Telematic Dreaming by Paul Sermon is perhaps the most seminal and forward looking artwork from the early nineties that truly embraced the future promised by the rise of telepresence.
The work bridges the physical distance between two people in two separate locations and brings them together into the same “composite-image space”. This work bucks earlier trends of creating virtual realities to bring people together, and in my opinion, ends up creating a better experience for participants of the artwork. As Galloway and Rabinowitz elaborate, the use of composite images works better “because the people, places, and things are real-world items; they’re not rendered by computer.” This distinction offers participants with a far more tangible experience as they attempt to negotiate the surreal interactions brought about through the telematic projection.
As seen in the documentation above, the telematic nature of the artwork creates a non-confrontational space stripped from “traditional rules of etiquette,” allowing people to be more playful and open with their interactions. Participants are more open to touching each other, holding hands and even stroking one another; what would normally be considered bad etiquette should both stranger be in the same physical space. The sense of comfort and familiarity that these participants feel may also be heightened by the fact that the installation happens on a double bed. The bed has long been associated with concepts of intimacy and closeness and by having participants get comfortable on a bed, they automatically bring with them their experiences and pre-conceived expectations of how to behave in such a space.
More intimate interactions between the participants may also be caused by the loss of agency that participants have over their image. Galloway and Rabinowitz mention the violation of one’s image by another in the same image space. This lack of agency over one’s image may push participants to interact in ways that would not be considered conventionally acceptable, and in turn, result in participants choosing to go along with what happens to their images and reciprocating with interactions of their own. This then raises questions as to where participants should draw the line in their telematic interactions. The environment of the bed and the lack of control over what happens to one’s image create the perfect opportunity for participants to truly push the boundaries on human physical interactions in a public space. The question of “What would you do to someone, if you could do anything to them?” rises to the forefront, creating a quality of social tension in this piece.
In this manner, the artwork ends up becoming a creation of its participants as opposed to the intentions of the artist. Vis-a-vis more traditional art forms where the works strive to portray a “resolved and ordered reality” , Telematic Dreaming‘s meaning comes from “the product of interaction flux”, highly dependent on the context of said interactions happening within the space. The work could raise questions about about female rights and the normalization of sexual harassment if for example a male participant appears to “violate” the image of a female participant.
Could one then proceed to conclude that Telematic Dreaming inherently carries no meaning? Perhaps the answer is that the artwork is but a vessel that gets its meaning from the actions of the participants that engage with it. It would not be too far fetched to suggest that the meaning of the artwork is ultimately born from what the participants do with each other and how they react to the idea of literally getting in bed with a stranger.