Seeking Deeper Contact

Interactive Art as Metacommentary


Erkki Huhtamo1




The term 'interactivity' has been applied to such a diverse range of technological forms that its meaning has become unclear. Furthermore, a number of contradictions underlie the concept and raise innumerable questions. This article argues that one way of approaching this problematic area is through the analysis of interactive art, since much recent work can be read as a 'metacommentary' on the state of interactivity. Through a detailed discussion of a small selection of work and their modes of address, the paper endeavours to demonstrate how interactive art can de-mythicise and de-automate prevailing discourses and applications of interactivity and thereby undertake a cultural critique of the nature of interactivity.




'Interactivity' has become one of the keywords of the techno-saturated culture of the 1990s. We have seen a proliferation of all kinds of things interactive from computer games and interactive television to interactive banking, shopping and networking. Interactivity is featured daily in a growing number of pubic discourses, from entertainment and education to marketing and even art. This proliferation and simultaneous diversification has obscured rather than clarified the concept and the range of meanings assigned to it. For example, it is not easy to fit the various 'off-line' and 'on line' applications (epitomised by the differences between CD-ROM-based multimedia and the Internet) under the same 'interactivity umbrella'. As early as 1990, one critic called interactivity the 'already soggy buzzword of the 90s' (2) If it ever had any conceptual integrity, it is quickly disappearing The word, and its most fashionable derivative, interactive media, are rapidly becoming mere floating signifiers. (3)


Yet, one might argue that the spreading of computer-mediated interactivity in the realm of our everyday lives does make a difference: it changes our relationship to the audio-visual experience by accustoming us to a new subject position. (4) A case in point is video and computer games, which have been instrumental in the process. They are ubiquitous and have a strong holding power, persuading the player into repeated, cyclical intercourse. They 'automate' the interaction leading the player to 'think with his/her fingers'. Yet, instead of just being a bystander, the player is also given a sense of being an agent. The games challenge him/her, promising mastery as a reward for surmounting increasingly complex obstacles. The player enters 'microworlds', not just to observe, but to reorganise and to - at least virtually - change them as well. (5) The subject position constituted by computer-based games seems more dynamic and 'responsive' than those constituted by mainstream cinema and broadcast television. (6)


Thus, it has been asserted that interactive systems position us in a 'conversational' situation: '[t]he model of interaction is a conversation versus a lecture'. (7) But with whom or with what this conversation takes place (e.g. the machine, the software, the maker 'behind' the software, oneself, other people or 'avatars', non-human but human-like entities etc.) is a much more complex question. And the nature of the 'conversation' obviously depends on the application in question. On-line interaction, for example, is not merely a new channel of 'human-to-human' interaction via the Internet (as opposed to the 'isolation' of playing with Nintendo's Virtual Boy, for example) - as has been suggested by its champions - but a highly complex system of interfaces, information filters and virtual partnerships with human and non human partners. The nature of interactive networking specifically and its conversational modes, however, lay beyond the scope of this article and would require a separate study.


Brenda Laurel and other interface researchers have also proceeded from the notion of human-computer 'conversation' to that of the common ground. (8) The metaphor of conversation implies an exchange between more or less distinct entities separated/mediated by an interface (concrete/mental), whereas the idea of common ground is more symbiotic: it implies sharing 'mutual knowledge, mutual beliefs, and mutual assumptions'. (9) If both human and computer can gradually learn to inhabit this shared terrain, so the argument goes, the result will be the growing 'transparency' of the interface (to the point of its 'disappearance') and the eventual dissolution of their respective identities. The basic assumption is that there is a growing 'naturalness', immediacy and intimacy to the human-machine relationship. (10)


However, these notions are problematic, particularly if viewed from a wider social and cultural perspective. Yet this problematic is by no means new; issues relating to the human machine encounter have been raised since the advent of the industrial revolution. (11) The relationship has most often been presented in terms of clear polar opposites, with the machine positioned, for instance, as the humble servant to its human 'master' or as rebellious monster. (12) In the age of interactivity, this oppositional logic seems to be in the process of being superseded by one of integration and merger: cyborg logic. The traditional distinctions seem to be collapsing, but, of course, the figure of the cyborg has its own cultural contradictions.


Some of the problematics and contradictions underlying 'interactivity' become evident if we look at interactivity in relation to such concepts as automation, anthropomorphism and immersion. Automation as a cultural idea has been deeply intertwined with the idea of modernisation. (13) Automated machines were said to eliminate physical work, but they also eliminated (continuous, tactile) contact with the machine which functioned independently (yet safely under control). In a sense the television set was a 'paradigmatic' piece of automated technology, just like the automatic washing machine: the active intervention of the human subject was restricted to certain controlling and programming functions. (14) If interactivity really has become a paradigmatic model for our relationship to technology, it needs to be related to the wider social and ideological questions raised by the aftermath of modernity. Why embrace interactivity in place of the (seemingly) greater ease offered by automatic devices? Why desire a constant intercourse with machines instead of a simple sense of mastery? That said, is there a clear-cut distinction?


Interactive systems are also often presented in anthropomorphic terms, with the interface disguised as a 'face', a partner with human-like attributes. But is technology really getting more human-like or are we becoming more machine-like: cyborgs? What are the psychological and cultural effects of anthropomorphised technology? Shouldn't computerised gadgets be presented as what they 'really' are -non-human entities - instead of dressing them up as our peers? Yet, what if the anthropomorphism extends, after all, 'beneath the surface', to the 'soul' of the machine? And finally, the concept of immersion is often evoked in connection with interactive technology. It refers to the 'bond' created between the user and the machine, defining the moment of (virtual) 'penetration' into the system. Although immersion seems to imply an active 'rush' (resonating with masculine sexual connotations into something, its equation with interactivity would be misleading. 'Being immersed' into something can be a passive experience, too, aided by the temporary suspension of one's own will.


Towards a new assessment of interactivity


And there are other questions to ask. Do interactive systems have a liberating or rather a constraining effect on us (e.g. in 'interactive marketing')? How much of their 'interactive potential' is hype-simulated rather than 'real'? Should interactive systems contain a didactic subtext explicitly guiding the user or should they be 'intuitive', relying on trial and error? What possibilities do interactive systems offer for counter-readings and counter uses? Does it matter that many of them are 'toy-versions' of those developed by the military-industrial complex for surveillance and destruction? For, as Margaret Morse has shown, there isn't necessarily any phenomenological difference between the experience of playing a video game and waging a 'remote-controlled' war: '[t]he virtual presentation does not necessarily signal the appropriate degree of belief to lend what we see, hear and experience A simulation can become remote action and be virtually identical as to the look and response of symbols on display.' (l5)


One way of approaching these questions is by analysing interactive artworks, since it can provide at least some partial answers. Since the late 1980s there has been a significant surge in interactive art practices - although their 'roots' and 'preforms' can of course be traced back to earlier periods, from Dadaism and Constructivism to the 'participatory' and 'responsive' art forms of the 1960s. (16) This surge is obviously related to the emergence of interactive technology from the R&D environment and its establishment as a commonplace authoring tool, a media-cultural consumer item and a bulging discursive figure. (17) Yet just like the field of interactivity in general the field of interactive art is not homogeneous, but split between different production and exhibition contexts - schematically identified as 'the art world' and 'the computer world' - which impose their own definitions. (18) Some interactive installations are independent productions or supported by public-cultural funds, whereas other pieces claiming the label of 'art' have originated within or on the fringes of the military-industrial complex. And in the case of interactive artworks produced within or on the fringes of the corporate world, it could be claimed that their main intention is to promote products and to camouflage the less philanthropic aspects of corporate profiles. (19) In this sense interactive art is part of the obscurity and lack of definition surrounding the concept of interactivity. However, a significant proportion of interactive art is also actively trying to make sense of itself, as well as of the more general context.


Whereas the technological art of the 1960s and 1970s often had a scientific and formalistic orientation (aimed at unleashing the unused and undiscovered potential 'hidden' in new technologies), much recent work highlights the ideological, cultural and social issues enveloping technology and largely giving it its identity. Such works can be read as a continuing 'metacommentary' on the state of interactivity, and a discussion of some of this kind of work forms the main focus of this article. The term 'metacommentary' is used to refer to an art practice which continuously de-mythicises and de-automates prevailing discourses and applications of interactivity' from the inside' utilising the very same technologies for different ends. It probes (and sometimes anticipates) technological breakthroughs and, most importantly, raises ethico-philosophical issues. By displacing prevailing applications from their culturally legitimised sites, such an art practice undertakes a cultural critique of the nature of interactivity. At the same time, it is also concerned with its own historical roots and preforms which are traced back beyond the digital era. (20)


It would be misleading, however, to claim that such work represents the entire spectrum of interactive art. There is, for example, much significant artistic activity in the field of artificial life - such as the work of Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, Karl Sims, Michael Tolson, to name but a few - which is more closely related to the scientific and formalistic lineage mentioned above. Yet even here, it is important to make a distinction between a creative software engineer and an artist, difficult though it may be. Art is not just about building gadgets or writing innovative code; it is about cultural consciousness, ethics and the politics of representation. Due to space limitations, however, I have chosen to exclude this body of work, as we as the artistic activity currently taking place on the Internet. This is not to suggest that such work is not relevant to my argument, but rather that I have specifically focused my investigation on some of the ways other kinds of interactive art practices are contributing to a new assessment of interactivity. Although this limits the range of work under consideration, the aim is to demonstrate an argument, rather than present a comprehensive survey.


The exchange of addresses


One way of approaching the analysis of interactive art is to consider its modes of address, i.e. the ways in which an interactive artwork establishes and maintains a relationship with the user. Audio-visual theory identifies two main modes of address: 'indirect address' (the third person mode dominant in classical narrative cinema) and 'direct address' (the first person mode dominant in broadcast television). In an audio-visual text dominated by indirect address the events 'happen' and the screen-personalities appear to live in a self-sufficient world; they don't openly acknowledge the presence of the viewer. In a text dominated by direct address the viewer is explicitly constituted as the recipient of the programme output. Most audio-visual texts, however, are not 'pure'. Rather, they are complex combinations of different modes of address with their various sub-categories. (21)


In classical cinema the spectator is 'sutured' into the cinematic spectacle by constantly changing points-of-view and other psycho-physiological bonds. The impersonal third person mode dominates, with the characters living in a world 'behind a window' (or a keyhole) and the spectator watching it from the outside. There are moments, however, when the characters seem to talk 'directly to you', but even these are motivated within the fictional world. The spectator may be carried into the fiction through psychological identification with the characters' points of view, but ultimately s/he is always returned to her/his original position as a voyeur, a libidinous outsider.


In broadcast television, however, the spectator is constituted as an acknowledged subject of the programme flow. A crucial role is played by the presenter, news reader or anchor-person, who addresses the implied spectator directly. All other material on TV (including re-runs of classical films) is subordinated to this recurring address. These presenters can thus be seen as assuring representatives of the televisual world, while the spectator is constituted as a 'partner', a representant of the domestic world. These worlds are connected by various cues, such as the screen personality's gaze and gestures (MTV's Ray Cokes seems to be on the brink of pushing himself through the screen into the spectator's living room, postcards and photos in his hand, engaged in an ongoing telephone conversation) and the studio set (e.g. by evoking the home interior on breakfast television and soap operas).


Thus, both cinema and television purport to constitute, in their own ways, the viewer as a protagonist. The psychological identification used by the former is intensified by the first-person mode and the ideology of real-time broadcast prevailing in the latter. In both cases, however, the protagonism is illusory or simulated. According to Malcolm Le Grice, '[t]o be a protagonist there must be a perceivable relationship between action and effect. In other words, an action on the part of the viewer must be able to change the course of events which follow from that action' (22) Even in phone-in transmissions the protagonism of the remote participant is very limited. The participant is treated just as a casual representative of the anonymous mass audience, and the terms of 'changing the course of the events' are strictly predefined.


Interactive systems, however, appear to fulfil the condition defined by Le Grice. They require the user's active and physical (not just mental) participation: not only does the interactive work address the user, but the user also addresses the work. David Tafler has called this situation 'a second person (I-you) exchange'. (23) The television spectator addresses the television mainly by turning the TV set on or off, or by channel-surfing with the remote control. But in an interactive situation an 'exchange of address' (implying a change in the direction of address, too) takes place between the human and the computer. Similarly, a 'working technical definition' of interactivity used at MlT's Media Lab describes it as the '[m]utual and simultaneous activity on the part of both participants, usually working toward some goal, but not necessarily (my emphasis). (24) Furthermore, while one of the main functions of the direct address on television is to persuade the spectator to watch a certain programme without changing the channel, the direct address built into an interactive system requires one to make choices to continually reconsider the situation. The user cannot let his/herself be passively carried away by the programme flow; s/he is kept in a state of constant alertness.


Yet, even the recurrent direct address of an interactive system may (even when it is apparently meant simply to guide the user through the database) serve a 'binding function'. This has been observed in the excessive playing of video games. The player gets 'glued to' a game, trying repeatedly to master more of its levels. The exchange between the player and the game becomes, in a way, 'automated'. A reflex-like psycho-physiological challenge/response mechanism replaces reflection and intellectual decision-making. Another example might be the 'shopping malls' on interactive television and commercial network services. (25) Here direct address is used as a strategy for persuasion in a manner reminiscent of traditional television commercials - interactivity is merely superimposed. The interactivity allows the viewer to initially scan a supply of products, make comparisons and engage in occasional game-like actions (e-g. trying lipstick on a virtual model). Such interaction seems to support (some kind of) reflection, yet this happens strictly within pre-set, and economically hard-wired, margins. However, the interactivity functions primarily as a feed-back channel that merely facilitates selling faster than mail order phone numbers on a TV screen or shop addresses in a newspaper advert: to make a purchase the viewer has only to click on a virtual button and type in their credit card number.


The fact that such systems are frequently so eagerly grouped under the same umbrella as CD-ROM titles like Myst (Cyan Inc/Broderbund, 1993), or even interactive artworks, should make one wary. It suggests most people are content to define interactive media as a certain kind of technology, without considering the uses to which it is put. This makes it possible to refer to 'interactive shopping malls', although it's probably more accurate to speak of 'enhanced traditional marketing'. The problem lies in the failure to grasp the fact that media products cannot be defined as interactive merely because they use or have access to certain kinds of hardware and software. The crucial question is one of contextualisation, both at the level of institutionalised practices/applications and of discursive formations. Artists are highly conscious of this, which gives their endeavour in the field of interactive work extraordinary weight . (26)


Conversations with the screen


The mode of direct address in interactive works can take different forms, but the most explicit is the use of a fictional 'screen personality' as a mediator between the virtual world 'inside' the computer and the user. And anthropomorphic guide figures or 'interface agents' have received much attention (although no univocal approval) in the field of computer interface design. A well-known 'classic' experiment was App e Computer's Guides project in the 1980s, (27) and more recently, a team lead by Pattie Maes at the MIT Media Lab has also conducted research into 'intelligent agents'. (28) Although such research projects clearly build on the anthropomorphic themes that had already been taken up in cybernetics and Al research, they also - in a way - give concrete expression to the tendency observed (by Sherry Turkle and others) among many computer users to anthropomorphise their computers.


Since the association of the computer with media culture is still a recent one, it is unsurprising that different interface personalities may still be associated with the 'agents' encountered in more traditional media, such as television. This association has been enhanced in some computer-based applications by utilising full-screen talking heads stored on a computer-controlled videodisc. Such applications purport to fulfil television's recurrent (but repeatedly frustrated) promise of making the viewer a true protagonist. This goal is evident, for example, in photorealistic arcade video games, such as Atari's Mad Dog McCree, an 'interactive Western' released in the early 1990s. The player, holding a 'revolver', is engaged in a series of shoot-outs which are linked together by a loose narrative. The screen personalities address the player directly, challenging, seducing and even scolding him/her, thus enhancing his/her sense of protagonism. The verisimilitude of the game is increased by using actual filmed scenes instead of computer graphics. With the advances in digital video, more and more CD games are striving for similar effects, e g. the CD-i title Burn: Cycle (TripMedia, 1994) and the CD-ROM Johnny Mnemonic (Sony Imagesoft, 1995).


A comparable technical solution was used in Lynn Hershman and Sara Roberts' interactive artwork Deep Contact (1989-90), but with a very different result. As in Hershman's earlier videodisc Lorna ( 1983), the installation aspect of the work evokes the domestic living-room atmosphere since the computer screen 'doubles' for the TV screen. We communicate with a screen personality named Marion, dressed - or rather undressed as a hostess and reminiscent of the 'Call Girl' spots on American commercial TV. Marion appears at certain points in the HyperCard-based program, addressing and seducing the user, and by touching (via a touchscreen) parts of Marion's body the user can select paths to enter environments representing different sexual fantasies. The female body (or rather its graphic representation) thus serves as a menu that both 'contains' and mediates the erotic experiences it promises.


The central role of tactility in this piece is clear from the opening screen, where we see Marion knocking on the screen from the inside, begging somebody to 'touch her'. There is no other way to start the program. The insistence on the connection between direct address and screen-mediated tactility recalls Douglas Davis' television performances from the 1970s. Davis requested the home audience to touch him via the TV screen. But whereas his gesture was a purely conceptual and metaphorical one, in Deep Contact the user has a way to respond, to enter into a 'conversation'. In their own ways, however, both cases underline the distance built into the colloquial direct address of a normal evening's television viewing While television images may challenge, they never respond; they constantly seduce, but they refuse fulfilment.


Of course, one has to ask with whom the user of Deep Contact converses, and, more importantly, who is the (implied) user. Obviously an application like Deep Contact provides the user with multiple 'partners': the screen, the software, the figure of Marion, the implied artist and - oneself. The work clearly purports to expose taboos that are embedded in our relationship with representations of sexuality and gender, (29) and tactility itself has been a taboo in Western visual communication (according to the prevailing classical canon, artworks should be admired from a distance, 'with eyes only'). In his analysis of visual taboos Amos Vogel states: 'The designation of taboo foods, objects, idols, acts, and persons establishes a system of rigidly enforced rules of order and social control: for the taboo object is thought to be "contagious", its pollution inevitably transmitted to the violator. The fear of contagion is also a fear of temptation.' (30) By touching Marion's (simulated) body the user is led to encounter taboos face-to-face, and to investigate socially sanctioned mechanisms of voyeurism.


Yet, like the spectator positions constructed by more traditional audio-visual media, the user position constituted by Deep Contact is also gendered. The user is led to ask, whose fantasies is s/he experiencing, on whose chair is s/he sitting? Judging superficially from the imagery it would be easy to claim that the fantasies exposed are masculine and respond to male desires. This has obviously led some feminist critics to dismiss the work as ideologically confused, ultimately little more than a re-enactment of the desires it exposes, in spite of its attempts at creating a critical discourse on sexuality. Although made by feminist-oriented artists, the work would be seen as offering nothing for women. An alternative, however, is to see Deep Contact as a kind of laboratory or probing ground for sexual politics, allowing users to adopt different gender positions and act out roles (and can thus be viewed as a precursor to the collective on-line MOOs).


In her later interactive installations Hershman has continued exploring the mechanisms of seduction and scopic power by placing the problematic in more specific historical settings (which is in line with the recent 'archeological approach' in media art). (31) A Room of One's Own (1992) takes the late 19th century peepshow machine - a voyeristic device for masculine desire par excellence- as its reference point, while America's Finest (1995) refers to the ambivalent perceptual and phenomenological relationship between firearms and moving image technology by evoking the early cross over of these technologies, Etienne Jules Marey's 'kronophotographic gun' (1882). In both cases, basically unidirectional devices for the scopic and physical exercise of power are subverted by various strategies: by addressing the user directly (via a female gaze and voice), by incorporating the user's own 'mirror image' into the scopic field, and by making the user's visual and tactile actions trigger these reactions.


Menus and maps: present or absent


Of course, direct address from the interactive work does not have to be personified in anthropomorphic creatures. It can assume the form of a short instruction ('touch the screen', 'click on "left" or "right" to proceed', etc.) or that of a menu or a map. The menu is used, for example, in audio-visual 'poetry machines' to provide the user with instructions and tools to allow him/her to make 'compositions' based on the elements in the database. Good examples of this are Bill Seaman's installations The Exquisite Mechanism of Shivers (1992) and Passage Sets/One Pulls Pivots at the Tip of the Tongue (1994-95), which offer the user multiple ways of organising the audio-visual fragments of poetry stored in the computer's memory and on videodiscs.


In other works a map may be visible on the screen, perhaps to be used intermittently when needed; or it can be included as a separate, free-standing 'board', as in Jeffrey Shaw's The Legible City (1989-90) and Michael Naimark's VBK - A Moviemap of Karlsuahe (1990-91). In these 'virtual voyaging' or' surrogate travelling' pieces the map simulates the role of an ordinary city map, helping users orient themselves in a virtual city. Simultaneously it points out the limits of the virtual world, defining the possible field of interaction. Works like these combine two different perceptual approaches, overview and immersion. (32) The former gives the user a 'bird's eye view', the latter a 'labyrinth perspective', which presents a restricted visual field, hiding most of the potential scenes 'behind the corner'.


The opposite of such clearly mapped works are pieces that refuse to guide the user at all. Such works either dispense with direct address or suppress its anchoring function. Ken Feingold's The Surprising Spiral (1991) doesn't even announce itself as interactive; the spectator is supposed to find out by accident or by inferring it from the overall design of the installation. In addition, Feingold's installation also leaves the user with a permanent doubt about the nature of the interaction The user operating the book-shaped touchscreen will never be certain of the real outcome of his/her actions since Feingold has resorted to random operations in programming the piece. The images and sounds may appear in real-time, in direct response to the user's touches; however, there may also be a time lag; or the choices may even have been triggered by the previous user. In Le Grice's terms (quoted above), the user of The Surprising Spiral is deliberately prevented from being a protagonist in the proper sense of the word.


Much the same applies to a more recent work, where I can see my house from here so we are (1995). This time Feingold has created a networked, telerobotic installation. Three remote users control little robots moving on a common playground, surrounded by mirrors. The users can see and hear and talk to each other through the robots' sensing organs. Once again, Feingold has done his best to obstruct the relations between seemingly clear-cut elements. Instead of using a closed-circuit video connection, which would give a clear video image, Feingold has resorted to the still imperfect Internet M-Bone. The slow image update rate makes perception through the robots eyes very difficult. The robots look almost the same; and because of the surrounding mirrors it is hard to decide whether one is staring at another robot or at the reflection of one's own robot. The robots are also connected to wires rather than remote controlled, which makes them move even more awkwardly, frequently getting stuck. (33)


Feingold's pieces are labyrinths which neither show the way through the maze nor promise to reveal it little by little. The user remains face to-face with impenetrable objects. Some people must be frustrated by the impossibility of mastering the 'rules of the game', even after many attempts; they feel deceived, or attribute their problem to a technical failure or imperfect programming. In doing so they evaluate the work, consciously or unconsciously, with pre-set ideas about interactivity. One of them is the notion that there has to be a possibility of learning or mastering the system. Actually, there is a didactic subtext in most interactive artworks, whether it is emphasised or not: the works contain instructions, either explicitly or by letting the user learn as s/he proceeds. And such interactive artworks share this feature with the functional, goal-oriented applications of interactivity.


Automated teller machines (ATMs) and video games differ from each other in many respects, yet both of them are programmed to control the forms of the interaction and to channel it towards a clearly stated goal. The user of an ATM wants money or to pay a bill; the player of a video game wants to solve riddles or to jump from one level to the next to eventual y reach the goal. But an artwork is nevertheless entitled to retain, even augment, its ambiguity, and Feingold would probably emphasise that his pieces are artworks, not video games. A painter or a poet doesn't provide the keys to his/her work; why should an interactive artist be expected to do so? In this respect Feingold's creations could be read as a meta-interactive works. They question certain donnees of interactivity, including the nature of protagonism in the human-machine relationship. In much the same way, Feingold's videotape Un chien delicieux (1991) questioned the ideology of documentary truth. Feingold simply added a fictional voice-over 'translation' to authentic documentary footage, without marking the result as fictional. The end product probably deceives most viewers at first viewing, and this causes a problem: how will the work be able to achieve its goal (rather than simply cause anger or frustration)? (34) Rather than look for answers, Feingold seems to put the very principles of audio-visual literacy on trial.


Cinema and interactivity


The use of direct address in interactive systems is central because of the constant need to involve the subject Thus, when indirect address is used it must almost inevitably be subordinated to some form of direct address. This is certainly the case with 'interactive movies', such as the one by the Czechoslovakian filmmaker Raduz Cincera being shown in the Cineautomate theatre at the Futuroscope theme park near Poitiers, France. The audience can decide - at certain moments - the way in which the story is to proceed by a majority vote, using push-buttons connected to an electronic voting system. Unfortunately, the voting takes place only at certain crucial points, which are over-determined by multiple forms of direct address: stopping the film, projecting graphic signs on the screen, turning on the lights and even having a live hostess appear on the stage to direct the voting! Yet the film itself, entitled Le vieil arbre et les enfants, proceeds from a traditional narrative position which does not acknowledge the presence of the audience.


Although more recent systems, such as movieGames developed by the New York-based company Interfilm, have achieved more developed interfaces, a wider variety of alternative storylines and branching points, and a more seamless experience; the 'audience participation' still depends on majority decisions. (35) It is difficult to introduce intelligent multi-person interactivity into a situation in which a traditional audience sits in an auditorium. There is still some truth in Naimark's observation: 'The Movie World Understand Realness But Not Interactivity [...] The Computer World Understands Interactivity But Not Realness.' (36) The problem with multi-person interactive cinema is related to the very fact of combining it with a 19th century idea of public spectacle and the audience. It would probably be wiser to let such immersive cinema spectacles as Imax and Omnimax remain as they are, in the non-interactive mode, and look for the foundations of new multi-person interactive experiences in networked systems and the 'alone together' modes they offer. This field has been pioneered by applications ranging from early MUDs and Lucasfilm's Habitat (1985-) to the commercially highly successful BattleTech Centres. (37)


An attempt to mediate between the movie world and the computer world (in Naimark's sense) are the interactive cinema pieces by Grahame Weinbren. The Erl King (with Roberta Friedman, 1986) and Sonata (1992) resemble other interactive computer installations, in that they allow only one person to interact at a time via a touchscreen, while others form an audience who observes the interaction from monitors incorporated into the installation. The audiovisual material in these pieces (mostly camera images stored on videodiscs) is heterogeneous in form, ranging from performance and 'emblematic' shots to didactic and narrative sequences In Sonata there is even a complete narrative movie, shot by Weinbren and based on Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata, 'hidden' in the database.


While interacting with these pieces the user is drawn into a rapid-fire exchange with constantly changing modes of address. None is given absolute authority over the others, even though there seems to be some hierarchical structuring. In Sonata, the image of wolves sitting on the branches of a tree and staring at the user (from Freud's case history of the Wolf Man) unexpectedly appears and seems to give some kind of interpretative frame, and Weinbren himself has referred to the Freudian dream narrative as a subtext for his compositions. The viewer is meant to be carried into a 'subjunctive' state, 'keenly aware that there are, "behind" or within each image, other images and image sets that may not show on screen in the current performance of the piece.' (38)


Even though The Erl King includes graphic cues to direct the user, s/he is mostly carried by his/her choices in a relatively unanticipated way. The images in both the direct and indirect modes function here in an undifferentiated manner as 'symptoms'. Both may attract touches according to the user's wishes and lead them to penetrate additional layers or images and sounds. In Sonata there seems to be fewer cues on the screen (and the interaction is smoother, thanks to the digitalisation of the signal from the videodisc) than in The Erl King. But the 'cognitive map' behind the images and sounds seems easier to master than in The Erl King. (39)


There are long segments in Sonata during which the hand of the user functions as a kind of real-time film editor. While the Kreutzer Sonata sequence is running, the user can reveal different views (e.g. camera-angles, framings) of the same scene by touching the upper side of the screen. Split-screen effects are activated by sliding one's hand laterally across the screen, revealing another story or scene that looks as if it were taking place simultaneously. Here the user's hand intrudes in a self sufficient world (via an indirect mode of address) 'from the outside'. This situation seems to have a parallel in that large group of video games which are observed from an objective 'camera position' and are manipulated (using a joystick) by the player's 'invisible hand'. There is a difference, however. in a video game the player is represented by an agent who is controlled by the user, whereas in Sonata the user is more genuinely outside. S/he affects the discursive frame (the 'montage' on one layer or between layers) more than the outcome of the 'story' within it. Mythological associations with 'God's hand' come easily to mind.


Puppeteers as puppets


In terms of the modes of address, artificial reality systems provide a peculiar kind of human computer interface. The user is confronted with his/her own presence in a computer-generated environment. Technically these systems are a hybrid between closed-circuit video systems and computer technology. (40) The role of video as an input/output loop recalls the closed circuit video installation, which was a favourite form among video artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pieces like Live/Taped Video Corridor (1968-70) by Bruce Nauman and Interface (1972) by Peter Campus allowed the spectator to see his/her own image in real time on different configurations of monitors. This created a mirror-like situation, which (among other things) investigated the viewing subject's identity in relation to real and virtual spaces.


In artificial reality installations the image of the user's body, scanned in 'through' a video camera, is superimposed on the artificial reality created in the computer), allowing the user to interact with the real-time body movements of the 'puppet on the screen'. This is true of Myron Krueger's Videoplace system, which has had numerous incarnations (since 1974), and it also applies to the Canadian Vivid Group's Mandala (1986-). But in an artificial reality environment the presence of the human agent does not have to be visible - it can also be audible Body movements can create a soundscape by triggering a variety of virtual sound effectors, as in David Rokeby's Very Nervous System (1986-).


One peculiarity of these systems lies in their theoretically complex interplay between simultaneously retaining and annihilating distance. Keeping physical distance - remaining in the video camera's field of vision - is a requirement for immersion in the virtual environment. This situation could be referred to as 'tele tactility'. The result is a kind of a bilocation, an experience whereby the body seems to be in two places simultaneously. On a discursive cultural historical level this seems to recall the literary tradition of the Doppelganger or the field of paranormal phenomena (experiences in which the subject sees her/his body as if from the outside, as in levitation). These parallels cannot, however, be carried very far. A basic difference lies in the fact that in such 'fantasies' there is no 'remote control'-relationship between the real and the virtual body; and the virtual body is often seen as a threatening independent agent or as a passive, hologram-like image. The split is definitive. But in artificial reality systems there is an immediate, existential relationship between the two bodies. The virtual body is not our rebellious shadow - although Videoplace may sometimes play with this idea. It is an extension of the physical body of the user. It is also our representative in the artificial world, but a peculiar one. Instead of the more customary situation wherein we select an agent to represent us in the virtual world of the computer (the protagonist of a video game, for instance), we become puppeteers directing ourselves as puppets.


Another difference between an artificial reality system and the fantasies mentioned above lies in the fact that levitating bodies and Doppelganger are believed to materialise in the same space in which the physical body is located. Artificial reality, however, purports to transport the virtual body to a parallel, alternative reality with its own 'natural laws'. It is, according to Krueger, a responsive environment. Ideally, such an environment is 'smart', provided with some artificial intelligence It doesn't just respond to external stimuli but acts on them in unpredictable ways. Videoplace may tease or even 'mutilate' the virtual body on the screen. Artificial reality thus clearly combats the idea of Al as necessarily embodied in anthropomorphic creatures. It is 'spatialised intelligence', which may evoke the 'Haunted Houses' of the early silent cinema


In most of the artificial reality installations the immersiveness has been restricted by the fact that the installations do not form complete wraparound surroundings around the user(s). Both the Videoplace and the Mandala installations present a clear demarcation line between the real and the artificial world. In concrete terms, this line is provided by the visibility of the frame of the screen as in painting, photography and cinema - and by the distance of the user from the screen. The refusal to build totally immersive artificial realities is by no means a technical imperative. In Krueger's case it is an ethical stand against 'isolating people' and alienating them from 'the other activities that take place in a work environment'. (41)


Rushing in to the image


Commercial immersive spectacles, such as the popular motion-simulator rides, often aim primarily at causing and offering out-of the-ordinary and vertigo-type sensations that exceed customary spatio-temporal experience. The sensation of extraordinary speed, achieved by the interplay between synchronised multi sensory cues, such as the hydraulic moving seats and the virtual movements on the screen, is a central element in the attractiveness of a simulator ride. Equally important is the first person point-of-view. Contrary to conventional narrative cinema, there is usually no exchange of 'looks'. (42) Everything is seen from a subjective camera position, identified with the point-of-view of the spectator. There isn't even a lateral panning camera movement, just the continuous high-speed motion into the image along the depth axis. (43) The pleasure offered by such a simulator ride is normally also related to the passivity of the experience; the audience surrenders itself temporarily to the machine and, in a way, becomes 'encapsulated' in it. (44) Interactive rides have, however, recently started appearing.


Related ideas about immersion - understood here as 'pre-programmed penetration into the image' have also been utilised in computer-based art installations. In the context of interactivity, however, the pre-programmed immersion incorporates the idea of user-control. The dizzying rush into the 'depths' of the image is just one of the options of an interactive system, triggered by the user; the immersion is always 'negotiated'. This is evident from the way immersion is treated in simulator games The player of a Formula One game is given several options to control the headlong rush down the virtual racetrack. For instance, the driving speed and direction can be varied. After a crash the 'driver' can steer his/her car back to the track. During certain limited moments s/he can just let go and enjoy the sensation of virtual speed.


It is possible to identify a sub-genre of interactive art installations utilising and investigating this subject position, which I propose calling 'inverted direct address' This refers to the fact that the active, controlling gaze addressing the system belongs to the user. The sub-genre (briefly mentioned above) has been variously called 'movie map', 'virtual voyaging' or 'surrogate travelling' and is best represented by the artistic work of Jeffrey Shaw and Michael Naimark. San Francisco-based Naimark actually participated in the group that produced the famous Aspen Movie Map at MIT in 1978-79. Aspen Movie Map, a computer-controlled videodisc which allowed the user to navigate an interactive representation of the city of Aspen, Colorado, could be considered a major landmark in the development of this sub-genre. But the preforms of virtual voyaging go even further back - to the 1 9th century Panoramas, Victorian stereoscopes, 'phantom rides' of the early silent cinema, professional 'flight trainers' and mechanical arcade games. (45)


Virtual voyaging installations give the user the experience of 'travelling' inside a virtual landscape via some kind of a steering system. The virtual landscape can be a computer-generated model of a city as in Jeffrey Shaw's The Legible City ( 1989-90), or it can be a computer-controlled videodisc which contains a video reproduction of an actual city, as in Aspen Movie Map or in Naimark's Golden Gate Movie Map (1987) or VBK A Moviemap of Karlsruhe (1990-91) The interface device can be anything from a joystick or a spaceball to an adapted surfing board (as in Peter Broadwell and Rob Myers' Plasm: Above the Drome, 1991), a bicycle (as in The Legible City) or even a professional hydraulic motion platform (Tamas Walizsky's The Forest, 1994). Virtual Reality installations, such as Matt Mullican's Five into One-2 (1991), enhance the virtual voyaging experience by placing the user 'inside' the virtual landscape via a head-mounted display and a data-glove.


By uniting the first person vision, the virtual mobility and the interactive control, the user-cum-virtual voyager could be easily allocated unlimited 'mobile panavision' - the possibility of seeing 'everything' and of simultaneously going to 'all places'. It is highly significant, though, that artists often choose to deliberately restrict this freedom of movement. In Shaw's The Legible City the 'virtual camera' (the point-of-view identified with the 'vision-movements' of the user) is 'locked' onto the street-level. Although the user can look at the separate computerised map at his/her side and get an overview of his/her current location, s/he can never observe the virtual city from a bird's eye view. This decision is motivated thematically: Shaw connects the idea of cycling in the city to the acts of reading and writing (the city consists entirely of 'houses' made of 3D letters, words and sentences). The act of cycling along the city streets is thus turned into an act of reading and writing as well: by choosing her/his routes the user simultaneously creates their own syntaxes, writes poetry with their feet (the result could be called 'pedalpoems'). In a way s/he navigates inside a language system creating enunciations which break with the conventions of ordinary language; this may evoke Mallarme, Schwitters and the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, perhaps even Cage. This re-organisation of language is made even more intriguing by the fact that the user has been given the ability to penetrate walls land thus break through words and even letters).


In Naimark's VBK -A Moviemap of Karlsruhe the user's vision-movements are restricted to the tramline network of an actual city. (46) This work investigates, as do most of Naimark's creations, the often subtle differences between reality and its representations. A tram network is one of the innumerable grids superimposed on reality. It presents a highly selective and structured point-of-view which has been submitted to many different (political, economical, cultural, historical, demographic) constraints. The transposition of the tram system into an interactive navigation system adds its own constraints and possibilities. The possibility of controlling both the movement and speed affects the perceptual system. Interestingly, Naimark has also included an option to speed up the motion of the 'virtual tram' until it surpasses all verisimilitude: the user experiences a dizzying sensation of racing wildly through a real-looking city. In a sense this solution re-enacts a mode of experience already offered by turn-of-the-century 'phantom ride' films and utilised since in different immersive applications (Cinerama in the 1950s, for example). Phantom ride films were 'virtual train trips' shot from the front of a moving train. (47) Two basic experiential variations were available for the early cinema audiences: the 'virtual sightseeing tour' {with emphasis on the landscapes and scenery) and a kind of 'virtual rollercoaster ride', achieved by cranking the projector at a faster than normal speed.


The intention behind this parallel is not to negate the innovations or distinctive features of interactive artworks. It is, however, important to grasp that the range of applications offered by new technologies is often a complex mixture of novelty and such subject positions and modes of experience that have been activated earlier, in different technological contexts. In a sense the virtual voyaging installations even combine elements of the phantom ride with another tradition, the responsive and tactile experiences offered by peep-show machines and other coin-op devices from the late 19th century on. (48) Naimark has made this double lineage explicit in his most recent installation See Banff! (also called the Banff Kinetoscope, 1994). By peering into the stereoscopic eyepiece of a wooden peepshow machine and cranking a handle we activate series of video sequences about movement in various sceneries. Although See Banff! is one of the manifestations of the recent 'archaeological approach' in media art, the gesture cannot be deemed nostalgic. The time-lapse video sequences are clearly a continuation of Naimark's earlier studies about mapping real landscapes into conceptual grids; the outer frame of the installation adds a historical and cultural dimension to this avant-garde endeavour (with associations with tourism, home movies, the relation between 'high' and 'low' culture, etc.).


Subverting white man's technology


If we look at the handful of virtual reality artworks (in the narrow sense: works exploring the possibilities of 'computerised clothing', head-mounted displays, data-gloves, and such), we find similar issues. (49) Here the movement of the user inside the virtual world is usually de-coupled from a (virtual) technological prosthesis, and replaced with the experience of having a virtual 'walking tour'. The idea of virtual reality has been closely linked to the idea of a virtual panopticon: instead of the restricted vision offered by the renaissance perspective (often enhanced by the presence of the picture frame), we really get mobile panavision: the ability to master a 360 degree panoramic view Not only can we see what is behind us: we can also leave our fixed observation post and penetrate into the landscape. But even this is not enough: we can also touch the virtual objects and manipulate them, which adds a panhapticon to the panopticon.


Whether all this makes virtual reality the ultimate fulfilment of the Renaissance perspectival system or a major break from it, is open to debate. (50) It has, however, already become clear that the discursive promises of virtual reality are often very far from the reality conditioned by the actual state of the technology and its cultural and social weight. One of the interesting aspects of VR environments created by artists is their attempt both to offer a critical distance (purporting to establish an 'observation post' somehow separated from the immersive environment, yet contained within it) and to support the pleasure and strangeness of exploring a virtual environment. Matt Mulican's Five Into One-2 (1991) invites the user to explore five interconnected virtual worlds, impregnated by carefully orchestrated colours, shapes and graphical symbols. In a way the work is a logical continuation of Mullican's City Project (MOMA, New York, 1 989), his effort to create an idiosyncratic, privately codified universe by various artistic means and expressions (conceptually there is only a matter of degree between Mullican's 'traditional' room installations and the 'installations' he has created in virtual space). (51) He invites the visitor to explore his private virtual universe (even to enter some houses and open drawers), but he keeps its symbolic dimension deliberately obscure (the colours, shapes and signs resonate only in relation to Mulican's own 'system of the universe').


A radically different approach to virtual reality is demonstrated by Inherent Rights, Vision Rights (1992), a VR-installation work by native Canadian artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. (52) The visitor (usually a white urban westerner) is immersed into a virtual 'spirit lodge', a ritual environment belonging to Yuxweluptun's tribe. It is an enchanted world with radically different values and concerns from those of most visitors The freedom of movement is deliberately restricted and the graphics crude. When entering the world, for example, one cannot back up to admire the carved 'wooden' gates in their entirety. Why? Because the artist does not want them to look like 'white man's postcards'. (53) Similarly, the artist wants the visitor to pay attention to the fact that the moon is 'crying' (presumably as a reaction to the eco-catastrophe threating the living conditions of the natives; this message is supported by the subtle but rich soundtrack, superimposing the sounds of wild animals on to the distant sounds of jetplanes crossing the sky).


These are ideologically as well as artistically motivated choices. Why should a native artist adopt the high-tech standards set by white (male) technocrats? It is a privilege for the visitor to be invited to the virtual 'spirit lodge'. One must accept the terms; there is no room for colonising attitudes here. An obvious parallel is the way in which certain feminist artists - such as the Australian cyberfeminist group VNS Matrix- have appropriated male dominated technology, yet refused to accept the slickness of its aesthetics. In All New Gen (1994), for instance, VNS Matrix created a deliberately 'perverse' reading of the world view behind Nintendo and appropriated the corporate form of the video game for their own purposes. In their 'Game Girl' version the game becomes a vehicle for cyberfeminist ideology, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of 'Big Daddy Mainframe'.


The fact that artists like Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and VNS Matrix, who have different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, however share an interest in subverting the 'white man's technology' might eventually help to break the technological fetishism surrounding virtual reality and interactive media. From a fashion-surfing artificial void, a military-industrial training-ground or a commercial high tech playland, interactive media would gradually emerge as a philosophical and poetic universe with strong ethical and ideological connotations.


The hype and the promise


Brenda Laurel has addressed the hype surrounding concepts like virtual reality: 'If a representation of the surface of the moon lets you walk around and look at things, then it probably feels extremely interactive, whether your virtual excursion has any consequences or not.' (54) 'Unrestricted movement' through virtual space may be a technical goal or a cyberpunk dream, but it isn't necessarily an artistic aim. The same is true of 'total immersion'; if one does not look merely for an extatic moment in an 'artificial paradise', the fact of 'being inside' would add relatively little to the achievements of a work like Legible City. (55) Developing more and more immediate interfaces and increasingly intelligent agents may be important goals for research and development, but they are not necessarily the primary goals for an interactive art practice . (56) In a world where the development of new technology has been subordinated to the interests of the market, the military and governments, the wonderful promise and 'democratising' potential of interactive technology may be a camouflage for something else.


In industrial-commercial academic mass gatherings, like Siggraph, the discourse on digital technology is usually dramatically devoid of considerations of its social, cultural and ideological implications. Sheer technological positivism tries to meet the expections of the market. It would be naive to assume that the massive exposure interactivity is currently receiving in the mass media, or even the gradual saturation of society with interactive gadgets, would suffice to lead us into an interactive paradise. Even the fates of interactive technology are conditioned by powerful and wide-ranging discourses in contemporary society. And the majority are 'preservative' rather than radically innovative. There are enough thoroughly probed ideological and economic schemes to accomodate even 'breakthroughs' like interactive media: the interactive shopping malls mentioned above are but one example.


The 1950s modernist and rationalist discourses about the imminent blessings of automation were, in their own context, not so very different. An advertisement for the Bendix washing machine from 1946 announced the complete replacement of physical work by elegantly designed fully automated machines: 'It's wonderful! - how my BENDIX does all the work of washing! Because it washes, rinses, damp-dries -even cleans itself, empties and shuts off - all automatically!' (57) Ellen Lupton has demonstrated that the real motive was not the elimination of work but its displacement: instead of washing clothes by hand the housewife could now concentrate better on other forms of domestic work. (58) The prevailing conservative family ideology remained intact, was perhaps even reinforced. Perry Hoberman's interactive installation Faraday's Garden (1990) deals exactly with this issue, the cultural ambivalence of automation. Hoberman's 'machine garden', consisting of obsolete household utensils and domestic gadgets (actually operated by sensors under the visitors' feet), is useless and weird, but also disconcerting these 'semi-living creatures' are survivors of another technological era, chaotic messengers of a defunct ideology.


What has been discussed above should not be read as saying that interactivity is just another virtual creation, a discursive formation grafted by powerful media machineries and utterly devoid of any chances for real development and influence On the contrary, interactive technology bears great promise. It could well subvert prevailing media practices and supplant them with more versatile, user-friendly and 'democratic' forms. However, addressing only hardware development, interface design and sales curves will not be sufficient to achieve this goal. Digital technology has to be valued in a wider context which embraces not only the full spectrum of contemporary social and ideological practices, but history as well. This article has tried to demonstrate - albeit through very selective sampling - that interactive artworks can have a seminal role in this process by maintaining a continuous metacommentary about interactivity. This is not an easy task. As Andy Darley has put it so succinctly: 'The possibilities of egalitarian, more democratic, constructive forms offering new kinds of interaction, knowledge and understanding may well be enhanced by the novel capabilities of the new technologies They will, more than ever before, have to be struggled for.' (59)




1. This article is based on an earlier essay, 'Commentaries on Metacommentaries on Interactivity', originally published in Cultural Diversity in the Global Village. The Third International Symposium on Electronic Art, Sydney, Australia 9-13 November 1992, ed. Alessio Cavallaro et al (Sydney: The Australian Network for Art and Technology, 1992l, pp. 93-98. A somewhat modified version appeared (in English and German) in the European Media Art Festival Osnabruck 1993, catalogue, eds. Eckhard Diesing and Ralf Sausmikat (Osnabruck: EMAF 1993), pp. 251 -72.


2. Eric Davis, 'TV's Fascinating, Frightening Future', The Utne Reader 48 (July/August 1990), pp. 86-87 (cit. William Boddy, 'Electronic Vision: Genealogies and Gendered Technologies' a paper presented at the Finnish Society of Cinema Studies Conference, Helsinki, January 1993, unpublished).


3. Roy Rada's Interactive Media (New York: Springer, 1995; is o recent attempt at creating/maintaining that conceptual integrity.


4. This subject position is in the making practically everywhere - in interactive science museums, video-game arcades, theme parks and training simulators, but also in all kinds of daily interactions from using an automated teller machine to stroking the keys of a personal computer in the home or the office. And to a certain extent the ground for this has been prepared by the rather limited interactive potential of the VCR and the remote-controlled television set; they allow us to interrupt and - in the case of the VCR - also to store and repeat the programme flow.


5. This concept has been used from a 'constructionist' point of view by Seymour Papert in Mindstorms. Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester Press,1980). Papert refers to a computerised world which a child


constructs and explores by means of the LOGO programming language. The concept may take on a more sinister meaning, referring to solipsistic and alienated 'life in the media cloud'; see Volker Grassmuck, 'Otaku. Japanese Kids Colonize the Realm of Information and Media', Mediamatic, 5, no. 4 (Winter 1991), pp. 197-220.


6. This doesn't imply, however, that the subject position constituted by the cinema or by broadcast television would be totally passive. Different feed-back modes - real and imaginary - are even encouraged. What is more, the spectator as a subject is not absolutely tied to this position, rather, s/he has a wide variety of different ways to react, from making 'preferred' readings to constructing 'counter-readings'.


7. Andy Lippman, interviewed by Stewart Brand, The Media Lab. Inventing the Future at M.l.T. (NewYork: Penguin Books,1988), p. 46.


8. Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theatre (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley,1991).


9. Clark et al., cit. Laurel, op.cit.,3.


10. Probably the most perceptive analysis about the modes of the mental exchange activated in the human-computer relationship remains Sherry Turkle's The Second Self Computers and the Human Spirit (London: Granada,1984).


11. See, for instance, Bruce Mazlish, The Fourth Discontinuitv. The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993); and Raymond Kurzweil, The Age of Intelligent Machines (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press,1990).


12. Simon Penny, 'The Intelligent Machine as Anti-Christ', SISEA Proceedings. ed. Wim van der Plas (Groningen: SISEA,1991), pp. 205-212.


13. See Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire. Design and Society 1750-1980 (London: Thames & Hudson 1986), pp. 207-221; Ellen Lupton, Mechanical Brides. Women and Machines from Home to Office (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993). For a discussion of automation, see Sir Leon Bagrit, The Age of Automation. The BBC Reith Lectures 1964 (New York: Mentor Books, 1965).


14. See Matthew Geller and Reese Williams, eds., From Receiver to Remote Control: The TV Set (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990). The discourse on automation and interaction is, of course, much more complex. To mention just one example, arcade games are called in German Spielautomaten, yet their mode of interaction - clearly a conversational relationship - is more related to the idea of interactivity.


15. Margaret Morse, 'Virtual War. The Gulf War, Television and Virtual Reality', published only in Finnish in my anthology Virtucalisuuden arkeologia ['The Archeology of Virtuality'] (Rovaniemi: The University of Lapland Press,1995), p. 291.


16. For a discussion of this background, see particularly Frank Popper's Art, action et participation: L'artiste et la creativite aujourd'hui(Paris:EditionsKlincksieck,1985 [1980]), and Art in the Electronic Age (London: Thames and Hudson,1993). See also Cynthia Gaodman, Digital Visions. Computers and Art (New York & Syracuse: Abrams & Everson Museum of Art,1987); Frank J. Malina, ed., Kinetic Art: Theory and Practice. Selections from the Journal Leonardo (New York: Dover Publications, 1974), and Regina Cornwall, 'Interactive Art. Touching the "Body in the Mind"', Discourse,14, no.2 (Spring 1992), pp. 203-221.


17. The recent 'mediatisation of interactivity' is reflected in the launching of such journals as Interactive Week lin 1994) and Interactivity (in 1995), and in books like Tim Morrison's huge compendium The Magic of Interactive Entertainment (Indianapolis: SAMS Publishing,1994, 2nd ed.1995).


18. See my article "'It is interactive, but is it art?"', Computer Graphics Visual Proceedings: Annual Conference Series, 1993, edited by Thomas E. Linehan, NewYork: ACM Siggraph 1993,133-335.


19. William Bricken's statement, 'The 3D sound stuff at NASA is art. Myron (Krueger's) work is art. The code in the VEOS [Virtual Environment Authoring System] is art -that is, some coding style considerations are motivated by aesthetics', doesn't really help us out of this dilemma. Neither does Brenda Laurel's article, 'Artistic Frontiers in Virtual Reality', Siggraph ' 92 Visual Proceedings, ed. John Grimes and Gray Lorig (New York: ACM Siggraph, 1992), p. 60, from which the quotation is taken. The corporate people are far too eager to join the artists' ranks, with far too few credits, but at the same time I don't see any art in Laurel's and Rachel Strickland's much hyped VR-piece Placeholder (prod. The Banff Center for the Arts, 1993).


20. I have dealt with this aspect at length in my essay 'Time Machines in the Gallery: An Archeological Approach in Media Art' in Immersed in Technology. Art and Virtual Environments, eds. Mary Anne Moser and Douglas McLeod (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, forthcoming 1995).


21. See, for example, Bill Nichols, Ideology and the Image (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), pp.182-207; and Margaret Morse, 'Talk, Talk, Talk -The Space of Discourse in Television', Screen, 26, no. 2 (March-April, 1985), pp. 3-15.


22. Malcolm Le Grice, 'Kismet, Protagony and the Zap Splat. Some Theoretical Concepts for Interactive Cinema', CAD FORUM. Zbarnik radava/Conference Proceedings, 4th International Conference on Development and Use of Computer Systems, 12-16 May, 1993, Zagreb, Croatia (Zagreb: CAD sekcija Saveza drustava arhitekata Hrvatske,1993), p.244.


23. David Tafler 'Beyond Narrative: Notes Toward a Theory of Interactive Cinema', Millenium Film Journal, nos. 20-21 (Fall-Winter, 1988-89), pp. 122-123.


24. Andy Lippma n, interviewed by Stewart Brand, The Media Lab. Inventing the Future at M.l.T., op.cit., p. 46.


25. 1 am referring to a demonstration of Time-Warner's experimental interactive TV system, Full Service Network (Orlando, Florida) by Robert Zitter (Home Box Office) at Imagina, Monte Carlo, February 1994. An example of an interactive on-line shopping mall is the American 2Market (launched in 1994) which is available both as a CD-ROM and as an on-line service, as part of the repertoire of America Online.


26. The CD-ROM artwork BAR-MIN-SKI: Consumer Product by Bill Barminski, Webster Lewin and Jerry Hesketh (De-Lux'O Consumer Productions, USA 1994) has already appropriated the form of the interactive shopping mall as the setting for the weird pseudo-consumerist art world of Bill Barminski.


27. Tim Oren et al, 'Guides: Characterizing the Interface' in The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, ed. Brenda Laurel (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990), pp.367-381.


28. For an overview of the work on computerised agents, see the special issue 'Intelligent Agents' of Communications of the ACM, 37, no. 7 (July 1994). Maes' team has made its research public in the form of entertaining interactive installations (named ALIVq at Siggraph 1993 and 1995. HOMR (formerly Ringo), an 'intelligent' music recommendation system functioning on the Internet, was also designed by this group.


29. Earlier, in 1987, Hershman had written: 'Because direct response is discouraged and repressed, the television audience harbors subliminal feelings of impotence that all too often surface as undirected nihilistic rage.' To Jack Burnham's statement, 'Art is moving towards coitus, towards sex, which is what we wanted all along', she replied: 'One might more accurately suggest that what we have really wanted all along was a connection, a means by which to actively respond and communicote: a diolog with our environment and our community' (Lynn Hershman, 'Bodyheat: interactive media and human response', High Performance, 10, no.1, issue 37 (1987), p. 45).


30. Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art (New York: Random House,1974), p.192.


31. See my essay 'Time Machines in the Gallery: An Archeological Approach in Media Art', op. cit.


32. Richard A. Bolt, The Human Interface. Where People and Computers Meet (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press), p. 72.


33. When the work was premiered at the Interactive Media Festival in Los Angeles, June 1995, Feingold went even further: he experimented by displacing one user's speech to the lips of a robot controlled by someone else, adding to the confusion. The fact that the installation broke down several times must, however, be considered accidental (even though it was in keeping with the overall work).


34. This raised a storm among the more traditionally-minded documentary film-people at the 37th Annual Robert Flaherty Seminar in the summer of 1991. See Laura U. Marks' review of the event in Aherimage, Vol.19, No 4 (November 1991), p.4.


35. Nick Wingfield, 'Ride for your Life', New Media, July 1995,1, p.11.


36. Michael Naimark, 'Realness and Interactivity' in The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, ed. Brenda Laurel (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990), pp.456-457. One of the most successful audience participation pieces I have experienced didn't involve computers at all: at the 'Les arts etonnants' show at Tourcoing, Francein October 1991, artist Alain Fleicher made the audience reflect on the screen, by handheld mirrors, a movie which was projected towards them. The result was a constantly forming and deforming 'pixel-image'.


37. Chip Morning star and F. Randall Farmer, 'The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat' in


Cyberspace: FirstSteps, ed. Michael Benedikt (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1991), pp.273-301.


38. Grahame Weinbren, 'An Interactive Cinema: Time, Tense and Some Models', New Observations, no. 71 (October-November 1989), p. 14.


39. My impressions on Sonata are based on sessions in the artist's studio at New York City, August 6, 1992 and at the Berlin Film Festival, February 1993, where the piece was officially premiered.


40. The concept 'artificial reality' was coined by Myron Krueger in his book Artificial Reality (Addison-Wesley, 1983). Subsequently, the kind of idea it refers to has also been called 'non-immersive virtual reality'. Krueger himself has pointedly defended the virtues of his system against totally immersive' systems, such as the ones experienced in a head-mounted display.


41. Myron W. Krueger, 'Videoplace and the Interface of the future' in The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, op. cit., p.420; Myron W. Krueger, Artificial Reality II (Reading, Mass.: Addison- Wesley,1991).


42. Other kinds of narrative figures have recently been incorporated in ride films, as well. Journey to Technopia, produced by Boss Films Studios for the Taejon Expo (1993) contains sequences where the protagonists talk to the participants in direct address. The ride with its different pre-shaws has a developed narrative framework.See my 'Phantom Train to Technopi' in ISEA '94-the Fifth International Symposium on Electronic Art Catalogue, ed. Minna Tarkka (Helsinki: University of Art and Design,1994), pp. 206-208.


43. For an intelligent discussion of this figure, mostly in the context of computer graphics and computerised special effects on television, see Margaret Morse, 'Television Graphics and the Body: Words on the Move', paper for 'Television and the Body', Society for Cinema Studies, Montreal 1987 (unpublished manuscript).


44. See my 'Encapsulated Bodies in Motion. Simulators and the Quest for Total Immersion' in Critical Issues in Electronic Media, ed. Simon Penny (New York: SUNY Press, 1995), pp.159-186.


45. For a discussion of these precedents, see my 'Armchair Traveller on the Ford of Jordan. The Home, the Stereoscope and the Virtual Voyager', Mediamatic,8, no. 2-3 (Spring 1995), pp.13-23.


46. I have been told that there is a cameo appearance by the artist himself (a la Hitchcock) somewhere along the route - just a hint for future virtual voyagers -but I haven't noticed Mr. Naimark on the screen.


47. The basic text on phantom rides and their further development into a spectacle called Hale's Tours 11904) is Raymond Fielding, 'Hale's Tours. Ultrarealism in the Pre-1910 Motion Picture' in Film Before Griffith, ed. John L. Fell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), pp.116-130.


48. For a discussion of the history of these machines, see Jean-Claude Baudot, ARCADM. Slot Machines of Europe and America, translated by Anthony Carter (Tunbridge Wells: Costello, 1988), and Bill Kurtz, Slot Machines and Coin-op Games. A Collector's Guide to One-armed Bandits and Amusement Machines (London: The Apple Press,1991).


49. In addition to the VR installations dealt with in the text, it is also pertinent to note the following: Monica Fleischmann's and Wolfgang Strauss' Home of the Brain (1992) and Nicole Stenger's Angels (19921. Due to technical problems, extremely limited audiences have been able to experience these personally. The same goes for Mullican's Five into One-2, which has mostly been shown as a video tape, although the writer was lucky enough to navigate this work with a VPL head-mounted display during its premiere at Les arts etonnants Le Fresnoy Tourcoing, France, 1991. I tried Home of the Brain at Ars Electronica, Linz, in 1993. My impressions about Stenger's Angels are based on a 7:33 minute demo-tape documentation in ACM Siggraph Video Review, no. 83 (1992), and on an article by Louis M. Brill, 'Paradise Found in VR Movie', Siggraph' 92 Show Daily, July 29, 1992.


50. See Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer. On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991); Martin Jay, 'Scopic Regimes of Modernity' in Vision and Visuality, Dia Art Foundation Discussions in Contemporary Culture, No.2, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press,1988), pp.2-23.


51. Michael Tarentina, 'The Body as Camera', Les arts etonnants, Catalogue (Tourcoing: Le Fresnoy, 1991), pp. 1 8-22.


52. This work was created as part of the 'Bioapparatus' project at The Banff Center for the Arts, Alberta, Canada, 1992.


53. According to Douglas McLeod, producer of the work, and communicated to me during my stay in Banff in October 1992, where I also tried the piece with a HMD for the first time. Subsequently, it has also been shown in a specially constructed interactive peep-show device (for example, at the Europeon Media Art Festival Osnabruck, 1993). See my 'Rompre le charme de la "technologie de l'homme blanc"/Breaking the spell of "white man's technology"' in Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: 'Inherent Rights, Vision Rights'. Installation de realite virtuelle, peintures et dessins (Ambassade du Canada & ART-EL, Paris 1993), pp. 6-9.


54. Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theatre, op. cit., p. 21.


55. Legible Citywas created with support from Dutch public cultural funds while Shaw was an independent artist. Much of Shaw's work has enjoyed support from European ministries of culture and other institutions. He has not had to work under commercial and financial pressure or constraints. The works Shaw has created in the 1990s, as director of the Institute for Visual Media at ZKM, Karlsruhe, continue to be interesting, but they lack some of the integrity and accomplishment of the earlier work. Whether this is related to the change in his role is open to debate.


56. Of course, interactive artists may contribute significantly to the development of technology, including its inner architecture, software development and interface design. The artificial life installations by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, currently resident artists at the ATR research laborotories in Kyoto, Japan, are an impressive example of this.


57. Reproduced in Ellen Lupton, Mechanical Brides. Women and Machines from Home to Office (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993), p. 19. Adrian Forty has analysed a 1950s publicity photograph depicting a housewife in a party dress standing by her electric cooker as it automatically prepares a complete meal. There are no signs of work anywhere. As Forty comments: '[n]o mess, no sweat -the cooker, it seems, produces meals of its own.'(Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire, op. cit., p. 211.)


58. Lupton, ibid.


59. Andy Darley, 'Big Screen Little Screen: The Archaelogy of Technology', Ten8, 2, no. 2 (Autumn 1991), p. 87.