Ascott claims that as soon as an observer relates to an artwork, he can become totally involved in it—physically, intellectually, and emotionally. But even though the observer in this way becomes an active participant in the production process, it is still the artist who defines the boundaries within which the recipient can act: “In response to behavioural clues in a construction (to push, pull, slide back, open, peg, for example) the participant becomes responsible for the extension of the artwork’s meaning. He becomes a decision-maker in the symbolic world that confronts him.”
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
Another way to control actions within the context of artistic projects is to use game strategies. However, the specification of a particular goal, as is usual in rule-based games, is quite uncommon in artistic projects. More common are analogies to free, aimless play—for example, through the use or alienation of playthings or mechanical toys, as in Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp’s work, or through the ludic organization of artistic actions, for example by taking up different positions across a city as part of an action day, as the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (a group of French kinetic artists) did in Paris in 1966.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
This distinction is essential for artistically configured (inter)action processes: In contrast with a happening, the artist is not present at the moment when a recipient encounters an environment; thus, if any action is to take place, it must emanate from the recipient, who is not able to retreat into the role of a spectator. In many happenings, by contrast, recipients were able to retreat, for the artists were evidently the principal actors.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
In 1951, on the occasion of the exhibition of his entirely monochromatic White Paintings, Robert Rauschenberg declared that the paintings were not passive but “hypersensitive.” He was referring here to the fact that the shadows cast on them showed how many people were in the room, for example, and that each picture changed appearance depending on the time of day. It was irrelevant, he said, that he had created these paintings: “Today is their creator.”
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
Thus, artists’ desire to integrate elements of the unpredictable into the process of gestalt formation is one possible reason for their interest in actively involving the recipient in their works.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
Digitally programmed random processes continue to play a role in contemporary media art as generators more of variability than of unpredictability. They are used to create dynamic graphic images, but they are also used in software art, digital literature, and Internet art.70 In interactive media art, unpredictability is usually embodied in the reactions of the recipient. Myron Krueger emphasizes these analogies between random operators built into systems and the unpredictability of the actions of recipients. He argues that random processes were implemented in computer art so as to generate complexity, because it is difficult to create complex stimuli by means of programming alone. In interactive media, by contrast, the participants are the source of the unpredictability.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
Random operations had a different function again in early computer graphics, where the aim was not to represent indeterminacy but to create variability.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
Interactive art, by contrast, presents an action proposition that is generally not modified by the artist while being exhibited. Production and reception are clearly distinguishable, although the work is implicated in both processes, but the interactive work—and this is what distinguishes it from traditional visual artworks—doesn’t manifest its gestalt in the absence of reception.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
In 1998, Hans Belting noted that the boundaries between the visual arts and the performing arts had become blurred. Traditionally, according to Belting, what distinguished the visual from the performing arts was the conception of the former with a view to exhibition and observation, and of the latter with a view to performance and participation. The value of the traditional visual artwork, for Belting, was the fact that it existed “in the time of art, not in real time.” Now, however, Belting sees the boundary between the visual arts and the performing arts becoming blurred as the form taken on by the visual increasingly resembles spectacle.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
The characteristic feature of media art is that it not only consciously orchestrates the manipulation of attention, it also often—self-referentially—makes such manipulation the theme of a work.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
Jonathan Crary has described the optical devices invented in the nineteenth century as techniques for the manipulation of attention that “codified and normalized the observer within rigidly defined systems of visual consumption.” In principle, this definition can also be applied to the media technology of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with the difference that such technology concerns not only visual consumption but also auditory and tactile activity on the part of the recipient.
Kwastek, Katja. Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art. Trans. Warde, Niamh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.
Another important type of software epistemology is data fusion—using data from different sources to create new knowledge that is not explicitly contained in any of them. For example, using the web sources, it is possible to create a comprehensive description of an individual by combining pieces of information from his/her various social media profiles and making deductions from them.
Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
Turning everything into data, and using algorithms to analyze it changes what it means to know something. It creates new strategies that together make up software epistemology.
Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
One of the key ideas developed in this book is that the computer metamedium is characterized by “permanent extendibility.” New algorithms and techniques that work with common media data types and file formats can be invented at any time by anyone with the right skills.
Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
(…) during the 1960s many computer scientists learned about Sketchpad by reading Sutherland’s PhD thesis since the machine on which it run—the TX-2 computer—existed only at MIT. (This is another interesting characteristic of computer media revolution—it was theorized in detail before it occurred in practice.)
Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.