It's our bright and hazy fortune to be living in an age in which each day presents some new means of communicating with one another. So why does life itself come to feel ever more atomized, more suffocating, more confusing and lonely? Can it really be true that no man is poor who has Friendster?
Remote, the latest multimedia performance piece from partners Sara Kraft and Ed Purver, explores this distance, this ambivalence inside our desire to connect with one another amid proliferating technologies of communication and control. With performers Ernie Lafky and Rowena Richie, Kraft and Purver use a keen assemblage of live video feed, video-based art (all of it mixed live by Purver), Internet hookups, exuberant performance, and music to present a dispersed series of "lab studies." These run the gamut from everyday text messaging between a bicoastal couple (Kraft and Purver) to the deeply ominous if also comical attempts by the US government in the 1970s to harness paranormal psychic phenomena for use by its military and intelligence apparatus.
This latter dimension of Remote's evocative archaeology takes the mediation of everyday life in its most overtly sinister direction. Based on extensive research, including use of declassified CIA documents and interviews with key participants, Remote pursues its themes through the belly of the beast — in real-life programs and experiments (reproduced in various cunning and wry ways here) that had bruised military careerists attempting to walk through walls, would-be "psi warriors" trying to implode goats with bursts of psychic energy, and intel gatherers vigorously massaging their temples in an effort to peep into far-flung corners of the globe without leaving the office. (These strategies have since been made unnecessary by new technologies of remote surveillance and destruction — a point underscored in Remote by ghostly infrared images associated with the military's remote human targeting.)
Moreover, as in the path they cut with 2002's Woods for the Trees, Kraft and Purver pursue Remote's themes through the prism of their own relationship — which came eerily to resemble the project they had already begun when Purver relocated to New York. Presenting their lives through the very media sustaining their real relationship gives supple and transparent significance to the projected image of a couple literally interfacing with one another across the ether of the Internet.
Throughout Remote's nonnarrative sequence of scenes, the social and psychological reification that treats human beings as physical objects (and even goats as "targets") blends and contrasts with the primacy of human subjectivity, casting its own "projections" onto the physical world, whether in the name of emotional affinity or under the guise of scientific, clinical, or technological detachment. The theme gives rise to a number of inspired, gorgeous scenic compositions integrating Kraft and Purver's video work, Frieda Kipar's enveloping lighting design, Sheldon B. Smith's haunting soundscapes, and Kraft's melodic refrains ("The farther you are, the closer I feel to you. Stay away. Please stay away..."). The mise-en-scène shrewdly unites media and theme to make at once obvious and strange the Möbius strip carrying technological and mental projections of ourselves to the world and back again.
At the same time, there's much laughter in Remote's investigation of these fundamentally absurd situations. Even a little too much. (The recurring attempt by the psi warrior–in–training to explode the heart of the inert goat, for instance, comes perilously close to beating a dead horse.) But then, pinpointing the humor in the otherwise bleak and chilling territory of the postmodern is an integral and mostly successful part of Kraft and Purver's revelatory mode. Remote lacks some of the consistency of their earlier work.