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Review: Telematic Embrace- café

Saturday, 20 June, 2015

Telematic Embrace- café

Camille Robinson, Travis Cox, Tara Elizabeth Cook, Richie Cyngler, Chris Williams (US), curated by Marita Batna.

13-29th May,

George Paton Gallery

Telematic Embrace – café, curated by Marita Batna, is a solid exhibition that has just finished its run at the George Paton Gallery. Telemetry refers to the process of using automated communications to collect data and transmit it elsewhere for monitoring. Telematic art makes these computer based communications its subject matter.

Telematic art developed within the context of a burgeoning avant-garde scene of the 1970s; audience participation and rejection of the passive art object were in. Furthermore, advancing telecommunication technology was a subject of interest as the World Wide Web was set to launch in 1983. The world was becoming smaller. The distance and time it took to communicate information was becoming smaller. Telematic Embrace takes a hard look at the immediacy of contemporary communication that we take for granted and draws us back into the awareness of distance.

The exhibition is set up as six discreet stations. In a comfortable, social context, visitors are guided through the options with the help of a café style chalkboard ‘menu.’ Numbers and information sheets giving clues on what to do. Curator Marita Batna is also on hand with coffee and friendly conversation about the works.

‘Encapsulated Learning Algorithm Interpreting New Experiences,’ or ‘ELAINE,’ by Travis Cox consists of a screen and a camera. The camera takes photos that are turned into pixels that show up on screens at the VCA Digital Hub in Southbank. Next to it, the screen shows images taken at the VCA. The work creates a sense of unease as we know that our image is being recorded and projected somewhere else. We cannot see ourselves—nor do we know who else might be looking at us.

I happened to be visiting the Lenton Parr library at VCA later that day and I saw the screens on the other side. It is apt that the work was about distance, as this was my first visit to the library. I had stubbornly avoided it for years because it seemed too far away from the Parkville campus. Up until then, I had preferred to order books through an online library system that delivered them directly to me. Taking technology and immediacy for granted indeed.

Camille Robinson has set up a station where you can have a five minute Skype conversation with someone at the other end. A man with a ginger beard stares out and states “I’m here to listen,” then he is silent. The idea behind the work is that viewers speak to the man, slowly becoming aware that they do not know who else might also be listening. I was too confronted by the idea of speaking one on one with a stranger through a screen. I think this is one of the pitfalls of art that relies on the direct input of its audience. The artist needs to make the audience feel safe in order for them to engage with they work.

In Richie Cyngler’s work you can listen to and manipulate the playback of several tracks to speed them up, slow them down, and play them backwards or forwards. This was an effective way of allowing the audience a chance to play with technology and realise the power that the ability to manipulate instils within us.

Chris Williams has a recording of a brass band festival in a Pittsburgh, USA park that includes all the incidental noises of a buzzing festival. The recording creates a strong sense of imagining space. It encourages the listener to think about distance, to imagine the space of the park and how far away it is from your current place.

I tried using the Twitter account made available in the space but quickly realised I had no idea how to. There was also a blog visitors could post to but I found the interface confusing. I felt my inner technologically-flummoxed mother persona start to emerge. On reflection, the terrifying and frustrating chasm that opens up when you can’t use a social networking interface was palpable. I took my ability to communicate instantly with many people from far away as a given. When I couldn’t do it, I felt I had been blocked off from the world.

Also on display is telematic artist David Perry’s archival work ‘Interior with Views.’ This is a video-work created in the 1970s of interior spaces with incidental sounds, barely perceptible in the background. The video introduces the element of distance in time, rather than just physical distance.

Telematic Embrace – café is a tight show with a strong theme throughout. Works by various artists meditate on the idea of telematics, creating a sense of the disjoint between time and space that technology gives rise to. A disjoint that means when I finish this article, I will send it to the editor with no knowledge of where they are or who will read it. All with the click of a button.