[ISEA94] Panel: Tapio Makela – Electronic Space: An Imaginary Conquest

Panel Statement

Panel: Nethics?

The utopian rhetoric that is characteristic to discourse on the electronic arts bears a certain resemblance to narratives of conquest. Electronic spaces are thought of as uninhabited areas, where our corporeal bodies and practical politics literally loose their ground. These spaces are often described as a newly found terrain for democracy, a McLuhanist democratic network for improving communications, deepening experiences and strengthening democracy.

The reason for me to use the rhetoric of colonialization in this paper is linked to the following argument, which I hope will be debated. I claim that electronic arts, and especially the written discourse around it, are simply continuing the modernist project. Beginning with the early days of colonialization, the western concepts of subjectivity were based on projection on other cultures and a self-contained, self-centered will to power. As Berger, Foucault, and others have pointed out, the control was often optical, and Simon Penny sees Virutal Reality as the latest stage of employing the Renaissance Perspective. Thrill of the conquest is to live on the frontier between the self and the unknown. There has been a dual history for this frontier: a physical and an imaginary one. A continuous will to project oneself outside one’s corporeal body. This usually takes place by using physical murder and technological discoveries to achieve economic and geographical power under auspices of an imaginary concept. An interesting shift occurred in the sixties, when a bunch of WASP males turned to Zen Buddhism and began a search inside
one’s body, which, nevertheless, was seen as a space. Timothy Leary was one of the entrepreneurs who got fed up with that project and continued his search inside the computer. Different ways of exceeding corporeal limits in search of an(other) self? This projection goes on with Virtual Reality and, as far as I can see, most of the electronic arts. The works that transgress this projection are usually those that are consciously made to underline that process. Thinking about Lynn Hershmans’s work (Lorna), where the male (colonialist) gaze becomes an object of criticism by focusing on the way media allows this way of looking.
Modernism in the electronic arts is based on politics of sameness. Postmodernist projects, to which I would include at least feminism and 2nd world ethnic movements, have critically
examined identities and differences. Paying attention to the medium itself has made most of electronic art seemingly genderless. It could be claimed postmodern because of its ability to transform into the identity a user or a viewer desires, but it is very rarely possible. Just think about the female figures in computer animations, or the modernist computer graphics… The images could be claimed postmodern on the basis of the mixing of styles, exploitation and
amount of citations. As long as the interest in electronic art is focused on interactivity or the medium, it remains helplessly uncritical and modernist. That does not need to be so. I suggest
a project of decolonializing the electronic space.

  • Tapio Mäkelä Currently working as a director in Helsinki, Finland, for MUU r.y., an artists’ organisation for media arts, video, performance and environmental art. B.A. in cultural history, University of Turku, M.A. in progress. Also a free lance journalist, former editor in chief of Turun ylioppilaslehti, a weekly based in Turku. Co-editor for Virtual Zoneand four other publications. Aim: combining cultural theory with visual arts.