About now in Chicago;
about here, now

Blower with computer-controlled damper,
slide projection, Internet connection, Macintosh computer.

This telematic artwork was presented in the exhibition, “Remote Sensing” at the University of West Virginia (March 1996). An outdoor sensor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago gathered local wind data; this was transmitted via file transfer protocol to a computer at UWV. In the gallery, viewers noticed a door in the gallery wall cracked open, inviting them to peer inside. There they saw a rear (slide) projection of Lake Michigan (cf. illustration) and felt air gusting into their faces as a computer-controlled damper modulated a blower’s output into a facsimile of the wind in Chicago. Mirror columns behind the projection screen turned in the air currents, so that fragments of the image traversed the projection surface as visual indicators of wind movement.

The telepresence aspect of the work consists of the consciousness instigated in the viewer of the provenance of the “wind” being felt in the gallery. This awareness of another place, separate from the viewer -- indeed, indifferent to them -- may provoke a consideration of one’s spatial limitations, and how these can be transcended by consciousness.

The artist feels this piece was only moderately successful, owing to the difficulty of viewers knowing what was happening, without simply being told. Indeed, this is a central problem, endemic to the (for the public) still-unfamiliar form of telepresence art -- how to subtly convey the knowledge of the link with remote space, needed for an appreciation of the work -- in a way that is inherent in the work. Without the realization that the “wind” they were feeling “came from Chicago,” viewers understandably had a “So what?” reaction. Once they were told, they generally found the piece fascinating. Future versions of this work will probably expose the technology, providing “clues” for the viewers in their attempt to understand the piece.

Currently, tele-artwork is a burgeoning, fascinating field of work requiring considerable technical expertise and special equipment; before long, however, it will likely become commonplace, thus losing some of its “cutting edge” allure and capacity to surprise (or confuse), but also becoming more accessible to artists as a tool for creating aesthetic meaning.