Telematic Engagement as Antidote to Covid-19

The Third Space Network is an artist-driven Internet platform for staging creative dialogue, live performance and uncategorizable activisms: social empowerment through the act of becoming our own broadcast media.

As we experience a massive world migration to the third space, from universities to museums to political rallies, we can’t help but wonder whether the flight to the network is becoming a doomsday social predicament. Is social distancing becoming the negation & annihilation of human relations as we know it? We are in a crisis of humanity as never experienced in modern times, an apocalyptic scenario straight out of any number of dystopic science fiction movies. However, before we succumb to the frightening realization that our everyday presence in the physical world is on hold, what can do in a networked world to create new, vital, imaginative virtual spaces? To quote Annmarie Chandler this morning on Facebook: “if seeds can be laid for a more imaginative exploration of the way we might explore a third space it’s an ideal time to capture a broader imagination.” That is precisely the aspiration I would like to discuss, as I write these notes, ensconced in my underground studio bunker in Washington, DC. No kidding…

Through my teaching and artistic practice over the past ten years, I have been probing and rethinking the paradigms & strategies required for activating our telematic connections in expressive, dynamic, and imaginative ways.

Telematic Reading – students from the School of Art, Design & Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

We think of the third space, shared network space, as a cold medium: dispersed, distributed, separated by distance & geography. Yet there are ways to invent playful interactions, games, telematic exchanges, shared moments that are intimate in nature, collapsing distance & separation. My students in Singapore, at the School of Art, Design & Media, Nanyang Technological University, invented third space compositions that in some sort of strange way, defied physical displacement to energize the sense of being together in the third space through the suspension of disbelief.

Telematic X – students from the School of Art, Design & Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

We can see how the third space becomes its own medium for spatial organization and gestural play through interaction that transgresses the boundaries of our Webcams. Telematic distance does not need to be one of separation, it can engage the intimacy of collective imagination. As we find ourselves searching and grasping for ways to not lose our sense of social belonging amidst distancing, perhaps we can rediscover the interplay of our bodies in an entirely new dimension that defies the spatial laws of physics.

Telematic Recline – students from the School of Art, Design & Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In the age of social distancing, do we need to rediscover the social relations of our networked collective bodies? Do we need to become more socially malleable with separation? These are crucial questions we must ask ourselves as the network become our refuge. Because of course, we don’t want to lose our playfulness, our sense of being together, the spirit of co-mingling our bodies in physical spaces. In the virtual realm, we still have bodies, and we still need intimacy and closeness, but we need to understand how to find it, to embrace our connections. When our physical being is transmitted as a mediated image from one person to the next, how do we rediscover engagement & intimacy of our bodies and actions in virtual spaces?

Telematic Shush – students from the School of Art, Design & Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Is this moment in global history a time of rapid mutation, a significant upheaval in the way we interact with one another? Marshall McLuhan said over 50 years ago:

“After more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”

I consider McLuhan’s prophetic words a call-to-action in these times of dark crisis, as we newly extend ourselves in a mass, collective exodus to third space classrooms, theaters, and other environments that have traditionally relied on physical proximity. Perhaps we can say that closeness and proximity is transforming its meaning, and if that is in fact the case, we must adapt ourselves with invention and imagination.

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