Rhythms of Presence

Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec's artistic research project aims to explore invisible manifestations of bodily presence, in particular the rhythms of everyday bodily movement in the context of current mediated and virtually networked society. Investigating ephemeral, invisible and temporal aspects of this activity, the research will focus on how related temporalities can act as material for artistic work. 'Rhythms of Presence' is an artistic research project by research fellow Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec started October 2013-2016.

Living in a mediated and virtually networked society, notions of temporality, the ephemeral nature of existence, and remote presence are increasingly in the foreground. Simultaneously, it appears that the significance of direct lived experience, in all its multisensory complexity, is in decline.

My proposed artistic research project aims to explore this current situation by focusing on invisible manifestations of presence, in particular the rhythms of everyday bodily movement. These will form the basis for developing tests aimed at exposing the gap between remote and felt presence, and how related temporalities can act as material for artistic work.

Can reality be understood and researched as an invisible "flow of events"? How does experiencing reality from this perspective effect relations between the self, the other and place? How can these ideas be applied and experienced through an artistic work? And how might such experiences inform our view onto networked society?

Following such questions I intend to develop research into how energies of human movements can be remotely sensed using digital systems, their rhythms discerned and re-enacted by mechanical actions in a space. This will lead to developing custom-made software, as well as hardware devices, that can be applied to various settings and situations, public and private. My interest is to develop the means for exploring the re-enactment of bodily expressions, and the conditions of presence, creating what I would like to call shadow events. These events follow existing flows and rhythms of human presence, capturing their temporal dimension, while re-enacting them so as to open up a critical view onto our mediated surroundings.

By bringing forward these often "invisible" rhythms of lived reality, manifesting them as concrete experiences, I intend to discover the possibilities for their artistic re-articulations. Such work ultimately intends toward questioning in what way human bodily presence can be felt beyond the directness of visuality and vicinity, and further, what kind of new poetics these re-articulations can form.

Research themes and issues:
Asking the question: How does reality manifest as a "flow of events" my main areas of concern are: temporality as a dimension, remote presence as a phenomenon, and extended listening as a method. These form a research constellation aimed at challenging the presumed separation between presence and absence, the material and the immaterial. In addition, my project brings forward an understanding that artistic research and articulations can contribute important experiences to contemporary life.

The recent acceleration of human existence and global societies has reached a certain threshold articulated by contemporary thinkers as "the end of history" (Alexander Kojeve, Fukoyama) or the "loss of depth" and "loss of horizon" (Paul Virilio), and further addressed in the following paragraph from Stephen Wright's essay "The Fate of Public Time: toward a time without qualities" (2008):

There is an interaction between the acceleration of globalisation and a genuine redefinition of our relationship to time: everything is moving faster and this ‘faster’ itself is felt all the more acutely in that it is linked to the perception that it is spreading worldwide. Globalisation is experienced in the form of the ‘tyranny of real time over real space’, as if, in some way, the equalisation of conditions of access to space by different actors… has shifted competition into the field of time. [.....] World space is thus entirely temporalised.

Wright's observations suggest that in the contemporary moment, our society has reached a "boiling point" where the "molecules" of society are transforming from a solid (spatial) to a liquid (temporal) state. Or to put it differently: through the increased velocities of global movement, time has materialized into temporality as a dimension. It is my intention to investigate how we inhabit this dimension, and how does it effect relations between the self, the other and place.

Remote presence and near absence - the duality of "far-here"
By discovering the communication potentials of the Ether, the invention of radio (and later with the internet) changed the perception of space, creating the possibility of remote presence, which generated a new kind of temporalised space.
Besides the local natural cycles and social events, which are experienced collectively, there is a new kind of collective experience enabled by electronic media. By tuning into the same communication channel simultaneously, a new milieu and collectivity are formed, based on the synchronicity of remote yet shared experiences. In order to form this collectivity it is not necessary to gather in the same place, but rather to tune into the same frequency at the same time. This milieu exists in a temporal dimension.
As Steven Connor articulates in his book The Matter of Air - Science and Art of the Ethereal (2010):

As radio has been steadily spatialised, so space has been radiolized - that is to say, reconfigured to accord with a world in which what matters are not points, nodes, orientations and distances, but velocities, frequencies, connections, transmissions and syntonies. [...] Radio allowed the experience of the far-here, or the far-hear; that which was unimaginably distant could also have the immediacy and importunacy of that which sounded in your ears. (p.205)

However, as the radio experience of "far-here" and its related collectivity evolved through the developments of media in the 20th century towards ubiquitous internet devices, the possibility of remote presence gave birth to its shadow – near absence. Being online, here and somewhere else simultaneously, alters perception and can diminish direct experience of the physical place one inhabits.
I am interested in how the rise of networked media can diminish human contact, while also facilitating and helping to mobilize people in forming movements and communities, gaining an existence beyond virtual space.

Extended listening
Engaging in contemporary networked society, acts of "extended listening" such as tuning in, being online and remote sensing can form the basis for going beyond locality, singularity and individuality to support expanded perception.
Aurality is finding greater footing within our contemporary landscape, fulfilling Marshall McLuhan's proposition that "electronic culture" operates "acoustically" – sound as a temporal, immaterial and connective medium. Extended listening thus forms the basis for projects of remote sensing, which enable us to perceive activities taking place beyond the reach of the naked senses. Presupposing that aural manifestations of (remote) presence can psychologically create greater sense of "being (t)here" than mediated visual representations, "hearing" those selected or remote events deepens a sense of presence.
I intend to investigate how extended listening alters experiences of presence and can contribute to artistic expressions sensitive to how we live within and through the immaterial. This will include investigating and developing extended listening as a working method.

These three areas of concern  – temporality, remote presence, and extended listening – will function as an overall theoretical platform for my project. It is my interest to study further these areas, and to discover in what way they can contribute to artistic methods and materials in relation to questions of presence.

Research process and methods of working:
Material artistic production and knowledge production for me are deeply connected, and my ambition to undertake the fellowship is tied to my desire to develop a greater relation between these two aspects.
In this regard, my research will be conducted on two intertwining levels: firstly, I intend to develop several real-time responsive systems, working with mobile sensor technology, software development and mechanical devices. I intend to accomplish these systems by developing custom software and hardware in collaboration with computer engineers. The second level of my research will consist of using these systems for conducting artistic experiments, involving participation, theoretical dialogue and reflection on the basis of which I will be advancing the systems and the questions of my research. The central principle for developing my research will be to generate knowledge from these direct experiences and tests, leading to related reflections and ideas for further artistic development. Such a process will guide my research towards shaping final artistic presentations and statements.

The research will take shape by focusing on fundamental modalities of physical and mental "bodily presence", specifically walking. Walking will be used as a platform for re-examining the relations between bodily and mediated presence at the center of our networked reality, as well as to explore the hidden temporalities of everyday life. Discerning the inherent rhythms of this activity, it will be brought forward to provide a platform for in-depth analysis and poetic re-articulation.

The act of walking is to urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered. [...] it is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian (just as the speaker appropriates and takes on the language); it is a spatial acting-out of the place (just as the speech act is an acoustic acting-out of language); and it implies relations among differentiated positions, that is, among pragmatic "contracts" in the form of movements. (pp. 97-98)
Michel de Certeau: The Practice of Everyday Life (1984)

I intend to conduct research into the activity of "everyday walking" as a rhythmical and acoustical phenomenon, questioning how walking expresses a primary means for finding place.
Negotiating gravity, steps are continuously forming imperceptible flows of rhythms, their variations echoing a range of individual itineraries, intentions and emotions, as well as spatial and social situations. The way the body moves through space, interacting with architecture and other bodies is echoed in the rhythms and modalities of walking. The step as a contact point between the foot and the ground is embodying the relations between the body, a space, the inner mental state and social life.
Could remotely tuning in and "listening" to these "walking rhythms" give insight for research and artistic expressions that address the dynamics of lived temporality in contrast to historic time? Might appropriating these sensed rhythms as material reveal a new perspective on place and how we inhabit spaces?

I intend to develop this research by focusing on two perspectives: by following the steps of individuals, and by monitoring the flows of steps passing through a given space. By constructing several experimental platforms (sensitive surfaces) where rhythms of steps will be detected, mapped and kinetically re-enacted, I intend to work towards real-time installations, investigating how the essence of remote human presence could be re-articulated and evoked through the sensed walking rhythms.

Final Work and Presentations:
As the final presentation of my research project I can envision an exhibition featuring one or several installations based on the "walking" research. For instance, the installation(s) connected to this research could be located in a large exhibition space or public building, capturing the topic of "walking" from different perspectives as described above. I would be interested to additionally consider how visitors would navigate the exhibition; as walkers, might the exhibition provide a dynamic opportunity for reflecting on bodily presence, this relation between body and ground, as well as body and artwork? In this regard, I would aim to consider the "performativity" of the exhibition itself, and how visitors move through the space.

Published: 1/24/2014 by Cecilia Gelin Updated: 4/25/2016 by Jane Sverdrupsen