[ISEA97] Paper: Monika Fleischmann & Wolfgang Strauss – Liquid Views: Another Story of Narcissus


The paper discusses the meaning and motif of Narcissism through the centuries. Along with our own work and with examples from art, architecture, film, and books, we will talk about the changing identity of Media-Narcissus in the century of the Internet. Narcissism — from Fresco Painting to Virtual Reality tells us the same story with different technologies and with each century’s point of view. Narcissism in the mirror of society deals with self-reflection and self-knowledge. Narcissism in the mirror of art can be traced back to the originally mythologic narcissistic figure which since antiquity has been interpreted as a parable for self love — documented in fresco paintings in Pompeii. Narcissism on one hand is needed for self preservation — how else could man as the only entity abide the awareness of the dead. On the other, narcissism controls aggression —because man is destructive right there where he loves. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses he speaks about the dialectic of identity and difference, contrast and assimilation metaphorically in the figure of Echo and the pond in which Narcissus mirrors himself. A mirror, by inverting reality and showing something that is there and not there, raises the same problems of presence and absence.


Liquid Views (1993-96) is the digital well in which Narcissus discovered his own reflection. First he considers the water to be another person, another body. As the baby in the mirror stages described by Jacques Lacan, he decides to recognize his fictitious body as self. The visitor’s curiosity seduces him into performing actions which bring him into contact with his senses (touch, watch, listen). Attracted by the murmur of water, the visitors approach. Their own image seduces them into touching.Surprise is mostly expressed about the effect of one’s own finger tip which makes the image in the water blurred like in real water. While the actor becomes absorbed in his own doing, he leaves tracks and is observed. The visitor’s images are stored by the computer. Upon a later analysis we notice dif-ferences in the communication behavior of different cul¬ture groups.


In Liquid Views, the media Narcissus experiences reality as boundless. The spectator’s transition into another world happens through touching their own fictitious body.Touch is the interface into the virtual world and the mediator of different languages and perceptions. Both interactive works stride new ways in men-machine-communication. To touch a water surface, to influence a mirror by body movements are reactions which correlate with reality.The interface with the machine is imperceptible.Through these elemental references, the works become Virtual Reality. Our work is based on recounting a story in space. It is unimportant in this regard whether the story is recognized. The only thing of importance is that the visitor finds a thread that stirs memories inside him. Three elements determine the structure—the spectator, the story and the space.The area of conflict is the relationship that exists between man and his world of experience. The immersion into a story which is presented virtually and interactively as a framework for human actions has a fundamentally different purpose than film or theater. The basic form of the theater is dialogue and contemplation of the various ways of thinking and behaving. Film is the modern form of dramatic art and represents a progression from the static image to the moving one. Interactive media art has the task of bringing the qualities of the theater and film into confrontation and of intermeshing these qualities. The audience is given an unusual responsibility in this regard. They play a role in the story. And have to develop this role them selves in this game of illusion.

  • Monika Fleischmann (Germany) is a research artist and Head of Media Art Research & Studies (MARS) at GMD’s Institute for Media Communication. In 1988 she was co-founder of Art+Com, Berlin. Her multidiscipline background (fashion, design, art and drama, computer graphics) made her an expert in the world of art, computer science and media technology. The work of Fleischmann and her partner Wolfgang Strauss was awarded in 1992 at Ars Electronica in Linz with the Golden Nita. She is a member of Goethe institute’s advisory board for MEDIA and in the advisory board for the EXPO2000 – the world exhibition in Hannover. She is engaged in program committees on international confer­ences and competitions like Cyberconf and Cyberstar. She was ART Chair of ACM Multimedia ’96,
  • Wolfgang Strauss (Germany) is an architect and media-artist in the field of Virtual Architecture and Interface Design. Founder of Virtual Worlds Studio in Briey, France, at the Centre de Recherche Corbusier, co-founder of Art+Com, Berlin. Currently he is a guest professor of interactive media stud­ies at the School of Fine Arts Saarbrücken, Germany. His body of work – produced with Monika Fleischmann – ­includes Berlin-Cyber City, Responsive Workbench, Rigid Waves, Liquid Views, among other interactive environ­ments. Strauss is a guest-researcher at the GMD Institute for Media Communication.