I invited Maria Chatzichristodoulou (AKA Maria X) to be our opening keynote speaker for the Art of the Networked Practice Online Symposium because as a performance scholar she is uniquely committed to chronicling, critiquing and contextualizing live Internet art. Her work falls well outside the radar of most critics. Chatzichristodoulou has not only written extensively about experimental performance, but she is deeply committed to engaging personally and professionally with those who are working at the bleeding edge: including Annie Abrahams and Matt Adams (co-founder of Blast Theory), both of whom we are fortunate to have as featured artists in the Symposium. For her keynote, Chatzichristodoulou will discuss the histories and current practices of the telecollaborative arts, how artists have “set out to challenge the boundaries between bodies and countries imposed by borderlands.” She will also address the difficult and thorny questions, asking: “to what extent have those practices fulfilled their aspirations to connect artists and audiences across geographical boundaries?”
“Annie Abrahams talked to us about fragmented intimacies, shared absences, the frustrations of mediated communication, broken relationships, desperate attempts to achieve connectivity, the body lost in digital space, distance, painful and erotic lack. Life, as it is, today, in the networks.” – Maria Chatzichristodoulou, If Not You Not Me: Annie Abrahams and Life in the Networks
In two of her essays on the work of pioneering Internet artist Annie Abrahams, “Annie Abrahams: Allergic to Utopias” (Digicult, 2010), and “If Not You Not Me: Annie Abrahams and Life in the Networks” (DigiMag, 2010), Chatzichristodoulou muses on the messy simplicity and power of Abrahams’ work, how it focuses a lens on the often banal nature of everyday life as mediated through communications technology. The performance work of Abrahams, she describes, is concerned with both communication and miscommunication, absence and presence, “people temporarily crossing paths in fractured, desperate or indifferent, successful or futile attempts to communicate, to (be) together.” Chatzichristodoulou suggests that the strength of Abraham’s work is the way it focuses our understanding and perception of the “very banality of the intimate encounters that makes them troubling, discomforting.” She feels that Abrahams, as an Internet artist, “is in the business of exposing the numerous frustrations that relationships (especially mediated ones) are packed with, while at the same time celebrating the potentiality of inter-subjectivity, connectivity, collaborative practice and exchange.”
“Although the company (Blast Theory) creates work that results in different types of artistic outputs, such as videos and installations, its live practice always aims to situate audiences at the centre. Furthermore, audiences are never present as witnesses – they are asked to immerse themselves in an experience, take an active part in the development of a piece by performing certain actions, making choices, playing a game, making decisions that will shape their own and others’ experience of the work.” Maria Chatzichristodoulou, Blast Theory
In her comprehensive essay on Blast Theory (British Theatre Companies, 2015), Chatzichristodoulou paints a detailed and highly illuminating picture of the work of British media collective Blast Theory, whose numerous productions dating back to 1991 generally defy easy explanation and analysis. In the essay, Chatzichristodoulou describes one of Blast Theory’s seminal works from 2001, “Can You See Me Now?,” which earned the Ars Electronic Golden Nica Award: “This was neither exclusively physical nor exclusively virtual; it was, instead, a hybrid space created from the players’ interactions with each other, which pertained to the interstices between physical and virtual.” As is typical with much of Blast Theory’s work since “Can You See Me Now?,” Chatzichristodoulou explains that they “succeeded in creating a rare hybrid: a computer game that invited real life to burst into the virtual realm, ‘contaminating’ it with its unexpected, messy and often paradoxical essence.” Chatzichristodoulou has exposed both Blast Theory and Annie Abrahams as engaging the complexities, richness, and poignancies in everyday life as fundamental to breaking down and blurring the line between performer and viewer.
To open the Art of the Networked Practice Online Symposium, Maria Chatzichristodoulou will take us on a historic journey through seminal online artworks by Kit Galloway & Sherrie Rabinowitz (founders of the Electronic Café); Paul Sermon, (whose Telematic Dreaming is one of the classic works of networked art), AlienNation, (pioneers in site specific performance); Station House Opera’s recent piece “At Home in Gaza and London”; the 3rdthought arts collective; and the work of Annie Abrahams. As she critiques the promise of internationalism as expressed through the work of networked artists, I expect her probing analysis will stir up interesting dialogue at our international Symposium. Chatzichristodoulou is bringing to our attention the “challenging restrictions placed upon the free circulation of people and ideas” that questions the utopic prediction of the “global village” more than fifty years ago by Marshall McLuhan. This seems an ideal point of discussion for our online Symposium: have we come at all close to achieving the promise of the communications revolution in a complicated world with global, political and technological inequalities.
It will be an interesting debate.