Nina Zschocke is a post-doc researcher at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
The published exposition by Annie Abrahams contains some responses to suggestions made in the course of the reviewing process. Annie Abrahams presents a series of collaborative web-based performances which take up much of the technological structure and setup of earlier works by other artists but, and this is important, at the same time they call into question some of their underlying values and optimistic beliefs. The first telecommunicative experiments with computer networks in art such as Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway’s Electronic Café International (1984) were driven by a utopian belief in a net-based global community, in processes of global, non-hierarchical communication and participation. Jaron Lanier dreamed –and might still dream- of nonverbal (“post symbolic”) communication and intimacy mediated by virtual reality technologies. And beliefs in positive social effects of computer networks are expressed undauntedly by later projects such as Ken Goldberg’s Telegarden (1994-2005) - and inform much of the rhetorics framing web-based multi-user art projects until today. Annie Abrahams’ exposition starts off with a distrust of the frequent glorification of Internet collaborations. In her webcam performances that confront participants with challenging and changing protocols, the belief in telecommunication’s potential to connect remote and socially separated individuals or groups and to produce intimacy is put to the test. Abrahams argues that web-based social interfaces confront participating individuals with a number of problems, and are less successful in bringing people together to participate in a shared activity than it is often assumed. In response to the experiences provided and to the behaviour shown by the participants she defines intermediate states she such as “lonely togetherness” (referring to Sherry Turkle) and focuses on moments of lost control. Thereby, the exposition addresses issues, which are of central concern to the long history of discourse about machine-mediated communication and about its social and artistic potential. Most importantly, Abrahams examines aspects of (tele)communication that are often ignored, namely moments of failure or “messiness”. More specifically, it can be argued that Annie Abrahams’ work offers a new perspective on earlier video based telecommunication projects such as Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway’s Hole in Space, 1980 or Paul Sermon’s, Telematic Dreaming, 1992, which - despite rhetorics of intimacy and sensuality - could also be understood as confronting with an experience of alienation and failed contact, as disappointing expectations raised by technological promises. Generally, art’s potential to unite individuals in participatory practice and to built social communities is highly debated today, mainly in response to Nicolas Bourriaud’s Esthétique rélationnelle, 1998. In her revised contribution Abrahams refers to Claire Bishop’s critique (“Social Turn, Collaboration and its Discontents”, in: Artforum 2006) another prominent author would be Jacques Rancière (Le spectateur émancipé, Paris 2008). Annie Abrahams’ work and exposition relates to – and has the potential to contribute - to these debates. “Research” or specific scientific procedures are not addressed and examined as problems by either the performance pieces presented or the exposition. Rather, the performance projects are conceptualized and organized as several sets of experiments. This interesting approach is referred to in a section titled “Research?” However, some of the aspects mentioned here could be explored in more detail, as, for example, the relationship between the questions asked, the formal protocols and the rules defined. It would be good to elaborate on the following statements: “Nothing is ever repeated. Whenever I work with performers twice I take care to change the protocol. There are no rehearsals, only tests.”; “I don't impose, I propose. I offer a situation. I do not explain. I let the performers be, let them take possession of the proposition, use it as they think it suits them so we can watch them trying, evolving, progressing, navigating between their individual presence and collective construction.” The relationship of Abrahams’ practice to experimental practice in science, e.g the doctoral work in biology mentioned in the same section, could be explained more explicitly. Then again, we may well accept that such an analysis is not one of the artist’s most central concerns and that her core issues lie elsewhere.