rebecca's WIP

Reading: Making an Interactive Art Work

I’ve spent my entire life making things, and I came to ITP with a background in visual art. In college, I exhibited my work in a more formal way, in the ‘white cube’ and other places and spaces where people gather to view works of art. Reading Tom Igoe’s “Making an Interactive Art Work” this past weekend made me reflect on my past work, and think about the way in which my pcomp final — and the work I’ll make later on at ITP — will challenge and stretch my work by making consideration of audience more central.

In his article, Tom says “So if you’re thinking of an interactive artwork, don’t think of it like a finished painting or sculpture.  Think of it more as a performance. Your audience completes the work through what they do when they see what you’ve made.” This is not a new idea to me, but it certainly is a new practice. The majority of the work I’ve made to date has a very particular directional relationship to its audience (and is not interactive by any definition we’ve looked at so far in class). A viewer looks at my sculpture for however long they like, maybe takes a stroll around it, walks away and leaves behind the same sculpture they came upon. Another viewer comes upon my video installation, stands for a few minutes to watch it before leaving, and the video continues on its same trajectory regardless.

The piece has a kind of supremacy, it does what it wants. I’ve always considered that I’m making work for people — and I’ve studied a lot of art that revolves around social practice, such as Fluxus and performance art — but I’ve also thought of a work as having a kind of completeness or wholeness unto itself. So, I’m excited to develop my thinking around interactivity and make a final project that pushes my understanding of a work’s relationship to its audience.

In the documentation for Happy Feedback Machine, I found some other nuggets and questions to take away as I’m thinking about my own project.

First of all, I thought it was interesting and very strange that people were attracted to something with so many buttons. Personally, I don’t think I’d approach any device or piece of art with a ton of controls and feel excited to play with it; instead, I’d feel intimated and it might put me off. Perhaps my speculations are wrong, and I guess that’s what is important about user research (it seems like this project was very successful and user research was a big part of that). This small point also made me think about the benefits of striking the right balance between flexibility and structure for a user: not overwhelming them with too many options, but also providing them with enough room to make something that’s engaging over a longer period of time.

It also raised another related question for me: how smart do you want to assume your user is? This seems like an important balance to strike too — giving people room to figure something out (rather than being too prescriptive and treating them like an idiot) but also providing enough visual clues that they have some guidance and aren’t left hanging.

Also, I loved the collaborative aspect of this project and the fact that people used the machine at the same time in a way that felt organic and not forced. This is definitely something that resonates with my final project ideas.

My reflection on these readings and the final project reminded me of a favorite text, Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

Some relevant (out of order) selections are below:

Allow events to change you. You have to  be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

Capture accidents. The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

Begin anywhere. John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

Everyone is a leader. Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.

Ask stupid questions. Growth is fuelled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.

Work the metaphor. Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.

Make your own tools. Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.

Listen carefully. Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.

Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.

Power to the people. Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.

1 comment
  1. Benedetta says: November 3, 20144:19 am

    Thank you so much for your incredibly thoughtful response and I am so glad all these questions and ideas are going to influence your final project. Really looking forward to seeing the projects that you will develop during your time at ITP! B_

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