Spatial relocation

In this day and age, it can perhaps be argued that architecture, through the integration of new media, can recuperate its capacity for ‘tertium quid’; Eisenstein’s reference to the third element, or entity, which constitutes a whole greater than the sum of its individual shares (Eisenstein 1992). Recent developments in art, media and architecture in fact point towards a fruitful interweaving of practices. This has potential also for presence design as a new practice transgressing disciplinary boundaries. Collaboration between several professional skills, however, requires a shared foundation and wide-spread understanding of the spatial and technical considerations that are involved in presence design.

The Atwood example serves to contribute an awareness of how spatial mechanisms operate, specifically the relationship between different spatial layers, and its impact on human patterns of behaviour. As in real spaces, activities in mediated spaces are affected by a spatial order, and it is necessary to explore the underlying power structures of the new hybrid spatialities that humans increasingly occupy. The example exposes a range of design strategies available to presence designers today. While a TV audience is used to live broadcasts to which a participant contributes from a remote location, it is unique that a journalist and his interviewee are seen to share the stage and convincingly look each other in the eyes. That participants can achieve mutual gaze is widely accepted as a key element in presence design, based on the knowledge that subtleties of nonverbal communication are easily lost (Heath and Luff 1991, Rutter et al. 1984); however, it is not always understood as a design element.

Let us observe the venue in some detail (Figs. 6, 7, 8). The design that clearly proved to include Atwoods remote location, to the Lillehammer space, can be described in terms of spatial montage: the two spaces are juxtaposed, in such a way as to create a mediated space. A large display facing the audience features Atwood and Ekern opposite one another, sharing a table. On the right-hand side of the stage, however, we find Ekern sitting by himself, in profile. One section of his table is visible. Ekern is actually facing a teleprompter-based design piece, which allows him to look Margaret Atwood straight in the eyes. The web-streaming footage only occasionally allows us to see exactly what he sees and has prioritized the edited view of the two in profile. Ekern is present in person, and in conjunction with effective light design and acoustic synchronization of the two spaces (Atwood, in fact, remains indoors, which is hardly noticeable), this design contributes to our experience, as spectators, of observing a shared a venue. This design that clearly extended Atwood’s remote location to the Lillehammer space can also be described as an example of spatial montage: the two spaces are juxtaposed to effectively create a mediated space.

Ekern effectively appears twice onstage, a fact that may be referred to as a spatial confusion. We see him to the right, seated at a table by the teleprompter design; and also centre stage, sharing a table with Atwood. In design, there are always many different ways to achieve a similar set-up. One possibility here could be to move Ekern and the teleprompter design to centre stage and place Atwood’s display in such a way that it shields Ekern’s table. As illustrated below, such an alternative would allow Ekern to appear only once, and in person, on stage. As in the original set-up, it would also allow both parties to turn to address the audience on occasion (Fig. 9).