go to HorizonZero HorizonZero 11 vertical line layout graphic français >  

printer friendly version of article  >

SAT : Rendez-vous
View this article in flash  requires flash 6 >

Rendez-vous sur les bancs publics
Looking back on a landmark event in new media

by Richard Barbeau, translated by Bernard Schütze

Developed by Monique Savoie and Luc Courchesne1, and produced by the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT), Rendez-vous sur les bancs publics was a landmark event in the field of new media and communications technologies when it was presented in the summer of 1999. This multimedia installation was first and foremost a medium in its own right, even if it functioned in the same way as basic videoconferencing. Participants made use of voice and image transmission technologies to communicate in real time - but the comparison ends here. Videoconferencing enables people to communicate directly with each other in scheduled, goal-oriented meetings between groups and individuals. But in Rendez-vous, meetings took place between two spontaneously formed groups who had no prior knowledge of each other. A permanent connection was set up between two outdoor public spaces: the esplanade in front of the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Place Youville in Quebec City. The (unrecorded) exchanges between the groups, and also the continuous connection and its setting in a public space, were parameters that contributed to making the installation a unique medium with specific properties. Engagement with the installation took many by surprise - including, perhaps, the creators of the installation themselves.

Aside from ensuring that it functioned properly, the apparatus' creators did not control it in any way. Meanwhile, behavior exhibited by installation users surely could have provided fascinating material for studies in anthropology or social psychology. Users displayed great spontaneity, and generally refrained from any form of self-censure. It was mostly young people who warmed the bench in front of the three to four metre-wide screen, and the "identities" of the two groups were defined simply by their position vis-à-vis the interface (one was either on one side or the other). The mediation effect of the installation was such that it gave rise to conversations which tended to be restrained during the day, and somewhat more extravagant in the evening. Group dynamics, and the fact that nothing was being recorded, encouraged relatively superficial exchanges. However, the participants engaged in these exchanges passionately. One family organized a get together between members in Quebec City and Montreal; girls and boys flirted with each other. One was surprised and sometimes stunned by the brazenness of certain remarks (people appearing on the screen were often subjected to coarse language, insults, and mockery) and gestures (screaming into the microphone, flicking a lighter in front of the camera lens, and so on).

Without being subjected to outside control, the users did as they pleased and gave way freely to otherwise repressed behaviors, ranging from unrestrained flirtation to obscene gestures. The relaxed content was decidedly that of casual street talk. The installation did, however, trigger a lively and captivating dynamic, and the participants appeared to enjoy the experience profoundly. This dynamic was brought about by the installation's particular interaction modalities - modalities that were without a doubt as unique as the media experiment itself. We are, in fact, speaking of an interaction between the apparatus and the user, which presupposes a set of choices imposed by its use, over and above the conviviality that the user may have brought to it.

This was perhaps the greatest paradox of this experiment: the use of new technologies in an installation without interactivity. In fact, the installation provided no visual or physical interfaces that could be used to activate any sort of command. The participation was passive in the sense that there were no choices and no options (for example, there was no zoom option for the camera). In a certain way, the installation did not engage interactivity at all, despite the very active role played by the human participants. One can thus not speak of technical interactivity in this case (in terms of modulating exchanges through user commands, or the manipulation of control mechanisms), despite the installation's sophisticated telepresence, immersion, and media convergence aspects.

It is perhaps this absence of interactivity that made the project so enticing. The simplicity of the apparatus cleared the path for another, more human and inter-subjective mode of interaction - conversations based on verbal and body language. This is a mode characterized by its uncontrolled, spontaneous, and immediate aspects, which can easily become chaotic in a group situation. Curiously, it took a new media installation like this one to stir up so much interest, and to encourage a rate of participation rarely equaled by other so-called interactive works.

What was new about Rendez-vous sur les banc publics was the symbolic interactivity that is proper to human verbal and body language. People were fascinated by the simple fact of being engaged both as spectator and involved participant in a screen-camera event, and also by the chance to meet people they would never have otherwise met. The paradoxical and surprising effect of this new medium should be reason enough to have it installed somewhere permanently in the future.

Richard Barbeau is a Web artist who shows his work on the Alpha Beta site (www.abcdfghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.com). He teaches art history and multimedia at the Collège de Sherbrooke, Québec, and has published critical and theoretical texts and interviews in Archée (www.archee.qc.ca). He has been a co-editor of the Web journal Metal and Flesh (www.chairemetal.com (link no longer active)) since 2000, and organizes an annual event about Netart called Planetary Vigil.

Note :
1) Original idea and development by Monique Savoie and Luc Courchesne in collaboration with the Atelier in-situ, Simon Piette, and Sylvain Parent.

Link :
Rendez-vous sur les bancs publics
www.din.umontreal.ca/courchesne/rendezvous.html

back to top back to top  

 

Valid XHTML 1.0!
Valid CSS!