Visibility and Invisibility

Paulo C. Chagas

Canções dos olhos


Reflections about the collaboration with Johannes Birringer in the projects ³Ensaio sobre a Cegueira² (2004) ­ an opera model ­ and ³Canções dos Olhos² (2005) ­ a dance, digital image and music DVD.


there is something in your artistic conception that I really don't understand. You write a lot about new digital forms of artistic creation, but you emphasize "narrativity" and "fiction" in your artistic approach. This happened in my opinion both in the opera and the DVD. In both collaborations, I personally would have preferred a much more fragmented and disconnected approach. I didn't want to tell stories at all, either in the opera or in the DVD project.

I was reviewing my first conception of the opera from April 2004. I proposed to create individual virtual spaces and connect it through audio, video and feedback. The opera should emerge as a network of relations of individuals and objects in closed environments, defined as sound spaces. Them we spent the first week struggling in the group about the conception and in the second week we developed a conventional story-telling-musical-theater enhanced with a couple of technological gestures, visual and acoustic effects.

In the DVD project ³Intermedia Songs² it was my idea was to create an invisible layer of narration emerging from the relationship between sound, image and dance in the particular environment of the mine. But what has been created is a linear story interpreted by one dancer acting in the background of the mine and illustrated with music (and with the sound track which you know eliminated). This is definitely something very different from what I was expecting. And my critque on the "performance" situation ­ which has been created in the Interaktionslabor in agreement with the participants, as you said ­ is that we didn't worked at all in the "interactivity".

The main critique I have against the discourse of "digital interactivity", including some theoretical issues that you defend in your writings, is the lack of "content". Interactivity doesn't emerge from the use of a particurlar technology, but as an embodiment of the creation process. The paradigm of "interactivity", in my opinion, is the "chamber music". Flusser talks about that in his book "Ins Universum der Technischen Bilder" (1985). From the point of view of the system, there is no "interactivity" between humans and it cannot exist any interactivity between humans and machines, because they operate in different domains, which are operational closed for each other. Interactivity is a Being-in-the-Word and not an ensemble of devices or patches that we put together. Interactivity is a form of synchronization of systems, which cannot distinguish between perception and communication, and therefore they cannot communicate. There is no possible communication between a human being and a computer; only the system can communicate.

The main issue of current artistic creation, in my opinion, is how to shape a dialogue process between different kinds of systems; processes in which the different systems operate as partners and not in a hierarchical structure. That is the problem we have in the use of the current technology by the society and particularly by artists. You see people making sounds or dancing with cameras, sensors or whatever they want to use and doing stupid things, because there is no dialogue between the systems operating in that particular time and space. Either is the machine that dominates the human being or the human being that uses the machine as a slave for her/his purpose. In fact, we reproduce in our relationship with technology the social and political patterns of oppression and exploitation of the capitalist and imperialist systems.

There is definitely a need of ethics and moral reflection in the "new" theories of "digital phenomenology". "Interactivity" is mostly interpreted as synonym of computer calculation and justified as projections for the future. As Flusser says: "der futurisienden Computer hat die Zukunft verschlungen. Futurisieren ist Zukunfsvernichtung mit dem Ziel, Katastrophen zu verhüten" (1985: 173-174).

And Flusser says also: "Ich kann zwar Szenarios projizieren, welche mein Voraussicht einer telematischen Geselschaft widerlegen; zum Beispiel einen Nuklearkrieg oder einen Aufstand der Dritten Welt, oder, etws rafinierter, den Zerfall eines so komplexen und darum labilen Systems, wie es eine dialogische geschaltete Gesellschaft sein muß. Und ich kann ein Szenario projizieren, in welchen sich die verdrängte Körperlichkeit in der telematisierten Gesellschaft gegen die Zerebralisierung auflehnt, um zu einer vorher nicht dagewesenen Bestialität zu führen" (1985: 174).

The book has published 1985 and has a prophetic character. Since the 9/11 attacks against the Empire, technology development has been focused on "security" against the global thread of terrorism. But it turns out, that it doesn¹t protect us at all. Worst than that, it accelerates the capability of self-destruction. See the powerful disintegration of the US social system after the natural catastrophe of the hurricane Katrina. This was only a small partial disintegration, but it shows very clearly how fast the system can collapse. See also the development of robots and uninhabited vehicles for replacing bodies in military conflicts.

There is a strong tendency to make the body invisible through the development of technologies that are suppose to protect us from the physical destruction. The suicide bombers from Baghdad and Gaza Strip create also a dimension of "invisibility" when their bodies are used as weapons for life destruction and material damage. This kind of visibility is justified by the belief in the superiority of a particular (religion) conception of God. The former one, is justified by the belief on the superiority of the technology that can make our bodies unattainable for our enemies, because the body disappears behind the computer systems. Both invisibility are motivated by the same kind of operations. And this is our problem.



The intermedia concept

The first edited version of the Intermedia Songs on DVD is not the final version yet. We need to re-concepualize our approach to the music, the performance, and the filmic language.

The current version is a film about dance with some music. The music appears as an illustration of the image, as do the majority of the films and video you see in cinema and tv. That is not what I had in mind. When we work with only music and silence, as we did in the evening presentation in Göttelborn, we brake the linear connection between image and sound, we break the visibility of the relationship sound/video and emphasize the invisible relationship between these media.

But when one puts ambient sounds, like the sounds of feet, wind, stairs and the woman speaking the text, one brings the whole thing to the "visible word". There is no blindness at all. Now you are invited to follow the story and the image and the music function mainly as a support for the narration. Actually, I wanted that the story remains invisible, and the invisibility appears a intermedia-connection. That is why I call it intermedia song. The song is a melody which should not be visible through the story, but through the invisible relationship between the media (sound, image, dance). The song should thus remains invisible.



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Canções dos olhos

Overall structure for intermedia songs project

SONG 1 : Prisoner of Visibility

aria 1 The Dream of Blindess

SONG 2 silhouettes of the sky and feet inside silence

SONG 3 wide-open the eyes of the flesh

aria 2 Ecstasy

SONG 4 spasms of the eyelid

aria 3 Violence

SONG 5 I dissolve my eyes in your being

aria 4 Raincatcher/Return to the City



October, 2005