[-empyre-] participatory performance

Annette Barbier abarbier at colum.edu
Tue Jun 23 09:18:33 EST 2009

In response to some earlier comments about the effectiveness (or not) of 
participation in performance, I think that the quality of the 
participants’ experience can vary, but can be greatly enhanced by the 
opportunity to interact in a responsive performance setting.

I’m remembering a performance based on cel phones in 2001 at Ars 
Electronica (Dialtones (A Telesymphony) – Golan Levin et al; 
http://www.flong.com/storage/experience/telesymphony/index.html) in 
which the idea, while beautifully executed, was a bit pro forma in terms 
of the actual input any individual had (their pre-programmed phone 
sounded when called up by the artists). Although I wasn’t one of the 
lucky individuals (perhaps this is just sour grapes?) to comprise the 
sound-making part of the audience, it did seem as though my experience 
as observer was not that much different from that of a participant.

In 2004, Drew Browning and I (in addition to 3 other collaborators) 
produced “River of Many Sides”, an interactive media performance in 
which both the performers and the audience could make changes 
in/contribute to the sounds and images surrounding the stage. 
A collaboration with Vietnamese artists, it recalled Vietnam’s past in 
three stages – pre, during, and post the “American” war. Audience 
members could, for eg., contribute to act 2 (war) by raising their hands 
to trigger explosions (digitally) and/or strike oversized chopsticks 
together to contribute to the sound/visual war chaos (analog). The work 
concluded with an opportunity for audience members to place paper cranes 
(distributed by the actors) at the base of a projection of scrolling, 
interleaved Vietnamese and American names (a la “The Wall”). In post 
performance interviews, audience members recalled the interactive 
portions of the work as the most memorable and moving moments, when they 
felt their own participation in the performance was emblematic of their 
participation in a larger, global situation.

Annette Barbier
Chair, Interactive Arts and Media
Columbia College Chicago
916 S. Michigan Avenue, 101A
Chicago, IL  60605
Ofc: 312-369-8684
Fax:  312-369-8084
abarbier at colum.edu
Department website:
Personal website:

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