Technology and Intuition: A Love Story? Roy Ascott's Telematic
Edward A. Shanken
Department of Art & Art History
Box 90754 Durham, NC 27708, U.S.A.
"The loved object is simply one that has shared an experience at the same moment of
time, narcissistically; and the desire to be near the beloved object is . . . simply to let the two experiences compare themselves, like reflections in different mirrors."
---Lawrence Durrell, Justine
So Durrell's tragic heroine Justine theorizes love. Nonetheless -- whether by
narcissistic self-reflection, passionate attraction, possessive desire, or the
harmonization of multiplicity in unification -- hearts, minds, and bodies crave
connection with others. These are just some of the qualities that characterize the
enigmatic romance of technology and intuition as well as the sentiments of the artists,
scientists, and philosophers who have attempted to conjoin them. My work
addresses the dynamic relationship between technology and intuition and their
philosophical roots in and points of intersection with reason and metaphysics. These
"loving" couples have been conventionally constructed as the dialectical locus of
utopic and dystopic formulations of the future, often manifested in theories of global
consciousness and its wicked step-sister, or draconian big brother, global
surveillance. Part of my project is to problematize these binary oppositions and to
suggest a more nuanced reconstruction of the relationship of technology and intuition
with regard to the future.
My work is grounded in the telematic theory, practice, and pedagogy of English artist
Roy Ascott . Telematics, as Ascott defines it, is "a term used to designate
computer-mediated communications networking between geographically dispersed
individuals and institutions . . . and between the human mind and artificial systems of
intelligence and perception"  In order to describe the relation of theory to practice
in Ascott's work, I shall touch on some of his principle sources, including Henri
Bergson, Norbert Wiener, Heinz von Foerster, the I Ching, Teilhard de Chardin, Peter
Russell, Charles Fourier, and Marcel Duchamp. Focusing on Ascott's utopian project, I
examine the relationship of technology and intuition with regard to the notion of love he
summonses in "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?" (1990) . In this article,
the artist defined love in the Fourieran sense -- as a principle of "passionate attraction"
leading to "universal harmony" . Citing Duchamp's Large Glass as activating such
passionate attraction through its dual properties of transparency and reflection, Ascott
suggested that this dynamic force, when distributed through computer-mediated
telecommunications systems, potentiates expanded global consciousness, an all-
Modifying Ascott's hopeful proposition, I suggest that the interactive elements
throughout the artist's oeuvre encompass a range of dynamic attractions that offer a
more ambiguous prognosis for the future. By refracting Justine's description of love as
narcissistic reflection through Duchamp's Large Glass and the glaring monitors of
telematics, I intend to show that the technological illusion of transparency
disassociates love from intimate mutuality and imposes a condition of introverted
mediation at a distance. My analysis of this technological and psychological condition
of love leads to a consideration of the construction of technology and intuition, form
and content as dualities. This context frames my concluding remarks about art,
technology, love, and the future.
To begin with, Ascott was profoundly influenced by early writings on
cybernetics including Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics (1946) and The Human Use of
Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950). Cybernetics introduced a method for
thinking about the relationships amongst the various interrelated elements of a
system, concentrating on the regulation of these elements in order to control the
outcome of the system. Primary to the management of the system was the ability for
each element to offer the system feedback about its own status. In this way, the
elements could communicate with each other and provide information which would
enable the regulation of the system as a whole.
Around 1960, Ascott began exploring cybernetics in the context of interactive art
and art education. In 1964, he published "The Construction of Change," a text on the
relationship between art, systems theory, cybernetics, and behavior. In it, he wrote:
"To discuss what one is doing rather than the artwork which results, to attempt to
unravel the loops of creative activity, is, in many ways, a behavioral problem. . . . It leads
to a consideration of our total relationship to a work of art, in which physical moves
may lead to conceptual moves, in which Behaviour relates to Idea" . Ascott's
emphasis on behavior included not only the production of objects, texts, and pedagogy,
but led to a theorization of art as part of an integrated process in which thought and
action were interconnected components of an inter-responsive system, fundamental to
which is consciousness. The artist applied such concepts in the systematic
Groundcourse he designed and directed at the Ealing School of Art (1961--1964) where he
introduced processes and methods such as inverted logic, chance operations, and
behavioral psychology into the curriculum. Moreover, the courses he instituted both at
Ealing, and later at Ipswich, had at their core a cybernetic approach to collaborative
work, whereby discrete groups of six students functioned together as an integrated,
Such ideas were also reflected in the work Ascott presented at his solo
exhibition Diagram Boxes & Analogue Structures at the Molton Gallery in London,
February 1963. The exhibition catalog for that show contains an untitled diagram that
illustrates a system of interrelated feedback loops linking various conceptual ideas.
Similar relationships were represented in more concrete visual terms in his works of
art like Video Roget (1962), a conceptual matrix comprised of a grid-like assemblage in
which abstract forms could be mentally recombined and shifted by the viewer in order
to explore the potential of the system. On the page preceding the reproduction of
Video Rogetin the exhibition catalogue, Ascott provided a related diagram on tracing
paper, entitled Thesaurus, that the reader could interact with by superimposing it on
the image of Video Roget to reveal both the meaning of the individual analogue forms
and the feedback loops between them.
Ascott refined his theoretical articulation
of the relationship of art to behavior and process in his 1967 manifesto Behaviourables
and Futuribles. He wrote: "When art is a form of behaviour, software predominates
over hardware in the creative sphere. Process replaces product in importance, just as
system supersedes structure" . Not only did Ascott consider the artist's behavior
to be properly considered art, but he expanded the province of art to include idea,
ritual, and system -- important additional constituents of consciousness .
In his ongoing inquiry into art, technology, and consciousness Ascott has
consistently incorporated the most advanced research in theoretical science into his
work. Whereas the early cybernetic theory that the artist initially drew upon
concentrated on systems of feedback and control, second-order cybernetics, as
exemplified by Heinz von Foerster's Observing Systems (1981)  included reference
to developments in quantum theory, and focused attention on the influence of
observers and instruments on experimental phenomena, and the interrelatedness of
matter. Phenomena came to be seen as a system in which observers and their means
of observation are inseparable elements even at the quantum level. In numerous
writings Ascott has drawn parallels between second-order cybernetics, quantum
physics and his own artistic practice. For example, in "Is There Love in the Telematic
Embrace?" he cited Wheeler and Zureck's contention that "To describe what has
happened one has to cross out that old word 'observer"'and put in its place
'participator.' In some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe" .
Similarly for Ascott, art became a participatory process (as opposed to a discrete
object or event) defined not by formal parameters, but by behavioral relationships in
which artist, observer, and environment (including global telematic networks) are all
integrated in an emergent, interactive system of morphological relationships.
While science has continued to offer Ascott robust models for his expansive
formulations of art as process, system and behavior, it comprises just one system of
knowledge from which he has constructed his artistic cosmology. For example, Ascott
also has integrated Western metaphysical philosophy in his work. Creative Evolution,
written in 1907 by French philosopher Henri Bergson, is paramount among these
sources . Bergson argued that as scientific reason enables the accumulation of
knowledge about physical matter, so metaphysical intuition enables the knowledge of
spirit. He theorized that the union of reason and intuition (what he called duration)
conjoins past, present, and future, dissolving the diachronic appearance of categorical
time, and providing a unified experience (or conscious awareness) of the synchronic
relatedness of continuous change.
The early influence of Bergson on Ascott's work is visible in the artist's Change
Paintings of 1959--1960. The composition of these interactive constructions changed over
time as viewers-participants altered the works by sliding Plexiglas panels along a
horizontal axis, bringing the image painted on each panel into myriad configurations
with regard to the images painted on the others. The work itself entailed a durational
aspect comprised of process, behavior, and change. For Bergson duration is marked
by a utopian notion of consciousness in which multiple elements are harmonized in
unification: the conjugal union of memory and sensation, reason and intuition.
Similarly for Ascott, technology and intuition became increasingly identified as
complementary aspects (albeit, developed in alternative systems of knowledge) that
were foundational in his artistic pursuit to create systematic forms for understanding
and expanding consciousness.
Ascott's inquiry into art, technology, and consciousness has incorporated both
Eastern and Western systems of thought. Significantly, he has drawn parallels
between Western science and metaphysics and the ontological and epistemological
systems of other cultures. In an untitled drawing from 1963, for example, the artist
represents I Ching hexagrams, binary notation for digital computer systems, chaotic
dot patterns, and wave forms as equivalent, interrelated systems of knowledge .
His Transactional Set (1971) was comprised of standard forms (rings, clothes pins, a
funnel) set on a grid-like table. The composition could be continuously altered and
interpreted, like changing hexagrams of the I Ching, by viewers-participants. Over a
decade before the I Ching could be accessed over the Internet, Ascott had participants
at their computer terminals around the world toss coins for the first planetary throw of
the I Ching . Ascott also has drawn on such sources as Navajo sand painting,
Druid rock formations, and parapsychology as models of spiritual and cosmological
systems that he incorporates in his work.
As seen above in the brief and partial sketch of Ascott's sources, the
integration of technology and intuition made an early appearance in his work. In
particular, the idea of the computer as a means for enhancing intuition and the use of
telecommunications to enable non-local creative interaction would continue to play an
important role in the evolution of his theory and practice. In 1966 Ascott developed a
systematic plan for the construction of a "cybernetic art matrix," in which the
computer was conceived of as: "a tool for the mind, an instrument for the
magnification of thought, potentially an intelligence amplifier. . . . [T]he interaction of
artefact and computer in the context of the behavioural structure, is equally
foreseeable. . . . The computer may be linked to an artwork and the artwork may in some
sense be a computer" .
Anticipating the creation of the internet by several years, Ascott further
proposed that telecommunications networks could enable "[i]nstant person to person
contact [that] would support specialised creative work . . . . An artist could be brought
right into the working studio of other artists . . . however far apart in the world . . . they
may separately be located. By means of holography or a visual telex, instant
transmission of facsimiles of their artwork could be effected . . . . [D]istinguished minds in
all fields of art and science could be contacted and linked" .
Nearly a decade before the first personal computer, and over a quarter century before
the advent of Web-based graphical interfaces, Ascott had already envisioned the
emergence of art created interactively with computers, and artistic collaboration via
It took nearly fifteen years for the technology to evolve, and for Ascott to gain
access to it, before he could implement these ideas even in a rudimentary form. In
1980, he produced the first telematic artwork. An international project, Terminal Art
linked artists between the U.S. and the U.K. over Jacques Vallee's Infomedia NOTEPAD
computer conferencing system. Ascott "mail[ed] portable terminals to a group of
artists in California, New York and Wales to participate in collectively generating
ideas from their own studios. One of the group, Don Burgy, chose to take his terminal
wherever he was visiting and log-in from there" . Though primitive by today's
standards (the text-only visual display monitors he used, in which a telephone hand-
set was lodged in a rubber modem housing integrated with a keyboard and printer, are
now collector's items), Terminal Art was an unprecedented example of telematic art at the time.
While Ascott had made remarkably prescient prophecies earlier, and had
outlined his position on the potential of telematics in "Art and Telematics: Towards a
Network Consciousness" (1984), I have chosen to focus on his article "Is There Love in
the Telematic Embrace?" (1990) for its richly provocative description of how the
marriage of technology and intuition in telematic systems might enable the systemic
extension of human perception and the unified planetary expansion of consciousness.
In this essay, he writes, "[N]etworking provides the very infrastructure for spiritual
interchange that could lead to the harmonization and creative development of the
whole planet" .
Such a spiritual interchange leading to planetary harmony is, for Ascott, the
result of love, and the statement above demonstrates the artist's faith in technology to
embody and cultivate it. The transformation he proposes is akin to the ideas of global
consciousness expounded by French paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de
Chardin, who theorized the "noosphere" and by futurologist Peter Russell, who
theorized the "global brain." Ideas like these were invaluable to Ascott in his quest to
imagine a parallel development through the visual languages of art. Though the
noosphere and the global brain as theoretical constructs are rationally problematic, in
the following pages I consider the implications of Ascott's application of such
metaphysical theories to art.
Teilhard's model of expanded consciousness, the "noosphere" (from the Greek
noos, or mind) represented the dawning of a new stage of human evolution. According
to Teilhard's reasoning, just as matter gave rise to life (from which consciousness
emerged) so consciousness itself would be succeeded by the noosphere, his concept
of the ultimate stage in human development: "With and within the crisis of
[self]reflection, the next turn in the [evolutionary] series manifests itself . . . a higher
function -- the engendering and subsequent development of all stages of the mind, this
grand phenomenon . . . is the noosphere" . While Teilhard's teleological notion of
evolution is unpalatable to the postmodern mind (and was scientifically unacceptable
to many Darwinists at the time of its publication) his characterization of expanded
consciousness embodied in the noosphere is, nonetheless, a coherent account of a
prospective condition and a visionary model for contemplating the future of the human
mind in a global context .
Peter Russell builds on Teilhard's notion of noosphere in his theses on the
"global brain." Writing in 1982, Russell claimed that, based on the trend of data-
processing capacity doubling every two and a half years, by the year 2000, the global
telecommunications network could equal the complexity of the human brain. He
theorized that this global brain (the neurons of which would be comprised of
individuals, all telematically interconnected, like a neural network) could give rise to
an emergent form of consciousness . According to Russell, this structural system,
modeled on that of biological organisms, provided the essential prerequisites for a new
evolutionary level, the emergence of a cyborgian superorganism integrating technology
Again, as with Teilhard, Russell's theory of the global brain is troublingly
romantic. He uncritically draws parallels between the brain and global
telecommunications systems without rigorously questioning the material and
functional dissimilarity between these two systems. While the research of
neuroscientists and philosophers such as Patricia Churchland and Owen Flanagan
suggest that consciousness may be understood in terms of a materialist explanation,
it is equally apparent that consciousness does not occur simply as a result of a high
level of complexity.
Despite their problems, the theories of the noosphere and the global brain
provided Ascott with provocative models on which to build his own artistic
theorization of telematic consciousness and the future. Criticisms of Teilhard and
Russell apply only partially to Ascott's work, unconstrained as art is by the rational
conventions of biology, neuroscience, and philosophy. As a cultural system
established simultaneously adjacent to and apart from other disciplinary conventions,
art often makes use of systems of thought unacceptable anywhere else and at odds
with convention. Art, for Ascott, functions as both theory and practice, and
simultaneous as neither, as an entity unto itself drawing on the theory and practice of
other disciplines for its own ends. These ends function in the realm of consciousness,
in the transformation of belief, and in the modification of behavior. The import of
Ascott's theoretical writings and telematic projects lies not in their technical
achievement, nor in their practical application as a means to attain their theorized
aspirations, but rather, I believe, in their conceptualization and transmission of
alternative realities, artistic models for the future.
As art, Ascott's inquiry into the telematic future inhabits an ambiguous zone of
inquiry. He proposes his interactive telematic projects as working models of unified
cybernetic systems (such as the noosphere and the global brain), in which
participants at remote locations around the globe collaborate in the interactive
creation and simultaneous experience of the work in real time. For example, Aspects
of Gaia, presented at the 1989 Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria, explored various
facets of the earth -- Gaia -- seen from "a multiplicity of spiritual, scientific, cultural, and
mythological perspectives" . Participants, telematically connected around the
world, collaborated in the creation and transformation of texts, images, and artificial-
life forms related to this idea. Ascott's conceives of this work as behavioral and
interactive, constantly in a state of becoming, where distinctions between artist,
viewer, and artwork are blurred, and where artist, viewer, and artwork, technology and
intuition, are potentially united in the unfolding duration of their harmoniously
negotiated mutual creation, or global consciousness.
But participants may not experience an expanded form of consciousness on the
level of the noosphere, nor have telematic projects reached the computational
complexity of a global brain, yet. Moreover, there are no hard data to prove the
expansion of neural activity in the brains of participants, nor has the electromagnetic
radiation given off by the theorized global field of consciousness been quantified.
Ascott claims, however, that the activity of distributed authorship (a process during
which the work emerges as an interactive collaboration amongst participators) evokes
an experience of collaborative consciousness, a fusion of individual consciousnesses
dispersed around the planet into an integrated whole. The question of whether or not
such a consciousness emerges from Ascott's telematic projects remains unanswered,
and is perhaps unanswerable. What seems less tentative is that the artist's work
spreads and reinforces the idea of global telematic interconnectivity.
Because of his prophetic pronouncements on expanded planetary
consciousness, Ascott is often criticized for his unabashed utopianism regarding the
technological future, a point worthy of further consideration. In this regard, it is
interesting to note that the artist performed radar surveillance as an officer in the
Royal Air Force between 1953--1955. Obviously his optimism cannot then be attributed to
his innocence of the political and social ramifications of telematic systems. Perhaps
in part it is Ascott's awareness of the potency of technologies of control and
surveillance that drives his conviction to imagine alternative scenarios in which
technology promotes collaboration, expands human consciousness and presence, and
creates global harmony. Indeed, one of the artist's guiding principles is, as artificial
life researcher Christopher Langton has so eloquently described it, to envision "life-as-
we-know-it in the larger context of life-as-it-could-be" . I think Ascott's utopianism
is the result of the positive spirit of an artist whose creative mission is to formulate
constructive visions of the future as an inspiration for change. He maintains that
artists and designers can contribute to shaping the emerging future by creatively
envisioning its many possibilities. In this sense, Ascott's praxis bears a striking
affinity to what art historian Kristine Stiles describes as "the strategic convictions of
avant-garde artists throughout history: the perception, conception, envisioning and
representation of alternative realities and systems of meaning" . I contend that it
is in this spirit of avant-garde art that Ascott's theory and practice can most usefully
and thoughtfully be considered.
Indeed, it is the reasoned impulse to imagine blueprints for alternative futures
as a guide for building them that shapes Ascott's desire for a telematic embrace -- a
higher form of consciousness, a higher form of love. Such goals warrant a
reconsideration of the artist's concept of love as the principle of passionate attraction,
the utopian object of which is expanded and harmonious global consciousness. In his
attempt to show how electronic forms of art can possess loving, human content,
Ascott cites Duchamp's The Large Glass or The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,
Even (1915--1923) as embodying love and as prophetic of telematic art. Generating energy
and emotion from the "tension and interaction of male and female, natural and artificial,
human and machine," he writes, the vitreous sculpture "always includes both its
environment and the reflection of the observer" . Ascott claims that by observing
the work, the viewer becomes implicated as a participant in it and thus a progenitor of
the love that is "contained in this total embrace." In this case, Ascott defines love in
terms of 18th century French utopian philosopher Charles Fourier's theory of
passionate attraction, which is "the drive given us by nature prior to any reflection . . .
[t]oward the coordination of the passions . . . and consequently toward universal unity"
.The artist defines love as a natural, intuitive force that draws human beings
towards one another (like gravity) and makes one from many. According to Ascott, the
Bride embodies and generates love by drawing viewers into a hybrid field made up of
its passionate imagery, its environment, and the viewer's own reflection. Similarly,
Ascott describes the embrace of telematic art as one in which many participators are
drawn into the hybrid field of cyberspace, an environment where they meet and which
they collaboratively transform in a process of unification embodying and generating
While much of Ascott's discussion of love in the Large Glass focuses on its
dynamic form, he initially identifies the element of attraction in its sexualized imagery.
In doing so, Ascott overlooks the perverse confluence of technology and intuition
depicted in the interaction between male and female. Nine bachelors busily grind their
chocolate. The seedy results of their masturbatory activity merely spray into the
bride's general vicinity. The seeds neither visibly connect with nor enter her.
Moreover, the machine-like anonymity and ambivalent relationship of the elements
denies a loving interpretation. For the bride is stripped bare by her bachelors. The
failure of the bachelors to impregnate the denuded bride should imply a halt to the
process of progeneration. But somehow, through a miracle or curse of alchemy (and
perhaps against her will) the bride blossoms nonetheless. In Duchamp's Large Glass,
the marriage of technology and intuition is characterized by a constant shifting
between transparency and reflection, ritual union and possessive obsession,
unconsummated desire and metaphysical impregnation. If not grim, this depiction of
love is highly ambiguous.
As Ascott notes, the Large Glass, like the vitreous surface of a computer
terminal, resists a consistently transparent view by including the reflection of the
observer in its image. Interacting with the Bride or a CRT monitor is like making love
with mirror sunglasses on. An intimate bond can never really be consummated with
such hyaline partners because they are pathologically unable to absorb love, but can
only reflect it, or let it pass through their transparent voids. Rather than enabling a
condition of mutual giving, the reflective glass surfaces transform communication into
monologue, passionate attraction into onanism.
What does it mean for Ascott to venerate the transparent and reflective form of
The Bride and to interpret the content as an intimate romance? In what ways, if any,
does this undermine his claims for telematics with regard to love and attraction and
universal harmony? As a model for telematic art, Ascott celebrates the Large Glass for
its anticipation of the computer screen as a nexus of attraction and transformation.
This "site of interaction and negotiation for meaning" was described by the artist in
effusive terms as yielding a: "sunrise of uncertainty . . . a joyous dance of meaning
[which] suggest[s] a paradigm shift in our world view, a redescription of reality. . . ." 
But even if it is granted that the collective interactivity of telematics opens up new
opportunities for the creation and distribution of information, and new methods and
forums from which meaning and value may emerge, the ambiguous quality of love in the
Bride suggests the need for a more cautious approach to the telematic
It may be illuminating now to reflect back on the quote from Durrell's Justine
with which this paper began. For despite Ascott's enthusiastic embrace of this
redescription of reality, one might argue that the only type of love possible in the Bride
(and in telematic art) will be "shared . . . narcissistically . . . like reflections in different
mirrors." Regardless of whether one interprets Justine's theory of love as
dysfunctional or pragmatic, the heroine's dystopic musings do not reflect the type of
passionate attraction called for in Fourier's utopic vision, much less the cerebral unity illumined by Teilhard or Russell. Justine's definition of love might even lead one back to question the unequivocalness of humanist values. If in fact there is love in the telematic embrace, but that love is characterized by narcissistic reflection rather than passionate attraction, is love desirable after all? What are the ramifications of narcissistic reflection being the prevailing mode of telematic interaction? What other modes can be envisioned that might be preferable?
Contrary to Ascott's utopic vision of telematics, the persistent self-reflection one experiences on a computer screen interrupts the mantric union of technology and intuition, network and node. It is a constant reminder that the telematic participant is inevitably a perpetual observer, a voyeur whose electronic relationships are autoerotic soliloquies in a pornographic global mirror. Like the exotically beautiful Justine, the telematic embrace is seductive and appealing, perhaps more so for its elusiveness, for the impossibility of possessing it, for its insistence on keeping the relationship tantalizingly connected but always at a distance. And like Justine's broken-hearted lovers, at the same time one desires to become embraced in telematic love, one must also be wary of potentially being smothered by it if Ascott's redescription of reality should go awry. For what lies invisibly beneath the glistening telematic surface may unexpectedly dissolve into transparency, turn desire back on itself, and enforce its will in ways beyond one's control.
In "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?" Ascott attempted to attribute to electronic art the potential to embody love. His aim was to address technophobia in general, and in particular to answer critics of electronic art who feared that technology would overwhelm and dehumanize the arts, a last bastion of humanist values. If it could be shown that telematic art had the potential to embody love, then art could be electronic and serve humanist principles simultaneously. In constructing his argument Ascott strategically opposed seemingly incompatible ontologies. His Fourieran description of love as passionate attraction implied a universal, transcendental principle in dynamic interplay with the apparent contingencies of love regarding history, gender, and culture, and between love manifested in physical presence as opposed to telepresence. While maintaining an ostensibly unconditional principle of love and promoting collaborative emergence, Ascott characterizes his project in Derridean terms as "pure electronic difference" -- one rife with "uncertainty" and "instability" . Indeed, the artist's resistance to conform to either an Enlightenment or a Postmodern ontology is a particularly provocative aspect of his work. His insistence on maintaining paradox, on permitting and encouraging the simultaneous coexistence of logically incompatible systems is, I believe, one of his important achievements. Such a strategy is consistent with his desire to merge technology and intuition, reason and metaphysics, and belongs to the tradition of artistic visionaries able to imagine the ways in which the confluence of philosophical rationalism, science, and the metaphysical aspects of aesthetic theory offer complementary structures for the construction of alternate systems of meaning.
Ascott's work resides in the space where technology and intuition meet, where art becomes consciousness and consciousness becomes love. Indeed, just as the artist presents telematics as a propositional model merging technology and intuition, so his concept of love can be seen as a propositional model merging the contingent and the transcendental. If Ascott is correct that the principle of passionate attraction is activated in the Bride, then such love is ambiguous. As the forms in which telematic love emerges, technology and intuition are capable of both sustaining life and violating it; and violation and sustenance are not mutually exclusive. A similar ambiguity characterizes the dialectical locus of utopic and dystopic visions of the future.
I would like to propose, therefore, that technology and intuition are inseparable. Like one of Ascott's Change Paintings, each element slides along an axis, so that the relative position of each is always subject to change. What was once utopic in this spatio-temporal continuum is now dystopic; at times they may overlap perfectly. In all cases, the two elements are inseparable parts of the artist's system of meaning. Indeed, technology and intuition, like form and content in The Bride, and like form and content in telematic art, cannot be considered in isolation. Neither is form a receptacle for content, nor content an armature for form. In addition, the way in which technology develops is inseparable from its content. Conversely, the developing content of technology is inseparable from its form. The telematic embrace does not embody love by virtue of its formal structure, any more or any less than by virtue of the sensitivity and caring that it potentially communicates. The traditional dichotomy between the corporeal and the technological is also a persistent site of misunderstanding. Many forms of technology -- such as language, or one-point perspective, for example -- have become literally incorporated into human consciousness, and into the behavior of bodies. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine navigating the world in the absence of such pervasive technologies.
As the demands of an evolving military-industrial-media- information complex for technology push intuition to its limits -- not in the pursuit of any human ideal -- but in the interests of self-preservation and power, the issue of human values still remains. Which ones are worth keeping? What other types of values may emerge? What role will visual information (and its corollaries in textual and other systems of envisioning) indeed, art, and the ability to comprehend it -- play in the future? Unraveling Ascott's polemical query, "Is there love in the telematic embrace?" reveals the further questions, "What will love be?" "How will it be constructed?" "By whom?" and "For whom?"
There is clearly much at stake in the effect of emerging technologies on human consciousness and society and vice-versa. Ascott's jubilation about how the world is being redefined is as important as his belief that it is being redefined. It remains to be seen whether or not that process will be as highly participatory as he prophecies. In a world in which only 20% of homes have telephones, how wide will be the arms of the telematic embrace? The creation and expansion of a global consciousness is an admirable aspiration, and may serve to generate greater empathy, but no amount of consciousness can result in planetary harmony unless the physical conditions of human life are vastly improved. The readers of this text may enjoy a higher level of interaction with geographically remote colleagues than ever before, but on a global scale, it would appear that emerging technologies exacerbate social segmentation rather than bring people closer together. While we use and become absorbed into emerging technologies, and technological modes of being, we continually distance ourselves as a priviledged elite from the 80% of the world that does not have telephones, much less an institutionally supported internet link. Moreover, Kristine Stiles has suggested that the international intelligence community now has the educated classes right where they want us -- at home, in our computerized cottage industries where our behavior can be most easily monitored. In this light, it is doubtful that telematics or any technology will enable the radical reorganization and unification of global society in the near future.
Ascott resists the inevitability of such sober prophecies. He summonses the social force of art against technology. Unencumbered by the destructive history of technology and the demands of rational epistemology, perhaps art -- as the cultural convention charged with the embodiment and maintenance of the loftiest of human ideals (which includes the rigorous questioning of them) -- can circumvent the scenario described above. Since the threat is the machine itself, rather than a deus ex machina, art may be able to offer a deus ex aesthetica -- a meta-perspective capable of embodying paradox, dismantling convention, and constructing new forms with which to reconsider the situation. By applying his creative powers to the formulation of alternative, optimistic scenarios of the telematic future, he provides theoretical and practical models intended to inspire hopeful visions of "life as it could be," and to incite the collective imagination to build it in the present. Perhaps love in the telematic embrace is related to Montaigne's proclamation, by which Ascott abides with the greatest seriousness: "It is pricing life exactly at its worth, to abandon it for a dream" .
References and Notes
This article is dedicated to Kristine Stiles, Associate Professor of Art and Art History, Duke University, whose wealth of knowledge, intellectual rigor, ceaseless generosity and love have been a constant source of inspiration and support. The author also wishes to thank Roy Ascott and Josephine Coy for the honor of working in Ascott's archive, their remarkable generosity, and continuing confidence. Grants from the Duke University Department of Art and Art History and the Center for International studies helped support the author's research abroad and participation in the Einstein Meets Magritte conference. Thanks also to Bill Broom, Associate Slide Curator and digital imaging wizard at Duke.
Lawrence Durrell, Justine (New York, Pocket Books, Cardinal Ed., 1961) p. 42. Originally published 1957.
Roy Ascott is Director of the Centre for Advanced Inquiry In the Interactive Arts (CAIIA), University of Wales, Newport. See http://caiiamind.nsad.gwent.ac.uk for more information on the artist and CAIIA's online Ph.D program in interactive art.
Roy Ascott, "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?" Art Journal 49:3 (Fall 1990) p. 241. Ascott credits Simon Nora and Alain Minc with coining the word "telematique" in L'informatisation de la societe (Paris: La Documentation Franžaise, 197) p. 2.
Ascott  pp. 242 and 247, note 10.
Ascott  pp. 242 and 247, note 10. See also Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu, trans. and eds., The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier: Selected Texts on Work, Love and Passionate Attraction (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971) especially pp. 216--219.
Roy Ascott, "The Construction of Change," Cambridge Opinion (Modern Art in Britain) (Cambridge: 1964) p. 1. Ascott's theory of art as process and behavior anticipates by five years the more widely known formulation by Joseph Kosuth in "Art after Philosophy," Studio International Vol. 178, Nos. 915--917, (October-December 1969).
Roy Ascott, "Behaviourables and Futuribles," in Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, eds., Theories of Modern Art (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1996).
Although the monuments and rituals of diverse cultures ranging from Druid rock formations like Stonehenge to Navajo sand painting may be interpreted as instruments for expanding cosmic consciousness, the conceptualization of consciousness itself as an art object lies outside the material fold of traditional Western art. Indeed, Ascott's own Druid roots and profound admiration for Native American and other forms of mysticism inspire his focus on art as consciousness.
Heinz von Foerster, Observing Systems (New York: Intersystems, 1981). Cited in Ascott  p. 242.
Ascott  p. 242. See also J.A. Wheeler and W.H. Zurek, Quantum Theory and Measurement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983) p. 6.
Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911).
Interview with Roy Ascott, May 28, 1995.
This was Ascott's contribution to Robert Adrian X's World in 24 Hours, an electronic networking event at Ars Electronica in 1982. See Roy Ascott, "Art and Telematics: Towards a Network Consciousness," and Robert Adrian X, "Communicating" and "The World in 24 Hours," in Heidi Grundmann, ed., Art + Telecommunication (Vienna: Shakespeare Co., 1984) p. 28. An automatic I Ching diviner is posted at (http://cad.ucla.edu/repository/useful/iching.html).
Roy Ascott, "Behaviourist Art and the Cyberbenetic Vision," CYBERNETICA: Review of the International Association for Cybernetics Vol. IX, No. 4 (1966); Vol. X, No. 1 (1967).
Ascott  p. 27.
Ascott  p. 247.
Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955) pp. 181--182.
It is interesting to note that Teilhard has been uncritically resuscitated as a model for network consciousness in the most recent (June 1995) issue of Wired magazine.
Peter Russell, The Global Brain: Speculations on the Evolutionary Leap to Planetary Consciousness (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, Inc., 1983).
Ascott  p. 244.
C.G. Langton, ed., Artificial Life (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1989). Quoted in Roy Ascott, "Back to Nature II: Art and Technology in the 21st Century," Convergence: the Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 1:1, 23--30 (Spring 1995) London, John Libbey.
Kristine Stiles, course lectures in "The History of Performance Art," Department of Art and Art History, Duke University, Fall 1995.
Ascott  p. 242.
Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu, trans. and eds.,The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier: Selected Texts on Work, Love and Passionate Attraction (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971) p. 216.
Ascott  p. 242.
Ascott  p. 241.
Quoted in Ascott  p. 53.