The Internet - specifically the World Wide Web - has become such a successful "meme" in our society, that there is almost a cultural amnesia about telecommunications-based art that pre-dates the Web. As powerful as early projects such as Muntadas's "File Room" (1994) or Ken Goldberg's "Telegarden" (1995) were (and are), many artists were working in the embrace of telecommunications for almost twenty years prior. Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz's 1977 "Satellite Arts Project" first introduced the notion of a virtual space - a video space in-between physical spaces - and their 1980 "Hole-in-Space" was a kind of magic of open-systems, bi-coastal communications that may have since become commonplace but which directly inspired several of the artists in the exhibition. Many others, from Bob Adrian to Roy Ascott to Carl Loeffler to Heidi Grundmann, proseletyzed the aesthetics and politics of a global connectivity over the ensuing years, using the available means, from fax to Slowscan TV to early computing networks. Their work and thoughtfulness about it is inspirational.
The telematics timeline attempts to capture some of these highlights as well as a longer history of enabling technological innovation. Most importantly, it is open source. Anyone can upload new information or interpretations into the timeline via the Internet.
(Steve Dietz, http://telematic.walkerart.org/timeline/)
The Telematic Timeline was presented as part of the exhibition Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace, curated by Steve Dietz.
Telematic Connections: The Virtual Embrace
Telematic Connections, like many of the works in it, is a hybrid affair. Part history, part speculation, partly onsite, partly online, it crosses boundaries between art, communications, and popular culture. Its four sections include installation works, past and recent film clips, online projects, and a "telematics timeline." Through these various media, the exhibition presents the ways in which artists use technology—and the Internet—to explore both the utopian desire for an expanded, global consciousness and the dystopian consequences of our collective embrace, willing or not, of computer-mediated human communications. At the same time Telematic Connections places this emergent work within a historical framework.
The eight installations that comprise the "Telereal" component of this exhibition use the Internet and computing to explore this mediated embrace between parties, whether human to human, human to machine, machine to machine, or even human to nature. Here, as well as in the ten online projects in the "Datasphere" component of the exhibition, what the visitor-participant does in the galleries affects (and is affected by) someone or something somewhere else in physical space. "The Virtual Embrace" signals this shift from the viewer as an observer to embracing us as a participant, integral to the work-process of art.
While Telematic Connections presents the possibilities for connections and affiliations, it still acknowledges a persistent question about connective new media. Artist, theorist, and teacher Roy Ascott stated it poignantly already in 1990, "Is there love in the telematic embrace?" Is there content besides technology? Engagement beyond entertainment? A message that is not only the medium?
Telematic Connections is not fundamentally about technology. Nor is it an attempt to define a new genre of art practice. It is about what MIT computer scientist Michael Dertouzos calls "the forces of the cave"—some of the eternal human traits that have never left us, including the desire to connect, even to merge with another—but in today’s world of ubiquitous computing and global networking.
(Steve Dietz, February 2001, http://telematic.walkerart.org/overview/index.html)