Interactivity: A Critique of Two Projects

In the beginning of the Golan Levin TED talk, he says, “I am an artist and really interested in… basically empowering people through interactivity.  I want people to discover themselves as actors, creative actors, by having interactive experiences (Time stamp: 1:23-1:32).”   The project, Scrapple, created by Levin indeed allows a person to interact with a device that responds to them to create an audio composition.

With simple yet tangible objects, participants place them on a table to create sounds that loop at a certain speed. This project is a successful application of interactivity because there is a two-way conversation. Machine and participant have a dialogue playing off each other’s feedback.  While playing with the work, the participant can use his or her imagination to create sounds with an object to create endless combinations of sounds without any previous training. The artist empowers the participant by making the art in “perpetual state of transition” until the participant decides to end and produce the final product (Ascott, 2001, p.98).

The Waves: Electro-Magnetic Spectrum Multi-Touch Table created by Ideum demonstrates the audience cannot be a “passive receptor” (97, Ascott, 2001) but instead, an active spectator. Following Alan Kay’s model for a successful interface, the viewer initiates with touch to start a dialogue with the interactive. When the person touches the screen, images appear and the person can play with them through trial and error to make connections and learn “complex concepts (Kay, 2001, 122).”

As seen from the video, this interactive table promotes social interaction by allowing multiple users (up to 8).  I believe this adds to the experience because the participants (children and adults) become players of the project and learn together, even though there may not be verbal communication.  Roy Ascott says, “There is reason to suppose that a unity of art, science and human values is possible… we propose..cybernetic vision could unify and feed such culture (101).” The scientific information learned through the collaboration of artist, via the art, can bring humans closer together as they learn more about their environment.

Children and adults engaging in a social environment around interactive table. Credit: Ideum on Flickr

Children and adults engaging in a social environment around interactive table. Credit: Ideum on Flickr

Without the participant, these projects would cease to exist. These interactive projects need an active spectator to engage with and then a dialogue can follow through feedback.  With touch, images can be dragged across a screen to reveal information or objects can be placed to create sound in creative ways.  Through play and feedback, the participant can explore their interests and make deeper connections with the artist, through the art, and sometimes other people.  Hopefully, as seen in these projects, it inspires creativity and imagination.

Ascott’s cybernetic vision lives on. Levin in the TED talk echoes Ascott’s (2001) ideas about the artist using “the most significant tool of the age (p. 96).” He passionately remarks, “I believe artists are obliged to use objects of his own day or her own day” and “explore the expressive potential of the new tools that we have (Time Stamp: 1:10-1:15).”

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