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Mapping Intermediality in Performance

Mapping Intermediality in Performance

by Sarah Bay-Cheng, Chiel Kattenbelt, Andy Lavender, and Robin Nelson
Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2010
304 pp. Paper, Euro 32,50
ISBN: 978-90-8964-255-4.

Reviewed by Dene Grigar
The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program
Washington State University Vancouver

dgrigar@vancouver.wsu.edu

When I defended my dissertation in LinguaMOO in 1995, I was very aware that there was significant space between the room where I was physically inputting my responses to questions posed to me by my committee who were physically present and the virtual auditorium where I watched my thoughts become instantiated as posts (that each began with "Dene says") for the 50+ members of the online audience. I was, likewise, acutely aware that the performance required for each room was different--different in a way that had nothing to do with the research findings I typed for my responses but, rather, how I put forward those findings in each. Somewhere in that space between here and there I had to make a significant shift in my personae in order to reach the audience in both rooms effectively. Yes, William Gibson had, close to 10 years before, provided the metaphorical notion of "jacking in" and described the experience of moving from the real-world "Sprawl" to the online "Matrix," and Sherry Turkle had already described the experience of The Second Self and had just told us what happens when we live Life on the Screen, but the theoretical language for making sense of the space and the performances that it mediates had not fully been realized in 1995.

Some years and a Second Life later, a cogent theory of what I had wondered about emerged: Intermediality. While Bay-Cheng et al's Mapping Intermediality in Performance is certainly not the first book to discuss intermediality directly--that honor may go to Intermediality: The Teachers' Handbook of Critical Media Literacy published in 1999--it is perhaps the best one for making sense, theoretically, of it from a performance focus.

Mapping Intermediality is a collection of essays written by 30 international artists and scholars working in the areas of art history, theatre, film studies, media art, music, literature, and performance studies and, so, provides a broad, yet detailed, perspective of intermediality and performance, specifically in digital culture. Organized into five portals, or "gateways into the network which afford a range of situated perspectives," four nodes comprising a "cluster of terms" and instances that offer "dialogic engagement" and a general fleshing out of ideas, the book itself reflects the act of mapping out space. Throughout the book the reader will find arrows pointing to "links" in the book's "system" (9), a strategy of remediating hypertextuality in print form that makes good sense for a book about intermediality in digital culture.

Intermediality, the book suggests, is concerned with "co-relations . . . that result in a redefinition of the media that are influencing each other, which in turn leads to a fresh perception." It is, as Robin Nelson writes in the opening essay "a bridge between mediums" (14) and, so, constitutes a "both-and approach" to understanding information rather than an either-or perspective (17). Citing the International Encyclopedia of Communication, Nelson points out three basic perspectives accepted for understanding intermediality:

"First . . . [it] is the combination and adaptation of separate material vehicles of representation and reproduction, sometimes called multimedia. . . . Second, the term denotes communication through several sensory modalities at once. . . . Third, [it] concerns the interrelations between media as institutions in society, as addressed in technological and economic terms such as convergence and conglomeration." [1]

Out of this broad understanding of object and experience emerge basic qualities associated with intermediality, such as interconnectedness, syncretism, interactivity and playfulness, and dislocation, to name a few that figure largely (19-21). One of the pervasive characteristics of digital culture is the way in which media work together in a system to accomplish "communicative strategies" (15).In fact, the term, intermediality, suggests "the interconnectedness of modern media of communication (my emphasis)." [1] Video games that incorporate sound and image are but one example of the way in which elements of media objects connect with one another in order to present a unified vision--in this case for creating gaming experiences. But this relationship extends beyond the connection among elements to that between user and object.

The essays that follow build on these concepts from the perspectives of "performativity and corporeal literacy," "time and space," "digital culture and posthumanism," "networking," and "pedagogic praxis." In sum, the book covers intermediality from practice to theory to teaching.

While rhetorical, communications, and linguistic theories offer insights into the relationship between viewers and information, they do not address the complexities that arise when linking analog objects, such as those represented by the physical body of viewers, visual art, and the like, to digital media like sound, images, video, and words found on the web. Moreover, intermediality stands in stark contrast to the separation of human and objects so prevalent in Western epistemologies. Thus, Andy Lavender's essay on "Digital Culture," which he says has been "shaped" by intermediality (125) and Ralf Remshaft's essay on "posthumanism," which he tells us is a "matrix" and not a "condition" (135), provide good foundations for understanding this change in perspective. Additionally, Remshaft's take on the audience "becoming cyborg" also explains the way immersive technologies are "shap[ing] a new communal posthuman sense of performance experience" (138).

The final section traces intermediality in "earlier encounters" (248), beginning with, as Klemens Gruber points out in his essay "Early Intermediality: Archaeological Glimpses," the use of the term for "spiritist séances" (247), through the "crisis in art" brought about by the "verisimilitude" of photography (247) to the "radical experimentation of film" (253). Thus, intermediality is not new, but we are made more readily aware of it through the "convergence of digital technologies." Certainly, "the process of encoding in 0:1s" all things "visual, verbal, sonic, and gestural" (16)--as I learned by watching my online self interacting with the virtual slides in LinguaMOO's auditorium during my defense--drives a need to reenvision intermediality, as the authors so aptly do in this book. For the fundamental shift in the relationship between humans and the digital technologies they engage with lays bare our potential to connect and become part of a feedback loop, influencing and being influenced by information--in fact, becoming expressed as information ourselves as another media in the multimedia. And while it is understood that "all discourse [is] ‘mediated' (15), it is, I have come to see, equally realized when connecting via and to digital media that the membranes that seemingly contain the elements as unique, discrete units are actually exceptionally thinned and extraordinarily permeable in this flux of information exchange.

Needless to day, Mapping Intermediality is well worth the read and will be useful in undergraduate and graduate level courses in digital media where performance is a topic under study.

References:

[1] International Encyclopedia of Communication Online. http://www.communicationencyclopedia.com/public/tocnode?query=intermediality&widen=1&result_number=1&from=search&id=g9781405131995_yr2010_chunk_g978140513199514_ss60-1&type=std&fuzzy=0&slop=1 (accessed October 14, 2010).


Last Updated 1 December 2010

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