Articles & Book Chapters
- Hiebert, T. (2012) "The Speed of Broken Light: A meditation on duration and performance." Performance Research 17:5, 82-91.
In 1900 Alfred Jarry wrote a manual for how to build a time-machine. The text was complex - involving gyroscopes, temporal inertia, and the harnessing of ether. Yet, despite its complexity, the proposition seemed plausible enough that scientists of his day took the time to disprove his theory. Perhaps they were nervous that an artist might have come up with the secret first - or perhaps they simply wondered if, in his own creative way, he wasn't on to something important.
A century later, artists Christian Kuras and Ben Tanner created a slightly different machine - a time machine that, this time, actually works. The device consists of a chair and table, atop which are mounted a series of dials, switches and lights. To travel through time, one simply sits at the table and holds on. The secret of the machine, of course, is that we are already traveling through time - at a standardized rate of 60 seconds per minute, the machine redirecting our attention to the real-time passage of time as it happens.
In 2011, the story got a little bit stranger, as scientists at C.E.R.N. conducted experiments in which subatomic particles seemed to break the speed of light, threatening to travel backwards in time itself. While the science was later called into question, for a moment these strange little particles seemed to have out-performed the established rules of science - opening up a space where other seemingly implausible propositions might be entertained, for a time. This is the speed of broken light - the duration of a re-enactment that precedes the actions it refers back to; a speed where the imaginary overtakes the boundaries of the real; a time without firm external referent but with deep internal implications.
This essay is a meditation on the meaning of duration in a world where the speed of light has been called into question, and consequently the boundary between questions of performance, representation and duration has begun to blur.
- Dunning, A., Woodrow, P. & Ted Hiebert. (2011) "Digital Inflections: The Einstein's Brain Project." CTheory 34.1.
A camera and a sensitive microphone are turned on, but enclosed in a completely light tight, anechoic box. They record no image, receive no light and sense no sound. The camera input is adjusted with maximum gain and brightness to reveal the video noise inherent in the system. This noise provides a medium that can potentially be modified by external electromagnetic forces. [...] Face tracking algorithms using a cascade of Haar classifiers scan the random noise in each video frame and look for any combination of pixels that form the most basic characteristics of a human face -- areas that can be loosely characterized as eyes, nose and mouth with a sufficient degree of symmetry. When the software finds such a combination of pixels and symmetry the area is zoomed to full screen, its contrast and brightness adjusted, blurred and desaturated to clarify the found image.
The project is called Einstein's Brain, a collaboration among Alan Dunning, Paul Woodrow and Dr. Morley Hollenberg, who have for more than a decade been examining the aesthetic possibilities of machinic rendering. Using a variety of biofeedback equipment, pattern recognition software and interactive media interfaces, the work of the Einstein's Brain Project (EBP) explores technology as an allegory for human consciousness, and human consciousness as a contributing participant in the development of our technological future.
- Hiebert, T. (2010) "Illuminated Darkness: Nightmares, Blind Spots and Biofeedback." CTheory 33.2.
This exploration would be best seen as the beginning of a story, a somewhat tenuous account of what might be called a manifest imagination. This is the story of how we are all already imaginary beings, entities not governed by the rules of science or truth or reason, but at least always in part governed by our imaginary participation in the formation of the world.
This is also the story of a digital imaginary: minds caught in the dynamic of user-generated content, bound by worldly context to something that would never have appeared to an analog mind -- namely, the observation that reflection is no longer the governing sign of knowledge or understanding. We have passed through the mirror to the other side, and, on the other side, what we find is that the rules of the game have changed -- bodies and minds flipped from side to side. The frame which housed reflections has disappeared, absorbed into the world of screen-based living...
- Hiebert, T. (2008) "Nonsense Interference Patterns." in D. Cecchetto, N. Cuthbert, J. Lassonde and D. Robinson, eds. Collision: Interarts Practice and Research. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 103-120.
When looking for perspective -- of one sort or another -- in which way do you focus your gaze? How does the haze of possibility manifest -- in which way, in which direction, and with what selected attention? Or does the direction itself determine the way -- the way to go hide and go seek, or a stumble and fall into another next way of looking? Does the gaze idly wonder? Or does it instead wait for the wandering idols of already congealed meaning to tell it which way to go -- which way is the right way, the wrong way or the way just to play? Is looking not itself Icarian -- a fall from the sanctity of understanding into the cascade of perspectival variation: patterns coming and going, uncertainties and stories and possibilities and truths and falsities and manifestations both realized and denied? Interference... invisible perspectives, hidden perspectives, suddenly manifest despite their own impossibilities, and despite our disregard of their imaginary power.
The problem with hidden perspectives, of course, is that they are not apparent, subsumed by that which they pretend to represent, and representing nothing at all until such time as the interference becomes unbearable... patterned -- nonsensically patterned -- into manifest existence itself...
- Hiebert, T. (2008) "Delirious Screens: Flesh Shadows & Cool Technology." CTheory 31.2.
Behind the screen, there is nothing. Not darkness, not fantasy, not even the flickering lights of consciousness aroused. And yet, within the screen, the case is quite the opposite -- here, within the delirium of technological living we encounter an intensified imaginary, new worlds of interactive possibility, in short, new opportunities for the falsification of being.
This provocation has strategic purpose, for the question of screen culture is less about the technological possibilities initiated by invention, and much more about the delirious seduction of a life screened-in. Here, amidst the growing participatory potential of interactivity, the icy prophecy of Marshall McLuhan's "cool technology" is brought to the cold light of the Lacanian mirror. For, as Lacan knew well, behind the mirror there is also nothing, which is why it becomes so urgent to invent a fantastic something to which technological effect can be attributed. The mirror, one might posit, is the first screen, the first "cool technology" -- the instance where the participatory performance of living first takes on its split dynamic between the "hot" social and cultural self and its "cool" other.
- Hiebert, T. (2008) "Behind the Screen: Installations from the Interactive Future." in R. Adams, S. Gibson, and S. Müller Arisona, eds. Transdisciplinary Digital Art. Sound, Vision and the New Screen. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2008, 80-97.
The future is interactive... at least that is the theory. And while the theory itself is not new, the screen through which it is rendered most certainly is. The new screen... one among possible many, and yet despite the many it is the impossible one upon which the interactive future will manifest.
But there are other new theories as well, other speculative fantasies of constituted reality, which is also to say of an imaginary so implausible that it remains, by necessity, forever un-provable... and forever un-disprovable too. This is the imaginary gone technological, the ghost in the machine is also behind the screen, waiting and watching for moments of reality interrupted. For it is within the interventions of technology that the interactive imaginary waits to be discovered.
"Behind the Screen" is, in this spirit, an exploration of the consequences of imaginative technological use, with an emphasis on the ways in which artistic mobilization of screen technology impacts on the interactivity of contemporary living. Drawing on the installation series of the 2007 Interactive Futures symposium, this paper is an attempt to engage the imaginary possibilities offered by artistic technological use -- a theoretical exploration of the critical imaginary potential of new media artwork. Loosely brought together under the theme of "The New Screen," the Interactive Futures symposium featured works by artists, performers, programmers and academics from around the world, brought together for the critical, aesthetic and intellectual exploration of the technological future.
- Hiebert, T. (2007) "Mirrors that Pout: Subjectivity in the Age of the Screen." The Psychoanalytic Review 94.1, 169-187.
How many Scott Rogers does it take to find Scott Rogers? An interesting paradox since the more Scott Rogers one finds, the more difficult it is to say which Scott Rogers one was looking for. Equally, the more Scott Rogers discovered, the less Scott Rogers is able to just be himself, the less distinct is each and every given Scott Rogers, the more each begins to diffuse into the nebulae of Scotts-Rogers, the less recognizable is any given Scott Rogers among the horde of others who, by all accounts, seem just like him.
This would seem to be the central point of a recent project by the artist Scott Rogers (2005). The "Scott Rogers Google Project" is a collection of Internet links -- a portal to all things Scott Rogers -- and ultimately, a virtual icon to his material disappearance...
- Hiebert, T. (2005) "The Lacanian Conspiracy." CTheory 28.2.
It has been asserted by many that the body has become virtual. This is the fate of flesh in the 21st century. Not only coded flesh and data bodies, but more importantly -- as always -- is the inverse. Flesh codes and body data as we self-regulate towards a pending utopia of nihilism itself. Ultimately, it is the fate of nihilism to be exactly that which the posthuman demands.
Make no mistake, we are posthuman. Not only because we are inextricably wired to the world around us -- prosthetic extensions on every front, from television to radio, internet to video games, cell phones to email... even clothing and language fit this particular bill -- but more importantly again, because we are wired to ourselves, puppets that will not give up the delusion of being also the puppet master. The history of Western thinking has been -- quite simply -- wrong. The first technology was not language, nor the wheel, nor even the tree-branch-turned-spear. The first technology is and has always been the technology of reflection -- that through which we inscribe ourselves onto our own flesh.
- Hiebert, T. (2005) "Hallucinating Ted Serios: The Impossibility of Failed Performativity." Technoetic Arts: 3.3, 135-153.
Hallucination: the perception of an impossible image -- that which can never appear but which does so anyway The psyche turned inside out perhaps -- no longer a private subjectivity but one that has entirely lost the ability to see itself -- projected instead into the world it sees. A private world, appearing only to the eyes of the one projecting it ... until now that is.
The postmodern prophet has spoken -- and it was unintelligible. Projected images with psychic eyes, imagined images somehow burned into existence. The words, perhaps, came out wrong, but the images came out exactly as he imagined. For it was his imagination that made this man particular.
Ted Serios claimed he could project images from his mind directly onto photographic film; 'psychic photography', or 'thoughtography' it is called. Serios would point a camera at his forehead, and take a photograph. Sometimes there was a period of intense focus or visualization involved. Sometimes there was also an excessive amount of alcohol. Sometimes someone else would trip the shutter of the camera, to ensure that Serios was not tampering with things. Often several dozen unsuccessful trials were needed to get a successful image, but nevertheless, these images did appear. Or so it was claimed.
- Hiebert, T. (2005) "The Medusa Complex: A Theory of Stoned Posthumanism." Drain Journal of Arts and Culture: Issue 5.
Medusa was once a beautiful maiden, vying in beauty with Athene herself, until one night she slept with Poseidon in one of Athene's own temples. Outraged, Athene inflicted upon Medusa the punishment for which she is known, turning her into a winged monster with glaring eyes, serpents for hair, and a gaze that turned those around her to stone.
This theory grows out of Medusa's shadow, in particular because the gaze of Medusa perfectly represents the intricacies of the question I want to address. For the gaze of Medusa can be seen as a convincing metaphor for the liberal humanist gaze -- at essence an objectifying gaze, a gaze that constitutes its subjects according to rules, most often unchosen by them, but which never-the-less become the communal basis of Western living. But this metaphor functions no less well with regard to the postmodern gaze -- a gaze that does not immobilize through bodily petrification but through the intellectual paralysis of uncertain subjectivity. And finally, for the question of the posthuman and its emphasis on all things self-reflexive, we need only ask: what would happen when Medusa looks into the mirror and confronts herself in the deadly gaze of her own vision? Here we find that Medusa's fate is also the fate of the posthuman, negotiating the psyche of one whose very gaze has become intoxicated by potentialities, a proliferating imagination given the power not only to conceive, but now also to still, to produce, to surround itself with the delirious statues of a fallen real.
- Hiebert, T. (2003) "Becoming Carnival: Performing a Postmodern Identity." Performance Research 8.3, 113-125.
Dawn breaks over the stage of the twenty first century carnival. A stage already set, and a set already staged -- the two-fold sign of a heteroglossic multiplicity that contextualizes the contemporary self. An age of imitative being and possessed role-play. The well-charted collapse of meaning, and its consequences in the loss of identity are misread under the sign of the meaningless, however. And what is missing here is the awareness that with the collapse of meaning comes also the collapse of its opposite. For with the collapse of the meaningless comes, inevitably, a mandate for play -- but a mandate that is performative (as opposed to prescriptive). A state of self already in play, waiting simply to be noticed, theorized and played with. A twenty first century feast of fools, which negotiates its culture of boredom by carnivalizing the stage of its appearance.
And with this, a twenty first century carnival. Not the carnival as it has progressed, developed and grown, but as it re-emerges under a sign of Bakhtinian influence. Which is to say the rendering of the carnival as a performative strategy in order to recontextualize Bakhtin in terms of a contemporary thinking. For our equivalent to the hierarchical (medieval) society in which Bakhtin's carnival is played out, is a society of revolt against the self; no longer a subversion of aristocracy, but rather a nihilistic subversion of identity itself. And as a consequence of this, identity becomes carnivalesque, performance of the self becomes its method, and Bakhtin's heteroglossia becomes first a xenoglossia, and then a gestural glossalalia.
- Hiebert, T. (2003) "Hallucinations of Invisibility: From Silence to Delirium." CTheory 26.1. Reprinted in Kroker, A. and Kroker, M., eds. (2004) Life in the Wires: The CTheory Reader. Victoria: NWP.
A delirious silence -- the sound of negative space. Inverting presence along with its reflections. Also, and more importantly, inverting absence. And its reflections too. The limits of a reasonable thinking are those that break down when confronted with reflected absence. A confounding assertion in that it refers no longer to the impossibility of presence, but also the impossibility of absence itself. An unavoidable and inexhaustible presence of nothingness.
The delirious image -- no longer the image of reflected worlds, but the impossible image of inverted reflection. Between selfless self portraits and portraits of selflessness, not a void but the paradoxical variations of reflected play. Figures of inversion, absurd and delirious. A silent cacophony of tongue-less twisters.
At the limits of a reason of this sort lies, not only silence but also the irrational and its various formulations. And to rise to this challenge, three theses. The thesis of the absurd, Camus' silent universe and Regine Robin's Vampire Narcissus. The thesis of paradox, Virilio's world of sightless vision and the myth of the nymph Echo. And the thesis of delirium, Baudrillard's world of holographic thinking and Echo turned vampire. Consequently, a theorizing of the signs of inversion and impossibility -- reformulating a world that is no longer reasonable; a world that is transformed, from silence to delirium.