Date: Mon, 07 Oct 1996 18:52:34 +0100

From: Pit Schultz <>

What space?

Marina Grzinic

The new media environment has become the central determining metaphor for simultaneous collective reception in a public space. Is it possible to say that the public space disappeared and that we have instead internalized the space as a kind of mise-en-scene constructed by the new media technology? But maybe this mise-en-scene of the space must be viewed in today's terms as ideological, precisely because it is so invisible and taken for granted. If the body ceases to be the fundamental unit of spatial analysis, at once the very concept of space itself becomes problematic, and we have to ask ourselves, according to Fredric Jameson: what space? I will discussed here two spaces and the way their are functioning in relation to the subject, the gaze and the consciousness.

Part One: The Space of the Real

Nowadays, I can write about "the media" in general, and especially the medium of television only in connection with the war, because I lived the ten-day war in Slovenia via television and because I witnessed the war in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia from Vukovar to Sarajevo to Srebrenica and so on, day by day by the help of my TV, or more precisely by the help of the television video signal, for almost 5 years. And now that seems that the war is finally over (you believe in this?), and it seems that is no reason to heat the stories about the media and the war I think differently. So what space? The space of the real, the space of the war in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia, constructed through the media, by the media in the media and in my video art work, and reflected again and again in my theoretical work.

I wrote: "Sarajevo is a city of the future in all aspects because we can no longer conceive of a future without reflecting on the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina." That war has put into question the credibility of all the fundamental civil legislative relations in the world in which we live, the paradigm of the future, humanism and the rhetoric of freedom, humanity, civil rights of the industrialized, developed world. Above all, it brings a lot of "supplements" to the theories of mass media, new /old communications technology, and also to the art of moving pictures with their realistic/imaginary effect. For this reason, it does not only question the role of the televised and printed information in new war strategies (in ascertaining the differences between the wars before and after the invention of television), but also the method of reconfiguration of the communication and information media in a technologically developed environment (the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was taking place in Europe).

When the war in Slovenia stopped, August 1991, rumors started spreading stories that all this bombing business had been staged to impress the foreign press, and, through them, the rest of the world, hoping to move them to action, since Europe, (it was said), would never really allow Ljubljana to be bombed. That was what we all kept repeating to ourselves (from Ljubljana to Vukovar to Sarajevo, Srebrenica and so on), that Western Europe, European peace movements, civil associations and, last but not least, millions of TV viewers and other "squatters" would remain dumbfounded at the direct TV pictures, the images of horror happening not somewhere in far-away Russia" but in the heart of Europe.

Edmond Couchot taught us that turning on the TV set actually means establishing a connection with the place of broadcasting and being literally (continually) present at the birth of the picture. The television picture materializes literally because of a short circuit between the place of transmission and the place of reception. But due to the speed of transmission of the electronic signal, the television picture is practically simultaneous and we are not cognizant of the time lag. Thus we can, with the aid of television, or more precisely the television video signal, establish a physical contact with the most traumatic events of our time.

Due to technical-electronic procedures, the TV viewer experiences events as though they are happening in the here and now, in front of his/her eyes, and not perhaps a thousand miles away, in a different time and place. But relying on this almost physical contact between the viewer and television, the contact which will rouse the world, turned out to be, in the case of the events in Yugoslavia (Croatia and particularly Bosnia), an outstanding theoretical construct, and at the same time an erroneous empirical nexus. It may be true, as René Berger says , that television has freed us from physically moving from one place to another and changed us into "squatters" of satellite and cable television, but it has also saved us from much turmoil. On the threshold of the third millennium, information about the war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina is, thanks to a certain short-circuit, not only simultaneously broadcast but also simultaneously tolerated in all parts of the world.

Everyday TV reporting seems inconsistent with the logic of TV informative-realistic effect, for it seems that the reports produce fiction, that the escalation of horrors (concentration camps, mass massacres, thousand of raped Moslem women) transforms fact into fiction. In 1987, Ernie Tee wrote in the catalogue for the exhibition "Art for Television" that film was the medium of illusion, television the medium of reality and video the medium of metamorphoses , but with the war in Bosnia television has become the medium of fiction and, like fiction, it can perhaps present reality in the best way.

But maybe this war is showing us also an other internal media process and especially society process. This war can be also seen in another way! According to Peter Weibel we can think, for example, about this war in relation to the idea of what it means when we leave a historically defined position, which imitates - even in the art - the natural world of our senses. Our experience of place, position and so on depends on what we call natural interface, body is for example a natural interface, and therefore we have a natural approach to space and time. Our interpretation of the media is experienced through natural interfaces like our senses, organs and being channeled, mediated by an ideology of naturality, neglecting the artificial of the media. But the media of our time show us that we have the possibility of an artificial interface, which is the media in fact. According to Weibel therefore McLuhan, when he was defining media as an extension of man he just missed in calling it an artificial extension. And in this artificial media space we see that the basic concept of how to construct space and time are examples of non naturality. The media world is dominated by non-identity or difference. The "real" is replaced by virtual reality. Necessity is replaced by possibility or contingency . So, we have to think about "reality" precisely in the way of its "unreality" in a way of a socially constructed fiction (the war in Bosnia television has become the medium of fiction). What this means is that the media, in the way which they are functioning, and television in relation to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina for example, is just showing us all the dimensions of the so-called normal, active reality that is already ideologically, virtually constructed.

Moreover when we are insisting on the consciousness of the TV viewer, (relying on this almost physical contact between the viewer and television, the contact which will rouse the world !), maybe we count to much on the privileged position of the social as a positive. But what is showing us this changed or better to say other position of the television in relation of the war is, according to Arthur Kroker and David Cook precise rereading of Baudrillard, the collapse of the normalizing, expanding, and positive cycle of the social into its opposite: an implosive and structural order of signs. So this war is not only changing the perception of the media as such, but also of the perception of society. We face a kind of exteriorizationwhere strategies of normalization are replaced by the simulation of the masses, where the 'hyperreality' of culture indicates a great dissolution of the space of the social .

In the old world of the social, according to Kroker and Cook an emancipatory politics entailed the production of meaning: the control of individual and collective perspectives against a normalizing society which sought to exclude its oppositions. Society was constructed on the idea of the emancipatory subject who demanded a rightful inclusion in the contractual space of political economy . On the contrary, Baudrillard's political analysis represents a radical departure from both the sociology of knowledge and theorization of power/norm because his thought explores the brutal processes of dehistoricisation and desocialisation which structure the new communicative order of a signifying culture . In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities Baudrillard provides three strategic hypotheses about the existence of the social only as having a murderous effect. The first hypothesis is that the social may only refer to the space of delusion, the social has basically never existed. Second, the social as residuum and third the end of the "perspective space of the social" . The consequence, among other thing is that if the social is a simulation then the likely course of events (massacres, rapes etc.) is a brutal de-simulation.

In such a "new" world, television has the unreal existence of an imagistic sign-system in which may be read the inverted and implosive logic of the cultural machine. Thus TV according, to Kroker & Cook, is not just as a technical ensemble, a social apparatus, which implodes into society as the emblematic cultural form of a relational power. TV is not a mirror of society, but just the reverse: it is society as a mirror of television . Television whose major form of social cohesion is provided by the pseudo - solidarities of electronic television images, whose public is according to Baudrillard, the dark, silent mass of viewers who are never permitted to speak and a media elite which is allowed to speak "but which has nothing to say. The TV audience may be today the most pervasive type of social community, but if this is so, then it is anti-community or a social anti-matter, an electronic mall which privileges the psychological position of the voyeur, (a society of the disembodied eye), and the cultural position of us as a tourists in the society of the spectacle . What else are Western Europe, European peace movements, civil associations and, last but not least, millions of TV viewers and other squatters but a social anti-matter? Baudrillards' hypotheses about the media in connection with hiperreality and simulation, which were so ferociously criticized by 'serious' philosophers as to be a theoretical simulation - almost science fiction - seem, in the context of the war in ex-Yugoslavia, to have gained serious reevaluation.

At least in my opinion, the most striking turn of the TV positioning of the war on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia, occurred about a year and half ago, when the Serbs - or more precisely, the blood-thirsty Yugoslavian army under Serbian control - kidnapped Bosnian president Alija Izetbegoviæ, who was returning to Sarajevo after one of the innumerable International negotiating sessions. The only means of communication between the kidnapped president, Yugoslavian army and the rest of the Bosnian presidency in occupied and already half-demolished Sarajevo was by way of the then functional, though badly damaged, Sarajevo TV station. The talks and negotiations, the ultimatums and demands were carried out in their entirety and without censorship in front of the global TV auditorium, before the international public got involved in the affair and mediated Izetbegoviæ's release. All those involved could only communicate via TV telephone frequencies, and this, while the TV station was broadcasting live. It was precisely at this point, that TV - which was broadcasting the image of a competent newsreader mediating between generals, the president and the presidency - paradoxically was transformed into radio and became the medium of drama and information, par excellence. With this turnover the television really functioned in the way it was supposed by theorists that it would function, dumbfounding TV audiences in the broadest sense of the word and forcing them into action.

Intermezzo: Bodysnatchers

If I were to try to identify a general but nevertheless indicative turning point that has occurred in the paradigm of space in art - or more broadly in visual art - I would say that it was the point at which the space of the painting was transposed into the exhibition gallery space itself. Into the so-called real space of the everyday that has begun to be constructed and deconstructed by means of various multimedia tricks or special effects, for example in the field of the (cinematic and electronic) image.

From the Renaissance to the present day a bird's -eye perspective on the paradigm of space in visual art would trace out a path that begins with perspectival space in painting, continues through the illusionist spaces of panoramas and dioramas that were so popular in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries right up until the space created by the cinematic moving picture, and then leads all the way to the virtual space of the nineties, into cyberspace. According to some accounts the latter contains the internet, while others say the internet environment represents an expansion of cyberspace. And despite all the talk that it takes to enter a cyberspace, a click of a button on a remote control server, the latter remains localized and spatially limited, unlike the internet, whose totally virtual nature (excluding the only possible material side of the internet, the computer console) means it is based on communicative non-limitation.

The essential point to grasp is thus that all of these paradigms or concepts of space in the sphere of the visual are related to a broader context of conceptions of time and space and the subject within them. For example, the industrial and technological revolution and the associated industrialization and urbanization of the towns and environment turned on its head the paradigm of visuospatial experience at the turn of the nineteen century. In his book about various "productions of space" Henri Lefebvre characterizes the period around 1910 as a watershed in the constitution of the paradigm of space.It was around that time that the space of classical perspective and geometry, which developed from the Renaissance onwards in the tradition of Greek Euclidean logic, began to disintegrate. Until then a certain shared space of knowledge and political power, grounded both in everyday discourse and in abstract thought, was shattered as a result of ever increasing industrialization. This disappearance of embodied spatiality, of the very concept of space, had far-reaching consequences for a shift in the field of representation. Classical models of vision were destroyed together with stable spaces of representation that had previously been formed by various techniques of perspective composition, techniques for deceiving the eye and limitating nature.

According to some researchers it was this change in the production of space and the spatial model, which means an ever greater meditation of space and at the same time the loss of direct experience of space, of its sensory apprehension by means of one's own body, that permitted the various technical advances in observing the subject in space or the viewer in the visual sphere. The explosive proliferation of optical, illusionist toys, exhibitions and settings (the panoramas and dioramas of the eighteen and nineteen centuries) was also a kind of surrogate for the reduced role of direct sensation of the individual in contact with space. Other theorists and researches of different paradigms of space and the subject argue that this reconfiguration and adaptation of space which followed in the wake of new forms of industrialization brought many positive changes for the viewer. Alongside the development of various forms of observation in space there also developed, thanks to kaleidoscopes and magic lanterns, very special forms of human perception which effaced the duality of body and mind, science and technology.

What happens, for example, with the paradigm of space in the field of moving pictures? Does the projection of moving pictures onto various kinds of screen mean we talk of screen arts? What has happened in one century to then space of the screen? If in film "space" as a montage of attractions is beamed onto a remote white canvas, then the screen of electronic images, or the TV receiver, has enabled the space of illusion to enter our living rooms and literally glued itself to our eyes in virtual reality.

Part Two: The Space of the Virtual

My general thesis is that the existence of virtual reality makes possible a new interrogation of some issues crucial to human and social existence. Issues such as the nature of the human, the differences between reality and the real, and those of identity are all put in question by the theme of virtual reality.

But first let me schematically and narratively explain "virtual reality". A helmet apparatus feeds the subject visual and auditory information about a virtual environment. Sensors in the helmet respond to head and even eye movement. The computer literally knows where your head's at. The cables are connected to sensors, providing a computer with information regarding the subject's bodily orientation. The helmet apparatus, or the data glove - the so called interface - has thus become the crucial site of virtual reality, a significantly ambiguous boundary between human being and technology. The more invisible the interface, the more perfect the fiction of a total imbrication within the force fields of a new reality.

Catherine Richards descriptions of the situation in virtual reality - that is capturing one's imaginary body - as "losing the self-definition of the body", is in my opinion crucial for understanding what is going on in the virtual reality context. She writes: "I put on virtual environment technology. I see my imaginary body right before me. I move my finger, the image moves. If the spectral image lags behind my living hand, it misses me. If it catches up, it crosses a body threshold racing to capture my imaginary body within its image. Now, when I move, I inhabit the virtual materialized image of my imaginary body. I move within the semblance of my living body, a simulation of my physical and imaginary experience that is traveling back and forth across my thresholds, taking me away. What am I here? My body is mediated experientially, my imaginary body is materialized into a phantom image. One is intertwined with the other, each one reading the other, simulating the living cohabitation of my body and the imaginary".

In Margaret Morse classical virtual reality situation the field of view in the virtual world is constantly being reconstituted in real time by a computer from a digital store through devices which track the position of somebody 's head and hand. That is, in a virtual world the space itself is interactive. Friedrich Kittler suggests that the virtual environment can appear to be something alive that we cannot acknowledge as subject or persona in the traditional sense, and which nonetheless constantly demonstrates that it sees us without revealing itself.

So how can we define the actual/virtual position of the subject in the virtual context? I have made reference to several writers who highlight a specific situation that can be designated as the deprivation of self-identity in virtual reality. This is crucial for understanding the changing position of the self and identity in virtual reality. The virtual environment occurs cinematically - and here I will refer to Slavoj _i_ek: it is a kind of reversal of face-to-face intersubjectivity, relating the subject to his/her shadowy double which emerges from behind him or her as a kind of sublime protuberance. What we have here in the relation of the subject with his/her imaginary body is a paradoxical kind of communication not a "direct" communication of the subject with the fellow creature in front of him/her, but a communication with the excrescence behind him, mediated by a third gaze - the gaze of the virtual machine. In virtual reality what we are seeing is the concentration of the field and counter-field within the same frame, as if the counter-field were to be mirrored back into the field itself. This confers upon the scene its hypnotic dimensions: the subject is enthralled by the gaze which sees "what is in (him)self more than (him)self".

Here the subject does not exit within a consistent narrative, integrated into the field of intersubjectivity around which he or she builds himself or herself a new identity etc. What is at stake in virtual reality is the temporal loss of a subject's symbolic identity. He or she is forced to assume that he or she is not what he or she thought himself or herself to be, but somebody-something else.What am I in virtual reality? My body is mediated by my imaginary body that is materialized into a phantom image. One is intertwined with the other, each one reading the other, simulating the living cohabitation of my body and the imaginary.

To grasp the implications of the radical shift at work in virtual reality, one has to reach the Cartesian-Kantian problematic of the subject as pure, and as substanceless. Kant fully articulates, according to _i_ek, the inherent paradoxes of self-consciousness. What Kant's "transcendental turn" renders manifest is the impossibility of locating the subject in the "great chain of being", into the Whole of the universe. The subject in the most radical sense is out of joint; it constitutively lacks its own place. In Descartes, this out of joint state is still concealed. Kant however brings to light a kind of vanishing mediator that is, in short, the Lacanian real. The paradox of self-consciousness is that that it is possible only against the background of its n impossibility - and this is also at the core of virtual reality. To put it differently, where is the cogito, the place of my self-consciousness, when everything that I actually am is an artefact- not only my body, my eyes, but even my most intimate memories and fantasies? _i_ek answers: Everything that I positively am, every enunciated content I can point at and say that's me, is not I; I am only the void that remains, the empty distance which approaches all content. Or it is only when, at the level of the enunciated content, I assume my replicant status, that, at the level of enunciation, I become a truly human subject.

"I am a replicant" is the statement of the subject at its purest. If we return to virtual reality: the capture of the imaginary body does not offer the "direct" communication of the subject with his/her fellow creature in front of him/her, but, rather, communication with the excrescence behind him/her.

In short the implicit thesis of being in virtual reality is that of the replicants; replicants are pure subjects precisely insofar as they testify to the possibility of positive, substantial content, inclusive of the most intimate fantasies, not as "their own" but as already implanted. If we try to answer the question, what is it that the third gaze sees - "what is in the subject more than himself/herself"? Our answer must be, Nothing a hole, a void. The very notion of self-consciousness implies the subject's self-decentering, which is far more radical than the opposition between subject and object.

What was just when the text was written a cynical allegory, seems to be today a frightening reality due to the corse of events in Checnia.


Cf. Edmont Couchot, "La question du temps dans les techniques èlectroniques et numériques de l'imagé", in 3e Semaine Internationale de Vidéo (Saint-Gervais Genève, 1989), pp. 19-21.

Cf. René Berger, "Entre magie et voyance", in 3e Semaine Internationale de Vidéo, pp. 11-14.

Ernie Tee, "The Irreality of Dance", in Kathy Rae Huffman & Dorine Mignot, eds., The Arts for Televison (The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles & Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1987), p. 62.

Peter Weibel, "Ways of Contextualisation or The Exhibition as a Discrete Machine", in Ine Gevers, ed., Place, Position, Presentation Public, (Jan van Eyck Akademie and De Balie, Maastricht and Amsterdam, 1993), p. 225.

Cf. Weibel, p. 225.

Cf. Weibel, p. 228.

Cf. Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities (Jean Baudrillard and Semiotext(e), New York, 1983), pp. 3-4.

Kroker and Cook, p. 175.

Kroker and Cook, p. 175.

Cf. Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, in Kroker and Cook, pp. 173-174.

Cf. Kroker and Cook, p. 268.

Kroker and Cook, p. 274.

Bukatman, Scott, Terminal Identity, Duke University press, Durham and London 1993, pp. 186-192.

Richards, Catherine, The Bioapparatus Membrane, in: Bioapparatus, ed., Catherine Richards and Nell Tenhaaf, The Banff Center, Banff 1991, p. 58.

Morse, Margaret, "Enthralling Spaces. The Aesthetics of Virtual Environments", in: ISEA 94 Catalogue, Helsinki 1994, p. 83)

_i_ek, Slavoj, Tarrying with the Negative, Duke University Press, Durham 1993, pp.107-8.

_i_ek, pp.12-44.

_i_ek, 41.

_i_ek, 41.

[footnotes crashed..]