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



One thought 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.

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