The Distance from Existence


at:International Forum on Emerging Visuals “Visual Experience in Urban/Cyber Space”
site:Thailand Creative Design Center (TCDC)
date:15-16 March 2011



The Distance from Existence


If the partner of a dialogue through Twitter, Blog, or Wikipedia were a collective consciousness, then who would “I” be?  What are the differences created in between “You” and “I” by the progress of the network communication tools?

To create a Bot which acts like a human is to think of a human’s thought as a type of a program, and to create a service consist only of anonymous editing works done by a nameless group of people is to consider the group of people as an individual life form with a mind of its own.  The creation of a pseudo human or the efficient crowd control are not what we consider as an ideal.  However, we are left confused and clueless by the difficulty of answering the question, “What is human?”

A second look from a distance, whether little or long, may be the only way that gives us a chance to face the question straight.

1. Introduction

The technologies used to feel the reality of a friend in a remote location can be evaluated in the following two different forms.

a.  By having a conversation through telephone or Skype, confirm what he/she is doing.

b.  By checking on tweets, GPS and Google map, confirm what he/she is doing.

The difference between these two methods is not just the matter of how well you are used to use the technology.  This study intends to examine “the Real” and “the Account” as a method to feel the reality of others, and instead of seemingly unreachable conclusion,  will discuss about artworks created by the author, which exemplify the idea behind it.  “The Real” here is taken from one of “the Three Orders (‘the Real,’ ‘the Symbolic’ and ‘the Imaginary’)” psychoanalytic theory advocated by Jacques Lacan, which is utilized as an explanation or a classification method for the world as we know it.  “The Account” here stands for the computerized “You,” tagged with all sorts of status, authority and other information over the network.

2. the Way to Grasp “You”

Others talking on cellphone in a quiet train or a bus often cause unpleasant feeling.  That is caused by the fact that you are getting way too close to “the Real” of the person, who of course is a complete stranger.  Borrowing words from Jaques Lacan and Friedrich  Kittler, “the voice” coming from the other end of the cellphone belongs to “the Real” of an indescribable something, a sense of reality that it does exist, whereas tweets and information of Google map belong to “the Symbolic”.  The location and the personality suggested by them belong to “the Imaginary”.  Kittler relates Gramophone (sounds) with “the Real,” a film with “the Imaginary” and a typewriter with “the Symbolic”.  “The World” as we are experiencing is the world which can only be experienced through media conversion (mediation), and in this world, the conversion of a message into media is what perception is.  When voices transmitted on a media such as a telephone, we can realize the existence of the other.  A media like a smartphone, however, which can carry more contents such as e-mail, GPS information and data base, compared to a telephone as a media and a conversation as a content, can intensify the idea of “an individual = an account,” keeps us distant from “the Real”.  Though at a distance “the Real” does not disappear and the telephone number will become a mere fragment of what forms you, along with other media such as a diary, tweets, maps, scheduler, and of course e-mail, of which your account is consist.  On what ground, then, do we feel the actuality of senses in this media-converted world?

3. The Orbital Path to See What is in the Center

01 [ figure 1 ]

02 [ figure 2 ]

03 [ figure 3 ]

When approaching “the truth,” we can only head towards what seemed like the center of the matter from a distant observation, but since only “the likeness” is what we count on, we can only orbit around it, as shown in figure 1, and imagine what “the truth” is going to look like.

It is rather radical to generalize them all, but the Do (the way) in Sado (the way of tea ceremony), Kado ( the way of flower arrangement), Judo (the way of Ju-jutsu martial arts), and Kendo ( the way of swordsmanship) set an ideal line (the way) for each arts, and the students will train themselves  to get close to it but never to assimilate with it, in order to avoid arrogance and to advance further.  As shown in figure 2, they get exceedingly close, but never become the same.

Martial arts, also, have a concept known as kata, or the form, in which students study the ideal movement, and learn to choose a proper form depending on the situation in an actual match.  However, when in action, the studied kata is merely used as it was studied, and instead, as shown in figure 3, the student “a'” will have to comprehend the variety of the situation and make decision on which “meaning of kata” should be utilized in order to keep the best position and to stay on the ideal route from point A to point B.

Budo is the way, the philosophy of martial arts you should keep contemplating on to understand.  Bujutsu is the technique of martial arts you should master in order to show your understanding of the way.  Budo and bujutsu seems to be very effective for a warrior to identify self and the world, in a stoical position of the good old feudal society.  However, today, after the post-modern when there is no equally shared value like Bushido, the way of a warrior, what could be the proper method to approach to the new do of “Them”, the accounts on the network as our new shared value standard?

4. the Way to Grasp “Them”

The katas to sense the actuality of “You” and “Them” are different.  However, “You” being actualized by a telephone call quickly becomes a part of “them” by the notification of the online status, tweets and GPS information.  On the other hand, in order to contact “you” acting like a part of “them,” a proper use of the way and kata on the network is necessary.  When the reality shifts from the body to the display screen, the gravity of “the truth” turns into repellent force.

The definition of “ID,” the name for identifying the account, often seems more suitable if it is taken as “id (in Latin, ‘it’ in English),” a psychiatric term for the source of instinctive impulse to avoid the unpleasant, when it comes to trying to grasp “them” over the network in Japan.  The impulse to avoid the unpleasant seems synonym to the impulse to avoid the reality, when observing the otaku culture.  They act as if under a handle name, a step away from their real name,  even in their real daily life.  In the community where the overflowing simulacres is the foundation, claiming the reality will be considered nonsense, or could cause conflict.  There are many unique ways and kata in the otaku community to identify multiple accounts of “them.”  It is only natural, if you think of the origin of the term otaku came from a phrase such as “I think this, but what about otaku(at your household)?”

■ Voice / the Real “Hatsune Miku”

A sound synthesizing software for Windows, which synthesize a female singing voice, released by CRYPTON FUTURE MEDIA in 2007.  The software itself was taken as a virtual singer, and an attractive, futuristic-looking gilt character was built based on it.  Mainly over the Internet, more than tens of thousands of music pieces composed by numerous users have been disclosed, taking the form that Hatsune Miku is “singing” them.  Only a year from the release, the sale of the software has counted up to forty-two thousand copies, which is exceptional for a desktop music software, possibly a credit to many buyers who are not composers but fans of the character.  The compilation album which collected the popular pieces from video sites ranked in the first place on the oricon weekly album ranking on January 31, 2011.

■ Pictures / the Imaginary “pixiv”

Programers who make illustration a hobby started the SNS specialized in illustration in 2007.  By May 2010, there are over two million members counted.  Monthly page view counts go up to 1.5 billion views.  Illustrations you draw, view and bookmark define your profile, not a diary or any sorts of text, and the profile becomes the core of the communication.  In February 2011, a collaborative project was started with Kaikaikiki, a group hosted by Takashi Murakami, titled “pixkiki pikukaikiki analog exhibition,” holding events in the real gallery space.

■ Words / the Symbolic “Twitter BOT”

A program made to pretend as if an actual personality or a character of a story is tweeting.  Some are made to announce weather forecast, time signals, or to collect and tweet news updates.

■ Words / the Symbolic” Twitter Diagnosis Maker “ (makes a description of your twitter account)

An article composing service which started in 2010.  Automatically compose a comical article which describes the name you input.  The database for making the article can be built to fit your intention.

Although these may look empty and meaningless, they are suggesting the existence of the Real, by orbiting around it, knowing it is not a true reality and impossible to touch.   Unlike the Facebook, which puts the proof of your real identity upfront, these accounts require a unique behavior for a uniquely formed public space.  The database of the account is analyzed to identify the other instead of having a direct conversation, similar to  categorizing people walking around town in a certain fashion taste as “~ style”just by their look.  In this new public space, questions such as “Who are you?” or “What is real?” will be avoided as much as possible.  The more the media such as  a voice without a person, a copy without the original or tweet by the AI try to avoid the real, the more we become conscious of being on the orbit around the Real.  It seems that they are able to orbit around it because they set the account, the virtual identity, as the supposed center.

5. Projects

Topics mentioned above originates in the impression of changes in this passing decade.  Taking examples from past projects of the author from 1998, 2001 and 2008 may lead us to a clue to find out a way to measure the distance from the existence.

■ 1998  “Is this material correct?”  February 1998, Gallery Yamaguchi (Tokyo)  

Is there a reality on the other side of media?  The actuality of the influence which  viewers can cast upon the reality through media.  To suspect, to participate.

In the vase set in the center of the gallery, fresh and artificial flowers are arranged together, with blue water containing a very small amount of defoliant.  Photographs of the same selection of  flowers are put on the wall and on a website.  During the exhibition, the fresh flowers slowly die turning slightly blue, but only one flower is to rescued out from the toxic vase to the vase with a natural water,  aside from whether it is a fresh or artificial one, based upon the total number of viewings of the photographs shown on the website.

It is hard to distinguish between the fresh and the artificial from the low resolution  images on the website.

At the exhibition room, a bunch of aromatic named “floral fragrance” were set.

1998 Keywords: Infiltration of the Internet.  Suicides with home-delivered poison (Dr. Chirico case).  Disposable camera boom.  “Dance Dance Revolution” by Konami.  Pokemon shock (December 1997).

■ 2001  “conversational”  March 2001, channel N, Kyoto Art Center

Network and AI are readymade.  In order to participate in it, you have to act out a role.  Say you believe it.  Go along with it.

Two screens are hang face to face, a male and a female  shown on each, and in the middle there is a display showing a chat, a conversation in test.  At a first glance, it suggests the male and the female on each screen are conversing with each other.  However, their lips are not synchronized with their utterances, nor was the movie programed to link with the chat.  It merely displays a dialogue of a database pretending to be two “characters”  The couple on both walls are just standing, posing only to suggest that they could be those characters.  From this created situation, the viewers are tricked to suppose, “a man and a woman are talking with each other”.

By reading the instruction on the PC in the middle, the viewer finds out he/she can join the chat as the third party and may cut in between the two.

To “join” here means  to play the third character along with the program that is acting the other two, knowing that they are just a program, not real personalities.

The viewer experience a conversation from the relevance of the optical information (two screens and the chat display), and share the same world (the world of text) with virtual characters through a conversation not with vocal sound, but with a text chat.

The entire sentences of the conversation, the text data, input by all the audience at the exhibition is combined into the database, and is shown on the Internet as a conversation between the three (the man , the woman and all the audience).

2001 Keywords: Artificial Intelligence.   Data mining PC.  Black boxed network.  Opening of Wikipedia Japan.  iPod release.  “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” Movie.  9. 11

■ 2008  “landscape”  March 2008, Small Token, between little stories and public sphere, Liverpool Street Studios gallery (Adelaide)


In memory, even the artificial landscape in games and such become the same kind of experience as a real landscape.  What reality is differs by people.

Based on personal memory, build a diorama of a certain location.  Bring the diorama to the actual location, take a photograph of the location over the diorama.  When exhibiting, project the photo image taken at the location over the diorama, over the diorama.  The landscape in memory could be real tourist attractions, daily scenes, stages or field maps of video games.

The experience inside you could be different from the photograph, or could even be a rendered data.

2008 Keywords:  Augmented Reality.  Social Network Service.  Ustream.  Twitter.  Nike+iPod.  Nintendo DSi with digital camera.  Barak Obama as the U.S. President.  “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.  “The Dark Knight”.  “the Red Cliff”.  Grand Theft Auto IV released.


the Future

For the generation that grew up in a shopping mall, a space with anonymity is what is real.  McDonald’s and Starbucks in a foreign city will provide a sense of security.

On the network, a way to confront with the account left after a friend’s death is needed.  Similar to “the indivisible remainder,” the term used by Slavoj Žižek, an apprentice of  Jacques Lacan, we can trackback and respond to the blog from when he/she was alive, leave comments on the BBS hosted by him/her, and reply to the words automatically tweeted by a BOT after his/her death.