net.dialogue.1--WYSIWYG SUBJECTS

Posted by Rhizome | Tue Feb 20th 2001 1 a.m.

net.dialogue.1
WYSIWYG SUBJECTS
(with Mark Amerika and Eugene Thacker)

"I'm an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way
only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human
immobility. I'm in constant movement...[f]reed from the boundaries of
time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe,
wherever I want them to be. My way leads to a fresh perception of the
world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you."--Dziga
Vertov

+ + +

Mark Amerika: OK, let's start net.dialogue. Are sites like jennicam and
amandacam works of pure performance art or are they more like Reality
TV? Sometimes I wonder if net art isn't becoming more like Temptation
Island. What's your take?

Eugene Thacker: That's a tough one; then again webcams are being more
and more self-conscious (were they ever naive, were they ever "pure"?),
and RealTV is becoming performance, literally, like extreme sports -
XTV. It's also hard to get out of the highly self-reflexive paranoia of
performativity: are you performing because a camera is on you (technical
performativity) or are you performing because "life" is not without
degrees of performativity?

MA: Yes, its both/and. And that's the rub. I particularly like your
reference to extreme sports and XTV. This is what a contemporary writing-
cum-Internet art practice is becoming. Extreme writing. It's not just a
job, it's an adventure (and doesn't it make your mouth water just
thinking about it?).

But what about the web-glams?

ET: I tend to approach the cam-girls (or cam-grrrls?) thru their
differences:

+ Jennicam (http://www.jennicam.org/) represents the voyeuristic
fascination w/ the banality of everyday life. The gen-x, white,
middleclass American everywoman.

+ Amandacam (http://www.amandacam.com/) seems like an amateur porn star
who is acting like Jennicam, and just by coincidence, happens to be
naked more often. No, you say to yourself, it's *not* porn, she's just
hangin' out at home.

+ Anacam (http://www.anacam.com/) is the twenty-something hip art
student who is very self-aware of being "on show" at all times. Anacam
could never attain the sublime banality of Jennicam. But then Jennicam
could never generate the psychedelic dream-world of Anacam.

The questions that surrounded a lot of '60s performance art (life/art
boundaries) haven't gone away, but they seem different now w/ new media.
To me the contextualization of actions/events by a given technology
makes a lot of difference--medial enframing (which is different from
medical enflaming). The tech doesn't determine everything, but it does
add particular constraints, depending on how the media is being used or
mis-used.

Given that, it seems like the webcams are based on a surveillance model.
RealTV, despite it's self-promotion, is still based on the syndicated TV
program--commercials, time-slots, censorship, major editing, etc.--wow,
it's amazing how much life is like a sitcom etc... When you're on webcam
you're under surveillance, 24/7, and, like the panopticon, you're seen
but can't see who's seeing you; and, unlike TV, there is often
interaction--chat rooms, email exchanges, webcam diaries, etc. RealTV
could only operate as true surveillance if you were one of the tech
people in the camera room at Big Brother or RealWorld.

The "real" for webcams is documentation-real. Visioning every nook and
cranny (of the body as well as house), detailing every day's events,
accounting for absences from the webcam, archiving photos, etc. The
"real" for RealTV is experience-real. Like an unscripted
sitcom/drama/soap with amateur actors that can't improvise. The
enframing is the setting up of a condition (house or island) & see what
happens, lab-rat style.

Webcams are to anthropology what RealTV is to behaviorism.

I seem to have lost voyeurism in all this--the one single point of
consensus on webcams or RealTV is that everyone knows you're being
watched; there's no voyeurism in media anymore?

MA: Right; it's not really Candid Camera anymore. Maybe it's more like
Candide Camera or, tip of the hat to the late great Terry Southern,
Candy Camera. The voyage takes more precedence over the voyeur. Web
journeymen (journeywomen) searching for "lost aura." I mean, it feels
like we really are on the verge of relocating Benjamin's "lost aura,"
except instead of seeing it return in the form of a unique object d'art,
it's now become a more celebrated network identity, one that is
constantly in flux, so that when the Floating Web Cam Eye captures you
in its lens, you feel the need to "creatively exhibit" yourself, to
instantaneously de-mystify yourself, even though you know that this is
really not yourself at all, can never be yourself, because that's just
not you. You are always someone else.

A network of performing orifice-cams would, I think, further prove the
point. If you took a camera inside one of your orifices, one of your
lower orifices, and kept it beaming over the web 24 hours a day while
giving your viewers a supplementary diary that metaphorically
transmitted a new media language that essentially turned the orifice-cam
into a laxative, what would that do to our concept of streaming media?

ET: Now that's really intriguing--not just the many orifice cams that
are available via any mainstream porn site, but a +network+ of orifice
cams that are +streaming+ live 24/7. Um, this definitely seems like a
job for wireless web, but aside from that, it would push the process of
mediation to its extreme, which is seeing the most secret part of a
body, while at the same time rendering that depth a surface.

A common trope during the rise of anatomical dissection during the 16th
century was the Latin saying "Know Thyself" (literally, inside and out).
The fascination with the public anatomy theaters was this doubled auto-
voyeurism: during a public dissection, you were seeing what your insides
looked like, but at the same time it obviously wasn't you down there,
splayed open, on the dissection table. Webcams are an anatomy of
net.subjectivity; the creative exhibitionism acts by variously
reflecting, diffracting, distorting, maybe saying much more about the
context of networked surveillance of voyeurs, than about Jenni, Amanda,
Ana, or the numerous other webcam personalities.

Which brings us back to your title--WYSIWYG Subjects. In a way the whole
phenomena of webcams is about the topography of the subject
(interior/exterior; inner space/outer space) constantly grappling with
new technologies that mediate that subject. In Foucault's terms, these
are technologies that "subject" subjects--they corporeally pose
challenges to subjectivity and subject formation, and they do so via the
stuff of the medium itself. You're a person, you've got a body, and you
want to share it with everyone--not just represent it to everyone, but
you want to stretch the membrane of its thickness via a DSL line. That,
it seems, is the crux of the many ambiguities of net-subjectivity:
embodiment.

Streaming_OrificeCam.net would be a way to experiment with the changes
which embodied subjectivity are undergoing, as its slides through new
media like webcams. Now, in one sense the goal of any medium is to be so
perfect that it's invisible--that orifice is so real I could touch it...
On the other hand, the very definition of a medium is that it provides a
buffer between two points, or that it "translates"--this webcam stream
sure is pixellated... What is produced in the space between these two
poles? Can you get visceral data, dripping data? What might tactility
mean for net.subjectivity?
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