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Le système TELEPAT

A spectacular installation featuring electronic Sayag panels that scroll past visitors comfortably seated in an armchair and equipped with a series of telephones enabling them to interact according to the different criteria offered for each telephone. 

Communication  Criticism and Ethics 

Montpellier (FR)

Typology: Dispositif


TELEPAT, Montpellier


TELEPAT Montpellier - Long

TELEPAT, Montpellier
TELEPAT, Montpellier
TELEPAT Montpellier - Long
TELEPAT Montpellier - Long

The TELEPAT system or network. Communication service of the future, the IDATE International Days, Montpellier (France), November 1986.

A spectacular installation comprising electronic Sayag panels that scroll past the visitor comfortably seated in an armchair, with a series of telephones allowing him to interact according to the different criteria offered for each telephone. Critical texts circulate between the numbers, critically questioning a society governed entirely by automatic controls.

(See the text by Fred Forest published in the proceedings of the IDATE conference)

Titre : Année FF.1986.09 Le réseau TELEPAT Service de communication du futur 1986
Conference theme: The communication services of the future


From 17 to 19 November 1986, Forest set up what he called the TELEPAT system (network) or the Communication Service of the Future, presented at the 8th IDATE International Day in Montpellier. If we have the desire or the need, we can invoke Aristotle, Victor Hugo or Marie Curie, whose names circulate before our eyes and immediately have their answers pre-recorded by multiple answering machines.

The work presented here uses a purely imaginary installation from the outset: the TELEPAT network is a multimedia installation featuring a telephone system and electronic diode display panels. Let's start with a brief presentation: "This device, here at your disposal, is a prefiguration of the communication services of the future. It is brought to you by Fred Forest, a communications artist. It uses a Sayag-Électronique diode-illuminated newspaper installed by Enseignes Parédés in Nîmes", and then gives instructions to future users: "Please note that we are going to tell you how to use it", "Sit down on the seat", etc...
The next step is to "connect" to the TELEPAT network: "The friendly, interactive journey can begin. The year is 2050. You are connected to the TELEPAT network. After wireless telephony and micro-cellular networks, the TELEPAT network allows you to enter into direct telepathic communication with the correspondents of your choice [...]".
In an absurdist vein, the work leaves something to the impossible: "the artist invites visitors to contact 'disappeared persons, symbolic entities or thirteenth-generation computers'. The work is based on a fantastical and burlesque vision of future communication possibilities, in the mode of anticipation and futuristic discourse.
Fred Forest comments: "On a podium, various elements are staged in front of electronic newspapers giving information that scrolls before the eyes of visitors. The newspapers explain that we are in the presence of one of the most promising communication services of the future. This is the TELEPAT system. The allusion to telepathy is barely veiled. The newspapers were calling on the public to try it out. It invites the first available person to sit in the chair and follow the instructions after being equipped with a headset. You are asked to enter a number on the telephone. In fact, it's a sort of secret ritual to be able to enter the network, with successive referrals from one answering machine to another. Finally, the fifth answering machine triumphantly announces, to celestial music, that you have entered the TELEPAT system.

(Extraits de Fred Forest Pionnier expérimentateur. De l’art vidéo au net art, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2004, p.159)


  • Installation of digital electronic display panels
  • telephone and telematic network

Esthétique des réseaux et interactivité

François RABATE ( Montpellier, juillet 1985 )
Professeur associé, Université d'Avignon, chercheur à l’IDATE

That 'communication' and 'aesthetics' have at least a little to do with each other may seem so obvious that, in the end, few people really care. Obvious, of course, like those obvious things that are won with little effort in the midst of almost general disinterest, the measure of a real disinvestment. It's also true that everyone must agree on the theme of 'communication', even if this notion could be invalidated by its very generality, which makes it akin to the undecidable: a nebulous set of problematic configurations far more than an operative or 'workable' concept. And as for 'aesthetics', with the proclaimed end of the great philosophical systems, the classical partitions that founded it as a relatively autonomous domain, preferably with a capital E, now seem to float somewhat between two poles: On the one hand, it identifies a class of specialists, which is, moreover, rather vague and whose legitimacy is perhaps still difficult to establish, and who are thus circumscribed by the division into university sections or sub-sections; on the other hand, it attempts to point theoretically to all the problems of the 'reception' of a work or a text: a meaning brought up to date in semiology, for example, by Jean Molino. Of course, some people will be able to mobilise large, commonplace theoretical models, 'communication diagrams' for example, which are inflicted on even schoolchildren: small theoretical engineering models brought within the reach of the human and social sciences via the whole cohort of cybernetics, systemics and other logics and theories of information and communication. We could well then give birth to some fine 'artistic communication'. Provided we take care, moreover, to subject it to the last functionalist outrages of a 'poetic function' in whose avatars Roman Jakobson himself would hardly find his young. After all, you see, artistic communication is not communication like any other... This, it will be easy to see, goes no further than the proposal put forward by certain logicians to distinguish between two types of meaning: 'meaning' and 'significance'. On the other hand, at the other end of the chain, so to speak, we must be careful not to deny art and artists a place in communication networks. For the moment, it costs nothing to say so: in programmes broadcast or in interactive services, cultural quotas or targeting of art lovers with a view to 'à la carte' programmes... There will be something for everyone.

I'm happy to concede that such a cookie-cutter approach to the reciprocal frequentation of the two terms 'in commerce' can only lead to more obscurity, when there should at least be some light. It is in this sense, moreover, that an attempt such as that of the Groupe de l'Esthétique de la Communication stands out in the obviated concept of discourses on art and communication: placing the question back on the side of a praxis, introducing an ambivalent but productive relationship between the institution of a meaning and the play of a meaning, working to restore its credentials to a critical practice freed from the aporias of a doctoral discourse.

This is because the question is actually displaced, at the very moment when the game is frankly played, without ambiguity: fully recognising the cultural mutations underway, of which the inflation, or at any rate the development, of networks would be the fundamental component, the proponents of the Aesthetics of Communication proceed both from a clear and simple constative approach and from a strict claim to the productivity of the status of artist. An explanatory and programmatic text by Fred Forest strikes me as particularly explicit in this respect (1). Taking his cue from an understanding of aesthetics as "sensitive knowledge", but making a strong claim to the status of artist in the sense that art proceeds from a specific attitude, Forest explains the extent to which his approach stems from a recognition of the current irrelevance of the boundaries between art, science and other areas of human thought and activity.

It is thus, because more globalizing, that the project of Aesthetics of the Communication is at the same time the continuation and the overtaking of the Sociological Art. Whereas Sociological Art set out to base an artistic approach on a reflection on the social conditions of art and the art market, the Aesthetics of Communication founds an art that is instituted by and in the implementation of the most diverse devices that shape the mediatisation of our daily lives, that produce our daily lives mediatically; it is the very forms of our relationship to the world that are both the support and the theme of an artistic approach. Artistic approach? A derisory gesture of institutionalising art as a grip on the symbolic, an order of plurivalence. But what the creations of the aesthetics of communication point towards, and particularly those of Forest, through the hypersophistication of the devices (as the grammarians would speak of "hypercorrection"), the accent put on the redundancies, the shifts, the spatio-temporal distortions that may be measurable, but only punctually, at intervals in the middle of a dizzying continuum, and even the intrusion of parasitic messages, all point towards the modelling figures of 'post-modernity' (Baudrillard): dematerialisation, depersonalisation, derealisation, we could say, to take up certain themes dear to Paul Virilio. The approach is a critical one, we say. Critical, yes, if we give the term its full meaning, which is that of crisis, and if we respect all its ambivalence: positive and negative at the same time, an imbalance that produces dynamics and heralds a new equilibrium. Some time ago, in relation to certain works of so-called 'experimental' cinema, I put forward the idea that they established themselves as a symbolic representation of film, as an 'imagined thought of film' (2). Mutatis mutandis, I would be inclined to propose an analogous formulation of the aesthetics of communication as a critique of communication. It is that the works of Forest, much more than they do not directly make sense, as one could say of a taking of significance, make in some way the sense of subtracting. What such works show, whether they be 'actions', 'performances' or whatever, is that through communication technologies, we do nothing more and nothing less than in 'natural' situations: we avoid each other, we seek each other out, we connect ephemerally, in short, we miss each other. Hence the redundancy. Hence the insistence on collective participation, where, for example, the collective stammers, mumbles, repeats in the difference of each individual gesture - grain of the voice, grain of the gesture - in the interlocking of devices where Forest's image and voice diffract infinitely.

The collective then exists only as a space of play, the very space that is set in motion, but also put on hold (the choice of venue, for example, as part of an imaginary space of the network). Basically, the relationship with the public can be based on a simplistic alternative: either it works hysterically, like "I do what you like" (i.e. I'm your master because I'm your slave...), or it works perversely: immediate entertainment is established on the art of thwarting the rules, and the artist takes the place of an institution that produces its own jubilation. In this "creativity that changes the rules", as Chomsky would say, there is indeed something agonistic, relating, for example, to the question: who programmes the jubilation?

Is it the "encounter with the other", as Forest puts it? As for me, I'd be inclined to cast a few doubts on that point. Rather, the encounter is always deferred, where difference (to parody Derrida - quite dishonestly, I admit...) highlights lack by producing it as a black hole in the relationship, a constitutive void. It occurs to me that the undecidable position of the audience, oscillating between what is commonly called 'reception' and 'participation', could be akin to a state of astonishment, as Roland Barthes once wrote in 'Fragments d'un Discours Amoureux' (Fragments of a Loving Discourse), when he meant the attainment of the unreal, this immersion in the impossibility of investing the imaginary. Perhaps the Aesthetics of Communication proceeds from an interpellation without thematic content: a kind of "That's it. That's it", to which all that can respond, in an echo, is the same statement, vaguely, confusedly, constative. But the process is only valuable because the unreal is ephemeral, because it may well be the necessary articulation of the unattainable real and the unreal that is the conquest of the imaginary. I would therefore put forward, shamelessly and tersely, the following: this dereality programmed by the perverse, 'unnatural' manipulation of devices could well be the privileged locus of the symbolic, or in this case the symbolic processing of communication. This symbolic emergence may well lead to an extenuation of the social, when this derealization invests places outside the intervention of the media to become a generalised mode of apprehension, a generic gaze.

From the Collectif d'Art Sociologique to the Groupe de l'Esthétique de la Communication, we can read a continuity, which basically concerns a specific position and status for artists. If we consider the case of Forest, we can without too much difficulty understand his type of intervention with the help of the social types of art defined (after Duvignaud) by Howard Becker (3): he would then come under the practice of the "Mavericks", that is to say, according to Becker, of those artists "who were part of the conventional art world of their time and their milieu, but who found it constraining, to the point of no longer accepting to conform to its conventions". It is in this sense that certain "artists" - artists indeed, since they are above all self-defined in this way and recognised by their public - propose new social norms governing artistic practice rather than adapting to the rules of the "art world". On the other hand, some artists, faced with the contemporary difficulties of self-definition and the positioning of the artist, are trying to "reprofessionalise" themselves by "looking to advanced technologies and new images, in other words the knowledge and techniques of tomorrow" (4), using these media to produce "artistic" content, if you like. In abandoning their self-proclaimed artistic status, their work is perhaps marked by two types of rationality: a finalisation in terms of the "target" (among advertisers, there are the "creatives"), and a finalisation in terms of reproducibility, a Benjaminian theme if ever there was one, in which the mark of the "cultural industries" is imprinted. At the same time, in terms of reception, these successive and interlocking processes of mediatisation are in some ways akin to the end of social consensus and collective recognition of the location of art spaces... The products on offer lose some of their collective significance as they become part of the technical order. At the price of a little less collective reality, the assignment to a more integrated domain of the social poses another question in return: what can be substituted? Or more precisely, what social phenomena are going to take charge of this 'cursed part' of the social that is irreducible to technical devices? Aren't the localised, one-off transgressions - those of Fred Forest, for example - already just the ultimate form of vindication that would mark the night of these times? This most Baudrillardian of questions is bound to haunt minds that are sufficiently sociological to hope for the social...

Symmetrically, if others like Forest use the "new techniques of communication" (a catch-all lexicon, but convenient enough here), it's not to produce content other than that of a crisis where the use of techniques, far from restoring to them their value in use, makes them both the meaning and the reference of their intervention. Not that these artistic practices position themselves, as Forest puts it, "beyond the commercial and institutional system". Like sociological art, the aesthetics of communication function as a stake in the competition between galleries, museums and cultural institutions: it's financed, it's shown, it's seen.

Incidentally, the same Howard Becker defined an "art world" as the entire network of cooperation conventionally organised with a view to producing works, including, for example, financiers, critics, artists and the public (5). There is an "art-world" for the Aesthetics of Communication, because it exists artistically. And one of Fred Forest's strongest originalities is to insist on it, to point it out, for example by having the public "participate", physically present in a place and at the same time present on the telephone network... In this sense, Forest's actions are both the metaphor and the mise en abîme of the network of cooperation that is an "art-world": it is in a co-operation "in network" that the work is produced, "interactive work" then if one wants, in the sense that it would be the fact of a copresence of individuals joined together on the basis of a common convention. Of course, the matter is more complex, because it is more perverse: what the audience is doing is perhaps nothing more than accepting to be part of the artist's programme, to be pinned down in his game, to be basically his stooge, in a disconcerted and disappointed search for an imago of the artist through the multiple diffraction of his recorded, sound and visual doubles. In this sense, the Aesthetics of Communication is indeed a strategy of the artistic avant-garde, but a very specific strategy: the institution of the artist and at the same time the disappointment of this expectation. Contradictory aesthetics, aesthetics of contradiction... this impossible encounter is perhaps nothing more than the most powerful ferment of a promise that is always waiting to be fulfilled, as if trapped in a perverse device that never exhausts desire.

François Rabaté

Ce texte publié en 1986 dons le Bulletin de l'I.D.A.T.E., n°20, Juillet J985, n 'a rien perdu ni de son actualité, ni de sa pertinence. Actes du Colloque : " INTERACTIVITÉ(S) ".

(1) Fred Forest : " Pratique artistique interactive et esthétique de la communication ", Bulletin de l'IDATE, N°20, Juillet 1985,
(2) François Rabaté: " Image, Récit, Énonciation ", Revue d'Esthétique N°6, 1984.
(3) H. Becker : " Monde de l'art et types sociaux ", Sociologie du travail, N°4, 1983.
(4) Raymonde Moulin : " De l'Artisan au Professionnel: l'Artiste ", Sociologie du Travail, op. cit.
(5) H. Becker : " Att Worlds ", Berkeley, California U.P., 1982.

1986 Le temps de l'écriture électronique - Sayag


Fred Forest has a special place in contemporary art. Both by his personality and by his pioneering practices which mark his work. He is mainly known today for having used one by one most of the communication media that have appeared over the last fifty years. He is co-founder of three artistic movements: those of sociological art, the aesthetics of communication and ethics in art.

He represented France at the 12th São Paulo Biennale (Communication Prize) in 1973, at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976 and at Documenta 6 in Kassel in 1977.