turing of space and time because of the convergence of live and mediatised
performance. However, this is the minimum of my criteria for digital
Figure 1 advances the illustration of digital mimesis through its content,
which demonstrates a literal split of identity. Nevertheless, Figure 1 is
limited with regard to the destabilisation of the performer’s identity as it
does not provide a convincing translocation of identity by mimetically repre-
senting another space and time. Instead it provides an abstracted field of
light, rather than a representational one. The only mimetic quality we can
attribute to Figure 1 is the content, the performer’s literal split through the
mediatised image.
Whereas in contrast to Figure 1, Figure 2 demonstrates the fracturing of
space and time through other locations. And as such, it is the translocation
of the identity, appearing as it were in different space-times, which offers a
more convincing illustration of the concept of digital mimesis.
If digital mimesis can be succinctly defined as a process where space,
time and the performer’s identity are simultaneously dispersed and coalesced in
intermedial contemporary performance, destabilising the perception of the orig-
inal and the copy, how then do these examples collectively contribute to a
better understanding of the concept? Together they illustrate that once a
performer’s live performance converges with a mediatised performance,
their identity fractures because of their translocation in different space and
times. However, and more importantly, the examples affirm that both
aspects of the performance must be representational, that they must have a
mimetic relationship, but not strictly one governed by imitation. Rather, in
this case the mimetic replication must supersede a traditional imitative
understanding of mimesis, to embrace a contemporary understanding
which creates an altered perception of original and copy.
With this regard the concept of digital mimesis answers both of my initial
questions concerning the confusion of original and copy, and the perception
of time, space and the performer’s identity in The Algebra of Place. I contend
that there is a causal relationship between the two questions. And that
space, time and identity were in flux when I observed The Algebra of Place,
which led to my altered perception of copy and original. Consequently, the
concept of digital mimesis answers both questions, it is chiefly concerned
with unpacking what appears to be an ontological destabilisation of original
and copy between live and mediatised performance, where the fixity of the
original is challenged through intermediality. As such, I propose that since the
intermedial practice of Hotel Pro Forma is not uncommon in contemporary

Hotel Pro Forma’s The Algebra of Place; destabilising the original and the copy . . . 179
PADM_3-(2-3)_08-FENTON 11/27/07 5:52 PM Page 180

performance practice world wide, that digital mimesis may be a concept of

use for the analysis of other intermedial works which deliberately, or inadver-
tently, destabilise the ontology of the original.

Anon (2005), ‘The Digital Mimesis Project’, http://library.willamette.edu/
project/index.html. Accessed 30 February 2005.
Auslander, P. (1997), ‘Ontology vs. History: Making Distinctions between the Live
and the Mediatized’. The Conference Archives, http://webcast.gatech.edu/
papers/arch/Auslander.html. Accessed18 May 2005.
——— (1999), Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, London and New York:
Bakker, E.J. (1999), ‘Mimesis as Performance: reading Auerbach’s first chapter’.
Poetics Today, 20, (Spring): pp. 11–16.
Butler, J. (1990), Gender Trouble, London: Routledge.
Butler, J. and Scott, J. (1992), ‘Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the question
of “Postmodernism”’, in Feminist Theorize the Political, New York: Routledge,
pp. 3–19.
Carlson, M. (1996), ‘Resistant Performance’, in Goodman, L. and Gay, J. (eds,), The
Routledge Reader in Politics and Performance, London: Routledge.
Chapple, F. and Kattenbelt, C. (eds.) (2006), Intermediality in Theatre and
Performance, Amsterdam: International Federation of Theatre Research.
Dehlholm, K. (2005), ‘Information about Hotel Pro Forma’, http://www.
hotelproforma.dk/information/eng_index.html. Accessed 13 February 2005.
Delliquanti, D. (2006), ‘Commercialized Captivity: Theme Park Animal
Performances in Jurassic Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom’, http://modernmask.
org/film/Commercialized_Captivity.html. Accessed 20 January 2007.
Derrida, J. (1976), Of Grammatology, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Fortuna, R. (2006), The Algebra of Place, Hotel Pro Forma [Photograph].
Gattenhof, S.J. (2004), ‘Young People and Performance: the Impact of
Deterritorialisation on Contemporary Theatre for Young People’, PhD Thesis:
Queensland University of Technology.
George, D.E.R. (1996), ‘Performance Epistemology’, Performance Research, 1:
pp. 16–25.
Giannachi, G. (2004), Virtual Theatres an Introduction, New York: Routledge.
Halliwell, S. (1990), ‘Aristotelian mimesis re-evaluated’, in Cooper, D.E. (ed.),
Journal of History and Philosophy, 28: p. 11, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell
Huber, D. (2000), ‘Klone #92’, http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/mediaartnet/.
[Photograph] http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/artist/dieter-huber/biography/.
Accessed18 May 2005.
Lehmann, H.T. (2006), Postdramatic Theatre, London: Routledge.
Piem, N. (2005), ‘Spectral Bodies: Derrida and the Philosophy of the Photograph as
Historical Document’, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 39:1, pp. 67–84.
Read, A. (2004), ‘Say Performance: Some Suggestions Regarding Live Art’, in
Heathfield, A. (ed.), Live: Art and Performance, London: Tate.
Rosenfeld, K. (2002), ‘Drag King Magic: Performing/becoming the Other’, Journal of
Homosexuality, 43:3/4, pp. 201–219.

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Salih, S. and Butler, J. (eds.) (2004), The Judith Butler Reader, Victoria, Australia:
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Suggested citation
Fenton, D. (2007), ‘Hotel Pro Forma’s The Algebra of Place; destabilising the original
and the copy in intermedial contemporary performance’, International Journal
of Performance Arts and digital Media 3: 2&3, pp. 169–181, doi: 10.1386/

Contributor details
David Fenton is an Australian contemporary performance maker, theatre director
and academic. Currently, he is lecturer in Performance Studies at the Creative
Industries Faculty of Queensland University of Technology, where he completed his
Phd, ‘Unstable Acts’ – a practice-led investigation in Performance Innovation –
2007. David has been a freelance theatre director in Australia for seventeen years.
His theatre works have toured nationally and internationally. From 2000 – 2002
David was Festival Director for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival; and
from 1996 – 1999 he was Artistic Director of Riverina Theatre Company. Contact: 8
Moriac Street, Moorooka, Queensland, Australia 4105.
E-mail: d.fenton@qut.edu.au

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.183/1

Orienteering with double moss:

The cartographies of half/angel’s
The Knitting Map*
Deborah Barkun Millersville University of Pennsylvania
Jools Gilson-Ellis University College Cork

Abstract Keywords
This article analyses The Knitting Map, a large-scale, durational textile installa- performance
tion by the performance production company half/angel. It examines the ways digital media
in which technology was used in The Knitting Map to connect the weather and knitting
the levels of busyness in Cork City (Ireland) to a community of knitters, and a craft
year-long process of hand-knitting. The article focuses on processes of translation art
as a fundamental operation within this ambitious work; translation of digital women
data into knitting patterns, as well as technology into something familiar to a data
community of knitters. The article suggests that by contextualising The Knitting
Map’s digital technology, the processes and language of ‘knitting Cork’ became
dialogic across generations. The Knitting Map is then framed within a broader
history of radical textile projects, and community art works. The article closes
with an analysis of a year-long series of knitting performances by Jools Gilson-
Ellis, staged in public sites in Cork City and used as a performative strategy of
engaging participants both actually and symbolically in the project.

In half/angel’s project The Knitting Map, software was written to translate * half/angel: half/angel
information about how busy Cork City was, into knitting stitches, and what has been making
performance and
the weather was like, into wool colour. This information was uploaded to visual art work for
digital screens as a simple knitting pattern (knit this stitch in this colour), theatres, galleries and
outside spaces since
and volunteer knitters sat at twenty knitting stations in a wooden amphithe- 1995. The company
atre in the crypt of St. Luke’s Church and knitted. And they did this every works across
day for a year . . . disciplines and sites,
as well as across a
range of urban and
Jools: Introduction rural contexts. These
have included an
The Knitting Map was a large-scale, durational textile installation commis- urban dock, a rural
sioned by the executive of the European Capital of Culture: Cork 2005. As a headland, a university
completed textile sculpture, it has also been exhibited at the Millennium quadrangle and a
community of knitters.
Hall in Cork, Ireland (2006), and at the Ganser Gallery, Millersville We are interested in
University in Pennsylvania (2007). The project was always an audaciously how to take your
breath away. We have
ambitious one; half/angel 1 rehearsed for it by spending ten years making projected poetry onto
contemporary dance and installation works, which involved various falling rice; threaded

PADM 3 (2&3) pp. 183–195. © Intellect Ltd 2007. 183

PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 184

40,000 sewing
needles with red
thread and hung them
from a ceiling; we
have made air ghosts
for dancers to tangle
with in performance;
we’ve asked you to
take off your socks
and walk on grass
inside the gallery, and
we have dissolved
reveries in water for
you to find again.
1 Directed by Richard
Povall as well as Jools
Gilson-Ellis. All
software and digital
environments were
designed by Richard

Figure 1: The Knitting Map on exhibition in The Millenium Hall, Cork City,
June 2006.

motion-sensing digital technologies, and by honing a poetic sensibility that

aspired to ‘trick’ computers into being able to see the ache of emotion.
During this decade, our model of motion was the dancer’s body, or the body
of the individual gallery visitor. In The Knitting Map, we exchanged an indi-
vidual corpus (often a highly trained one), for the shifting turning energies of
a city. We monitored its movements, and its weather, and we knitted it.

184 Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis

PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 185

2 Richard looked at this

information over
many weeks, and
averaged the data, and
then programmed the
system to upload this
number to our central
processor every 5
minutes. He then
integrated the
information from the
four city centre
locations by collating
and averaging their
numbers again, to
give a single number
between 1 and 25 to
represent just how
busy the city was every
5 minutes. He then
did more averaging,
and the city’s level of
motion generated a
single number every
day. We made a
graduated list of
stitches from 1-25 that
Figure 2. Knitters knitting on The Knitting Map, Cork 2005. moved from simple to
complex, and we
mapped this onto the
levels of busyness
generated by the city.
We are translators. Our performance and installation practice had 3 His idea was to give a
always involved the translation of one gesture into another. I wanted a satel- sense of how a
lite to provide the data about how busy Cork city centre was, but no one particular day might
‘feel’ by mapping
would loan us one, and we couldn’t afford our own, so we settled for four combinations of
city centre CCTV cameras, and became signatories to promises to the information, in a
similar way that we
Gardai (the Irish police) that we wouldn’t publicly broadcast or display the apprehend a sense of
images we captured. Richard Povall was the only person to look directly a day when we step
through the eyes of these cameras, and he did so not to witness the events out into it.

they captured, but to use software to analyse just how much movement
was happening in front of their eyes. Through processes of averaging and
collating2 the data from these cameras, Richard programmed the system to
translate how busy the city was into one of 25 knitting stitches of equivalent
How do you knit the weather? In his design of the software used to
average copious amounts of data produced by our weather station,
Richard attempted to capture a sense of the phenomenal experience of the
elements. His programming combined a range of different data streams
including temperature, precipitation and wind speed, and scaled them to
produce a number between 1 and 26 for every day of the year.3 Our palette
of colours for the map were a muted range of mauves, blues, greens,
greys, creams, and other earth tones, (but no reds, oranges or yellows),
and we mapped these colours onto Richard’s 26 gradations of Cork
weather. So that every day our system generated a single stitch/colour

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PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 186

Figure 3. Knitters knitting on The Knitting Map, Cork 2005.

Knitting for a year

Before we open, whoever is on duty checks the knitting from the previous
day, picks up any dropped stitches, finishes any rows, and turns on all the
digital screens. If the weather has shifted the colour, then all the wool needs
to be changed and brought in baskets from our shelves of coloured wool,
and attached to the knitting. Someone is sent over to the corner shop to
pick up fresh scones for elevenses and bread for lunch. We open at 10 am
and in come the knitters sometimes in gangs, sometimes one at a time.
And alongside our regular knitters are visitors of all kinds, come to view the
installation, to see the wonder of a year of knitting beginning to emerge. We
leave whatever we are doing – knitting, or teaching to knit, or making tea to
welcome these visitors, and to explain the work, and what we are trying to
do. We always invite visitors to knit if they would like, to learn if they don’t
know how, and if not to take their time to watch our knitters at work.
We are translators. But our greatest interpretive challenge was not to do
with technology, but with opening the work in a profound way to a commu-
nity of knitters, mostly unfamiliar with the discourse of contemporary arts.
We worked hard to recruit and develop this community in the years prior to
2005, but a bigger challenge was explaining a complex conceptual art
project before it had begun. Many people thought it was going to be a literal
map of the city, and whilst this felt like anathema to us, it was a lesson in
the apprehension of contemporary art and technology projects for the un-
initiated. When knitters were finally welcomed into St. Luke’s, and sat down
in front of their screens, lifted their needles and began to knit (as more than
2000 volunteers did during 2005), they began to take possession of both
the space and the project, as well as their engagement with technology.
What was such a challenge to explain before its actuality became more
straightforward once it was materially present before us. Once we could see
it (and once it was seen to be beautiful) its participants came to understand
its nature as abstract cartography, as a simple and gorgeous abundance of
knitting, somehow connected to the city and its weather by themselves.

186 Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis

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Figure 4. The wooden amphitheatre/coptic circle in St. Luke’s Church, Cork

City, Ireland.

Caroline and Julia

Caroline rings the bell bang on 10 am, sometimes earlier. She and her col-
leagues from the Cope Foundation are regular knitters. Every Monday they
arrive with their hats and coats and bags and their big grins. In they come
and like good children hang up their coats before they come into the
kitchen to have their tea and scone. Julia comes on other days, a tiny gentle
earnest nun, who knits for a morning once a week. School teachers and
children, mums and aunts and grandmothers. Of course there are some
men, dads sometimes and brothers, but they are generally visitors from
overseas, or some other kind of novelty. Every interviewer who interviewed
us during several years of focus on The Knitting Map asked if men also
knitted, and of course they did. But this is hardly the point. The point of all
these questions was to rattle the intransigence around identity that culture
holds so dear, that’s why I so often talk of femininity rather than women.
But let’s not beat around the theoretical bush here: this was women’s work.
But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been otherwise. Indeed this
work is absolutely based on re-working meaning around femininity. Caroline
and Julia knew this in their own ways.
The interaction of these knitters with technology was a deceptively
subtle one. Whilst the pattern and the wool colour depicted on the knitters’
screens had the guise of an ordinary knitting pattern, this familiar code con-
cealed its origin in a digital system which captured the geographies of
weather and city busyness. The collective gesture of communal knitting was
one which gave cartographic authority to middle-aged women, and their

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PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 188

Figure 5. Jools Gilson-Ellis performing in Merchants’ Quay Shopping Centre,

Cork City, April 2004.
Copyright for all images belongs to half/angel.

language of care (which is what knitting mostly is). The Knitting Map
enabled the dynamics of community – both synchronous (a community
now together) and diachronous (over a calendar year – communities need
time to develop and sustain themselves) to engage directly with technology
through a process of knitting. Knitting in this project was clearly both a

188 Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis

PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 189

literal as well as a metaphorical labour. Most of the women regularly 4 Open Honeycomb
involved with The Knitting Map were unfamiliar with technology in any form, Cable (knitting pattern
where K = knit, and
and this was mostly generational. The Knitting Map installation space was P = purl):
made from elements familiar and essential to the generation of community. The pattern begins on
Knitters could choose to sit beside their friends, or meet new participants. the wrong side, so
It was easy to chat whilst knitting. There were regular breaks for scones and work 1 row knit before
starting. Row 1: K2,
tea and a sandwich at lunch time. The actual physical use of technology p8, k2; rep to end.
whilst knitting was relatively minimal – a screen, on which was displayed Row 2: P2, C4B (slip
next 2 sts onto cable
the generated stitch/colour, and an easy alternative for beginners, or those needle and hold at
with learning difficulties. But the technology that generated these stitches back of work, k2, k2
was inherent in these knitting patterns, and the fusion of the ordinary and from cable needle)
C4F (slip next 2 sts
the extraordinary was part of its power. These women were knitting the onto cable needle and
weather through their use of yarn colour; the normality of choosing one’s hold at front of work,
k2, k2 from cable
own wool colour was given up in favour of an openness to what the wide needle), p2; rep to
and close skies of a year of weather might bring. Such a communal gesture end. Row 3: As 1st
brought frosts and floods, and heat into the domestic and ordinary act of Row 4: P2, k8, p2; rep
to end. Row 5: As 1st.
knitting. It opened its close, domestic and feminine associations to the Row 6: As 4th. Row 7:
literal and metaphorical sky. It allowed the mathematical complexity of knit- As 1st. Row 8: As 4th.
These 8 rows form
ting difficult stitches to be brought into proximity to a frantic city, clogged pattern. Repeat’
with traffic and queues, and crowded streets. In keeping track of shifting (Matthews 1984: 63).
numerical combinations to produce (for example), an open honeycomb 5 St. Luke’s church is on
cable4 these women re-worked the actual digital information about busy- a hill overlooking Cork
ness being sent up to them from the city,5 and they did so, by integrating
this data with their hands (their digits) in processes of communal hand
knitting. The Knitting Map allowed the prevailing cultural peripherality of
middle-aged women to make a collectively original and beautiful thing and
in doing so re-mapped their own apparently tangential geography.

Deborah: poetry in translation

To communicate The Knitting Map’s poetic and conceptual premises,
half/angel first addressed a dilemma of language: how to effectively trans-
late digital displays that correspond to stitches and colours to participants
unfamiliar with the aesthetics, technology, and vocabulary of contemporary
art. Indeed, producing a technologically mediated conceptual portrait of
Cork required trust in and comfort with the technology integral to the
project. Ultimately, to create an environment conducive to knitting, the
technology that collected, collated, and transmitted data itself needed an
interpretive apparatus to be comprehensible. Towards this end, half/angel
translated their technology into familiar and purposeful forms and materi-
als, thus mitigating feelings of intimidation that technology so often engen-
ders. In effect, half/angel gently introduced digital technology to The
Knitting Map’s largely Irish, middle-aged, female participants by enfolding it
in wood and wool. Povall and Enrika Bertolini Cullen outfitted the crypt of
St. Luke’s Church, in which The Knitting Map was headquartered, to facili-
tate the translation of urban milieu to stitch and colour. The crypt was faced
in wood, emphasising architectural contours and encasing the monitors in
digital ‘pulpits’, each one its own quiet yet industrious mode of address.

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6 Double moss was one Seated at these digital knitting stations, below a bank of Romanesque
of the knitting stitches arched windows, the twenty knitters resembled a choir, voices materialised
used regularly in the
map – it was placed in rivulets of knitted wool, spilling over a wooden embankment and
towards the quiet end merging at a confluence of expanding colour, pattern and texture.
on the levels of city
busyness. half/angel conceived The Knitting Map as a secular project that wedded
technology with handwork, blurring the boundaries between masculine and
feminine, labour and leisure, art and craft. Yet, for so many of the partici-
pants, themselves practicing Catholics, the crypt of St. Luke’s implied the
communal experience of worship. Cullen, a devout Catholic, labelled the
design of the knitting stations a ‘coptic circle’ for its visual affinities to a
Coptic cross (McCarthy 2005: 36–38). Regardless of the participants’ reli-
gious convictions, these contours transformed the wired and cavernous
space into a place of intimacy, in which knitting became a communal expe-
rience. By effectively contextualising The Knitting Map’s digital technology,
the very processes and language of ‘knitting Cork’ becomes dialogic across
generations. Here, digital media is rendered meaningful to participants pre-
viously unfamiliar with its codes. Likewise, knitting, a traditional art form, is
passed to young participants, more conversant with technology than textile.
Here, half/angel deploys digital media in the service of art to perform poetry
in translation.

Jools: voicing interpretation

Our knitters then became translators. We encouraged our regulars to take
part in the process of welcoming visitors – getting them knitting if they so
wished, and teaching them if they needed it. This process was one in
which women who often had absolutely no experience of digital
processes, were explaining a conceptual digital art work to visitors of all
kinds, from families to international arts practitioners. Sometimes I
eavesdropped these explanations from the back room. These were not the
perfect presentations of the gallerist or the city guide, but were an owned
articulation of what was happening. This was much easier to do once the
map itself had begun to appear. Once I heard it explained that the knitted
cables were the traffic, and the double moss6 the people; a scenario in
which our software (which only sees movement) was able to distinguish
between the kinds of motion generated by pedestrians and by traffic. All
translations have their stumbles – ours had similarly been a process of
partial translation. Each of us told different stories about how the map
was made, how it worked, and what it might become. In these spoken nar-
ratives, such acts of translation came to be lodged corporeally in the
bodies of these women who had knitted and chatted their way into voicing

This essay is a duet between the Director of half/angel Jools Gilson-Ellis,
and the art historian Deborah Barkun. We are orienteering, using The
Knitting Map as compass as well as map. We are hunting for curious
stitches in the millions before us; we fly skywards and gasp at the topography;

190 Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis

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we sweep sideways and see the map from a different perspective – there it
is amongst so many other collaborative art works, and there it is again, this
time amongst the traditions of Textile Art. Finally we sit down exhausted,
and wonder at how ordinary geographies are made extraordinary by such an
object; how the exhibition in the Ganser Gallery reverberates between rural
textile communities in two countries. And finally we stay very quiet, and
watch as one community takes the pulse of another as silent figures take
time to witness the pleated complexity of billions of stitches; a complexity
brought together to make a single thing.

Deborah: the map at Millersville

In March 2007 Millersville University welcomed half/angel’s The Knitting
Map to the Ganser Gallery. As a region steeped in a rich history of fibre arts,
Central Pennsylvania was an especially appropriate site for The Knitting
Map’s US debut. Like the quilt, a textile inseparable from Central
Pennsylvania history, The Knitting Map evokes a cultural moment in Cork,
Ireland that led to the city’s selection, in 2005, as the European Capital of
Culture. When faculty and staff in the Art Department at Millersville
University were introduced to The Knitting Map, they felt an immediate
affinity for Cork residents’ desires to ‘fabricate’ their experience of place.
The understanding of place, affected by colour, climate and community,
is intimately connected to one’s relationship to and traversal of space.
Indeed, one’s visual and social landscape transforms identity. Likewise,
people shape place, suffusing streets and architecture with vitality and char-
acter. By translating traffic flow and weather patterns into representative
stitches and colours, more than two thousand volunteer knitters generated
a conceptual topography as diverse as Cork’s nearly half-million residents
and their respective relationships to the urban fabric.
Knitting can be solitary or communal, mindless or contemplative, visual
or tactile. For the knitter, the intricate choreography of needles and yarn can
yield both text and textile. Whether a stitch takes the form of a simple garter
or a complex cable, its calligraphic lines can be read in tones amplified or
hushed. Thus, the language of knitting is a shared language. Like quilting
bees, ‘knit-ins’ and knitting guilds provide instruction, community, and con-
versation. In 2005, in Cork, half/angel coordinated a rotating group of knit-
ters who congregated around their knitting stations in the crypt of St.
Luke’s Church, Summerhill, chronicling city traffic and weather according
to computer-generated patterns. In practice, this communal activity encour-
aged mutual exchange and united disparate individuals in a collaborative
fabric and collective yarn. The Knitting Map’s vast scale attests to this mul-
tiplicity of voices. The result is a panorama that uniquely captures a city and
its community.
When four large wooden chests containing The Knitting Map arrived in
the Art Department, the scent of cedar, a fragrance that evokes anticipation
and nostalgia, filled the air. Like scent, textiles and needlework can trigger
associations and memories. Memory quilts, friendship quilts and mourning
quilts, such as the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt, parts of which were exhibited

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at Millersville University in November 2006, typically incorporate meaning-

ful scraps of cloth, while handwork may aid the quilter in the ritualised work
of memory, chronology, or grief. Cultural historian and critic Marita Sturken
has noted the significance of quilting for women as a means of fabricating
cultural memories from which they were formally excluded (Sturken 1997:
193). Similarly, art historian Rozsika Parker has written about the traditional
role of needlework for women in performing the work of mourning.
According to Parker, the ‘time taken to complete a memorial sampler or
picture allowed a period of mourning, and possible acceptance of separa-
tion and loss’ (Parker 1984: 38). Like quilting and embroidery, the art of
knitting may function as a treasured heirloom handed down to friends and
family. By blanketing their environments, works like The Knitting Map and
the AIDS Quilt evince the power of collaboration to produce objects of
security, solace and comfort. Intertwined in The Knitting Map’s complex
fibres are the received traditions of past generations. Like textile generally,
knitting has the ability to transmit to future generations the experience of a
unique time and place. The influence of this may be seen in the adaptation
of knitting and crocheting as a contemporary art medium. Rosemarie
Trockel’s ‘knitted paintings’, Oliver Herring’s sculpture, knitted from wool,
tape and mylar, and the mixed media installations of Xenobia Bailey exem-
plify the move by contemporary artists to embrace and re-articulate textile
art forms. Recent exhibitions such as ‘Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting’
at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York attest to the contemporary
use of fibre and textile arts to challenge conventional understandings of
issues such as globalisation, gender, ethnicity and environmentalism. As
contemporary artists devise ways to translate their memories of traditional
needlework into an innovative visual language, they add to the ongoing
project of memory. The Knitting Map stands as a crucial, collaborative
example of this.
When exhibited, The Knitting Map’s orientation varies according to the
site in which it is installed. As The Knitting Map draped and flowed over and
through the space of Millersville University’s Ganser Gallery it achieved a
unique confluence of two places normally separated by distance and
national boundaries.
Transporting a conceptual and dialogic work such as this from one cul-
tural, national, and geographic context to another is not without its own
translational challenges. To be sure, the dialectical intricacies of our shared
language must themselves be knit together to be readable. Similarly, prior
to The Knitting Map’s formal and physical inception, half/angel had to make
the concept of the nascent project decipherable to Cork’s residents. They
did so through a series of introductory knitting performances, which in
their own way, engaged in a process of mapping the city with knitting
through a rigorous engagement with pubic space. These early perfor-
mances read the activity of knitting with and against notions of alchemy
and feminised labour, thereby demonstrating how The Knitting Map endeav-
ours to transform the private and disenfranchised into the public and

192 Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis

PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 193

Jools: the pleasurable trespass 7 See fr example,

The Knitting Map was one of the cornerstone projects of Cork’s year as Freddie Robins’ 2002
work ‘Craft Kills’
European Capital of Culture during 2005. It was one of the first projects to illustrated in the
be commissioned by the Cork 2005 Executive (in mid 2003) and half/angel catalogue for Cosy
(Robins 2002). And
began work in earnest in the autumn of that year. During 2004, the see some of the textile
company held monthly performance/knitting events which gave us a public texts written for the
presence even before the 2005 year. These performances took place in dif- 1997 CD-ROM
mouthplace, for
ferent public sites within Cork city. They gave us our trespasses, as I example: ‘In war, the
climbed onto tables of sweaters in Blarney Woollen Mills; asked for help to women would
embroider the faces of
be lifted into one of the high stained glass window alcoves in the Crawford their captors slowly
Gallery; as I knitted perched on a rubbish bin in Merchant’s Quay shopping closed. Although they
centre. This was work about irreverent trespassing, about insisting city selected colours that
befit the time of year,
space as a space for ideas. It was also work about invigorating the urban and spent time on
and the public sphere with a discourse of revolutionary femininity. Knitting their designs, their silk
would clot into a sewn
was both the metaphor and the material for these performances. frieze of black red.
Knitting was my attendant wickedry as I persuaded, and cajoled and These bodies were
teased and sang my way through a year of performances. Knitting was my sent back across the
border, strapped to
weapon, as well as my clothing. Knitting was a slipping metaphor, just as I floating biers’.
slipped sometimes, on stairs and streets, on the back of motorbikes, or into (Gilson-Ellis and
Povall 1997).
passers by. Knitting also slipped between tenors. I was knitting meaning.
For some of those who witnessed these events, I was a strange knitting 8 See Sadie Plant’s
Zeroes and Ones, for
comedian, who could persuade the unpersuadeable to join me in my a discussion of the
games of performance. To others, I was an alchemist of an altogether dif- relationship between
femininity, technology
ferent kind. To those, I knitted beyond but also because of the immediate. and textiles (Plant
In my very present tenseness, time slipped sideways. In such moments of 1997).
connection, knitting became refracted and meaning multiplied. I was a har-
ridan exploring how textiles might be other than passive, gentle and domes-
tic. I wielded my knitting needles like swords, and funny as this might have
been, it belied the serious labour of re-working metaphors of femininity.7 If
we play assuredly and irreverently with such metaphors, femininity might
be twinklingly unleashed. Such an unleashing is linguistic, visual, corporeal
and temporal: It is a pleasurable trespass.
All of this was a prelude then, to our year of knitting. This was our per-
formative invitation to partake of a communal knitted sorcery. Such a call to
knitting was of course, a recruitment drive as well as a way to have a pres-
ence in the public imagination, but it was also, importantly, an incitement
to wonder about the meanings of knitting, community and femininity. As I
played with meaning in a year of performances, so I hoped to model imagi-
native pathways in my audiences. I wanted to stretch and turn this associa-
tion of femininity and knitting. I wanted to do this, not because of knitting,
but because of the ways in which the processes of care, gift-giving, mathe-
matical complexity, and chat are marked by the ways in which women have
knitted in their homes as an act of familial and community cohesion.
Knitting is a domestic feminine trope whose mechanics and operation I
want to celebrate, but also radically re-work. Knitting complex cables
requires a mathematical dexterity that astounds me. Its models of pattern-
ing are similar to early computer programming.8 It develops extraordinary

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PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 194

complexity from the combination of two stitches, just as digital information

is only ever a combination of zeroes and ones. Such a skill, unfortunately,
also remains redolent of feminine cultural disenfranchisement. It is hard
work for our cultural, social and political imaginations to give value to the
private, domestic, maternal and feminine. It is this resistance to value that
is the territory of this work.
The Knitting Map is a strange and compelling cartography. It maps a city
by using the labour of the disenfranchised. It brought the digitally innocent
into daily contact with a speculative technology, that they were able to call
their own. It mapped time by locating private activity as both participatory
event, and installed performance. The Knitting Map is a cartography of care;
its folds and turns hold all kinds of ghosts. Here they are shifting and
turning before you. And if you chase them, they will play at obedience, and
then laugh and run giggling into fields of knitting.

Gilson-Ellis, Jools and Richard Povall (1997), mouthplace (CD-ROM), Hanover, NH:
Frog Peak Music.
Matthews, Anne (1984), Vogue Dictionary of Knitting Stitches, London: David &
McCarthy, Kieran (2005), Voices of Cork: The Knitting Map Speaks, Dublin: Nonesuch
Parker, Rozsika (1984), The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the
Feminine, London: The Women’s Press.
Plant, Sadie (1997), Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture,
London: Fourth Estate.
Robins, Freddie (2002), Cosy (catalogue), Colchester: Firstsite.
Sturken, Marita (1997), Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The AIDS Epidemic, and
the Politics of Remembering, California: University of California Press.

Suggested citation
Barkun, D. & Gilson-Ellis, J. (2007), ‘Orienteering with double moss: The cartogra-
phies of half/angel’s The Knitting Map’, International Journal of Performance Arts
and digital Media 3: 2&3, pp. 183–195, doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.183/1

Contributor details
Deborah Barkun is an Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History
at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. She holds a B.F.A. from Carnegie-Mellon
University in printmaking and an M.A. and Ph.D. in History of Art from Bryn Mawr
College. She is the recipient of a series of research and teaching awards including a
Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities (2004 – 2005). She has presented papers at
Vanderbilt University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of
Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia Art Alliance. Her essay “Four-letter Words: LOVE and
AIDS in the Age of Appropriation and Proliferation” will appear in the forthcoming
Eros and Ambiguity: Essays on Love throughout the Ages. She is currently working on a
book entitled Art, AIDS, and Collective Identity: The Collaborative Body of General
Idea. Contact: Deborah Barkun, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Art History,
Department of Art, Millersville University of Pennsylvania , Pennsylvania, USA.
E-mail: deborah.barkun@millersville.edu

194 Deborah Barkun and Jools Gilson-Ellis

PADM_3-(2-3)_09-BARKUN 11/27/07 5:54 PM Page 195

Jools Gilson-Ellis is a choreographer, poet, performer and installation artist. She is

the Director of the performance production company half/angel and Lecturer in
English at University College Cork. Her work has been performed and exhibited
internationally, and she has received bursaries and awards from the Arts Council of
Ireland, Arts Council of England, RESCEN (Centre for Research into Creation in the
Performing Arts), the Ésmee Fairbairn Foundation and others. Her work has been
co-produced by the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada) and the Institute of
Choreography and Dance (Ireland). Jools holds a PhD in Theatre & Performance
Studies from the University of Surrey, and has taught performance internationally.
She publishes in the fields of feminist theory and performance studies. Contact:
Jools Gilson-Ellis, Ph.D., Director of half/angel & Lecturer in English, Department of
English, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
E-mail: jools@halfangel.ie

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.197/1

The warfare of the imagined – building

identities in Second Life
Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart SMARTlab, University of
East London

Abstract Keywords
Much has already been written about the potential of Second Life as a virtual Second Life
space, but this paper examines the tensions created by its disparate population, virtual world
one which has that has grown with incredible swiftness. By examining the game studies
history of protest in the game, from large scale events to individuals who have protest
publicly left the game, a fundamental difficulty is unearthed. This is the dishar- online communities
monious nature of a world where residents are told that they are the producers,
rather than the customers. The virtual freedom of action granted to residents
within Second Life clashes with the real producers of the worlds, Linden Labs.
As the population has grown, this has led to increasing media attention, forcing
Linden to take steps contrary to its own ethos, and threatening the already
unstable communities within the virtual world.


[A nation] is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inher-

ently limited and sovereign.
[A community] is imagined because the members of even the smallest
nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even
hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.
(Anderson 2006: 6)

In considering the status of ‘play’ in online performance, it is important to

note that many members of the online gaming community choose to engage
with other players by ‘presenting’ in the form of avatars, and often multiple
avatars, that are empowered with all manner of characteristics that the people
themselves many not have. This extends beyond the rather linear view that
many people outside virtual worlds may have of stereotyped avatars with rip-
pling muscles and slender figures. Increasingly, as players are able to alter
their appearance in accordance with their own wishes, this can include a huge
variety of embodied presences within games, which are then commanded by
players who may be of any gender, shape or physical ability. So if play is the
thing, the place for play is, increasingly, online. The politics of performance are
equally relevant to, but take different shapes in, the spaces of online theatres.

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PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 198

The potential of games to reflect this is something which I have already

investigated at the Women in Games conference of 2007, but is something
which finds particular form in a world like Second Life, where the players
can appear as anything, and potentially express anything within the con-
fines of the game. It is this latter conflict that this paper investigates.
At the time of writing (17 May 2007), Second Life (SL) had over 6 million
residents. Of these, 33,350 were online, although only 1.7 million were
recorded as having been active in the last 60 days. Over $1.mill had
changed hands within the world in the previous 24 hours. The world was
feted throughout international media for drawing in big companies such as
Reuters, Adidas and IBM; numerous suppositions about its mercantile
potential had spawned sub-industries such as companies dedicated to pro-
viding business plans and market research from inside Second Life, and
over 127 universities owned spaces within the world.
Second Life’s population explosion is the cause of tremendous disaf-
fection in an already violently shifting community. At the root of this is a
common problem to virtual world – and perhaps a symptom of humanity
itself – its inability to decide on how to control that world, what form this
control should take, and where the power lies between users and cre-
ators. These issues cause huge tension between the active residents,
especially through the formation of unstable communities struggling to
create, often literally, their identities in this world. I intend to examine this
through the development of personal identity within the world, the
history of protest in the game, and culminating with the departure of
various well-known SL residents and a series of moral panics and
protests that mushroomed in May 2007. Benedict Anderson’s Imagined
Communities (1983/2006), on the formation and dangers of creating com-
munities, is key to understanding these frictions, reflecting the difficulties
of creating such a world This friction also arises through the implementa-
tion (or not) of a governmental system where residents are encouraged to
regard themselves as producers, yet is run through exterior mechanisms
as a corporate state.
It seems somewhat ironic to justify the actions of the Second Life popu-
lation in terms of digital performance. The fact is however, that in many
ways their existence within this world is entirely a digital performance. All of
their actions are premeditated; performed through their avatars by users on
the other side of the screen. Avatars are designed, dressed and activated
originally by their owners – their outward show may be purchased from
designers within the world, but it is unique and individual. For many, it is
this personal representation that gives Second Life such meaning – the
ability to reinvent and roleplay oneself as ‘other’ – to perform or act differ-
ent (or the same) as one might in the real world. Second Life allows the
player to user themselves, and it is this action that means that much of the
behaviour that can be seen within the world is a result of acted out per-
sonas. The actions of protest documented within this article all detail
extremely stagy performances, some requiring considerable organisation
and co-ordination. In this respect they are an extreme, but intensely

198 Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart

PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 199

pertinent case-study of ‘outward show’ within virtual worlds, demonstrating 1 Residents in Second
how these can be turned into performance/protest sites for different ends. Life can use areas
called ‘sandboxes’,
which allow them to
Identity and place use ‘primitives’ or
‘prims’ (the name for
the building blocks of
Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the world) to create
the style in which they are imagined. objects such as
buildings, clothes,
(Anderson 2006: 6) machines, art
installations and new
In Second Life you can create anything you can imagine with powerful, highly
flexible building tools, using geometric primitives and a simple, intuitive inter-
face. Building is easy to learn, yet robust enough to inspire your creativity.
And once you’ve built something, you can easily begin selling it to other
residents, because you control the IP Rights of your creations.
What if you want something but don’t quite have the time or skills to
make it? Just do a quick search to find and buy what you want.
(Linden Labs 2007a)

A core aspect of Second Life involves forming ones identity within the social
space available. Residents can look like almost anything that can be
designed from the sandbox development tools,1 from a floating brain to a
Napoleonic soldier, but transforming ones default figure into an original
masterpiece (or masterpieces, since residents can change appearance at
will) of sculpted pixels is not easy. One of the largest industries within the
game revolves around creating a virtual self, with designers selling clothes,
accessories, and body parts from hair to genitals to foxtails. Given that the
user is represented to others through their manufactured embodiment,
there is an emphasis on looking good; an aspect which gains kudos within

I stumbled into a place called ‘Shemale Gardens’ where a notecard appeared

in front of me titled, “No Lame Cock Zone!” The card warned that anyone dis-
playing their ‘stupid Q-tip freebie cock’ would be ejected. Then I saw a giant
sign that had a picture of my very cock in a red circle with a red bar across it.
(Trilling 2007)

Here, identity is granted when effort has been put into appearance (the
author needs to find a penis that is not the popular version he has been
given!). And since, like all communities, first impressions count, the ability
of Second Life to make an avatar look like anything is vitally important.
Conformity is inherent within this formation; to fit in with a community, res-
idents must dress the part. At the same time, the demands for specific
appearances – only the right type of penis is allowed into the area above –
are specific to a type of community which may not exist elsewhere in the
game. Since walking naked into a casino or educational classroom is not
socially acceptable, whereas in ‘Shemale Gardens’ it appears to be manda-
tory, this causes a natural segregation of SL into disparate communities.

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PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 200

2 Second Life is not only Anarchy in the . . .

not a game (although Despite, or perhaps because it is a social space built solely for leisure pur-
one can play many
games within it), but poses, Second Life is one of the least homogenous communities online.
in terms of Game Unlike many online spaces, which have immediately apparent themes or
Studies, it cannot also
be viably called an objectives, Second Life is not a game; it is a virtual space which I have pre-
online world, since viously somewhat blithely described as ‘MSN with legs’ (MacCallum-
this term has a Stewart and Parsler: 2006).2 The primary objective, if it can be counted as
specific meaning that
involves a shared such, within the world is socialisation, although other factors are also at
mythos, worldspace play. Therefore locating oneself within this place is more difficult than say, a
and ideology;
something which Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game, where the objective is to
definitely does not fulfil the criteria of the game itself (quests, levelling, etc.), or a themed cha-
exist cohesively within troom where participants discuss like-minded subjects. New entrants to
SL. In
acknowledgement of Second Life are unceremoniously deposited on ‘Orientation Island’ upon
this I have deliberately arrival, and must therefore seek out the communities they wish to associate
used the term
‘resident’, rather than themselves with. As the population has grown, this has become more
‘player’ throughout difficult.
the paper. This is the The main facets of Second Life are socialisation through education,
term give to members
of SL by Linden Labs. leisure, sexual activity and other activities ranging from balloon rides to
However, I have found roleplaying events to shopping for a new body. All of these activities are
that the term ‘social
space’ is too clumsy facilitated and maintained by residents. Again these vary hugely; boat races,
to continuously music concerts, universities and sex clubs all jostle for place within the
substitute for ‘world’, world. Second Life has many micro communities, but it does not have a cen-
and so, for want of a
better term, have let tralised one; indeed Linden pride themselves in allowing residents to main-
this remain. tain the copyright on their own creations, using the ubiquitous claim that
3 Linden retains the ‘Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents’
right to remove (Linden Labs: 2007b) to sanction most activity within the worldspace.
content under End
User License Counterpoising this is the End User Licence Agreement, but like many
Agreement clause online worlds, the rules as to how people should behave are nebulous.
‘User Content 5.1.v.
Content as Linden ultimately have control over content, largely through their statement
determined by Linden in the EULA that they have the right to withdraw anything they wish and
at its sole discretion that they do not tolerate unacceptable content.3 The developers also ask
that is harmful,
threatening, abusive, residents to abide by ‘The Big Six’,4 but all of these caveats are something
harassing, causes tort, of a moveable feast, as we shall see.
defamatory, vulgar,
obscene, libellous, The most important differentiation between these two aspects is the
invasive of another’s separation of ‘in-world’, where there is no dominant state, there are no
privacy, hateful, authoritative police or law courts with authority, and the all-encompassing
racially, ethnically or
otherwise resolution of the EULA, which residents agree to be bound by but which
objectionable’. largely governs their entry into the world as users rather than the residents
(Linden Labs 2004).
By 2007 this had been they then become. Crucially, Linden Labs tries to absolve itself of practices
changed to ‘5.3 All within the world by users, by allowing them to create the content
data on Linden Lab’s (Indecency, for example, is largely in the eye of the beholder, especially in a
servers are subject to
deletion, alteration or leisure world where much of the activity is sexual in nature). Thus, there are
transfer. no concrete rules within the game of how people should behave – this is
When using the almost entirely down to social agency.
Service, you may This lack of specific behavioural guidelines is an aspect of online worlds
accumulate Content,
Currency, objects, that is problematic; when rules of behaviour are not established, conflict
items, scripts, arises (MacCallum-Stewart and Parsler 2007, 2008). Whilst this is not

200 Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart

PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 201

something that can be resolved – humans are, after all, individuals – it is equipment, or other
not always recognised by players (or in this case) residents, who not only value or status
indicators that reside
wish to be integrated into society, but also want others to conform in order as data on Linden
to reinforce their own sense of belonging. There is a fundamental confusion Lab’s servers. These
data, and any other
between the rules of content, and the rules of behaviour, with residents/ data, account history
players often (wrongly) expecting content managers to supply them with and account names
answers. Thus, Second Life is an anarchistic state in which most people residing on linden
lab’s servers, may be
crave utopia, and because everyone’s utopian ideals are different, there can deleted, altered,
be no accord. moved or transferred
at any time for any
Castronova identifies this in his discussion of online world states when reason in Linden Lab’s
he argues that the enforced absence of authority means governmental sole discretion.
systems set up by players/residents have no impact (Castronova 2005a: You acknowledge that,
213–218). He argues that ‘while in principle governments could exist in syn- notwithstanding any
copyright or other
thetic worlds, in practise they do not’, since there is a fundamental clash rights you may have
between ‘government’ as coding authority and players/residents as ‘cus- with respect to items
tomers’ (213). The perception that the designers have divine authority (End you create using the
service, and
User License Agreements, the ability to change the world) prevents players notwithstanding any
from ever successfully establishing their own governmental systems as ulti- value attributed to
such content or other
mately their actions will have no agency over the design and implementa- data by you or any
tion of the world. If you buy into a world, you cannot therefore be its ruler. third party, linden lab
The result is therefore an anarchistic state where players are often pro- does not provide or
guarantee, and
foundly unhappy with their lot, but have little ability to change it. This can expressly disclaims
be seen through the rise of protests such as Cristiano N. Diaz’s Project (subject to any
underlying intellectual
Open Letter, which calls for Linden Labs to address the problems caused by property rights in the
population growth and an overburdened server (Diaz 2007). His requests content), any value,
include moves to address such concerns as items lost from personal inven- cash or otherwise,
attributed to any data
tories, to the instability of the server ‘grid’ itself. In this respect, Diaz’s residing on Linden
grassroots organisation echoes similar protests in other online worlds – Lab’s servers.
from the infamous Ultima Online strike in 1999, to The Gnome Tea Party You understand and
(Foton 2005a, b), to early protests in Second Life such as the War of the agree that Linden Lab
has the right, but not
Jessie Wall (see below), but they all exhibit a profound tension between user the obligation, to
and producer. It is to these protests that I shall now turn. remove any content
(including your
content) in whole or
Protest within in part at any time for
any reason or no
reason, with or
. . . the nature of these political events and their replication under different without notice and
circumstances in different worlds suggests that they reveal something funda- with no liability of any
kind (Linden Labs
mental. Running a virtual world is a service, as we are often reminded, but it 2007c).
is more than running a BBS or a shopping mall or an amusement. There’s a
4 The Big Six are
nascent politics. There’s policy. There’s speech and assembly. There’s terror Intolerance,
and reaction. If destroying the world and banishing people are not terror and Harassment, Assault,
Disclosure, Indecency
reaction, respectively, I don’t know what would be. and Disturbing the
(Castronova 2005b) Peace. For more
information see
Linden’s ‘Community
Anderson’s Imagined Communities argues that shared identities create a Standards’ page
sense, if not an embodiment of nationalism. In virtual worlds, his writing (2007d).
not only seems to apply in a literal manner, but is directly pertinent to the

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PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 202

ways in which people use online spaces to negotiate their identities through
the expression of protest and dissolution. Whilst protests within Second Life
are numerous and varied, they all reach towards what Anderson finds so
distressing in the formulation of nationalism – aggressive attempts to
promote homogeneity within the community.
As the world grows, so does the discontent with its perceived lack of homo-
geneity. In online gaming, this can often be witnessed by players flaming or
grieving each other for not roleplaying or otherwise playing the game ‘incor-
rectly’. In virtual worlds, where the ludic does not exist so strongly, there is no
set way in which to ‘play’ (Caillois 1962). In virtual worlds, the identity of the
resident is far more strongly tied into the identity of the user. Thus protest has
far more personal nuances. These often relate to real life concerns which are
expressed through avatars, or demonstrate a discontent with the tension out-
lined previously between game designer and frustrated customer. Most impor-
tantly, however, as the community has grown, protest has moved from
in-game squabbles, to real world ethical concerns which in many ways have
little to do with the virtual world, and more to do with ethics in real life.
The first real conflict in Second Life is characteristic of this tension,
expressing discontent with colonisation. In 2003, ‘The War over Jessie Wall’
broke out after a group of WWII Online (WWIIOLers) gaming enthusiasts
moved into SL’s Outlands area (Au 2003a/b, Carr and Pond 2007: 79–82).
Previously, Second Life had had little gun culture, although the Outlands
was a place where combat was allowed. Almost immediately a Mexican
Standoff developed. Pacifist posters and confederate flags were plastered
all over the Jessie Wall area behind which the WWIIOLers had been moved,
and the residents both inside and outside began to shoot and ‘kill’ each
other. The WWIIOlers were criticised for bringing aggressive elements into
Second Life at a time where the Gulf War was reaching its initial apex, the
WWIIOLers responded by asking why they had not been welcomed for
adding significant numbers to the community as a whole, and the place
became ‘a battleground where people with differing opinions about the real
life war antagonized one another’ (Carr and Pond 2007: 81–82).
The protest is symptomatic of a disrupted community as it demon-
strates several things. The emergence of substantially greater gun culture in
Second Life, was counterpoised by the existing residents on both sides who
felt that the WWIIOlers were ‘poaching’ their territory, including existing
Outlands residents who felt that the WWIIOlers were intruding on their
space. The WWIIOlers highlighted an obvious intrusion of violence into an
allegedly peaceful world. They brought a far more serious series of issues to
bear on the flippancy of the Outlands (which had a rather baroque Wild
West Outpost atmosphere), including the identification with the ongoing
Gulf War. At the same time, their actions were perceived as an aggressive
act of colonisation since they represented a significant population increase
in a minority area. All of these latter aspects render the arguments over
guns and violence redundant – in fact this was a classic territory dispute.
The intrusion of real life (Gulf War) into a virtual one also destabilised the
community, forcing it to recognise its ‘false’ roots.

202 Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart

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Small fish, bigger pond 5 SomethingAwful.com

In 2006/2007, several ‘well known’ residents of the game publicly left the is a site dedicated to
highlighting the worse
game and made statements to the Second Life Herald stating their reasons parts of the internet;
for leaving (Wayfinder in UrizenusSklar 2006; Massiel 2007). Largely, this ‘Something Awful has
been mocking itself
related to Linden’s inability to control such a huge population, as demon- and the internet since
strated by frequently downtime on the grid, lag, inventory loss and other 1999, bringing you
technical problems, but it also related to what many saw as Linden’s incon- reviews of the worst
movies, video games,
sistent policies towards freedom of action within the world. Once again, the and websites to ever
conflict between customer and service provider underscored protest. exist. If it’s something
and it’s awful, it’s
Second Life’s expanding world had pressed many people into what they felt probably on
were untenable situations. Like many pioneers, early residents felt that Linden Something Awful,
‘owed’ them something, even if this was simply the right to access the Grid where the internet
makes you stupid’
when they wished. Amongst other things, they protested that the integrity of (Somethingawful.com
the world as a space for design and for experimentation was being lost. It is 2007).
perhaps understandable to see why Linden accorded these people little
weight, struggling with a burgeoning population and with issues of which
they were well aware. For Linden, the thousands of potential new developers
landing in their world on a daily basis could easily replace the dissenting
voices (Vielle 2007). Furthermore, these dissenters were able to locate Second
Life’s problems far more easily through their familiarity with the world, spot-
lighting the issues of overpopulation. Second Life encourages development,
but its secondary qualities also mean that it is a world of avarice and egoma-
nia. It is thus very easy to accord oneself a far greater importance than one
actually has. Finally, Second Life is aggressively capitalist in both facilitation
and enactment. Quite simply, the competition that exists means that irre-
spective of the noise that they make, these people simply did not matter.
Ire towards specific residents is also a target for protest. Although griev-
ing and harassment can be traced and GMs usually deal with excessive acts,
in Second Life the line between art form and harassment is often blurred. In
December 2006, resident Anshe Chung, credited with being the first real life
millionaire from in-game sales of real estate, was attacked at an in-world
press conference by giant penises, making the interview impossible. The
stunt had been arranged by artists hoping to gain an entry for ‘Second Life
Safari’ on SomethingAwful.com (Peterson 2006–7),5 but it also highlighted
the tensions between those who bought up viable land in the world and sold
it on for a profit, and those who felt that this business was reprehensible.
Whilst Chung was powerless to prevent the attack in game, avatar owner
Ailin Graef filed a DMCA that prevented recordings of the incident being
shown on You Tube (Actual News Guy: 2007). In this case, in-world wran-
gling spilled out into the real world, but once again the ‘rules’ of Second Life
allowed the protest to go ahead. It was only in the real world that Chung was
able to ban recordings on You Tube, and of course this proved futile as
copycat sites spawned all over the web (see for example Anon 2007).

Beyond Second Life

As the world has grown, so Second Life has started to become more rigidly
politicised. Unlike the previous protests, 2007 saw not only an explosion of

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people entering the world, but also the implantation of serious real world
issues in the game. Whilst Second Life can easily house forums for debate
and discussion, its concerns have usually remained insular. However as it
gained more international attention, so too did its protests become more
directly politicised, speaking more to issues from outside of the Second Life
world than those within it. Riots between French political groups in January
2007 made international news (More4News 2007; Kane 2007). The riots
followed the establishment of an embassy for French nationalist group
French Front National within the world. Importantly, this was a protest
about real world politics being played out within Second Life, not an internal
Finally, an exterior protest about in-world ethics had a real effect on the
Second Life grid. In December 2006, Terranova author Ren Reynolds pre-
dicted that a real world backlash against Second Life would cause moral
panics about the world’s content (Reynolds 2006). In early 2007 he was
proved right, as a debate over ageplay (residents who had sex with other
residents whose avatars looked like children) brought to bear real life fears
over paedophilia. In this case, protest came mainly in the form of the
media, seizing on what one commenter to Reynolds’s entry identified as
the ‘most sensational possible headline’ (in Reynolds 2007), and forums
debating the topic. Crucially, although the topic was also debated in-world,
the main argument took place outside within the public domain of the
media. Linden Labs, who had previously stated that ‘If this activity were in
public areas... it would be viewed as being broadly offensive, and therefore
unacceptable. What consenting adults do in private, however distasteful others
may find it, is allowed under these standards [original emphasis]’ (Robin
Linden, 2005, in Psaltery: 2007), were forced to retract their previous posi-
tion. On 7 March 2007, the company decided that despite their earlier
statements, various international laws (most specifically, laws against
pornographic images of children in the Netherlands) meant that they
should begin to ban this behaviour and began to shut down areas and
groups that promoted it. On 31 May 2007, they took this further, issuing
specific guidelines banning the following:

Real-life images, avatar portrayals, and other depiction of sexual or lewd acts
involving or appearing to involve children or minors; real-life images, avatar
portrayals, and other depictions of sexual violence including rape, real-life
images, avatar portrayals, and other depictions of extreme or graphic vio-
lence, and other broadly offensive content are never allowed or tolerated
within Second Life.
(Daniel Linden 2007)

Ageplay was ultimately prevented because of real world legal fears, not
those enforced by Linden Labs (Metropolitan 2007). The issue highlighted
the difficulties inherent in creating a community which nominally promotes
free expression, but has nebulous guidelines as to what this is, and no
internal law system that can enforce these. In this case, Linden were

204 Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart

PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 205

permitting what many saw as a horrendous infringement of clause 5 (unac-

ceptable content), because their virtual laws were unable to prevent it. Only
outside pressure and ‘real world’ laws were ultimately able to allow them to
prevent ageplay within the world, even though many dissidents acknowl-
edged that actually policing this content within the game was going to be
extremely difficult.
These protests, both social and political, also demonstrate a final evolu-
tion in SL’s worldness – as the world grows, so concerns have moved away
from the game itself. Neither the riots nor the debate over ageplay origi-
nated inside Second Life; they were both expressions of exterior belief
systems. Finally, then, the world has become a place where exterior ideolo-
gies from ‘real’ legal and political systems are of far more importance than
residential territorial disputes or single person actions. In these latter
protests, Second Life is simply one of many places where these debates
are active, and has become a convenient place for staging extremist

Second Life has been regarded as the golden ticket to virtual reality, a hotbed
of insurrection, the most useful tool on the web for interaction, and a pass-
port for virtual wealth. It is all of these things and none of them; with critics
and residents alike often forgetting that it is a world entirely within the
hands of the users. The contradictions caused by its rapid expansion have
curtailed some of its early freedoms, whilst at the same time opening the
door for many others. It is an imperfect tool that many find dazzling, bewil-
dering, or simply incomprehensible. As a progenitor to something greater it
shows how a sustained online community has the potential to bring people
together, but its size and lack of cohesion also demonstrates that it is like
any other community – riven with dissent. As an imagined community it is
diffracted; perhaps this is for the best. Some contradictions within the
world are too large ever too meld, although this multiplicity of approaches
shows that the world does have the potential to innovate. Second Life has
certainly revolutionised the world of cybersex, bringing a new integrity to
this particular society. Similarly, perhaps ironically so, its ability to develop
online and distance learning is incredible.
At the same time, Second Life’s inability to control its people and form a
stable community has led to a gradual movement away from the virtual
world itself. Whereas early protests spoke to residents about issues within
the world, these have gradually exploded outwards. Politicised motives
from outside now cause riots, not squabbles over virtual land. Despite their
professed delight in free expression, some aspects proved too extreme for
the community, yet real world concerns were what eventually prevented
ageplay within the game. The developers found that their own rules could
not prevent it, and it was only an external law coupled with an external
moral panic, that finally meant they could act against it.
Overall, Second Life demonstrates a community that is not only imag-
ined, but is totally out of control, and at present the population growth is so

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PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 206

dramatic that there is currently no way to stop this. Whilst early communi-
ties within Second Life were able to resolve their differences within the
context of the world itself, overspill into the real world, alongside the inclu-
sion of real issues, has proved very problematic. Whether the lessons that
are still being learned from the development of Second Life will have a posi-
tive effect on future virtual worlds (or Second Life itself), remains to be seen.

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safe-together/ [Cited 22/05/2007].
Linden Labs (2004), ‘End User License Agreement’ at ‘Second Life Modifies End user
Licence Agreement’ Second Life Herald. 10 June. Available at http://www.
secondlifeherald.com/slh/2004/10/sl_modifies_ter.html [Cited 22/05/2007].
——— (2007a), ‘Create Anything’. Second Life homepages. Available at http://
secondlife.com/whatis/create.php [Cited 22/05/2007].
——— (2007b), ‘What is Second Life?’, Second Life homepages. Available at
http://secondlife.com/whatis/ [Cited 22/05/2007].

206 Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart

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——— (2007c), ‘Terms of Service’. Second Life homepages. Available at http://

secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php [Cited 22/05/2007].
——— (2007d), ‘Community Standards’ Second Life homepages. Available at
http://secondlife.com/whatis/[Cited 22/05/2007].
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[Cited 22/05/2007].
——— (forthcoming) ‘The Place of Roleplaying in MMORPGs’ in Space and Culture.
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with culture, A Reader on Cultural Research in World of Warcraft, 2008,
Massachusetts, MIT Press, pp. 87–138.
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at http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2007/05/living_rich_com.html [Cited
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Messenger. 8 March. Available at http://www.metaversemessenger.com/
stories/ageplay_crackdown.htm [Cited 22/05/2007].
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Available at http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2006/12/countdown_to_
ba.html [Cited 22/05/2007].
——— (2007), ‘And the Winner Might be’. Terra Nova. 9 May. Available at
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Skall, Onder (2007), ‘Spanish Politicos at War in SL’, Second life Herald. 20 April.
Available at http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2007/05/by_onder_skall_.html
[Cited 22/05/2007].
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Available at http://www.somethingawful.com/d/second-life-safari/ [Cited
Trilling, Mariner (2007), ‘Have Cock, Will Travel’. Second Life Herald (03/04/07)
Available at http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2007/04/have_cock_
will_html [Cited 22/05/2007].
UrizenusSklar (2006), ‘Elf King Wayfinder Leaves Second Life, Elf Clan Disbands,
IBM Chairman Palmisano to Address Troops in Forbidden City’, Second Life
Herald, 14 November. Available at http://www.secondlifeherald.com/
slh/2006/11/elf_king_wayfin.html [Cited 22/05/2007].
Vielle, Tenshi (2007), ‘Why the Lindens Won’t Listen’, Second Life Herald. 21 May.
Available at http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2007/05/oped_why_the_
li.html#more [Cited 22/05/2007].

Suggested citation
MacCallum-Stewart, E. (2007), ‘The warfare of the imagined – building identities in
Second Life’, International Journal of Performance Arts and digital Media 3: 2&3,
pp. 197–208, doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.197/1

The warfare of the imagined – building identities in Second Life 207

PADM_3-(2-3)_10-STEWART 11/28/07 8:28 PM Page 208

Contributor details
Esther MacCallum-Stewart is a Post-Doc Researcher at SMARTlab, who joined the
team in 2006, following completion of her PhD at the University of Sussex. She is
an expert in online communities, role play and gaming, and has written extensively
about the forms of interaction that develop online between communities of players.
Her research investigates digital narratives, and in particular the relationship
between history and popular cultural representations as expressed through games,
online resources and interactive media. She is interested in role play and dress up
as online characterological aspects of ‘play’ related to the domain of live perfor-
mance. Contact: 98 Rugby Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 6ED, UK.
E-mail: neveah@gmail.com

208 Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart

PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 209

International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.209/1

Embodied narrative: The virtual nomad

and the meta dreamer
Denise Doyle University of Wolverhampton
Taey Kim SMARTlab, University of East London

Abstract Keywords
This article charts the relationship between and the experience of real and virtual metadata
worlds. Like the travellers of the earlier centuries who returned with information non-human body
and curiosities from distant and previously undiscovered lands we bring back with web 2.0
us our narratives, our stories and descriptions of our experience of embodiment in UGC (user generated
these new landscapes. We find that inhabiting the spaces of these virtual worlds is contents)
challenging our relationship to our own. We explore, through the construction of embodiment
digital narratives, the experience and journey of Wanderingfictions in her meta- virtual worlds
verse, Second Life and Dongdong’s trans-national travel in the physical world
exploring the Web 2.0 environment as metadata to articulate the user’s virtual
identity. Data was collected in the form of narrative; each took their turn to write
from their world; like a collection of postcards or snapshots of experience.
Through the emerging dialogue we discover a combination of dis-ease, fear, but
also wonderment of this new shift, this new view, where we are able to live in and
embody multiple realities. Exploring these various conditions challenges us to
investigate our physical availabilities as travellers in these virtual environments. A
non-human body as metadata offers us resources for thinking in more sophisti-
cated ways about virtual technologies. User Generated Contents and 3D Virtual
Worlds such as Second Life bring new forms of participation. These two main
waves on the net are contributing to the systems of informatics in their structures,
behaviours and interactions of digital knowledge and narrative. The narrative
reveals the complexities of dealing with identity politics in the environments of
virtual spaces. It observes how our early, though rapidly changing, sensibilities are
responding. We are in transition. This article finds that we will only truly become
post-human when our memory of being ‘only human’ finally fades.


There is no place in cyberspace – there’s no Africa there, no mud, no beads or

wells or such humanity in the very air.
Griffiths 2004: 269

If there is ‘place’ in cyberspace, we are still fluid in our expression of it. As

new online network spaces emerge daily, this article attempts to begin the

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PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 210

process of description of the experience of ‘being’ in these (virtual)

places/spaces. We are the travellers returning with news of another planet,
another place. Like the travellers of the earlier centuries who returned with
curious information from distant and previously undiscovered lands we
bring back our narratives, our stories, along with the descriptions of our
experience of embodiment in these new landscapes. The virtual nomad,
Dongdong, and the meta dreamer, Wanderingfictions, are exchanging their
experiences from each of their respective virtual worlds in this article. We
have each assumed this position, this perspective to speak from another
place. We have focused on what each character sees and experiences from
their worlds, rather than exploring the construction of our performative
selves. Through this a natural dialogue emerged; each was interested in
how their worlds are different, how they overlap, how they exchange. Data
was collected in the form of narrative; each took their turn to write from
their world; like a collection of postcards or snapshots of experience.
From the pre-digital world Bachelard, the great observer of the literary
imaginary writes that when we dream of the universe we are always depart-
ing, living in an elsewhere which is always comfortable (Bachelard 1969:
177). Yet the human condition has become more uncomfortable, more
unsettling in the post-techno world. We still need to wander, to travel, to
dream of an ‘elsewhere’ even if our ‘elsewheres’ now actually exist in some
form – ‘somewhere’. Hayles (1999), in discussing Gibson’s Neuromancer,
acknowledges that its power lies in the Kantian recognition of space and
time as a fundamental human experience:

Cyberspace is created by transforming a data matrix into a landscape where

narratives can happen [. . .] Narratives become possible when this spatiality is
given a temporal dimension by the pov’s movement through it. The pov is
located [original emphasis] in space, but it exists [original emphasis] in time
[. . .] Reduced to a point, the pov is abstracted into a purely temporal entity
with no spatial extension; metaphorized into an interactive space, the datas-
cape is narrativized by the pov’s movement through it. Data are thus human-
ized, and subjectivity is computerized, allowing them to join in symbiotic
union whose result is narrative.
Hayles 1999: 38–39

If narrative is the result, what is our experience of our embodiment and

environment when travelling in virtual spaces with a non-human body?
Dongdong is trapped inside of her plastic body and Wanderingfictions body
is a human rationalisation. Dongdong and Wanderingfictions examine two
main realms of the post-techno world, the Second Life environment and the
Web 2.0 phenomenon.

The Second Life environment

Second Life is an online environment or ‘virtual world’ created by Linden
Lab and is the world inhabited by Wanderingfictions. Launched in 2003 with
barely 1,000 users (Rymaszewski 2007: 5), the number of residents is now

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over 9 million, or at least those who hold a Second Life account.1 Following 1 Information shown on
the logic of the ‘real’ world, it follows (most of) the rules of our Cartesian http://www.secondlife.
com on the 21st
space, providing earth, sky, water, gravity, day and night, moon and sun on August 2007; there
a three-dimensional networked grid. Second Life has its own ‘time’ – SL were 9,019,209
accounts created.
time, set to the equivalent of pacific coast ‘earth’ time. The sun rises at
dawn and when it sets the moon rises. If you are a land owner you can set 2 Paul Graham
(November 2005).
the sun/moon cycle as you choose based on a 24-hour clock cycle. Or you Web 2.0. Retrieved on
can keep a constant ‘nature time’ – always midnight, always sunset, always 2007-08-23. “I first
heard the phrase ‘Web
sunrise. The ‘Force Sun’ command enables you to override an area’s set- 2.0’ in the name of
tings wherever you are, or rather your avatar. It is possible to have any rep- the Web 2.0
resentation of yourself, your avatar, though many choose to represent conference in 2004.”

themselves in human form. Whilst there is gravity, your avatar can defy it, 3 Wikipedia, Blythe
(doll) Retrieved on
through the Fly command and as of August 2007 your avatar can now run 2007-08-23.
as well as walk, talk as well as text. Still no lips moving. Jones (2006: 10–11) http://en.wikipedia.
notes that, whilst Second Life could not be described as an immersive org/wiki/Blythe_
virtual world based on Heim’s set of characteristics of virtual worlds, it still
sits ‘squarely in the discourse of virtual reality because it provides a high
level of interactivity and tele-presence within a parallel world that allows for
the construction of place and self’. Wanderingfictions has ‘resided’ in
Second Life for over one year and she is there to explore this virtual world
through digital narrative.

The web 2.0 phenomenon

Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of web based communities and
hosting services such as social networking sites, wikis, community blogs,
crowd sourcing contents sites – MySpace, Facebook and Flickr, etc –
which aim to facilitate collaboration and sharing between users. It pro-
vides the everyday surfer with new ways to interact with social media con-
struction. The Internet is helping to create what can be seen as a more
transparent world by making information more accessible. The term
became popular following the first O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in
2004.2 The IT (Information Technology) industry has been a goldmine of
extended information in the last two decades. We discovered a great foun-
tain of intangible knowledge to use such as a text, graphics, and music to
link up with the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes;
so called technology. If web 1.0 is about learning and educating from the
(i)nformation given, web 2.0 is about identifying and expressing the
individual ‘I’s.
Dongdong is a virtual character who participates in art projects as well
as being an Internet citizen. She is a Blythe doll created in 1972 by designer
Allison Katzman from the now-defunct American toy company Kenner. The
New York TV producer Gina Garen took hundreds of photographs of her
Blythe dolls when she travelled and published her first book of Blythe pho-
tography with Chronicle Books, ‘This is Blythe’ in 2004. In the same year,
Hasbro (Kenner’s successor) gave the rights to make Blythe dolls to Takara
of Japan. A vibrant Blythe subculture flourishes on the Internet, predomi-
nantly in forums and usergroups.3 Dongdong has been in the doll community

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for over two years and acts like an individual creation. She is representing
this ‘I’ notion in the web 2.0 community in the Asian Internet world. When
MySpace, Facebook and Flickr are coded in Western (ISO-8859-1) in the
metadata, there are Web 2.0 online communities based on Unicode (UTF-
8), which allows users to see various languages encoding. The fan-sites and
avatars in this post game community operates as an underground group
compared to a social media network group. However, these fan groups are
planting the energy around Web 2.0 to create multiple personas in their
virtual life. These users are highly committed to the community. Dongdong
is exploring how users are appearing and formulating their identity within
the platform. She is also the representation of data itself. Dongdong inhab-
its the web 2.0 environment.

Narrative as process
Already actively exploring the virtual personas of ‘Wanderingfictions’ in
Second Life and ‘Dongdong’ in the Web 2.0 environment, we initiated our
article in April 2007. We took the virtual nomad and the meta dreamer as
the subjects of our dialogue. One is a virtual character who acts and moves
as though she is real in the (virtual) world, the other is a real/physical char-
acter who only exists as a real being in the web community. We wanted to
separate from our own personas when we wrote from these two character’s
voices to enable us to observe our different experiences as post-human
bodies. The dialogue exchange between Dongdong and Wanderingfictions
took place over a period of a month and entirely by email. It was intentional
that we did not speak during this time, to enable the text itself to be the
carrier of the meaning. Our main intention of this initial writing was to
explore the hypertext of the cogito.
This process of narrative exchange allowed us to playfully explore,
absorb and transform of each other’s texts: ‘any text is constructed as a
mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of
another’ (Kristeva 1980: 37). As Kinder (2002), in writing of the database
narrative, says that in our dreams the cerebral cortex:

[. . .] performs this interpretive task by drawing selections from our internal

database of imagery, which contains virtually everything we have ever experi-
enced and everything we have absorbed from our cultural dreampool, and we
reshuffle these selections to generate new combinations that we narrativize
when we awaken. (Kinder 2002: 9)

As we now live in multiple realities, as we now occupy multiple spaces, our

cultural dreampool will soon include the very real, or lived, experiences of
embodiment in virtual worlds, and in turn, new narratives will emerge.
Hayles (1999: 22) considers narrative to be a more embodied form of dis-
course. With our non-human bodies we attempt to explore this notion of
embodied discourse as we explore our virtual worlds through, what we
term, ‘embodied narrative’.

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PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 213

Prologue 4 Network Position:

There is no daylight or night darkness in this world. It is inside a rainbow of Online community
Addicted to Dolls,
pantone with web safe colour spectrum changes. There is no limited time 10817 members from
concept here. We can calculate time from Senegal to Hanoi, LA to Oslo, Cyworld
Seoul to Rotterdam, La Paz to Magadan and Ottawa to Colombo. But we do
not live as they live. We arrive anytime, we disappear like ghosts. 5 Network Position: City
of Acropolis: Aglea,
Dialogue on the Borderland Wanderingfictions
rents a ‘sky pad’ in
Dongdong4 this region, which she
I have been dwelling in this box for the last few months. It’s not uncomfort- calls ‘home’.
able but I miss my adventurous journeys. So I’ll tell you more about my
stories outside of this box. I was shipped from Hong Kong to London in 2001.
I have big curious eyes, a big head and skinny legs so it’s difficult to stand up
by myself. Some say I am too scary looking to be a friendly toy. I don’t really
smile, but I do feel joy and happiness. I guess I don’t really mind being scary.
This was before I had an identity as Dongdong. Then I became a real nomad.
I travel a lot of places with my owner and sometimes without her. Often, when
her friends are travelling, she sends me with them with a couple of outfits and
a blanket to cover my body when I sleep. Her friends send her snapshots of
me after the travel. There are group of people who have the same species as
me and they are all communicating and sharing photos like the snapshots of
my travelling. Now I make my choice to go somewhere else, and encounter
many other creatures. To me, travel is not only a change of environment or
destination but also the transformation of identity as an individual, which I’m
searching for elsewhere. It can be local, or international. I am seeking to cross
the boundaries. That is my instinct. I’m hoping to tell you my stories how I
see about my travel and my identities online. How about you? What does
‘moving’ or ‘travelling’ mean to you? (Figure 1).

Wanderingfictions:5 One has to journey to dream

In my world, changing destination is easy. There is a map, based on pho-
tographs taken from the sky. All I have to do is to find somewhere I want to

Figure 1. Dongdong on her travels in the real world.

Embodied narrative: The virtual nomad and the meta dreamer 213
PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 214

6 On the mainland it is go and then within a moment I can ‘teleport’ there. Some would say that
possible to move from that makes it easy to know every place, because you don’t need to spend
region to region
without teleporting. your time travelling. You don’t need to plan your slower journey, work out
Elsewhere, most what transport you need or where you would need to stay if the journey
islands are not
connected therefore would take more than a day. But here’s the thing: I miss being able to phys-
prohibiting movement ically move through the space of this world; to travel from region to region.6
across large spaces. If I try to, something always stops me: some invisible barrier. That’s where
7 Network Position: we make the connections, crossing the borders, the boundaries. It is in the
8 Network Position: process of travelling itself, of journeying that we dream. You ask me what
FuturePerfect, ‘moving’ or ‘travelling’ means to me: it is about transformation ‘through’
dreaming, through imagining. I am freer to dream when I am moving. One
9 You can ‘create’ a
family in Second Life:
has to journey to dream.
have a partner, get Of course I can fly here. But it’s like having invisible wings that you
married, have cannot really spread widely or fully or freely enough. Sometimes I fly
children, even have
siblings. upwards as fast as I can, so I can feel that sensation of freedom, and I can
dream of flying a great distance along the horizon. Eventually I get to a
point where gravity pulls me back down, but I do seem to be able to have
the fantasy of escaping gravity, at least for a moment.

Dongdong:7 when arrows are moving

That is intriguing that you can fly in this world with invisible wings! I wish I
were designed in that way; to have Harry Potter’s invisible gown or a
magical transforming tool. But unfortunately, I am stuck in this plastic
body. However, my nature as a traveller is a free soul; as you describe that
you are freer to dream when you are moving. Every time when I travel
through the real world as well as a virtual world, I hear various sounds. It
may come from the train station or a blue sky, or even from a flash button
or splash pages. Different combinations of instruments make a beautiful
music track. Music has an original sense of virtuality. People remember the
time and place they listened to a particular combination of sounds. Maybe
I represent the DJ, who is more interested in the experience of the journey
itself rather than the destination. When arrows are moving ahead, how can
we see this movement? Or can we ever follow these arrows? Isn’t it more
important to be moving along with the arrows?
I looked inside of your world. It is imitating the outside world very
much. You can build blocks and gardens, sell property and exhibit art in
shows. There are snobbish citizens, artificial families, sleeping citizens and
challenging citizens. How do you feel about the others?

Wanderingfictions:8 they call us post-human

Well, it can be hard to make friends here. But then there are others who really
want to help you. When you are new to the world, others want to help you get
on your feet, so to speak. I was born a year ago in 2006. I don’t have a family as
such.9 At the beginning I looked like lots of other people here. That was shock-
ing at times; when I was someplace and another ‘me’ was there too. Over time
my shape seemed to change, though I only really found my identity when my
skin changed. It’s a brown shade now. Oh, and I wear glasses (Figure 2).

214 Denise Doyle and Taey Kim

PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 215

10 Network Position:
Acropolis Gardens,
Delia, 93,67,323.

Figure 2. Wanderingfictions Story in Second Life.

Here, there is always a lot of discussion about who we are and what this
new world is. Almost always you can join a group. Sometimes I go to dis-
cussions and they call us post human. Can you explain that a little to me?
Yours, Wandering.

Dongdong: I’d rather be a Cyborg

I am exploring all of these definitions of spaces. Where is ‘here’ and where
is ‘there’? It becomes here when we get there, and I’m yearning for another
‘there’ again. I see that I constantly desire to be somewhere different. Why?
Because I am trapped inside of this body, which cannot make any magical
transformations. So I see the possibilities of change from the space itself.
Yes, we are all becoming post-human. I guess I rather want to be a
Cyborg instead of being a human’s extension. When I lose my identity
where I come from, I feel free. My question is how I can find a virtual ‘else-
where’ construction, a border-less method of overcoming political bound-
aries in the search of self-identity. The body travels, but politics around the
body remains on the ground where it originally started. Even if I leave my
home/land, my fundamental agony does not change.
When I travel, packing is not always the fun part. I make my entire
luggage as small as possible, as mobile as possible. I capture events, histo-
ries, and logs about the journey to make my map. My map does not have
regional names. It has remarks of landscapes, things I have to remember.

Wanderingfictions:10 landscapes, embodiment and narrative fields

Ah, so you are a mapmaker! I wonder what remarks you make of the land-
scapes that you travel through? Do you have a system of classification at
all? Of patterning? Is it to capture what it is to be here or to be there?

The system of classification for my map makes my journey interesting. I
used to have small boxes to collect the smells of different locations. But

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11 A long time ago, since I moved to the virtual world I do not really have a sense of smell now.
people who had I categorise with tags, which are small labels, which tell you about the key
exquisite taste for
marvellous objects points of the places. Those are creating my entire map now. I easily recog-
and paintings started nise the places and memories, but it is not as vivid as the smell boxes. How
to collect and display
their collection in do you make your map? How do you see your world as your landscape?
boxes. They had
money and authority Wanderingfictions
to put their collections
in a place to keep and I am uncertain of my own geography. I don’t even know where I live.
display their pleasure Conceptually, that is. If we looked on the map I would not be able to point to it
of collectiveness. They
called that box a and say ‘there, that is where I live, that is my home’. Perhaps this is something
‘cabinet of curiosities’ that happens with a virtual geography. I need a tagging system like yours. The
also known as only way I can navigate is through the visual patterning on the map, unless I
Wunderkammer or
wonder-rooms. am given an exact co-ordinate position to teleport to. Once I have established
12 Admirers’ group: This a region I want to explore I zoom in close enough to enable me to recognise
refers to Fanbase site the patterning in the geography, an interesting shape outlined.
for the Blythe doll, I am being defined as a pattern not a presence. I have the experience of
owners have certain
worship for this embodiment, although I know my body is virtual. Of course I do. There is
figures. They are little true form here, only a series of associations. I took a friend of mine to
between late 20s to
late 30s, who usually a volcano last night. He was in awe of it. In his mind’s eye, in his imagina-
have a creative tion he saw before him a real volcano. Well, real enough to evoke his awe. Is
profession and diverse that not ‘real’ enough for it to contain a form of reality? A form of presence?
cultural understanding
in Asia.
13 Network Position:
Dongdong: cabinet of curiosities
Unknown. Curious cabinets11 of modern people (giant figures to me) are becoming
invisibly vast in this virtual life. You could take your friend to a volcano
there, make hundreds of skyscrapers, build bizarre shaped houses, you are
able to control the sun and moon too. If that is the form of the creation, I
wonder whether these people make something other than real life figures.
Is this a new world? Or is this a reflection of our desire of wandering as an
extension of travel? The Net is a place similar to the ‘curious cabinets’.
Collecting, presenting, showing off and textualising.
The documentation of my travel became important, as I also reside as
data. So I would talk about my net travel experience. My admirer group
treats me as a baby, pet, lover, and favourite toy in their reality.12 But they
treat me as an intangible data when we fly peer to peer. I represent their
identities through the image. Image data tells more than text data in such a
platform. In this platform, network between the users are the main key.
When they connect to another user group, I am transformed as metadata,
which changes the representation (Figure 3).

Without a shared network, my world could not exist. If we had individual
micro (meta) worlds in which each of us lived, in separate pieces of space
and time, I fear that it would not last. We would become extinct almost
before we began.
Could an old cabinet of curiosities exist in my world? Would we know
what to do with it? Would it seem too strange to interpret? I fear that the

216 Denise Doyle and Taey Kim

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Figure 3. Data: Data users ultimately consume.

Meta Data: Data about data → expansion of data context
Human: The main subject to create data/meta data/network data
Network Data: the relationship between data, meta data, and human
[Web 2.0] Constitution of Service Data

world itself is its own curiosity. A new world curiosity. Metanarratives are
created by placing objects (or data) next to each other as is ‘displayed’ in the
narratives of the cabinet of curiosity. Each decade (piece of time) has its own
curiosity. We move in waves. There are few curiosities here. There has not
been the time to build those objects that exist and embody something of
their own ‘time’. The curiosities are not objects here but architectures. Here,
it is the scale that has changed. They have built the Taj Mahal, but there is
still no India here. Few people know that the Taj Mahal was to be one of two
parts. One each side of the river, calling to each other. One side is the white
side (the one that we know), the other the black. It was intended to be a
material and grand recognition of the greatest love between two people.
However, only one side has ever existed. I am intrigued as to why, given the
opportunity, that the Taj Mahal, here in this world, wasn’t built as it was
intended to be in yours. After all, the black marble does not need to be
moved great distances at great cost. It would not take the years it would
need to build where it currently exists. Now, this is curious.
The moments you mean something to your admirer group, I wonder if
you fill the space that completes their metanarrative? At those points you fit,
you enable them to make tangible an uncertainty they have. Although it’s
only momentary. That is why you become intangible again. Time is the most
intangible notion of reality we have. To document is to say ‘I did that. I have
been there. This is what happened’. This is a peculiarly post-human activity.
Even if that form becomes data again. Is this why we travel? Is that why I
travel? Because when I travel I am immersed in moving in space and time.

Dongdong: the sign of ‘Being’

I guess we are all becoming wanderers in this infinite text. Interrelations
between the stories and fragments of images are extensive. We are evolving

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PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 218

14 Network Position: ourselves with communications and the creation of our expression towards
Garden of Immersive this blurry world we exist. Text will expand in every direction. We will not live
Sound, Marni,
171,234,23. in a horizontal timeline any longer. You will be able to create nameless
nations and unauthorised territories, paradoxical zones like the Taj Mahal
without India in your virtuality. I would love to meet my admirer in real life.
But I know that they are sitting in a back supported chair with a gorgeous
new machine, waiting for the icon to blink. The sign of ‘being’. It is all about
the confirmation and recognition in this cabinet. If we are in the wave
moving, how can we find an epicentre? We are shrinking, growing, expand-
ing, deforming, deleting, creating, modifying and metamorphosising and

Wanderingfictions:14 my body is my rationalisation

Yesterday I searched again for India and in a way I found it. There was no
Taj Mahal, no signs to tell me. I changed my clothes so I could imagine
India a little more. It seemed to work. I sat inside a huge lotus flower and
touched its petals. It stirred a memory in me. The petals were many hues
of red (though I know it is only a pantone colour spectrum). Although I
was a little disorientated. Did I shrink or did the flower simply grow? I am,
in truth, very fluid here. I change all of the time. Is this the paradox? Being
so fluid, so free of form? So free to re-form? You say we will not live in a
horizontal timeline any longer. If this is so we will, we must lose our
horizon (Figure 4).
Here is another paradoxical zone. Being more like a real human is my
rationalisation. In the same way that I do not need wings, yet still the repre-
sentation is there. The perception is held to. I can still fly, with or without
wings! And I try to fly across my metaverse, bound to my Cartesian sense of
space: an attempt at an orientation in time. I am in a state of in-between.

Figure 4. Wanderingfictions (with wings).

218 Denise Doyle and Taey Kim

PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 219

And my fear becomes exposed. My (virtual) body will reveal its meaning in
time. As will yours. Soon, though, there will be no paradoxes, because soon
our view will not contain what it was to be only human.

Dongdong: you are an illusion

I am made of plastic, acrylic thin hair and rubber. I have become a wander-
ing soul on the net. I live in the cabinet of curiosity. I am a virtual nomad. I
am scared to go to another nation. I can barely stand up on my feet,
because I do not fit with reality. The dimensions and normality are firmly on
the ground. The body travels, but politics around the body remain on the
ground – where it started. You are more like a real human, but you don’t
have any tangible material that you are made of. You are an illusion. You fly
as you transport to a different world. You are discovering new soils in the
world. You flow with an updated version of this virtual world. You are always
fresh. You are flowing. But you may be scared to wander in this virtual world
of infinite text too.

About the dialogue of Dongdong and Wanderingfictions
We have investigated these transitions in our locations, along the techno-
logical thread stream, which can reach another kind of crisis by going
across territories. The fears are still operating in us as much as we are
excited about treading new paths. Nonetheless, we are trying to overcome
our dizziness on the borderland in between worlds.

Subject ‘I’, the body

Whilst Haraway (1999: 149) declared that she would rather be a cyborg than
a hybrid of machine and organism, Dongdong travels through the physical
world in a plastic unmovable body into the virtual world as identity snap-
shots of Web 2.0. For her, the body is the vehicle that carries her journey
and her identity. The body becomes her story container. Wanderingfictions
physicality is real in Second Life, yet it lies within a conceptual field. She is
‘inside out’ and ‘outside in’ (Grosz in Hayles 1999: 196). She becomes
aware that her body when it is like others around does not fit her growing
psyche. It needs to be changed, individualised and reflective. Her body
becomes performative; of what she searches for in the virtual world; if she
becomes India, then she can find India. We also witness how both of our
bodies can experience a transformation from outside of their realm inside
the communities of the virtual world:

Bodies disappear into information with scarcely a murmur of protest; body

can disappear into information with scarcely a murmur of protest; embodi-
ment cannot, for it is linked to the circumstances of the occasion and the
person. As soon as embodiment is acknowledged, the abstractions of the
Panopticon disintegrate into the particularities of specific people embedded
in specific contexts.
Hayles 1999: 198

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PADM_3-(2-3)_11-Doyle_Kim 11/28/07 8:29 PM Page 220

A number of ‘I’s travel through different spaces and times. Massumi (2002:
3) suggests that every body subject is so determinately local; it is boxed into
its site on the culture map. Grid lock. Wanderingfictions and Dongdong’s
substantial experience of mapping in each of their environments shows
that this grid proves that the idea of positionality begins by subtracting
movement from the picture. This freeze frame shows one moment of a
body’s fluidity. However in the virtual world, the body travels as a continuity
of movement.

Travelling between the real world and the virtual world

We are actively communicating with the other creatures and find new func-
tionalities and applications in these worlds. And subject ‘I’ decides to take
a path from it. Jones (2006: 4) suggests ‘virtual reality is the contemporary
and future articulation of the philosophical and psychological question of
how we define (and create) reality’. We see through the eyes of
Wanderingfictions’ friend, the experience of awe in front of the virtual
volcano, that the issues, definitions and experience of reality find rich and
challenging ground in virtual environments. Jones (2006) charts the philo-
sophical developments and concepts of the real and the virtual from pre-
modern times to the post-modern era and concludes that now:

[. . .] Virtual worlds rest within a discursive space that have been constructed
upon the struggle between the strengthening and blurring of boundaries of
corporeality and transcendence, the real and the virtual, where and nowhere,
and the unitive and multiplicitous self. It is this tension that makes virtual
reality and virtual worlds so compelling to the contemporary imagination.
Jones 2006: 15

Conversely, Dongdong’s experience within the online community present-

ing as metadata on the net is more fictional. The web 2.0 platform encour-
ages users to jump in and share their everyday lives. This platform
formulates a number of UGC, and provides content as crowd sourcing.
When all different kinds of users participate in this structure of this new
knowledge network, metadata transforms into attention data. Dongdong’s
interpretation of the cabinet of curiosities is a useful term when considering
this vast expanse of networked space, full of information being categorised,
organised, distributed, re-interpreted, re-narrativised.

Time and space

Second Life is a space that is experienced in a Cartesian way. It is experi-
enced whilst sitting ‘in a space’, the space of our room, and simultaneously
‘through’ the screen. There is also a simultaneity of our experience of real
and virtual – or other – space. Grosz (2001) suggests what Bergson did for
time, we should attempt for space. In using this Bergsonian premise, she
suggests that it may be possible that the qualities Bergson attributes to
duration may be also attributed to space:

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[. . .] if duration exists in states of contraction and expansion, in degrees of

uneven intensity, either elaborated in increasing detail or functioning simply as
‘shining points’ of intensity, then perhaps space too [. . .] has a loci of intensity,
of compression, of elasticity [. . .] the very configuration of space itself may be
heterogeneous [. . .] Perhaps, in other words, there is a materiality [original
emphasis] to space itself, rather than materiality residing with only its contents.
Grosz 2001: 127–8

If Grosz’s focus is on the heterogeneous flow of spatial configurations,

Massumi is more interested in the de-positioning of the body and the dynamic
movement of the grid spaces. In parallel to the real world, we have embodied
these notions in (an)other space and time through each of our characters. It
seems clear that both Wanderingfictions and Dongdong are struggling in their
own ways with travelling in these virtual spaces, yet each experiences a
freedom and wonder of the new experiences that those spaces offer and a
curiosity for the virtual world allowing a new experience of time and space.

Working with the process of digital narrative as ‘embodied narrative’ and the
non-human body as metadata describes our experiences in virtual worlds in
new ways. As we see from our dialogue, understanding our geographical
position in this digital era is absolutely essential. As we read the exchange
we find confusion, disorientation, fear, but also wonderment of this new
view, where we are able to live in, and embody, multiple realities. Exploring
these various conditions challenges us to investigate our physical availabili-
ties as travellers in this virtual environment. A non human body as metadata
offers us resources for thinking in more sophisticated ways about virtual
technologies. User Generated Content and networked 3D Virtual Worlds
such as Second Life bring new forms of participation. These two main waves
on the net are contributing to the systems of informatics in their structure,
behaviours and interactions of digital knowledge and narrative. The Second
wave of user orientated contents from Web 2.0 and Second Life is not about
today’s up to date information technology. We believe that we will be able to
see the 4th generation of web development, and more in our lifetime. Our
‘I’s will travel through multiple spaces and times.
Whether we will be happier than in the past about our living in a virtual
environment or not is not a question we can have any longer. Nevertheless
if we hold to the past then we can keep a certain sense of orientation. We
have to have enough of the past in our memory to connect to our ‘imag-
ined’ future to be able to make the patterns that materialise, retrospectively.
Dongdong and Wanderingfictions will still whisper to each other about their
discoveries in their own worlds.

Bachelard, G. (1969), The Poetics of Reverie, Boston: Beacon Press. First published 1960.
Griffiths, J. (2004), A Sideways Look at Time, New York: Penguin. First published 1999.

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Grosz, E. (2001), Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space,
Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Haraway, D. (1999), ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-
Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The
Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge.
Hayles, N.K. (1999), How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
Literature and Informatics, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Jones, D.E. (2006), I, Avatar: Constructions of Self and Place in Second Life and the
Technological Imagination, Gnovis, Journal of Communication, Culture and
Technology, 6.
Kinder, M. (2002), ‘Hot Spots, Avatars, and Narrative Fields Forever’, Film
Quarterly, 55, pp. 2–15.
Kristeva, J. (1980), Desire in Language: a semiotic approach to literature and art (trans.
Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez), in Leon S. Roudiez (ed.),
New York: Columbia University Press.
Linden Labs (2007), Economic Statistics: Population. Second Life. Accessed 22nd
August 2007. http://www.secondlife.com/whatis/economy_stats.php
Massumi, B. (2002), Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Durham &
London: Duke University Press.
Rymaszewski, M. et al. (2007), Second Life: The Official Guide, Hoboken, New Jersey:
John Wiley & Sons.

Suggested citation
Doyle, D., & Kim, T. (2007), ‘Embodied narrative: the virtual nomad and the meta
dreamer’, International Journal of Performance Arts and digital Media 3: 2&3,
pp. 209–222, doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.209/1

Contributor details
Taey is a visual media artist and PhD candidate at SMARTlab, University of East
London. Her practice background is narrative based photography and interactive
multimedia installation. In her virtual space, she examines the position of media art
itself as an ‘elsewhere’ construction, a borderless method of overcoming political
boundaries in the search for self-identity as far-east Asian and sexual minority in the
postcolonial phenomenon. Her various exhibitions have travelled to London, Paris,
Doncaster, Koln, Seoul, and many other international cities. Contact: Taey Kim,
University of East London, The SMARTlab Digital Media Institute, 4-6 University
Way, LONDON E16, UK. Web: http://www.taey.com
E-mail: taey@taey.com
Denise is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Wolverhampton
and PhD candidate at SMARTlab, University of East London. She contributes to the
contextual and practice-based strand of the UG Digital Media programme at
Wolverhampton as well as undertaking research in the use of virtual worlds in
learning. She is a theorist and new media practitioner. Her research interests
include: interactive film, database cinema, virtual worlds, philosophies of the imag-
inary, practice-based research methods, critical theory and applied media arts,
digital narratives, and multiplayer games and virtual learning environments.
Contact: University of Wolverhampton, School of Art and Design, Molineux Street,
Wolverhampton. Contact: Denise Doyle, University of Wolverhampton, School of
Art and Design, Molineux Street, WOLVERHAMPTON WV1 1SB, UK. Web:
E-mail: D.Doyle@wlv.ac.uk

222 Denise Doyle and Taey Kim

PADM_3-(2-3)_12-STOCKBURGER 11/27/07 5:57 PM Page 223

International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.223/1

Playing the third place: Spatial modalities

in contemporary game environments
Axel Stockburger Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

Abstract Keywords
The article identifies the specific nature of spatiality as one of the most important digital games
aspects of contemporary networked game environments and presents a close game studies
reading of Henri Lefebvre’s spatial theories in order to gain a different perspective spatiality
towards the subject. Artistic interventions in the form of online performances by game art
artists such as Eddo Stern and Joseph DeLappe are discussed as exemplary forms media studies
of critical engagement with these emerging immersive environments. interactive art

In recent years digital games have evolved from single player systems to
arenas of mediated performative action for large groups of players. One
does not even have to mention a phenomenon like Second Life, a kind of
branding echo chamber that seems to fuel the imagination of journalists,
media agencies and artists around the globe in order to realise that digital
gaming has undergone a veritable phase shift with the introduction of
immersive online environments that are rendered in three dimensions. If
one considers that Blizzard, the company responsible for the MMORPG
World of Warcraft, has recently announced that it is reaching 9 million
subscribers, each single one paying a monthly fee it is easy to imagine the
economical impact of the medium. However, simultaneously it becomes
evident that such game environments represent economical and social uni-
verses in their own right and that they amount to public spheres which are
owned and maintained by private companies. Artists such as Eddo Stern or
Joseph DeLappe have started to critically engage with these mediated
spaces and have developed different strategies that amount to artistic per-
formances in digital spaces. Their work will serve as exemplary for the
nascient potential for performative arts embedded in those structures, but
before anything else a fundamental issue has to be clarified.
If one agrees to the fact that the kinds of digital games that have been
brought up above are novel media phenomena rooted in a specific spatial-
ity, since they serve as realms for performative actions on a global scale,
questions regarding the nature and qualities of this kind of spatiality
emerge. In this context it is interesting to note that so far, very few attempts
at understanding the multi-dimensional nature of this spatial form have
emerged from the field of game studies. Although there exist numerous
approaches that address diverse aspects of spatiality of digital games in

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isolation, such as the discussion of game space from a narrative perspec-

tive (Murray 1997), a focus on the visual aspects (Wolf 2001) or the impacts
of rule systems (Juuls 2001), there seems to be no attempt to understand
how these elements are functioning as part of a system. A notable excep-
tion can be seen in a brief article by Espen Aarseth who has proposed to
turn towards Lefebvre’s spatial theories (Aarseth 2001: 152–169) in order to
present a reading of game spaces as allegorical spaces. Although this
opens up a very interesting perspective it seems that numerous important
aspects of Lefebvre’s theory, most importantly his take on socio-economical
aspects were neglected in this approach. Thus, this article, that is based on
thoughts which are presented in more detail in a dissertation (Stockburger
2006) aims to reconsider Henri Lefebvre’s writing as well as Edward Sojas
take on it in the context of digital game environments and to highlight
some of the crucial elements of contemporary game spaces. This is under-
taken in order to provide a theoretical approach to game space that could
serve as a means to analyse and describe aspects of spatial performance
work in digital game environments. In this sense, this short article aims to
provide a basis for further research into the newly emerging field of perfor-
mance art in digital game universes. It is hoped that the reader realises that
such an attempt is only possible through a thorough engagement with
Lefebvre’s original text.

The production of space as a theoretical framework

for game space
In the introduction to his seminal work ‘The Production of Space’, Lefebvre
poses a number of questions that are directed towards historical spatial
concepts from philosophy and physics. His aim is to develop a proper
science of space that takes into account seemingly disparate notions of
space. Accordingly, he sets out to ‘discover or construct a theoretical unity
between fields which are apprehended separately, just as molecular, electro-
magnetic and gravitational forces are in physics’ and states that ‘[t]he fields
we are concerned with are, first, the physical – nature, the Cosmos; sec-
ondly, the mental, including logical and formal abstractions; and, thirdly,
the social’ (Lefebvre 1974: 11). These three seemingly separate spheres are
quite clearly present in online game spaces; firstly, there exists a physical
space where the player is located; secondly, there is the mentally con-
structed space arising from narrative and rule based structures; and finally
we are confronted with spaces generated by the social interaction of indi-
viduals, exemplified in multi-player online games as well as shared gaming
sessions. It is precisely the connection between these different dimensions
that needs to be clarified in order to understand the entirety of space in
video and computer games.
The aim of Lefebvre’s project is to analyse how space is produced on
various levels, in the realm of codes or language, but also in practico-sensory
activity and through the interactions between subjects. The ultimate goal is
‘[t]o expose the actual production of space by bringing the various kinds of
space and the modalities of their genesis together within a single theory’

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(Lefebvre 1973: 16). Seemingly, discrete elements are thus understood as

flexions of the wider phenomenon of spatiality. Since space in the context of
digital game spaces can only be fully understood if it is treated as the sum
of its disparate modalities, Lefebvre’s approach seems to provide an ideal
framework for this undertaking.
If one concedes that games need to be practiced and played, not read
we have to accept that there is a dimension of computer games that is
experienced beyond the realm of the logos – a dimension that has to per-
formed rather than decoded. Moreover, there exist aspects of space beyond
the sphere of language that can be accessed and expressed via art and play.
The ideological freight that Lefebvre refers to as ‘illusion of transparency’
underlies western traditions of thought that perpetuate the dominance of
the sense of vision over all other senses. Although critical of the dominance
of the logos, Lefebvre describes space as ‘encoded’, and accordingly, its
production and decoding as subjected to historical transformation. He
states that ‘[c]odes will be seen as part of a practical relationship, as part
of an interaction between “subjects” and their space and surroundings’
(Lefebvre 1991: 18). Here, one might pose the question how these codes
relate to language. Lefebvre outlines his position as follows: ‘[t]he strategy
of centering knowledge on discourse avoids the particularly scabrous topic
of the relationship between knowledge and power. It is also incapable of
supplying reflective thought with a satisfactory answer to a theoretical ques-
tion that it raises itself: do sets of non-verbal signs and symbols, whether
coded or not, systematized or not, fall into the same category as verbal
sets, or are they rather irreducible to them? Among non-verbal signifying
sets must be included music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and cer-
tainly theatre, which in addition to a text or pretext embraces gestures,
masks, costume, a stage, a mise-en-scene – in short a space. Non-verbal
sets are thus characterized by a spatiality, which is in fact irreducible to the
mental realm [. . .]. To underestimate, ignore and diminish space amounts
to the overestimation of texts, written matter, and writing systems, along
with the readable and the visible, to the point of assigning to these a
monopoly on intelligibility’ (Lefebvre 1991: 62).
Although digital games did not exist at the time of the writing of the
‘Production of Space’, it does not seem too farfetched to speculate that
they might have been included among the practices which include ‘non-
verbal signifying sets’, on a par with theatre, architecture and music. In this
context, it is important to recall that advocates of a ludological position in
game studies usually reject the notion of computer games as directly ‘read-
able’ narrative artefacts. Indeed, games exist to be performed or played,
and are similarly characterised by a spatiality that is irreducible to the realm
of the logos or what, in Lefebvre’s terms, constitutes the ‘mental realm’.
Thus, aspects of this notion of spatiality, namely coded and non-verbal
forms seem to be well suited to account for those aspects of game space
that are omitted by narratological approaches.
One can claim that computer games constitute a spatial practice par
excellence, operating through ‘non-verbal sets of spatial signs and symbols’

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and addressing bodies operating in space. Since computers are machines

that operate on a symbolical level, players are continuously confronted with
symbolic spatial representation. Those symbolic representational elements
are, however, partially rooted in ‘mental’ formations, similar to Euclidian
space or Renaissance perspective. If one assumes that important aspects
of the spatiality in computer games present themselves in a non-verbal
symbolic form, it can be argued that written language alone might not be
sufficient to cover the territory.
Lefebvre takes his argument further when he critiques the application of
semiology to architecture. He is convinced that although there is always a
signifying practice involved it cannot be reduced to ‘language or discourse,
nor to the categories and concepts developed for the study of language’
(Lefebvre 1991: 222). This is because ‘spatial work [. . .] attains a complexity
fundamentally different from the complexity of a text, whether prose or
poetry’ (Lefebvre 1991: 222). A spatial work, such as a work of architecture
is realised through a social practice, and ‘[t]he actions of a social practice
are expressible but not explicable through discourse; they are precisely,
acted – and not read’ (Lefebvre 1991: 222). It is this dimension of actual
performance that is realised within and through a social practice that
strikes us as a fundamental element of games in general, and most
poignantly of multi user online games. In other words, just as space has to
be practised and experienced beyond the logic order of language, games
have to be played/performed and it is not sufficient to study their symboli-
cal surface aspects without getting involved. This aspect of play that sur-
passes language into space is acknowledged by Lefebvre when he states
that ‘[l]anguage possesses a practical function but it cannot harbour knowl-
edge without masking it. The playful aspect of space escapes it, and it only
emerges in play itself (by definition), in irony and humour’ (Lefebvre 1991:
211). This, however, does not mean that knowledge production based on
language is rendered obsolete, which would invalidate Lefebvre’s own work
of writing. The core element of his argument emphasises the importance of
practice versus abstract and detached examination. The playful aspect of
space is something that emerges naturally from the practico-sensory realm
and has to be regarded as an integral part of the foundations of human
development. It is this playful and non-rational space that Lefebvre posits
against the rational intellectual space of Cartesian logic. He attacks the
shortcomings of spatial conceptions centred on Western logos when he
writes, ‘[a] narrow and desiccated rationality [. . .] overlooks the core and
foundation of space, the total body, brain, gestures, and so forth. It forgets
that space does not consist in the projection of an intellectual representa-
tion, does not arise from the visible-readable realm, but that it is first of all
heard (listened to) and enacted (through physical gestures and move-
ments)’ (Lefebvre 1991: 200). This is a crucial observation, since computer
and video games are quite clearly listened to and enacted through physical
gestures and movements. However, they simultaneously mobilise the
visible and the readable. This fact immediately brings about the question
how these seemingly opposed areas might be related to each other. It is in

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particular this connection and interplay between discrete areas that

Lefebvre’s theory attempts to grasp and analyse. We have already touched
upon two distinct fields, the field of logical and rational conceptions of
space, as defined by classical philosophy, mathematics and engineering
and the field of directly experienced space that emerges from the practico-
sensory realm and that is marked by what Lefebvre calls ‘non-verbal sets of
spatiality’. Lefebvre introduces two categories to account for these diverging
aspects of spatiality, namely ‘Representations of Space’ and ‘Representational
Spaces’. The first category stands for the realm of abstract and rational con-
ceptions of space, which are tied up with philosophical thought, mathematics
as well as engineering and urban planning. Here, space is first of all conceived,
planned and mapped out rationally. The second, category, ‘Representational
Spaces’, designates the field of direct experience gained in the ‘practico-
sensory’ realm. It is the sphere of the non-verbal that differs from the former
because it is lived and experienced rather than intellectually constructed and
projected. ‘Spatial Practice’ maintains a dialectical relationship between
‘Representations of Space’ and ‘Representational Spaces’ and is, in Lefebvre’s
words, responsible for ‘production and reproduction and the particular
locations and spatial sets characteristic of each social formation’ (Lefebvre
1991: 33). In the following we will try to clarify in detail how these concepts
are put to work within Lefebvre’s objective, and subsequently how they can
be mobilised as a basic framework for spatiality in digital games.

A triadic structure
‘A triad: that is, three elements and not two. Relations with two elements
boil down to oppositions, contrasts or antagonisms. They are defined by
significant effects: echoes, repercussions, mirror effects’ (Lefebvre 1991:
39). Here, Lefebvre is clearly indebted to Hegel’s and Marx efforts to sur-
mount the structural dualisms and binary oppositions, which defined
Cartesian as well as Kantian, post- and neo-Kantian thought. Referring to
philosophical projects based on subject–object opposition Lefebvre writes,
‘[t]heir dualism is entirely mental, and strips everything which makes for
living activity from life, thought and society (i.e. from the physical, the
mental and social, as from the lived, perceived and conceived)’ (Lefebvre
1991: 39). Such systems of thought tend towards complete transparency
and intelligibility, thus not leaving any room for the material, physical and
social aspects of life. Therefore, in order to understand social space as a
product of forces that manifest themselves beyond the mental sphere, it is
sensible to consider the body as a starting point.
Firstly, a body in a group or society is geared towards (social) spatial
practice that presupposes bodily activity, such as movement, gestures and
the use of sensory organs. This activity amounts to what Lefebvre advances
as ‘perceived space’ or ‘[t]he practical basis of the perception of the outside
world, to put it in psychology’s terms’ (Lefebvre 1991: 40). Secondly, repre-
sentations of the body, derived from science, such as medical sciences,
anatomy, physiology, form the conceived space of the body. These scientific
representations of the body are obviously prone to be mixed up with

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ideological contents and constantly evolve over time. This field of spatial
representation is posited as ‘conceived space’. Thirdly, bodily, or ‘lived
space’, in constant mediation between the former two, is highly influenced
by social and cultural conventions and is accompanied by an ‘illusory’
immediacy that is prefigured by symbolisms evolving from religious tradi-
tions and mythologies.
Game space clearly has to be regarded as a cultural product and
practice that is informed by spaces created through the use of verbal signs
or language (narrative spaces), yet it appears equally informed by a spatial
practice operating on the basis of bodily involvement in the form of ges-
tures (user action) as well as non-verbal sets of symbols and signs (repre-
sentational spaces). All of these dimensions of space are equally present in
digital games and are constantly mediating between each other.
The question that needs to be addressed here is how this process of
mediation could be understood in spatial terms. Lefebvre defines the
contingencies of spatial practice as follows: ‘The object of knowledge is,
precisely the fragmented and uncertain connection between elaborated
representations of space on the one hand and representational spaces
(along with their underpinnings) on the other; and this ‘object’ implies
(and explains) a subject – that subject in whom lived, perceived and con-
ceived (known) come together within a spatial practice’ (Lefebvre 1991:
230). It follows that if ‘representations of space’, the results of a process,
are the sole objects for the study of spatial practice, lived experience and
with it the genesis of the process would be omitted. In other words, it is
important to consider the processes that surround and run through cultural
artefacts, namely how they come into being and how they are experienced.
Thus, in order to fully comprehend game space, the spatial practice of cre-
ating and playing computer games has to be considered equally important
as the formal aspects of spatial representation.
It is crucial to stress the fact that the particular spaces generated by
computer and videogames have to be regarded as the result of a dynamic
process that involves numerous distinct elements such as the rules, the
programme, the player’s active involvement as well as audiovisual symboli-
cal elements. Thus, it would be quite short-sighted to concentrate on one of
these particularities without taking into account the other elements in the
process. In other words, rather than studying computer games as things in
space, the particular process of the production of game space has to be
taken into consideration as well. On first glance, the fact that most games
are finite cultural products seems to justify an approach that is focused on
the visible and audible content alone. Yet, precisely because they appear as
coherent entities, and the scaffolding that leads to their production has
vanished, it is crucial to investigate the process beyond the technological
product within the wider realm of cultural activity. And it is here that one
can attempt to answer the question how the interdependence between
the ‘artificial’ socio-cultural aspects of spatiality and those based on the
‘natural’ shared grounds of bodily perception could be examined. This
interdependence between culture and nature seems to be exactly what

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Lefebvre has in mind when he introduces the Marxist notion of production

into his framework. If space is posited as a social product, influenced by
perceived space (the shared perceptional basis) as much as by conceived
space (the culturally specific space of logical thought and language based
conceptions) it can be regarded as an implicit dialectical process that con-
tains answers to our question, as well as the question itself.
If one takes this thought further, the products of spatial practice,
whether they are games, performances or architecture re-enter the process
as elements, which are products of a spatial practice as much as they in
turn influence that same practice. It can be argued that the spatial practice
arising from the production and consumption of computer games in turn
influences the general spatial practice of the subjects involved. To put it
bluntly, an individual that has had the experience of playing a networked
computer game integrates this experience into his or her general under-
standing of space. Thus one can claim that computer games are not only
spatial socio-cultural products that give evidence of contemporary spatial
conceptions but also that they influence spatial practice by introducing dif-
ferent and new configurations of representational spaces. This is why the
analysis of the production of game space could in turn reveal more about
contemporary spatial practice than one might, at first, expect. At this point,
it is necessary to return to the heuristic device mobilised by Lefebvre to
examine his model for the production of space, namely his triad of ‘per-
ceived, conceived, and lived space’. He presents his conceptual triad as
follows: ‘Spatial Practice, which embraces production and reproduction,
and the particular locations and spatial sets characteristic of each social
formation. Spatial practice ensures continuity and to some degree cohe-
sion. In terms of social space, and of each member of a given society’s rela-
tionship to space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence
and a specific level of performance’ (Lefebvre 1991: 33).
‘Representations of space: conceptualized space, the space of scien-
tists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as
of a certain type of artist with a scientific bent – all of whom identify what is
lived and what is perceived with what is conceived’ (Lefebvre 1991: 38).
‘Representational spaces: space as directly lived through its associated
images and symbols, and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’, but
also of some artists and perhaps of those, such as a few writers and
philosophers, who describe and aspire to do no more than describe. This is
the dominated – and hence passively experienced – space, which the imag-
ination seeks to change and appropriate. It overlays physical space, making
symbolical use of its objects. Thus representational spaces may be said,
though again with certain exceptions, to tend towards more or less coher-
ent systems of non-verbal symbols and signs’ (Lefebvre 1991: 83).
‘Spatial practice’ emerges from shared habitual action in a society based
on how the members of that society ‘perceive’ their environment and interact
with it. Those perceptions are informed by the dominant ‘representations
of space’, which are advanced by a particular segment of society such as
scientists, theorists and engineers. ‘Representations of space’ is the sphere

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of abstract conceptions and mental models that can be highly theoretical and
out of touch with everyday live. In contrast, ‘Representational space’ is under-
stood as a layer of non-verbal sets of symbols that is superimposed upon
physical space. It is a realm of space that is directly lived rather than negoti-
ated by conscious logic. ‘Representational space’ is a first hand experience
rather than an abstract conception. The ‘spatial practice’ of a society is the
result of a complex interaction between ‘representations of space’ and ‘repre-
sentational spaces’. How do ‘spatial practice’, ‘representations of space’ and
‘representational spaces’ relate to computer and video games in detail?
In Lefebvre’s view, ‘[t]he spatial practice of a society secretes that
society’s space; it propounds it, in a dialectical interaction; it produces it
slowly and surely as it masters and appropriates it’ (Lefebvre 1991: 38). He
characterises spatial practice in neo-capitalist society as follows: ‘[i]t
embodies a close association, within perceived space, between daily reality
(daily routine) and urban reality (the routes and networks which link up the
places set aside for work, ‘private’ life and leisure (ibid)’. Seen in this light,
the spatial practice emerging from computer games reveals a lot about the
conditions of post-industrial societies. For instance, one can witness a con-
tinuous blurring of the boundaries between leisure and work. Not only do
play and work take place at the same physical location and on the same
device, the individual’s PC, mobile phone or PDA. Moreover, networked
games bring about a spatial practice that facilitates global participation
and have led to the inception of novel micro-economic systems. With the
enormous growth in the trade of virtual objects in MMORPG’s such as
Everquest, Ultima Online or World of Warcraft that has been thoroughly
researched by Edward Castranova (Castranova 2001), forms of play increas-
ingly take on the characteristics of paid work. Another aspect of this erosion
of the border between cultures of play and work has been examined in
detail in relation to the modes of production in game companies (Kline,
Dyer-Witheford and De-Peuter 2003). Increasingly the production of digital
games is presented as a kind of game of its own, a playful and creative
activity that can be enjoyed without thinking too much about overtime and
extreme ‘working hours’, because it is ‘fun’. Simultaneously, concepts and
practices in the vicinity of ‘user generated content’ point in a similar direction.
Computer and video games have to be regarded as products of neo-
capitalist economic structures and the spatial practice associated with
them accordingly, to paraphrase Lefebvre, ‘secretes that society’s space’. In
other words, the myriad forms of territorial domination, spatial contest and
individual struggle that appear in those artefacts are clearly related to the
underlying drives of post-modern culture. Moreover, one could argue that
contemporary ‘spatial practice’ in Western societies is increasingly perme-
ated by various forms of ‘representational spaces’ due to the enormous
increase of digital devices operating with spatial sets of non-verbal
symbols. After all, the GUI’s of operation systems in daily use by millions of
people all deploy non-verbal spatial metaphors. In this context, it is hard to
find a better example for ‘representational space’, than the kind of space
that is directly lived through its associated images and symbols, generated

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by the audiovisual spatial illusion of video and computer games. Yet, at the
same time, other aspects of computer games are clearly dominated by ‘rep-
resentations of space’, that is specific conceptions of space, which can be
highly abstract and clearly based on language and the logos. A spatial nar-
rative or a set of rules that defines spatial action in a game belongs to this
dimension. The game designer who programmes the movement of objects
in a game according to mathematical rules and algorithms within a coordi-
nate system generates specific ‘representations of space’. The player con-
tinuously switches between these dimensions while playing the game. On
the one hand the player experiences the space directly through non-verbal
sets of signs and on the other hand consciously generates an abstract
mental map of the space and devises strategies of action. Thus ‘spatial
practice’ in video and computer games has to be regarded as a result of the
highly dynamic mediation between ‘representations of space’ and ‘repre-
sentational space’. How does this dynamic mediation unfold itself?
Lefebvre writes, ‘[t]o take in theatrical space, with its interplay between
fictitious and real counterparts and its interaction between gazes and mirages
in which actor, audience, “characters”, text, and author all come together
but never become one. By means of such theatrical interplay bodies are
able to pass from a “real”, immediately experienced space (the pit, the
stage) to a perceived space – a third space which is no longer scenic or
public. At once fictitious and real, this third space is classical theatre space’
(Lefebvre 1991: 188). Here we are dealing with theatre, a cultural form that
has already served Brenda Laurel (Laurel 1991) as the central metaphor, for
her examination of enactment and active performance in human computer
Lefebvre points out that ‘[t]heatrical space certainly implies a represen-
tation of space – scenic space – corresponding to a particular conception of
space (that of the classical drama, say – or the Elizabethan, or the Italian).
The representational space, mediated yet directly experienced, which
infuses the work and the moment, is established as such through the dra-
matic action itself’ (Lefebvre 1991: 188). This is a crucial point in relation to
game space and it can be paraphrased as follows: the spatial practice sur-
rounding computer games is on the one hand defined by spatial modalities
that belong to the field of ‘representations of space’, such as particular
rules defining spatial performance, verbal conventions of spatial narrative,
conceptions guiding the construction of audiovisual spatial representations
(various modes of perspective) and on the other hand established by directly
‘lived’ experience and active construction of ‘representational spaces’. In
other words, there are elements, which act as foundations, as basic spatial
conceptions, for the fluid and action-based directly experienced (per-
formed) space of the moment, resulting in a coherent ‘spatial practice’.
Here we need to address the importance of Lefebvre’s notion of ‘lived
space’ from a slightly different perspective by briefly introducing one of the
most prominent commentators of Lefebvre’s work. Edward Soja presents
his re-reading of the spatial triad in the form of what he terms the ‘trialectics’
of ‘First-, Second- and Thirdspace’. He provides a post-modern reading of

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Lefebvre’s project. ‘Firstspace’ is identified as the directly perceived ‘mater-

ial side’ of space and ‘Firstspace’ epistemes are described as ‘[f ]ocusing
their primary attention on the “analytical decipherment” of what Lefebvre
calls spatial practice or perceived space, a material and materialized “phys-
ical” spatiality that is directly comprehended in empirically measurable con-
figurations’ (Soja 1996: 74). Thus ‘Firstspace’ is also the area of the
aforementioned, illusion of opacity, the tendency to ‘[p]rivilege objectivity
and materiality [. . .]’ (Soja 1996: 75). Subsequently, ‘Secondspace’ epistemes
are advanced as guided by ‘[t]heir explanatory concentration on conceived
rather than perceived space and their implicit assumption that spatial
knowledge is primarily produced through discursively devised representa-
tions of space, through the spatial workings of the mind’ (Soja 1996:
78–79). This is the space of the ‘illusion of transparency’, the tendency to
treat every kind of knowledge about reality as a result of reflective thought,
thus granting the reign to the res cogito. The element that differs most
from Lefebvre’s original text in Soja’s interpretation is his version of ‘lived
space’ or ‘Thirdspace’. He basically defines ‘Thirdspace’ epistemologies as
‘[a]rising from the sympathetic deconstruction and heuristic reconstruction
of the Firstspace-Secondspace duality [. . .]’ (Soja 1996: 81). For Soja,
‘Thirdspace’ is the necessary other for the duality of real and imagined
space and he introduces Borge’s ‘Aleph’ as a metaphor for it. In his rendi-
tion ‘Thirdspace’ seems to become the post-modern container of differ-
ence, otherness and novel approaches. Thus he leaves the definition for
‘Thirdspace’ as open as possible, to be filled with all concepts and strate-
gies leading to new possibilities and places. Here, ‘lived space’ becomes a
very far-reaching placeholder for everything that cannot be defined either by
‘First-’ or ‘Secondspace’ approaches. Soja’s reading brings Lefebvre down
to earth when he identifies perceived space (Firstspace) with the real, and
conceived space (Secondspace) with the imaginary, leading to lived space
(Thirdspace) as a field of both, imagined and real. The hybrid mix between real
and imagined spaces that is provided by digital game universes reverberates
strongly with this conception of ‘Thirdspace’. This insight is crucial because it
defies the idea of computer games as merely ‘virtual’ and purely imaginary
spaces. It is precisely the interaction between real and imagined spatiality that
makes this medium so compelling and unique. The spatial practice emerging
from computer games has to be regarded as a hybrid between physical (the
home or a LAN tornament with hundreds of players) and imagined spaces
(representational aspects of generated by the game engine).
At this point we would like to advance a set of different spatial modali-
ties that can be separated according to their functions and qualities in the
game space, namely user space, narrative space, rule space, audiovisual
representational space and kinaesthetic space, and to position them within
the framework of Lefebvre’s spatial model. Firstly, user space is understood
as the physical location of the ‘spatial practice’ emerging from gameplay. It
has a social dimension, since it is the location of players who meet and
interact with each other. Accordingly, within Lefebvre’s triad it can be identi-
fied with ‘perceived space’. Secondly, the modalities of narrative space (text

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and/or speech based elements) and rule space (the rules of the simulation
system) are language-based abstract dimensions and thus belong to the
realm of ‘conceived space’. Thirdly, the modality of kinaesthetic space (the
bodily connection between player and game space facilitated via the inter-
face) is closely linked with Lefebvre’s notion of ‘lived space’, since it desig-
nates the bodily link between player and game, which is established
through the interface in conjunction with the non-verbal sets of spatial
symbols produced by the audiovisual representational modality of space.
What makes Lefebvre’s theory so significant for the development of a
novel perspective on game space is his precise analysis of different types of
space and the notion of the dynamic interplay between them, resulting in
the notion of ‘spatial practice’. Accordingly, all of the above categories have
to be regarded as interlinked modalities in a dynamic process that results in
the ‘spatial practice’ of computer game play. To illustrate, the ‘spatial prac-
tice’ emerging from playing an online MMORPG like World of Warcraft
could be sketched as follows: it takes place in a specific user space (the
home of the player or a public internet cafe) and it involves representations
of space such as narrative space (you are in a specific region of the game
universe azeroth and can travel to different regions in order to find items or
play quests) and rule space (which defines the values and behaviour of
objects in the game space) as well as the audiovisual representational
aspects (the threedimensional rendering of the game universe, objects and
avatars) and finally the kinaesthetic modality (the link between the player’s
body, via the keyboard and mouse interface to the avatar) that makes the
game a directly lived, visceral experience. Furthermore, the spatial practice
emerging from World of Warcraft also includes the continuous develop-
ment of new territories and maps by the company Blizzard as well as the
social interactions before and during gameplay. As this brief sketch demon-
strates, on the one hand, it would be impossible to deny the connections
between those spatial modalities; on the other hand they all have individual
and distinctive characteristics that have to be accounted for.

Performative interventions in online games

To bring the argument to a close and highlight avenues for further research
it seems sensible to briefly introduce the work of artists who are critically
engaging with different aspects of the spatial modalities that have been
advanced above. The American artist Josef DeLappe, for example, has
started a series of ‘online performances’ in networked game environments.
In the piece “War Poets Online” from 2004 he logs onto servers of the
popular Ego-shooter ‘Medal of Honour’ and starts to type poetry of War
poets from World War I such as Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfried Owen. In an
interview with Jan Winet he says ‘[f ]rom the start, I was considering the
poetry readings in the games as being a new kind of street theatre. [. . .]
When I first started doing these performances online they were also very
private. The idea of doing these before an audience came later. [. . .] These
were quite individual encounters in an online server where there might be
twenty other gamers who may or may not be paying attention to the fact

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that there was somebody typing these odd texts into the gamespace. The
strategy was to exist as a neutral visitor – I did not engage in the gameplay –
at least not in the prescribed manner. There was also something quite
curious about performing poetry, only to be killed and reincarnated again,
and again. Bringing the performative aspect into these hyperviolent spaces
was, in a way, an intervention, an aesthetic protest. There is a level of wry,
satirical humour to it as well. It was also very poignant, particularly doing
“The War Poets”. I started doing these after September 11th when we were
invading Afganistan and into the present as we were heading into Gulf War 2’
(Winet 2006: 98). DeLappe’s practice can be regarded as an attempt to
engage with the audiences of online games in the form of a performance
based on the narrative modalities that make up the game space. As he has
pointed out in other interviews, his work sometimes leads to highly contro-
versial discussions in the chat channels that are part of the games and thus
initiate a critical discourse that reflects the actions of players. However mar-
ginal this approach might seem at first, it amounts to a realisation of the
fact that contemporary game environments represent public spaces that
can be used for performance based artistic interventions. This practice only
hints at the kinaesthetic potential inherent in these games since the artist
leaves his own avatar to be continuously shot and killed. However, this
practice can be seen as a perfect example for performances in digital games
that are geared towards the symbolical field provided by the representa-
tions of space.
A work that addresses what we have introduced as the kinaesthetic
modality of game space, namely the bodily link between the player’s motoric
space and the game space can be seen in Eddo Stern’s ‘Runners Everquest”
(1999–2000). The installation confronts the user with three different pro-
jections and three computer mice connected to them. Each mouse steers
the movement of a character, which is present in real-time in the popular
online MMRPG Everquest. In this sense the piece also amounts to an
online game performance and Eddo Stern notes on his website that the
game performance ran for exactly 180 days. Stern deliberately confuses the
player’s kinaesthetic link between interface device and avatar by multiplying
the options. Since it is impossible for a single player to control three
avatars simultaneously, the direct link between interface device and avatar
is put into question. Stern writes ‘[u]sing a custom made “Triple Mouse”’
participants can, and must control all three characters, who simultaneously
navigate a separate area of the game world, respectively. The player is
forced to make a decision about which character to embody and which to
abandon, while a varying live web-audience of thousands follows his or her
performance within the online game’ (Stern 1999). The simple multiplication
of avatars/interfaces sharply highlights the questions regarding embodi-
ment and kinaesthetic space. Furthermore, ‘Runners: Everquest’ develops a
highly complex spatial setup since the piece connects one user space (in
this case the gallery) with three different locations in the game space of the
online game and thus three different audiovisual representational spaces
(although they all follow the same pattern defined by a 3rd person camera).

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In this way, the singular connection between player and avatar that guaran-
tees the function of embodiment within the game is shattered and the
player has to come to terms with the fact that he/she has to simultaneously
control 3 different Game Egos in three different locations of the game
universe. Stern’s piece amounts to a critical study of game conventions and
clearly highlights the central role of the kinaesthetic link between player and
avatar. In this sense it amounts to a questioning of the realm that is highly
specific for digital game environments and that reverberates strongly with
Lefebvre’s lived space. In Stern’s installation the link between physical
embodiment (lived space) and sign based audiovisual space (representa-
tional space) is deliberately interrupted and thus brought to the foreground.
Here the impact of game space on the potential of contemporary perfor-
mance pieces becomes obvious. For example, it might be very productive
for contemporary performance artists to consider the possibilities of avatar
multiplication as a means of increasing the echo of embodied presence in
digital game spaces.
It is hoped that the close reading of Levebvre’s spatial theories that has
been undertaken in this article may provide directions for further research
into the unique spatiality that forms the core of contemporary digital game
environments. If we consider that these game spaces have become a stage
for contemporary artists and performers it is necessary to understand how
his unique spatiality inform these works. Most importantly, the proposed
theoretical approach might enable a way of integrating issues that that are
often considered in separation, such as the socio-economical and political
impact of those immersive universes, thereby encompassing the perspec-
tives of producers, players as well as artists who are starting to intervene
and reflect the consequences of mediated performative actions. The growing
importance of this ‘third place’, that emerges from the complex interplay of
spatial modalities, for contemporary artists and audiences has become a
highly dynamic field of action that ranges from fan culture to the arena of
fine arts in the 21st century and thus has to be considered worthy of further

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of Jyväskylä, pp. 152–169.
Castranova, E. (2001), ‘Virtual worlds:A First-Hand Account of Market and Society
on the Cyberian Frontier’, The Gruter Institute Working Papers on Law,
Economics, and Evolutionary Biology, 2. Accessed 8 August 2006. Available at
Juuls, J. (1999), ‘A Clash Between Game and Narrative’, MA Thesis, University of
Copenhagen, Institute of Nordic Language and Literature, Copenhagen.
Kline, S., Dyer-Witheford, N. and De-Peuter, G. (eds.) (2003), Digital Play: The
Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing, Quebec: McGill-Queen’s
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Laurel, B. (1991), Computers as Theatre, Menlo Park, CA: Addison Wesley.

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Lefebvre, H. (1991), The Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002), Phenomenology of Perception, London: Routledge Classics.
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(eds.), Thinking Space, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 167–182.
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Places, Oxford: Blackwell.
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Stockburger, A. (2006), ‘The Rendered Arena: Modalities of Space in Video and
Computer Games’, Doctoral Thesis, Awarded by the London Institute (LCC).
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Suggested citation
Stockburger, A. (2007), ‘Playing the third place: Spatial modalities in contemporary
game environments’, International Journal of Performance Arts and digital Media 3:
2&3, pp. 223–236, doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.223/1

Contributor details
Axel Stockburger is an artist and theorist who lives and works in London and
Vienna. He studied at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna with Peter Weibel and
holds a PhD from the University of the Arts, London. His films and installations
are shown internationally. Among other projects he has initiated the independent
art television channel TIV in Vienna in 1998 and collaborated on international
projects with the London based media art group D-Fuse (2000–2004). At present
he works as scientific staff member at the Department for Visual Arts and
Digital Media/Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. More information can be found at
http://www.stockburger.co.uk. Contact: Axel Stockburger, Academy of Fine Arts
Vienna, Institute of Visual Arts, Lehargasse 8, A-1060 Vienna, Austria.
E-mail: a.stockburger@akbild.ac.at

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Introduction. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.237/2

Part 3: Complexity: The theory into
the practice
Introduced by Alec Robertson

This third section of the special issue of IJPADM tracks the results of rela-
tionships which formed during the ‘Magic in Complexity’ Event in February
2007. The Event, hosted by SMARTlab of the University of East London and
convened by myself with Professor Lizbeth Goodman and Professor Jeffrey
Johnson, brought together a range of people within the performing arts,
design practice and research.
The focus of that event was upon digital games design which looks
beyond the current saturated market of computer and video games – or
what has been thought of as the ‘shoot-em-up’ genre, reaching towards
new forms of game making and game play. In this, the MAGIC event took a
cross section of ideas and approaches to performance informed by the
entertainment domain, offering a range of playful game-like designs for
socially engaged projects informed by ‘the science of complex systems’.
The Event was one of a series and part of a research project led by
Professor Jeffrey Johnson of the Open University and entitled ‘Embracing
Complexity in Design’ set within the ‘Designing for the 21st Century, initiative
jointly organised by the UK AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council)
and the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).
The papers in this section cover a variety of perspectives in this trans-
disciplinary context, and the nature of ‘collaboration’ in the context of
exploring the arts and new media is discussed, together with the nature
and understanding of ‘complexity’ itself. For example, a (D21C) project –
‘Emergent Objects 2’ is outlined by its researchers who attended the event,
which is an example of collaboration in design research between artists, sci-
entists, engineers and designers. Suggestions, terse statements, open ends
and partial completion are integral to the emerging nature of the research
outlined in the section. Some recommendations are made in the papers to
provide pointers for further academic work and practical action.
Specifically, in summary drawing from the paper Abstracts the contribu-
tions include a paper led by Dave Everitt, which outlines issues concerning
collaboration, group behaviour, complexity and organisations. This is in
some relation to specific events organised by the ‘Embracing Complexity in
Design’ (ECiD) project of the D21C AHRC and EPSRC UK research Cluster
aimed to encourage ‘emergence’ of new ideas within trans-disciplinary
research dealing with design research, complexity, performance and new

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media. These events involved group work in a performative context along

with multimedia on-line proceedings. The paper explores possible prerequi-
sites and conditions that stimulate or inhibit emergent behaviour among
groups of creative individuals.
Karen Cham discusses ‘structuralism’, ‘post structuralism’ and ‘semi-
otics’ as a common ground for the analysis and design of diverse cultural
artifacts; multiple ‘authors’ and multiple ‘readers’ are able , via digital inter-
action, to participate in a simultaneous and instantaneous reproduction
and dissemination of their multiple interpretations of an artefact as part of
a networked participatory process. This dynamism of digital interactivity is
well within the realm of complexity science as a ‘performative autopoeitic’
process. The paper argues for a new paradigm of ‘complex media’ for the
reflexive practitioner in digital media.
The paper by Bayliss et al. presents Emergent Objects 2, a portfolio of
sub-projects funded by the EPSRC/AHRC, D21C initiative. It focuses on the
way interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration allows fluidity and respon-
siveness in uncertain design contexts. Resisting the modernist, instrumental
conception of design, it outlines the aim to defamiliarise the design process
and to play with its nature and possibilities. The notion of a singular
designer is displaced by the notion of a collaborative design process,
whereby any participant is an active design agent, partaking in design func-
tions. The paper explores how key performance concepts of play and embod-
ied knowing are employed within Emergent Object 2 design practices, with
illustrations from the three sub-projects: Snake, SpiderCrab and Hoverflies.
The 4D design perspective is central to the paper by Robertson, Lycouris
and Johnson. It introduces an approach to the design of interactive environ-
ments, including digital new media created for urban spaces, with reference
to choreography, architecture, the science of complex systems and 4D design.
Relationships between architectural structures of buildings and the hybrid of
bodies, images, sounds and choreographic designs are discussed together
with issues around ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ aspects of the built environment
in public spaces. It embraces ‘movement’ as an important element in the
processes of conceptualisation and design of architectural space and in the
building itself, and concerns itself with what might be termed ‘applied chore-
ography’ with notions of 4D design and ‘complexity theory’.

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.239/1

Emergence and complexity: Some

observations and reflections on
transdisciplinary research involving
performative contexts and new media
Dave Everitt De Montfort University, Leicester
Alec Robertson De Montfort University, Leicester

Abstract Keywords
This paper outlines issues concerning collaboration, group behaviour, complexity complexity
and organisations with some reference to specific events organised by the emergence
‘Embracing Complexity in Design’ (ECiD) project of the D21C AHRC and collaboration
EPSRC UK research Cluster. These events aimed to encourage ‘emergence’ in transdisciplinary
transdisciplinary areas dealing with design research, complexity, media art with art-technology
live or participatory elements and new media. They involved group work in a cliques
performative context along with on-line proceedings. The authors’ research per-
spectives in art-design-technology, performance art and collaboration informed
the paper, which explores possible prerequisites and conditions that stimulate
or inhibit emergent behaviour among groups of creative individuals, drawing
upon concepts from the fields of Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences.
Suggestions, terse statements, open ends and partial completion are integral to
the emerging nature of the research outlined, although a tentative framework is
proposed in which to position work observed. Some recommendations are made
to provide pointers for further academic and practice-based work.

Transdisciplinary research is increasingly productive in pushing the boundaries
of knowledge, particularly in the creative fields of the arts and design, in which
new methods to encourage productivity are needed just as they are for other
specialist domains. For example, methods of inquiry from complexity theory
and the social sciences can be applied to the arts and methods from the arts
within some sciences. Although the scientific paradigm (with systematic defin-
itions and the need for explicit evidence and processes) once appeared con-
trary to creative approaches there is now increasing collaboration between the
arts and sciences, and recognition of the role of ‘creativity within research’, as
evident in a remark from Professor Sir Christopher Frayling:

. . . ‘research’ need not mean ‘academic research’ or ‘scientific research’.

It simply means an enquiry whose goal is new and communicable

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PADM_3-(2-3)_14-EVERITT 11/28/07 7:16 PM Page 240

knowledge – and, of course, there’s a key role for creativity in that

(Frayling 2004)

The need for more ‘contract research’ involving collaboration is also encour-
aged by the Lambert Review of Business-University Collaboration (Lambert
2003), while the ‘CREEM’ network of researchers and practitioners is a
current example from transdisciplinary research and practice (CREEM 2007).
Complexity science researches the property of ‘emergence’, in which the
independent activities of agents or ‘actors’ in strong interaction with each
other produce unpredictable results of value (Gell-Mann 1995). These kinds
of complex situations often exist in groups of transdisciplinary researchers
acting creatively. Specifically, group work in the performing and especially the
mediated arts necessitates a degree of collaboration not always evident in tra-
ditional arts and design disciplines with a more strongly individual ethos. The
skills required for practice in digital media stimulate collaborations across
disciplines, and this invites new methods for research and practice.
With an understanding of the required conditions, collaboration and
group behaviour can be designed to encourage the emergence of new ideas
and knowledge. This is perhaps more prevalent in the arts and design than
in other areas, with its tradition of ‘studios’ and non-linear serendipitous
processes. There are clear implications here for transdisciplinary inquiry, and
this paper outlines issues, first concerning collaboration, group and emer-
gent behaviour, then complexity and organisations; with some reference to
specific events organised to encourage ‘emergence’ within transdisciplinary
arts and design research, complexity, performance and new media.

Collaboration and group behaviour with new media

Collaboration requires some basic conditions from the individual to result
in creative group behaviour:

• Individual potential is significantly enhanced through group interaction

only when participants are already functioning adequately as individual
practitioners; otherwise unaddressed issues may be highlighted through
group activity; it is then the individual’s task to work on these, and on
qualities that promote individual creativity (Macleod 2004).
• Effective collaborators recognise their limitations in scope, and see
participation in groups of effective individuals (i.e., those able to
contain personal behaviours such as defensiveness, within limits
defined as safe by the group in which they function) as a viable model
for extending practice.

Through being excluded from the mainstream arts canon until around
2002–3 (Grau 2007) artists working with technology (‘media artists’)
formed groups to exchange skills and information. The web and other com-
munications technologies enabled a kind of distributed group behaviour to
emerge, where participating individuals may or may not physically meet,

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and where outcomes are often unpredictable. Distributed group behaviour

in art is already evident (e.g., Catlow 2006) and is likely to increase as the
functionality, accessibility and usability of web technologies and software
frameworks increases and diversifies (Piccini; Doruff 2006).
Groups of artists working with technology can be said to exist explicitly
and implicitly as exoteric and esoteric groups:
Exoteric or explicit groups involve practitioners working either at physical
locations (e.g., university departments) or via digital networks – since com-
munications technology is commonplace, the latter are regarded as explicit
groups, since the individuals communicate personally over the network and
the network is organised and undertaken consciously, for example at the
event ‘Real-time Collaborative Art Making’ (2007).

• Esoteric or implicit groups engaged in specific activities involve individu-

als may not know each other personally, but who nevertheless belong to
the larger group of ‘collaborative artists working with technology’ and
who therefore share qualities, problems and knowledge with their
implicit peers. Unlimited by geography or personal connection, they
imply the wider cultural development of integrating technology into cre-
ative practice.

In collaborations with specialists, or where artists borrow, learn and mix

from areas beyond their original practice, the following observations can
be made:

• Artists working with technology connect to other disciplines in order to

develop their work – for example, from the development of pigments
and the mathematics of perspective, to the engineering and computer
science of media art.
• Many artists are therefore also practitioners or at least informed explor-
ers in other fields specific to their practice (computer science, philoso-
phy, mathematics, engineering . . .), a process that can be seen in
technological initiatives aimed at unlocking computing functionality
instead of accepting the limitations of proprietary software (Turner
2006; Candy and Edmonds 2006; Turner and Edmonds 2003).
• Inquiry within one discipline is enhanced when insights from another
are applied through co-operative inquiry or by crossing disciplinary
boundaries; it follows that environments supporting this kind of activity
require the same qualities as the individuals they seek to serve. The
emergence of specialists within co-operative groups is a related issue
(Di 2004).
• Some ability to synthesise initially disparate threads at a ‘meta’ level is
essential, the aim being to create new connections that open up com-
munication between previously unconnected or poorly-connected ele-
ments. This can be found in individual specialists and practitioners, as
well as within groups, departments and organisations, and is a key
transdisciplinary skill.

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When undertaking collaborative activity, language and thinking style are

also important:

During many conversations with artists working in this area, common experi-
ences in overcoming ‘concept barriers’ often crop up. Technologists are often
educated to be concrete thinkers who use language precisely. The same
phrase can thus mean different things to people with differing backgrounds.
(Everitt 2002)

The artist attempting to describe a process can end up finding that the
technologist requires more precision in the terminology used. For example,
a data model ‘ontology’ in information science is more specific an applica-
tion than its usage in conceptual analysis, while the words ‘array’ and
‘object’ in computer science have precise meanings to the computer pro-
grammer (or media artist . . .).

Emergent behaviour in groups of artists

The following model of arts practice suggests three modes of behaviour,
found in varying degrees within individual practitioners. For the purposes of
illustration these are roughly exemplified by artists who best embody them:

1. Individual, heroic, pioneering – the heroic model of the lone artist:

Picasso, Pollack, O’Keeffe; or Char Davies, Harold Cohen, Paul Brown –
all interesting because some pioneering media artists had greater single
ownership over their mediated works.
2. Reactive, revolutionary, challenging – the ‘revolutionary group’ model:
historically, Dada, Fluxus, shock art (Hermann Nitsch, Zhu Yu’s Eating
People, Genesis P-Orridge, or less extreme: Sensation in the United
Kingdom, particularly Marcus Harvey’s Myra; Sarah Lucas’s urinal refer-
ence to Duchamp in her Charlie George installation at the ICA; Gottfried
Helnwein’s references to the Holocaust).
3. Synthetic or collaborative – (the networked model) beyond artist and
assistant, peer collaboration networks are required to complete work
requiring input exceeding the capacity of individual skills (historically,
Bauhaus; more recently – plucking two disparate examples from the
many – Greyworld and Rhizome; software such as ‘KeyWorx’; funding
programmes like the former SciArt; organisations and events, e.g., Ars
Electronica, CAiiA-STAR, ASCI, Creativity and Cognition, etc. or multi-
faceted designers like Thomas Heatherwick).

Each mode of activity has evolved to address specific creative needs that
function (in the above order) to:

1. Research and initiate creative ideas while protecting them from exces-
sive interference during the process (the individual).
2. Respond and react to environmental influences, and test new ideas
against existing ideas (the reactive and interactive).

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PADM_3-(2-3)_14-EVERITT 11/28/07 7:16 PM Page 243

3. Extend territories and interactions with others, thereby transcending the 1 Beyond the scope of
boundaries of individual practice (the collaborative and potentially this paper, but for
useful triple models
complex interactive). in psychology, see
Alderfer’s existence –
relatedness – growth
Incidentally, triple models offer rich cross-disciplinary parallels and appear Hierarchy of
to be common in attempts to model human behaviour.1 Motivational Needs
Emergent behaviour can arise in transdisciplinary groups, both individu- http://chiron.valdosta.
ally and within the group. The recognised indicators of emergence are motivation/motivate.
present, since individual artists already tend to: html (or for a brief
summary – ignore the
• follow working methods that produce unforeseen outcomes, which they graphics! – see: http://
value motivationcentre.
• pursue several lines of inquiry simultaneously 03/alderfers-
• be sensitive to the significance of slight initial differences in producing erg-theory.html). Both
accessed 21 July 2007.
significantly varying outcomes
• regularly adjust these slight differences towards a result that – while
perhaps remaining indefinable – is nevertheless perceptible to them
and (hopefully) their audience.

When these methods are mixed with the complex nature of group interac-
tions, relationships become ripe for the unpredictable generation of emer-
gent outcomes.
Co-operative human behaviour in the field of Complexity has been most
famously researched and applied to conflict resolution by Robert Axelrod
(1984, 2000) and Hoffman (2000) and continues as a component of Agent-
Based Modeling in the Social Sciences (Axelrod and Tesfatsion 2007; for
details on social interaction in complex networks see Klemm et al. 2003).
Some basic principles of complexity theory can also provide insight into
this process. Rzevski (2005) outlines three:

1. Autonomous units (Actors, Players and Agents) each pursue their own
goal in a strong interaction with each other.
2. The interaction can be competitive, cooperative or a combination of the
3. Goals of individual players may or may not be disclosed to other

One facet of complexity involves elements of Chaos Theory (the origin of

that much-loved yet technically specific phrase ‘strange attractor’); particu-
larly relevant here are models that employ a ‘landscape’ metaphor. Using
the related terms, group behaviour may evolve into or around one or
several ‘basins of attraction’ in an ‘attractor landscape’:

We are all familiar with decisions that once made are difficult to reverse, and
also perhaps with the feeling that we are being drawn into a situation against
our will. Consider life then as a complex landscape full of hills and valleys. We
try to navigate from attractor to attractor, using energy to climb to the top of a

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2 A basin of attraction nearby hill – changing state, so that we can reach a better valley, a new (hope-
in this case is a fully more rewarding) steady state – or attractor.
dynamically stable
focus of activity (Lucas 2004)
resulting from
collective attention
and acting as an This view is expanded by Sher Doruff (while discussing development of the
attractor to current KeyWorx extensible application framework, designed for New Media
and potential Performance):
3 Noise-Induced
Transitions are studied There are three types of attractors; point (stable), loop (oscillating) and
in a range of fields strange or fractal (chaotic) and they form, within the phase space of the
such as population model, ‘basins of attraction’. Their positions in phase space describe the pat-
dynamics, electrical
circuits, chemical terns and behaviours of the system. Most basins remain stable (homeostatic)
and photochemical through negative feedback but some have ‘thicker’ bifurcators that tend to
reactions. For a classic
text see: Horsthemke make the basins more sensitive to the slightest movement and MAY (element
and Lefever (1983). of chance, potential catastrophe) trigger a move to another basin of attrac-
tion, causing a new pattern to emerge.
(Doruff 2006)

For meaningful emergent behaviour to occur in a collaborating transdisci-

plinary group (‘basin of attraction’2) containing individual but intercon-
nected actors, conditions need to be dynamic (or ‘jiggly’) enough to allow
individuals to ‘escape’ into other regions or find other ‘basins’. Deeper
basins are harder to escape from; they may be deeper because of specifically
focused activity or from mutually-reinforced status, or simply from cliquey
attitudes (see later) that create a ‘steep’ them-and-us boundary to the
basin. However, too shallow a basin may fail to contain the individuals con-
sistently enough to produce meaningful outcomes; it may be shallow
because of a lack of focus, scant supporting resources, too much (or too
little) noise in the system (Baronchelli 2007),3 or from poor network coher-
ence between individuals. Such conditions for emergence in social groups
transfer well to those working collaboratively towards live art events.

Threats to emergent behaviour

Expanding on the triple model above, emergent behaviour may be limited
within a group by modes (1) and (2), for example:

• Too dominant an individual (mode 1) may attempt either: to force group

behaviour in an individual direction without respecting the group’s
(possibly multiple internal) ‘basins of attraction’, or become competi-
tive rather than co-operative. In both cases emergence will likely be
skewed towards certainty.
• If reactions (mode 2) between two or more group members becomes
rigid, stereotyped or locked into an action-reaction cycle, formalised or
defensive behaviour will probably isolate them from the influence of
emerging group dynamics.

Yet without either strong individuals or robust dialogue, groups of individu-

als simply working together may fail to display the complex behaviours

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likely in mode 3. Perhaps a fusion of all three modes – individual, reactive

and synthetic – is most likely to encourage emergence, just as a well-bal-
anced team is the most productive (Belbin 1993).
Certain psychological factors may also inhibit emergent behaviour. The
many masks of fear can produce limited, aggressive or ritualised behav-
iours that can remain rigid unless there is commitment to personal devel-
opment. To make matters worse, these qualities are often masked under
such cloaks as ‘professional integrity’, ‘current debates’, ‘coolness’, fash-
ionable agendas and other formal methods of defining intellectual and cul-
tural territory, or even shaped by the remits of funding organisations and
the need to survive. Emergent behaviour is likely to be stifled by such
restrictions, since any rigid agenda will influence outcomes too strongly to
qualify as truly emergent.

Cliques are worth special mention as a threat to emergent behaviour. Viewed
as a super-type of the solitary and reactive behaviour modes (1 and 2), but
extended to a group and having a similar influence over the surrounding
environment, they arise from internally-reinforced collective behaviour
(defensiveness, lack of confidence, arrogance, professional pride, etc). The
difference between cliques and ‘basins of attraction’ is that the latter can be
responsive and fluid, whereas cliques tend to:

• Isolate themselves from other group members in the ‘basin’ or – if

the entire basin becomes a clique, from other groups – by discouraging
new participants via them and us scenarios, maintaining explicit or
implicit ‘in and out’ lists or constricting interaction to acceptable,
formal exchanges.
• Conceal knowledge, skills and outcomes or use inaccessible language or
• Attempt to control outcomes without being sensitive to or aware of the
‘feel’ of others, or of potential emergent qualities.

Disciplines tend to evolve unique languages which only become exclu-

sive where there is no effort to render it (or a lexicon) accessible to non-
specialists – plain English does not imply simplistic thought. Challenges to
emergent behaviour arise where such languages are used as jargon in
attempts to gain validation, rather than to expresses an idea well. This is a
psychological issue because such usage – where it does not arise from
habit or imitative thinking – is likely to be based on fear of exclusion/desire
for approval, where that fear/desire is coupled with lack of self-esteem.
Name-dropping and ‘coat-tailing’ are possible trivial indicators.
Cliques generally risk becoming too rigid for change, or of forcing
issues and then having to defend them by stifling the elements of effective
communication. If the parent ‘basin’ is dynamic enough the clique
may eject (or ejects itself); if itself a ‘too-deep basin’, it becomes isolated
from outside interaction. In either case, emergent behaviour is likely to
be inhibited.

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Organisations and Complexity

Agent-based-modeling (ABM) is an approach used to run computer simu-
lations of human interactions and test the possible outcomes (Axelrod and
Tesfatsion 2005; Hoffmann 2000), and in research into the formation and
spread of opinions (Holyst 2000). However, the Complexity Group at the
London School of Economics (LSE) has some useful insights into the
general characteristics of complexity modeling in organisational contexts:

Modeling of aggregate behaviour in organizations is usually based on the

assumption that all individuals exhibit average and thus predictable behav-
iour, when organizations are entities made up of individuals who interact, are
mutually inter-dependent and exhibit non-average behaviour.
(Mitleton-Kelly 2007)

The crucial point here is that human individuals and their interactions are
already highly variable, so ABM as it is usually used (with ‘independent
agents’ obeying small sets of rules) may not capture an effective range of
possible outcomes without modelling a great deal of human behaviour and
interaction itself. However, the restrictions of ABM can force variables into
a compact essential set and, since segregation has already been famously
modelled (Schelling 1978) it may be also be possible to reproduce – say –
the outcomes of clique behaviour within a basin of attraction. However,
current research into cliques, where ‘it becomes necessary to allow update
of the beliefs of an agent upon receipt of the beliefs of another agent
(Valtorta 2002)’ appears to be primarily focussed on the need to under-
stand the threat of terrorism (Sandia 2004), while research into collabora-
tive creative groups has a lower priority, if it is to be found anywhere.
Another key factor when considering organisations is the understanding
that traditional structures and their centralised information system are now
recognised as inflexible:

The switch from the Command-and-Control to Learning Organisation para-

digm in the area of organisational theory is well understood.
(Rzevski and Prasad 1998)

Many of the deeply hierarchical organisations that support creative practice will
take some time to implement these findings. However, there exist opportuni-
ties to create conditions favourable to emergence in the more ‘agile’ territory of
seminars and related events, a practical possibility explored in the next section.

Serendipity Syndicates and Performative Knowledge Elicitation

The sciences of complexity have shown that for an entity such [as] an organi-
zation to survive and thrive it needs to explore its space of possibilities and to
encourage variety.
When far-from-equilibrium, systems are forced to experiment and explore
their space of possibilities and this exploration helps them discover and

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create new patterns of relationships, different structures and innovative ways

of working.
(Mitleton-Kelly 2007)

In considering transdisciplinary research used to stimulate emergence, some

experience of several research events involving scientists, artists and designers
is drawn upon (Everitt 1999; Robertson 2004, 2005, 2007; Johnson and Cham
2007). These events involve what might be referred to as ‘applied perfor-
mance’ (Robertson 2001), where the ‘performance ’ element included the cre-
ation of situations (with a view to stimulating emergence) in which groups
physically act out scenarios and concepts.
Events at e-artlab (Everitt 1999) sought to create situations where art
emerges from data gathered from the environment and the interactions of
participants. It also grasps opportunities for digital art in urgent, spontaneous
or unusual public situations. Later events dealt with the nature of ‘design
research’; ‘design and complexity science’; complexity and games design,
and another with ‘art and complexity science’. Two used a ‘Question-Time’
format with a panel and audience participation (Robertson 2004, 2005).
The event ‘Magic in Complexity’ (Robertson 2007) used what the organiser
called ‘stimulus talks’ to feed ‘serendipity syndicates’ where each syndicate
had a research question to address and was then allowed free discussion,
encouraged by two ‘facilitators’. The latter (Johnson and Cham 2007)
engaged performative group exercises (see explanation, above) and partici-
pative sculpture to explore the ‘emergence’ of ideas and ‘connectivity’ of
transdisciplinary participants for the purpose of ‘knowledge elicitation and
knowledge creation’. These events resulted in numerous tentative connec-
tions being made relating to complexity science theory, games design, and
new media with the online proceedings increasing the chance of ‘emer-
gence’ beyond the event venue itself.
The characteristics of ‘applied performance’ in these contexts includes:

• Use of participatory workshops to ‘jiggle’ participants out of familiar

‘basins’ based on pre-existing relationships, discipline or status.
• Differing degrees of participation from various delegates with varying
backgrounds and stances.
• Outcomes resulting in potentially complex connections between:
people–people, people–projects and projects–projects.

These events contributed transdisciplinary input for research projects

involving both creative individuals and those with scientific approaches,
both on a ‘micro’ level to address immediate needs but – more importantly –
to stimulate emergence of post-collaboration, involving complex group
behaviour, with productive potential for design research.

There is potential in examining current research from the Social Sciences in
cooperation, group behaviour and complexity to assess implications for

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collaborative groups in art-design-technology and performance work. From

these tentative explorations it would be rewarding to deepen connections
between the fields of performing arts, complexity science and design.
Agent-Based Modelling in the Social Sciences has already established itself
in Complexity Science (as evidenced in the works cited earlier) but in the
arts, especially where collaboration is crucial in the performing arts or in
art-design-technology partnerships, the terms ‘emergence’ and ‘complexity’
need to be clearly understood and researched with regard to their scientific
context, so that they retain connection with the larger body of Complexity
Science. Further, the consideration of the conditions required for the stimu-
lation of emergence in such situations suggests broadening the area of
research to include non-human components such as organisations, tools
and environments. This suggests the integration of new elements in the
critical framework, an initiative evident since the advent of Actor Network
Theory (Callun 1986; Latour 1987, 2005).
Concerning personal effectiveness within groups, it would also be of
benefit to draw on findings from humanistic psychology (Rogers 1961),
partly as a compliment to the Cognitive Sciences and strong technical
element of Complexity in the Social Sciences; and from applications already
made in education (Smith 1997). Well-established models of personal moti-
vation (e.g., Maslow 1943), would also benefit further exploration to aid
understanding of the effectiveness of individual and group behaviour in cre-
ating conditions for emergence.
Several recommendations can be made:

• Experimental work combining performance methods with appropriate

principles from complexity theory to generate conditions for collabora-
tion in transdisciplinary research would be useful.
• Careful consideration as to the kind of ‘independent agents’ that make
up a complex evolving system of groups is required, as specialists – or
those deeply into their own line of inquiry without a little inter-discipli-
nary approach – may be inhibitors to ‘emergence’.
• There is a need to explore and model exactly how artists might contribute
to or become involved in ‘complexity’ research, and how they might
operate in a group environment designed to stimulate ‘emergence’.
• The dissemination of research findings in this field of inquiry involving
new methods for transdisciplinary collaboration between the perform-
ing arts, complexity science and design could be productive within
design practice.

The practical application of some work in this field of inquiry might be

termed ‘applied performance’ or ‘4D design’ (Robertson 1994, 1995, 1997).
The use of better design methods in professional design may assist the cre-
ation of better objects, systems and services in everyday life. This could
assist artists and designers in their role to improve the general well-being of
people in their relations with each other and to technology in their environ-
ment. Finally, such an approach could provide commercial benefits thus

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making a further contribution by the ‘creative industries’ to the general


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Suggested citation
Everitt, D. & Robertson, A. (2007), ‘Emergence and complexity: Some observations
and reflections on transdisciplinary research involving performative contexts and
new media’, International Journal of Performance Arts and digital Media 3: 2&3,
pp. 239–252, doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.239/1

Contributor details
Dave Everitt is an artist and researcher whose work concerns biological input, the
interplay of order and disorder in mathematical pattern and collaborative live art-
technology projects. A former visiting researcher at Creativity and Cognition
Research Studios, recipient of Arts Council England funding and research fellow at
Leicester’s Institute of Creative technologies, he has two ongoing collaborative pro-
jects: the ‘Emergency artlab’ and ‘cubelife’. His principal interests are the implica-
tions of the interdisciplinary sciences for artists and creators, and computer
programming culture; he runs a media information design consultancy, lectures and
researches in New Media and art-technology partnerships. Contact: Dave Everitt, 30
Woodland Avenue, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, LE13 1DZ, UK.
E-mail: deveritt@innotts.co.uk
Alec Robertson’s research interests include dissemination problems of design research
and ‘4D Design’ for which he has organised several related design conferences and
events, where the website Cyberbridge-4D at http://www.4d-dynamics.net, includes
some multimedia archives of these. Alec is a graduate of the Royal College of Art,
and he has held several elected Council Officer posts of the Design Research Society,
and was Chair of the long established RCA Society (06–07). He is an independent
consultant, as well as an academic in the Dept. of Imaging & Communication
Design at De Montfort University; is a member of the Chartered Society of Designers,
UK, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, UK. Contact: Alec Robertson, Faculty
of Art & Design, De Montfort University, Leicester, LE1 9BH, UK.
E-mail: alecr@dmu.ac.uk

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International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Volume 3 Number 2 & 3.
© Intellect Ltd 2007. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.3.2&3.253/1

Reconstruction theory: Designing the

space of possibility in complex media
Karen Cham The Open University

Abstract Keywords
Structuralism, post-structuralism and semiotics underpin core teaching methodolo- digital media
gies in art, design, media and cultural studies and crucially, provide common interactive art
ground for the analysis and design of divergent cultural artefacts from literature, the reflexive practice
visual and performing arts and the media. However, there are as yet, no established post-structuralism
paradigms stemming from this methodological approach to allow the reflexive complexity theory
practitioner to address the nature of digital interactivity; neither in virtual reality
through a graphical user interface, nor in the augmented reality and embodied
interfaces of interactive art installations and participatory performances. In artistic
compositions, the design of open structural relations rather than closed objects finds
its roots in the participatory performance and installations of systems art, yet the
dynamic capacity of digitally interactive systems in use, places digital interactivity
well within the realm of complex systems science. A digital interface may, for
example, allow multiple ‘authors’ and multiple ‘readers’ to participate in a simul-
taneous and instantaneous reproduction and dissemination of their divergent inter-
pretations of an artefact as part of a networked participatory process; such a process
demonstrates self-organisation and emergent behaviours, which are key attributes
of complex systems. This paper proposes a ‘reconstruction theory’ as a design
methodology for the ‘space of possibility’ in such ‘complex media’ in order to under-
pin critical practice in digital media arts. Such a proposal would also provide the
foundations of a much sought after theoretical continuum from established art,
design and media theory to the divergent manifestations of digital culture by estab-
lishing the common relations between structuralism, systems theory and systems
art, to post-structuralism, complex systems science and the digitally interactive arts.

‘Superstructuralism’ (Harland 1987) is a useful term encompassing key crit-
ical movements such as structuralism, post-structuralism and semiotics
and their attendant methodological practices such as deconstruction and
textual analysis. Such practices have proved extremely useful in providing
common ground for deconstructing and analysing the form and function of
diverse cultural artefacts and practices and are today well established as
core teaching methodologies in art, design, media and cultural studies
(Danesi and Perron 1999).
Superstructuralism has been used to analyse heterogeneous manifesta-
tions of different media from a common theoretical ground, for example

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television advertisements, passages from literature and teenage rites of

passage can all be ‘read’ as ‘texts’, offering some insight into the myths and
ideologies of our own culture.
However, addressing the form and function of digitally interactive arte-
facts has driven many commentators to distraction; Manovich describes
interactivity as a ‘myth’ (2001: 55) stating only a ‘basic fact about computer
media’, whilst for Gansing it is ‘not . . . describing any specific functionality
of digital media’ but is rather ‘cultural rhetoric’ (2003: 39). Whilst all cul-
tural terms come to possess mythological connotations, surely it is impor-
tant for the reflexive practitioner to address what makes the nature of their
material different from other materials?
What is immediately and significantly different and important about
digital interactivity as a medium, is its provision of some dynamic form of
media interface to a text, or the component parts of a text, such as symbol,
metaphor and narrative. Thus, the multiple ‘authors’ and multiple ‘readers’
of a digitally interactive ‘text’, often participate in a simultaneous and
instantaneous reproduction and dissemination of their multiple interpreta-
tions of an artefact as part of a networked participatory process.
Many authors of interactive artworks have actively exploited this capacity.
For example, Bill Seamans work with Gideon May ‘The World generator/The
Engine of Desire’ (Figure 1) allows users to select, contribute and alter the
media assets of the installation in a group dialogue exploring Seamans
notion of ‘recombinant poetics’ that Christiane Paul describes as an ‘ever
increasing complexity of meaning’ (2003).
Yet, in evaluating this work in detail, do we critically address the idea,
the facilitating structure, the process or the result? What paradigms do we
use to contextualise such work? What type of artwork is this? David Rokeby
states that ‘rather than creating finished works, the interactive artist creates
relationships’ (1996). Yet we could easily argue that all compositions
consist of relations. Indeed, Philip Galanter goes so far as to insist all art is
actually generative art because it relies on systems of rules to generate
interpretations (2003). However, Seamans work is actually a fine example
of interactive art that explores the potential crafting of the material. Here,
interactivity is exploited in such a way as to demonstrate it as much more
than a myth or rhetoric; interactivity is explored as a medium.
This work demonstrates Rokebys ‘relationships’ with a dynamism or a
‘fourth dimensional’ (Robertson 1995) capacity, which is indeed what he

Figure 1. Control Panel for the ‘World Generator’, ‘Approaches to Interactive

Text and Recombinant Poetics’ (Seaman 2004).

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actually means; in interactive art relationships are malleable or open to

change. Artistic compositions of dynamic systems of relationships finds its
roots in the participatory performances and installations of ‘systems art’; a
‘rejection of art’s traditional focus on the object, to wide-ranging experi-
ments with media that included dance, performance and . . . film & video’
(De Salvo 2005: 3). Yet in digitally interactive media, there is also a virtually
tangible, live mediated exchange of elements which constitutes an entirely
new form of systems art and an entirely new medium.
In the sciences this type of dynamism or capacity for unpredictable change
is a recognised characteristic of ‘complexity’; a new type of scientific thinking
concerned with complex systems that display a capacity for ‘self organization’
and ‘emergent behaviour’. This concern with systems and complexity in the
sciences has run concurrent to the computer age as engineers and scientists
have begun to develop computerised communications technology. In his
seminal paper ‘ The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical reproduction’ Walter
Benjamin states that photography accelerated pictorial reproduction to the
speed of speech (1937). It is here proposed that the digital interaction of com-
puterised communications technology has accelerated that utterance to the
speed of discourse; the primary complex system of human communication.
This paper therefore proposes a critical context for digital interaction as
discourse by means of a ‘complex adaptive structuralism’ to address the
digitally interactive, ‘4D texts’ of ‘complex media’ and the ‘complex causal
systems’ of networked digital media culture. It is in this context that a
‘reconstruction theory’ would find its home, both as a practical methodol-
ogy for designing a ‘space of possibility’ into ‘complex media’ artefacts and
as a theoretical tool to underpin critical practice in digital media arts.
Furthermore, a complex adaptive structuralism for digitally interactive
artefacts would provide a much sought after theoretical continuum by inte-
grating established art, design and media theory with systems theory and
complexity science to embrace the divergent manifestations of digital
culture and the interactive arts.

Complex systems theory

Systems theory is an holistic approach to analysis that views whole systems
based upon the links and interactions between the component parts and
their relationship to each other within their environment. This stands in
stark contrast to conventional science which is based upon Descartes’s
reductionism, where the aim is to analyse by reducing a whole to its compo-
nent parts (Wilson 1998). A concern with such systems has been common
across disciplines as divergent as art and design, thermodynamics, biology,
sociology, physics, economics and law since the late 1960s.
Known as ‘systems theory’ this is a way of thinking rather than a specific
set of rules, and has given rise to ‘complex systems theory’, whereby a
system demonstrates specific capacities of ‘complexity’ such as ‘self organi-
zation’ and ‘emergence’. The study of complex systems is very interdiscipli-
nary and thus encompasses more than one theoretical framework, so there
is no single unified Theory of Complexity, but several different theories have

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arisen concurrently. Whilst key ideas of complexity theory developed through

artificial intelligence and robotics research, other important contributions
came from thermodynamics, biology, sociology, physics, economics and law.
For our purpose here, ‘complex systems’ will be the general term used
to describe those systems that are ‘diverse and made up of multiple inter-
dependent elements’, (Johnson 2007) they are often ‘adaptive’, in that they
have the capacity to change and learn from events. ‘This capacity to adapt can
be understood as emerging from the interaction of autonomous agents –
especially people’. (Johnson 2007) Finally, it is worth noting that the com-
ponents of a complex system are often themselves complex systems; a
‘fractal’ type characteristic which is known as nested complex systems.
In her volume for the Elsevier Advanced Management Series, ‘Complex
Systems and Evolutionary Perspectives on Organisations’, Eve Mitleton Kelly
(2003: 7) describes some generic principles of complex systems as

• self-organisation
• emergence
• interdependence
• feedback
• space of possibilities
• co-evolving
• creation of new order

These principles can just as easily be traced in virtual ‘organisations’ as they

can in real ones, for example, in artificial life projects such as ‘TechnoSphere’
(Figure 2), the ‘space of possibilities’ was consciously designed into a ‘digital
ecology’ (Prophet 1996). Indeed, in 2002, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art,
New York, held an international exhibition entitled ‘Complexity; Art & Complex
Systems’, that was concerned with ‘art as a distinct discipline offer [ing] its

Figure 2. Technosphere, Jane Prophet, Gordon Selley and Mark Hurry (1995).

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PADM_3-(2-3)_15-CHAM 11/28/07 7:22 PM Page 257

own unique approache[s] and epistemic standards in the consideration of

complexity . . .’ (Galanter and Levy 2002: 5) and the organisers go on to
describe technical applications of genetic algorithms, neural networks, a-life,
etc, as one of the key ways in which artists engage the realm of complexity.
However, any critical context for this work is noticably absent, with
Galanter himself arguing that ‘contemporary art theory rooted in skeptical
continental philosophy [reduces] art to social construction’ as ‘postmod-
ernism, deconstruction and critical theory’ are ‘notoriously elusive, slippery,
and overlapping terms and ideas . . . that in fact [are] in the business of
destabilizing apparently clear and universal propositions’ (2003).
Yet the concern with the dynamic aspects of complex systems is prefigured
most significantly in the study of language; perhaps the most immediate
complex, dynamic, co-evolving, adaptive system and ‘structural linguistics’ is
the scientific study of language and its complexities in use. Semiotics, stylis-
tics, semantics and pragmatics are all extremely well established and effective
methodologies from structural linguistics that underpin the art theory to which
Galanter is so resistant. They have been successfully applied in the humanities
for the best part of the last century in such a way as to assist critical analysis of
interactive systems that display complex characteristics such as conversations,
art installations and news reporting. It is not unreasonable to suggest that we
cannot legitimately develop any critical evaluation of digitally interactive arte-
facts without some recourse to ‘contemporary art theory rooted in skeptical
continental philosophy’ because of its comprehensive approach to interaction.

Postmodernism, deconstruction and critical theory

Whilst many key ideas of complexity theory developed in the sciences
through artificial intelligence and robotics research, concurrently, in the
humanities, structuralism, post-structuralism and deconstruction theory
became popular methodologies demonstrating a concern with human
systems and interactions.
Structuralism is an all encompassing term for various theories from the
humanities, social sciences and economics that share the assumption that
structural relations between principle concepts can be exposed and
explored to useful ends. In academic disciplines such as linguistics, anthro-
pology, psychology and sociology, structuralism is concerned with investi-
gating how these relations combine to make meaning.
Structuralist thought stems from the teaching of Ferdinand de Saussure
whose teaching pursued a ‘synchronic’ linguistics; an analysis of conditions
for the existence of language in general, when the common 19th century
practice was ‘diachronic’ linguistics, a concern with changes over time in
specific languages. It is in Saussures key concept of the difference between
‘langue’, the grammatical system of rules that governs language and ‘parole’,
the spoken word, that the parallels between structuralism and systems
thinking are apparent. ‘Langue’ is the system and ‘parole’ is the performa-
tive capacity of the system in use. It is in this way that we can define the
origins of structuralism as systems thinking applied to linguistics, fifty
years or more before its common occurrence in other disciplines.

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1 The work of Charles The Saussurian approach to the study of the synchronic systems of lan-
Sandres Peirce must guage underpins European schools of thought, which focus upon human
be acknowledged here
and his concept of signs and discourse; an intentional process of representation, significantly
semiology. Whilst very different to Aristotlian traditions, which are concerned with broader ‘univer-
similar to Saussurian
semiotics, Pierce is sal’ sign systems.1 As such, Saussurian concepts have come to underpin
concerned with much of the theoretical basis for art, design, media and cultural studies,
‘universal’ sign which is of course, also the study of human signs and discourse. Indeed for
systems above and
beyond human many Saussurian successors, such as Jean Baudrillard, representation of
discourse; e.g. similar any kind does not distort, reflect nor represent some kind of prior reality, it
to the Stoics for
whom ‘natural’ is all there is (1988: 32).
signs were medical Such a statement can perhaps be better understood in the light of the
symptoms. Pierces key structuralist technique of ‘textual analysis’. Structuralism takes the key
semiology thus
posits a potentially concept of the literary text and expands it to address any cultural artefact as
unworkable 56,049 a ‘text’ which can be ‘read’ because, just as the written sentence consists of
different sign types.
His initial triad of combinations of words, all cultural artefacts have a communicative func-
signs; iconic, indexical tion and consist of combinations of ‘signs’. Saussures defined these sign
and symbolic have as a dyad, consisting of a ‘signifier’ or material aspect and a ‘signified’ or
proved invaluable
however (see Cobley the attendant mental concept. The concept of the ‘science of signs’ is
and Jansz, 1997). known as ‘semiotics’.
A seminal work of textual analysis using semiotics is Roland Barthes
‘Mythologies’ (1968) where he deconstructs popular artefacts such as
advertisements (Figure 3) to reveal common myths in French society and
the ideologies that propagate those myths. For example, an advertisement
for pasta sauce uses combinations of common European signs such as a
wooden kitchen table and fresh vegetables spilling from a shopping bag to
denote the ‘myth of Italianicity’ and its connotations of ‘family’ and ‘home’.
It is only in specific combinations and contexts that such signs denote the
desired signifier and its preferred connotations. Meaning is thus defined as
an emergent property of the interaction between component parts of a
message; thus, meaning is an emergent property of a complex system.
Does textual analysis demonstrate that an advertisement is a complex
system? Advertisements tend to be ‘closed’ texts; that is they are con-
structed using the denotations and connotations of signs in common
usage at any one time as they are aiming to communicate to as many
people as possible. However, the meaning of all texts changes diachroni-
cally, as the denotations and connotations of their component signs
change; for example the sign of passenger aircraft before and after 9/11.
This is the structuralist concept of the ‘open work’ (Eco 1962), where
meaning is established not only as an emergent property of the interaction
between component parts of a message but also as an emergent property
of interaction between the text and the reader.

Systems art
Whilst theorist Phillip Galanter describes all art as involving some degree
of systems of rules (Galanter 2003), Francis Halsall (2001) defines a
‘systems art’ from a systems theoretical perspective. Halsall gives a thor-
ough definition of systems art as ‘emerging in the 1960s and 1970s as a

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Figure 3. Panzani Pasta Ad, Barthes, 1968.

new paradigm in artistic practice . . . displaying an interest in the aesthetics

of networks, the exploitation of new technology and new media, unstable or
de-materialised physicality, the prioritising of non-visual aspects, and an
engagement (often politicised) with the institutional systems of support
(such as the gallery, discourse, or the market) within which it occurs’
(Halsall 2005: 7).
‘Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970,’ at Tate Modern, London (2005)
describes system art as a ‘rejection of art’s traditional focus on the object,
to wide-ranging experiments with media that included dance, performance
and . . . film & video’ (De Salvo 2005: 3) Artists include Andy Warhol, Richard
Long, Gilbert and George, Sol Lewitt, Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman.

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Figure 4. Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe (1967).

For example, Warhols Marilyn Monroe screen prints (Figure 4) are

systems art because the artistic value of the work, which traditionally lies in
the execution of the object, is here in the relational structure between the
media, the technique, the subject and the context.
It is by predicating the role of the reader and their interpretations
that structuralism anticipates the role of the user in digital interaction.
For example, in looking at a painting the ‘reader’ experiences an individu-
alised interpretation; in participating in a digital installation such as
Camille Utterbacks ‘External Measures’ (Figure 5) where the dynamic
composition is linked to human motion, the user experiences an individu-
alised interaction.
It is also on this basis that later on, post-structuralist theorists went on
to establish the concept of the complete ‘death of the author’ (Barthes,
1977) – the apriori that all cultural artefacts are ‘open’ and all meanings can
only be ‘completed’ by the ‘reader’. Again, it is not difficult to appreciate
these concepts in digital interaction, where without the user; there is only a
static system or framework which only has potential meaning through
human interaction, like an unseen painting or unread book. Thus, post-
structuralist textual analysis demonstrates the advertisement as a nested
complex system; the meaning of an advertisement is an emergent property

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Figure 5. ‘External Measures’, Camille Utterback (2003).

of the interaction between the component parts of the message, which are
in themselves part of a diachronic complex adaptive system.
‘Post-structuralism’ is a self-reflexive discourse marked most distinc-
tively by a rejection of totalising world views and the proposition that there
is no external reality outside of language and ideology. Post-structuralism
thus became a concern with the meta paradigms of ‘knowledge’ itself. Jean
Francois Lyotard took the structuralist concern for the analysis of cultural
texts to its logical conclusion in The Post Modern Condition; A Report on
Knowledge (1984) where he describes postmodernism as a loss of faith in
‘meta narratives’, the totalising philosophies of history, upon which ethical
and political decisions are made for society. For example, the progressive
liberation of humanity through science is a cultural meta-narrative rather
than a truth.
The work of post-structuralists such as Barthes, Baudrillard and Lyotard
offers us the notion of all cultural artefacts, including meta narratives such
as mathematics, science and religion, as texts or systems of signs. The
meaning of such systems are not fixed but rather sustained by networks of
relationships that change, both synchronically and diachronically. This is
post-structuralist discourse analysis, where all sense of reality is the
product of discourse; put simply, of interaction. It was Jacques Derrida who
took this proposal to its logical conclusion with ‘deconstruction’; an
attempt to demonstrate that any text can be deconstructed to into multi-
tudinous interpretations. The pluralism of deconstruction is at the core of
all post-modern thought which is best described simply as ‘a concern with
the generation, sustenance and social ramifications of systems of intelligi-
bility’ (Shotter 1975).

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It is not difficult to see post-structuralisms concern with adaptive systems

as a concern with complexity; conversely, the concern of complexity science
with systems defines it immediately as a postmodern science. Whilst many
theorists addressing complexity and digital media are antagonistic to dis-
course analysis and postmodernism in general, if language for Derrida is
‘an unfixed system of traces and differences . . . . regardless of the intent of
the authored texts . . . with multiple equally legitimate meanings’ (Galanter
2003) then I have heard no better description of the signifiers, signifieds,
connotations and denotations of digital culture.
Furthermore, Lyotard’s definition of the ‘performativity’ of knowledge in a
cybernetic society is manifest on a daily basis on the internet; even Saussure
himself, almost a century ago, described ‘parole’ as a performative system in
use. It is difficult to see how we can legitimately address interactivity and
complexity without addressing post-structuralism; any interactive system, at
least when in use, is ideologically plural and thus necessarily postmodern.
Prior to being used, it is a system designed as a space of possibility.

Digital interactivity
Digitally interactive media is a recent development and is defined here as ‘a
machine system which reacts in the moment by virtue of automated reason-
ing based on data from its sensory apparatus’ (Penny 1996). Interactivity is
most commonly an attribute of server based multimedia on the internet and
is a specific attribute of digital media, although interactive systems are not
necessarily screen based. This type of interactivity is new, and the core crit-
ical debates in art and design at present centre around the search for a
theoretical continuum between ‘traditional’ mediums and ‘new’ or digitally
interactive media.
There are abundant autonomous theories of interactivity across an
entire spectrum; ranging from the stubborn conviction that digital interac-
tive media is not important as a medium (Manovich 2001) which does
nothing to help the reflexive practitioner contextualise their work; to rea-
sonable ideas of remediation (Bolter 1999) that, by reducing mediation to
technique alone, fail to account for the socio-cultural dynamic of human
interaction; to full blown radical ideas of reframed consciousness (Ascott)
and post humanism (Hayles) which, whilst intellectually important, can be
difficult to apply tangibly to the more basic critical questions of the nature
of interactive art.
Digital interaction through a GUI is a graphic model of interaction. For
example, compare the traditional top down model of news generation, dis-
tribution and consumption (Figure 6) to the ‘emerging media eco-system’
(Figure 7) (Bowman and Willis).
To the traditional news organisations, such a ‘democratization of pro-
duction’ (Mc Luhan 1968) has been a huge cause for concern, they are now
lost in a global miasma of competing perspectives. What is important here
for us is that such a shift demonstrates in practice the theoretical difference
in linear modes of production, and dissemination to non linear, interactive
modes where the meaning emerges from the interaction between people and

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Figure 6. Traditional top down model of news generation, distribution and

consumption (Bowman and Willis).

Figure 7. The ‘emerging media eco-system’ (Bowman and Willis).

the text. The ‘emerging media eco-system’ is an advanced model of post-

structuralist theory in practice and simultaneously a complex adaptive
system in play.
In his paper ‘Post Structuralism, Hypertext & the World Wide Web’, (2006)
Luke Tredennick states that ‘despite the concentration of post-structuralism on

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Figure 8. ‘Uzume’, Petra Gemeinboeck (2003).

text and texts, the study of information has largely failed to exploit post
structuralist theory’ (Tredennick 2006). Whilst it is not difficult to anticipate
the potential of a basic overlap to inform information management, it has
yet to be appreciated that digital interaction in its entirety can be appre-
hended from a post-structuralist position and in a wholly digital environ-
ment post-structuralist theory is tangible complexity.
For example, Petra Gemeinboeck describes her installation ‘Uzume’ as
‘evolving unforeseeably based on a dynamic interplay of input and response’
(Figure 8) between the user and the system. Here, the author has designed the
system incorporating the potential ‘space of possibility’, for unknown out-
comes of the interactive process. Whereas less sophisticated works are essen-
tially reactive, like ones interaction with a light switch, this work is designed for
emergence which is an inevitable development in an adaptive system.
It is in design for interactive media arts, where algorithms meet images,
and the user can interact, adapt and amend the artefact, that self-organisa-
tion, emergence, interdependence, feedback, the space of possibilities, co-
evolution and the creation of new order are embraced on a day to day basis
by artists, designers and users alike. A digitally interactive environment
such as the world wide web, clearly demonstrates all the key aspects of a
complex system. Indeed, it has already been described as a ‘complexity
machine’ (Qvortup 2006).
It is important to remember that this ‘complexity machine’ has been
designed. It is an intentional facility. For example, Tredinnick details its
evolution through the Memex machine of Vannevar Bush’; Ted Nelsons
hypertext system Xanadu and Tim Berners-Lees Enquire (Tredennick 2006).
The internet may display all the characteristics of complexity but it has not
emerged spontaneously itself, it was engineered. So, whilst we may not be
able to entirely predict complex behavior, we can, and do, quite clearly
design the space of possibility within which it can arise in design for digital

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interaction. If post-structuralism hadn’t come first, we would have to invent

it to understand digital interaction as a complex performative mediated
When designing digitally interactive artefacts we design parameters or
co-ordinates to define the space within which a performative autopoeitic
process will take place. We can never begin to predict precisely what those
processes might become through interaction, emergence and self-organisa-
tion, but we can and do establish and then author parameters that guide
and delineate the space of possibilities.

Conclusion: a complex adaptive post-structuralism

In digital interaction the terms art, design and media converge into ‘a process
driven, performative event that demonstrates emergence through autopoietic
processes within a designated space of possibility’ (Cham and Johnson 2007).
This is at the core of ‘complex adaptive structuralism’, a legitimate and
useful new paradigm that allows us to embrace digital interactivity as a
complex system in practice. It is built upon the basis of a theoretical contin-
uum from Saussurian linguistics and the concern with synchronic systems
and performance; it predicates post-structuralism and the role of the ‘reader’
in ‘completing’ the emergent meaning of open texts and integrates systems
thinking and complex systems theory with systems art and digital media.
Complex adaptive str