The World Needs Now?
> Suzanne Farkas
Keywords: Alice in Wonderland, brilliant, connected,
public playspace, transformational flow, being and nothingness, Art.
All the inquiry of the Greek philosophers seems to
have this in common: it is rooted in the principle that a thing cannot
materialize from nothingness nor can it dissipate into nothingness
- existence and non-existence cannot give rise to one another. This
is an interesting notion.
Michelle Teran is a self- professed game master and a perpetual child
at play. She is in the process of mastering her favourite and deceptively
simple subject the art of play.
Now, given the current state of world events, as we hurl ourselves
onto the path of global domination and some say destruction (of self
and of cultural individuation), you might see her pre-occupation as
a bit of fluff. A sort of Nero fiddling while all of Rome burned.
But for the last few years I have been following her progress, and
there does seem to be a method to her madness... Play as therapy,
play as social connection, play as productive creation, play within
a set of rules, come to the table and play the game, see yourself
as a player, see who is playing you
What intrigues me most about Terans work is the complexity of
her sub-text discourse that she generates by her careful choice of
mediums, materials or tools and classical/pop art references. Take
her AFK series, for instance. In my mind, there
are clearly layers of interactions between subject, tools and conceptual
discourse on being and nothingness, boundaries and space, alienation
and connection, anonymity and voyeurism, public and personal perception
that she is attempting to make into a physical art-form. Of course,
it could just be that I like playing with myself-you know what they
say? And I do love Mind games!
But what tugged at my heart and engaged me was her ability to take
it to the streets and connect, using a techies wet dream of
low-tech, hi- tech tools
That, and her wonderful visions of what
constitutes a gameboard. Check out "2.4_interaction_interference.
Of course she doesnt work alone. She shows a clear enjoyment
of social exchange, calling across time and continents on a bevy of
talented peers such as Jeff Mann, Isabelle Jenniches and Amanda Ramos
to assist in her collaborations.
But is it ART? YB Yeats once wrote: Art bids us to touch and taste
and hear and see the world, and shrinks from what Blake calls mathematical
form, from all that is of the brain only, all that is not a fountain
jetting from the hopes, memories and sensations of the body.
Now, you may argue the relevance of this test in the post- modern
art world or even whether it is valid to apply to new media art, based
in virtual reality. Some would say it is this, the alienation of body,
that is the very failing of new technologys virtual tools as
But I think that is, in fact, Terans challenge. Bringing into
being and body experience that which is not. This facet of her work
may best be seen in her collaboration with a group of kinetic artists
in the ongoingLiveform: Telekinetics.
As she says, she stays away from "conventional" art spaces
because it does not allow her to engage in the types of activities
that she needs. She seeks out working environments and spaces where
useful types of conversations can occur.
Michelle will tell you that Art is a verb, not a noun. As an artist,
her work is in experimentation. A sort of work in progress, a social
interactive art lab that is not yet ready for final edits. For
me art is a device that enables me to do "experiments" with
all of these hybrid middle spaces, process play, communication exchange,
material play, 2D and 3D space, public space, image space, social
interface and collaboration. These are messy mixes and there are various
methods for mapping or "gluing" these things together. Art
is play, play is art.
So some may say she is only playing. Yet from where I
sit, the lessons learned and art created is just more of what the
world needs now.
Here is a brief description of Michelles latest pieces:
AFK - A series of 8 onsite/online performances by
Michelle Teran (Canada) & Isabelle Jenniches (Amsterdam), Dec
01- March 02. Now archived at http://www.
for 'Away from Keyboard'. These and many other abbreviations are commonly
used in online chat rooms and on mobile phones to send SMS messages.
Michelle says she was inspired by SMS vocabularies and by how much
of these acronyms consist of utterly banal, superficial utterances
and thinly veiled pick- up lines found on most chatlines. In this
play experiment she chose to limit the variables by limiting the number
of players (using enlisted artists only) but allowing the game board
to shift somewhat without her control, both in time and in framing.
The game was essentially a playful instructional interaction
between Michelle and Isabelle. The exercise to find and piece together
within the AFK clutter, statements that have some kind of meaning.
A still image projected at a set frequency, a slow moving tableau,
the players impact was slowly eroded or altered as a result of the
interaction of the landscape weather or intervening and often unwitting
It is an interesting interplay between message and space, and the
transformative power of representative information, context and social
The object of the game, therefore, was to create condensed
characters that could make comments about mobility without being too
The algorithm or rules by which the players interacted: the
enlisted artists were given a list of performance instructions online:
i.e. assignment for ij: * Chalk your message on the Embarcadero behind
the 'Good Clean Fun'.
-When the first symbol is completed, talk to a passerby.
-When the third symbol is completed, wave to Jim in the Smokehouse.
-When the entire message is completed, pose with surfers next to the
The gameboard: Urban and rural landscapes whose view were framed
by live public web cams across Canada and the US, which were than
simultaneously linked to the performance host site.The webcams were
installed and operated by agencies such as weather channels, port
authorities, municipal departments and tourism boards. In the AFK
series, each performance involved sending a message coded in this
abbreviated way, in front of public webcams, within the context of
the local landscape. The short messages describe instances of mobility,
presence and different modes of communication.
The gameboard pieces and players: Of course the chess match
was between the artists. But they also were both interested in the
play between technologies and experience. It was playing between spaces-taking
a 2D screen language used within these digital disembodied spaces,
and mapping them onto these immense hyper-sensorial physical spaces.
The result would be an interplay between experiences: that of navigating
between vast physical and virtual environments and watching this action
from the comfort of your computer screen. They were intrigued by how
sometimes these two worlds bled into each other, for example, when
they contacted each other by phone.
The visual message was grabbed in moments of time, the virtual image
crawling through physical space. The audience viewing the message
then became the passive players, and the message image told you that
others were or had been playing too. Laying the cryptic messages at
others unseen hand, following rules that become manifest only by consent,
is a lesson in the marking of time and the making of history. Through
this game the image then becomes a representational drama on the making
2,4_Interaction _Interference, http://www.ubermatic.org/2.4
, Michelle Teran - Images Festival of Independent Film and Video -
April, 02, Toronto
In this game, the gameboard was set and somewhat defined by the players
desire to be seen, but the border details were unknown. There were
instructional rules in place, players were captured by
nodal receivers, but the other variables left somewhat open. Anyone
could enter the play space. Everyone was invited to play, but the
number of simultaneous players was limited by the physical resources
The object of the game: Map the gameboard. Bicycles were rigged
with wireless cameras, easily available and increasingly used for
home and small business security monitoring systems. The cameras wirelessly
transmit over the 2.4 frequency band. Once thought to be an unpopulated
territory, it has now become crowded with cordless phones, 802.11
compliant LAN wireless systems, Bluetooth and other RF solutions.
In this increasingly cluttered zone, toes get stepped on, interference
The gameboard pieces: The players were asked to ride the bikes
through the urban public spaces, thereby recording their path and
capturing images with their mounted camera. A central hub receiver
recorded and archived the complete live visual mapping of the defined
The Rules: Each player was given a random set of instructions
that were built on language typically used in software, technical
or transportation circles-ie Unaligned Collision Avoidance:
AVOID COLLISIONS. Alter your direction and speed to prevent them.
Michelle used bright colours of yellow and orange to mark the riders,
their instruction cards and bikes. This helped to distinguish the
game from the background visual noise, and to engage players from
members of the public randomly walking by or from the ranks of interested
festival audience. These colours also had significance and competition
from public signage such as municipal works (waste trucks, emergency
barriers etc). Along the route, TV receivers were placed in commercial
shop windows. This added the dimension of commerce as public space.
Players became creative actors moving through this space. They could
view images of themselves and their cameras eye view reflected
back to them by the shop receivers, as they moved through the city
zones. People, part of the mapped landscape, curiously stopped to
talk and interact with the players and also became engaged.
The number of cameras in use, their proximity to each other and to
the receiver, interference by other inhabitants in the area, were
all variables that affected the produced video image.
Liveform Telekinetics 2002,
Michelle Teran and Jeff Mann, in collaboration with artists based
in Toronto (InterAccess www.interaccess.org)
and Amsterdam (Waag Society for Old and New Media)
Liveform Telekinetics 2002: The latest in her
progressions. This is Alice at the Mad Hatters tea party. A
game of telekenetics. Teran wanted a way to consolidate and explore
the artistic and technical possibilities of the current state of interactive
tools. She also wanted to inspire others. Instead of taking the ho-
hum lets get together and talk-conference, show me yours and
Ill show you mine route, she invited us all to dinner! Of course
it was potluck, and the list of interactive guests included playmates
in Amsterdam, Norway and Toronto.
At each dinner the physical spaces a huge dinner table, was linked
through a looking glass door that stretched out onto infinity.
The screen covering the door was in fact a viewing port to link the
projected images of all the guests in each country. Images of virtual
food and transcribed text (as a technical failure back-up)from one
city were projected onto the physical presence of the dinner table
in another. I found that these images and the ones transmitted through
the portal door were actually very beautiful and quite moving.
In the final dinner, objects such as the wine glasses, bottles and
cutlery were also linked telekinetically. The sound of the clinking
of the wine glasses by guests for a musical performance in one city
dinning room, would cause the spoons (automated and attached ) of
wine glasses to clink in another city dinning room. Food was used
as sculptural objects but also as play. Fish would mouth the words
in Toronto, as a guest in Amsterdam would sing. As one child, mouth
full and laughing, asked in broken englishwhats that youre
eating? another would answer across the miles. Each was in the
play of eating together and the soothing comfort that one gets from
sharing food, but now it was extended across the world.
The series of work-shopping dinners took place over several months.
Each dinner instructed her in the limitations and possibilities of
the elements, for example of the chaos of too many players, or communicating
rules across space and cultures, image interference, technical failures
and virtual objects as play toys.
Suzanne Farkas, 11.02
Michelle is currently doing development work in Amsterdam and can
be reached at her website www.ubermatic.org
Year01 Forum Index