WOLFENSBERGER, R. On the Couch - Capturing Audience Experience. A Case Study on Paul Sermon's Telematic Vision, 2009

Posted on Fri, 07/31/2009 - 12:46

MA Thesis MediaArtHistories, Danube University Krems, 2009



The thesis is a contribution to current international debates on preservation strategies for electronic media artworks and is based on a case study on Paul Sermon’s interactive networked installation Telematic Vision (1993–). The artwork is at present part of the permanent exhibition at the Museum of Communcation in Berne. Since its creation in 1993 Telematic Vision has been presented more than twenty times in different locations and also in varying versions. In order to be able to reconstruct this long life-cycle of the artwork until now the study builds on a preliminary and detailed collection of already existing documents (video footage, photographs, statements of the artist, technical schemas, equipment list, contemporary art critical appraisals, etc.) that bear witness of the artwork’s process and the history of its public presentations. This securing of evidence is accompanied by an extensive conversation with the artist touching on conceptual and contextual aspects likewise. The result is an assessment of the state of notation (the original score and the artist approved annotations to the score) and an assessment of the variable states of performance realised to this day.

Yet the case study thematises in its central chapters a paradigmatic shift away from such object-centred and artist-informed strategies of preventive conservation and documentation towards an approach laying emphasis on assessing the impact and the context of the artwork from the point of view of the participating audience. The goal is to capture contemporary eyewitness accounts of the aesthetic and sensory experience of the viewers/users of the installation. Therefore the case study is designed as a phenomenological research, a fieldwork which attempts to test various complementary audio-visual and text-based qualitative methods focusing on recording and documenting the audience’s immediate experience and the reflective accounts of the audience’s perception of contemporary electronic media artworks. The applied methods have been adapted from neighbouring fields like oral history, visual anthropology, cognitive and social sciences and museum studies. The chosen package of methods consists on the one hand of a combination of two variants of video observation, capturing the audience’s behaviour whilst using the installation. The video observation is complemented by a series of so-called video-cued recall interviews with a sample of pre-informed participants. Both audiovisual approaches are additionnally validated by randomly polling the audience with a specific written questionnaire. Some 60 test persons are involved in the whole case study.

The whole bundle of different but complementary audiovisual and textual methods has produced a variety of documents that bear witness on the contexts, wherein the artwork emerges and they open up a window on the enacted experiences. The evaluation of these documents offers a thick description of a rich panorama of experiential eyewitness accounts. The phenomenological research states that experiential sources of this kind yield vital information for the preservation of such time-based and process-oriented artworks like Telematic Vision which emerge only through the lived experience of the audience. But experiential evidence is only useful for preservation issues in unison with other established approaches guaranteeing the integrity of the state of notation of the artwork and providing the material and contextual parameters for its framework. The thesis attempts to fill the experiential gap in a holistic approach to preserve contemporary electronic media artworks.




http://www.paulsermon.org/vision/ (To access a PDF of the thesis and artist interview)