Spatialities & Temporalities

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Anna Munster’s Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics


In addition to her earlier approach of the aesthetics of virtual space in terms of the physical and the spatial (Munster 86-109), Munster considers in the chapter Digitality: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm for information the ethical within the aesthetical through social dimensions (Munster 151). Under the influence of contemporary technical developments, connectivity seems an increasingly important aspect of virtual environments, virtual worlds, and cyber-space. Globalization technologies not only re-arrange and enhance our perceptual apparatus but also influence our relations to others in the way these are organized and structured.

Munster refers here to the digital divide, where connectivity, as the transport of disembodied information, demands an infrastructure where anyone is connected while only a minority of the world’s population is connected. The inequalities of access to ICTs that arise from broader social inequalities based upon class and income, occupation, gender, race, ethnicity, and geographical location is central to the debate around connectivity. Available hardware, software, and bandwidth are important vectors for social inclusion and experience of new media (Flew 2002, Lister 2003).

Hence being connected is a from of sociability in which access to the speed of information (itself not absolute but differentiated economically, institutionally, technically, and geographically) affectively strengthens the “haves” while affectively weakening the digital “have nots”. (Munster 2008: 152)

In terms of Deleuze, the ethological dimension of connectivity concerns the way bodies affect and are affecting by others’ bodies and how these affective relations enable certain kinds of sociability and is addressing the possible engagement that might occur within the process of aesthetic creation and production. In other words, the ethico-aesthetic makes us realize to what extent the politics of connectivity enables us to engage with others and their differences in the artifacts produced (Engagement in this context is understood by Munster as an ongoing confrontation with others while connection on the other hand, refers tot the network and is not necessarily related to sociality) . In the sixties, artists like Roy Ascott, Myron Krueger, and Norman White also surveyed the artistic and aesthetic dimensions in the dynamic relation between the audience, the artist and the work of art. Within the environment of telematic art, Roy Ascott calls this dynamic relation the ‘state of flux’. In this case, meaning is not just created by the artist but is a product of interaction between the observer and the system, of endless change and transformation. In this condition of instability, content is embodied in immaterial data, until the sensory output may be differentiated further as existing on screen, as articulated structure or material, as architecture, as environment, or as virtual space.

The modernistic mode of calling attention tot the conditions and limitations of a medium in order to produce form these something positively different out of the nature of the medium itself. The notion that computers are thought of as neutral filing and archiving machines is shattered as we start to realize that online networks might instead be nodes for redistributing or blocking information spaces.


Munster uses Graham Harwood’s Uncomfortable Proximity (2000) as an example of re-politicized space where the real (actual) world and the online (virtual) world seem to mirror each other. In Uncomfortable Proximity Harwood has hacked the official Tate website (by invitation of the Tate – is this still hacking?): one out of three visitors is silently transferred to Harwood’s mirror-site. The visitor, who is under the impression of entering the Tate site, is confronted with a strange universe of proximity: proximity to the Tate-site but also to the personal sphere of Harwood and friends.


‘I have tried in this collection to play with the broken links within the Tate’s collection, grafting on the skins of people who are close to me, dragging parts of the collection through the mud of the Thames, and infecting some of it with a relevant disease. This is a personal response to the cultural attitudes that I found within the aura of the collection’ according to Harwood ( . In the words of Matthew Fuller, Harwood has achieved to affect the cultural class-based canon of the white British establishment by adding his own sphere onto and into the works. This is not just in the way he added onto the discrete works of art, but also in the way he used the medium. The unity of the actual space and online space is disconnected by dissecting its different – historical – sources and revealing the politics and history of institutionalized collecting. The proximity of Harwood’s mirror – sitting as it does on the same desktop as the public Web face of the Tate – enhances a strange feeling of unity, but at the same time questions the differentiation between the actual and the virtual.

Another issue addressed by Muster in relation to ethics is the creation of the ‘other’. In the pioneering years of cyberspace the body-less, nation-less, and gender-less presence in virtual environments was welcomed as an acquirement by –among others- Sherry Turkle. Contemporary artists like Harwood remind us though, that with composing the self, we also compose relations to others, relations that are not mutable in the way information culture might promote them to be: ‘one disembodied avatar’s gender, race, or class appropriation is another person’s lived and dislocated embodiment’ (Munster 163). It is here that the ethics become tangible in the aesthetics (the sphere of embodied relations and actions toward others). One way to understand this ‘otherness’ is to be found for example in the IT outsourcing in India where a socio-technical-ethical assemblage of relations is at play. Networked information flows and the connection of specific time zones makes the 24/7 economy unavoidable and the related time problems are creating a lag, in time but also in connectivity (In 1998 the Swiss corporation Swatch tried unsuccessfully to solve this time-problem with the introduction of a universally synchronized ‘Internet time’). This lag is can be understood as a social concept, where IT workers in India can take over from workers in the USA but can also be found as an artistic goal on its own. The deregulation of automated processes is by some artists evoked in order to create spontaneous and unpredictable works (See for example the work of the internet art couple Jodi .

Another charming example of a lag is the work the Sentiment Express by Shilpa Gupta (2001). The piece invites you to record a very personal love-message that is immediately translated into a text file. The user can subsequently choose between several screen options that enhance his awareness of the distinction between the virtual and the actual and of the ethical implications of his choice. These options for saying ‘how much he cares’ are:

  • I have been busy, yes and I would like to express myself now
  • I want to tap into labour from Mumbai because it cheap
  • I want to tap into labour from Mumbai because there are many well-educated jobless people there
  • I want someone to don phoney identities at work

Eventually one can experience the final lag by receiving the ordered letter, hand-written on cheap indian paper, delivered by snail-mail in the real world. And this only four months later. This delayed delivery came for Munster as a tangible reminder of our disconnected and uneven relations to the place, work, and time of unknown others throughout the world.

According to Munster our aesthetic regimes are right now on a shift from spatialities to temporalities that are supported by networked socialities (Munster 172). In other words, the new aesthetic experiences are not developed and perceived in ‘isolation’ but are a direct result from collective, social exchange. Within this exchange the lag plays and important role -socially, ethically, aesthetically, and temporally- reminding us of the difference between the actual and the virtual. This notion of the lag can as well be found in Ascott’s writings where he explains his art with the Derridean concept of ‘defferal of interpretation’. He considers telematic art as a site of interaction and negotiation of meaning, as a re-description of reality. It is a participatory process in which the artist, the observer, and the environment – including the global telematic networks – work together to create an interactive and distributed system instead of a discrete aesthetic object limited and determined by formal parameters. This definition of art as delayed meaning – can be compared to Munster’s concept of aesthetic connectivities where interacting takes place through distributed networks and large groups of people.

There is no guarantee that that this exchange will be equitable, but the potential is there for acknowledging the outcomes of these aesthetic directions as the collective result of socially networked exchanges. At the same time, these collectivities remain differentiated by contact with he localized experience of others. (Munster 172)

Munster’s conceptualization of the digital can be read as an explosion of the Cartesian space where the collective and the personal intersect. The Deleuzean shift from the movement-image to the time-image can be seen as an early sign of this loss of a systematical space and has provided analytical ground for the exploration of cyberspace where the chronological and nonlinear time functions as new temporal coordinates. The notion of connectivity as important feature of this – virtual – space seems a valuable addition to Munster’s earlier definition of virtual reality where she mainly focuses in terms of technicality (goggles, gloves), spatial perception, and navigation in virtual worlds. This seems exactly to mark the shift from the spatialities to the temporalities and we are leaving the physical world behind in order to disperse ourselves in networks of connectivity with the assignment to survey and articulate this perceptual void of disembodied connections.


Ascott, Roy.  Telematic Embrace:  Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness. Edited
and with an introduction by Edward A. Shanken. University of California Press, 2003.

Munster, Anna. Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics. University Press of New England 2006.

Rockeby, David. Transforming Mirrors : Subjectivity and Control in Interactive Media. SUNY press