[-empyre-] interactive media art (research) NOW

Kwastek, K. k.kwastek at vu.nl
Fri Jan 17 21:11:41 EST 2014

This is really fascinating work, Nathaniel - and as you asked me what I think is exciting concerning interactive art NOW, let me just name three things: 

ONE is the fact that we see certain topics gaining a kind of maturity, like the body-text topic having been dealt with amongst others by Camille Utterback (Text Rain) and Tmema (Messa di Voce) both of which you elaborately discuss in your book. Thus, in your own artistic work, you pursue the topic in a very thoughtful way, with full awareness of what has been going on in this field in the last 20-30 years. This need and challenge to position oneself in the context of what has become a fully fledged 'history of interactive media art', to my mind, is really important - it is what has driven the arts throughout centuries and helps us to delve much deeper into certain topics. One of my more recent interests is, for example, what we (my collaborator on this project, Kevin Hamilton, and I) suggest to call 'Slow Media Art'. Projects which  counter expectations of media art being the avant-garde of technological innovation, being progress- and speed-driven. Such research perspectives wouldn't be possible without being able to look at a genuine development of an art form, with its different phases and with works building  and commenting on one another. 

ANOTHER  thing is the still fascinating work being done at the boundaries between the visual and the performing arts. I greatly appreciate work being done by groups like MACHINAex, Rimini Protokoll, and Blast Theory, for example. One reason is the direct, bodily involvement of the visitors, for sure. Another is the combination of interactive media art and public art/art in the public sphere, which also fascinates me concerning locative art. There have been discussions on the relation of the real and the virtual earlier this month on this list. What I appreciate about many recent works of interactive media art is that they actually question both notions, the 'real' as well as the 'virtual' emphasizing the fact that we are all living in a 'mixed reality' by now. 

THIRDLY I see artists that reflect notions of interaction and interactivity on a highly conceptual level, while producing work that is 'bodily intelligible' - thus no conceptual media art, but really inviting a reflection that is deeply linked to bodily experience. I close my book with a description of a work by Sonia Cillari, which actually investigates not only the bodily involvement of the visitor, but also the role of the artist in interactive art. In her 'Sensitive to Pleasure', she stood outside a black cube, her body wired and the wires leading into the cube. She allowed visitors to enter the cube one after the other. In the cube, they would encounter a naked performer. Approaching and touching the latter would affect her body directly.

[p. 263] "If he [the visitor] had been observing events from outside the cube, he knew that what happened inside the cube affected the artist-although he couldn't be sure exactly how his behavior would affect the electrical impulses. Thus, the direct negotiation of the recipient's physical relationship with the performer was in tension with his uncertainty about how his actions would affect what was happening outside the cube. The artist was at the mercy of events inside the cube, even though she herself had programmed the feedback processes. She presented herself to the public as an actor, condemned to passivity, who freely risked being injured by her own work. She alone knew whether the physical feedback she would receive from the cube might be dangerous."

[p. 265] "In Sensitive to Pleasure, Cillari places herself not only at the beginning of the work's process of evolution, but also at the center of its realization. However, here she is not performing her authorial role as creator; rather, she acts as a heteronomous receiver of the system's feedback who is exposed to the effects of the interaction process. She deals with the sensations of artists who are confronted with the individual realizations of "their" interaction proposition that are beyond their control and presents these sensations as a potentially pleasurable but also a possibly painful experience. In Vilém Flusser's words, she lets the recipient "creep into" the apparatus. The recipient literally disappears into the black box of the interaction proposition, but still doesn't acquire full control over the process of interaction."

I cannot quote the whole description and interpretation I give, but it leads me to a conclusion touching upon why interactive media art is still fascinating to me: 

[p. 265] "Cillari's work illustrates that the instrumental, conceptual, and aesthetic potentials of interactive media art-and thus of mediated interactions in general-have by no means been exhausted. As a hybrid of different artistic genres, interactive media art continually presents new interrelationships between "workliness" and performativity, between mediated processes and social positionings"


Katja Kwastek / www.kwastek.de

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