Theory and Criticism of Interactivity in Electronic Art

De-coding Interactive Art by Panagiotis Kyriakoulakos/ Towards a Taxonomy of Interactivity by Stephen Jones/ Engaging Dynamics by Frances Joseph/ The Remediation of Experience by Florian Wiencek and Stephanie Sarah Lauke/ Science, Art and Philosophy: A Reflection on a Methodological Approach to Intersemiotic Analysis of Interactive Installations by Luiz Antonio Garcia Diniz
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:45
Chair Person: 
M. Luisa Gomez Marti­nez
Panagiotis Kyriakoulakos
Stephen Jones
Frances Joseph
Florian Wiencek

De-coding Interactive Art: The impact of 3 decades of academic research in the taxonomy of digital works of art

by Panagiotis Kyriakoulakos

This paper attempts taxonomy of interactive and non interactive screen-based spectacles based on the application of anthropological criteria in the analysis of specific technological works of art.

After an introduction in the notion of solicitation of the spectator and the real and playful engagement in a simulated world, we describe existing digital works of art and we point out their common technical characteristics (interaction perimeter, etc.) and the way they address the user-spectator. Non interactivity, interactive confrontation and interactive immersion are depicted as the main axes of solicitation, while the corporal response of the user (face, hand and motricity following Andre Leroi-Gourhan) permits the set up of functional taxonomy for the described artworks.

Interactive installations are often studied in the light of recent developments in cognitive science and human-computer interaction techniques to consider innovative aspects of the interactivity. It is useful however to apply notions from the disciplines of presentation and representation (psychology, anthropology, mise-en-scene) to establish the virtual environments in the continuity of technology based spectacles and understand that the foundation of the interactivity lies in the simulated space-time mechanism that already proved its power in the case of  mechanically or electronically reproduced simulated environments.

The theoretical discussion provides the background for the classification of the digital works of art in categories, useful for the establishment of an international database that is undertaken with the collaboration of four academic laboratories from Greece and France. In order to broaden this research, the Greek-French consortium aims to organize a workshop during ISEA 2011. Emphasis is given to include in the database the majority of digital works of art analysed in various academic symposia and workshops during the last 3 decades.

Towards a Taxonomy of Interactivity

by Stephen Jones

A great deal of contemporary art purports to be interactive. In this paper I take a critical look at the notion of interactivity; an inadequately defined and somewhat abused term.

Interactivity has very deep roots within the world, first as it self-organises and then as we construct it. At the very least it is at the roots of all biological behaviour (as biosemiotics) and may in fact be seen as the basis for all levels of the organisation of things, from the interactions among sub-atomic particles from which everything is produced, right through to sophisticated communications between humans and societies, and, obviously, between machines and machines, and machines and humans.

Based on the notion of “relations” as a general term for the linkages or interconnections through which all interactions occur, I examine how those linkages must be organised so that information flow is enabled. Thus it is clear that, once interactions begin in the biological realm, all interactivity leads to communication, which between humans, is thought of as conversation. Those classes of interaction that do not lead to communication/conversation are not in fact interactions and are more in the line of responses to events. It is in this situation that the abuse of the term has occurred.

In working towards a theory of interactivity, this paper offers a taxonomy of interactions, so that the understanding of much so-called “interactive” art – particularly when presented as installation or as robotics – can be understood, critiqued and developed. It will also consider the role of sensors and interfaces in implementing and enhancing interactivity.

Ultimately true interactivity is a function of both sides of the conversational process being able to generate new behavioural repertoire that extends, but is not beyond, the understanding of each entity involved in the process. New art works that engage in interactions that extend the behavioural repertoire of the participants might then function as a laboratory for experiment in the further development of robotics and other human-machine interaction systems.

Engaging Dynamics

by Frances Joseph

While interactive screen technologies are becoming ubiquitous, there are many issues associated with the implementation and agency of such systems in creative rather than commercial contexts that require deeper exploration. The growing infrastructure of dynamic digital display technologies be they in the form of electronic billboards, plasma screen displays in public transport and retail environments, information terminals, projections, ‘intelligent’ building surfaces or domestic consoles, are generally controlled by commercial enterprises to influence consumer behaviour. Struppek (2006) has recognised the significant difference between public and individualised forms of screen display and has suggested that the zones which exist between virtual and physical public spaces could be used more constructively for “the creation and exchange of culture and the formation of the public sphere through criticism and reflection” (p.2). To do this she suggests that new co-operative relationships are needed to enable new approaches and challenge conventions.

This paper addresses some of these issues in the context of the development of an interactive screen environment sited at The Edge performing arts complex in Auckland, New Zealand, and a program of interactive works being developed for this space in association with the Auckland University of Technology. The location and potential of this project is distinct from ‘urban screens’ located in public spaces, from ‘interactive art’ located in gallery spaces and from interactive games that increasingly are found within educational and domestic environments. Each of these forms and locations has particular cultural orientation, emerging aesthetic and theoretical directions and associated discourses. The specific framing of The Edge venue, as one of New Zealand’s leading performing arts, entertainment and convention facilities located in Auckland which is a key arts and cultural centre of the Pacific, engages many different communities and introduces some particular considerations and perspectives. The notion of performance as meaningful, embodied practice that functions both as a metaphor and an analytical tool activates a series of social, technological and cultural framings that are discussed in this paper in relation to some of the creative works being developed and presented through this project.

The Remediation of Experience. A Case Study

by Florian Wiencek and Stephanie Sarah Lauke

Since several years Art Historians and Restorers work on ways to document and mediate interactive moving image installations (e.g. Depocas, Ippolito & Jones 2003; Wijers 2007; Scholte & t’Hoen 2007; Jones & Muller 2008, 2010; Wolfensberger 2009; Kaye, Giannachi, Slater & Shanks 2010). By understanding documentation as a process of translation, the main challenges are translating the time- and process-based nature of these kind of art projects as well as interactivity and spatial components: These elements usually suffer from a loss within the translation process, especially if they are digitized e.g. for including a project into a digital archive. Up to now, the research focus in case studies dealing with time- and process-based art projects mainly strengthens the documentation and preservation of the physical and visual components of the installations, neglecting the aspect of experience for a long time. Only since a few years, attempts were made to capture the visitor’s individual experience (see e.g. Muller & Jones 2010). However, according to our knowledge, a translation of the visitor’s experience into a different dispositif was not yet undertaken.

Within our current case study we intend to close this ‘blind spot’ by experimenting with different ways of translating the experience of an installation. For the term of experience we follow the definition of ISO FDIS 9241-210 of user experience as “A person's perceptions and responses that result from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service“ (ISO FDIS 9241-210, 2009, cited in Bevan 2009, p. 1). Starting from the moving image installation set up in the real world, we want to develop a 3D environment and a (interpretative) 2D interface, taking the ‘ideal’ (as defined by the artist) and ‘real’ experience (by the visitor) into account. In a second step we will evaluate, in which way the experience of the environment and interface resembles or respectively differs from experiencing the ‘real’ installation. The case study aims to discuss the potentials and problems of translating the experience of moving image installations especially into a digital format. In our paper we will discuss the first results of this study.

Science, Art and Philosophy: A Reflection on a Methodological Approach to Intersemiotic Analysis of Interactive Installations

by Luiz Antonio Garcia Diniz

We intend to analyze the construction processes of the Installation “Um Novo TempoA New Time, created by the Research Group LABI - Open Laboratory of Interactivity, from the perspective of Yuri Lotman’s reflections on semiotics. Our approach is guided by reflexive relations that lie at the intersection of the concepts of Biosphere and Semiosphere. We consider, accordingly, that the specific languages that contributed to its construction are only in existence in the Semiosphere, which precedes semiosis related to the art objects that build it. In this sense, the experience of interacting was occurring in and outside the cultural temporality to which it is extrinsic, as it is processed by perceptual channels - intrinsic temporality, involving both the immanent information contained in object through it is linked to processes and interaction, and personal information, through affection, and finally, the encyclopedic and sensitive knowledge which made this individual an unrepeatable singularity. Such cultural texture -  forming subjectivities lead us back to Guattari's concept of subjectivity regarding the machines of subjectivities which are responsible for the creation of bonds and references, both poetic and scientific, in order to make the instauration of interactivity happen.

It’s important to say that the goal of LABI is scientific dissemination through the relations established between the interactor and interactive installations. These are presented as potential mediators and spaces of possibilities. Thus, our proposal is to analyze which concepts proposed in the statement find a form of receptivity that would be sensible to the intelligible, or, if the proposition placed, which consists in making the sensible intelligible and the intelligible sensible was apprehended and to what degree such accomplishment is achieved in view of the polysemy of meaning that such objects are proposing. To do so, we will refer in the analysis of the discursive strategies through which the object of our study was constructed and the intersemiotic relationships entered the broader concept of semiotics of culture. We believe that this methodology can contribute to the analysis of interactive installations tout court, as well as in the construction of an aesthetic reflection that allows artists to employ a range of operational and seminal concepts for the practice of artistic production.