Can You See Me Now? draws upon the near ubiquity of handheld electronic devices in many developed countries. Blast Theory are fascinated by the penetration of the mobile phone into the hands of poorer users, rural users, teenagers and other demographics usually excluded from new technologies.
Some research has suggested that there is a higher usage of mobile phones among the homeless than among the general population. The advent of 3G brings constant internet access, location based services and massive bandwidth into this equation. Can You See Me Now? is a part of a sequence of works (Uncle Roy All Around You and I Like Frank are subsequent works) that attempt to establish a cultural space using these devices.
These social forces have dramatic repercussions for the city. As the previously discrete zones of private and public space (the home, the office etc.) have become blurred, it has become commonplace to hear intimate conversations on the bus, in the park, in the workplace. And these conversations are altered by the audience that accompanies them: we are conscious of being overheard and our private conversations become three way: the speaker, the listener and the inadvertent audience. Can You See Me Now? takes the fabric of the city and makes our location within it central to the game play.
The piece uses the overlay of a real city and a virtual city to explore ideas of absence and presence. By sharing the same 'space', the players online and runners on the street enter into a
relationship that is adversarial, playful and, ultimately, filled with pathos.
As soon as a player registers they must answer the question: "Is there someone you haven't seen for a long time that you still think of?". From that moment issues of presence and absence run through Can You See Me Now?.
This person who has not been seen for a long time - absent in place and time - seems irrelevant to the subsequent game play; only at the point that the player is caught or 'seen' by a runner do they hear the name mentioned again as part of the live audio feed from the streets of the city. The last words they hear are "Runner 1 has seen ______ _______". With the advent of virtual spaces and, more recently, hybrid spaces in which virtual and real worlds are overlapping, the emotional tenor of these worlds has become an important question. In what ways can we talk about intimacy in the electronic realm. In Britain the internet is regularly characterised in the media as a space in which paedophiles 'groom' unsuspecting children and teenagers. Against this back drop can we establish a more subtle understanding of the nuances of online relationships. When two players who know one another place their avatars together and wait for the camera view to zoom down to head height so that the two players regard one another, what is going on? Is this mute tenderness manifest to anyone else and should it be?
And alongside these small moments, there is a louder and more forceful set of interactions between runners and players based on insults, teasing, goading and humour. These public declarations seem to happily coexist with the private moments that appear marginal to the casual observer. Yet, this demotic discourse also can surprise: the online players understanding that the runners are tired, hot, struggling with the environment on the street can become a powerful emotion. A player from Seattle wrote: "I had a definite heart stopping moment when my concerns suddenly switched from desperately trying to escape, to desperately hoping that the runner chasing me had not been run over by a reversing truck (that's what it sounded like had happened)."
Blast Theory is renowned internationally as one of the most adventurous artists' groups using interactive media. Lead by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj the group has a team of six and is based in London. The group's work explores interactivit and the relationship between real and virtual space with a particular focus on the social and political aspects of technology. It confronts a media saturated world in which popular culture rules, using video, computers, performance, installation, mobile and online technologies to ask questions about the ideologies present in the information that envelops us. Blast Theory won the much coveted Prix Ars Electronica for Interactive Art in 2003.
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2004 catalog.