As I’ve discussed previously, the link between culture and technology goes beyond the material nature of machines and networks, to the historical thinking processes that facilitate these developments. In addition to Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin, Vilém Flusser was another scholar dedicated to understanding the impact of image networks; an idea he referred to as ‘telematic society’.
The Artpool Art Research Center in Budapest has developed a continuing programme of telematic art to explore and understand how technological developments have impacted on artistic production. In their introduction to Telematics, they aggregate content from various sources to explore the concept: “The word telematic derives from ‘tele-communication’ and ‘Informatics’. It addresses our world-wide, instant connections through machines. That connectivity has led, and continues to lead to the emergence of new patterns of communication, new power structures, and new ways to realize values.”
The concept of the Telematic society has also been labelled as both the ‘Knowledge’ and the ‘Information’ economy, to describe the ways in which digital and technological advancements are changing traditional models of capitalism. More importantly, these developments are having a significant impact on the ways that we generate knowledge and navigate information. In particular, “connectivity through the electronic networks induces telenoia, a life-affirming sense of mind-at-large.”
Telematic (or Net) art describes the amalgamation of telematics and art, through a conceptualisation of the networked environment: “In telematic art, meaning is not created by the artist, distributed through the network, and received by the observer. Meaning is the product of interaction between the observer and the system, the content of which is in a state of flux, of endless change and transformation… The sensory output may be differentiated further as existing on screen, as articulated structure or material, as architecture, as environment, or in virtual space.”
Telematic art creates a space without hierarchies, and with multiple connection points, what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the Rhizome. These working methods also subvert ideas authorship and ownership as practiced in more traditional capitalist and art market models. In such cases “the artist or author [becomes] a complex and often widely distributed system, in which both human and artificial cognition and perception play their part… The value of interactive and telematic media in this context is immediately apparent, since the widespread diffusion of ideas and the enrichment of individual and collective work are the defining attributes of such media.”
Telematic art in practice
Practitioners employing telematic concepts and technologies have been producing work since before the emergence of the Internet. Practitioners included artists such as Eduardo Kac who produced “radical telepresence and bio-telematic works” in the 1980s and early 1990s. Kac’s “visionary combination of robotics and networking [explored] the fluidity of subject positions in the post-digital world. His work [dealt] with issues that [ranged] from the mythopoetics of online experience (Uirapuru) to the cultural impact of biotechnology (Genesis); and from the changing condition of memory in the digital age (Time Capsule) to distributed collective agency (Teleporting an Unknown State)…”
Another early adopter of telematic art was artist Paul Sermon, who installed telematic workstations in galleries and at festivals: “These workstations, consisting of clusters of Macintosh computer terminals, were connected via modems to what was then the European Academic Research Network. These telematic events involved a large number of contributors from around the world and questioned the authority of the artist over representations made in networked environments. The last of these projects, Texts Bombs & Videotape (1991), simulated the TV newsroom scenario in an interactive satire of the role of the media in the Gulf War.”