week 9: Interactive Art

Interactive Art: installation / embodiment 

Prepare Petersen, Anne Ring. “Navigation, Immersion, and Interaction in Video Installation.” Installation Art Between Image and Stage. Borries et. al. eds. Chicago, 2014. 317-350.


Stiles, Kristine and Edward Shanken. “Missing In Action: Agency and Meaning in Interactive Art.” Context Providers: Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts. Margaret Lovejoy et al. eds. Intellect Books, 2014. 31-54.

Stiles Agency Interactive Art



2 thoughts on “week 9: Interactive Art

  1. This week’s readings bring us back to one of the questions I feel we’ve been struggling with this semester: how is the concept of agency deployed in interactive media and what are its political implications? As Stiles and Shanken note, “the very concept of agency. . .is complicit with systems of power and technologies of control that deny agency by demanding conformity” (p. 37). How do we get around this? Or, rather, is this a problem that can even be “gotten around” or do we need to figure a new approach to this problem?

    In Petersen’s article, she observes that video installations, and probably interactive media as a whole, have a “tendency to draw the viewer’s body and reception toward the polarities of immersion and interaction” she describes (pg. 346). Video installations, in other words, can sharpen or obfuscate our understandings of bodies, spaces, and technologies. After reading this article, I’m left with the questions: Has the pendulum now swung the other way? Have we gone from fetishizing interactivity as innately positive to fetishizing it as innately suspect? There are some scholars who are playing with ideas of ambivalence and vulnerability in light of these challenges (Patrick Jagoda and Wendy Chun, for example), but for the most part, it seems techno-skepticism has replaced optimism.

    Having been to a number of performance art pieces, I’ve developed a sort of ambivalence to them. I’m optimistic about the possibilities of engagement but also skeptical as I am often unsure of what I will be asked to witness or participate in. I have learned, though, that the number one rule of performance art is never sit in the front row.

    A few more questions: What is agency without neoliberalism’s articulation of the individual as the primary, most meaningful social unit? What does it mean for communities to have agency if we still understand agency in this narrow, neoliberal frame?

    Here, I can’t stop thinking of the show Westworld (mostly because I binge-watched the second half of it this weekend), where numerous workers in the mantles of butchers, technicians, designers, and artists are tied together in their crafting and maintenance of an immersive, interactive world. As characters on the show become increasingly unsure who is human, machine, real, or artificial, we see the social fabric in the show breakdown as the “traditional” forms of engagement shed their original meanings and take on new, sinister forms. Like the “Hall Street Happening,” the show can be seen as both an ideal- and counter-model of interactivity, where the total immersion of the participant into the world of the park encourages a sort of social and moral distance. In Westworld, this immersion is constructed as a form of personal growth and self-revelation that is always already enmeshed with corporate power, intellectual property, and the social lives of the wealthy.

  2. This week’s readings focus on the meaning of interactivity and investigate the components that makes a piece of art truly interactive. Both Stiles and Shanken and Peterson point out that simply adding formal elements of interactivity such as making the audience click buttons or move things on screen doesn’t make art interactive, these elements need to promote meaningful engagement with the content as well. As they note, “Interactive features of multimedia become meaningful when they engage and activate complex emotional and decision-making responses” (Stiles and Shanken, pg. 36). Stiles and Shanken discuss these questions in relation with agency and empowerment of the spectator that is associated with interactive art in general. Commercialization of interactivity took the emphasis away from its content to its technological components, and the constant hype about the new technologies became the main marketing strategy. According to them, artists should not only create meaningful interactivity through the content, but also use their medium to challenge the idealized notions about interactivity and technological progress.
    Peterson delves into similar questions through a study of video installation. Whenever I watch a video installation, I find myself especially aware of not only the images on screen, but the way I choose to watch them as well, and Peterson’s arguments on the bodily involvement and immediacy of video installation explains this particular experience. He claims that what differentiates this form of art from other moving images is its unique relationship with time and space and its potential to create an embodied viewing experience that requires the physical involvement of the audience to unfold. It is different from cinematic images in the sense that it belongs to here and now, as opposed to the movies which clearly take place in some other time and place. Also, installation art mostly plays in loops, which means that starting from the beginning and watching the whole work without interruptions is unlikely.

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