- Chris Salter: Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance
When particles or quantum systems are entangled, their properties remain correlated across vast distances and vast times. Light-years apart, they share something that is physical, yet not only physical. Spooky paradoxes arise, unresolvable until one understands how entanglement encodes information, measured in bits or their drolly named quantum counterpart, qubits(James Gleick, The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood, p. 10).
Although Chris Salter titled his book after “performance practices that consciously and intentionally entangle technologies so that they are inseparable from the form and operation of the work” (p. xxxv), I think the physics definition from James Gleick is equally apt; this book covers art works correlated across distance and time, covering the entire history of technology and performance from 1900 to the current day. Mr. Salter wrote the book because he felt that “performance studies has largely been a human-centered affair, remaining, with a few exceptions, conspicuously silent on issues of machines, technologies, objects and matter, and increasingly proving inadequate for wrestling with the complex human-machine relationships that mark not only contemporary artistic practices, but also scientific ones within technoculture” (p. xxvii).
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This ambitious volume contains eight chapters, almost 40 pages of introductory material, a conclusion, and a glossary in addition to the mandatory references and index. When covering such a wide range of topics in performance and technology overlaps are bound to occur; Mr. Salter uses what he calls a “simplified hyper-text cross-referencing system” (p. xviii) to prevent repetition, citing his own text as necessary. Another nice feature of the book is the glossary with technical terms italicized in the text; this allows the reader to keep the linguistic flow, while still being able to find information when needed. This glossary alone would be an invaluable primer for anyone starting to experiment with technology and performance. I agree with Mr. Salter’s statement that it is a “necessity for theorists and practitioners to know what came before” (p. xiv). This valuable book is a comprehensive history of “seemingly disconnected disciplines” (p. xxvi), which holds together thanks to the disciplined scholarship of the author.
The chapters are first divided based on theme; each chapter then chronologically covers the span of the 20th-century machine age, to the first stirrings of the of the computational age, to the current day. It is fascinating to see how each artistic practice evolved with, and at the same time helped develop, the available technologies. Chapter 1, Scene/Machine, examines the theatrical and architectural space, and the similarly titled Chapter 2, Media Scenographies, explores new kinds of “spatiomechanical, electrotechnical apparatuses” (p. xxxvi), such as the stage design of Josef Svoboda. [End Page 100] Chapter 3, Performative Architectures, investigates kinetic architecture, ending with the current practice of transforming surfaces of buildings with media, which segues directly into Chapter 4, Projected Image: Video, Film and the Performative Screen, which considers projected and televisual arts, specifically how they have transformed the idea of the physical. Chapter 5, Sound, will be the most familiar chapter to CMJ readers; it ends with gesture-based controllers which leads easily into Chapter 6, Bodies, which includes dance, theater, and other body-based performance art practices. Chapter 7, Machines/Mechanicals, focuses on robo/mechanical performers, as theatrical, visual, musical, or kinesthetic creations while the last section, Chapter 8, Interaction, “considers the impact of computational technologies on artists and researchers creating environments that blur the distinction between performers and spectators” (p. xxxix).
Mr. Salter covers a lot of ground, and the book reads more like an encyclopedia or broad survey with glimpses of some deeper threads. It is difficult to read cover-to-cover, but it is an amazing overview of the evolution of each of the forms. Obviously, Chapter 5 is of special...