“Tool-being,” a term used by Graham Harman, echoes with Bruno Latour's call for a new social theory for non-human masses. In the third of a 4-part series of artists' writings in "Floating Teatime: Art Notes," “tool-being'” is invoked to specifically delve into human's deep experience with objects ubiquitous in our quotidian landscape, and especially those that are black-boxing machines – to question them, open them up to look inside, to hack their customized functions, and to turn machine errors or defects into raw material for artistic creativity. Tate Kwan played with the noise many have experienced in ZOOM meetings when two computers exist in the same room… (Editor)
KWAN Lok-tung Tate: Untitled [on a long-distance relationship] (5m47s) | viewable on site at Floating Projects 2022.12.27-2023.01.11
This work is heavily influenced by my experience of a long-distance relationship, where physical intimacies are replaced by that of the digital, and delays and distortions in electronic transmission become some very real and integral parts of my daily life. In a previous videographic exercise, I played with digital video noise. Later, after being part of a class presentation about the Vasulkas’ video works, I became intrigued by the immediacy of video signals, and the idea of generating video effects in real time materializes in this piece in question.
I worked with video and audio feedback loops on the online conferencing software Zoom. I explored how to create something out of the delays in digital video communication. I question the physicality of touch as much as digital materiality.
I pointed a camera towards a computer screen to record on the live capture by a webcam in a Zoom meeting. . Since the transmission of electronic signals between the input and output processes was not instantaneous, the delays created a time incongruity of images that repeated on loops. Setting in the computer environment of Zoom, my hand performed and manifested my presence, but the delays in digital communication subtracted from the physical touch, especially when digital noise was added artificially. Meanwhile, Zoom showed the process of myself being replicated and preserved in the mechanical world. My appearance mattered for a moment, but when I left the frame, my image sustained itself for a while. The image became the absence of me and had a life on its own in recursion. But just like any objects in the physical world, the machine’s interpretation of signals degraded their image over time, and so this video project recorded what was lost along the way.
A mirrored version of the video was then played via the ‘share screen’ function on zoom on one computer as I accessed and recorded on another computer, to mimic the situation of distanced communication. When added next to the original video, the mirror version created a constant battle of digital signals catching up and lagging behind one another. It is in this latency space that meaning was disrupted and contorted, and connection broken but repaired as the second image always caught up eventually. This was a dynamic process in which the delays were dependable on Internet processing speed, video monitor’s frame rate and refresh rate, etc.
The sound of the video was composed of audio feedback loops as well. I entered one Zoom meeting on two devices close to each other. As a result, audio signals were amplified and re-amplified. Overtime, distortion built up to a painful threshold for hearing. I decided to slow the audio and cut off bits of extremely high frequency (6800Hz+), and the distortion ‘noise’ transformed into a piece of music that progressed from low pitch to high, as the human voice was gradually left out, replaced by mechanical noise.
In a project about the repetitions of images and sounds, each feedback loop and delay is individual, not to be replicated and manipulated. It was in this process that I gave up my attempt for total creative control and, instead, embraced machine “malfunctions” to build abstract motions and structures. Prior to arriving at this work, I have played with camera settings and movements, performances with different objects between the screen and the camera, exploring different frame rates in displaying videos, different kinds of audio recordings, and other options of video feedback loops in digital frame-sharing services. Even though it is a work about the lack of materiality of touch in the digital space, it is in this process that I experienced the materiality of video directly and felt closer to the digital. (Kwan, December 2022)