Teleporting An Unknown State (1994/96)

Eduardo Kac

"Teleporting an Unknown State" is a biotelematic interactive installation. In other words: it is a computer-based telecommunications piece in which a biological process is an integral part of the work. The installation creates the experience of the Internet as a life-supporting system. In a very dark room a pedestal with earth serves as a nursery for a single seed. Through a video projector suspended above and facing the pedestal, remote individuals send light via the Internet to enable this seed to photosynthesize and grow in total darkness. (Diagram)

Photo: Gumparnat Pasaganon

The installation takes the idea of teleportation of particles (and not of matter) out of its scientific context and transposes it to the domain of social interaction enabled by the Internet. Following my previous work with telematic interactive installation and my exploration of non-semiological forms of communication with electronic media, this installation uses the remote transmission of video images not for their representational content but for their optical phenomenon as wavefronts of light. Internet videoconferencing is used to teleport light particles from several countries with the sole purpose of enabling biological (and not artificial) life and growth in the installation site.

Photo: Gumparnat Pasaganon

A new sense of community and collective responsibility emerges out of this context without the exchange of a single verbal message. Through the collaborative action of anonymous individuals around the world, photons from distant countries and cities are teleported into the gallery and are used to give birth to a fragile and small plant. It is the participants' shared responsibility that ensures that the plant grows as long as the show is open.

This piece operates a dramatic reversal of the regulated unidirectional model imposed by broadcasting standards and the communications industry. Rather than transmitting a specific message from one point to many passive receivers, "Teleporting an Unknown State" creates a new situation in which several individuals in remote countries transmit light to a single point in the gallery space. The ethics of Internet ecology and social network survival is made evident in a distributed and collaborative effort. During the show, photosynthesis depends on remote collective action. Birth, growth, and death on the Internet form a horizon of possibilities that unfolds as participants dynamically contribute to the work. Collaborative action and responsibility through the network are essential for the survival of the organism.

Photo: Anna Maria Chupa

This piece was first shown as a link between the Contemporary Art Center, in New Orleans, and the Internet, as part of "The Bridge", the Siggraph '96 Art Show (August 4-August 9, 1996). On July 21, 1996, in preparation for the public viewing of this work, I planted a single seed on a bed of earth in the dark installation space in New Orleans. As viewers walked in they saw a video projector hanging from the ceiling and facing down, where a single seed was laying on a bed of earth. Viewers did not see the projector itself, only its cone of light projected through a circular hole in the ceiling. The circularity of the hole and the projector's lens flushed with it were evocative of the sun breaking through darkness. At remote sites around the world, anonymous individuals pointed their digital cameras to the sky and transmitted sun light to the gallery. The photons captured by cameras at the remote sites were re-emitted through the projector in the gallery. The slow process of growth of the plant was transmitted live to the world via the Internet as long as the exhibition was up. The computer screen, i.e., the graphical interface on which all the activity could be seen, was dematerialized and projected directly onto the bed of earth in a dark room, enabling direct physical contact between the seed and the photonic stream.

The exhibition in New Orleans ended on August 9, 1996. On that day the plant was 18 inches tall. After the show, I gently uprooted the plant and replanted it next to a tree by the Contemporary Art Center's front door.

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