- Photo-Performance in Cyberspace: The CD-ROMs of Hugo Glendinning and Tim Etchells with Forced Entertainment
Frozen Palaces. CD-ROM by Hugo Glendinning and Tim Etchells with Forced Entertainment. Collected on artintact 5, produced by Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (ZKM), 1999. Buchhandelsausgabe/Trade Edition;
Nightwalks. CD-ROM by Hugo Glendinning and Tim Etchells with Forced Entertainment. Sheffield, UK: Forced Entertainment, 1998.
Both CD-ROMs are available through Forced Entertainment via their website, <http://www.forced.co.uk>.
Using as a springboard Marshall McLuhan’s observation that different media in the twentieth century recuperated sensory operations denied by writing, media theorist Paul Levinson postulates that the computer best provides an interactive medium wherein the faculties of hearing, speech, sight, and touch may be employed in immediate communication, hence duplicating the experience of the live. Whereas the dislocation of space and time in such media as the video and telephone interrupts the experience of direct physical presence, Levinson argues, the computer fosters a tangible immediacy through the involvement of many senses. I am attracted to Levinson’s theorizing, but I think it incomplete in explaining the magnetic attraction of cyberspace. For as any online gamer knows, more than simply attempting to duplicate the live, interactive computer technology offers a heightened and very different experience, one that the live cannot provide. As theorist Matthew Causey attests, with a nod to Heidegger, something “uncanny” erupts in the performative experience of technology. Such uncanniness may be experienced in the interactive use of the CD-ROMs produced by the British theatre company known as Forced Entertainment.
Since 1984, the dozen actors and designers who comprise Forced Entertainment under the artistic direction of Tim Etchells have been exploring the boundaries of theatre and performance in a manner slightly reminiscent of Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group in New York. However, rather than challenging the traditional reception of the (classical) theatre text—a practice that distinguishes LeCompte’s pieces—Forced Entertainment work from improvisations and Etchells’ written texts, and their experiments have taken them from their own small warehouse theatre in Sheffield, England to found spaces, live and videated gallery installations, film, and even CD-ROM. With several new works produced annually, and past shows kept in repertoire, Forced Entertainment maintains steady touring schedules in the UK and Europe, with occasional trips to the US. (I first encountered them at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis in March of 1999, where they performed their compelling Speak Bitterness, the text of which is included in Etchells’s 1999 publication Certain Fragments.) Critics have hailed the group’s work as definitively postmodern for its break with theatrical convention, its obsession with the inadequacy of language, its seemingly fragmented nature, and its penchant for the appropriation and undermining of pop sensibility. (Videos of past productions are also available through Forced Entertainment’s website, < http://www.forced.co.uk>.) But with its forays into CD-ROM, Forced Entertainment also confirms the noted relationship of the postmodern with the technological. With CD-ROM, Forced Entertainment explores a new performative dimension located in the multimedia intersections of photography, the theatrical, and computer technology.
Both Nightwalks and Frozen Palaces defied my previous experiences with CD-ROM. Neither unfolds in linear fashion like the digital film with alternate scenarios and endings, nor are they goal-oriented like the interactive game. Rather, the CD-ROMs seem to play upon the type of audience reception found within the art gallery. Both employ the same format, presenting Hugo Glendinning’s striking color photographs of locations peopled with members of Forced Entertainment and accompanied by minimalist soundscapes scored by John Avery. Digital technology, however, allows the photographs to be viewed in a novel way: as 360-degree panoramas. On-screen, the photographs are designed to be shifted and manipulated by use of the control and shift keys in tandem with the mouse: the user may zoom in and out of the image, and scroll left or right in circular fashion. By means of a small pointer icon that appears on-screen over two or three detailed images within a photograph, the user may also access other photographs that in turn open into a seemingly...