Life is Life Liveness!

Let this redundant sounding, and therefore modified, title of a yet more redundant chart stormer of the 1980s serve as the heading for the area of live broadcast and the feedback of storage media and live performance.

I would like to mention the widespread use of live media technologies in theater, concert and opera performances, but cannot here go further into this, although the use of mobile technologies has of course also been used to extend the stage and make it interactive. During their 2010 world tour, for example, the group Plastikman used a specially developed smart phone app called “Synk” that enabled users to reproduce the perspective from the stage and control the stage LEDs.

In the area of broadcasting, the dissemination of sound and video recording formats made a distinction between “live” and “canned” shows inevitable in radio since the 1930s and in television since the 1960s. The spontaneity and vulnerability of “live formats” made them particularly attractive for artists.

Technical glitches and the live feeling

With Good Morning, Mr Orwell in 1984, Nam June Paik began the then biggest live satellite transmission art project, to which millions of the TV viewers in several continents tuned in. Paik interpreted the many technical glitches that were common occurrences as appropriate to the “live feeling”.

Paik’s idea was revived in Germany in 1992, especially by Platform Ponton/Van Gogh TV, which emerged from the legendary artists group Minus Delta T, in their project Piazza Virtuale for the documenta IX. By means of four satellites, Piazza Virtuale continuously broadcast throughout Europe during the 100 days of the documenta and enabled viewers to participate in the transmission via telephone, fax, computer modem and cameras set up in Kassel.

Shortly thereafter, the Internet spread the possibility of “user generated contents” and with this the opportunity of communicative participation and exchange for the formerly passive viewer. Similarly, powerful processors enabled the generation of real-time images in formerly videotape-fed live visual performances.

Live performances promise immediacy, authenticity and uniqueness

The question of liveness is relevant above all in computer-assisted performances because their live character is often unrecognizable to the audience. In their accordingly titled article “How Do I Know That Guy Isn't Checking His Emails?” in the catalogue of the 2011 Soundframe Festival in Vienna, the media scholar Sandra Naumann and musicologist Jan Thoben note:

“Real-time technologies increasingly determine the everyday social life of our media culture. Not least the much-touted ‘instant access’, the immediate availability and processability of audiovisual media commodities on the much-used products of market-leading communication technology companies, reflect the growing influence of these technologies. Applications and software that generate sounds and visuals on the go are now among the most coveted apps of our medialized everyday life. As a consequence of the increasing availability of audiovisual products in the Net, the relevance and exclusivity of ‘fixed media’ such as the DVD has decreased while, at the same time, there has been an explosively growing need for live experience. In a medial environment in which the work of art seems to have lost the attributes of aura and originality, live performances promise immediacy, authenticity and uniqueness”.

“What is live?”

The 2011 transmediale and the Club Transmediale devoted themselves to the consequences of these developments and presented whole festival under the title #Live?! At the symposium “What is live?”, curated by Sandra Naumann and Jan Thoben, artists and scientists discussed the concept of “liveness”, coined by Philip Auslander, in the context of media-based audiovisual performances.

In addition to performances based on live-processing of found footage, such as Genre Collage by People Like Us and Triple Feature by Fair Use, two Japanese contributions provided by contrast far more visibly the desired “immediacy”. In old Fluxus manner, Ei Wada performed with his Brown Tube Jazz Band on dozens of televisions and video recorders used as jazz percussion instruments, while in the performance Face Visualizer his countryman Daito Manabe, inspired by the French scientist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne and the Australian artist Stelarc, used musical impulses, literally with a wink, to stimulate his facial muscles.

A simple “Oh!” and a dinner party with live avatars

In other places too the moment of live transmission has come into play: At the 2009 Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival, viewers could experience the expansion of a closed-circuit installation into the performative sector. The live installation with the terse and pregnant title “How I learned to enhance the great moment of knowledge with a simple ‘Oh’” by David Sarno, a graduate of the Offenbach Academy for Design, confused viewers through the absence of their own images. A camera transmitted the image of the exhibition space and of visitors on a large monitor. Some of the visitors could be seen, but others could not. Technology nerds puzzled over complicated possibilities of real-time renderings for the removal of groups of people. The solution of the riddle: A group of 15 actors had performed pre-fabricated video loops of the actions they were now repeating in front of the camera, which was showing the pre-filmed loops. Sarnos’s work thus constitutes a successful reference to the closed-circuit installations of the 1970s, such as, for example, Naumann’s Live Taped Video Corridor.

In May 2011, at the media art gallery Art Claims in the Lübbener Strasse 6 in Berlin, the project Dinner Party took place. In this collaboration of the two Berlin-based British artists Oliver Walker und Dave Ball, four volunteers amongst the visitors could perform a conversation whispered over headphones as living avatars at a dinner party. The impersonation ensured a number of humorous moments as well as the sort of overlappings and time delays well known from chat rooms.

While virtual platforms such as Second Life seem to have gone out of fashion, there is still a quite new and surprising potential in the artistic transfer of new communication and media forms to other areas and situations. Life is no longer live, but liveness.

Peter Zorn
The author is a filmmaker, producer, and media art curator. He is also co-founder and chairman of the Werkleitz Center for Media Art in Saxony-Anhalt, a member of the executive board of the Werkleitz Biennale/Festival and initiator of the Werkleitz Professional Media Master Class and the European Media Art Networks (www.werkleitz.de).

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
August 2011

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