Joan Truckenbrod
Art Gallery: Touchware Chair
Art and Technology Department
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

As cyberspace with its virtuality races towards the future, there is a cry for the hand. In linking to cyberspace, where is the touch, the tactility, the physicality of experience? Touchware is the lens through which we envision the future. This exhibition embraces the interface between computing and user as the territory of art. Issues of the physicality of touch vs. the psychology of keeping in touch, natural versus machine, and substance versus virtual are concerns of these artists.

The reach-out-and-touch mythology of the telephone has become the banner of the World Wide Web. Email and the Internet provide the long-distance touch with an immediacy and multiplici-ty of connection within simultaneous individual and community matrices. ³This network is an ideological image, with a profusion of spaces and identi-ties and the permeability of boundaries - in the personal body and in the body politic.²1 This rhizomatic world of cyber-space is an electronic totemism. Totemism, as described in Aboriginal art, involves animating lines of identifi-cation flowing from the origin through all things ... forming an invisible web of reciprocal processes linking humanity, nature, and spirituality.2 Central to Aboriginal art, totemism describes the linking of humanity, nature, and the gods. Electronic totems, as Aboriginal totems, enrich a personıs interrelated-ness to the world.

But the behavior and feel of this linking is flat - a projected world connected through a flat light screen. In this flat-land, the visual is dominant over the other perceptual senses. Other sensory experiences like touch are diminished. McLuhan viewed the printing press as an invention that segmented sensory experiences, preventing kinaesthetic thought and feeling in which there is a synthesis of hearing, seeing, tasting, and touching. The Internet is an exten- sion of the printing press. Thus when an individual perceptual sense becomes locked in a technology, it becomes separated from the other senses. This portion of oneıs self clos-es, as if it were locked in steel. Prior to such separation, there is complete interplay among the senses. Virtual experience ³overthrows the sensorial and organic architecture of the human body by disembodying and reformatting its sensorium in powerful, computer generated, digitized spaces.²3 Cyberspace disengages from physical reality. Sensory experience is reduced to a monomedium of digital coding.

The artwork in this exhibition links us to the mythology and spirituality of the digital world. We create convergence mythologies as a connective tissue between the physical and the world of the virtual spirit. African art embraces the differences between the world of matter and that of spirit through con-vergence mythologies. Each African culture has a specific explanation for the convergence of spirit and matter. For example, the Yoruba people con-ceive of the cosmos in terms of two distinct yet inseparable components. Aye is the visible, tangible world of the living, while Orun is the invisible, spiritu-al realm of the ancestors, gods, and spirits. In some societies, dreams and the dreaming person are the point of intersection between the human and the spirit realms. The dreaming person is the intermediary of communication. The artist mediates the territory between real and virtual, between spirit and matter.

Electroforming: New Materials/ New Forms of Art

This artwork rematerializes the digitized experience, using physical and concep-tual aspects of touch to mediate between the real and the cyber-mythi-cal. Subverting the disembodiment of cyberspace, electroforming embodies an engagement with materials. The grammar of crafting in cyberspace usurps the vocabulary of hand materi-als and processes: cut and paste, layer-ing, modeling. But the process of creat-ing art in the electronic arena is elec-troforming with light, time, movement, communication, and transmission. Tangibility and substance cross over materiality and virtuality. The same is true for music composition. The materi-al of composition is sound having no object or visible physicality. Composer Pierre Boulez states that ³perhaps material seems a rather coarse and ill-suited term when it comes to an art such as music, which, more often than not, is perceived as something immate-rial. Sonority, potential expressivity, range and color form the musicianıs basic working material.²4 Sound and light are emotionally tangible materials, however ephemeral.

In the electronic arts, materials are cre-ated in the mindıs eye of the artist. The psychological effect of material is real. The physiological effect of material is real. Artmaking as electroforming involves a complex conceptualization of materiality. The kinaesthetics of experi-ence are embedded in the mental con-structs of art-making processes as powerful as that of forming clay by hand. ³Significant art no longer has an outward relationship to material ele-ments that formed it.²5


1. Haraway, Donna J. Simian, Cyborgs and Women, The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, New York, 1991, p. 170.

2. Lawlor, Robert. Voices of the first Day, Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime. Inner Traditions Press, Rochester, Vermont, 1991, p. 279.

3. David Tomas, quoted by Jim Elkins in There are No Philosophic Problems Raised by Virtual Reality. Computer Graphics, Vol. 28, No. 4, Nov. 1994, p. 251.

4. Boulez, Pierre. passeport pour le XXe siecle, translated by Margaret Tunstill. Auvidis, Montaigne, 1989, p. 24.

5. Moholy-Nagy, Sibyl. Moholy-Nagy, Experiment in Totality. MIT Press, 1969.

email: Bonnie Mitchell

Special Interest Group
on Computer Graphics.

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