TELEPORTING AN UNKNOWN STATE ON THE WEB
Is it possible for a plant to survive in the dark? Photosynthesis is impossible without light. To survive plants need photons, the smallest parts of energy in electromagnetic waves, discrete particles which move at the speed of light. In the darkness of the Kibla Art Gallery viewers saw a plant sprouting from the earth, in the center of a rectangular field positioned on the floor. As participants on the Web engaged with Eduardo Kac's "Teleporting An Unknown State," they supplied the light necessary for the plant's survival.
Kac first realized "Teleporting An Unknown State" in 1996, linking the New Orleans Museum of Contemporary Art to the Internet through public videoconferencing (using free software available online). Participants were invited to point their cameras to the sky and teleport light directly to the plant. The second version of the work presented at the Kibla Art Gallery, in Maribor, in 1998, was realized on the Web. In this version participants activated a global network of webcams directed at the sky of eight regions of the Earth, which caused light to be projected over the plant in the gallery. At first it appeared to be impossible, as gallery visitors waited for photons in the dark. One frequent gallery visitor, a chemist, was speculating that the photons would not be enough for the survival of the plant. He doubted that the teleportation of photons would work through the videoprojector.
As remote participants started to interact with the work we saw the Web site projected on the soil floor of the gallery. As participants clicked on a portion of the grid representing the eight locations on the site, the dark areas gradually lit up. Live still images -- in a grid of nine fields -- displayed the sky of different cities, locations where webcams captured the sun light. The live stills projected by participants turned black again after sixty seconds, enabling other online participants to interact with the work. Light was teleported from Chicago, Vancouver, Mexico City, Paris, Antarctica, Moscow, Tokyo, and Sydney. The webcam grid on the site was organized as a standard map, fluctuating with the rotation of the Earth -- it was always dark on the left or the right of the site projection. When we looked carefully at the map it became obvious that there was a geographical mistake, a gap. The plant in Maribor was in the center of the world map (in real time). Where is Maribor? In Slovenia, but it might as well have been elsewhere. Kac pointed out that centers are ephemeral and not permanent.
Web cameras have a unique visual quality: their resolution is low and their transmission speed is limited. Precisely for this reason they have sparked a proliferation of distribution channels worldwide. Webcams represent global information without the luxury of the most sophisticated technology. That is why Kac decided to work with live still images, i.e., because he didn't need more than a portion of sky and the light they contain. He also avoided the slow transmission problems of telephone lines in several parts of the world.
In "Teleporting an Unknown State" Kac uses the Internet in an unusual way. This unique piece contains several telecommunications aspects which connect the physical gallery space and the life in it, with the global technological infrastructure. There is also a certain dramatic suspense in questioning the possibility of a plants survival. Adjacent to the Kibla Art Gallery there is the Kibla Internet Cafe. Gallery visitors also went to the Cafe and clicked on the web site, activating webcams which provided photons. The telecommunication segments are functionally used to feed the plant. Therefore "Teleporting an Unknown State" became a metaphor for the Internet as life support system.
Teleportings Web site (1998) enabled the actions of web participants to have physical consequence in the gallery, so we can describe it as a functional web site. As such it is a rare alternative to the standard, asynchronous, self-contained webart sites. In his project "Time Capsule" (1997) Kac implanted a microchip in his ankle, allowing the information in the chip to be retrieved online. In "Time Capsule" Kac, for the first time, symbolically connected microbiological and social structures. In "Teleporting an Unknown State" Kac opened the domain of hypertextual links, which the Internet offers, but with highly controlled results, keeping the project coherent and recognizable as an integrated whole. The unpredictable nature of global climate gave the project a unique rhythm and variability. The result was a negotiation between the coherence of the concept and the uncertain atmospheric conditions of the Earth itself. Providing energy, webvisitors worldwide had functional roles charged with the fundamental meaning of caretakers.
Two segments of the audience were established: teleaudience and local public. Together they formed a special synergy, captivated by the thriving plant. For fourteen days the plant received the necessary energy in the dark Kibla gallery, which felt like an incubator. For gallery visitors "Teleporting an Unknown State" was a magical and mysterious installation. Because of its fragility the plant became a symbol of the tension between survival and extinction, for the world needs plants to survive as a whole. Kac's artwork exemplifies the capacity of the Internet to become a universal, poetic language.
Aleksandra Kostic is an art historian and a curator at the City Gallery, in Maribor. In 1995 she founded (with P.T. Dobrila) the TOX magazine, which focuses on new media art . In 1996 she co-initiated in Maribor The Multimedia Center Kibla: a gallery space, a bookstore, a cybercafe with free access to the internet, and a graphic studio. In 1995 and 1997 she co-organized the International Festival for Computer Arts in Maribor. In 2000 Aleksandra Kostic became a final judge at the Webby Awards 2000 in the "arts" category.
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