[ISEA2023] Institutional Presentation: Don Foresta — MARCEL: Multimedia Art Research Centres and Electronic Laboratories

Institutional Presentation Statement

Multicast is a telecommunication technology allowing symmetrical real-time interactivity
between several correspondents communicating simultaneously in sound, image and data
transfer. It is a new communication space already in use in a limited manner, but not yet
widespread since new models of real-time interactivity have been limited. It is very different
from the broadcast model of the current network, one to many, which dominates the network
today and is the preferred commercial model. Multicast has a potential to become a new
medium of communication and this project will explore its potential, using the network as an
international online laboratory experimenting with art, science, research and education to
develop models of true interactivity and developing the tools to make it happen.

Context: Industry has avoided multicasting or even suppressed it by imposing on it the
broadcast model principally because people do not see an immediate return, a commercial use
with instant payback. Rather than experimenting with multicast’s potential in a form of
fundamental research to see what might be done, main players in industry have favoured
existing applications rather than understanding what can be done in the long term. That taboo
has been challenged by the pandemic and broken by Zoom. People have generally recognised
the importance of the network and well as the drawbacks of the current technologies and
resistance to multipoint connections has evaporated.

A multipoint fully interactive space is a new medium of communication with an enormous
potential for creativity, for developing new uses of the network, radically different kinds of
programming for art, education, research and culture. Inherently, there would be considerable
commercial fallout with new products and services becoming available. There are, however,
important sociological, economic and legal aspects which have to be examined, even invented,
to move forward in an effective way.

MARCEL, our response to that challenge, was built through a Performing Arts Fellowship to Don
Foresta at the Wimbledon School of Art from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In the
early 2000’s. It began modestly with experimentation particularly in online artistic
performance. Many artists and institutions joined MARCEL rapidly but over the first 10 years of
activity many of them dropped out judging the technology inadequate and not up to the
imagination of the artists and their artistic ambitions. We recognised very early that we would
not have the necessary tools for that experimentation from industry since they did not share
the same objectives and, as mentioned above, actually blocked efforts in that direction.
MARCEL began with the only multi-point platform existing at the time, Access Grid, and, while
that proved interesting, it was quickly obvious that its limitations were real. It was obvious by
the end of the 2000’s we would have to build our own platform for art, responding to artistic
needs and develop the necessary tools to respond to those needs. Online experimentation with
multicasting technology in sectors of intellectual and cultural activity is a concrete way to
advance pushing the technology through responding specifically to creative demands in
developing to the tools to respond to them. http://www.mmmarcel.org
[Text taken from Workshop proposal]

  • Don Foresta (US/FR) is a research artist and theoretician in art using new technologies as creative tools.He is a specialist in art and science whose principal work in the field, “Mondes Multiples”, will soon be published in a second edition in English and French. He is formerly a professor at the Ecole Nationale Supèrieure d’Arts Décoratifs – Paris, Ecole Nationale Supèrieure d’Arts -Paris/Cergy and a research fellow at the London School of Economics. He has been working for 40 years in developing the network as an artistic tool and is presently building a permanent high band-width network, MARCEL, for artistic, educational and cultural experimentation <www.mmmarcel.org> which now has 350 confirmed members. He began MARCEL while invited artist/professor at the National Studio of Contemporary Art, Le Fresnoy, Lille France and a research fellow of the Arts and Humanities Research Council at the Wimbledon School of Art in London. His first on-line exchange in 1981 was between the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT where he was a fellow and the American Center in Paris where he was director of the Media Art program. He was a commissioner to the 42nd Venice Biennial in 1986 where he built one of the first computer networks between artists. Foresta holds a doctorate degree from the Sorbonne in Information Science and a Master’s from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced Internation Studies. He has both US and French nationalities and was named “Chevalier” of the Order of Arts and Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. He is also membre of a groupe de reflexion, GRAMHONA at the Collége de France.