Conference Zombies

Last weekend I attended the Altered States Conference at the University of Plymouth, UK, organised by Roy Ascott and Michael Punt. There was an intriguing mix of papers. Here are notes on just a few:

Ian Gwilt showed a series of images of the screenbased interface, most notably a hand-drawn dos prompt which seemed to me to be intensely charged. I must locate this and use it somewhere....

Sue Palmer spoke about 'psi: mid space' a performance piece based on clairvoyance and the Ganzfeld telepathy experiment.

Michael Punt described Aby Warburg's enormous transdisciplinary library in which the books are organised by idea rather than the Dewey or other cataloguing system. Reminded me of social software tagging by the user's own keywords.

Martin Rieser showed the beginnings of an intriguing digital art installation to be shown at Bath Abbey this autumn and inspired by the famous Jacob's Ladder friezes on the outside of the building.

Roy Ascott spoke about material and immaterial connectedness and asked ' Is our drive to create wider and deeper networks an evolutionary impulse to engage more fully with a universal mind?' His talk also introduced me to a new concept, vegetal reality,  connected to psychoactive plant technology, and to the work of Tom Ray, who has moved from modelling A-life to consciousness research. So many cross-overs, so many intriguing intersections.

ZombiesPerhaps the strangest crossover of all was the presentation from which this photo comes. Brian Reffin Smith, a Member of the College of 'Pataphysicians (always an indicator of strangeness ahead) spoke of zombies, the ultimate condition of constraint in which one manifests no qualities at all. There was some effort on his part to indicate that computers are zombies because of this, but generally the talk ranged far and wide beyond that including an exhortation to the audience to simulate zombies by tying up their heads in toilet paper (9 sheets would do it).  As you can see from the rather fuzzy picture taken with my phone, this group of highly professional transdisciplinarians had no hesitation in complying. Since it was in pursuit of higher knowledge I, too, participated by tying a loop of tissue under my chin. I have felt just a little bit more profound ever since...


Virtuality and Air

I've written this paper for Altered States: transformations of perception, place, and performance 22-24 July 2005  Plymouth, UK. It marks a new departure for me and is probably rather raw. I very much welcome comments.

Most visualisations of the internet are created from router nodes and there are many maps showing this flow of data in numerous variations.  But what lies between these nodes? Does virtual space have some kind of atmospheric materiality that is, perhaps, something like air? According to transfer protocol, the data doesn’t ‘leave’ node 1 until after it has ‘arrived’ at node 2 so in a sense it is not going anywhere at all. Another interpretation is that since data travels at the speed of light, any time taken occurs not during the journey itself but is added in by the routers and modems which process them. But then, in a further contradictory complication, it could be said that the data is indeed travelling, only not in a physical sense, but inside an ‘internet cloud’. Shunryu Suzuki says ‘When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless. The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door.’ To paraphrase Suzuki, perhaps what we call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we write or read into the virtual space of the internet. There is no doubt that the ‘internet cloud’ is the most intensely compelling environment of the contemporary world. Is virtuality, like air, simply a property of the encompassing world in which humans – like all other beings – participate?

Download VirtualityandAir.pdf

Voices from Everywhere - MIT, 6-8 May 05

6-8 May 2005, MIT4 Media in Transition: The Work of Stories, Boston

"Home is where my mother waits every evening for everybody to come back before locking the door and I know it doesn't matter how late I might be, I will never be locked out because home is about having this certainty." (Aida Berxholi , Moscow)

The trAce Online Writing Centre has been on the web since 1995 and in that time has hosted a compelling series of international writing projects featuring narrative snapshots of everyday life. The Noon Quilt (website 1998, book 1999) is a patchwork of noontime impressions from contributors in many countries. Lost (1999) by New York-based net artist Alan Sondheim, is a simply-made but intense collection of 'splits, disappearance, loss and trembling'. Home (2000) is visually very basic and seldom promoted but has nevertheless been quietly collecting memories and imaginings of home for four years. Migrating Memories (2001), for the Culture 2000 Programme of the European Union, gathered and translated personal narratives from asylum seekers and refugees now living in Sweden, Finland and Great Britain. In 2004 The British Council commissioned a Dawn Quilt for South Asia, connecting writers in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and 2005 will see a Quilt for Central and Eastern Europe embracing Azerbaijan, Georgia, Hungary, Romania, and Russia. This presentation will analyse the universality of these voices from everywhere and examine the stories contributors tell about themselves and their everyday lives.


Last week I went to a very stimulating residential seminar at Newnham College, Cambridge, where I met some fascinating women working in academic computing. They were all members of Women@CL and the session was set up and managed by the inspiring Ursula Martin, Head of the project and Professor of Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London.

In true female fashion, quite a few of us introduced ourselves as 'not really qualified to be here' but I guess I was the least qualified since at least they were all computer scientists of one kind or another, and I certainly am not.

After 24 hours of intensive conversation we concluded by agreeing that the future is international, interdisciplinary, and interactive. And in that warm glow I began to wonder whether the holy grail of excellent interdisciplinary practice will be found by women-only teams...

2005 Popular Culture Association Conference, San Diego

Many of us have been using the internet for a long time, but what have we learned from that experience and how, if at all, has it affected our relationships with our own bodies and with the physical world?  Does technology push us away from nature or towards it? After wired, what comes next?

Paper to be given at the Electronic Culture and Communications Forum, Popular Culture Association Conference, San Diego, March 23-26 2005.

This paper develops ideas generated by Writers for the Future, an action research project funded by the UK National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to explore innovative ways in which writers might use the internet.

Research Seminar, Leicester University

Hello World: some challenges of location and identity in cyberspace

Research Seminar at The Centre for Mass Communication Research, University of Leicester.

Tuesday 26 October 2004

Landscape and the Social Imaginary: Romantic Landscape and Cyberspace

This graduate course featuring Hello World is devised and taught by Professor Alan Liu at UC Santa Barbara, California.

Liu is well-known for his excellent and pioneering Humanities resource site Voice of the Shuttle, founded in 1994.