Topographies of cyberspaces

Christiane Paul


It seems appropriate that LABoral, as a new space and centre for art and industrial creation, organised one of its several opening exhibitions in the form of an open call and juried exhibition on the topic of Cyberspaces.

The theme of the show points to the multiple localities and formats that art using new technologies now inhabits—LABoral as the site of the exhibition being one of these localities.

In his novel Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson defined cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination”, a virtual, graphic representation of data of unthinkable complexity, experienced by millions of people around the globe on a daily basis.

Until the end of the last century, cyberspace was mostly understood as a virtual construct—existing in the electrical non-space supported and enabled by computer grids and networks—in opposition to the physical structure of “meatspace”. By now, this understanding seems to have changed: cyberspace has pluralised into multiple places and has become the consensual reality we inhabit. (Whether reality is ultimately nothing but a consensual hallucination remains another issue).

Today’s culture to a large extent revolves around flows of data, technologies, communication, and interaction. These are not simply one aspect of social organisation but a manifestation of the processes that dominate our economic, political, and social life.

While cyberspace, as a locality constructed out of information and mathematical calculations, certainly differs from physical reality, it would be problematic to see it as fundamentally disembodied.

Paul Virilio, in particular, has argued that information is an integral part of the ‘real world’ and projects directly into the body and therefore our physical, embodied reality. Data sets processed and exchanged by computers as well as the information inferred from them play a social role and shape our physical environment in numerous ways

Today’s cyberspaces have distinctly different topographies, which range from virtual worlds, such as online meeting places and games (sometimes with ‘real life’ economies where virtual commodities are traded for actual currency) to hybrid border-zones where the physical and virtual realms merge.

The selections of projects for the Cyberspaces exhibition give an impression of these diverse topographies. They include websites addressing the movement of knowledge in open content management systems or the value of labour and artistic production; technologically equipped boots that allow their wearer to simultaneously ‘wander’ in the physical and virtual world by surfing chat rooms on the Internet through the act of walking; as well as a physical ‘hit counter’ that translates hits to a website into physical damage to the building of the organization represented by the website.

The submissions to the Cyberspaces exhibition covered a broad territory, including interactive installations and projections, screen-based work in all its various forms (from software to video), music projects, interfaces et al.

The jury process concentrated on evaluating the merits of these works as contemporary responses to the idea of cyberspaces and the field of art and technology per se.

Uno de los principales criterios de evaluación aplicados es el que contempla la consecución de un sólido concepto artístico apoyado en y materializado por tecnologías capaces de comunicarlo de la manera más sofisticada, eficaz y adecuada. Evidentemente, la originalidad de un concepto artístico no depende de sus logros tecnológicos ni de una forma específica (como una instalación o un sitio web), y los proyectos finalistas se adentran por categorías que van desde los locative media o medios vinculados a localizaciones específicas, hasta las interfaces musicales.

Aunque no aspira más que a ofrecer una mirada a las prácticas artísticas en el campo de los nuevos media, Ciberespacios ejemplifica la ausencia de temor a la permeabilidad entre lo virtual y lo físico y las posibilidades de su fusión.

Among the main criteria for evaluation was a strong artistic concept supported by and realized through technologies that communicate this concept in the most sophisticated, accomplished, and appropriate way.

The originality of an artistic concept obviously does not rely on either technological wizardry or a specific form (such as an installation or website), and the final selections cross categories ranging from locative media to musical interface.

While it can only give a glimpse of artistic practice in the field of new media, the Cyberspaces exhibition illustrates the lack of border anxieties between virtual and physical realms and the possibilities for their fusion. In very different ways, the projects featured in the show implicitly comment on different notions of space, reflect on the aesthetic and cultural impact of digital technologies, or expand the audience’s agency by allowing people to connect the virtual and physical environments in meaningful ways.