Digital Terror

New Media Art and Rhizomatic In-Securities

In 1977, the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, argued against the conventional notion of the ontological subject by insisting on the "rapports cinématiques" between unformed elements.

There are no longer subjects, but dynamic individuations without subjects that constitute collective agency. ... Not subjects, instead heccéités take shape in relation to compositions of non-subjective forces and affects. A cartography of speeds and intensities. We've already encountered this tale of speeds and delay: they share a drive toward the middle, a being always-between; they share the imperceptible, like the enormous delay of the huge Japanese wrestlers, and all of a sudden, there comes a decisive gesture so rapid that it couldn't be seen. [1]

Little could this philosopher of the rhizome have foreseen the intensification of cross-global identity that has been catalyzed by digital culture. An aspect of Deleuze's notion of collective agency that bears noting, particularly in the context of current international politics, is its global positionality, one balanced always-between South and North, not to mention East and West, a positionality whose decisiveness of gesture no doubt varies depending on one's specific place on the global vector and the digital divide. Indeed the machinery of the digital divide now invades and erodes the beingness of always-between at almost every turn. The very machineries of scansion and tracking that exported the playful gaming of Pokemon from the children of the huge Japanese wrestlers to Western affecionados of anim now bear the traces of militaristic speeds and intensitities with which the axis of terroristic evil is tracked and traced by global forces in denial of a state of productive betweenness. As insisted by George W. Bush, you are either for us or against us. The American sponsored systems of global positioning, international digital surveillance and security provides for no in-between.

Nevertheless, we still find ourselves suspended at a moment precisely in the perilous delay of the always-between. Aren't we between the moment of war and not-war against Iraq? Aren't we between the moment of disarmament and now non-disarmament in North Korea? Don't we find ourselves also between the moment of Al-Kaida terror strikes and the reciprocal American-led terror strike against any vague resemblance of Al-Kaida? A debate even has preoccupied the American press as to which posed the greatest axis of immediate evil, the dark intentions of Sadam Hussein or the nuclear boasts of North Korea's Kim Chong-il? And might not the ontological condition of global in-security reflect the precise conditions of the immateriality of digital culture?

While these may not be new concerns, global developments enhanced by digital technology and the accompanying transfer from analogue to digital media and communication systems have raised their stakes both for world peace and for artistic practice. As Jordan Crandall writes, in "Anything that Moves: Armed Vision,"

Computerization has brought massive changes in the development and coordination of databases, the speed and quality of communication with intelligence and tactical agencies, operations and combat teams. New technologies of tracking, identification, and networking have increased this infrastructure into a massive machinery of proactive supervision and tactical knowledge. Originally conceived for the defense and intelligence industries, these technologies have, after the cold war, rapidly spread into the law enforcement and private sectors.

If we follow Crandall's logic, the new world vision renders us all into global data bits for circulation in the international security data stream. At stake is an extensive transfer of media information from playful self-representations on the home video camera to widely circulating communications data stored being matched against both realistic and imagined terror data bases. All of us who have travelled internationally in the past two years have had our movements tracked by global tracking systems; some of us had eyes scanned into new digital surveillance systems; others had luggage searched because we've been keyed into airline security systems as suspicious, sometimes for digital reasons, say, because of the quality of our electronic gear, othertimes due to analogue evidence, say, the flashy color of our shoes; while many others have recounted being pulled aside at customs for additional interrogation, as I was last year in Toronto, due to the very business they're about: electronic art. Across all sectors of private and public life, we are experiencing a troubling transfer of human rights into digital databanks as the unchecked technological response to global terror.

Under suspicion and in-secure, we find ourselves suspended in-between the conditions of "digital terror" itself. This is a condition clearly articulated with particular poignancy by the Israeli net artist, Horit Herman-Peled whose net art project from 1998 to 2002, "Gaza Checkpoint," includes a short searing inquisition of digital terror. The text reads:

Terror is commonly conceived of as a political act carried out by groups that operate illegally against an economic and political power, engaging in violent acts that harm innocent civilians. But terror is also a reciprocal activity, a reaction against legal and institutional oppression perpetrated by economic and political powers. Digital technology plays an important role in the latter kind of terror, state terror, as an instrument of surveillance and identification, construction, deconstruction and stripping of human identity.

The reality and/or threat of terror shapes people's consciousness and unconsciousness, among them people who are active in the cultural and art-making fields. This raises numerous questions regarding the relationships between the digital revolution, digital terror, and digital art. Some of these questions are:

  1. What is the relationship between the production of art by means of digital technologies and the production of terror by the same means?
  2. Do artists and cultural producers in areas inflicted with terror embrace more readily the digital media, with its perturbing qualities, as natural means of artistic production?
  3. Do artists who experience terror directly react differently in these respects than artists who experience it virtually, through the electronic media?

In dialogue with Herman-Peled, whose politically urgent work from "an Israeli woman's point of view" I've found myself including in almost every exhibition I've curated in the last four years, I would like to focus our attention on the paradox of digital terror as it is situated in the in-betweenness of the network and its artistic interventions. Her internet artwork, "Gaza Checkpoint," started out initially in 1998 as a rather plain new media reflection on the fraught conditions of passage from the Palestinian refugee camps through Israel check points. It took on a different tone from 2000-2003 when tracing the tragic events catalyzed by the recent intifada. Here the flow of workers dries up in correlation to the excessive flow of weaponry and blood across and between the checkpoint zones. It is precisely this state of "being always-between" that demands our artistic and curatorial attention when we retreat from digital speed to reflect on the indecisive cultural delays and fleshy messes rendered by new global media systems and their various remote controls. Now often measured in terms of the interrelated flow of information and blood, perhaps the condition of globalization is mediated first and foremost by the "post," not only the surveillance "post" but also the kind of temporal delay of the poststructural or the postmodern that now conditions the decisive moves to make art in the age of digital terror. To be "in" a state of digital security, in this sense, is to be always-between securities, to be in-secure, to be in-thought about what will have been done.

Already in 1977, Deleuze linked the enormous delay of in-security to the redefinition of the conventional notion of the ontological subject. In Dialogues with Claire Parnet, he insisted that "we are always in a zone of intensity or flux which is common both to our local ventures and to very distant global situations, to very distant geographical milieu" (Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues. Consider how much things have changed in twenty-five years, such as the intensification of cross-global identity that has been catalyzed by the internet, its resistance by state and corporate sponsored digital surveillance procedures, and, finally, the morphing and mutating of such resistance by wired artists whose new media experiments infiltrate both the web and the museum system.

The distinction between the local and the distant, for instance, has been diminished by the speed of internet communication just as the global commonality of communicational and artistic flux has increased dramatically with material and virtual advances in digital technology. Hypertext has destabilized the local anchorage of textuality while softwares like Flash and Cosmo have intensified the energetics of visual representation. At the core of the digital zone, moreover, is rapid access to the global, informational archive that simultaneously delights and overwhelms any user who turns to it only for empirical certainty, historical veracity, and subjective validation. In the zones of the internet and digital installation artwork, the graphic certitude of the factual is entwined in the figural play of the fictional, the privacy of the personal erodes with the interactivity of the social, the patient quietude of reading is interlaced with the jumpy quickness of surfing, and the quasi-religious contemplation of textuality and high art becomes newly energized by the flashy multi-media quacking of art in the electrifying zone of the digital. All of this happens across the cartographic boundaries of local space, regional territory, and global extension.

While boosting energy, digital information systems must also be acknowledged to renew the reality of entropy. With the new celebration of cybersubjectivity (where the subject is no longer a subject but a rhizome, a cartographic pulse , a Body without Organs,) comes the intense expansion of remote control and remote division. Just as individual access to global interlocutors and archival information enhances the quality of the human experience, so do global media ventures attempt to monopolize the internet and digital culture, capitalize on its free-spirited inventions, and reconfigure local particularity into global universalism. Just as the profit of global capitalism comes at the expense of those on the wrong side of the digital divide, the power of new organizations of social control is transferred to the centralizing systems of information acquisition and verification. George Bush's Homeland Security Act, for example, now subjects all US citizens to the common integration of data bits regarding their internet use, their purchasing trail, their travel patterns, their educational pursuits, and their leisure habits. Moreover, non-European visitors (and soon Europeans as well) to the US are required to leave their fingerprints and digital photographs at the custom officer's desk (a digital reenactment of what Naoki Sakai distinguished in his Society Invitational Lecture as the West and the Rest).

A recent interactive installation by the Chinese artist, Du Zhenjun, now living in Paris, reminds viewers from democratic, industralized populations that such tracking has been an integral package of the dominant cultural governance of the immigrant other; this is not so much an intervention of digital culture and the so-called war on terror, but a systematic development of paranoid practices aimed at stemming the tied of immigration primarily by the colonialized other. In "The Raft of the Medusa (2000), the viewer is confronted by screened footage from a television news report about illegal immigrants. The footage depicts a boat full of desperate immigrants who are either departing or more likely arriving from sea at a coastline. The arrival of the viewer is registered by a sensor on the ground which then subjects the image and its viewers to "three types of rapid fire light" signaling the machineries of technological surveillance and aggression. One sensor triggers a dervish of whirling lights and noise resembling helicopters swooping down from above; another sets off a barrage of photograph shots, while a third sets off a series of invading flashes whose enigmatic form suggests either the blindness of light or, worse, the trace of gunfire. Put into question here is the link, articulated in relation to cinema by Paul Virilio, between the apparati of the camera, the weapon, and state surveillance. Not simply staging a critique of all three machineries, "The Raft of the Medusa" freezes the inattentive museum spectators in the flashes of light in a way that positions them paradoxically both with the arriving immigrants (as they have just arrived at the installation) and with the dominant practicioners of surveillance, as museum practice accustoms them to be artistic custodians of the cultural other.

The paradox of the system of remote control is, of course, that it too is subject to the return of the oppressed in the form of terroristic termites, disruptive viruses, virtual threats, commercial parodies, and even cloning of artistic sites. In relation to the art world, I like to say that viral parody is the new life form of digital installation and internet art. New media artforms celebrate the rhizomatic energy of the digital domain and imagine the more entropic aspects of what Arthur and Marilouise Kroker call "digital delirium." "Digital delirium" here includes the pulsating combinations of futuristic colors and historical artifacts, their eerie dwellings in the zones of fear and fantasy, their acute contemplation of geography and enterprise, their libidinal projections of sense and sensation, their guarded presentations of media and mediation, and their excessively playful, artistic embodiment of the rhizome, the termite, and the mutating data bit.

A massive machinery of proactive supervision and tactical knowledge, art itself benefits from the transience of the net and interactive installation while also suffering from the entropic condition of (lack of) capital. Internet art, for instance, has provided artists with shareware, appropriated imagery and footage, and global interaction with which to experiment with new multimedia platforms and to represent the vicissitudes of subjective life and the depths of world memory. Yet the instability of digital commerce contributes to the paradox of's freedom. While celebrates its openness to group collaboration, continual revision, and momentary existence, conditions which are alien to the archival practice of museum art and the standards of individual, artistic genius, is equally frustrated by its dependence on a new global system of patronage and surveillance. Perhaps not since the Renaissance has the representation of art been so indebted to the power of the patron. The patron, in this instance, is not so much the individual donor who once provided artists with lodging, sustenance, and materials for the creation of commissioned art. Now the patrons are the organizational commissions that provide revenue for webspace and the networks and sites that choose or choose not to provide space and memory to house innovative projects of internet art. While many pieces thrive from ongoing revision and alteration by their makers, often in response to feedback and collaborations of their users, others disappear from the zone of the internet having lost their leases on sponsoring sites.

It is in this context that those of us with curatorial access and capital share the responsibility of remote control and should feel compelled to articulate strategic, if not long-term, responses to these systems of maintenance and control. For my part, whether as Co-Curator of CTHEORY Multmimedia with Arthur and Marilouise Kroker or as Curator of the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art in the Cornell Library, I have relied on the fruitful dialogue between art practice and theory to provide me with the best guidance for such strategic responses to the institutional drive of maintenance and control. The artworks I have curated demonstrate that the relation between divide and delirium constitutes less of a dialectic and more of a scansion, a transcoding always positioned between the social and the personal.

This analogical conundrum of scansion and scanning has been theorized by Jordan Crandall in the Anglo-American media community, on the one hand, and by theorists such as Guy Rosolato and Jean Laplanche in the French psychoanalytical communities, on the other. In contrast to Crandall's semi-anxious stance in the face of military industrial systems of scanning and tracking, Rosolato turns to the metaphor of "scanning" to describe the transferential activity of reading through vision whose "exploration demands patience and time" at the expense of visual representation. [2] Just as Freud called upon the apparatus of the mystic writing pad to understand the process of screen memory, Rosolato now could cite the digital scanner as precisely such a machine whose patiently close entry of data recognizes the object only in relation to the software's internalized recombination of form that easily can skew the representation and abstract thought of the source document. It is in this process of scanning, moreover, that Rosolato identifies a convergence in psychic space around what he calls "the Object of Perspective" that grounds psychic life. "We thus recognize the chiasma between the verbally digital and visually representational analogy which is centered around the aporia. This results, he maintains, in a double manifestation: that of the relation of the unknown in the aporia and that of the object of perspective that recovers the aporia as a topological object. So it goes that this object of perspective lends itself to the signifier of loss." [3] Loss here is organized around the phenomenological procedures of scansion and its achorage in time, not primarily around sexual differences or Oedipal triangularity. As a result of this doubled logic of scansion, through which the form or metaphorization of the scanned object may be recognized but not necessarily in terms of its content or what it represents, the status of "representations themselves, Rosolato concludes, can be relegated only to that of the phantasm, whereas the visible, maintained at a distance, can only be a protection against more direct contacts, following other perceptions, other sensations, or inversely against abstract thought." [4]

As demonstrated by the many video and new media installations that address surveillance and media tracking, recent digital installations make evident how powerfully the interiorizing machineries of digital scansion and registration can coalesce to challenge the cultural dominance of scopic visibility with creative zones of delirious intensity. By reflecting on the theoretical implications of a number of recent digital installations from across the digital divide, from Germany to Japan, and Canada to China, I hope to make evident the multiple levels of transfer at stake in the parodic artistic translation of the in-between, the artistic blending of digital divide and digital delirium.

At issue in such art work, I would like to suggest, is a cross-registration of procedures of psychic scansion as inscribed on the ever-changing scene of multimedia installation. Take the rather simple and yet compelling installation work, "Safe Torturing Series-9," by the Japanese artist, Miyuki Shirakawa. The conceit of this series is to mix, somewhat literally, commonplace media practices that combine information, pleasure, and everyday sustenance. Visitors to this installation are provided with the opportunity to enter a draped-off chamber. After somewhat cautiously entering this dark box, the visitors find themselves in the familiar space of a photo booth whose traditional use mixes the social activities of pleasure and identity registration. Most of us have found ourselves in these machines, usually located in spaces of heavy social transit, such as a subway station, for the sake to taking playful pictures with our family and friends or, conversely, for the registration of autoportraits whose playfulness is immediately transferred into the more serious arena of social tracking and identification. Although Shirakawa's installation capitalizes on popular associations with the photo booth in the subway or shopping mall, it playfully disrupts the pattern of repetition they elicit. After his visitor pushes the recognizable photo button (Western visitors knew to do this even when unable to read the Japanese instructions), no familiar photograph appears. The ruse of the installation seems to be a click without the expected return. Lacking the traditional, analogue hard photographic copy the visitor leaves the booth to be surprised, if she turns back toward the installation, by a colossal, upside down and distorted digital image of herself appearing on the installation wall. As if parodying the horrific Lacanian mirror image which is larger than life for the unsuspecting and arrested viewer, this oversized autoportrait is covered in some sort of fluid and continues to stand on its head until supplanted by that of the next viewer. Until this replacement, the viewer's self-image also appears elsewhere in the installation in various guises. In one corner, adjacent to the wall projection, the source of the strange image is revealed to be a large screen monitor, positioned as an auto screen or windshield. Here windshield wipers move back and forth in an ongoing display of Fort-Da to remove the oily substance that continually covers and distorts the idealized figure. Yet the constant movement of wipers never quite brings the image back to a recognizable and comforting "Fort." It always remains somewhere in-between, in-between Fort and Da.

Shirakawa explains his motives in rather simple terms, "I'm interested in the process of how a sense of value is formed by the information of media systems. . . . . I'm trying to represent physical and mental conditions we daily experience with media." [5] As framed by the paradigm of media torture, this oily distortion's coalescence of the physical and the mental performs something akin to our masochistic inability to live up to the adjacent idealized image, if not the masochistic reality of being trapped in the dirty world of dependency on systems of technological transfer. Some visitors preferring the latter sociological emphasis could point to the advertising and news coverage appearing on an adjacent small TV set that sits innocuously on the floor. The presence of this traditional televisual apparatus could support a reading of Shirakawa's installation as providing a commentary on the material conditions of media and informational relay, and one that could be assumed to counter what some might dismiss as any unnecessary anchorage of this new media installation in psychoanalytical paradigms. And yet, the psychoanalytical resonance of this installation is brought home with force by the additional transfer of the autoportrait into the glassed enclosure of two adjacent blenders that sit on the floor. The viewer comes to recognize that her autoportrait appears to float on the liquid surface inside the blender (as it is rear projected from miniaturized technology at the base of the blender). Here the image is transferred from the unsettling torture of the dirty image to the delightful miniature framed by an appliance of domestic and social bliss (for me the sound of the blender always calls to mind the sublime pleasure of the milkshakes my grandfather would prepare for me in his soda shop). But this performance of domestic comfort and nostalgia is disrupted when the visible familiarity of the blender gives way to the uncanny distortion of the narcissistic image. As the visitor bends over the blender to gaze down upon his wondrous image, a censor turns on the blender to mince this image into an unrecognizable mass. The conceit of this installation, then, is to perform the continual media transfer of the self-image between the fraught zones of domestic machinery, photographic registration, and media communication in which comforting narcissism is always unsettled by the combined torture of psychic split and social surveillance. Rosolato would relate this to the transfer of psychic scansion itself, in which, you'll recall, the status of "representations themselves can be relegated only to that of the phantasm, whereas the visible, maintained at a distance, can only be a protection against more direct contacts, following other perceptions, other sensations, or inversely against abstract thought." [6]

While Shirakawa's work repositions the representationality of the photographic media to confront the spectator with the phantasmatic contact of abstract thought, other artistic experiments with less photographically based digital media heighten the stakes of identity and identification in the age of global scansion and surveillance. Four other recent installations, one Canadian, one Chinese, one German, and another Japanese provide contrasting examples of the digital transfer between political, aesthetic, and psychological systems. I first turn my attention to the installation, "Pop! Goes the Weasel," by the British Columbian artist, Nancy Nisbet. This piece was on exhibit, along with Shirakawa's "Safe Torturing Series-9," the 2002 meetings of the Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts (ISEA) in Nagoya, Japan. Nisbet 's visitors are handed identification cards encoded as wireless radio frequency transponder that permit them to pass through a turnstile at the entrance of the installation. I don't seem to have been one of the unlucky 10% who Nisbet says were given badges that purposely hadn't been entered into the database permitting clearance at the electronic gate. As those allowed entry move around the exhibition space, the databadges are tracked by sensors. In keeping with Nisbet 's ongoing "Tracking Virtual Identity" project, the scanned information catalyzes real-time visual "interference" on a screen also showing the video of the implantation of an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip into each of the artist's hands. Nisbet aimed for this installation to mime the confusion of digitized identity she performs daily with her encrypted hands. Surgeons embedded differently encoded data chips into each of her hands so that RFID systems would track her single self as two separate or one confused identity (this system is used to track the movement of animals, shipped packages, etc., to enhance the efficiency of information data flow in a way that foreshadows the current consolidation of digitized tracking data which has been authorized in the States by the US Patriot Act). Similarly, different visitors end up using the same data cards throughout the duration of the exhibiton so that their data entered into the computer becomes meaningless unless understood as the registration of a communal identity.

What I found most intriguing about this installation wasn't so much the spookiness of being scanned and tracked, the implications of Nisbet 's pronounced feminist concerns, nor its display of the strangeness of Nisbet 's body (she now must carry medical certifications in the event airport security systems might register her as a RFID cyborg). Rather I still find myself fascinated by the artist's mention of the malfunction of the installation along cultural lines. It turned out that many of the Japanese visitors, who are accustomed to moving through the public sphere only when signaled by technological systems that it's permissable to do so, would not exit the installation through the swinging gate because the gate had not opened automatically to authorize safe and legal passage. This curiosity foregrounds a paradox that is frequently overlooked in consideration of the transfer of media paradigms into the non-discriminating flow of globalism and its many universalizations. Just as individual viewers of Shirakawa's "Safe Torturing Series" are bound to suffer the installation's photographic tortures differently, in a way contingent, no doubt, on their psycho-social relations to the various apparati generating the media imagery, the visitors of "Pop! Goes the Weasel," respond in culturally specific ways to equipment that regulates the flow of access and movement in the public sphere.

That the transfer of new media installations may not be seamless from one culture to another also became evident to me personally when I attended the 2002 Biannual Multimedia Art Asia Pacific Exhibition in Beijing. After wandering through a series of rather innocuous formal and apolitical installations (the materials in the exhibition were cleared in advance by Chinese censors), I came across an intriguingly enigmatic installation by the Chinese artist, Weng Pang. In approaching this multimedia installation encased in a large wooden skeleton frame resembling a Chinese tea vase, the visitors had to step across an identification number that was printed on the floor encircling the installation. Not acknowledging the thoroughness of the Chinese censors, I naively assumed the number to perform a type of guerilla function by signifying some kind of visible tracking code, national identity number, prison number, etc. It would not be uncommon for Westerners to arrive in Beijing, as I must have, with transferential assumptions about the ongoing threat to civil liberties by what Bush has been calling the "axis of evil.," and then stroll across Tiananmen square with intense media recollection of the violent repression in 1988 that appears to feel like a thing of the somewhat distant past to today's prominent young artists (many of whom would have been there). But what was peculiar about the media element of the installation is that it initially did not match the performativity of the numerical code enclosing it. It didn't appear to amount to much, other than a very faint and blurring projection over the cloth stretched across the base of the skeletal frame. That is, until my Chinese guide, realized that the identification number was taken not from someone's skin or national identity card but, in keeping with the current practice of celebratory media transfer, from a cellular phone. A wall description of the installation invited the user to pull out her phone and dial the number. Upon doing so, we then realized that the installation was receiving the incoming call in a way that triggered a more substantial digitized projection of urban Beijing at its technological best. Here the identification number signified not political oppression but the joyous celebration of telecommunication, the liberty of private communication, and the social openness of mobility itself. The paradox of this installation is that it passed the censor, perhaps as a way of numbing spectators to the ease with which governmentally sanctioned cellular communication also can enhance the panoptical efficiency of systems of tracking and survillance (perhaps it also relates to the fact that the first image seen in the Beijing airport by this international passenger disembarking from Japan was the corporate logo of Nokia). Put into performance by Weng Pang, then, is the freeplay of telephonic sound and the imaginary of instant and unfettered connectiveness with the global flow.

A similar celebration of the global flow of interconnectivity is staged by "The Web of Life." (2002) This collaborative artwork was designed at the ZKM (Center for Multimedia Art) in Karlsruhe, Germany, by Michael Gleich, Jeffrey Shaw, and colleagues [Bernd Lintermann, Torsten Belschner, Lawrence Wallen, and Manfred Wolff-Plottegg]. With a primary installation site at the ZKM, the piece was created to be installed at numerous interconnected locations. Users of this piece are invited to scan their hands into a computer that maps the unique patterns of individual hand lines, which then are transmitted into a database in a way that catalyzes and alters a projection of three-dimensional computer graphic and video imagery, along with a fully spatialized acoustic performance. With both the Nagoya and Beijing sites up simultaneously for ISEA and MAAP, the users at each location stimulated and interacted with the audio-visual behavior of all the installations. Exemplary of the rhizomatic intensities championed by Deleuze, "The Web of Life" is said by its authors to give " symbolic and experiential expression to the action of connecting oneself to an emergent network of relations." There certainly is something dazzling about the global interconnectivity of this installation and its ability to merge individualized data scans into international media display. Users at ISEA in Nagoya were delighted to be "touching hands" and imprints with visitors to MAAP in Beijing. I can well imagine that the authors of "The Web of Life" would perceive it to generate a collective action akin to that advocated by Deleuze with which I began: "there are no longer subjects, but dynamic individuations without subjects that constitute collective agency." Indeed the installation's celebration of global presence and simultaneity spills over into the bleeds between sound track and image track, the latter appearing to be tailored as more culturally specific to the given locale in a way that blends indigenous traditions of craft, religion, and culture with current media and transportation culture (say, the bullet train in Japan).

Still, it is precisely the "Web of Life's" wondrous celebration of the fusion of tracking, visibility, and global interconnectivity, a kind of slowed down digital MTV, that raises questions about the depth of its reflections on scansion per se, whether psychic or social. To be fair, the authors maintain that "the theory of networks and networking is providing us with radical new insights into the underlying processes of nature, economy, and society. The "Web of Life" is conceived as a multi-disciplinary project that conjoins art and science to give form and expression to this fundamentally important new realm of understanding." But far less clear to this visitor, at least, are the precise insights into nature, economy, and society that are provoked by the installation's wondrous digital palm readings. While the installation provides a fantastic performance of cross-cultural transfer in the digital age, it seems not to reflect that deeply, say, on the abstraction or torture of transfer itself. Viral parody is certainly not its game.

This may be partly due to the installation's celebration of instantaneous time and presence, through which the display of digitized temporality celebrates more the fusion of present time rather than the kinds of internalized splits of time theorized in some circles as indicative of psycho-social trauma, or, in other circles, as constitutive of psychic scansion itself. While Shirakawa's "Safe Torturing Series" experiments with photographic procedures of the former, the installation with which I conclude, "Time Machine!," by the Japanese artist, Masayuki Akamatsu, takes for its digital subject the transferential split of time itself. The user who approaches the console of this piece has her image captured by a video camera and transferred onto a projection facing her. The image itself then becomes pixellated, extended, multiplied, and inverted in relation to the user's manipulation of a trackball. A turn to the left travels the image back into time where it seems to split into a kind of unconscious freefall. The presence of the moment here gives way to the fracture and dislocation of time travel -- a state previously known to man only through the unconscious or through literary and cinematic fiction. A turn to the left travels the image back to the future into the present. Exhibited here, however, is a present whose image structure never appears to be constant; through pixellated and imagery that moves right, into the future, it remains open to the vicissitudes of the video image's instantiation in time and the subject's entrapment in the time projections of "le transfert" itself.

For the user of "Time Machine!" the wonders of digital installation and its concomitant globalization are mediated, first and foremost by the "post," not only the surveillance "post" of the camera but the kind of temporal delay of the poststructural and parodic dis-play of the postmodern that now conditions the decisive moves to make art in the age of digital terror. This positions the user of Akamatsu's installation dead center in the time of psychic scansion, the time, to conclude by returning one last time to Rosalato, in which "representations themselves can be relegated only to that of the phantasm, whereas the visible, maintained at a distance, can only be a protection against more direct contacts, following other perceptions, other sensations, or inversely against abstract thought." [7] To be "in" a state of media transfer and rhizomatic instability, in this sense, is to be always-between visibilities, to be in-secure, to be in-thought about what will have been scanned and what will have been curated.


[1] Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, dialogues (Paris: Flammarion, 1996), 146.

[2] Guy Rosolato, Pour une psychanalyse exploratrice dans la culture (Paris: PUF, 1993), 35.

[3] Ibid., 44.

[4] Ibid., 32.

[5] Miyuki Shirakawa, "Safe Torturing Series-9," ISEA, ISEA 2002 International Symposium on Eectronic Art, Nagoya [Orai] Exhibition Catalogue, (Nagoya: ISEA 2002 Steering Committee, 2002), 38.

[6] Ibid., 32.

[7] Rosolato, Pour une psychanalyse exploratrice dans la culture, 32.

Timothy Murray is Professor of Comparative Literature and English and Curator of the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell University. He curates and writes on new media, film, and contemporary art. He is Co-Curator of CTHEORY Multimedia and a member of the editorial board of CTHEORY