<Digital Horizons >

Nichole Nicholson

» enter TOUCHproject

» artist statement
» a manifesta for artist-scholars in an age of remediation

Artist Statement: TOUCHproject as Experimental (net.art) Performance

TOUCHproject opens with an invitation, and tries to maintain this attitude throughout the work. The ability to interact—to touch my body, to read my words, to respond, to see what a random other has said—is the key element to this piece. Each person's experience will change depending on the willingness to participate and engage, and each level of participation is honored equally. This is a piece of “art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space," a site of relational aesthetics. (Bourriaud 14). The digital stage is networked; the persona thrust into a new context, but still performing, still acting and enacting. Yet rather than provide a perspective, assert an argument, or take a stance on what performance means in digital space, TOUCHproject is designed to ask questions. Foremost among these is: what questions does this medium help us, as performance practitioners and scholars, to ask?

Technically, the website is made up of HTML, PHP, CSS, and a MySQL database that collects inputs from the webforms on each of the eleven "body links." For each link, one of these inputs is then chosen at random to print1 to the right of each webform. This creates a relationship between previous users' input, my own text, and the text the current user chooses to input, but every user will have a different experience of this, an experience I cannot fully author, one that is instead a process of collaboration between artist, users, and computer.

One way to think of this collaboration is through a lens of transcoding. Lev Manovich writes that “in new media lingo, to 'transcode' something is to translate it into another format” (47). In this case, the transcoding process happens in the space between myself, the code the website is constructed from, and each user's interaction with the code. I translate the performance of my body into a language understandable to the computer, which it then reads and interprets on the computer of the user, who can chose to add content that is then filtered back through the code. I am literally learning to speak and think a new language, and it is this language through which I meet my audience. As I learn the language of the computer, I remember that “my body makes language. It makes language like hair” (Gingrich-Philbrook 3). My body is making code, reproducing the logic of the computer. In the act of transcoding, my body does not know code, does not tell me code; it is code2. I may command the computer with this new body-language, but “cultural categories and concepts are substituted, on the level of meaning and/or language, by new ones that derive from the computer's ontology, epistemology, and pragmatics” (Manovich 47). Therein lies our collaboration, a composite that is a “blend of human and computer meanings” (46).

When my body starts (re)producing code, and code starts (re)producing my body, how then do we begin to talk about the place of bodies in new media, and new media in bodies? How do we narrate our bodies in light of new languages and logics? Am I performing code, or is the code performing me?

Or perhaps another way to think of this collaboration is in the context of an ecotone. Baz Kershaw defines this in his book Theatre Ecology: "a place where two or more ecologies meet and mingle, such as, say, riverbanks, seashores and deep sea volcanic vents" (19). Here we have the meeting of human and computer ecologies, where human languages get translated to code, and code to human languages. Flesh and hardware mingle as ecologies of meaning confront one another, construct one another. Importantly, these ecotones produce "new hybrid life-forms" (19). I wonder what kind of life form we are creating here?

TOUCHproject opens with an invitation, but this invitation extends not just to the clicking of links, or responding to prompts in pop-up windows. This piece is not intended to provide answers to the questions of digital embodiment and performance, but to move towards a place where we might begin discovering them in conversation, with each other and with our computers. As we experience this exchange of code and bodies, my hope is that we might extend these conversations in our innumerable means of encounter: our writing, our performance, our talk, and all of our work as artists and scholars.


1. Literally, the PHP code specifies that the text “prints” to the page, as in a printer transferring ink to a piece of paper.

2. I'm borrowing heavily from Craig Gingrich-Philbrook's language and structure when he writes: “My body does not know fingernails, does not tell me fingernails; it is fingernails” (3).

Works Cited

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods. Les Presses Du Réel, 2002. Print.

Gingrich-Philbrook, Craig. “Bite Your Tongue: Four Songs of Body and Language.” The Green Window: Proceedings of the Giant City Conference on Performative Writing. Eds. Ronald J. Pelias and Lynn C. Miller. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2001. Print.

Kershaw, Baz. Theatre Ecology: Environments and Performance Events. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. Print.

A Manifesta for Artist-Scholars in the Age of Remediation
by Nichole Nicholson and Sam Sloan


...but explore media instead, by listening, touching, tasting, watching, planting, nurturing.
...but tell new stories, each through multiple media to discover what the differences teach us.
...but push the boundaries of media, putting them in relationship with each other.
...but learn to speak in the languages of different media.
...not limited by medium, but challenged by it.
...knowing that in the age of remediation, no medium stands wholly apart from any other.

...not pretending that we are ever outside of relationship.
...always working towards creating spaces, pieces, and opportunities through which people might mindfully engage in the intersubjectivity that already constitutes them.
...and forget ownership.
...as we tell stories in relationship, because no story is ever ours alone.

...using the tools at our disposal, as humans have done for thousands of years.
...in order to critique and subvert cultural complacency.
...as a method of re-combination, re-figuration, and re-contextualization.
...as part of a collective of (digital) artists and unique voices in (dis)harmony.
...as intertextual, intermedia bricoleurs.
...like a writer or storyteller, weaving the narratives of our culture in the media of their telling.

...by utilizing creative commons or copyleft standards whenever possible.
...tracking and citing source texts, regardless of medium.
...by supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation and friends of innovation in times of need and in times of plenty.
...by taking a stand for net neutrality and an open internet.
...by using open standards and open source, whenever possible.
...leaving our content open for others to share.
...never relying on corporate media for our collective performances of culture.

...but locate art and art-making in the process of exploration, experimentation, and play.
...but commit to affective, experiential, and embodied praxis.
...and never let the work be finished.
...always letting what will be ephemeral slip through our fingers and depart when it needs to.

and we will love
and we will love
and we will love
and we will love
and we will love
and we will love
and we will be artists.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License..