Ken Goldberg’s Telegarden


An issue that affects many users and art consumers is the idea of credibility. The Internet provides a sense of separation and anonymity for both users and creators. What people do on the Web could easily be misconstrued. Truth in Internet interactions and art through the Web is something that has been dealt with for years. One artist that has delved into this issue is Ken Goldberg. In August of 1994  Mercury ProjectGoldberg launched an Internet installation called the Mercury Project where viewers could manipulate the arm of an old IBM robot and camera to search for items in a sandbox (Baumgartel 88). The controls were found through a Web site. A problem with this project, however, was that users questioned the credibility of the Web site. Many believed that the site was a fraud and that their controls did nothing for the robotic arm. Goldberg was intrigued by this concept of trust and the Internet. Goldberg used these concepts as the theme for the rest of his artistic work. He continued to explore the varying levels of perception and credibility on the Internet.  In present day, many users trust wholly in the Internet to maintain their communication lines with family and friends, to find love, to read their news, among many other things. If the trust is not there, the commitment to use the Internet is lost. Goldberg continued to decipher how credibility and validity could be tested through the Web and he did this through various other Internet installations. Goldberg was able to test this by using installations to show a real and physical reality, which was transmitted through tools like Webcams and then tested by the levels of interaction. But in many senses, the level of interaction through the Web can be seen as superficial and the validity is tarnished. To test this he created experiences that wrestle with the problem of mediation and physical existence. He challenged the viewers through his art to engage and thus provoked anxiety. Goldberg believes that an essential function of contemporary art is captured through the use of anxiety and the viewer’s apprehension about the future. Since the Internet is not controlled by any institutional authority, the artist is able to set up interesting and ambiguous situations for the viewer to partake in. His best known work can be seen in the Telegarden, which was an Internet installation where users could grow plants via the Web. Goldberg claimed that he created this work as a criticism of the Internet. He says, “It was the most absurd application we could think of. The garden is supposed to be a sanctuary, a safe place to experience nature” (Baumgartel 91). Interestingly, when the work debuted in June 1995 the idea was seen as strange and absurd. However, now 14 years later, social networks like Facebook contain applications where users can have their own “virtual” gardens. This idea of connecting reality with the virtual world has now spread into the fabric of Internet existence.

While Goldberg’s work was initially viewed as being outrageous because of its imaginative and virtual interaction, it has lead to the development of Web programs that are thoroughly immersed in the Internet culture. In 2009 there are Web sites that exist like Webkinz where children of all ages can create a virtual world withWebkinztheir pet and maintain its existence on the computer. Participants are expected to feed and care for the creature like a real pet and will reap the repercussions of ignorance. These connections that people make with virtual beings and creatures have made maintaining “life” more interactive for even the youngest generation. 


~ by netart2web on 04/28/2009.

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