Introduction to Media & Performance

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Week 1: January 14 – 20 (Art-B1-14)

Introduction to course topics, syllabus, Website, and the overall Open Source Studio (OSS) approach to collaborative studio art. We will review key artworks, media histories, and theoretical concepts as they define our understanding of media, interactivity, and live performance. We will establish accounts in the OSS multi-site, discuss collective blog writing, Web-based research, online documentation, software applications, and methods of social media integration.  There will be a review of the micro projects, project hyperessay and final project, including opportunities for collaboration.

Schedule / Assignments

  • Tuesday, 1/14: Class meeting (7:30 PM – 10:30 PM, Art-B1-14 ADM)
    • Overview of Media & Performance
      • Concept of the Open Source Studio
      • Research and documentation in WordPress
      • Remote seminars via Adobe Connect
      • Discussion of the projects
      • Presentation / discussion of topics: Media & Performance
  • Establish accounts: Gravatar (WordPress avatar), Vimeo, and Flickr / you will receive an invite to join OSS NTU Group (see User Manual) (due January 21)
  • Choose theme for WordPress site (due January 21)
  • Bring laptops and headphones for next meeting to review and setup Adobe Connect

Hyperlecture: Week 1

Open Source Studio Orientation

For the first week we will become oriented to the Open Source Studio (OSS) approach to online, collaborative study. OSS utlizes the live Adobe Connect classroom environment, as well as WordPress, where each student has their own Website. The OSS User Manual includes detailed information about the concept and process of this experimental project, including the use of Connect, WordPress and related Web tools. It is important to become acquainted with this system of online study, in which we will use WordPress and an assortment of Web tools to create an online “virtual studio” that we will all participate in throughout the semester. While we will hold the first two weeks of the semester at ADM in the traditional physical classroom, the following nine weeks will take place completely online: using Adobe Connect for live weekly online seminars, and the OSS WordPress site to research and document our ongoing work. I will return to ADM for the final two weeks of the semester.

Overview of Projects

Students participate in projects that are focused on the use of Web tools for research and documentation.These include:

  • micro-projects that explore the use of video, sound, and imaging.
  • weekly student presentations of assigned artworks
  • the project hyperessay, which provides the basis for research and documentation of the final project (here is an example hyperessay from last semester
  • the final project, a major semester-long project that bridges each student’s artistic practice with media, performance, and the Internet

Additional information on the projects can be found in Project Assignments.

Topics of Media & Performance & Example Artworks

In order to set the stage for Media & Performance, we will discuss each of the weekly topics and take a look at an example work that demonstrates how artists have used performance to address various issues, concepts, and formal ideas. The integration of electronic and digital media into performance art has a considerable history, dating back to the early 20th century, so each week will dip into this history to understand how these concepts have evolved. I would like to make special mention of Steve Dixon (President of LaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore), whose book, Digital Performance, has provided a key text for this course. You can refer to the Syllabus overview page for descriptions of each week and the concepts to be discussed.

It is important to keep in mind that the idea of “performance” has broad meaning in this course: it might refer to a live performer, it could also refer to the viewer as performance in an interactive work. Generally though, we will consider performance the basis for an understanding of live media and the various ways in which real-time interaction is involved.

The following is a summary of topics and key artworks to be explored throughout the course:

Week 2: Between the Real and the Virtual

This refers to the blurring of physical and virtual spaces (worlds), a concept that is fundamental to our understanding of performance or installation art and the way in which media is used as a catalyst for constructing the viewer experience. In the work by Toni Dove, she explores this “in between” space as an arena for immersing the viewer in the cinematic experience: not as separate from the screen, but as a way to use interaction to virtually transgress the screen such that viewer enters into the cinematic space.

Artificial Changelings (1998)
Tony Dove

“Your body is struck to the movie, a part of it, lost in space and time. This effects the way a viewer moves, and perhaps how we might think about what a body is – its boundaries and edges go soft… this combination of action and physical sensation induces a trance-like state physically connected to the media that contributes to spatializing the narrative experience and disruption a linear or sequenced based notion of plot.“ – Tony Dove


Toni Dove is considered one of the pioneers of interactive cinema. Dove’s work blends cinematic tropes typical of studio-age film noir with contemporary narrative trends in science fiction, cybernetics, and new media. Her pieces are notable for turning the audience into performers through the use of interactive technologies. In these hybrids of film, installation art, and experimental theater, the participants interact with an unfolding narrative movie, often using minimally invasive interface technologies such as speech recognition and computer vision to control or ‘perform’ their on-screen avatars.

Artificial Changelings is an interactive narrative installation that uses motion sensing to track the location and movements of a viewer standing in front of a dimensional rear projection screen. A romance thriller about shopping, this interactive movie follows the life of Arathusa, a kleptomaniac in 19th century Paris during the rise of the department store, who is dreaming about Zilith, an encryption hacker in the future with a mission. Artificial Changelings is a unique statement on how consumer economy, from the Industrial revolution to the present, shapes identity.

Artificial Changelings is programmed in 30 minute shows that repeat throughout each day of exhibition. Each 30 minute show has certain similarities and many differences: the same clips may not repeat, and viewer navigation through the three zones (accessed

Users book in for a half-hour individual session in the installation, and use their body movement to interact with and control the movie images and sound of ‘a romance thriller about shopping’ which opens in Paris at the end of the 19th century ‘and travels to an unnamed future.

This work by American artist Toni Dove, who unites cinematic experience with viewer interaction, uses a sensor system, the Very Nervous System by David Rokeby, to create an interaction between the viewer and the movie narrative, enabling a “conversational” form of interactivity that places the viewer into a direct and immediate relationship to the characters.

Klaus Obermaier Ars Electronica Futurelab

An interactive dance and media performance conceived and directed by Klaus Obermaier, in collaboration with the Ars Electronica Futurelab, featuring Desirée Kongerød and Rob Tannion.

Rioji Ikeda
Test Patterns

“Test Patterns” uses barcodes – images that once had nasty associations with dystopian futures and dehumanization. But people are bathed in the sensory qualities of light and sound, sprawled on the ground as if they’re spending a Sunday afternoon in the park. It’s as though everyday people have risen to the aesthetic desires of early futurists and avant-garde, ready to immerse their eyes and ears in media in its purist form.” – Peter Kirn

Week 3: The Third Space

The third space refers to a networked space that can be inhabited by remote participants, either live or asynchronously. This is an idea we are all familiar with, whether it be through social media, or Skype, or even the telephone. We will be experiencing the third space, throughout this course via our interaction in Adobe Connect. This is one of the key reasons why OSS courses are taught online, to create a “visceral experience of the virtual” in the study of online artistic forms.

The Kiss (2007)
Annie Abrahams

French performance artist Annie Abrahams uses webcam technology to unite participants in a shared electronic space. In this work, the two performers attempt to kiss through the network. Despite physical separation, there is a sense of intimacy in the telematic embrace. We ask the question: are we “alone together,” or are we able to form meaningful and deeply human connections through networked interaction and performance.

Week 4: The Post-Human Connection

Donna Haraway, one of the most important writers and theorist on the media experience, has stated: “We are already cyborgs.” (cybernetic organism). Each of us, united with our mobile devices, engaging cybernetically in all aspects of our daily lives, are experience the post-human fusion of physical and digital being. Artists have explored this dimension of contemporary life in works that juxtapose the human body with the machine, often producing dystopian visions of the future.

ExoSkeleton (2003)

“Rather than conceptualize the body as an effect of computer modelling (as in the works of the last decade), Stelarc renders the human-machine interface as the site of controlled conflict, trauma, shock- in short, a kind of circuit in which the “galvanic twitch” loses its metaphysical aura and instead is materialized as a control mechanism rather than as a “spark of life”. In Stelarc’s work, the interface is a kind of negative “diaelectric” (realized through electrodes, transducers, muscle stimulators, amplifiers, force-feedback systems and extra limbs) that probe the tension- perhaps resistance- between the human and machine.” – Tim Druckrey

Since the 1970s, Australian artist Stelarc has been creating performance works that blur the boundaries between man and machine. Works such as Exoskeleton are both frightening and exalting projects, that reveal in dramatic ways how we are all engaging with mechanical devices as cyborgs in our everyday lives. These often dangerous works are skillfully orchestrated to extend the human body mechanically, demonstrating Marshall McLuhan’s prediction that technology would extend the human nervous system in a global embrace.

In Ping Body (1993), the work is electronically linked through a performance website allowing the audience to remotely access, view and actuate Stelarc’s body via a computer-interfaced muscle-stimulation system based at the main performance site. During the Ping Body performances, what is being considered is a body moving not to the promptings of another body in another place, but rather to Internet activity itself – the body’s proprioception and musculature stimulated not by its internal nervous system but by the external ebb and flow of data. The Ping Body performances produce a powerful inversion of the usual interface of the body to the Net. Instead of collective bodies determining the operation of the Internet, collective Internet activity moves the body. The Internet becomes not merely a mode of information transmission, but also a transducer, effecting physical action.

Week 5: Identity Multiples

The contemporary media experience has split our sense of identity into multiple selves: self-made avatars in the daily experience of social media and other role-playing forms of experience. We create social media profiles that extend who we are and what we want to be. This form of malleable identity creation is a form of theater and performance, which has been exploited by artists since the early days of role-playing games and text-based virtual realities such as MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons). In some cases, we can interact with ourselves, as “doubles,” or doppelgangers transformed through the media experience, evoking the myth of Narcissus.

Liquid Views (1992-1993)
Monika Fleischmann/Wolfgang Strauss/Christian-A. Bohn

“The beautifully and psychologically compelling depictions of the human double within digital performance may not simply be reflections, alter egos, spiritual emanations, and mannequins, but dark sirens beckoning us seductively to the same mesmerized paralysis and ultimate death that was Narcissus fear.” – Steve Dixon

In this interactive installation a monitor equipped with a touch-screen and mini-camera simulates the surface of a body of water, which seems to reflect the viewer. When viewers near the surface (the image on the TV screen simulates ring-like currents in a pond), they see their own reflected image integrated within a virtual scene. When they touch the screen, as interactants they generate algorithmic, water sounds and waves, which then distort the viewer’s mirror image (the computer simultaneously alters in real-time morphing the appearance of the viewer’s image, recorded live by a mini-camera). An additional intervening of the viewer increases the distortion, and after not touching the surface for a while the image again becomes as calm as ‹water› and a ‹tranquil mirror.› In the background, the participant’s reflected face is reproduced on a large projection surface; in this way, the interactant’s ‹introverted› gaze is also seen by the spectators standing nearby. This mirror-and-TV-screen can be understood as an interface that connects the real with the virtual world, as an interplay of image within image.

In Liquid Views, the viewer evokes the myth of Narcissus by starting at their own image transformed by the fluctuation of (virtual) water. The piece situations the viewer in relation to their own double, which takes on its own unique identity through the transformation. It is idea of the self as “other” that frightened Narcissus and caused him to die in fear of his own image.

Life 2.0
Jason Spingarn-Koff

Jason Spingarn-Koff has created a documentary about Second Life, the multi-user 3rd Space environment that situates one’s avatar in an invented, fully extensible world. The documentary questions the authenticity of the experience, and the relationships that emerge. What happens when one’s avatar falls in love, or when the user finds themselves live more virtually than in reality?

Week 6: Media Transformations

With the proliferation of systems of image and sound processing, we now have the ability to manipulate audio-visual compositions as a form of real-time collage. From the early days of DADA to current day club spaces, the notion of appropriating mass media has become common place in the form of the remix, except now, it can be appropriated, manipulated, processed and performed all at the same time.

The Post Reality Show (2011- )
Randall Packer


My current work, The Post Reality Show, is produced and performed in my studio in Washington, DC. Using many of the tools we are exploring in this course, including Ableton Live and VDMX, I have created a real-time system for performance via net-broadcast using my studio as a set. Drawing from live television, clips of video and music, Web pages, social media feeds, multiple live cameras, etc., the work explores our saturation in media consumption that ultimately blurs the distinction between what is real and what is not: hence, the post reality.

Happy Immersion / from The Post Reality Show

“The idea of ingesting media is an interesting concept. Like food or water or air, we devour an unquantifiable amount of media each today. It comes in the form of television or radio or computer-generated imagery. It bombards our sensory reception by air pressure or radio waves or light. Sometimes we are receptive to the transmission and sometimes we are completely unaware. We might take delight in the way our neurons feast on electronic signals, or it may cause us to feel utterly inadequate realizing there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to consume it all.”

This work explores our exposure to media, the effects of this exposure, and our increasingly inability to separate the real and the virtual. If the third space has situated us in a new kind of reality, is that reality in fact inhibiting our ability distinguish the media experience from the reality of our everyday lives. The illusion brought about through media, and our entire discussion of performance through the blurring of the physical and the virtual, has become the place we now inhabit in our increasingly technological culture.

Course Assessment

  • Micro Projects  – 25%
  • Project Hyperessay – 25%
  • Final Project – 35%
  • Live class participation and attendance – 15%

A complete breakdown of grading is included on the student participation and assessment page.

Upcoming Assignments

For next week: See the top of this page for assignments due on January 21st.









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