[ISEA2011] Panel: Roy As­cott – Dis­tance Makes the Art Grow Fur­ther: Dis­trib­uted Au­thor­ship and Telem­atic Tex­tu­al­ity in La Plis­sure du Texte

Panel Statement

Panel:   La Plissure du Texte

Roland Barthes’ canon­i­cal state­ment con­tains an un­der­stand­ing of tex­tu­al­ity that lies at the cen­ter of this chap­ter and in­deed in­formed the pro­ject it sets out to de­scribe. The term telem­at­ics has its ori­gins in the 1978 re­port to the French pres­i­dent by Alain Minc and Simon Nora con­cern­ing the con­vergence of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and com­put­ers, par­tic­u­larly in busi­ness and ad­min­is­tra­tion. Dis­trib­uted au­thor­ship is the term I coined to de­scribe the re­mote in­ter­ac­tive au­thor­ing process for the pro­ject La Plis­sure du Texte: A Plan­e­tary Fairy­tale, which is the prin­ci­pal sub­ject of this text. My pur­pose here is to ex­plore the ge­neal­ogy of the pro­ject, how the con­cept of mind­at-a-distance de­vel­oped in my think­ing, and how the over­ar­ch­ing ap­peal of the telem­atic medium re­placed the plas­tic arts to which I had been com­mitted as an ex­hibit­ing artist for more than two decades. The pro­ject arose in re­sponse to an in­vi­ta­tion in 1982 from Frank Pop­per to par­tic­i­pate in his ex­hi­bi­tion Elec­tra: Elec­tric­ity and Elec­tron­ics in the Art of the XXth Cen­tury at the Musèe Art Mod­erne de la Ville de Paris in the fall of 1983. Pop­per had writ­ten pre­vi­ously on my work, and I was con­fi­dent that his in­vi­ta­tion of­fered a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a large-scale telem­atic event that would in­cor­po­rate ideas and at­ti­tudes I had formed over the pre­vi­ous twenty or more years. La Plis­sure du Texte: A Plan­e­tary Fairy­tale (LPDT) sought to set in mo­tion a process by which an open-ended, non­lin­ear nar­ra­tive might be con­structed from an au­thor­ing “mind” whose dis­trib­uted nodes were in­ter­act­ing asyn­chronically over great dis­tances—on a plan­e­tary scale, in fact. As I ex­am­ine it in ret­ro­spect, I see how a com­plex­ity of ideas can cre­ate a con­text for a work whose ap­par­ent sim­plic­ity masks a gen­er­a­tive process that can bi­fur­cate into many modes of ex­pres­sion and cre­ation. It is the bi­fur­ca­tions of ideas speci.c to the con­text of LPDT—their branch­ing and con­verg­ing path­ways—that I shall ini­tially ad­dress in this chap­ter. The con­tent it­self is trans­par­ent, in­sofar as the text in its un­fold­ing is its own wit­ness.

  • Roy As­cott is a British artist and the­o­rist, who works with cy­ber­net­ics and telem­at­ics, born in Bath, Eng­land. From 1955-59 he stud­ied Fine Art at King’s Col­lege, Uni­ver­sity of Durham under Vic­tor Pas­more and Richard Hamil­ton. On grad­u­a­tion he was ap­pointed Stu­dio Demon­stra­tor (1959–61). He then moved to Lon­don, where he es­tab­lished the rad­i­cal Ground­course at Eal­ing Art Col­lege, which he sub­se­quently es­tab­lished at Ip­swich Civic Col­lege, in Suf­folk. He was a vis­it­ing lec­turer at other Lon­don art schools through­out the 1960s. Then he briefly was Pres­i­dent of On­tario Col­lege of Art and De­sign, Toronto, be­fore mov­ing to Cal­i­for­nia as Vice-Pres­i­dent and Dean of San Fran­cisco Art In­sti­tute, dur­ing the 1970s. He was Pro­fes­sor for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions The­ory at the Uni­ver­sity of Ap­plied Arts Vi­enna dur­ing the 1980s, and Pro­fes­sor of Tech­noetic Arts at the Uni­ver­sity of Wales, New­port in the 1990s. As­cott is also the found­ing pres­i­dent of the Plan­e­tary Col­legium, an ad­vanced re­search cen­ter which he set up in 2003 at the Uni­ver­sity of Ply­mouth, UK, where he is Pro­fes­sor of Tech­noetic Arts. In 1964 As­cott pub­lished “Be­hav­iourist Art and the Cy­ber­netic Vi­sion”. In 1968, he was elected As­so­ci­ate Mem­ber of the In­sti­tu­tion of Com­puter Sci­ence, Lon­don (pro­posed by Gor­don Pask). In 1972, he be­came a Fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety of Arts. His first telem­atic art pro­ject was La Plis­sure du Texte (1983), an on­line work of “dis­trib­uted au­thor­ship” in­volv­ing artists around the world. The sec­ond was his “gesamt­daten­werk” As­pects of Gaia: Dig­i­tal Path­ways across the Whole Earth (1989),an in­stal­la­tion for the Ars Elec­tron­ica Fes­ti­val in Linz, dis­cussed by Matthew Wil­son Smith in The Total Work of Art: from Bayreuth to Cy­ber­space, New York: Rout­ledge, 2007.