[-empyre-] "interactive"

Nathaniel Stern nathaniel.stern at gmail.com
Sun Jan 12 05:21:01 EST 2014

Hi everyone, and a thanks to Patrick for the invitation and introduction, to Renate and Tim for their ongoing work with this list.

I should start by saying that I was thrilled, both, to see Katja's book coming out at just around the same time as mine, and now to be in discussion with her (again - we did a panel together a few years ago at ISEA), and all of you. Here, I want to get straight to that ill-defined word, celebrated in the 90s, and now often mocked and mistreated (including this week on empyre): "interactive." I'm hoping we are at a point where we can move beyond the overhype or reactionary disdain, and perhaps discuss what it does, (perhaps our two recent books show some of us are indeed at this point). 

Just as in the conversation on empyre so far, I'll largely ignore the debates around what "gets to be" labelled interactive art; while they sometimes bring up interesting points regarding performance and participation, or painting and digital art for that matter (and I think Cooke and Graham do a really good job with this in "Rethinking Curating"), what I'd really like to start with is the relationship between relationality and interaction. So when I say interactive art, for ease of conversation please assume I am speaking of the sensor or camera-based digital work we mostly mean with the colloquial term. We can and will deviate, I am sure, but please allow me to start from here.

From the introduction to my book, Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance (2013, p 13):
Relationality is continuous; it is embodiment’s (or materality’s) always-ongoing formation. Interaction is much more finite; while it is certainly responsive, it restricts the possible outcomes of what we perform. Interaction is a limitation – but it is also an amplification. At its limits, interactive art disrupts our relational embodiment, and thus attunes us to its potentials. Embodiment is per-formed in relation, and interactive art stages us, and our surroundings, so as to suspend, amplify, and intervene that very performance.

And above, by "per-formed," I mean "in the process of being formed" (rather than pre-formed). The book is, more generally, an art philosophical text (p 4):
It is about how we might move–think–feel different philosophies, in (art’s) practice. It does not advance aesthetics – a philosophy about art – but rather understands art and philosophy as potential practices of one another. It is about rehearsing the possibilities of what and how we might be, through what and how we perform. Art and philosophy, in other words, have the ability to create, transform, and mobilize each other.

I should be clear that I do not privilege interactive art as in any way better than other forms (though we could use some language to discuss it), and again certainly want to get away from the overhype of it representing supposedly open and free systems - especially given how limiting most interactive artworks are in what they sense and do. Where I'd like the discussion to go is towards a kind of performative framing. For me, all of art frames and amplifies specific aspects of who and how we are - as people, and as a people; and more importantly, it proposes potentials in how we could be. 

We understand that a perspective painting, for example, is a limitation; it puts 3 dimensions (+time) on a 2d static plane, but we see, and feel, beyond the boundaries of its frame, beyond the moment it re-presents. It potentializes that moment/frame. I think interactive art, at its best, can do the same for movement, and relation. At its best, it is a situation that has us experience, and practice, styles of being and becoming, through movement (I'm borrowing and building on Massumi here). I hope we'll have the opportunity to productively discuss some examples during this thread - as I think this theory is best put into practice - but I didn't want my first post to be too long, and wanted to keep it to the point, to see where it might go.

Finally, as I know there are many dancers and dance scholars on this list, I want to give a nod to the work they have been doing for some time (I address several thinkers and makers in my book, and also do a long-form case study of Norah Zuniga Shaw's work with William Forsythe). Dancers both know, and know they know, things about movement, matter and relation that us normal humans (haha) must be inaugurated into. This is, I believe, the power of interactive art. It can be an inauguration, or introduction, to practicing continuity and emergence.

Looking forward to the discussion! Warmly,


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