Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blast Theory, "Can You See Me Now : Tokyo", 2001

Can You See Me Now? Tokyo from Blast Theory on Vimeo.

Based in the UK and created by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanit, Blast Theory is well known for its exploration of audience participation via geographic devices in pieces such as Uncle Roy All Around You, You Get Me, and I Like Frank. In Can You See Me Now? a street team in Tokyo interacts with an online community (in a virtual Tokyo), while the street team, or “runners”, attempt to track each virtually represented character using a handheld GPS.
This particular video challenges viewers to consider the concept of the “real world”. In this technological exploration, both the physical and virtual world exist simultaneously. Individuals from both the real and virtual city can see one another (at least the virtual version of the other) and can communicate. Despite this seeming closeness, virtual players can be accessing the game from anywhere in the world. What constitutes as “presence”, then, in Tokyo? The fact that the street team is tracking down the virtual players suggests that they have somewhat of a locality in Tokyo, though perhaps not a visible locality.
Before entering the game, the participant is asked to give the name of someone he has not seen in a long time, but still thinks of. The given name is the name identified when a member of the street team finally finds the player: “Runner 1 has seen _____”. After finishing a game that questions the reality of presence vs absence, the player is reminded of his “absent” friend. This game brings to mind the connectivity that exists in our world with the advent of cell phones and internet. No longer do we live in a site-specific isolation. In Can You See Me Now? Blast Theory has exposed the concept that location has become, in a sense, irrelevant. Games like “Hide and Seek”, which were once wholly dependent on physical presence, now can include players from across the globe. Once a virtual player has been caught by a runner, a photo is taken of the exact location in Tokyo where the capture occurred: “The photos taken by runners of the empty terrain where each player is seen are uploaded to the site and persist as a record of the events of each game. Each player is forever linked to this anonymous square of the cityscape”. Though the player never physically visited the site, can they still claim a connection to it? Most would insist that they could. But how far, with our abundance of sophisticated technologies, can we take this idea? These are the questions that Blast Theory seeks to ask in Can You See Me Now?, as well as in their other video explorations.

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