[-empyre-] Annette Barbier : Participatory Art

Timothy Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Mon Jun 29 00:34:28 EST 2009

Thanks to Tim and Renate for the invitation.
Participatory Art:  Digital Traces - a few thoughts Š

I would almost like to retitle this topic: 
"Participatory Acts (rather than Art): Digital 
Traces" as it seems that the line between art and 
non-art, especially in the area of participatory 
work is fuzzy indeed.  Having just visited the 
new Modern wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, 
I noticed that the ONLY interactive work in the 
wing was in the Design/Architecture exhibit, NOT 
in the Film/Photo/New Media section.  And this 
work is placed there, I suspect, because its 
maker is known for graphic design, not because of 
any inherent quality of "design-ness" rather than 
"art-ness" of the piece.  The phrase 
"participatory art" questions more traditionally 
defined ideas of authorship, concept and product. 
Its authorship quotient extends on a continuum 
from live exchange, through delayed exchange, to 
contribution (anonymous or not), to manipulation 
of existing media or data.  The concept, 
prescribed by the artist or collectively created 
by participants (perhaps the first eg. of an open 
framework with content supplied by participants 
is the still delightful "Hole in Space", Kit 
Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, 1980).  The 
product, from memory through documentation to a 
persistent representation that may still function 
with its original intention.

Digital Traces raises the issue of 
durability/persistence - its desirability and 
importance.  I regret the loss of work, my own 
and others', to (among other things) changing web 
standards and browsers, defunct plug-ins.  I wish 
I could state boldly, as Mary Flanagan has, that 
[paraphrasing] work that can't be kept alive 
should be left behind.  Perhaps one's feelings in 
this regard are a function of where one is on 
one's personal timeline, with youth emphasizing 
the future, age the past.

"Traces," though, also leaves room for thinking 
about the leftovers, the remains of an action, as 
being a fundamental clue to its meaning and 
importance.  In a recent grant proposal for 
working with motion capture, I suggested that: 
"The intention of this proposal is to take data 
that is normally invisible except as it is 
expressed by a moving body, and make it visible, 
with the body as only an implication.  This 
stresses a different aspect of the process [other 
than typical motion capture application to a 3D 
CG model] - rather than creating a virtual body 
whose movements duplicate a real one's, we will 
make visible only the traces of that body's 
passage through time. These literal actions will 
be represented by traces or lines that make 
concrete a frozen series of moments in the 
completion of an action. These traces are 
intended as a metaphor for the effect our 
presence has had on the world.  The "butterfly 
effect" suggests that every action has extensive 
repercussions, most of which we may never grasp."

Artist bio: Annette Barbier (US) graduated from 
the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with 
an MFA.  She chairs the Interactive Arts and 
Media Department at Columbia College, Chicago, 
where she teaches new media theory and practice. 
She came to Columbia from Northwestern 
University, where she directed the Center for Art 
and Technology. She and her creative partner Drew 
Browning comprise unreal-estates, 
and their work addresses issues of identity and 
the interdependence of the human and natural 
worlds. It is frequently site specific, and often 
uses the potential of new technologies to gather 
and represent information in new ways.


Renate Ferro and Tim Murray
Co-Moderators, -empyre- a soft-skinned-space
Department of Art/ Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art
Cornell University

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