- Ventriloquism--the act of speaking through a surrogate body--is a frequent device in the
work of American performance artist Laurie Anderson. In many of her
installations and performances, Anderson herself does not speak as such--rather, she speaks through alter egos, usually
technologically generated, who ventriloquize her stories and anecdotes. She frequently interposes a substitute persona
between herself and her audience, and it is this which does the talking. Such surrogate personae are often
vocally manipulated: in her performances, she frequently modulates her voice to play different characters
(the masculine "voice of authority," the squeaky voice of a child, the plaintive tones of "Mom" in her well-known 1981
hit song "O Superman," and so on). Or they are musical instruments. Anderson, a classically trained
violinist, has said
that, in her performances, "the violin is the perfect alter ego. It's the instrument closest to the human voice . . .
I've spent a lot of time trying to teach the violin to talk" (Stories 33). But there are also more
complete physical surrogates to whom Anderson transfers her voice. A list of Anderson's physical alter egos
might include the "digital clones" of the 1986 video series What You Mean We?, a literal ventriloquist's
dummy that played a scaled-down violin in Stories from the Nerve Bible (1992), and the animatronic parrot
of the installation Your Fortune One $ (1996) that squawked non-sequiturs in a
at passing gallery-goers. In a commentary on this last work, Anderson
Or to take the title of another one of Anderson's famous songs, "language is a virus from outer space." Which should
also remind us that the list of Anderson's alter egos could be expanded to include her policy of performing shows in
the local native language when touring non-English-speaking countries--even when completely ignorant of the meaning of
the words that issue from her mouth, thus effectively ventriloquizing herself through the mediation of a
translator. On one notable occasion, Anderson stuttered through a show in Japanese, carefully pronouncing each sound
phonetically, unaware that she had been tutored by a translator with a speech impediment. "My mouth is moving," she said of the experience of performing concerts in French, "but I don't
really understand what I'm saying" (Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 60).
As a talking artist, I'm always on the lookout for alter egos--surrogate speakers. And I've always been completely
fascinated by parrots. . . . I spent a lot of time with my brother's gray African parrot Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob has a
vocabulary of about five hundred words. You're never sure with Bob where the line is between repetitive babble and
conscious communication. The more I listened to Bob the more it seemed like he could communicate emotion--cries and
phrases that expressed loneliness, fear, sheer happiness--all with his extremely limited vocabulary. It made me realize
how much human language is a combination of rote phrases and fortuitous invention, a complex mix of the
things that can be said and the unsayable. ("Control Rooms" 128)
- The circuitous route from written words, to translation, to enunciation by a speaker not fluent in the language of the resulting translation, seems to emphasize the constitutive self-estrangement of the speaking subject.
Here language speaks the subject rather than the other way around. Anderson's alter egos speak
through her uncannily: "She is the medium which so many incorporeal voices require in order to
communicate with us, the body they temporarily assume" (Owens 123).
At The Shrink's
- One of Anderson's earliest physical alter egos was a 1975 installation called At the
Shrink's. In a corner of the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York sat an eight-inch high figurine, a wee
homunculus carved out of light. It was, as Anderson called it, "a fake hologram" (Goldberg, Laurie
Anderson 54), a tiny Super-8 film projection of Anderson's image cast on a clay "sculpture" that had been
carefully molded to conform to the proportions of her filmed body. Leaning in close, you could hear the figure tell a
story about trips to the analyst. The effect of this makeshift trompe-l'oeil would have been astonishing in
its three-dimensionality, and indeed its strangeness was undiminished in a reworked, though largely unchanged version
that I viewed at the Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand, in 2004 (see Figure 1 for the original 1975 version). Part of the
point of this installation, said Anderson, was "to make someone else talk for me . . . it was a way of doing a performance without
being there" (Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 54). It was a surrogate for the performance artist's own body,
parroting back words pre-recorded by the "real" Anderson.
1: At the Shrink's
Sculpture, Video Projector, DVD w/Audio
Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.
- At this very early stage in her career, Anderson had already become well-known
for performing quirky one-woman spoken-word and musical recitals, delivered to audiences in galleries and
alternative venues in
New York and around the United States. But the conceit of At the
Shrink's--"doing a performance without being there"--meant that a key element of "performance art" as such was
attenuated. After all, one of the most important notional definitions of performance is that it is predicated on the
presence of both performer and audience in a particular time and particular space, on the embodied
immediacy of the
performance event, on "live gestures" (Goldberg, Performance Art 7). Peggy Phelan's is perhaps the most
sustained and unequivocal articulation of this definition of performance: "Performance's only life is in the present.
Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations
of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance" (146).
According to such a
definition, At the Shrink's can hardly be said to have been a performance. It was simply a
of a prior event, absorbed already into a system of reproduction, with the would-be singularity and immediacy of the
original event mitigated. The difference between At the Shrink's and a film recording of a
performance screened in the "regular" way is the device of the "fake hologram." By projecting the
a three-dimensional form as opposed to a flat screen, it is understood that an effort is made to amplify
ostensibly attenuated "reality" of the film image. Better than a film projection, Anderson's storyteller squarely
took up space. The projected figure bulged into three-dimensions--less a projection than a manifestation, more present
than a two-dimensional image yet less so than a solid live body.
- If the "three-dimensionalizing" device of At the Shrink's can be read as an attempt to amplify the performance artist's body to compensate for its loss in the filmic image, then one would expect
Anderson's live performances themselves to be in no need of this amplification. After all, the performer
is right there on stage, temporally and spatially co-extensive with the audience. Yet, as we have already seen, the use
of technologically or performatively generated alter egos in Anderson's performances undoes any sense that the mode of
address in these events is direct, singular and immediate. Anderson's performative surrogates--her
synthesized voices, her ventriloquist's dummy, her video clones--insert a gap between the audience and the would-be
authenticity and immediacy of the performer's persona. Moreover, many of her songs and anecdotes take this very gap as
their subject matter. Thus in the apostrophic device of the song "O Superman," a mother speaks to
her absent daughter
through an answering machine. In "Language is a Virus from Outer Space," language itself is the technological or
ventriloquial apparatus that inserts itself into the would-be direct connection between speaker and
audience. Both the form and content of Anderson's performances have to do precisely with the rupturing of a desired
repleteness and presence by the exteriority of a system or apparatus--whether this external apparatus is that of
language or of technology. Describing the increasingly large-scale stage performances of the late 1970s and early 80s
that would eventually become United States (1983), Craig Owens noted that although Anderson is physically
present on stage in these shows, "she interrupts the fantasy of copresence that links performer and spectator by
interposing electronic media between them" (123).
In such a reading, technological aids--the film camera, sound recording--augment but also attenuate the body's presence
and immediacy. Anderson's performances--with their technologically imparted tales of problems that arise in a world in
which meaning in all its forms is technologically imparted--fragment and disperse any notion of an unmediated
performative presence. This is a body of performance work which, because already internally riven by what Philip
Auslander calls "mediatization," seems to refute Phelan's definition of performance as uncirculatable and
present-to-itself. Yet these performances enter into the condition of mediation
precisely to interrogate and underscore the oppressiveness of such an estranged (and inescapable) condition, thus also
bearing out Phelan's compelling claim that any performance captured by mediation is one that is inevitably
subject to the law and the Symbolic.
She no longer performs directly for her audience, but only through an electronic medium. While the media literally
magnify her presence, they also strip it from her. Her work thus extends and amplifies the feeling of estrangement
that overcomes the performer who submits to a mechanical or electronic device: the film actor or recording artist.
- We could say that the cause and the effect of such a fragmentation of presence, of
such a rift
in the fantasy of immediacy and origin, is precisely the production of doubles, alter egos, or doppelgangers.
Anderson's alter egos generate the feeling of estrangement that Owens describes, but they could also be understood as
an effect of the constitutive estrangement that arises out of the subject's dependence on the mechanical, the
technological, or (in a word) the symbolic. After all, when the fantasy of singular self-presence is ruptured, what we
get is degrees of otherness--doubles and doppelgangers.
Escape By Hologram
- It is not this body, as produced in At the Shrink's, of an "estranged" performer
"submitting" to a
technological apparatus, that I want to discuss in this article, however, but another one that crystallizes in a more
remarkable way the relation of technological and symbolic otherness into subjectivity. In 1998,
after At the Shrink's, Anderson repeated the device of the "fake hologram" in a new installation--but with
differences (see Figure 2).
2: Image from Dal Vivo
Fondazione Prada, Milan (1998)
Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.
For one thing, the projected figure was now life-size. For another, the
projection in this
case was not that of a film, but of a live cable telecast. Thus, where At the Shrink's was temporally
distanced in the sense that it was a film recording--an event mechanically reproduced and thus "delayed," playing
itself out after the fact--this later work, Dal Vivo, closed up that gap in time. The title,
Dal Vivo, Italian for "live" (as in "live telecast"), played on the multiple meanings of the
word--life-like, life-size, live. Also "life sentence." For the subject of this "fake hologram" was not
Anderson this time but--significantly and extraordinarily--an inmate at a high security prison, convicted of
"aggravated homicide," among other crimes, and sentenced to remain there for much of the rest of his life. A camera picked up the image of the man sitting in his cell in the San Vittore prison
several miles away and transmitted it into the darkened exhibition space of the Prada Foundation in Milan where the
work was installed. The prisoner, one Santino Stefanini, understood his participation in the
installation as a "virtual escape" (and indeed he was selected, out of all other candidates for the
job, at least partly owing to the fact
that this conception of the installation as "virtual escape" was important to Anderson's own conception of
(Anderson, "Some Backgrounds" 31). The spectacle in the gallery must have been strange and uncanny
indeed, an immobile human figure decorporealized into shimmering scanlines, yet incorporating all the real
time twitches and involuntary
movements that must have resulted from the necessary hours of seated immobility. A court of law deemed the presence of
this man unsuitable for society, but there he was, apparently having re-entered it--if only by sending
harmless electronic substitute, a doppelganger, incapable of further transgression. Germano Celant, in the monograph
published to accompany the exhibition, describes this spectacle as an apparition both "marvelous and
terrifying" ("Miracle in Milan" 18).
- Why is this electronic figure uncanny? Why so marvelous and terrifying? This may seem like a rather
unnecessary question given the immediately apparent force of the installation, but it is one that bears asking in order
to unpack its effect. For after all, the technological logic of Dal Vivo is simply the more or less
ordinary one of live television. At the Shrink's too, now that we mention it, depends on nothing more than
cinematic projection. In the latter work, as we have already seen, part of the strangeness of the projected figurine
derives from its "fleshing out" in three-dimensions by means of the fake hologram device. So too with Dal
Vivo--the image is projected onto a clay "statue," thus also amplifying the sense of bodily presence. But with
the addition of greater size and "liveness," we understand this sense of presence and immediacy to be doubly
magnified. The technological basis of Dal Vivo may be simply that of television, but, in the combination
of liveness with material heft, it is an exaggeration of television. It exaggerates the capacity of the televisual
image to produce bodies that are, as it were, in two places at the same time. As
opposed to the flatness of regular living room cathode-ray images, this one appears hefty, material,
The corporeality of the real body is emphasized by simulating elsewhere its capacity to take up space. Thus, more
successfully than At the Shrink's, this later work produces the impression of a double presence. It is
quite literally a "projection," in the sense of something thrown out--in the manner of a ventriloquist "throwing" his
or her voice into a puppet so that something is not where it should be but is in both places at once. The transgressing
of the rule that circumscribes all bodies--the rule that says that it is physically impossible to be in two places at
the same time--would seem to account for much of the uncanniness of the installation.
- But if Dal Vivo thus magnifies the materiality of a televisual body and doubles it in space,
then the installation is also all too easily read as the opposite--a multiplication of absences. For one thing,
photographs (in the exhibition monograph) show the clay "statue" prior to its animation by live video projection--it
looks lumpy and heavy, a dead weight (see Figure 3).
3: Image from Dal Vivo
Fondazione Prada, Milan (1998)
Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.
This "dead weightness" is not just a figure of
speech, for if we are
to take seriously these photographs as integral to a reading of the installation, then we are also to understand that
Dal Vivo is not simply installation art but also a new sort of statuary. Kenneth
Gross, in a phenomenological study of representational sculpture, reads statuary as, quite literally,
dead weights--that is, they inevitably call up anxieties of mortality in the viewer:
Arrested time, death, capture (and the corresponding "need to escape") are all apropos of Anderson's
installation, and not only because of the language of incarceration that Gross employs here. In at least
two layouts in the monograph published to accompany the exhibition of Dal Vivo, pictures of
ancient Egyptian statuary are placed next to images of Anderson's installation, in an evident attempt to
provide a "sculptural" genealogy to the electronically petrified body of the prisoner (Celant, "Miracle
in Milan" 19, 22). The point of Dal Vivo, then, is to give "a living body to a statue," as
Celant claims ("Miracle in Milan" 20), to animate and quicken to life, in the manner of the rabbi and
his Golem or Pygmalion and his Galatea, a thing characterized by the opacity and stasis of death. But
just as spectrality and deathliness are part of the representational burden of the mimetic statue, so
are they also part of the representational burden of the filmic and the electronic image. As Gross's
allusion to Barthes suggests, the conventional logic holds that the photographically generated image
gives us a marvelous "capture" of reality, yet falls short of the fulsomeness of the real body. The
mechanically reproduced image, Barthes's photograph, represents a presence constitutive of absence,
life and animation constitutive of
death (Barthes, 79, 96, and passim). Thus, in Dal Vivo, when such a paradoxically deathly
electronic image is projected on a moribund lump of clay that is an ultimately futile simulacrum of
life, what we have is absences piled up on absences. There is both a multiplication as well as a
mitigation of the loss and lack of the inanimate reproduction--a kind of "walking corpse" condition
that we find confirmed in Celant's description of Dal Vivo as a tableau of a "bloodless
metaphysical figure, a televised specter that nevertheless continues to possess the breath of life"
("Miracle in Milan" 17). The attempt to amplify the immediacy and presence of the electronic image
inevitably calls attention to the lack and absence inherent in such an image.
What I see in the statue is really a once-living thing whose life has been interrupted; it is a creature stilled,
emptied of life, turned to stone or bronze or plaster; captured, thus possibly needing to escape; dead, thus needing
resurrection or galvanization . . . This sense of something "ended" is what can give to the statue its melancholy and
spectral character, lend it the curious deathliness of a tableau vivant. Not unlike Roland Barthes's
description of the photograph, the statue presents a body or a pose arrested in time, arresting time itself. (15)
- The idea that the prisoner's body is transgressive on the one hand, and
enervated on the other would seem to be contradictory. To construe the device of the installation as a
a "virtual escape"--a jailbreak, a violation of the law--is not compatible with the impression we get of the prisoner's
transmitted body as passive, vulnerable, sensorily deprived. This is a body blind, dumb, and mute, for no provision is given for sound
transmission into the gallery, and none for the prisoner to see the space into which he is projected. At one level, the installation is
understood as being a temporary liberation of a body that is heavily proscribed and delimited. Augmented by the technological apparatus of
camera, cable hookup, clay statue, and projector, the prisoner regains his freedom for the duration of the exhibition.
Far from being a passive act, a jailbreak is an assertion of the prisoner's refusal to accept the restrictions
institutionally imposed upon his body. At another level however, the reality is that the prisoner doesn't lift a finger
to accomplish this jailbreak--it is a completely passive transgression, and its result is simply the lodging of a
reproduction of the prisoner's body in yet another claustrophobic and restrictive space, that of the gallery. The
statue becomes a live body, but conversely, the live body is petrified into the condition of a statue. The experience
for the prisoner of participating in the installation brings out this contradiction--to virtually escape,
he has to sit more still than ever. To transgress the confines of his cell, he has to remain even more securely
restricted within the field of the camera. The installation, in short, stages the paradox of a body both passive and
ineffectual, and newly vigorous and forceful.
- If we were to ignore our reading of Anderson's prisoner as passive and lacking, and instead emphasize his
vigour and potential--his technologically-aided liberation from the forces that imprison him--what we might get is a
kind of techno-utopianism. Tele-technologies, so used, have the potential to liberate bodies from their
messy and undesirable corporeal limitations so that they can accomplish the heretofore physically impossible (so the
logic might go).
- The strongest strain of such an uncritical techno-utopianism in connection with tele-technological art
comes from a body of writing, from the 1980s, by Roy Ascott--the artist, writer, and father figure
of so-called "telematic art" (telematics being the alliance between telecommunications technologies and computers--the
term is one coined by Simon Nora and Alain Minc in the late 1970s). But
Ascott's conception of tele-technologies is not simply as a kind of convicted murderer's will-to-power and liberation;
rather, his fantasy is the far more sweeping, technologically deterministic one in which these technologies have the
potential to be the panacea for all social ills. They are an egalitarian force with the capacity to
flatten social and
cultural difference. Summing up his ideas in a 1990 article--prior to the widespread emergence of email, the World Wide
Web, internet relay chat, and digitally-networked what-have-you--Ascott writes:
In even more sweeping prose, Ascott goes on to claim that computer-aided tele-technologies are an opportunity for
telematic culture means . . . that we do not think, see, or feel in isolation. Creativity is shared,
distributed, but not in a way that denies the individual her authenticity or power of self creation. . . .
[T]elematic culture amplifies the individual capacity for creative thought and action, for more vivid and intense
experience, for more informed perception, by enabling her to participate in the production of global vision through
networked interaction with other minds, other sensibilities, other sensing and thinking systems across the
planet--thought circulating in the medium of data through a multiplicity of different cultural, geographical, social,
and personal layers. (238)
This account of tele-technologies encapsulates, among other fantasies, the overcoming of the
sensory and perceptual limitations of the human body ("our vision is enhanced by the extrasensory devices of telematic
perception"); the magnification of authorial agency, autonomy, and creativity (telematics "amplifies the individual
capacity for creative thought and action," for "autopoeisis, planetary self-creation"); the intensification of the
immediacy of experience (telematics also amplifies the capacity for "more vivid and intense experience"); the
enhancement of intimacy and understanding between individuals (the telematic subject participates in "networked
interaction with other minds, other sensibilities, other sensing and thinking systems across the planet"); and, most
exemplary of all, the elision of the mediating apparatus ("as we come to see more, we shall see the computer less and
less") through which all the other goals are achieved.
our sensory experience [to become] extrasensory, as our vision is enhanced by the extrasensory devices of
telematic perception. . . . With the computer, and brought together in the telematic embrace, we can hope to glimpse
the unseeable, to grasp the ineffable chaos of becoming, the secret order of disorder. And as we come to see more, we
shall see the computer less and less. It will become invisible in its immanence, but its presence will be palpable to
the artist engaged telematically in the world process of autopoeisis, planetary self-creation. (244-45)
- For Ascott, telecommunications technologies fulfill a fantasy of an ideal and transparent post-symbolic
condition. Here the fantasy takes the form of a state of perfect, absolute communication and understanding--a kind of
technologically enabled intersubjective "love." Ascott's article is titled
"Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?"--and by "love" he means the possibility of communion between two individuals
outside of symbolic mediation. To put it another way, the fantasy here is of tele-technologies as being halfway along
the road to the unmediated intimacy of telepathy--that most perfect and replete of all communications at a distance.
The ideal telematic condition is a "meeting and conjoining of minds and machines," "a
condition of expanded global consciousness and harmony (Shanken, "Art and Telematics" 68).
- Fantasies such as those of Ascott can be easily deconstructed. The other side of the fantasy of
transparent immediacy becomes briefly visible when the question of narcissism or solipsism is broached in Edward
Shanken's otherwise sympathetic commentary on Ascott's writings:
intersubjective intimacy might be precisely that--imagined, imaginary. But if narcissistic solipsism is one way to read
the fantasy of perfect, undifferentiated communication (the conflation and identification of self with an other that
can only be imaginary), then the obverse of this comforting solipsistic embrace, telematic or otherwise, is the
paranoid fear of engulfment and incorporation. As it turns out, Ascott is perfectly aware of this, for his name for the
condition of perfect telepathic union is "telenoia"--a coinage which deliberately contrasts the "unification of minds
collaborating remotely (combining the Greek roots "noia" meaning mind and "tele" meaning "at a distance") with the
paranoia that results from the opposition of minds trying to control one another surreptitiously" (Shanken,
"Tele-Agency" 67). The state of telenoia is "not at all . . . imprisoning," Ascott insists (qtd. in
Shanken, "Art and
Telematics" n. pag.), presumably as opposed to the effect of paranoia which is.
The eroticism of the telematic embrace is seductive and appealing, perhaps more so for its elusiveness
. . . . While
enabling new conditions for, and qualities of mutual exchange, such hyaline interfaces [of the telecommunications
apparatus] may equally transform communication into monologue, unification into narcissism, passionate attraction into
solitary confinement. Might not the persistent self-reflection one experiences on a computer screen interrupt the
mantric union of technological apparatus and human consciousness, network and node? Do not many delays, bugs, viruses,
and crashes . . . remind the telematic participant that s/he is inevitably a perpetual observer, a voyeur whose
electronic relationships are subject to autoerotic soliloquy? ("Art and Telematics," n. pag.)
A Dislocation of Intimacy
- Anderson's installation, we might say, is a return of Ascott's repressed, precisely the
obverse of Ascott's fantasy of perfect communion at a distance by tele-technological means. Whereas
in the latter's utopian scenario all the obstacles of external mediating systems are made transparent by the sublimating capacities of
tele-technologies, in Dal Vivo such systems become even more
congealed, more opaque. In Anderson's unnerving scenario, tele-technology produces not
pure unmediated intimacy, but rather a profound blockage. While Ascott's "telenoic" subject is transcendently disembodied,
Anderson's prisoner's body is disabled rather than sublimated (his mobility is severely delimited for the duration
of his spectral appearance in the gallery). While Ascott's subject is sensorily and perceptually enhanced, Anderson's prisoner is
deprived of sensory power (he can't see or hear the place into which he is projected). While Ascott's subject is
supposedly energized by the potential for perfect intersubjective communication, Anderson's prisoner lacks all capacity
for speech and communication; in the gallery he is effectively deaf and dumb, a subject turned into a
spectacular and impenetrable object, isolated and fetishized as such. While Ascott's subject enjoys unimpeded movement ("thought circulating in the medium of data"), Anderson's prisoner is defined by stasis; it is a
tableau. In the live communion between
gallery-goers and the prisoner, we find paralysis instead of repleteness, mediation instead of unimpeded access.
- A similar blockage of "intimacy" is to be found in another comparable artwork, exactly contemporaneous
with Dal Vivo, by Ken Goldberg and Bob Farzin. Dislocation of
Intimacy adds to our analysis the point that such a blockage, or dislocation, of intimacy is
also a blockage in knowledge. Ken Goldberg, a prominent practitioner of what has
come to be known as tele-robotic art, is also a theorist known for coining the term "telepistemology," referring
to the epistemological problems inherent in experiencing things at a distance (a paradigmatic telepistemological
problem is the question of how to interpret the veracity of knowledge gathered at a highly mediated remove, for
instance, by telescope, or by tele-robot--as in space expeditions to distant planets, say) (Goldberg,
Robot). Goldberg's work, in a way perhaps similar to Anderson's, focuses primarily
on issues as
fundamental as the nature of truth or knowledge in a heavily technologically mediated world, and
Dislocation of Intimacy continues this theme. The work is a large black steel box
exhibited in a gallery, unembellished and impenetrable except for a wire snaking out of it and air vents let into its side.
The wire links the box to the internet, and there, at a website, accessed on one's
views of the inside of the box can be requested. There is apparently a webcam set up inside the box, with various
lighting configurations adjustable by clicking on buttons at the website. The views, however, are murky, monochromatic,
tenebrous. They appear to show lacy foliage silhouetted against backlights, and it is impossible to make
whether these images are of real foliage, or perhaps of plastic substitutes, or cardboard cutouts--or whether the
entire set-up is a hoax in which photographs are made available for download on to a gullible
Thus the effect is a Plato's cave scenario in which knowledge of an object--and by extension, intimacy with it (as the
title suggests)--is only possible at a highly mediated remove. Contrary to all we understand about the concept of
intimacy, intimacy with this mechanical object is only possible at a point spatially distant from the object
itself--literally a dis-location of intimacy. But even when the viewer has "entered" the box by means of the webcam
views, the visual intimacy thus apparently accomplished is further obstructed, not consummated, by the images--which
are evocative yet all but unreadable in terms of both content and provenance.
- The point of course is that in this project, as in Anderson's installation, we find a condition in which
intimacy with an object is as much impeded as enabled by the tele-technological apparatus, thus belying Roy Ascott's
fantasy of perfect telematic communion. In Dislocation of
Intimacy, however, the act of
from the black box suggests a sexual encounter, and perhaps even more disconcertingly, a medical
dissection. For, at the gallery, the box lets out gasps of air from the vents in its side whenever it is quickened by a
remote viewer's solicitation for visual "intimacy" (it also lets out gasps independently at periodic
box appears to respond to the telematic caresses administered by remote probers. The metaphor here is
thus of the
box as a biological and organic entity (likewise its vegetative interior belies its industrial
façade). But if the remote viewer's act of solicitation is understood as the opening up of an organic object to
receive knowledge of its interior, then there are also intimations of the metaphor of anatomical
dissection. The problem here, Goldberg would no doubt stress, is an epistemological one, and to
establish this medical metaphor in relation to an instance of epistemological desire is not historically unprecedented.
Thus when Barbara Maria Stafford writes of eighteenth-century medical images, her remarks on anatomical
diagrams seems uncannily applicable to the scenario that we find in Goldberg's and Farzin's project:
We might say that in the case of Goldberg's and Farzin's artwork, the telematic apparatus figures as the
scalpel that bloodlessly peels open the black box in order to expose its secret.
The Galenic conception of anatomy as an "opening up in order to see deeper or hidden parts" drives to the heart of a
master problem for the Enlightenment. How does one attain the interior of things? Anatomy and its inseparable practice
of dissection were the eighteenth century paradigms for any forceful, artful, contrived and violent study of depths. (47)
- If we compare Anderson's installation with that of Goldberg and Farzin, we find notable
congruencies. Though I have been implying that the prisoner is the primary "telematic subject" in this
tele-technological connection, the gallery-goers or viewers of the artwork are equally subjects augmented or
enhanced by a telecommunications apparatus. The apparatus allows the "virtual escape" of the prisoner, but, conversely,
it allows the gallery-goers access to an otherwise impossible or prohibited visual intimacy--that with the body of a
convicted murderer shut away behind the walls of a penal institution. Thus, both Dislocation of
Intimacy and Dal Vivo are
tele-technologically aided fulfillments of a desire to see
something sealed away--in the former case, to see the inside of a sealed box; in the
latter, to see the spectacle of a convicted murderer inside his prison.
- But if the metaphorical scenario of Dislocation of Intimacy can be read as an anatomization--that of a physician probing a lifeless or unconscious mass of flesh submitting to the
scrutiny of the
medical eye--then the equation with Dal Vivo suggests that the prisoner
such a way is also a hapless subject caught in the gaze of scientific--or in this case, penal--power. The
situation to which Anderson submits the prisoner reiterates the disciplinary power to which he is
already subjected every day through incarceration, surveillance, and regimentation--with the inflection
institution that now holds him in thrall is not only the penal, but also the aesthetic.
the companion monograph to Anderson's installation, we find constant references to Foucault's concept of disciplinary
power. A quote from Discipline and Punish is spread across two pages in large boldface
Laurie Anderson 44-5). As Anderson and her curators rightly understand, the telematic apparatus in this
case reproduces the panoptic and disciplinary gaze that everywhere already surrounds the prisoner (even as it appears
to "let him off the hook" by "virtually" releasing him). Thus it gives the lie to Ascott's assertion that the telematic
communion is "not at all . . . imprisoning," for in this case, it is quite literally so.
The Opacity of the Father
- Yet the prisoner's posture is also that of an authority enthroned, upright, hands on knees, presiding over his
viewers in the manner of a sovereign receiving an audience. He "convey[s] an ambiguous, regal appearance," Anderson notes.
"He's not offering himself; rather he looks more like a judge" ("530 Canal Street" 255). Celant compares him to "the statue of
the potentate--the king or the pharaoh, the hero or field general--that is spread about, in its many reproductions, as
a surrogate of power" ("Miracle in Milan" 19). The transformation of the prisoner's body into a reproducible electronic
one is here read less as a dispersal of presence, a fragmentation into the absence and death of the mechanically
reproduced image, than as a transformation into the omnipresence of paternal authority. Anderson reads the
sensory and discursive deprivations undergone by the prisoner not as lack, not as an electronic
debilitation, but rather as the production of a powerful paternal opacity: "He's seen, but does not turn
his gaze outward. He's isolated from
the sounds of the world, but he reappears in space as 'deaf'; he doesn't speak or listen. There's something in his
immobile position and appearance that takes us back to childhood. He's like a deaf parent, who is asked by his child:
'Mommy, daddy . . . look at me.' But the parent doesn't see him, he's not present" ("530 Canal Street"
255). The father is of course not "really" blind or deaf in the situation Anderson
describes. What is
being referred to here is not the actual, "real" body of the father, but rather the fantasmatic, "transubstantiated"
body of the father, or of the monarch (Kantorowicz). This second, sublime body
of the Father affects the world of its subjects beyond the sum of its physical parts, and its silence and
blindness constitute the sort of power it represents and the effects it elicits. This would
seem to correspond, quite literally, with the body of the prisoner--there is the actual, real body
in the cell, but also the second, transubstantiated body that is blind and dumb and produces visual
beyond itself. Hence Celant's comparison of the prisoner's electronic double with the statue of the pharaoh or
potentate. The statue is a kind of literalization of the doubling of the classical monarch's body and its
petrifaction--or transubstantiation, which is paradoxically the same in this case--into phallic and
Jacques Derrida's claim that the tele-technological apparatus itself always already produces an irreducible historicity
or heritage or burden of the law is useful to this line of reading:
For Derrida, the recorded image everywhere generates a spectrality, a sense of death and "pastness," that is tantamount
to the weight of history and inheritance bearing down on the viewer-subject. This weight of
"inheritance" makes clear that subjectivity, for all subjects, is fundamentally constituted out
of systems--names, traditions, laws--which precede it, which it can only inherit (and not own). Moreover, in Derrida's
account, nothing changes when one switches one's deconstructive focus to the temporality of the live
tele-technological apparatus; the very fact of mechanical recording itself, whether it is presented live or
not, throws the pall of death and history over the image: "As soon as there is a technology of the image, visibility
brings night. . . . [B]ecause we know that, once it has been taken, captured, this image will be reproducible in our
absence, because we know this already, we are already haunted by this future, which brings our death"
The specter [of the deathly, mechanically reproduced image] is not simply someone we see coming back, it is someone by
whom we feel ourselves watched, observed, surveyed, as if by the law: we are "before the law," without any possible
symmetry, without reciprocity, insofar as the other is watching only us, concerns only us, we who are observing it (in
the same way that one observes and respects the law) without being able to meet its gaze. Hence the dissymmetry and,
consequently, the heteronomic figure of the law. . . . This flow of light which captures or
possesses me, invests me,
invades me, or envelops me is not a ray of light, but the source of a possible view: from the point of view of the
other. (Echographies 120, 123)
- It seems then that Anderson's prisoner is rendered a figure of symbolic authority in both
(posture, presentation) and form (tele-technological transmission always already, in Derrida's logic, subjects the
viewer to the law of heteronomy). But what are we to make of the paradox that the prisoner is represented both as
symbolically powerful (the specter of the potentate) as well as the opposite--that is, subjugated by disciplinary
power? What are we to make of the fact that the prisoner is both judge and criminal, both spectral law and spectral
subject, both phallic and castrated? The answer, I think, is that the registers of power operating here are different.
That is, in the scenario that Anderson offers us, we can make a distinction between the sort of power that the prisoner
ostensibly "wields" over his spectators, and the sort of power that the spectators or gallery-goers "wield" over him.
For whereas the former is that of the classical, irreducibly opaque patriarch, the latter is on the contrary a power
that is not blind or deaf or mute but rather all eyes, all ears, and all chattering discourse. In other words, the
prisoner is subjected to disciplinary power, whereas the spectators are offered the spectacle of
juridical power. The distinction is made by Foucault in Discipline and
The spectator in the gallery is presided over by a distant sovereign, an unambiguous egalitarian patriarchal authority
of the New Testament variety who surveys without seeing, impels without enunciating (as the comparisons with statues of
pharaohs and potentates would suggest). But the prisoner, on the other hand, is in the grip of Foucault's more
disturbing, more ambiguous post-Enlightenment "disciplinary power," that enacts an unseemly intimacy and proximity
with the body of the subject, and that "guarantees the submission of forces and bodies." (And to describe this latter power
as all eyes and all chattering discourse as I have done above is also to conjure an image of the throngs of
gallery-goers assembled before the spectacle of the prisoner, watching and analyzing, in the manner of a theatre full
of medical students inspecting the day's specimen of pathological interest.)
Historically, the process by which the bourgeoisie became in the course of the eighteenth century the politically
dominant class was masked by the establishment of an explicit, coded and formally egalitarian juridical framework, made
possible by the organization of a parliamentary, representative regime. But the development and generalization of
disciplinary mechanisms constituted the other, dark side of these processes. The general juridical form that guaranteed
a system of rights that were egalitarian, in principle was supported by these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by
all those systems of micro-power that are essentially non-egalitarian and asymmetrical that we call the disciplines.
And although, in a formal way, the representative regime makes it possible . . . for the will of all to form the
fundamental authority of sovereignty, the disciplines provide, at the base, a guarantee of the submission of forces and
bodies . . . . The contract may have been regarded as the ideal foundation of law and political power;
constituted the technique, universally widespread, of coercion . . . . The "Enlightenment," which
discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines. (222)
- This also means that an imbalance remains owing to the very different nature of disciplinary power
from its juridical variety. Gallery-goers may be disconcerted by their encounter with the opacity of the "king's"
second sublime body, but this, I believe, is trumped by the more profound predicament of the prisoner caught in the
headlights of a far more disturbing disciplinary interrogation. In fact, the tableau here might be quite literally read
as that of an interrogation rather than that of an audience before a judge or a king, for Anderson's original plan was
to transmit the telepresent images of two other figures: those of guards flanking the prisoner (this would have shifted
further the balance of "exploitation" to the disadvantage of the prisoner; see Figure 4)
4: Image from Dal Vivo exhibition monograph
Fondazione Prada, Milan (1998)
Used with permission of Laurie Anderson.
to the permutation of the tele-technological mechanism, the gallery-goers are always aware of the prisoner's presence
(after all, he is right there on display), whereas the prisoner, blind and deaf, cannot know whether he is being
observed at any one time--which is of course the very definition of panopticism. Being solicited by a blind
patriarch, Eric Santner argues, can be less disturbing than not knowing at all whether one is being watched or
uncertainty as to what, to use Lacan's term, the "big Other" of the symbolic order really wants from us can be far more
disturbing than subordination to an agency or structure whose demands--even for self-sacrifice--are experienced as
stable and consistent. The failure to live up to such demands still guarantees a sense of place, meaning, and
recognition; but the subject who is uncertain as to the very existence of an Other whose demands might or might not be
placated loses the ground from under his feet. (133)
- What would it mean to read the tele-technological basis of Anderson's installation as the deployment of a
mechanism of disciplinary power? For one thing, I would suggest that the condition generated is that of paranoia--as
indeed Ascott indirectly points out, by way of disavowal, through his use of the phrase "telenoia." The prisoner is
held in a disciplinary matrix generated by tele-technologies, the power of which is registered as a kind of paranoia.
- To test this relationship between paranoia and the tele-technological apparatus, I want to make a somewhat
lateral move into psychoanalytic history. For the case of history's most famous paranoiac, the German judge Daniel
Paul Schreber, presents us with a kind of proto-tele-technological problem that works to overturn the ostensible
repleteness of Ascott's "telenoia"--revealing it, once and for all, to be anchored in the paranoid. Schreber, in other
words, is an interesting figure through which to think the paranoia of Anderson's prisoner. The tele-technological
problem Schreber poses is this: what happens when a tele-connection becomes too close, when one is in a too intimate
"embrace" with the person at the other end of the line? For Schreber, that person was God. In
Schreber's extraordinary and elaborate delusional cosmology (outlined in his Memoirs, the famous 1903
text detailing his collapse into psychosis in mid-life), the system of nerves and wires through which God could normally
communicate with human mortals had gone awry. An unprecedented crisis had caused God to become entangled, in an
agglutination of nerves, with Schreber's own body and mind. The switchboard system connecting the calls between God and
His subjects had gone catastrophically haywire, so to speak, and hanging up was impossible. The effect for Schreber is that it became a struggle
for him to distinguish his own thoughts, dreams, and bodily functions from those that were the
result of God attempting to coerce a "disconnection." Suicidal impulses, for instance, or insomnia, even bowel
movements, and most famously, a feeling of emasculation (Schreber 64-65, 95, 127, 204-06, 123-24, passim), he thought to be the result of
God's attempt to extract Himself from Schreber's mind. Thus, contrary
to Roy Ascott's utopian fantasy, Schreber's predicament tells us that such an intense communion--the telematic or
telepathic embrace--might induce not a state of "telenoic" plenitude and transcendence, but rather that of paranoia. After all, how does one
know when a telepathic connection is
severed, if a telepathic link has been "hung up"? How does the telepath know if God is not still in his head?
- The triangulation between tele-technology, paranoia, and disciplinary power becomes more complete in Santner's
revisionist reading of the Schreber case. For Santner proposes that Schreber's symptoms indicate an attunement to the emergence
of the disciplinary. His psychosis, according to Santner, is congruent to that historical shift in which the primacy of the
juridical was supplanted by its disciplinary counterpart. Santner seizes on the fact that, in Schreber's delusional theology,
all is well and good when God is distant and removed. Conversely, the sign that things have gone awry is that God becomes
excessively intimate. In the normal "Order of Things" (Schreber's phrase for the world in a state of equilibrium and
propriety), God keeps a respectful distance from the mortals of His creation. But crisis is precipitated when "God, who used to
be an immense distance away, had been forced to draw nearer to the earth, which thus became a direct and continual scene of
divine miracles in a manner hitherto unknown" (Schreber 90). According to Santner, this aspect of Schreber's delusional schema
seems to reproduce precisely a distinction between a juridical authority acting at a proper distance from its subjects, and a
disciplinary power soliciting its subjects with the inappropriate intimacy of an overfriendly acquaintance. Santner's argument
is that, at some level, Schreber had become attuned to the normally invisible workings of power around him, and had formulated
a cosmology that represents in delusional form the mechanisms of excessive disciplinary power. "It is clear," he argues, "that
Schreber's purpose . . . throughout his Memoirs is to tell the story of the catastrophic effects that ensue when
a trusted figure of authority exercises a surplus of power exceeding the symbolic pact on which that authority is based" (37).
Expanding on this point, Santner writes:
If Lacan is right about Schreber--that his
psychosis is the result of a "foreclosure" of the paternal metaphor, the Name-of-the-Father . . . --then [Schreber's blockage
of subjective legitimation by a symbolic other] would seem to be a function not of a "too little" but rather of a "too much,"
not of an excessive distance from the attentions of a solicitous authority but rather of an excessive proximity. Nowhere is
Schreber clearer about this than in his repeated references to the fact that God normally remains distant from and ignorant of
living human beings. (61)
- Such an excessive proximity to disciplinary power, according to Santner, is a recipe for the malfunctioning of the
process by which subjects maintain their place in the Symbolic. For subjective legitimation is said to proceed normally when
the Symbolic Other invests the subject with meaning and identity. But when the Symbolic Other possesses the insistence of the
disciplinary (rather than the opacity of the juridical), then the constitutive flaws of symbolic investiture are themselves
laid bare. If the agency that gives you agency keeps performing such overfriendly violence upon your psyche, then you begin to
realize that subjective agency may itself be something untenable. Such a realization leads down the path to paranoia, and
Schreber came unconsciously to this realization one too many times through his personal and professional experiences --
experiences which arose out of a particular historical juncture, that of modernity. In
Santner's analysis, Schreber is a defining figure of modernity precisely because his psychosis is a deeply tragic negotiation
of the question that ultimately plagues all subjects: how to remain whole in the face of a violent and solicitous Symbolic
The Artist's Predicament
- I'd like to suggest that in Dal Vivo, we find a Schreberian figure struggling to maintain
spatial and temporal integrity under the strictures of the symbolic, and who, as it were, is similarly bedeviled by
malfunctioning wires (or by wires that malfunction by functioning too smoothly). Anderson's Schreberian figure
serves to illuminate the relationship between tele-technologies and disciplinary power, and constitutes a fascinating
instance of the way in which the tele-technological can become imbricated in the question of symbolic authority and
modern subjecthood. But, as with Schreber, so with Stefanini--symbolic malfunction is the price to pay.
- In Anderson's installation, the question of authority is expressed in the form of a concern about
"exploitation"--a concern that sees the installation as caught in a remarkable ethical bind:
At what point does collaboration become exploitation? At what point does the ventriloquist do violence to her puppet?
At what point is violence inflicted upon the homunculus that performs for the performance artist without her
being there? At what point does the artist become too solicitous? Anderson tries to avoid reaching this point,
and indeed the sense that her work is exploitative is mitigated through at least two strategies in the published
exhibition monograph (if not in the installation itself). Firstly, the monograph provides room for the prisoner to
"speak." There is a fascinating and poignant thirty-one page illustrated essay written by Stefanini himself which
details his prison experiences, the events leading up to his thirty-year sentence (a series of petty robberies in his
youth, escalating to organized crime), and his remorse ("Here [in prison] I've reflected upon a past season. A
mistaken journey that has produced a lot of grief for a lot of people, and that has ruined more than thirty years of my
life" [Stefanini, "A Life" 176]). There are also two transcriptions of interviews with Stefanini (conducted mainly by
Celant and Anderson), one of which contains a striking articulation by Stefanini of his point of view: "[This] project
of Laurie Anderson seems very positive for the prison environment. It's like a trickle into the outside world. Also, I
hope that it helps to obliterate my past, to paint a different portrait of me" (Stefanini, "San Vittore" 199).
From this vantage point, it is hard to fault Anderson for exploiting the prisoner--the installation comes to be seen more as a process of
give-and-take, a mutual exploitation, as it were. A virtual jailbreak is allowed, as long as it is only a "trickle" of
an escape. An even more claustrophobic circumscription is exchanged for the possibility of absolution. Anderson further reduces the prisoner's bodily freedom, but, in return,
bestows on him some measure of aesthetic visibility, paints him a better portrait.
One of the reservations I've had from the beginning is the potential [the project] has for exploitation of the
prisoner. I ask this person to sit silently in a chair for weeks and then I sign my name to it as my art work. Trying
to understand that has been one of the biggest parts of the project for me. What is the line between exploitation and
collaboration? (Anderson, "Some Backgrounds" 31)
- Despite these attempts to emphasize the mutual nature of the exploitation, the imbalance of the
registers of power remains. This imbalance is made even clearer by the near futility of the second means by which
Anderson attempts to diminish the overall impression of exploitation. This is by identifying with the
prisoner. A third of the way through the monograph, Anderson's vita is placed in conjunction with Stefanini's vita: a
timeline of Anderson's career accomplishments is laid out in alternating pages along with Stefanini's catalogue of multiple
felonies and multiple arrests. This well-intentioned juxtaposition unfortunately has the air of trying to express middle-class or survivor's
guilt ("there but for the grace of personal history and social circumstance, go
I"), and is ultimately inadequate. At another point in the monograph, Anderson tries to empathize with the prisoner, to imagine herself in his
position by recalling her experience of being incarcerated in a body cast when she was twelve:
Again this attempt at empathy, at reverse ventriloquism, falls somewhat short. Though the threat of permanent bodily paralysis certainly justifies Anderson's
empathy, her ultimately short-term immobility is not quite equivalent to a thirty-year jail sentence.
They brought me to the hospital, where I was put in traction . . . [and was told that] I'd never walk again . . . . I
spent the days with the other children in the ward who, for the most part, had suffered severe burns and screamed all
night. I'll never forget those screams, which symbolized immobility and suffering to me, and the impossibility of
getting out of the plaster cast, and ever escaping from the hospital. Your entire body becomes hypersensitive, your
hearing sharpens, everything becomes a torture connected to the fact of being isolated and trapped in a closed, limited
space that imposes certain visual and auditory rules of life on you. ("530 Canal Street" 247)
- Despite the artist's attempt to lessen the sense of "exploitation" through empathy, through the gift of
speech and visibility, and through simple self-awareness (which admittedly does count for something), the insufficiency
of these attempts hints that something violent is taking place in the exchange between prisoner and artist.
The convict's agency is usurped without sufficient compensation. He "parrots back" or enacts Anderson's artistic ideas on her behalf ("I ask this person
to sit in a chair for weeks and then I sign my name to it as my artwork") (Anderson, Some Backgrounds
31). His is a body that does a performance for her without being there. It is the dummy to her ventriloquist, a
self-alienated automaton that fulfils or realizes or enunciates her art ambitions. It is a figure caught in a situation
of "dislocated intimacy" so profound (with Anderson, with the spectators) that he finds himself in the predicament of
one who is utterly heteronomous.
- Dal Vivo represents the mediatized heteronomy of the modern subject
(perhaps the primary theme of Anderson's entire oeuvre) by including in its performance event not
just technology or self-reflexive language, but a living being (moreover, a living being who is already in
a state of proscription). In such a representation, Anderson creates for herself an insidious ethical problem that ultimately, I think,
cannot be resolved--but that also makes visible the relationship between disciplinary power,
the tele-technological, and the paranoid predicament of modern subjecthood. In the act of opening up for critique a
relationship of power and subjecthood, Anderson becomes complicit in that which she would critique.
Performer, Prisoner, Parrot, Puppet, Paranoiac
- Ultimately, Anderson's ventriloquizing of Santino Stefanini's body is a problem of symbolic investiture
and naming. In the act of turning Stefanini's body into an electronic specter, Anderson gives him legitimacy, lifts him
from a place (the prison) in which his symbolic position is that of an invisible wretchedness, and deposits him in a
new place where he is now defined by an aesthetically sanctioned legitimacy, named as art object. The
installation takes the form of a coronation or enthroning, as it were: it says to Stefanini, "here, for the duration of
this exhibition, you are the king."
- However in so doing, it travesties the act of symbolic investiture in two ways. One way is a sort of temporary carnivalesque overturning of the law; it is a state of topsy-turvy that for a while indicates that
up is down, left is right, a convict can be king. But the other way is more insidious, for it subjects the prisoner to yet another disciplinary
gaze. In so anatomizing the prisoner under the harsh lights of a coercing Big
Other, the ultimate foundationlessness of the process of symbolic naming--the process that calls the subject to itself, that anchors the subject
in its position in the "world"--is exposed. The paradox of disciplinary power, as Santner notes, is
that it calls for autonomy in its subjects, but does this by pillorying them with the heteronomy of inflexible laws
(which should ideally be converted into self-policing--that is, autonomy). Its intimacy is of the order of a virus
whose purpose is to infect its victim with its intractable regulations, one of which is that the victim should remain
uninfected, autonomous. It attempts to seize subjective individuality by insisting that subjects "parrot back thoughts,
words, and phrases"--a contradiction in terms (Santner 21). It sends us the paradoxical message that we should
relinquish our freedom in order to be free subjects. As Santner notes, this sort of solicitation is impossible and
Disciplinary power, so defined, crystallizes the foundationlessness of the performative magic of symbolic naming; it contradicts and
undermines it from within. It is an Other that acts on subjects in a way so literal that it makes the untenability of
subjecthood clear, and can, as in the case of Schreber, precipitate psychosis. The subject becomes one caught in
the "drive dimension of signification" (Santner 35) where subjective meaning can only be produced by an arbitrary
"performative magic," an automaton-like reiteration, a ventriloquized effect. The paradox of post-Enlightenment
modernity is that it insists on the autonomy of the subject, and yet disciplinary power, the "dark side" of this
juridical insistence, coerces and anatomizes all subjects to such a degree that it generates a profound sense of
heteronomy that can only undermine the initial imperative of the symbolic. As Santner puts it, "the subject is
solicited by a will to autonomy in the name of the very community that is thereby undermined, whose very substance
thereby passes over into the subject" (145).
The conversion of heteronomy into autonomy so crucial to [the Enlightenment project] leaves a residue of heteronomy
. . . that not only resists metabolization . . . but returns to haunt and derange the subject whose physical, moral,
and aesthetic cultivation that system was designed to achieve. . . . What Foucault calls disciplinary power is
potentially so damaging not because it opposes the principles of Enlightenment or . . . liberal values . . . from
some exterior cultural domain, but rather because it in effect literalizes the "performative magic" sustaining the
authority of those values and the institutions built upon them. The disciplines transform the performative dimension of
symbolic authority into regulations for the material control and administration of bodies and populations. Such a
literalization has the effect of reversing the most fundamental processes whereby humans are initiated into a world of
symbolic form and function. (91)
- If the installation is an act of symbolic investiture, as I claim, then Anderson here takes the
position of the agent who names: she is the social agent already herself invested with authority who has the capacity
to invest other subjects with their names (and it is the art system that is the larger authority that has
invested Anderson with the legitimate power to herself name another person--the prisoner--as an aesthetic object). But Anderson's artistic
authorship becomes conflated with or collapsed
into that of authority. Since she is
the figure orchestrating the installation or "pulling the strings," disciplinary power becomes hers to wield, throwing
into disarray the functioning of the ventriloquist's puppet by coercing it too much to speak. The puppet is enjoined
to speak by remaining dumb, to escape by sitting still. Somewhere between collusion and cautionary tale, Anderson's
installation suggests a Schreberian scenario in which the use of tele-technology turns dysfunctional. In the
extraordinary conflation of artistic investiture and disciplinary authority that characterizes Dal Vivo,
Anderson doesn't quite succeed in warding off the specter of exploitation. This failure, though a noble one, forms, I
think, a radical endpoint in Anderson's ongoing project of artistic commentary on the estrangement produced by modern
technological mediation and the modern workings of symbolic power.
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An early and much abbreviated version of this essay was published in Polish translation in the journal Kultura
Popularna 4.10 (2004). Thank you to Misha Kavka and Eluned Summers-Bremner for their helpful comments and for
shepherding the earliest version of this article to completion.
1. The best surveys of Anderson's oeuvre are Roselee Goldberg's Laurie
Anderson and Anderson's own Stories from the Nerve Bible. What You Mean We? is
illustrated in Goldberg 30-31. Several of Anderson's ventriloquist dummies are described and illustrated in Goldberg,
Laurie Anderson 37, 78, 88, 247. Your Fortune One $ is described in Goldberg, Laurie
Anderson 178-79 (where its title is given as Your Fortune for a $). Also see Laurie Anderson's own
commentary on this latter project in Anderson, "Control Rooms" 128-31.
2. This is a popular Anderson anecdote frequently rehashed in numerous reviews
and monographs, for instance, Burckhardt 155. It is used by Anderson herself as material for one of her songs, "Speaking
3. While Auslander argues that a definition of "performance" cannot be
fixed with recourse to any ostensible ontology, only to historical circumstance, Auslander's claims can be extrapolated
(as he is no doubt aware) to make the more theoretical (rather than historicist) point that any attempt to affix the
"life" of performance in the absolute present is to look for a vanishing origin.
4. The prisoner, Santino Stefanini, has been serving out a thirty-year prison
sentence since 1987. His prison dossier, reprinted in the exhibition monograph, contains a full list of his crimes:
"complicity in attempted homicide, numerous aggravated kidnappings, violations of weapons law, violation of narcotics
law, receipts of stolen property, aggravated theft, aggravated homicide" (Celant, Laurie Anderson 322).
There is some ambiguity about the exact nature of the "aggravated homicide," a crime listed only once, and quite
late, in his lengthy prison dossier. No clarifying details of this crime are provided anywhere in the monograph, as
far as I am able to ascertain. I have chosen not to pursue these details since, for the purposes of this essay, it
suffices to point out that Stefanini's crimes were serious and that (as we shall
later see) he has apparently grown remorseful during his years in prison.
5. Most of my information on Dal Vivo derives from the monograph
published on the occasion of the exhibition (Celant, Laurie Anderson). Dal Vivo was exhibited together with a companion work, Dal Vivo
Stories, installed in an adjacent room. This companion piece was comprised of several "fake holograms" generated
in much the same way as that of At the Shrink's, and of similar size. The films projected on the clay
statues here were of Laurie Anderson telling stories, and these "fake holograms"
were scattered around the room to suggest a kind of chattering "Greek chorus" (Anderson, qtd in
Goldberg, Laurie Anderson 180) made of a host of Anderson's miniature doppelgangers. The stories told
by these doppelgangers seem to have been reworked from some of her earlier pieces. For an illustrated
description of Dal Vivo Stories, see Celant, ed., Laurie Anderson 274-307; and Goldberg,
Laurie Anderson 180, 182.
6. On this capacity of the televisual image, see the chapter "Television: Set
and Screen" in Weber.
7. For an account of the genesis of the term "telematics," see Shanken,
9. The art work can be viewed at <http://www.ieor.berkeley.edu/~goldberg/art/doi.html>.
10. The classic account of the splitting of the pre-modern
monarch's body into "real" and sublime bodies (the natural body and the body politic) is Kantorowicz's
The King's Two Bodies.
11. Sketched images of this original plan are to be found in Celant, Laurie
12. Marc Redfield delineates this in more deconstructive terms: "telepathy
communicates a fantasy of unmediated communication, and at the same time records in its very name, an irreducible
distance within self-presence. It promises an escape from the technology of the signifier, but in doing so imports
techne into the heart of pathos. For whose pathos is it, once tele-pathy has begun?" (qtd in Thurschwell, 130).
Also see Derrida, Telepathy.
13. Santner here refers to Schreber's experiences as victim to the
hyper-rationalistic and abusive pedagogical practices of the time, as sickly patient to physicians trained in scientific
Kantianism, and finally as an appointed judge presiding over the judicial apparatus of the Saxon Supreme Court. See Dinnage and
Niederland, as well as Santner, for accounts of Schreber's biography.
Anderson, Laurie. "Control Rooms and Other Stories: Confessions of a Content Provider." Parkett 49 (1997):
---. "Some Backgrounds on Dal Vivo." Celant 25-32.
---. Stories from the Nerve Bible: A Retrospective 1972-1992. New York: Harper, 1994.
Ascott, Roy. "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?" 1990. Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art,
Technology, and Consciousness. Ed. Edward A. Shanken. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. 232-46.
Auslander, Philip. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. London: Routledge, 1999.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill, 1981.
Burckhardt, Jacqueline. "In the Nerve Stream." Parkett 49 (1997): 152-57.
Celant, Germano. "Laurie Anderson: Miracle in Milan." Celant 15-23.
Celant, Germano, ed. Laurie Anderson: Dal Vivo. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 1998.
Celant, Germano, and Laurie Anderson. "530 Canal Street, New York, May 13, 1998." Laurie Anderson: Dal
Vivo. Ed. Germano Celant. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 1998. 233-60.
Derrida, Jacques. "Telepathy." Trans. Nicholas Royle. Oxford Literary Review 10 (1988): 3-41.
Derrida, Jacques, and Bernard Stiegler. Echographies of Television. 1996. Trans. Jennifer Bajorek. Cambridge:
Dinnage, Rosemary. Introduction. Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. Daniel Paul Schreber. New York: New York
Review of Books, 2000. xi-xxiv.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977.
---. The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction. 1978. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage,
Goldberg, Ken, ed. The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet.
Cambridge: MIT P, 2000.
Goldberg, Roselee. Laurie Anderson. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000.
---. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. London: Thames and Hudson, 1988.
Gross, Kenneth. The Dream of the Moving Statue. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992.
Kantorowicz, Ernst H. The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton: Princeton
Niederland, William. The Schreber Case: Psychoanalytic Profile of a Paranoid Personality. Hillsdale:
Owens, Craig. "Amplifications: Laurie Anderson." Art in America 69.3 (1981): 120-23.
Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, 1993.
Santner, Eric. My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber's Secret History of Modernity. Princeton:
Princeton UP, 1996.
Schreber, Daniel Paul. Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. 1903/1955. New York: New York Review of Books, 2000.
Shanken, Edward A. "Introduction. Art and Telematics: A Match Made in Heaven?" Telematic Connections: The Virtual
Embrace. Exhibition website. 31 March 2002. <http://telematic.walkerart.org/timeline/timeline_shanken.html>.
---. "Tele-Agency: Telematics, Telerobotics, and the Art of Meaning." Art Journal 59.2 (2000): 64-77.
Stafford, Barbara Maria. Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine. Cambridge:
MIT P, 1991.
Stefanini, Santino. "A Life Behind Bars. From Cesare Beccaria to San Vittore." Celant 146-176.
Stefanini, Santino. "San Vittore Prison, Milan, April 8, 1998." An interview with Santino Stefanini conducted by Laurie
Anderson and Germano Celant. Celant 190-99.
Thurschwell, Pamela. Literature, Technology and Magical Thinking, 1880-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.
Weber, Samuel. Mass Mediauras: Form Technics Media. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.