SIGGRAPH 1998: Touchware



Orlando, Florida


July 19th-24th, 1998


As cyberspace with its virtuality races towards the future, there is a cry for the hand. In linking to cyberspace, where is the touch, the tactility, the physicality of experience? Touchware is the lens through which we envision the future. This exhibition embraces the interface between computing and user as the territory of art. Issues of the physicality of touch vs. the psychology of keeping in touch, natural versus machine, and substance versus virtual are concerns of these artists.

The reach-out-and-touch mythology of the telephone has become the banner of the World Wide Web. Email and the Internet provide the long-distance touch with an immediacy and multiplicity of connection within simultaneous individual and community matrices. “This network is an ideological image, with a profusion of spaces and identities and the permeability of boundaries- in the personal body and in the body politic.” This rhizomatic world of cyberspace is an electronic totemism. Totemism, as described in Aboriginal art, involves animating lines of identification flowing from the origin through all things … forming an invisible web of reciprocal processes linking humanity, nature, and spirituality. Central to Aboriginal art, totemism describes the linking of humanity, nature, and the gods. Electronic totems, as Aboriginal totems, enrich a person’s interrelatedness to the world.

But the behavior and feel of this linking is flat – a projected world connected through a flat light screen. In this flatland, the visual is dominant over the other perceptual senses. Other sensory experiences like touch are diminished. McLuhan viewed the printing press as an invention that segmented sensory experiences, preventing kinesthetic thought and feeling in which there is a synthesis of hearing, seeing, tasting, and touching. The Internet is an extension of the printing press. Thus when an individual perceptual sense becomes locked in a technology, it becomes separated from the other senses. This portion of one’s self closes, as if it were locked in steel. Prior to such separation, there is complete interplay among the senses. Virtual experience “overthrows the sensorial and organic architecture of the human body by disembodying and reformatting its sensorium in powerful, computer generated, digitized spaces.”  Cyberspace disengages from physical reality. Sensory experience is reduced to a monomedium of digital coding.

The artwork in this exhibition links us to the mythology and spirituality of the digital world. We create convergence mythologies as a connective tissue between the physical and the world of the virtual spirit. African art embraces the differences between the world of matter and that of spirit through convergence mythologies. Each African culture has a specific explanation for the convergence of spirit and matter.  For example, the Yoruba people conceive of the cosmos in terms of two distinct yet inseparable components.  Aye is the visible, tangible world of the living, while Orun is the invisible, spiritual realm of the ancestors, gods, and spirits. In some societies, dreams and the dreaming person are the point of intersection between the human and the spirit realms. The dreaming person is the intermediary of communication.  The artist mediates the territory between real and virtual, between spirit and matter.

Electroforming: New Materials/New Forms of Art

This artwork rematerializes the digitized experience, using physical and conceptual aspects of touch to mediate between the real and the cyber-mythical.  Subverting the disembodiment of cyberspace, electroforming embodies an engagement with materials. The grammar of crafting in cyberspace usurps the vocabulary of hand materials and processes: cut and paste, layering, modeling. But the process of creating art in the electronic arena is electroforming with light, time, movement, communication, and transmission. Tangibility and substance cross over materiality and virtuality. The same is true for music composition. The material of composition is sound having no object or visible physicality. Composer Pierre Boulez states that “perhaps material seems a rather coarse and ill-suited term when it comes to an art such as music, which, more often than not, is perceived as something immaterial.  Sonority, potential expressivity, range and color form the musician’s basic working material.” Sound and light are emotionally tangible materials, however ephemeral.

In the electronic arts, materials are created in the mind’s eye of the artist. The psychological effect of material is real.  The physiological effect of material is real.   Artmaking as electroforming involves a complex conceptualization of materiality. The kinaesthetics of experience are embedded in the mental constructs of art-making processes as powerful as that of forming clay by hand. “Significant art no longer has an outward relationship to material elements that formed it.”

Committee Members:

Exhibition Artworks: