Hole-in-Space, 1980: Translation and Transmission

Technological Determinism is a phrase that describes the influence technological advancements has had on the evolution of our society. It explains that we are all determined by the technology we use and how exactly we operate it. Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian philosopher of communication, who was often associated with this term, technological determinism. McLuhan discovered the phrase “the medium is the message”, meaning the way in which an idea is transmitted may ultimately change the translation of that message altogether. In 1967, Marshall McLuhan also predicted that one day we would be introduced to an electronic advancement that would keep an un-erasable record of our actions; thus the invention of the internet and social media. The philosopher established that the introduction of new communication technology would essentially change history entirely. McLuhan identified four periods of time separated by such inventions: the Tribal Age (phonetic alphabet), Liberate Age (printing press), Print Age (the telegraph) and the electronic age (internet and other medias). The television is an important role involved in the electronic age. It is a one-way communication device that challenges both the limitations and affordances created when receiving a message. Through this example we can further understand the restrictions and disadvantages faced in the transmission and translation process.

1950 --- 1950s Family Sitting In Easy Chairs Watching Television --- Image by © Camerique/ClassicStock/Corbis

In 1980, artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz created a live international video and audio link, called ‘Hole In Space’, that brought together unsuspecting public members, from New York and Los Angeles. They were able to see, speak and hear people over a long-distance. Essentially, the artwork challenged the idea that ‘the television’ was strictly a one-way communication device. By allowing the viewer to receive and respond to a message, the receptive process was altered. The installation proved to show that the television, although entertaining and extremely popular, comes with its limitations and affordances. Not being able to respond and give input, influences the way in which the technology affects society. It is because of this, that if any error of translation were to occur the receiver would not be able to communicate back to the sender, resulting in the message being misinterpreted. Galloway and Rabinowitz challenged this idea. In today’s society we are able to take advantage of this situation with the interactive technologies we have access to. Technologies such as Face time and Skype are modern day examples of the 1980 artwork, we take for granted. ‘Hole In Space’ allowed the audience members to connect, to be the messenger and the receiver and essentially challenged the one-way structure media platforms consist of.

hole in space 1980

Class tutorial in weeks one consisted of an activity where students had to test both the possibilities and limitations that come along with certain one-way communication methods. The basics of Morse code were tested as we were challenged to communicate a message over a specific distance between the sender and the receiver using only visual aids. Instead of sound the communication process was transmitted into a range of symbols. The translation of the message, from symbols into words, faced major difficulties due to the one-way structured platform. The message itself was misinterpreted due to lack of signals and timing issues. It was extremely challenging not being able to tell the senders to either slow down, to pause or when there would be a new word/letter. The communication method definitely faced some major problems, when it came to the accuracy of the message. The senders also had no way of knowing if the message was correctly received or correctly interpreted. However, in saying that, the end result was extremely close to the message being conveyed. It allowed us to see that the basic structure of the Morse code communication method is well developed one, despite the restrictions faced. The activity performed in the first week, explored both the affordances and limitations displayed in a one-way structured communication technology, something that was challenged in the artwork, Hole In Space.

morse code

Through the introduction of advanced technologies, society has access to a range of communication methods. Television is an example of one of these technologies introduced to us in the electronic age. Its one-way structure was challenged through the artwork, ‘Hole In Space’ by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz. Both the limitations and affordances as well as the possibilities that came with its structure were explored through the artwork and class exercises performed, as well as the problems faced in the transmitting and translating process. The term Technological Determinism allows us to understand just how great the influence of technological advancements has had on the evolution of our society both artistically and in everyday activities.


Documents from a Website:

Kurt Heidinger, Biocitizen 2011, Technological Determinism, Biocitizen: School of Field Environment Philosophy, viewed 16 August 2015

Todd Kappelman, Probe Ministries International 2001, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Message, Leaderu.com, viewed 16 August 2015


Hole-In-Space: 1980, Electronic Café International founded 1984, viewed 18 August 2015

Artists’ Use of Telecommunication, 2007, Timeline.1904, viewed 18 August 2015

 Hole in Space, 2007, Timeline.1904, viewed 18 August 2015

Lecture Slides:

Etienne Deleflie, 2015, ‘Community and Communication’, PowerPoint Slides, MEDA102, University of Wollongong, viewed 17th August 2015

Etienne Deleflie, 2015, ‘Technology and Society’, PowerPoint Slides, MEDA102, University of Wollongong, viewed 17th August 2015



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