"The Interactive Art Gambit" ("Do not run! We are your friends!") Technology in the 90s presentation, The Museum of Modern Art, NY Ken Feingold April 7, 1997 The title of my presentation this evening evidences two of the main threads. One, "The Interactive Art Gambit", reveals that I see this approach as a kind of strategy, a move to be made in a game, the game of art. The other "Do not run! We are your friends!" is taken from the recent Tim Burton film "Mars Attacks!". Those who have seen this film will remember this gag well - a Martian, having captured the earthlings' voice translating machine, roams through the streets speaking in Martian and the machine faithfully translates and speaks this phrase aloud, while he kills everyone in sight. It is in the collision of game-play, art strategy, technology, paradox, and the play of disguise and disclosure that I find a place to approach the larger subject presented by this symposium, "artists' applications of new interactive technologies", and will present some questions I have posed in working through some of these issues in my own artwork. Emerging from a peculiar concatenation of sculpture, experimental cinema, automata, arcade machines, shrines, and computer technology, the interactive work of art holds an equally peculiar status in a nether-world between art, what has come to be called media art, and electronic entertainment. I'll first discuss a few precedents in art which have interested me, and trace a part of the past of the "interactive" art gambit. I will look briefly at some works by Duchamp and Johns, a turn-of-the-century scientific apparatus, and some Asian shrines, before discussing some of my own work. Video games, training hypermedia, and military simulators are often invoked as the ancestors of interactive art, and are the reference points for many people's first experiences of these works. These military and commercial forms are very important in understanding the culture in which these artworks have come into existence, as they are clearly an expression of its imaginary, too; and the availability of these technologies to artists, in time, is highly significant. But they are, for me, a reference only in deciphering the larger language of the culture drift. Within a practice of making art, which is what these works intend to be, the commercial and military forms should not be mistaken as the only, or the primary, contextual landmarks. But it is not simply a matter of taking a neo-Modernist stance by saying "art is about art", or as Ad Reinhardt said, "Art is art and everything else is everything else". Our media culture has become too complex for that, economics can only see the romantic as the x-ray of his skeleton. In a rush to derive relevance from connecting to more widespread cultural forms of the imaginary, like entertainment, there is nothing to be gained by reflexively taking an equally stale and ahistorical anti-art position and declaring the means by which other artists have approached similar questions to be irrelevant. The accelerating fragmentation of everyday life, with media itself as the propellant, makes focus difficult. So, once in a while, I think it is interesting to draw a line connecting some of these dots, and regard the picture that emerges, rather than discussing the endless number of possible ways the dots might be connected, or which dots are to be connected, or if there ever were any dots... So the picture I will trace out is not a linear historical timeline, not a cause-and-effect chain, but a moving spotlight which illuminates some of my own points of reference. [slide - cover the catalog for Le Surrealisme, 1947 by Duchamp] This work by Marcel Duchamp, the cover for the catalog of the 1947 exhibition titled Le Surrealisme, organized by Duchamp and Andre Breton, has a reverse side. The back of the catalog bears the inscription, in French, "Please Touch". I thought about this work almost instantaneously when I first saw a computer touchscreen positioned over an image, wherein one is coaxed to "touch" the image, touch the object of desire. It seemed to me that this link between looking, wanting, and touching, connected quite directly to these very fundamental urges - to touch the breast, or, more autonomously, to play with feces. To touch to acquire, to investigate, to examine the results of ones production... to affirm ones own existence in the world - the earliest and most durable forms of agency. Freud writes in Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex , "At least a certain amount of touching is indispensable for a person in order to attain the normal sexual aim. It is also generally known that touching of the skin of the sexual object causes much pleasure and produces a supply of new excitement. ... The same holds true in the end with looking, which is analogous to touching." This is clear and not at all surprising- touching is analogous to looking. And it is these two senses which dominate the field of interactive art. [Mikhail Kaufman slide] The gesture of the hand as that which "opens-up" the work, so that we might perceive and thereby decipher and interpret its inner qualifications, can be connected to the fundamental technology of the moving image itself. Cinema, from the beginnings, was involved with the physical gesture - the hand-cranked camera, mutoscope, projector. .. - the gestures which mark the moment of the exposure, the interruption of the light by the shutter - the cutting of time by the clock crystal in the circuit, that shift the flow in an interactive work. And these are also present in the basic reception and choosing of radio and tv - adjusting the antenna, tuning the dial, the remote-control... This intervention of the hand is reproduced again and again, marking our ever-ambivalent relationship to time: we use it, it finishes us.... ["Tango"] This is a painting by Jasper Johns, titled "Tango", from 1955. Note that in the lower right there is a small key protruding from the painting - the key of a music box. Something to touch, to turn, to activate another dimension of the work, hidden within. Johns is quoted in Michael Crichton's 1977 book (referring to `Target with Plaster Casts' and 'Tango) : "I wanted to suggest a physical relationship to the pictures that was active. In the targets, one could stand back or one might go very close and lift the lids or shut them. In Tango, to wind the key and hear the sound, you had to stand relatively close to the painting, too close to see the outside shape of the picture". Crichton goes on to say: "In other words, Johns was already aware of trying to influence the observer - in this case, to influence the observers physical position in relation to the painted surface. And he did it by providing a temptation, a source of curiosity, a reason to move closer and then to step back. The painting provokes an interaction with the viewer : it takes two to tango." ["Target" 1960] Johns last work, to my knowledge, which overtly evokes physically interaction was this 1960 Target, in which the painting itself is to be physically completed by another, unknown to the artist. Here, the interaction is conceptual, meta-interactive. The physical interaction is essentially irrelevant, as it is simply the idea of the action which is enough to carry the meaning of the work - and it is, perhaps, in the fact that probably no has ever taken up the job we can find other meanings about the valuation of token and gesture in our culture. Here it is clearly the idea of a viewer participating in the work which is significant, and this piece was often discussed in the early 70's as a proto-Conceptual artwork. [mouth machine image] Turn of the century fantasies and experiments in ways to utilize machines and, especially, electricity, to recreate a person, or a part of a person, where widespread. This device, shown in a 1908 publication, in which a variety of vocal sounds could be produced via touching one of the valve-buttons below the mouths, is a kind of proto-interactive work, if we take interaction to mean that the work responds, in some way, in an overt physical manner to a physical gesture by a person who participates in its scheme. This, of course, was not intended as an artwork. But I think it also is a predecessor of much of today's techno-art, largely preoccupied with demonstrating a technology. This sensibility is very familiar, of course, in the contemporary science museum, which today is being transformed from this earlier form of electro-mechanical interaction to more contemporary forms of computer-driven interaction. And much of what is called "interactive art" or techno-art borrows or derives from this science museum demo-aesthetic. Push a button, something happens. Put in the money, out comes the candy bar... [2 shrine images] Going back even farther in time, looking for cultural formations which are now familiar aspects of interactive art, I was struck early on by the essentially interactive nature of shrines, and other somehow consecrated public places. What differs here from the contemporary interactive artwork which relies on, as Crichton said, temptations and sources of curiosity - here the encounter is ritualized and made into theater. It is performative, highly prescribed and passed on from generation to generation. In the ritualized encounter, there is quite often an actual physical exchange which is also a symbolic exchange. One leaves something, in a certain way, and takes something away - usually as a mark upon the body. It is generally performed by simultaneous actions of touching and looking, but here, very importantly, and in most cases completely absent in interactive art, the voice of the participant plays an important role. [wishing-well shrine] The orchestration of the body's movement through space plays an important role, too, in the framing of the interactive encounter. A path, such as this one, not only makes one highly conscious of each footstep taken, but also clearly has a destination, and unfolds in time, like cinematic works, leading to a cathartic moment [coins in the water] which itself is located in another place of exchange, where the "real" meets the magical, though "real" here, too, when speaking about money, is several levels abstracted as well. But the point is, reaching the destination, one knows what to do - The wishing-well - marked by the trace - clearly, "someone else has been here"... It is the prescribed, known actions which carry ones gesture forward - and improvisation is at a micro-level. "Real" money is exchanged for the fulfillment of a wish - so it is, in a way, a kind of time-extended vending machine. Put in the money, the wish comes true, in some other time and place. Now, I would like to show a short videotape about the first computer-controlled interactive artwork I made, a 1991 work titled "The Surprising Spiral". The narration on this tape, and the others you will see tonight, are contemporaneous with the projects they document, and I think it's interesting to listen, too, (at least for me) to how my sense of discussing this work also changes over time.
[slide of Spiral interfaces] Because it connects to known forms, such as the shrine or the vending-machine, the circuit described between the desire to "get something" from the work and the expectation of a "return" informs the basic drive in the interactive encounter. The Surprising Spiral brought this to my attention quite clearly. The structure of the work is such that the viewer-participant cannot "know" what effects their actions will produce. What I learned was that many who encountered this work were frustrated by their inability to "get what they wanted", to control the work. Interactivity is, in many ways, about affirmation of the human action by a nonhuman object, a narcissistic "it sees me". But beyond that, there is the desire for "control", for "mastery" over the non-human entity. I also learned that it is a rare viewer who feels comfortable in the role of public participant in an interactive work which has no clear "goal". People always seem to ask the same questions when the "destination" of the interaction is unclear - "How is it structured?", "Is it random?", "How can I get what I want (or see what I want to see)?", "Am I doing it right?", "What will happen if I do 'this' or 'that'?" But one of the things I was after in that work was to take away the possibility of "control" so that people have to abandon the idea of having a goal, a destination. Why? Well, for one thing, it is one of the subject matters of the work, relating to this idea of travel as the experience of the going-along itself. But also, I wanted to be quite clear that I was not offering people "choices", "menus", or any of the other fare well known at that time from commercial kiosk applications and training videodiscs. ["Which Way to Go?" slide] But it pointed something out to me very clearly - that people expected unambiguous interaction. It actually disappointed me tremendously, as I expect the audience, and audiences turned into participants, to bring to interactive works the same capacity for abstraction, metaphor, and ambiguity that are well deployed and comfortable when viewing painting, or other artworks. I had the good luck to hear Julia Kristeva speaking on the work of Antonin Artaud that was shown here several months ago. Among other things, she pointed out that the annihilation of meaning which is a central factor in the production of humor is essentially a negativity which is, itself, a rebellion. This negativity, this rebellion, was a primary ingredient of the experimental cinema as practiced by artists such as Paul Sharits, Ken Jacobs, George Landow, Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, and others. NOT entertainment, NOT storytelling, NOT psychological identification, NOT commercial, NOT meant to please the audience, NOT concerned about being understood, NOT intended for good reviews by mainstream critics, etceteras. Early video art had an essential negativity at its core, too - NOT television, NOT theater, NOT decoration, NOT entertainment. And Conceptual Art - NOT beautiful, NOT materialistic, NOT about technique... Regina Cornwell wrote, in her Discourse magazine article of Spring 1992, "Touching the Body in the Mind, "Efficiency, simplicity, logic, clarity aimed at the end user rule the making of interactive systems in the corporate, military, consumer, and pedagogical sectors. Interactivity has been heralded as the bearer of 'choice'. Such 'choice' is made possible through tailored menus listing sales options for the buyer or a selection of maps for the visitor, or a chart of "how to" for a trainee, where button-pushing is the norm, aiming toward the swiftest way to accomplish a required goal. But artists need not answer to these concerns in their work. And it is the hardware and software conceived with these requirements in mind which can create stumbling blocks and limiting factors, which artists seek to bypass." The majority consensus would show that most media, if not all media, except for some artists uses, are conceived of as within the affirmative culture: as Cornwell says: "corporate, military, consumer, and pedagogical sectors". And the mainstream audience, trained on cash-dispensing computers and information kiosks, wishes to affirm the qualities Cornwell says are valued in mass culture forms of interactive media: Efficiency, simplicity, logic, clarity. That essential negativity, this rebellion or break Kristeva discussed, is no longer at work in a world where we talk or care about "users", where we measure "hits" on our websites, where we want our so-called "interfaces" to be "friendly" or "intuitive", efficient, simple, logical, clear. When works strive to be completely understandable, they cannot produce any sort of break, and cannot create any new meanings. And the effect - that it is easy to forget that even those media forms which appear efficient, simple, logical, and clear are expressions, constructions, ideologies which reinforce known structures of economics, power, and agency. This is a territory I have explored in my work for a long time - the area where cultural fragments are redirected into collision courses in order to precipitate new meanings, and a foregrounding of the process in which we become aware that we are actively giving meaning to what we see and hear. Like subatomic particles thrown together in an accelerator, their collisions bring new, multivalent meanings to light, only partially under the control of the author. This excerpt from my 1984 work titled "The Double" shows this infra-interactive process in action. <"The Double" tape segment> This work, and others I made, used linear editing to create complex meanings across the point of the edit, multivalent possibilities riding the edit as the line of the world inside the mind of the viewer. I was keenly aware of this as a kind of interaction As I became involved later with computer-controlled image playback, allowing random-access to image and sound fragments, another dimension could be added, as if a rectangle expanded was into a cube, and the cube could move through space. But what I want to point out is that, though the technology is one of random-access as a possibility for restructuring fixed relations into other configurations, as long as the sequencing of images and sounds are not random, which they are not in these interactive video works of mine, they are still written. And though the complexity is substantially increased, the particular sequences and possibilities remain highly determined. So part of what became interesting for me in these technological possibilities was a way to extend an investigation with which I had been already involved for some time, in a significantly extended way. I will show now another videotape document, a work which I completed in 1993, titled "Childhood / Hot & Cold Wars". Again, it has narration which more or less introduces the work . But I want to emphasize the connection in this work to earlier works like The Double, in order to emphasize that it has, in essentially the same way as a linear videotape, been edited, and all of the possibilities for the sequences in it are given by the software I have written. <"Childhood/ Hot & Cold Wars" video segment> [slide of globe] The point of temptation here is obviously the globe. It is hard to resist spinning any globe, an I relied on that impulse to create a way to interact with this work. But beyond that, I had to write a computer program which would play certain images and sounds in certain ways, depending upon how people turned the globe. I was interested in a kind of nervous interaction, one which had more of a response to the type of gesture evidenced by the way a person turned the globe than the actual position of the globe itself. Careful and rather slow forms of turning allow people to dig around in the 200,000 fields of highly structured image-sequences stored on the laserdiscs. But if someone begins to spin the globe wildly, the images and sounds also reflect that, go out of their control, become nearly delirious, so that there is a relationship of the way in which someone interacts with the work to the facets of the work which are revealed. In each interactive work, one initially has to put oneself in the position of the one who will encounter this work in a public place, if that is its destination. In the same way that a designer will anticipate and design for the ways in which a person will interact with a functional object, artists creating interactive works think about the ways in which people will encounter and try to manipulate their work. This aspect, of imagining oneself as another, adds a layer to the creative process which is highly problematic. Can I imagine myself as another, or do I imagine them as myself? Is there a loss of integrity when the artist tries to imagine his or her audience, as if targeting a product for a market? Is it overly romantic and idealistic to hope that an audience can follow the artist wherever he or she cares to go with their work? Does one need to know to whom one is speaking? To paraphrase Paz, am I the same one as the one who writes when I read what I have written? I remember the hilarious moment when, in a very high-tech public toilet somewhere in Europe, I first ran into a sink which had no handles to open the flow of water. With soap all over my hands, I first looked for foot switches, then something on the walls. Finally, I noticed a telltale reddish-black plastic window just below the faucet, an infrared sensor which recognized body heat. Putting my hands under the tap caused the water to flow. So this also points out how we develop certain habits of interacting with the world, and these can be powerful conditioning factors for an audience in finding the way an artist intended for them to interact with his or her work. ["Sexual Jokes" slide] This is an installation I made in 1979, titled Sexual Jokes. It is shown during its exhibition at the Whitney Museum in that same year. This work was supposed to be only barely interactive, and it was not computer-controlled - there was a microphone near one of the chairs, with which one could throw ones voice across the room to a speaker near another chair - a kind of projection that I would revisit in another work with robot-puppets, which I'll talk about in a while. The work was chaotically organized - not only were the chairs and monitors at skewed and disorienting angles to each other, but so were the images inside the video. The true interaction in this work was supposed to be at the collision-point of the title and the complexity presented by the objects and images in the room. But what shocked me was that people moved the chairs around as they pleased. I was utterly at a loss for what to do to stop it, short of fastening them to the floor, which was impossible. The positions of the chairs, making it difficult or impossible in many cases to look at a video monitor, were very carefully structured, yet people did not give a moment's thought to moving them about. Chairs, in the context of art museum, remained chairs, as long as one was allowed to sit on them, and therefore, also could be moved to a spot where they were most useful in the ordinary way - here, offering a good view of the television. Duchamp's idea of the art coefficient says that every work of art can be evaluated, in part, as ratio between that which is intended by the artist and not expressed in the work, and that which is unintentionally expressed by the work. In other words, recognizing that each work finally escapes, to some extent, from it makers intentions, and these are the two main factors which come between the original intention of the artist and the understanding of the work by the audience. But in making interactive artworks, we have to add a corollary to Duchamp's equation, and also say that we have to look at the ratio of what unexpected things the audience does when they become participants, and which expected things they do not do at all. This, added to the uncertainty of miscommunicated expression, makes these works very difficult to approach critically, and perhaps accounts, to some extent, for the nearly total absence of analytical critical writing about specific interactive artworks. Our critical context, at the moment, remains largely fixed on formal tendencies and technological developments, and I would say that one of the obstacles preventing this work from being more widely understood is the difficulty of critically approaching these works which are not intended to offer up their meanings clearly and simply. [Varlot's invention] And I think that there is a reverse side, from the point of view of the audience, which is how the work behaves in relation to their expectations, and I think I have to say that our audiences are largely still in a period of time analogous to that in which audiences expected pictures to be clearly representational, poems to be nice stories couched in a rhyme. I expect an audience to bring to this work the same ability to handle abstraction, paradox, and complexity as they have evolved for other forms of art, and I think it is not interesting to make variants of these familiar forms in order to take a supposedly higher moral ground by making works that are "easy to understand". Using computers to control works is not simply a more advanced form of what has come before. The early experiments in interactive video were essentially movies with a choice of different endings, and one could say that these were possibly even less interesting than well edited cinematic works. Don't forget that when we talk about computers controlling anything, they do so only as a result of the hardware and software that a particular author has put together for the work. They express, in one way or another, their authors intentions, and may take a position within a spectrum of possibilities as diverse as the imagination. It is, after all, limits of the imagination which are the horizon, not the technology. From the chicken in Chinatown that plays tic-tac-toe we can see that even a chicken can learn to defeat a human opponent if an electronic circuit is coaching them, especially if it gets them fed. Certainly, we can imagine what are now impossible technologies - for example, everyone has thought about recording their dreams, or even, their complete subjective sensation - movies have been made about it, etc. - and yet, there is not even a remote glimpse of how this could be done with our current technologies. People often speak of the need for true "artificial intelligence" before works can be "truly" interactive. Perhaps this is true if what we want is to make an artwork that is like a person, to give someone interacting with the work the sense that they are interacting with another person, another intelligence. But this is too obvious, too much a simple continuation of the long-standing role of technology as a way of just reflecting ourselves. So these programs and hardware made by an artist are ways in which their ideas and aesthetics cohere and can be carried out within a computer-driven work. They should not be measured against scientific achievements or information systems, communication networks or educational methodologies. Without put it on a higher level, or valorizing it as in any way more "advanced" than these other forms, it is still important to understand that art has a role in the culture which is different from those things that seek to accomplish some concrete aim. It is speculative and, if any traces of an avant-garde remain relevant at this point in history, it is in its ability to experiment, to do things for no reason at all, propelled by an interest in what is unknown, not already understood. ["Interior" slide] This is an image of a work-in-progress, a new piece which will be shown later this year at the NTT Project InterCommunication Center in Tokyo. Complexity in my work is a key factor. What I find so extraordinarily compelling about using computers to control interactive works is that it is possible for me to write software which has the ultimate result of creating works which behave complexly. It is more than randomness or other chance-operations - and yet, ultimately, less than open-ended. But it is because of this unpredictability and that the fact that the works must have real limits that I find myself able to remain interested in my own work after it is completed, and I assume that, for a critical viewer-participant, extended or repeated encounters with the work will also result in some further varieties of experience, and that new meanings will continue to emerge from the work as a result. Not because they are endless, but the opposite - because they are finite, because they are written. Interacting with an unpredictable artwork is something far more unknown than interacting with a well-oiled functional machine. While the computer-driven work is not truly unpredictable, in fact, mathematically, it the opposite - the subjective experience of it is that it is unpredictable, complicated, mysterious. As Edmund Jabes has written, "Complexity is a game of the visible to attract the invisible", and here we can get back to the real import of Duchamp's statement, "All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act." The complexity in these works provides the path upon which a participant can find these inner qualifications, in a dialog between the work and their own subjectivity. Art is a social form of the imagination. Whether audiences can perceive value in works depends on the extent to which their own imagination can intersect with the work, the way in which their experience of the work is constructed in their own subjectivity, and the ways in which the work moves toward and relates to their prior experience. It is not enough for interactive works to simply respond - vending machines can do that. I try to think about and to write computer programs as complexly determined traces of a self - obviously, myself. They have "behaviors" and respond as a traces a personality might, oscillating between disguising their inner identity and revealing glimpses of it, an erotics of meaning created through this play of disguise and disclosure, interacting, more than anywhere else, in the mind of the viewer This is still, for me, the primary site of interaction with art. The goal is to get beyond the vending-machine menu-driven forms of interaction. The efficient, simple, logical, clear work - "if viewer does this then computer does that" - is too fixed, and as a result lacks mystery, complexity, or paradox, which I consider to be essential qualities of a good work of art. As John Baldessari has often said, "I only like art that I don't understand". [Landow slide] (This is a frame from George Landow's 1971 film "Remedial Reading Comprehension".) But I have been disappointed to learn that, to a large extent, audiences and critics expect to find the same formats in these artworks as they do in popular culture. For some reason, the "difficult" artwork is resisted by many audiences, who prefer to be guided and rewarded as they are in games of the common variety, with obvious metaphors and off-the-shelf mysticism. This earnest spirit of so-called understandability and functionality, in my opinion, the most limiting and conservative notion of art that has emerged in recent times, because it does not raise questions. Many artists, too, champion this kind of "user-friendly" work. This frightening spirit of happy-happy good citizenship, of artist-as-designer as techno-populist, of art having to have a moral code which equates responsibility NOT with breaking from the constraints of commercially driven forms, but rather, with a kind of new-age entrepreneurial "Media-R-Us" sensibility, has no chance to offer any alternative to a status quo increasingly dominated by a globalized consumer-fascination with electronic technology and products. ["Jimmy Charlie Jimmy" slide] I made this work, titled "Jimmy Charlie Jimmy", rather early on in my experimentation with interactivity - around 1992. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to making a decent videotape of it, though I think some of you may have seen it last Fall at Postmasters Gallery here in New York. Basically, it speaks all the time. But it doesn't speak in a very loud voice, and getting really close to it causes it to stop speaking, because it has sensors which detect someone standing close to it, and these trigger circuits and software I made to shift it from one state to another. As it also happens, if one speaks to it while it is silent, it will repeat what you have said to it, in your own voice. So it is pretty obviously about the vain desire to have some electro-mechanical device, whether computer driven or otherwise, become truly like a person. He is incapable of a real conversation, but what he has to say might be worth listening to... so why interact? Why force the issue? A couple of years ago, I was invited by a German art publication called artintact to make a work for their third CD-ROM publication. What really was the critical problem here for me was that a CD-ROM presumes that interaction will be via the familiar computer interfaces - mouse and keyboard, which I had avoided in my other works altogether. I came back to the Jimmy Charlie piece, but took it even farther. <"JCJ-Junkman" tape segment> I decided to make a play on the idea of the button-driven work, the familiar computer icon which acts as a guide in interacting with the software and hardware - the psychic point of focus. There is this ever-changing whirlwind of buttons and icons, obviously compelling one to try to click on one of them. What happens is that the notion of the icon or button as a sign representing a particular choice is destroyed - one simply will go after anything at all, in a rush to succeed on the terms set by the piece. And what happens when one catches one of these buttons - not an easy job - what results is that the puppet starts to speak a phrase, and repeats it endlessly. So, almost immediately, you realize that, having gotten what you wanted, you don't really want it any more, and in order to get rid of it, you have to catch another one. So you're pulled into a manic frenzy of undifferentiated button-grabbing. There are no other levels, no score, no final outcome. Actually, all of the buttons and sounds in this piece were scavenged from the Internet, and this is why the work is called "JCJ-Junkman". It is a kind of network parasite. I put together some software which, each time you hit a button, would go to websites and ftp servers, and download images and sounds, transform them to a certain size, make button-like effects on them, and put them into the game. What I imagined originally was that the CD-ROM you owned would be able to connect to the Internet, and that the person using it would eventually fill up their computer with these buttons and sounds - the more they used it, the more files accumulated - a computer tapeworm rather than a virus. But it was decided that the published version would be self-contained - and what is in artintact 3, as it was published last December, is a kind of politely fossilized version of the project. [Acconci slide] Anyway, when I made the first version of Jimmy Charlie Jimmy in 1992 I was also beginning research for another project, one which went off in another direction altogether. When I thought about "interactivity", I also had to think about earlier forms of interactive art, particularly as they involved notions from theater and performance art of "audience participation". This is an image of the work titled "Claim" by Vito Acconci, from 1971. He described it as follows (this is an excerpt from his text in Avalanche Magazine, Fall 1972): "A two-level loft - at street level, next to a stairway door, a TV monitor records my activity and functions as a warning to viewers (a viewer decides whether he wants to open the door and come down). I'm in the basement, blindfolded, seated on a chair at the foot of the stairs - I have at hand two metal pipes and a crowbar - I am talking aloud, to myself - talking myself into a possession obsession." In this kind of interactive work, which, for the artists, was clearly not theater, there is obviously another dimension. One is not interacting with the traces of the artist's gesture as left in a mechanical device or a computer program, but rather, with the artist, a person, directly, or, unwilling to interact, observing at a distance, through the video, with the clear awareness that what one sees in the video is happening at that moment, in real time, elsewhere. And because it is only one flight of stairs away, this form of telepresence had yet another dimension to it still, the possibility of moving from the virtual to the real and back, in the traversal of that flight of stairs. The interaction is open-ended, though of course defined by the frame created by the artist. Action, behavior, and language all create an atmosphere of a particular kind, and these can be understood to have coherent meaning as signs, as an authored work, not simply as "experience". But the point, for me, was that computer-driven "interactive art" had to stop short of being interactive in the way that conversation, playing music, dancing, making love, or confronting a blindfolded artist swinging a crowbar are interactive - and admit to computer-driven "interactivity" as a figure of speech... But this is not something to be disappointed about! On the contrary - it is a relief! It is just a critical step in seeing that the writing of the work, what it is about, is of greater significance than the technological or other formal innovation, or what the technology might promise in the way of other developments. If one considers Acconci's work "Claim" to be a fairly early telepresence work, it says nothing about the power of his actions, nor of the poetics of what the work is about and how it addresses it subject. But what I also wanted to explore was the idea that this real interaction, whatever that might be, was still always within a specific frame of experience, and that an artwork was, to some extent, about creating that frame. So although the work I'll show next can be described as a "telerobotic, telepresence, Internet-based interactive installation", this description says nothing at all about the specific nature of the experience created by the work, nor of its subject, and I'll return to this subject after the tape segment. <"where I can see my house from here so we are" video segment> [robots in mirror slide]. The work creates an immediate sense of dislocation, a making-ambiguous of the sense of "here" and "there", qualities which I value more in this work than the more lovable aspects of "connecting over the Internet" or "taking on new personalities". It definitely a kind of hell in cyberspace, and obviously, this work is no simple chat-room on America Online, no utopian telematic embrace. One sees, at very low resolution and with much time-lag, into a life-size hall of mirrors, where it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the puppet who is "you", its reflection, and the other puppets and their many reflections. So in this state of mind, conversations tend to expressions of "where am I?", "is that me or you?", "which way am I going?", etc. And I have to admit that, to a great extent, I was aiming a critical jab at this notion of purely open-interaction, at online sentimentality, and at the kind of conversation that I was finding online up to those days when I began working on it. It also addresses, in a rather overtly dystopic way, the new possibility at that time of sending realtime video over the Internet, which was still dominated entirely by text. And I was also thinking about radio - ham radio and CB radio, and the experiments I had made with these. After all, what would three people who don't know each other and can't see each other's faces have to say to each other? If I gave people a means to communicate, it was overwhelming mediated by the qualities of the work I had devised and the technology was both medium and subject, in a way. What I really have imagined for this work from the beginnings in 1993 is that it needs to be a permanent installation somewhere, in order for a very particular sub-subculture to develop around it . I do imagine it as a kind of public space, a kind of public hell. I had an wonderful surprise in exhibiting the work for that very crowded week in 1995 when, after thousands of people, in an unbelievable, intense heat, which was magnified even more by the mirrors - the robots, really still quite handmade and very much classifiable, by industrial norms, as prototypes, began to become what I could only call "insane". They would break down, and at first, I would fix them again, every few hours. But after a while, I began to enjoy the personalities they developed when they were "broken", not working as they were "supposed to". One would only go in circles. Another would confuse left and right, front and back. Gearboxes began to strip, making noises and making some movements impossible. Another, though it could move properly, had lost its voice, but was instead, due to a crossing of wires, able to project its voice into one of the other puppets, which then had a split personality when occupied by two of the unwitting visitors. As they devolved further and further, their pathos was hilarious, perfect, like a Becket play. It was in the breakdown of the technology that these puppets began to differentiate themselves, rebel against demands made on them, find a form of irrationality and unpredictability, and resist attempts at interacting with them - and it seems to me that in a really successful piece, whether its working or not is not very important. [Mt. Fuji slide] This is a photograph I took from the window of my apartment in Tokyo, and you can see Mt. Fuji off in the distance. What it doesn't show is that this was the only moment during the six months I lived there when I could see Mt. Fuji in the distance. It just happened that one day, after being there for a month or two, I realized for the first time what was there, and I photographed it. Every other day before and after, there was fog. It irreversibly changed my way of looking out that window. After that day, the view before me was marked by a question - can I see Fuji today? And as time went on, and each day saw no Fuji, I realized that I could ever see that view again without trying to see the mountain. This is also the problem of making interactive art. Once one begins to make it, to find it in exhibitions, each work in turn must also now answer the question - "Is it interactive, or not?", until it doesn't matter anymore.Ken Feingold | artworks | catalog | reference texts | contacts
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