The performance of everyday life 

By Karen Herland

Design and Computation Arts professor Chris Salter’s installation <em>Just Noticeable Difference</em> offers an immersive sensory experience. Magnifying glass

Design and Computation Arts professor Chris Salter’s installation Just Noticeable Difference offers an immersive sensory experience.

With the publication of his book Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance, Chris Salter is finally able to present an idea that has been germinating a long time.

The beautiful volume, launched in a discussion at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture on March 17 and published by MIT press, poses the question, “How can we understand the construction of artistic processes and events in which the human may no longer be the sole locus of enactment but performs in tandem with other kinds of beings: a tangle of circuits, an array of sensors…?”

For Salter, the relationship between the real and virtual or local and networked is neither new nor so reductively binary. With a background in philosophy, performance and computer sound, he leads his readers through a discussion of how available technology (be it lighting, set construction or new media) has always shaped the practice of performance.

Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance traces the various (and not necessarily linear) forms that that interactive/interdependent relationship has taken according to different disciplinary or technological frames and how the notion of performance itself has recently expanded.

“The title of the book says everything,” said the design and computation arts professor. “Humans, things, and matter are not fixed but always in a process of change and becoming,” Salter writes. The five-year project was a response to what he perceived as an increased interest in understanding time-based interactions between individuals and the technology in everything from architecture to economics. “We’ve been talking about the same thing in different ways.”

The book digs deep into this relationship and considers our changing notion of performance as the “tension between acting and observing,” said Salter. “That tension plays across all sorts of fields, for instance, in the relationship between object and subject in sociology and anthropology.”

Entangled acknowledges broader notions of performance and performativity presented within those fields by theorists like Erving Goffman and Judith Butler, but expands on the transformative role of technology in the interactions between people and objects or audience and actor.

“Performance as practice, method, and world view is becoming one of the major paradigms of the twenty-first century, not only in the arts but also the sciences,” he writes in his book’s introduction.

Salter continues to address the implications of this line of research in other areas. Through L’Institut de recherche en histoire de l’architecture, an interuniversity collaboration between Concordia, McGill, UdeM and the Centre for Canadian Architecture, Salter established a year-long project called The Ephemeral City.

The project investigates the temporal and performative in built urban environments through a monthly series of panel discussions. “I wanted to demonstrate how we’re entangled in each other’s practices,” he said of the program intended to bring another audience into the CCA.

See the full schedule for the project. While most events are at the CCA, Salter has invited sonic performance artists O+A (Bruce Odland (New York) and Sam Auinger (Berlin)) to the EV Building on April 7. The project will end next fall with a symposium of student works.

Salter was in New York earlier this month for the opening of Just Noticeable Difference (JND) at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre in Troy, N.Y. JND consists of an individually experienced closed environment in which subtle changes in sound, light and vibrations are experienced for 15-minute periods allowing the participant to reflect on the threshold of perception and experience. Salter sees the work as a meditation on the limits between the psychological and the physical.

“It’s important to knit scholarly, technological and artistic work,” Salter said of the project which completes a SSHRC grant.


Concordia University