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).”


Media Integration: A Critique of Two Projects

Even with the restriction of watching from a video, the animated ancient Chinese scroll, “Along the River During Qingming Festival,” felt lively and captured the feeling of a social environment.  The technological devices used on or with the scroll helped convey the feeling of daily life in a very realistic way.  Multiple types of media were integrated, such as light, sounds, massive two story high screen, digital animation and text to stimulate the viewer. Even with the utilization of these technologies, the reinterpretation of this ancient scroll still maintained the human story and traditional art of the original but in a new, sensory way.  As Professor Randall notes, “The technologies may evolve, but essentially, they provide new ways of utilizing our senses to express ideas that are as old as humankind itself.” This famous, ancient scroll was revitalized with the imagination of an artist and the various skills of digital mediums to become a fluid balance of art and technology.

Here is a video from a visitor’s point of view:

Through the media of an online website, the use of technology presents the traditional artwork of Chinese artist Mi Fu in a way non-traditional and innovative way.  In Professor Randall’s lecture, he says, “Higgins is trying to encourage us to rethink art, not as the creation of an object within a predictable specificity of media, but something that stretches the imagination, forcing us to rethink anew the relationship between art and life.”  The website serves as a collage by mixing images, sounds, hyperlinks in a fluid and balanced way to highlight the focus, Mi Fu’s traditional form of art. Before I delved into the website, I thought it would be overwhelming to navigate.  Instead, I found the experience enjoyable because of the ease and simplicity of the website.  The integration of various elements allowed the me to appreciate the work of an artist in a more comprehensive and fluid way.


Example of Ease: A related illustration hyperlink revealed on the National Palace Museum website

Media integration, if a true collaboration between technology and art, will be seamless, as demonstrated by these two projects.  As stated in the book Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, “Inspired by Aristotle’s notion of Techne-in which there was no differentiation between the practice of art and science- Klüver proposed the active and equal participation of the artist and engineer in the creation of the artwork (2001, p. 34).”  Art and science did not seemed forced in either of these projects and flowed together because there is “no differentiation.”  From these two projects, I noticed media integration can dynamically create a feeling of the work by not using the artwork directly.  The balanced work of the artist as engineer and engineer as artist allowed me to push the famous traditional scroll or move with the fluid movements of a calligraphy brush metaphorically without ever experiencing the work of art directly in person.

Exposure to the Senses Sensationally

With just five installation pieces, the Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA left an everlasting impact on me.  From December 12th, 2011 to February 27th, 2012, the exhibit focused on six Latin American artists who played with, as the title of the exhibit suggests: light and space.  To read more about the exhibit, click here.  I went to the exhibition with my friends who I had met during my internship at the Getty Museum.  As soon as we entered we were blown away by the first piece, Lucio Fontana’s Stuttura al Neon Per la IX Triennale di Milano.


One of my friends snapped this picture as my other friend and I descended the stairs and reacted with sheer awe of the lights. Photo Credit: Janet Lee

The next piece Penètrable BBL bleu by Jesus Rafael Soto enabled us to touch and enter into the art and provoked play in us. Next, the Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Cromosaturación immersed us in light and our natural lens turned into the color of the room. We followed the natural progression of the exhibit and encountered Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s Cosmococa-Programa in Progress.  My favorite moment was changing into my bathing suit in a makeshift pool–like changing room to interact with the art. We swam in a pool guarded by a hired lifeguard. I could not pass on an opportunity to swim in a museum! Blue lights bordered the swimming pool and changing slides flashed on one wall. Finally, the last room with Julio Le Parc’s Lumière en movement painted our bodies with the light from fragmented mirrors.


My friend and I immersed in the pool! Photo Credit: Janet Lee

I believe this was a multimedia exhibit because of the unique uses of light, color, and space. This multimedia exhibit stimulated some of my senses and it left me with an impression in my mind. Each piece of art offered a new perspective because the viewer had to physically move around, in, and/or through the designated spaces and interact with it.  To me, the minimal use of inexpensive technology and temporary walls to create spaces made this a multimedia exhibit.

This exhibit felt very non-traditional compared to the numerous museum exhibits I’ve been to.  It didn’t fit my preconceived exhibit “mold.” I have yet to experience another exhibit like this and my friends and I to this day still talk about this exhibit. I believe sharing this one-of-a-kind experience with museum enthusiasts who responded to the same level of excitement made the “experience” even more memorable. We were able to interact with art sensorially and share those moments. We were participatory in each art piece.  We became part of the art and the art became a part of us.

Pic #3

Frankie, Janet, and I in the Carlos Cruz-Diez piece without shoes or shoe covers. Photo Credit: Janet Lee