[-empyre-] Patrick Lichty: Opening Salvo

Patrick Lichty pl at voyd.com
Sun Jan 5 11:21:18 EST 2014

Introduction to Interactivity:
Thank you for joining us and welcome to this month's discussion of
Interactivity Now on Empyre.  What brought me to ask our panel of artists,
scholars, and performers to discusstoday is that even if we take some basic
signposts from culture, it's obvious that our perceptions of what
constitutes interactivity and its role in the arts has changed.

Therefore, for this month, I have assembled about fourteen or so excellent
people who deal with the notion of interactivity in their practice.  I have
divided (only roughly, as some participants will bleed into other weeks) our
month into aspects of mediated performance interaction, affect and
interaction in space, computational conversation via the trope of glitch,
and embodied interaction through wearables and social practice.  I'm also
thrilled that two of our discussants have new books out (Kwastek, Stern) and
one will be out soon (Ryan). 


Lots of new fodder.

LICHTY: Opening statement
I have been involved in forms of interactive art at least since 1992, when I
used interactive Corel slideshows to create experiences on screens, then
generative sound architectures (The Grid) in the mid-1990's using sensor
carpets that Perry Hoberman gave me direction on, which fed information into
the Sseyo Koan generative software system. Between 1999 (the end of The
Grid)  and 2006 (my beginning as a founder of Second Front), much of my
interactive work was in the form of e-literature, such as the documentary,
SPRAWL, and two essays, one for the Walker Art Center (Grasping @ Bits), and
the other for the Leonardo Electronic Almanac (Metaphor and Terrain).  


While I still do e-documentary and non-linear poetry, I went heavily into
the realm of VR, which was also a major interest after meetingJaron Lanier
in 1994, as a performer in the largest and oldest virtual performance art
group, Second Front.  When Jeremy Owen Turner, Doug Jarvis and I roomed at
the first ReFresh media Art Histories conference at Banff, we though that
Jeremy and my virtual punk band in the virtual world OnLive Traveler, The
Hellfire Missile Club, was going nowhere, and despite my opposition to SL's
capitalist infrastructure, they did have 27000+ users as of 2006 - very
compelling for a captive audience.

Also, friends Eva and Franco Mattes had already started their "Synthetic
Performances" and "12 Most Beautiful Avatars" works by then, and those of us
in Second Front wondered whether riffing on Abramovic's remediation of
classic works in the Guggenheim in 2005 was enough.


For me, it wasn't.  In virtual worlds, I thought there were many things
worth exploring.  What were the 'distinctive qualities of the medium' (after
Antin), how did Social Practices work in a wholly scopophilic environment,
and most importantly, what happened to performance art when you remove the
body?  From my notes, the body was the point of performance art, and now, as
Marina put it, we had "Turned it into cartoons".  Good point.

What I found was that was left was affect.  At this point, I am not going to
echo Nathaniel Stern's read on affect that comes from Massumi's assertion
that affect is a precursor to feeling and emotion, while I do agree with it.
Currently, there is a great conversationhappening about being that seeks to
reach across the neurology/consciousness threshold (objective/subjective),
much like Goethe tried to create a subjective process for scientific
inquiry.  While I think what the cognitive chain of affect->sense->feel is
much better served by Nathaniel Stern, I would like to approach the subject
from the opposite side of the coin.


I have been interested in the work of researchers, such as Ramachandran,
Heyes, and many others regarding the possibility of neurological mirroring
in the prefrontal cortex.  While this is highly contested ground as to
whether humans possess "Gandhi Neurons" (Ramachandran) that allow ourselves
to learn and experience empathy, I have accepted it as a primary conceit for
our work in Second Front.


What evidence do I have for real affective interaction in virtual spaces?
Most of them come from the emotional responses to avatars I have experienced
in SL - like coming into a space as zombies and asking  everyone to play
along (28 Avatars Later) to swinging giant walls around in a gallery opening
and having people leave due to emotional distress.  Another example would be
from festivals where Second Front would perform alongside Stelarc, and I
would set him on fire, every time. 


While he saw it as good fun, others clearly did not.  But, if there were not
real affect shared in the virtual social space, no one would have cared, and
more importantly, incidents like the unfortunate suicide of Megan Meier at
the hands of a construct boyfriend would never have happened.  


We have affect and cathexis in our digital interactions, and this is what I
have been exploring with Second Front, Liz Solo, and with Virtual Fluxus
with Bibbe Hansen.

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