Telematic re:sources to counter the climate emergency: coombe hill or high water!

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This paper discusses the conceptual implications of Paul Sermon’s telematic art practice in relation to our global climate crisis, charting the history of his work from gallery installation to Internet performance during the COVID-19 pandemic and the environmental applications it now signals.
Whilst Sermon’s telematic art installations, such as Telematic Dreaming (1992), The Tables Turned (1997), HEADROOM (2006) and Telematic Touched (2017) have consistently presented a phenomenological encounter with the self as other; from a practical perspective, the tele (the distant or far-away) aspects of his artworks have always addressed the climate emergency. Since the early 1990s these telepresence encounters between remote gallery locations, across cities, countries and continents, have brought distant audience participants together in a third space of mutual coexistence. Often played out in social, political or domestic contexts, accessed via sofas, tables and bed installation interfaces, they have assimilated an unrivalled sense of intimacy and closeness through telepresent affection, touch and empathy. This phenomenological encounter has always been at the core of Sermon’s work, but the practical fact that the participants are physically located many miles apart has become increasingly important as an urgent solution to reduce our need to travel and our carbon footprint as a consequence.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 at the start of 2020 Sermon’s telematic installations have migrated online. The pandemic highlighted the necessity for more meaningful telepresent encounters as galleries and theatres closed; whilst wildlife encroached on our cities and vapour trails disappeared from the sky. The first such attempt occurred in May 2020 with Pandemic Encounters in collaboration with the Third Space Network. This was followed by Telematic Quarantine for the International Limestone Coast Video Art Festival: Video Art during and after the pandemic in November 2020. Telematic Quarantine brought international performers into Sermon’s telepresent home in Brighton, UK, for an uncanny COVID-themed encounter. Together, in a heavily layered video environment where participants moved through painterly-rendered 3D simulations of the rooms in Sermon’s actual house, they played, improvised, and shared their stories of self-isolation. These performance works led to Sermon’s recently completed UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Covid-Response project Collaborative Solutions for the Performing Arts: A Telepresence Stage (December 2020 to May 2022), directly supporting the UK performing arts sector with resources and solutions to overcome the closure of theatre venues. It enabled actors, dancers and other performing arts professionals to rehearse and interact together in shared online spaces and to produce collaborative live performances from their separate homes and studios.
Since October 2022 Sermon has been developing the online telepresent encounter COME HILL OR HIGH WATER. A dystopian post-brexit Britain that presents two online telepresent participants trying to carry on as normal, waking up in flood water, distilling their own fuel and driving into the hills to escape with no real plan, only to find themselves back where they started, but worse. The work is a dark absurd satire on ecological ignorance told through a symbiosis of storytelling and telepresence using a technology to directly counter it.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2023
EventRE:SOURCE The 10th International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology - Ca' Foscari University, Venice, Italy
Duration: 13 Sept 202316 Sept 2023


ConferenceRE:SOURCE The 10th International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology
Internet address


  • Telematic
  • Telepresence
  • Phenomenology
  • Performance
  • Environment
  • Climate
  • Pandemic
  • Interaction
  • Networked
  • Intimacy
  • Touch


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