A phenomenology of empathy and presence through telematic art practice

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis presents and draws from my work in the field of interactive digital media arts exploring the phenomenology of empathy and presence through telematic art practice. The creative practice discussed has been selected from a timeline of practice-based research covering 32 years, including 32 original installations, produced and exhibited on 117 occasions around the world. I have focused on nine specific artworks that plot key moments in this network of connections through the distinct content and public engagement outcomes. These installations range in contextual settings, from the intimacy of a bed surface and the comfort of a sofa to the formality of a peace negotiations table and the keyboard of an online chat conversation. Within such works I investigate human relationships and the identification of the self through the emergence of shared objective empathy between remote participants.

    My observations, conversations and the participants’ accounts that I have witnessed and collated are evaluated through a reflective practice method of research that closely aligns with Donald Schön’s ‘reflection-in-action’. Each project has been undertaken through an action-research process, whereby much of the development and experimentation occurs in the gallery or public venue itself. The participants are brought together through the use of live video cameras, projection mapping techniques, chromakeying and videoconferencing technology within merged telepresent installation environments. The divided audience participants coexist in a third space; the fusion of the physical and the remote in a networked place that can be inhabited by distant audience participants simultaneously sitting, standing or sometimes lying together within them.

    My work provides a space for practice and theory to engage in a dialogue informed by the phenomenological tradition of such as Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre, and the emergent ‘technoetic’ field of technology and consciousness research defined by Roy Ascott. The theories and concepts I have encountered through my work are firstly experienced within them; it is not until I have publicly installed and observed these telematic installations that I am able to articulate the philosophical discourses they reflect. Discourses contextualised and discussed in a range of publications that further contribute to this thesis.

    The unique sensory experiences created through my practice generate new knowledge about the greater sense of empathy that emerges through a shared space of mutual presence. This new phenomenological knowledge through creative practice has made a distinct and defining contribution to what is now a recognised field of telematic art research in the international digital media arts context.
    Date of AwardSept 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorDarren Newbury (Supervisor)

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