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The Virtual Rupture

- Jeremy Benjamin
Liberal Studies Department
The Graduate Faculty at New School University

As its first show of the new millennium the Swiss Institute/New York, a contemporary arts space, presented TenaCity, an exhibition exploring the influence that information, communication, and biotechnology are having in emerging notions of subjectivity, agency and politics (Volkart). A brief description of the exhibition is in order.

Pushing aside a black curtain to enter the gallery, the visitor finds itself [1] in a small, darkened space with no apparent exit.  The visitor is face to face with a translucent screen wall electrified by rapidly moving images of faces, landscapes, numbers, and digital noise.  An ambient, hallucinatory soundscape envelops the visitor, offering auditory sensation without pulse, direction, or referent.  The screen is a composite of strips; the seams lightly overlapping allowing the image to remain continuous.  The room is too small, and the glow of other ambient light radiating from what must be televisions or monitors behind the screen suggests a depth compelling the visitor to penetrate the initial scrim, to break through the screen, to employ its body, to instigate a rift, and simultaneously, a bridge.  Embodying this compulsion, the visitor emerges into a larger zone sealed by the same sort of electrified walls which no longer exist as walls but only as suggested borders.  In the zone is a spherical seat surrounded by computer terminals, touchscreen monitors, video monitors.  Other visitors are sitting on the sphere, sharing a seat but with only their backs facing one another.  At one periphery, a Petrie dish with a piece of human skin genetically grown in a laboratory sits beside a text describing the tissue and the method of the experiment/art object.  Above the dish in large text is the word--or is it the thought? --"touch".  Traversing the zones the visitor emerges into this display as it emigrates through the screens; in each zone another sphere surrounded by video and data projections and more terminals; the soundscape is ever present.  The content of the terminals vary but always engage how this virtual environment inhabited in the year 2000, suggests an ordering distinctly different from those previous conceived.


The purpose of this paper is not to argue for the correctness or originality of the themes explored in TenaCity, nor to argue for its aesthetics.  Rather, it is to interrogate its intelligibility; to ask, how can the claims such an exhibition demands of understanding, in its aesthetic and political dimensions, be understood, and what do they presuppose?  Following the project Jonathon Crary began in his Techniques of the Observer, namely the exploration into the construction of radically distinct historical subjects, this paper seeks to explore the types of subjectivities [2] that precondition TenaCity and which are its subject.  Implicated in this are the worldviews and the new conceptions of the body that TenaCity both embodies and seeks to explore.  The exhibition will thus be apprehended as an assemblage, a place of convergence.  In Crary's words, such sites mark "points of intersection where philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic discourses overlap with mechanical techniques, institutional requirements, and socioeconomic forces" (Crary 8).  This particular assemblage, at the intersection of critical inquiry, media, and information theory, sci-fi pulp, post-Marxist and feminist critique, studies in biotechnology, cloning, and superconductivity takes place in a increasingly networked environment of ATM's, cell phones, and laptop computers all linked to the Internet, allowing, furthering, and mirroring globalization, and the expansion of late capitalism.  This assemblage can be called the postmodern.

The computer, the physical apparatus most obviously associated with TenaCity's project, like Crary's camera obscura and stereoscope is "understandable not simply as the material object in question, or as part of a history of technology, but for the way it is embedded in a much larger assemblage" (Crary 8).  It must then be asked, what is it about the computer that signals the massive rupture with the past?  This is not to suggest that it is the computer per se that causes this rupture, but to suggest that its presence among the discourses and practices emerging in the new millennium in New York City in particular, but also via the multiplicity of nodes in which New York City is embedded and to which it is networked, indicates a significant punctuation, a new development in a non-linear history.   Thus the view is that which Deleuze and Guattari endorse in A Thousand Plateaus,

We think the material or machinic aspect of an assemblage relates not to the production of goods but rather to a precise state of intermingling of bodies in a society, including all the attractions and repulsions, sympathies and antipathies, alterations, amalgamations, penetrations, and expansions that affect bodies of all kinds in their relations to one another (Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 90).

One goal of this paper is to understand the functioning of this machinic assemblage, of which the computer is only a part--the computer is given primacy only as a symbol of a vast technological assemblage of communication networks and biotechnologies in which it is embedded---, as it is portrayed and as it functions within the rhizomatic structure of TenaCity, which is itself an assemblage of aesthetic, cultural, political, and institutional discourses, practices, and demands.  Further, TenaCity, with its emphasis on the tactile and the auditory, and its reevaluation of spatiality and temporality is meant to be experienced--a term suggesting engagement, interaction, perhaps entrapment--rather than to be interrogated from a safe, uncomplicated critical distance.  Therefore, in addition to revealing the discourses surrounding TenaCity, the subjective experience of the exhibition itself, and its assumed understandings of space and time must be interrogated.  This interrogation should proceed towards an involved understanding of the relationship of the sensory conditions and demands TenaCity poses in its reorientation of the subject.  Whereas Crary positions his project within the visual regime so as to explode the presumed consistency, linearity and dominance of a single mode of increasingly perfected vision, TenaCity suggests the presence of multiple sensory modes preconditioning the emergence of the postmodern subject.  Thus, one question must concern the inadequacy of "observer", the term used by Crary, as a characterization of this new subject, and relocate the subject and its orientation within a broader sensorium.   But, critically engaging the sensory experience should not reduce experience to an underlying symbolic structure.  To avoid the static nature of this abstraction, questioning must be directed towards the active experience.  As the visitor experiences TenaCity, what does it (the visitor and the exhibition environment) become and how does it operate?  Deleuze and Guattari's experience of the book works equally well with that of the exhibition.  They write,

We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier, we will not look for anything to understand in it.  We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs its own converge (Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 4).

The subjective experience, the sensation of the exhibition, is one of becoming, of making and inhabiting connections, of territorialization and deterritorialization.  But, as will be illustrated, in this process, the body disintegrates as the ground of the subject, and the subject melds with what was previously its objective world; neither remains pure or distinct. How can this experience of simultaneous disintegration and extension, disembodiment and embodiment be felt, and understood?  In John Rajchman's assessment, the shift that has occurred is formulated in the question of experience itself.  He notes, "The great question of modernism was: what is art?  Now it is replaced by the postmodern question: who are we in all of this?" (Rajchman 112). The question, the same one embodied in TenaCity, is left open. It hints at loss and disorientation, but also at possibilities. What are the conditions of this disorientation and what are its consequences?

TenaCity is, above all, about our contemporary state of being and acting which, to me, consists in connecting and being connected - connected to people and bodies, to computers and data streams, to content, screens, sounds, and visuals. It is about motion. The translucent screens, which divide the exhibition space, are skins and temporary borders through which one passes, they carry images into which you have to penetrate to become part of the spatial fluidity and movement. You enter distinct but similar zones - constellations of different entities. TenaCity wants to create a model of the virtual and give you the opportunity to play the role of being embedded in it. It wants to investigate in forms of “re-fleshing the network” and “embodying communication space” (Ricardo Dominguez and Diane Ludin). TenaCity is about temporary re-embodiments of contents and posthuman agents within the flickering and dislocated data streams (Volkhart).

…It is a transgressive act to rupture the screen.  The physical touch of the sheen plastic, the squeezing through a broken image still streaming, sweeps the body and its relation to its new environment, a virtual network of transference, to the foreground of conscious awareness. Involvement obliterates the spectator stance.  The visitor, no longer an observer, is repositioned as a participant.  Psychic distance erodes. [3]   The suggestion is that the body exists in this new habitat, but it is transformed, deterritorialized, disembodied of its physicality, yet present as motion, as rupture; refleshed or reterritorialized as desire. The visitor spreads throughout the network symbiotically interacting with the nodes within the mesh.  Coming to Francesca da Rimini and Michael Grimm's piece [4] the visitor is engaged in the fantasies, kisses, and caress of the heroin, a murdered female body, a ghost.  Turning now to reflesh the body [5] the visitor is again forced into physical contact, this time with a touchscreen monitor.  The touch of flesh transforms the data stream, but the effect is reciprocal.  All around images flicker rapidly.  The soundscape now appears as a collage of the soundtracks of the individual pieces amongst a wash of electronic ambience.--Who are we in all of this?

Frederick Jameson's evaluation of the role of pastiche and schizophrenia in postmodernity is an attempt to characterize the postmodern period and to determine the nature of its notions of subjectivity and the world views of which it is composed, and through which it operates (Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”).  Yet any categorization of the period is essentially problematic given the diverse modes of expression falling under its heading and the impossibility of historical distance.  This very diversity is what leads Craig Owens to see "a crisis of cultural authority"(Owens 57).  According to Owens, this crisis results from the challenge pluralism has raised to modernity's meta-narratives.  For him "pluralism reduces us to being an other among others…What is at stake is not only the hegemony of Western culture, but also (our sense of) our identity as a culture"(Owens 58). If in addition to the pluralism of the internal demographics of which Owen's speaks, the plurality of sensorial inputs and energy flows [6] immanent to TenaCity [7] is added, the "crisis of authority" deepens.  It is exactly this addition which TenaCity demands.  McLuhan writes, "previous technologies were partial and fragmentary, the electric is total and inclusive"(McLuhan, Understanding Media 57).  Whereas vision has been widely cited as the predominant sense by which Western man has navigated his world, the rupture postmodernism brings now impresses the entire sensorium in its immanence and interrelatedness upon man/woman/(etc.?) alike. 

Today, television commercials--amongst the most revealing artifacts of contemporary American culture--often flip the traditional relation between visual information and soundtrack such that priority is placed on the score, which has previously functioned only as a subconscious backdrop for the visual narration.  Now the visual follows the aural.  And perhaps the same may be said of everyday existence where, for instance, the studies of traffic accidents related to cell phone use indicates a reorientation of which sense is prioritized in the reception of crucial information.  Visual attentiveness no longer dominates aural.  The input from the cell phone is habitually ingrained as more crucial than that coming from the eyes.  McLuhan notes this reorientation, saying, "At the high speeds of electric communication, purely visual means of apprehending the world are no longer possible; they are just too slow to be relevant or effective" (McLuhan, Medium, 63).

But the visual is not subordinated, so much as put on equal footing.  At times it is still the premier sense; an unlikely instance is found in "travel".  Previously a motor activity demanding emphasis on physicality (touch), Paul Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky) writes, "Movement, flow, flux: the nomad takes on the sedentary qualities of the urban dweller.  Movement on the screen becomes an omnipresent quality…The eyes move.  The body stays still.  Travel" (Miller).  Could it be that the erasure of time from the definition of distance explains the pastiche aesthetic of postmodernism?  The nearness of any two items, styles, or concepts initiated by the technical apparatus of the postmodern world, refuses inconsistency through time or space as an obstacle.  Pastiche, the appropriation and side-by-side presentation of what was previously separated, matches the understanding and experience of a hyperlinked world.  Postmodern pastiche is not an attempt to reconcile opposites, to harmonize antagonistic drives.  It is rather, to not understand opposition or repulsion.  But the visitor is repulsed at the sight of the skin in the dish before it, and the command that the accompanying text begs, “touch”.  And what of touch, a sense strangely highlighted in the disembodied experience of TenaCity?

Feminist scholars have exerted enormous energy towards connecting modernism's notion of progress to strategies of male dominance.  In postmodernism's deconstruction of modernism's meta-narrative with its connection to rationalism, vision, as its prioritized sense, is linked to the masculine gaze and to modernist logic; its primacy held suspect with the interrogation of patriarchal order.  Owens, relating this concern to the arts asks, "What can be said about the visual arts in a patriarchal order that privileges vision over the other senses?  Can we not expect them to be a domain of masculine privilege--as their histories indeed prove them to be--a means, perhaps, of mastering through representation the 'threat' posed by the female?" (Owens 71).  While touch, in this same context of feminist scholarship, has been inextricably linked to the female, its presence in TenaCity should not be reduced to a symptom of the fact that the exhibition is both curated by a woman and host to several female artists.  It is not that through touch the female is reinserted, but rather, that through touch the senses are explicitly de-neutralized.  Touch is essentially forceful, essentially political.  It is through employing this sense that navigation, representation, and interaction appear consciously as what they have always been, strategies of power, strategies of desire. 

  The visitor moves closer to Natalie Jeremijenko's skin piece [8] .  The skin, synthesized from an original culture taken off the foreskin of a human baby now fills the entire dish.  On it is a tattoo of a bird.  TenaCity curator, Yvonne Volkart's, exhibition checklist says of the piece, "In Touch synthesized human skin is employed as portraits of the idiomatic categories used in medical research tests such as, Non-Smoking, post-menopausal, female.  The material is synthetically biological and human, yet stripped of its body it is drawn into cultural, social, and political discussions of identity and representation."  The biological (human skin) is a material for the cultural-- a "canvas" for artwork, a place for expression (tattoo)-- and for the social--categorization (Tattooed, human, male) of the biological is a construction or (aesthetic?) production itself, as evidenced by the presence of the skin in the gallery setting-- and is thereby political. 

The visitor touches the skin. Contact is made between human skin and human skin, one as subject one as object. But how this distinction?

The ironic dichotomy that Jeremijenko's piece makes explicit between two physically and biologically comparable things is reinforced in academic discourse.  Jameson notes,

from any number of distinct perspectives, the social theorists, the psychoanalysts, even the linguists, not to speak of those of us who work in the area of cultural and formal change, are all exploring the notion that the old individual or individualist subject is 'dead'; and that one might even describe the concept of the unique individual and the theoretical basis of individualism as ideological (Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” 115).

The discourses emerging from these explorations reorient the mythic individual identity to the flux of structures from which it emerges. For example, in his social critique of taste, Pierre Bourdieu sees class as an intersection of a complex web of capital types (economic, educational, cultural, etc.) and notes the lifestyle or "habitus" resulting from any particular instance of this intersection yields a distinct world view and a distinct embodied experience of the world. He contends,

The habitus is not only a structuring structure, which organizes practices and perception of practices, but also a structured structure…Each class condition is defined simultaneously, by its intrinsic properties and by its relational properties which it derives from its position in the system of class conditions, which is also a system of differences, different positions, i.e., by everything which distinguishes it from what it is not and especially from everything which it is opposed to; social identity is defined and asserted through difference (Bourdieu 171-2).

Here, identity, experience, and understanding (taste) are all a condition of a certain relational stance dependent on capital accumulation and composition. Individualism as such is exchangeable within any habitus.

Yet Bourdieu's analysis feels cold and over-determined to the visitor who curiously reaches for the skin, moving slowly, betraying repulsion and uncertainty.The compulsion to touch the skin infuses the visitor with emotions and anxieties experienced irreducible to class lines. The potency of the piece emerges from its critique of the understanding and experience of life and human being as such. How threatened this understanding and experience becomes by their partial appearance in a small dish full of pink liquid is the question.

In Joan Scott's work on the experience of identification, or, the discovery of the "natural" self through the representation of social categories, she too notes that "the social and the personal are imbricated in one another and both are historically variable.  The meanings of the categories of identity change and with them possibilities for thinking the self" (Scott 35).  Though the analysis primarily focuses on the experience of identification within categories of gender and sexuality, it is adaptable to any social category.  Scott's project, like Bourdieu's maintains that all experience is mitigated by underlying social/historical constructions, infiltrating and deconstructing the naturalness of any mode of being.   But whereas Bourdieu is content to maintain an exact relation between the subject and class (albeit a complex notion of this latter term), Scott demands a more severe questioning; one that asks, "How have categories of representation and analysis--such as class, race, gender, relations of production, biology, identity, subjectivity, even culture--achieved their foundational status?"(Scott 36).  Scott thus denies Bourdieu's claims of an existing underlying structure with "intrinsic qualities" and demands an approach that questions the construction of all social and structural categories on which the existence of the subject is built.

It is at this level that Jeremijenko’s piece operates.  Attempting to push the identity debate to its extreme,  “Touch” fuses an unlikely mixture of art and science, and presents one with a complexly singular manifestation of aesthetic biotechnology.  The tiny piece of skin submerged in the dish pulls the visitor into a web of non-distinct categorizations that inevitably fail to seize a firm conviction.  Art/Science appears as the least threatening of the contradictory moments that the skin itself is.  Human/Inhuman?  Organic to be sure, but…  The dilemmas that emerge rebound endlessly, and it is no longer the art object that is primarily the focus of critique.  How one becomes human, becomes categorized, labeled, branded, identified (smoking, postmenopausal, female) is beyond the nature/nurture debate, becoming an impossible fusion of the two with a remainder.   We create the human, and the inhuman, both in our judgment, symbolized by the spectator stance, the visitor postures as it approaches  “Touch”, but also, and moreover, in how the visitor experiences and what it becomes through its interaction with the piece.  After explaining the human quality of the skin, its origin, its susceptibility to bacteria and disease, the text reads, “This sample should be safe to touch.”


  Emerging through one of the electrified screens, the visitor confronts Kristin Lucas' mammoth face, distorted by static charges and discoloration. [9]   The image is a live stream broadcast over the Internet, projected monstrously large in front of the visitor. Lucas narrates a confession, a memoir of her existence as a girl infused with an enormous electromagnetic pulse, which she constantly discharges.  She is an amalgamation of woman and machine composed of each and exerting creative (human) output (machine) through this fusion.

Donna Harraway's Cyborg Manifesto adopts a similar understanding to Scott's, extending it to even more radical groupings.  Going well beyond Bourdieu's structuralism Harraway claims "the dichotomies between mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized are all in question ideologically", and demands that the subject understand itself as cyborg, "a condensed image of both imagination and material reality…a creature in a post-gender world"(Harraway 163, 150).

Harraway's is not so much a new decision to consciously collaborate with what has previously been distinguished as tools, but an understanding of the already thoroughly imbued relationship between these elements--each, itself a construction--which together function as identity.  There is no way to think of the human without technology.  Indicating the particular intensity--now to the point of conscious awareness and purposeful manipulation--at which this symbiosis currently exists, Harraway's feminist theory is mirrored throughout postmodern life.  In pop music, Kraftwerk's The Man Machine and Computerworld albums helped spawn an image in which "the future" appears as this same melding of the human with the technological constructions and communication network of the postmodern world.  Coming from this lineage, Matmos creates music using samples of sounds made during surgery.  The sounds include those from both the invasive technological tools used and the body.  Surgery, where the human is opened to, and by, technological tools and knowledge, becomes a metaphor for the condition of the postmodern subject. 

In their essay on desiring-machines, Deleuze and Guattari try to re-envision the relationship of man and tool.

Our relationship with machines is not a a relationship of invention or of imitation; we are not the cerebral fathers or the disciplined sons of the machine.  It is a relationship of peopling:  we populate the social technical machines with desiring-machines, and we have no alternative.  We are obliged to say at the same time:  social technical machines are only conglomerates of desiring-machines under molar conditions that are historically determined:  desiring-machines are social and technical machines restored to their determinant molar conditions (Deleuze/Guattari, “Desiring-Machines” 129).

Neither subject nor technical apparatus appaear as hierarchically related or intrinsically distinct, but become material through the intrusion and expulsion of admixtures of what previously have ben wrongly conceived as separate fields.  The molar conditions, the historical situation of postmodernism, finds its singularity not in the fact of human/tool fusion—this has always been the case—but in the specific switch that allows this hybridization today, as compared with that which Marrinetti and the Futurists hailed.  This switch, of course, is that the tool aspect is no longer mechanic but digital.

Although this movement from the mechanical to the digital may seem reducible to simple developments within technology itself, there is no way to underestimate its import in the creation of new subjectivities.  In Crary's words, the positing of such a developmental scheme "often ignores the conceptual and historical  singularities of each…What is important are the conditions and circumstances that allowed [the notion of persistence or development] to operate and the historical subject/observer that it presupposed"(Crary 110). 

The loss of psychic distance already alluded to marks one of the major consequences of the digital shift (in so far as it converges with the postmodern assemblage).  McLuhan's characterization of the digital (electric) rupture expands on this notion of modernity's (mechanical) disengagement being replaced by postmodernity's (electric)fully embodied immanence.  Of the mechanical techno-culture typified by typography, he writes, "Perhaps the most significant of the gifts of typography to man, is that of detachment and non-involvement--the power to act without reacting"(McLuhan, Understanding Media 173).  This disengaged stance, which entails an isolated, unencumbered individual suffers a radical alteration with the arrival of digitization.  Of this experience, McLuhan continues, "The immediate prospect for literate, fragmented Western man encountering the electric implosion within his own culture is his steady and rapid transformation into a complex depth-structured person emotionally aware of his total interdependence with the rest of human society"( McLuhan, Understanding Media 50).  As before with Owens, if it is added to McLuhan that this emotional awareness extends to that of sensorial inputs and energy flows in this depth-structure, the stance of modernity's individual crumbles as comensality is embodied with the postmodern subject's "passion for depth involvement in every aspect of experience"( McLuhan, Understanding Media 328).

Paul Virilio also sees a more engaged subject formed, and informed, through digitization.  Restructuring the notion of distance in the postmodern reorganization of space, Virilio changes focus from distance's relation to space (as relative farness), to what he's sees as a more important relation, that of time (speed).  For him, this realignment manifests in the transition from dialectic logic (mechanical) to paradoxical logic (digital).  In postmodern paradoxical logic, "what gets decisively resolved is the reality of the object's real-time presence.  In the previous age of dialectical logic, it was only the delayed-time presence, the presence of the past…The paradoxical image thus acquires a status something like that of surprise, or more precisely, of an 'accidental transfer'"(Virilio 138).  "Accidental transfer" means that there is continuos inadvertent exchange or interaction continuously converging and circulating between presences.  Thus, as with McLuhan's depth involvement, Virilio's real-time transfer implicates the postmodern subject's immanency with the whole of its environment.

Like with the transition undergone in the nineteenth century observer, as related by Crary, a similar reorientation occurs in the postmodern subject with, though not because [10] , of digitization.  This is not to say that the visitor in TenaCity in no way understands itself as an individual able to evaluate the pieces in front of it.  It is to say however, that simultaneously the visitor experiences the exhibition and itself in ways unreconcilable with those by which prior subjects understood their subjectivity and world.  Thus the rupture of the postmodern does not appear as one in which the past is extinguished and through which the present and future will be singularly experienced.  The situation is like that given by Manuel De Landa in his account of the history of human societies.  In it, he refers to what has here been termed ruptures, as "bifurcations," occurring at certain intensities (phase transitions) that result in various stable states.  This view leads to the conclusion that, "if the 'different stages'  of human history were indeed brought about by phase transitions, then they are not 'stages' at all--that is, progressive developmental steps, each better than the previous one, and indeed leaving the previous one behind" (DeLanda 15-16).

But if this discussion seems based too much in critical theory to relate to the intimate experience of Lucas' piece, and to the visitor's evaluation of how compelling the suggestion that we are already cyborgs truly is, one needs only to look to the ever increasing cult of gadget lovers throughout society.  The obvious examples of the cell phone, beeper, palm pilot, and laptop allowing the individual to be mobile yet connected to the "pulse" of life are actually at the periphery of the hybridization.  Closer are hearing aids, pacemakers, preservatives left in the bloodstream.  An endless expansion of this list is possible with the import laying not so much in the realization that the body comingles with technology (as though the two fields are entwined but separable), but in the acknowledgement that it is the conjunction itself that vitally establishes (though misconstrues) each. The cell phone is not a tool.  It is part of an assemblage through which the interconnections that define and expand all the elements with which it converges are shaped.  Deleuze and Guattari wirte,

It is through the intermediary of assemblages that the phylum selects, qualifies, and even invents the technical elements.  Thus one cannot speak of weapons or tools before defining the constituent assemblages they presuppose and enter into…Weapons and tools are not merely distinguished from one another in an extrinsic manner, and yet they have no intrinsic characteristics.  They have internal (and not intrinsic) characteristics relating to the respective assemblages with which they are associated (Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 398).

It is the flux of transference that shapes the individual elements within a network of exchange.  To separate the elements, to divide the user from the tool, is to reassert the primacy of the individual subject, to create false illusions of its intrinsic qualities, distancing it from the assemblage in which it is constructed. 

But Lucas' piece brings up other questions as well.  The image is a live stream.  Lucas is actually narrating the script as it unfolds.  The software responsible for the static charges occurs simultaneously with the narration of its script. [11]   Interdependently, the actual and virtual create the cyborg with whom the visitor interfaces.  In place of the physical fusion of human and machine of which Harraway speaks, what Lucas' piece suggests is not simply a spatial accumulation but also a temporal hybridization.  The real time manipulation and sedimentation of the image and the object--which in this case is a live, speaking, subject--problematizes prior modes of representation.  In painting, but also in photography and film, the object captured, even if a living subject, was separated temporally. This gap of representational imaging preserved the dignity of both elements.--The film star can sit in the theatre watching as her character throws herself to her death.--But with the advent of real time transmission this gap collapses.  Is the projection Lucas or her image?  Paul Virilio writes,

In the face of such representational slather, the philosophical questions of plausibility and implausibility override those concerning the true and the false.  The shift of interest from the thing to its image, and especially from space to time, to the instant, leads to a shift in polarities from the old black-and-white real-figurative dichotomy to the more relative actual-virtual

Unless…unless what we are seeing is the emergence of a mix, a fusion-confusion of the two terms, the paradoxical occurrence of a unisex reality, beyond good and evil, applying itself this time to the now crucial categories of space and time and their relative dimensions, as a number of discoveries in the areas of quantum indivisibility and superconductivity would already suggest (Virilio 145).

But what is the effect of this temporal "fusion-confusion", the collapse of the subject/object and its image, and how does one experience it?

Turning, the visitor notices above its head, a monitor angling down from its column mount. [12]   The monitor's display is split into four quadrants, each one a live stream view from a webcam.  The quadrants change every so often, randomly selecting new surveillance sites.  The views come from webcams placed in offices, along highways, outside shopping centers, in homes.  All of these continuously run in real time across the Internet.

The viewer, normally a spectator, is repositioned as it confronts the McCoys' surveillance piece. It is no longer the watcher but the watched.  That the real time images are from web cams occupying places outside of the immediate space (the gallery) but still well within the visitor's own habitat (i.e. the office) extends the gallery itself to the outside world, as tentacles, as lines of flight. [13]   Simultaneously, the persons being captured by these web cams become part of the gallery’s exhibition, part of the collection, and the visitor inside the gallery remains outside the collection only so long as it remains in the gallery.  As it reconstructs space through the extension of the gallery, the piece deconstructs the institutionality of the spectator stance, repositioning it within a new spatial understanding.  A system of control infects (through surveillance) any possible private sphere.  Living in the world appears as life through images, images always immediately present to others who are themselves equally reduced.  Virilio's haunting claim concerning the "imaginary multiplication of inmates" resonates, "From now on, inmates can monitor actuality, can observe televised events--unless we turn this around and point out that, as soon as viewers switch on their sets, it is they, prisoners or otherwise, who are in the field, a field in which they are obviously powerless to intervene…" (Virilio 140, 139).

From Debord's spectacle and Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame, to Baudrillard's simulacrum and prime time's "reality television", the postmodern condition appears as one of immanent involvement, yet one in which actions and identity evolve not from actors but from emergent qualities within the flux itself.  Frederick Jameson writes,

this latest mutation in space--postmodern hyperspace--has finally succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself…this alarming disjunction point between the body and its built environment…can itself stand as the symbol and analogue of that even sharper dilemma which is the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global multinational and decentered communication network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects (Jameson, Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism 44).

Amidst the swirl of abstracted relations exemplified in late capitalism by everything from NASDAQ trading to the “aura of the brand”, individuals have ceased to be such other than through their production and consumption of individualistic identities via mass produced goods and services (Carducci).  Thus, individualistic activity is itself alienating and furthers the disorientation suffered through a collapse of any notion of a world solidly constructed and an understanding of a place within that world.  Debord's writing from 1967 states, "There can be no freedom apart from activity, and within the spectacle all activity is banned--a corollary of the fact that all real activity has been forcibly channeled into the global construction of the spectacle" (Debord 21-22).  The McCoys' 2000 piece shows activity in the world is part of a production in which actors unwittingly perform, not as individuals but as object in roles --as employees, motorists, pedestrians, shoppers--within a massive sphere of control with no apparent master.  The webcams’ scenes are randomly selected, not chosen. The visitor inside the gallery remains outside the collection only so long as it remains inside the gallery. 

Is Debord's spectacle here fully realized?  Is life now completely subordinated to the movement and production of images?  Is the postmodern subject, its body, will, and desire fully disintegrated?  What is this thing dislocated in virtual space?

A video monitor flashing news clips shifts from shots of an anchorman to images of lawyers in suits behind desks, to footage of a bedroom in which a woman is visible through the tangle of wires spewing from a pc. [14]   The visitor places the headphones linked to the video on its head, completing the circuit.  The narration tells of the battle over the use of a domain name between e-toy, a Zurich based artist group, and etoys, a toy corporation.  The artist group, using the domain name "etoy" prior to the company's use of the domain name "etoys" was taken to court based on the company's accusation that the conflict between similar web adresses was affecting its business.  Not waiting for judicial action, âTMark (pronounced art mark), and Electronic Disturbance Theatre unleashed a campaign of tactical media intervention through which a virtual sit-in launched from an army of volunteers' computers clogged e-toys site during the Christmas season.  E-toys response was to drop its suit against e-toy.

Turning now to another monitor displaying a man in a black ski mask, camoflauge fatigues, and a rifle on his back, followed by a recombinant collage of video clips insinuating a massive global upheaval linked to technological intervention, the visitor is introduced to Ricardo Dominguez's conception of the post-human agent. [15]   Zapatista sub-commander Marcos' strategy of netwar [16] as a means of reshaping global politics is set in the context of a world constructed and driven by information and communication technologies, technologies now widely available to individuals.  The blatant suggestion is that these might be manipulated, enabling disfunctional gaps, realigning the network.

Ricardo Dominguez's Electronic Disturbance Theater and âTMark's pieces reevaluate the possibilities and potential forms of activism and agency allowable once the concept of agency itself has been dismantled in the same manner as that of the individual . [17]   While McLuhan's technodeterminacy, maintains that the individual is constructed via the particular sense ratios demanded by the media with which it engages, it somewhat contradictorally divides media along a "hot/cold" divide.  The divide exists such that, "hot media are low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience" (McLuhan, Understanding Media, 23).  The theory indicates that, as with Bourdieu's habitus as a structuring structure, there is a reciprocal construction occuring between media and audience.  The audience, though a product or, in McLuhan's terms, a servomechanism, of its media base, still plays a constructive role; one whose participatory degree or intesity depends upon the qualities of the media form. McLuhan's writing in the 1950's and 1960's largely attempted  to explain, reveal, and navigate the cataclysmic effects television held for society, but engenders renewed enthusiasm in the contemporary media shift from television to the computer.  The one-way transmission of high definition television (in the McLuhanesque rather than the technical sense), so often commented upon, and usually condemned for its numbing effect, obviously situates television as a cool media.  In contrast, the decentered, participatory nature of the Internet and wireless media indicates the "hot" quality of cyberspace.  Still the question remains, even if the medium is hot, how can there be participation once the subject has been deconstructed?

…The excitement stirred in the visitor by the etoy army and the zapatista netwar mirrors that which is demonstrated in the increasingly visible mass protests made possible through tactical usage of the Internet in places like Seattle, Washington D.C., and Quebec.  Disembodied in cyberspace, the visitor remains as desire…Deleuze and Guattari attempt to explain desire's capacity to exist without physicality or intrinsic integrity by claiming,

Assemblages are passional, they are compositions of desire.  Desire has nothing to do with a natural or spontaneous determination; there is no desire but assembling, assembled desire.  The rationality, the efficiency, of an assemblage does not exist without the passions the assemblage brings into play, without the desires which constitute it as much as it constitutes them (Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 399).

Here Bourdieu's habitus as a structuring structure, with its capital composition/accumulation referent replaced with the intensity of rhizomatic connections to other multiplicties (efficiency of lines of flight and lines of articulation). [18]   This model may explain desire's intense presence in the deconstructed disembodied virtual world that TenaCity attempts to reconstruct.

Entering the last zone, the visitor “finishes” the exhibition and leaves the gallery through a back entrance.  But this final line of flight, escape from the gallery, has, as we noted, only changed the relation to the exhibition which, through a deterritorialization of the gallery encroaches into the outside world with which it constantly interacts.  At this moment the visitor might also reflect on the images and sounds present in the collage that are not pulled from the exhibition’s own resources. These resources are proven to extend beyond the walls of the gallery.  From where then?  Perhaps from the very location that the visitor plans as its next stop.  New lines of flight appear…

This is the functioning of an assemblage of which the gallery, the visitor, the aritsts artists, the individual pieces, and TenaCity as a whole, are only parts.  Through this assemblage the construction of individual elements reacts to the intermingling, exchange, presence, and forces, in sum, the "experience" of all the other elements.  In this transference which is experience, the temporary forms, physical and ephemeral, manifest.  Any manifestation is stable only so long as its convergence with other manifestations remains constant in all its particularities.  This equilibrium is never reached. 


Bourdieu, Pierre. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Carducci, Vince. (2002), "The Aura of the Brand". Master's Thesis. Graduate Faculty at New School University.

Crary, Johnathon. (1990). Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge: MIT Press.

De Landa, Manuel. (1997). A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. New York: Zone.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (1986). A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (1977). "Balance Sheet-Program for Desiring-Machines" in Semiotexte vol II, no 3.

Harraway, Donna. (1991). "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" in Simians, Cyborgs and Women.

Jameson, Frederick. (1983). "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" in The Anti-Aesthetic. Ed. Hal Foster. Port Townsend: Bay Press.

Jameson, Frederick. (1991). Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic or Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke.

McLuhan, Marshal and Quentin Fiore. (1967). The Medium is the Massage. New York: Bantam

McLuhan, Marshall. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Miller, Paul. (2000). "Material Memories: Time and the Cinematic Image" from Ctheory, Technology and Culture Vol 24, No 1-2.

Owens, Craig. (1983). "The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism" in The Anti-Aesthetic. Ed. Hal Foster. Port Townsend: Bay Press.

Rajchman, John.(1991) "The Postmodern Museum" in Philosophical Events: Essays of the '80's. New York: Columbia.

Scott, Joan. (1992) "Experience" in Feminists Theorize the Political. Ed. Judith Butler and Joan Scott. New York: Rutledge.

Virilio, Paul. (1998). "The Vision Machine" in The Virilio Reader. Ed. James Der Derian Oxford: Blackwell.

Volkart, Yvonne (curator). (2000). TenaCity: Cultural Practices in the Age of Information and Biotechnology. Exhibition Presented at the Swiss Institute. Info and installation scenes at:

[1] The pronoun "it" will replace the traditional (he/she) pronoun used to distinguish human beings both internally, along the gender line, and externally, from other living and inanimate objects.  Since the purpose of TenaCity and this paper is to demonstrate new conceptions of the subject and its world, this approach helps relieve attachment to distinctions that may no longer be relevant or functional.  Proper names will be employed but these titles of identity ownership and consistency should also be reexamined through the notions that this exhibition and this paper offer.  Unfortunately, such logic cannot be extended to all areas of concern.  For example descriptions of space (i.e. "room", "object", or objects) that also may no longer serve, must nevertheless be employed in order to achieve communicability through text.  It may thus be this technology, text, itself which is most (indirectly) questioned in this account. 

[2] It is important to note that TenaCity operates on two levels, both demanding that subjectivity must be understood in the plural.  These two levels will be expanded later in the paper.  The first relates to an awareness of otherness, (the multiple identities represented through an awareness of feminism, multiculturalism, etc.) and distinction, as Bourdieu understands the term (the drastically different worldviews embodied in hierarchical social space).  The second refers to multiple subjectivities within a single body (thus questioning the body as a ground itself).

[3] For a discussion on the import of psychic distance preconditioning modernist aesthetics see Arthur Danto' "The End of Art" in The Death of Art ed. Berel Lang (New York 1984).  Psychic distance is also employed by Pierre Bourdieu to characterize the aesthetic stance of the upper class.  For his discussion see Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1984), 34-41.

[4] Francesca da Rimini and Michael Grimm, dollspace and  soundtrack for an empty dollspace, 1998.

[5] Diane Ludin, reflesh to body, 2000.

[6] In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Manuel De Landa traces the course of human societies resulting from  the flow of energy and matter.  He writes, "In the eyes of many human beings, life appears to be a unique and special phenomenon…However, this view betrays an 'organic chaucinism' that leadsa us to underestimate the vitality of the processes of self-organization in other spheres of reality.  It can also make us forget that, despite the many differences in them, living creatures and their inorganic counterparts share a crucial dependence on flows of energy and minerals.  In many respects the circulation is what matters, not the particular forms that it causes to emerge."  Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone, 1997) 103-104.

[7] Almost in response to DeLanda, TenaCity highlights the forceful exchange, interaction, compulsion, and repulsion endlessly playing out between the organic and inorganic, the virtual and the real, etc., and finds its success in its realization of the momentary, fragile, and interdependent character through which these divisions emerge.  One obvious example through which this realization is manifest is the soundscape whose organic ambience is a conglomeration-mesh of intermingling elements, only occasionally and fleetingly isolatable from the swirl.

[8] Natalie Jeremijenko, Touch 2000.

[9] Kristin Lucas, Involuntary Reception. 2000.  Live webstream at SI/NY TenaCity opening reception.

[10] In the assemblage, construction never occurs in a simple causal realtion.  It is only through the complex interaction amongst singularities which are themselves emergent, that new emergent properties surface.

[11] Lucas' piece, still on the Internet, was originally broadcast as a live stream for the TenaCity opening.

[12] Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Airworld Security, 2000. 

[13] "Multiplicities are defined by the outside: by the abstract line, the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities…The line of flight marks: the reality of a finite number of dimensions that the multiplicity fills; the impossibility of a supplementary dimension, unless the multiplicity is transformed by the lines of flight."  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987), 9.

[14] âTMark, News Coverage, 1999, 2000.

[15] Ricardo Dominguez, Marcos on 'Free Media', 1997 and Post-Media-Impossiblity, 1999

[16] See David Ronfeldt, Zapatistas "Social Netwar" in Mexico, 1999

[17] See for example, Talal Asad, "Agency and Pain" Culture and Religion 1 (1): 29-60, May 2000.

[18] Deleuze and Guattari write, "Principle of Multiplicity: it is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a sbubstantive, 'multiplicity,' that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world…There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object or to divide the subject…A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only detereminations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature…Every rhizome contains lines of segmentarity aaccording to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc. as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees."  ibid, 8,9.

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