Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 6#4 Rik Delhaas 1 Jan 1992

Head Suggestions?

The loss of part of one's body or one of its functions aren't the only reasons for acquiring a prosthesis. It is not only to suggest a complete human being that a range of mechanical, electronic or silicone parts are coupled to the body. Nowadays, the complete human being without a prosthesis goes through life handicapped. Such a person must be regarded as an invalid.


Kop Suggesties -

Aside from mechanical prostheses, like vehicles and machines, it is especially electronic prostheses which complete the image of the human being. This is not chiefly the result of an awareness of bodily and mental limitation; rather, it is recklessness which causes us to flee into the invention and acquisition of apparati which exceed our capabilities.

Prostheses never used to be a part of the human body. They began where the body ended. The concept 'prosthesis' mainly evokes images of mechanical aids for people missing limbs or of people fitted out with false teeth. The image of apparati which can be easily removed or un-coupled from one's person after use. Something which one doesn't take to bed, but does leave within reach of it.

Prostheses which penetrate the body or are even introduced into it are mainly the result of developments in medical science. According to Paul Virilio, to present-day science with its genetic manipulation and micro-electronics, the body represents a test-area for 'smart pills' and mobile electronic devices (so-called 'animates'). We may expect to see an invasion of the body by aids which take over organ functions or correct them.

Radio is also a prosthesis. Radio does not belong to the generation of 'smart pills' or micro-electronics, which take over body functions. It is a prosthesis which is coupled to the ear and which allows things which are broadcasted at a distance to invade our brains. A prosthesis which increases the range of a sense, but which also penetrates the body with information. Radio, if turned on, presents what originally was absent. A new element thus settles into our immediate vicinity. It causes a tele-presentation. We are not physically present on the spot where the other spoke or where the event occurred. Or where others let the events occur. It suggests our presence, but that is exactly what our absence makes into a fact.

The radio prosthesis is a limited one. It doesn't succeed in engaging other senses of the human body. The listener is cut off from all other sense information which would be available if he were present at that other location. The only thing that reaches him is a sound-print which is located in an electronic space, separate from what caused the sound. This sound can also lead a life of its own, separate from the event. So radio produces a perception in which we only partially are absorbed into what is presented. An electronic illusion, which moreover displays a great discrepancy with the situation in which the radio-listener finds himself. Situations which vary from an ironing board and the smell of warm cloth to the automobile, straddling the road in front of me, in which the driver sits furiously thrumming his fingers on the wheel.

Is the moment of exertion of one's will on a prosthesis becoming more and more elusive, more and more difficult to determine precisely? Aren't prostheses which penetrate or are implanted in the body increasingly displaying a will of their own? This question applies to electronics both in and outside of the body, to a prosthesis like radio as well. While a victim of a war or leprosy can engage in a complex struggle with the extension of an amputated leg, ultimately he will impose his will on this mechanical device, though that may entail certain limitations. As a listener, I've never been able to impose my will on the radio. At best, I could turn it off in a state of utter boredom, rendering the apparatus useless at the same time. It shut up, and at that same moment I became not absent anymore, but present. In his article Der neue Raum im elektronischen Zeitalter, philosopher/artist Peter Weibel says about this: The media have become a second, virtual body which never leaves one. As long as the television is on, as long as the telephone still speaks like a second mouth and a photograph suggests presence, people can banish their fear.

The banishment of that fear actually begins at birth, with the acceptance of a collective reality, with the use of language, with every form of communication. The act of speaking juxtaposes one to the other. It breaks the silence and makes something clear about other-ness. This also says something about the distance introduced by the use of an extension.

But let's return to the leprosy victim; let us suppose that it is his right leg which has been amputated. They managed to save a stump about 10 centimetres long. A stump with a shiny skin, which can move, but only slightly, oddly and helplessly. Without direction. A prosthesis is fitted, adjusted to the length and weight of the body. The prosthesis can be attached to the stump. Once it is covered by the legs of long trousers, an unsuspecting bystander in the street will notice no more than the victim's peculiar gait. But the leprosy victim realises the distance between the stump and the earth each moment anew. While the function of walking has been partially restored, it has also come to include a number of limitations, which started with the revelation of the illness. The electronic media offer you the possibility of turning limitations into habitual behavior.

Gammy Prosthesis

I will leave the prosthesis department for a moment and turn to a much-used metaphor for the media in the Netherlands: the landscape. One should be able to localise radio somewhere out there. Looking out over this landscape, it seems to me to consist primarily of a series of technological developments and innovations. Radio, in that respect, has been a phase in those developments. In retrospect, a bit of a clumsy invention, which certainly was of importance and served an array of different purposes. But, at this moment, in the media landscape, there is no denying that radio is in the ghetto. Other media are more functional or can be hooked up to various human senses. If we are speaking of directed communication, telephone, fax and computer connections offer the most advantages. Television and virtual reality are overwhelming; they endow an immaterial reality with a more 'believable' presence.

Radio has fallen from grace as a prosthesis, as a public space, but also with media institutes and media programmers. Its glorious future lies in the past, if I'm to believe what sentimental radio-makers, listeners and freaks tell me. Its only functional application, just outside of the ghetto, lies in a dull new subdivision for commuters. 24-hour computer-guided music, with a couple of so-called 'news flashes' an hour, intended for the operators of automobiles, coffeemakers and other machines.

Today, I find myself in the media ghetto. I make this remark merely to establish my location. Moreover, I make material which is ultimately intended for prostheses which you could call inefficient. I'm talking about a medium with a handicap, that damned radio. With only the capability of broadcasting sound, with all of the values that entails, and one-way traffic. But the excitement of radio lies precisely in this imperfection and lack of capabilities.

In 1991, I made a number of programs with people who carried on a conversation with themselves. Based on the idea that the medium, the prosthesis by definition, creates a distance and that I only was involved with sound, maybe because of a senseless need to eliminate this distance, I invited a number of people to record a conversation with themselves. Spoken, using only a tape recorder, when and where they could. The underlying idea was that everyone carries on dialogues in their head. That everyone can observe themselves in this way. Even create an Other. The conversation with one's self is a phase which takes place before someone presents themselves, before someone comes out into the open and puts up a facade. Letting others hear the results of what has been discussed with one's self. The attempt to make a registration of such a conversation and to broadcast it, to make it public, is of course harmful to it. But in my original concept, the conversation which was broadcasted could take place in the head of the listener. In other words, there would be no distance to be bridged. This ultimately resulted in a struggle with distance, a struggle with the medium and with the Self.

An article by Jean Baudrillard entitled Please follow me gave me another idea. In the article, he describes people's fascination with following others, and the compulsion to determine as much as possible of the movements and the presence of people in a particular location. Wilfully picking out someone and following them on the street. The manoeuvres of the other are used as a means of attaining a distance from yourself. You only exist in the trail of the other, but they do not know this; in fact, you are following your own trail, and only barely know it yourself, according to Baudrillard. It is a senseless pursuit which will not end with an encounter. Someone else carries out actions and the follower neutralises them. The translation into words and sounds of the actions of the other, or the actions of the follower makes the listener a participant in a non-event. A non-event which is the opposite of the spectacles continually produced in the media. The event in the media which is elevated to the status of reality. The continuous urge of media programmers is to elevate the registration of events, and to cast doubt upon the believability of what cannot be registered. Their aim is a continuous encapsulation of all sorts of processes, while declaring all which is not included to be non-existent. As opposed to this, the pursuit which does not end in an encounter is a non-event, which absolutely must be regarded with scepticism.

The landscape of electronic media is changing into a tidal wave with more and more media, more and more broadcasting time and unlimited possibilities for entering electronic spaces. Among them, to me, radio connotes failure. It is a prosthesis which doesn't work properly and which the invalid is stuck with in an era with an excess of prostheses. It is a reference to the limitation of people and media. For the radio maker and the listener, this means a struggle with a prosthesis which leaves its mark on their lives. I know this from my experience as a radio maker. Television makers, on the other hand, continue to think that their invalidity is reality, without noticing that they have lain in bed so long they've got bedsores.

translation JIM BOEKBINDER