Interactive art is a form of media art where spectator participation is required in order for the artwork to achieve its purpose. Often the artists will ask its audience to be ‘hands-on’, usually in order to interact with the various functioning, programmed components of an interactive artwork. Modern interactive artworks often involve computers and interfaces that allow easy human-technology interaction. The use of the Internet is also commonly used as not only does it give its participants a friendly and familiar interface, it also gives the artist a new space in which they may showcase their work; although not a physical space it has the potential to reach a worldwide audience.
Interactive art has drastically altered the way people perceive art in the 20th and 21st century as this new medium opens up new dimensions of perception. “Designing the interactive experience adds an entire dimension to the esthetic endevour, one without precedent in the visual and plastic arts.” (Penny, 1996). In addition, interactive arts have forever changed the role of the artist and the way they are perceived as it erases the prestige commonly associated with fine artists whilst simultaneously blurring the distinction between the professional and amateur. This post will investigate how this unprecedented art form has been explored.
Nam June Paik – Magnet TV (1965)
Nam June Paik was a visionary, whose work introduced new ways of seeing and interacting with art, commonly considered as the ‘founder of video art.’ (Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort, 2003). To an extent, Paik was not just a pioneer of video art but rather a pioneer of modern media arts (including interactive art) “Even though Paik is not generally considered an interactive artist, it is not altogether a new idea to see him as a pioneer of interactive art.” (Ha, 2015).
In 1965 Paik created Magnet TV, an installation piece a first of its kind. “An artist duo Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau frame Paik’s Magnet TV (1964) as one of the oldest interactive artworks” (Ha, 2015). Magnet TV consisted of a single CRT television set and a heavy duty magnet. The magnet reacted with the electrons that were being emitted by the CRT, which resulted in a number of random distortions. Participants were also invited to grab the magnet and use it in order to create new distortions on the screen. Although this work is quite simple and crude, audience participation gave it a new dimension of meaning, evidencing the power of interactivity.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – Vectorial Elevation (1999)
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Canadian-Mexican electronic artist who draws from his knowledge in physical chemistry and creates often technically complex media artworks. He is well known for creating large, interactive public installations that are often at the intersections of science and art. “His main interest is in creating platforms for public participation, by perverting technologies such as robotics, computerized surveillance or telematic networks.” (Lozano-hemmer.com, 2011)
Vectorial Elevation(1999) was a very large, interactive, light installation situated inside Mexco city where 18 gigantic, remote controlled search lights were deployed all over the city to create a spectacular light show.
Each individual light was controlled via a web application. Users from all over the world would access this website and interact with a web GUI in order to alter the lights and generate their own unique light configuration. Web cams were placed around the site of the installation where it would document what was happening so that participants may view their designs. Every participant was archived, their information, design and comments were all saved.
Conceptually, ‘Vectorial Elevation’ commentated on the political situation in Mexico at the time by visually realising a common sense of over-militarisation. “Searchlights themselves have been associated with authoritarian regimes, in part due to the military precedent of anti-aircraft surveillance” (Lozano-Hemmer, 2002). In order for this art piece to have maximum impact on its audience, it was crucial that the spectators were an integral component of the artwork. This meant that they could not simply be passive viewers but rather be part of the artwork itself by mean of interacting with it. “By ensuring that participants were an integral part of the artwork, Vectorial Elevation attempted to establish new creative relationships between control technologies, ominous urban landscapes, and a local and remote public.” (Lozano-Hemmer, 2002)
Cory Arcangel – Photoshop CS: 72 by 110 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1416 x=1000, mouseup y=208 x=42 (2009)
As technology progresses and becomes more pervasive, the mediums in which we create media art with gradually shift to much more digital based forms.
Arcangel’s work presents novel ways of seeing and interacting with art by placing more focus on the viewer/user. “Arcangel explores the juncture between high-tech and DIY and in so doing blurs the realms of fine art and pop culture.” (“Sothebys: Cory Arcangel”, 2015). Arcangel’s works in the “Photoshop CS” series are examples that effectively demonstrates his intentions as the title of each of the artworks describes the methods by which it was made. For example “72 by 110 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1416 x=1000, mouseup y=208 x=42 (2009). These artworks are grand print works that are fabricated using expensive, high quality materials and printing techniques, that perhaps parodies fine abstract art, considering it displays a only a simple gradient. The fact that these artworks were created inside Photoshop, arguably today’s most ubiquitous photo-editing software, further affirms a sense of fine art parody as well as Arcangel’s intentions of intermediating the artist and the viewer. “Photoshop has come to occupy the domain of both amateur and professional alike. Indeed, for Arcangel, this software perfectly encapsulates the do-it-yourself attitude that advancements in information technology has inspired.” (“Sothebys: Cory Arcangel”, 2015)
Penny, S., 1996. From A to D and back again: The emerging aesthetics of Interactive Art. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 4(4), pp.4-7.
Wardrip-Fruin, N., & Montfort, N. (2003). The NewMediaReader. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Ha, Byeongwon. (2015). An Origin of Interactive Art: Nam June Paik’s Progressive Musical Instruments. PhD. Virginia Commonwealth University
Lozano-hemmer.com. (2011). Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – Biography. [online] Available at: http://www.lozano-hemmer.com/bio.php [Accessed 20 Oct. 2016].
Lozano-Hemmer, R., 2002. Vectorial Elevation. Leonardo, 35(5), pp.554-554.
Sothebys: Cory Arcangel. (2015). Sothebys.com. Retrieved 20 October 2016, from http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/contemporary-art-evening-auction-l15024/lot.3.html