‘Teleporting An Unknown State’ by Eduardo Kac
“My work hinges, to a great extent, on hybridity and ambiguity. While through the first I integrate elements often considerate disparate, by means of the second I articulate the tension and multiplicity of meanings inherent in the work. ” — Kac
Eduardo Kac, is known for pioneering the synthesis of telematics and biology in his artworks. His approach is similar to that of Telematic Artist Stelarc’s exploration of integration of machine and the body, however further ‘extremized’ to an unprecedented skin deep level – Kac pioneered ‘Transgenic Art’ in 2001 when he created an ‘Artist Gene’ and his infamous fluorescent Rabbit tilted ‘Alba’.
His works are based on the fundamental philosophy of communication between ‘entities’ – biological, digital and machine. Through different works he expresses different communication functions and the phenomena of their underlying complexity and fluidity, brought about by the post digital age. Kac is also concerned about the implications of these functions on culture, experience and our psyche. His works range from radical and ‘grotesque’ works such as ‘A-positive’ (Figure 1) where a human and robot were hooked up intravenously, to more nuanced telepresence works such as ‘Rara Avis’ (Figure 2) where participants viewed a digital aviary from the POV of a Tele-robotic Macaw.
In his early works, he employed a deliberate and direct interference of tech within the body or biological system. Contrastingly, In today’s context of hyperreality, alteration, interference and mutation occur on a psychological level. Albeit different, the impact is equally profound given the rise of alternative and multi realities.
‘Teleporting an Unknown State (1994 – 1996)’ is a piece that bridges the ideas of both physical and psychological ‘interference’, and still holds relevance today – it creepily foreshadowed the profound veracity of the shared hyperreality we are ‘plugged’ into in our contemporary digital age.
“Through the collaborative action of anonymous individuals around the world, photons from distant countries and cities are teleported into the gallery and are used to give birth to a fragile and small plant. It is the participants’ shared responsibility that ensures that the plant grows as long as the show is open.”
‘Teleporting An Unknown State’ (1994-1996), explores the idea of using the internet, a circuit of different entities via mobile phones, computers and personal devices, to support sustenance to a living organism. It was a collaborative interaction that required remote users to transmit lights from their ‘cities’ to a projector, which then converged the lights emitted from the received input (videos and images) onto the plant. The seed of the plant was placed in soil on a pedestal in a pitch black room with the only light source being that of the suspended video projector. The biological process of photosynthesis was an integral aspect of the work.
The work was displayed as an installation where viewers could see the growth process of the plant and only the cone of light being emitted from the projector — “The circularity of the hole and the projector’s lens flushed with it were evocative of the sun breaking through darkness.” Kac.
The work essentially prophesied the sheer power and affect the interconnected web and IOTs (Internet of Things) has over us today. ‘Teleporting An Unknown State’ treated it as a life-giving entity and it has indeed become a source of sustenance for many complex human relationships and attributes although in a non literal way. Its conception and reception was probably novel in its time and participants were eager and curious to witness this obscure notion of ‘hacking’ a biological process. The seductive idea of being bestowed upon the power to provide life, coupled with the convenience to do so via their personal devices, certainly had to be enticing. However the very act of using the Internet as an intermediary device to produce ‘artificial sunlight’ to trigger a naturally occurring phenomena, foreshadowed the replacement of physical reality with virtuality as we know it today.
This underscores the inherent contemporary human instinct to compress physical experiences into digital and virtual ones. Our ‘instincts’ supersede any critical or conscious attention to the medium we use. We do not particularly care if the way it is transmitted is ‘artificial’ or real, as we have increasingly become conditioned to engage whichever option that favours the factors we rank important in this digital age — convenience, efficiency and immediacy. Kac triggers an intuitive satisfaction in us, by allowing us to sustain the life of a plant and harness the ‘magic’ of the phenomena of photosynthesis. This emphasises the potency of the ‘Interconnected Web’ to act as an extension of our capabilities and executor of our desires and fantasies. Not only has it enhanced our abilities to materialise them but it also short circuits the process through which we attain them.
In retrospect, Kac’s ‘Teleporting An Unknown State’ then begs us to be critically aware of the extent to which IOTs have grown today. There are now a multitude of mobile applications available for people to own and grow virtual plants, pets and even humans. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, Kac’s simple idea of a virtual intermediary interface, has morphed into a multi faceted one that engages all our senses at once. The line has been further blurred, and our interaction has become fully immersive. Rather than being fully conscious of our ability to simply take a picture to ‘light up’ a detached physical plant, we have synthesised the extended capabilities of the ‘net’ in our subconscious psyche and our biological instincts. We have adapted to respond to Virtuality as veraciously and as sensitively as we do to Physical Reality. In Japan (2017), the company Gatebox created the World’s first Virtual Home Robot, a holographic character equipped with facial and vocal recognition. Users would be able to communicate with this virtual character via their Mobile Devices. Some men in Japan have even adopted this virtual entity as their significant other. Fundamentally, here too a natural process (of cultivating love and human interaction) has been ‘digitised’, making it an eerie contemporary recreation of Kac’s ‘Teleporting An Unknown State’. Essentially, communication between living and non living entities has shifted from being just dialogical to natural and emotional.
This extreme progression in just 20 years from function to full immersion, then raises significant questions about our future progression. Acknowledging the increasingly blurred distinction between physicality and hyperreality, will human communication be fully abstract eventually? or will ‘virtuality’ adapt to be able to operate instinctively and reactively with intuition?
Is the ultimate goal to virtualise every aspect of the human condition and capabilities?
It indeed is a seductive idea that promises immortality in the digital scape —instead of simply sustaining a plant, we now have the potential power to sustain and alter our own lives, not just in one reality but simultaneously in multi realities. However, would we want to irreversibly plug the most intimate and emotional aspects of ourselves into the connected ‘net’ in return for this ‘Utopia’?