Amanda Steggell, November 03
Transcript of video (24 min, DV pal) for the 7th Nordic Interactive Research School Conference, Århus, Denmark, 14th November 2003.
(This project investigates the appropriateness of the language, or buzzwords, currently used to describe and discuss artworks that involve the use of digital technology in their creation. Two artists, X and Y, are interviewed about a specific artwork they have been involved in. The interviewer has been given a list of questions to pose to each of the artists in chronological order. The questions are based on the original proposal made by the conference organizer as a topic for the lecture:
- Please talk about
your interactive artefacts through artist glasses.
- What concerns did you have when you conceptualized your primary ideas?
- How did you construct the interface, the point where the visitor, audience or participant, meet and acts with the technological machinery?
- What demands concerning the process of realization of an interactive artefact did you encounter, for example, co-operating with different types of people such as programmers, performers and musicians?
The speaker found this proposal problematic in relation to her own work, and was curious to find out how other artists would tackle the questions raised by the organizer. The artists are portrayed in the video as being anonymous, and appear as silhouettes against the background of a window. The names of the works they are asked to talk about are not revealed. The only tool they have to describe their work is the English language.)
Q1: We are here to talk about a specific art work you have been involved in where human movement on ground level generates changes of states within the art work itself. I appreciate that English is not your native language. It is not mine either, but can you please try to describe in English the artwork in question, and your role in its realization.
Y: Well, its a piece of work where we collaborate four people, 2 musicians and 2 video artists in creating a space where.. err .. the interaction is on multiple levels at the same time. We are both interacting within ourselves as a group and with the audience through both the direct physical input from sensors in the room reacting to the movement of the audience and also, of course, on a more psychological level because we are creating this as a sort of happening together with the audience, so we are interacting on multiple levels at the same time.
X: The project I'm involved in at the moment contains of twenty sensors on the floor and you have to step on them to activate sound pieces and the sound will change each time you step on the sensors and, it is made for kids preferably in the setting of a tour for schools.
Y: My role in it to, both on a conceptual level to work out the whole system of interaction that its to have and directly involved in creating mostly the video stuff and building the sensor interaction system.
X: My role, well I had the idea of doing it, and err, I have involved a musician and a programmer, who are help me doing it and also using a lot of time to understand the technicalities of the project myself.
Q2: Do you describe this work as being an installation, a performance, or something else?
Y: It's a lot of different things, it's both an installation and a performance and a collaborative artwork.
X: Well I call it an installation, but the people who experience the project will also in some ways be the performers themselves. Well it's an installation but it's also a performance.
Q3: What concerns did you have when you conceptualized your primary ideas?
Y: Concerns, define concerns!
X: Well, to start with I'm fascinated by the idea of the on and off, well the basic idea of turning something on,
Y: On a physical level there's a problem of transparency, how much ... how obvious should it be for the audience that they are affecting what is going on,
X: .... like when I was a kid myself I went to the museums and pressed something and something happened (mumble) .....
Y: How to build a system that's not too obvious so the audience are just walking around triggering things and having a kind of first time joy with that, but will be kind of boring very fast.
X: .... even just the action of turning on light, yeah well turning something on and off and that will activate something.
Y: You know that something is happening but you're working together with it in a big organism.
Q4: What motivated you to make this work?
X: The motivation, well I'm concerned that the viewer of an art piece actually take part in its making, to, err, and also the playfulness where the viewer can be through playing.
Y: Well its very much, we kind of focused on some ideas of the rave scene of the late 90's with.... the point... very much of the ideas of what was happening back then was the audience, the public were the heroes and not the artists and that's kind of where our focus has been.
Q5: How did you construct the interface, the point where the visitor, audience or participant, meet and acts with the technological machinery?
X: The age group of the kids is from 6 till 10. One important concern for me is that they learn that the computers that they use all the time themselves, playing games and so on, it can be used outside the computer so that they can actually have some spatial, physical involvement, they can see how the computers can extend outside of the machine somehow, a way to use the computer that is not just pressing buttons sitting still but actually doing things with their whole body.
Y: It's simple actually. It's a grid of laser beams on the floor that is being triggered when people are moving around on the floor so that when they break one of the beams, it will give a signal to the system, but because we had this grid of beams we are getting a complex system of breaks so that we can program it in a way so that more complex reactions are made possible when different combinations of beams are being triggered.
Q6: What do you understand by the word "interface"?
X: It's al lot of different things but, on a basic level it is the front end where you can, err, easily control what is lying behind the front end.
Y: Interface, as far as I understand or how I think of it is, ermm, kind of err from to the other, a kind of urmm way that something gets translated or communicated between, somehow, or an apparatus that will change something.
Q7: Are you happy describing your work in terms of the interface?
X: Describe it as the interface, the interface....
Y: Well, interface is one part of the work, its one element, yes, but the whole work is much more complex than the interface.
X: I don't want the viewer to concentrate too much on the actual thing that happens when you step on it. It’s not just to technically do something but also to experience this kind of playfulness of doing something that will... how do you say. I find it a bit difficult to actually answer that.
Q8: Do you think it’s relevant to describe your work in terms of the technological machinery?
Y: I think organism is a much better word.
X: In the case of this piece I was actually invited to do a piece, which should be based on new technology. I mean I've chosen to use technology because in one way I'm fascinated by technology, I have a background as a mathematician and I think that probably influences me. My intentions ...yes ... the intentions for the kids in a way was to show how you can actually use the computers outside of the screen and they could also be involved and with the sound works, the sound works will be kind of fairy tale atmospheric, frightening and hopefully quite powerful in its expression.
Q9: What demands concerning the process of realization of an interactive artefact did you encounter, for example, co-operating with different types of people such as programmers, performers and musicians?
Y: Artefacts. What do you mean?
X: To begin with I needed some people that knew the programming and a musician. In this piece its essential that we are together, because I see the whole of the programming, how its placed in the space, what kind of speakers we're using, everything is inter-related, so we are equal parts in the realization of this. I knew I had to get not just help but collaboration; it's a joint thing.
Q10: What do you understand by the phrase "interactive artefacts"?
X: err... artefacts ... artefacts is err...
INTERVIEWER: Here is a description of an "interactive artefact" from a PowerPoint presentation about website design:
"An interactive artefact has a character and gives an impression which is not fully defined at first sight, but which emerges while the user interacts with it. A mobile phone could qualify as an interactive artefact because it gives me information about itself when I use it such as how much power it has, or whether it needs recharging, what network it is connected to, and which messages are stored in its buffer. Could you consider describing your artwork as an "interactive artefact" based on these examples?
Y: The term as such, I think it's a very technical term. It doesn't describe the intelligence involved with our work, because we don't rely only on the interactive physical system and computers and their processing that goes on the technical side, but it's also very much the human interaction and the intelligent processing that are working together with this machinery and that can't be described with this term.
X: You won't have for example a screen saying now you've done this and now you have to do this and, err, I want to keep it more open, not structure it to much....
Q11: Do you feel comfortable with the term interactive in connection to your work?
X: It's a problem with interactive, I mean because in a sense everything is interactive, the whole world is... everything is connected to each other and when you're dead you're in some way interactive or how the body is in some way eaten up and so I’ve been trying to think of what is the definition of interactive....
Y: Well, interactive has become a cliché that's, that can be very limited in normal use.
X:.... so I'm quite uncomfortable with that actually.
Q12: Do you feel a pressure to describe your work in terms of interactivity and if so, in what situations?
Y: Well, it's err, to explain this work to people who don't know too much about art, its a very handy label to use, because that's what differs between this and a lot of other art works, so it can be useful.
X: I'm choosing not to be pressured by the art world. I'm not really concerned about the pressure the art world is putting, I mean err in terms of applications and things you have to be aware of your choices and how you work, the tools you're using, do I feel a pressure, no I don't feel a pressure.
Q13: Do you feel the need to categorize your work as belonging to such categories as new media, new technology and electronic art?
Y: No I don't really feel the need for that. And this particular work is very much about meeting an audience and that's the most important thing....
X: I don't really need to feel the need to put things into boxes ...
Y: Well there's also a dualism in this work because we are both connecting to a kind of standard art audience and also part of a club culture audience that have no connection to, or knowledge about art at all, and that's what we like about this particular context because usually we get a mixed audience of people form both of these camps and these meetings can be really interesting.
X:.... well in a sense you have to in terms of funding and explaining to people in media what you're doing ... you have to put words onto it, so its understandable what you're trying to achieve....
Q14: Generally speaking, there was a trend around the eighties for artists in the western world to make artworks first, and then write theories and manifestos about them afterwards. Today this process seems to have taken a U turn. To be reversed. If you agree with this, why do you think this has happened?
X: Well I think in the 90's when I went to Goldsmith's college at that time they were already happening. When you had the idea you start theorizing around it and it led to.. It wasn't possible to make anything at al, but why this has happened, erm, why has it happened?
Y: There might have been some general change in that direction, but not for me.
X: Well for me it is a serious problem because when you're illustrating the theory what I call the stomach feeling, the kind of power in a piece, you can sense it when you meet an art work....
Y: You often see art works that could have been just written down as a fluxus idea or something because it's just taking a lot of concepts that's new, that's whirling around in a lot of people's head at the moment and making some kind of twists on that.
X: To me at some point it became something about regurgitating words, the energy is not necessarily there if you illustrate something.
Y: Very often the result, if there is some kind of physical result, is not so interesting, its just the idea in itself, it could have been just written on a piece of paper.
X: I've been fighting against that for myself because at some point I stopped making anything at all because it became so problematic to make anything, because it's not my field, I didn't study philosophy.
Y: The more conceptual, theory based of media art today it's the ideas in itself that's the essence of the art work and then the theory and the art work are the same, and I have no problem with that. It’s all part of the same reality, but its different ways of putting out art.
Q15: Do you feel that your artwork has been successful?
Y: I think my aim with this thing to get a kind of total experience connected to the organism metaphor. To have everything work together in a very fluent manner so that all both us the artist and the audience can work together on a very unconscious level, and not be too conscious about what we're doing. That is improving, so that's what I mean with successful.
X: In terms of if it will be a success or not, I don't know because it's in its making. I think what would please me the most is that the viewer would actually go out and in ten years time still remember the experience of the sound works, the actual involvement in the piece, and ... so I mean this is.... that it will stay as a powerful experience for the viewers or performers.
Y: So that's what I mean with successful. It's getting more and more successful.
Many thanks to Per Platou for conducting and filming the interviews, and not in the least the two artists who generously agreed to be interrogated in this uncomfortable manner.