In Here/There: Telepresence, Touch, and Art at the Interface (2017), Kris Paulsen explores telepresence in relation to artistic experiments. From early video art works to more contemporary works, Paulsen examines how artists operate video to question how media allows us to manipulate other environments and people through broadcasting.
In the second chapter, Uncanny Confusion: Early video and the Fantasy of Presence, Paulsen analyses Centers, a video work performed by Vito Acconci in 1971, referring to two contrasting readings of this piece: Rosalind Krauss’ text from 1976 Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, and Performance, Video, and the Rhetoric of Presence written in 2000 by Anne M. Wagner.
In Centers, Acconci points at the viewer for the duration of 22:28 minutes and struggles physically to keep his position through the video. Krauss argues that this performance puts an emphasis on video’s conceptual nature as an artistic medium: “the instantaneous, mirrorlike reflections produced by video apparatus trap the artist in a closed circuit of narcissistic self-fascination”. In Krauss’s point of view video is inherently narcissistic. The screen acts like a mirror where the artist is trapped by its own image.
Img. 1 – Centers, Vito Acconci (1971), 22:28 min, b&w, sound
On the contrary, Wagner defends the relational and social nature of video as an art form. The artist is not trying to communicate with himself, but with others. Video, like other mediums, needs witnesses to exist. By pointing to the viewer, Acconci is pointing at the subject/object relationship that connects the artist to the viewer and how the viewer subjects to the fictions created by the artist through visual languages.
Paulsen finds herself in the middle by admitting the contradictory nature of video: “it’s both narcissistic and relation at once”. Besides this she argues how it can be either recorded or live; transmitted over vast distances or to closed-circuit systems; have the power to connect or isolate viewers; and doing the former while doing the latter. The author highlights how, by calling the viewer’s attention to the interface, Acconci reveals how the television screen is a place between here and there, a frozen moment in the past which is waiting to connect with the present spectator. Absence becomes presence through a unidirectional relationship with the receiver, transforming the pleasure of television entertainment into discomfort.
“Acconci mimics television’s own practices for creating the false effects of liveness, using indexical snares to trap the viewer into an uncanny experience of ambivalence and oscillating indeterminacy.”
Nevertheless, the screen’s immersive and entertaining power depends on the viewer’s acceptance of the illusion.
Centers, Vito Acconci (1971), 22:28 min, b&w, sound
Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, Rosalind Krauss (1976)
Performance, Video, and the Rhetoric of Presence, Anne M. Wagner (2000)