Text published in: „Interactive Media Arts”. Ed. A. Porczak. Wydawnictwo Akademii Sztuk Pięknych im. Jana Matejki w Krakowie. Kraków 2009.
In 2007 the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF)(1) was held under a very eloquent, but extremely categorical slogan Interact or Die! The use of the exclamation mark further reinforced the message of the organizers that in today’s world there is no alternative to the interactive strategy, or rather the only alternative may be death. It sounds very drastically, interactivity as a key category for cyberculture is in such an approach considered to be an absolutely fundamental concept referring not only to the area of art, but simply understood as an immanent feature of our reality. It operates at both the descriptive and normative as well as postulative levels. This applies equally to the sphere of technical-technological use of the tools and equipment offered by the new media (software, interface etc..), and is regarded as the main property of cyberculture whose essence is characterized by means of interactivity. It is therefore one of the most important components of the definiens of cyberculture as the definiendum.
Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder wrote:
„Interaction is characterized by the existence of each being. Bodies and objects make up liaisons and the form of a network and then, through the interaction, it is organized, structured, memorized and inherited. The interaction is often seen as a process of action and reaction between the already existing bodies and objects, but this is a too simplistic view. The interaction encourages bodies and objects to change and emerge out of variation. The interaction does not deform the existing form, but rather it is additional information, informing, forming of forms.”(2)
Reaffirming a fairly widespread conviction that, in principle, each event has the characteristics of interactive art, or at least can be read in such a way, the authors of the text, handed out in 2007 on the occasion of DEAF catalogue, point out that only in the interactive art you are aware of the use of the viewer’s activity . Of course, this process ultimately leads to changes not only in terms of terminology, referring to the changed functions of the recipient (guest inter-actor, (v) user, performer), but above all, it re-formulates the basic parameters of the perception-reception of the work of art. Passivity characterizing the contemplative way of reception shall be replaced by an active and dynamic (co-) creation of the work. However, it all starts from a sort of basic fact, which is interactivity, that is a constitutive principle of the functioning of each organism (at the social level), which is the basis for the creation of interactive art and, more broadly speaking, the phenomenon of interactivity as a way of functioning in today’s media culture.
Interactivity cannot just set an entirely new way to communicate with individual works, but also radically different ways to determine whole exhibitions. A good example illustrating this issue is an exhibition entitled You_ser: The Century of the Consumer in the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe (2007-2009). (By the way, there is another term for the kind of twentieth-century emancipation „consumer” of art, or a variant of the concept of a user, because it can be considered neologism „you_ser). Peter Weibel, the curator, in his essay which forms a theoretical introduction to the exhibition, summarizes these previous findings relating to the conviction of the ending (with the emergence of interactive art) the monopoly of artists in the field of creation and creativity. Particular attention is given to the possibility of personal transformation or re-arranging an exhibition via the Internet. The user becomes the central element of the exhibition, his role is similar to the role of curator, artist, producer, he in fact becomes the main content of the exhibition. He, or rather his activity. It echoes in all of this the Tofflerian pro-sument familiar formula, but this time the emphasis is placed on the overall composition of the „own” exhibition of the items supplied by the organizers, designing some input structures developed by the “you_ser”:
„The exhibition offers the user a wide range of participatory options: first, the independent world by navigation through data, i.e. the cut. Secondly, independent compilation and assembly of images and sounds, i.e. composing. Thirdly, the independent choice, selection and documentation of images and sounds, i.e. curatorship. And fourthly, the independent creation of images, sounds and data that is generated”.(3)
With the development of interactive art and interactive practices of participation in cyberculture critical reflection on current interactivity, more and more strongly stressed, began to develop. A short text of Mona Sarkis, published in 1993, should be considered as one of the first voices in relation to the interactive art. Even if the author wrote that interactivity is an incredibly „over-rated” term in the field of contemporary art, and her basic critical attitude related to the alleged freedom to choose the recipient, which, according to her, is simply unrealistic. Pre-planning decision of the user is a certain type of freedom of gesture simulation, with which we are keen to agree, in fact, well knowing that the change of the reception formula is only a shift in emphasis rather than radical change in the reception situation. This became a fixed theme of critics of interactivity – the freedom of choice and co-creation of the work are an illusion, since in any case the recipient is programmed by the creator and the work has the inherent logic of the autonomy of action, and we’re a type of an additive, the specific software, which does not play a significant role. The question programming the reception is an important factor in determining a specific type of behaviour, and the behaviour is not, however, far from involving a high degree of consensus and cooperation between the creator and recipient, and partnership.
Any significant communication – writes Mona Sarkis – understanding it as a real exchange of ideas, thoughts, opinions, or discussion, cannot arise in connection with the use of programmable technology. What we get instead is a simple modification, based on principles developed by the programmer. The recipient does not resemble „the user”, who has changed in a magical way into „the creator” (as we are inclined to believe), but he continues what reminds one a puppet program responsive to the ideological vision of an artist/technician.(4)
The quoted fragment is taken from the article under the clear, perhaps too clear, and authoritatively reading title Interactivity Means Interpassivity. In a slightly different way this issue is presented by one of the pioneers of the software art and net art, Alexei Shulgin (in 1996), who attracts attention to the dormant potential of a large interactive practice „manipulation”, which artists may use towards audiences. Changes in the area of communication practices as a result of the use of new media give artists considerable power, the media themselves, seduce the audience with dormant possibilities of their use in order to exercise authority not only in the field of art, but in social and political space in which the role of media as tools to control and manipulate is obvious. Shulgin writes:
”Looking at a very popular form of media art, that is the „interactive installation”, I am constantly amazed at how people (viewers) are excited by this new way to manipulate them. It looks as if the manipulation was the only known and accepted form of communication by them. They are happy to select from several options proposed by artists: press the left or right button, jump or stand. The artists manipulating them feel that and therefore they use new technologies (the future now!) in order to seduce the viewers which draw people in their pseudo-interactive games obviously based on banal desire of power. But we can hear nice expressions around: interaction, interface for self-expression, artificial intelligence and even communication. Thus, the emergence of media art could be characterized as a transition from representation to manipulation.”(5)
The conclusions are obvious - artists should stop manipulating recipients through false „interactive media installation” and „intelligent interfaces.” The same excerpt quoted above was mentioned in an essay of one of the most prominent and consistent critics of the use, or perhaps it would be better to say – the abuse, of the concept of interactivity to the description and interpretation of phenomena in the area of art and culture of new media. Lev Manovich(6) writes even of making a fetish of interactivity, which becomes a peculiar form of totalitarianism, that can be associated with the system, where he grew up (the Soviet Union). Interactivity is treated by him as a concept, therefore, ideologically motivated, and imposed on the viewers, and in the operational dimension it is less useful for describing the essential features of cyberculture. This dilemma, expressed in the question, whether the problem of interactivity is more ideological than technological, can be found in the consideration Dieter Daniels, who has perceived the blurring of the borders between the two spheres, because „technology, in fact, becomes the central part of the ideology in the nineties.”(7) In addition, the „interactive euphoria” of the nineties is over today, not necessarily confirming the expectations about a radical transformation of media art.
Manovich believes directly the doubtful usefulness of the concept of ‚interactivity’ (as well as the term „digitality”) also in his Language of New Media, where he writes about the new interactive media as a myth, since the whole art, especially modern art, by its very nature is interactive. „I try not to use the term interactivity in this book – as well as the term digital – without additional explanation. In both cases the reason is the same – the concept is too broad to be useful.”(8) Therefore, even the most basic distinction between the „open” and the „closed” interactivity and the specific predilection for the latter, resulting in his artistic activities and experiments, such as successive versions of Soft Cinema(9), where we deal with the type of internal interactivity (intra-activity) of the system controlled by software designed by the authors.
The conviction of mutual partnership and cooperation, which is the basis of thinking about interactivity as a new form of co-operation between the author and the recipient, is only a myth. The lack of agreement, misunderstanding of the intention, problems with mastering interfaces, excessive ideologizing, troubles with the establishment of a common code of communication, referring to different contexts, the lack of clear message, the tendency to absolutize technological dimension of works and at the same time in the actual absence of any content – these are only some of the evidence of delusion interactive art project. However, while the „non-communication” is the domain of interactive art, it is a very different matter in the field of popular culture or in the military sector (“military simulators, which are the only mature form of interactive narrative”(10)). „While interactivity in new media art often leads to „non-communication” between the author and the user, the commercial culture uses interactive feedback just to make sure that non-communication will not follow. Checking the final version of the film before the „test group” is normal practice.”(11)
This quotation has been taken from the article entitled Who is the author? This problem is seen as one of the most important challenges of the changing situation of communication in new media art, especially in the interactive arts. Barthes’ proclamation of the death of the author took place in 1968, it seemed then that we would never again come back to read the works of art (though the French theorist had in his mind only literature) in terms of authorial intention. The author is not the owner/disposer of the text as a „multidimensional space”, a being „tissue of quotations from as many corners of the literature.”(12) The concept of the death of the author is sometimes referred to in the context of interactive art as an analogy and a signal that the issue of the changes of roles and relationships between the author and the recipient has a long tradition. Somewhat it is less frequently recalled that already in 1971 Roland Barthes (in his book Sade, Fourier, Loyola) announced the „amicable return of the author”, who is, to tell the truth, changed and identified in a different way, however being the author, and not just the scripter of liberated texts.
It is yet worth to mention the concept of Michel Foucault presented in the article entitled identically as Manovich’s text: Who is the author?, published one year after the mentioned text of the author of the Camera Lucida. Foucault, instead of the concept of the „author”, uses the term „author’ function” and what is particularly interesting for him are the „circumstances of the specific discursive practices.”(13) Of course, the question arises whether such a formula is applicable to any practice dealing with the interactive art, however the question of „replacing” the author by the „work” (even if the work in this case has an unclear status) and treating him as a „founder of discursiveness” can be associated with the concepts of the creator of interactive works as „the founder of context.” There is no place here for a complete analysis of the proposal of the French philosopher, you might just note that it clearly exposes the conviction that the author’s function in the arts and culture is neither universal nor constant. The author’s signing of literary works as well as objects that are the result of activity in the area of other types of art has a very complicated history. To draw attention to the author as someone who sets possibilities of generating infinite discourses sounds like the defining the conditions governing the reception and co-creation of works of interactive art.
In what condition interactive art is currently ? Following closely particularly the most important events relating to the festival events connected with new media art, which may be a good research field, as they show trends and directions in which both artists, and organizers (curators, authors of the concepts of exhibitions, theoreticians proposing topics for discussion during the research sessions ) follow, encourages me to reflect on various topics. In recent years you can see some trends in recent media art by taking part in such festivals, such as the already mentioned DEAF, Amsterdam (not existing), World Wide Video Festival, Berlin Transmediale, Ars Electronica in Linz, WRO in Wroclaw, European Media Art Festival in Osnabrück, Art Futura in Barcelona, and following the presence of art of the (new) media in the most important exhibitions of contemporary art (Venetian Biennale, Documenta in Kassel), adding to that visits to centres such as the ZKM in Karlsruhe, V2_: Institute for the Unstable Media (Rotterdam), Tesla (Berlin), Institute of Contemporary Arts London, Ars Electronica Center – Museum of the Future, Mediamatic Lab and The Netherlands Media Art Institute in Amsterdam, to name only a part of my experience.(14) At this point, I think only about the field of interactive art, or rather called so and classified one.
It will not be possible for me not to have the impression of a deadlock, collapse, crisis, expectations when observing these events- each of these terms is not quite adequate, but at the same time, each one in some way reflects today’s situation. Simply when following the literature on interactive art, it is possible to realize, I write it with a conscious exaggeration, that the authors are constantly moving in a restricted circle of works that could be described as classical ones. However, the works in question have not emerged in recent years (which of course can explain the fact that in order to become the „classics”, the passage of time, a certain historically shaped perspective of their assessment and positioning in the context of other works are required), but they derive from the pioneering times when the interactive art was born, and artists were looking for completely new solutions, both in terms of technology and new content (experiences) which could be transmitted through these new tools.
So, appreciating the pioneering works, representing milestones in the development of interactive art, and their creators, at the same time I would like to reflect on the way of the description of these phenomena. Is there, in fact, a consensus concerning the canonical and groundbreaking projects? Is it a result from the ease of duplication of certain findings, and at the same time the inability to get acquainted with many works from „autopsy”, and only second hand – on the grounds of descriptions made by someone else. Stephen Wilson’s confession in his „monumental” work entitled Information Arts, is remarkable in this context. The author writes directly about what is often hidden or concealed when referring to the personal contact with the works, which becomes „replaced” by documentary materials, or second-hand accounts that require trust. „The presentation of many works in this book had to be based on documentation of the artists, participants’ accounts, curators’ decisions and selection of different groups, as well as comments of other analysts.” (15) Note that interactive works in some way automatically encourage me to think over whether or not the names, relationships, interpretations reported by others may be regarded as a reliable source of information about them, having in mind that they have been especially designed with the purpose of the multiplicity of possible readings. There is no question, however, that particular network platforms, such as the Media Art Net, Database of Virtual Art, and ArtBase netzspannung.org. play a significant role in documenting and disseminating of these phenomena.(16)
When, therefore, we try to outline the next stages in the development of interactive art, we most often refer to the same examples, while continuously indicating our distant ancestors and artists – such as Marcel Duchamp(17) – who made the way for new concepts of art. Söke Dinkla(18), reviewing classic interactive works of art in the aspect of designing new interfaces, begins constructing his typology of interactive art from the first references to the work of Myron W. Krueger, emerging in the late sixties and seventies, such as Glowflow (1969), which had been made in cooperation with Dan Sandin , inter alia (later co-creator of CAVE) and Videoplace (project under development since 1974). Problems explored there focused around a broader idea of responsive environments ( „sensitive environment” to the presence of users in them), although Krueger primarily used video technology as a tracking system , that tracks the activity of a participant in a particular space and sensory systems, which are responsive to the presence and behaviour of the user – host. At the same time, Ivan Sutherland ran his research and constructed HMD prototype (Head Mounted Display). Up to this day these two interfaces are the main ways of using the activity of interactive event’s participant.
In 1983 in Amsterdam Jeffrey Shaw staged his first interactive installation entitled Points of View, in which he used interface as a joystick. In the eighties and nineties in his subsequent installations, such as The Legible City (1988), The Virtual Museum (1991), The Golden Calf (1994) and A Place – User’s Manual (1995) Shaw developed his research which focused on the exploration of issues of participation and interaction, becoming an undisputed authority in this field. Actually, each of his realizations became a major event, mapping the new area of the interactive arts. Currently, he (with Dennis Del Favero and Nil Brown) is leading iCinema Center for Interactive Cinema Research at the University of New South Wales, continuing his research in the field of interactive narrative systems and immersive ways of visualizing, the examples of which may be such projects as Place -Hampi (2006), T_Visionarium (2008) or Scenario X (2005-2010). They are a continuation of earlier experiments, mapping new strategies of artists.
David Rokeby is another artist who, since the early eighties (Reflection 1983), and through his subsequent works, is continuously widening the scope of his search (Very Nervous System 1986-1990, Silicon Remembers Carbon 1993-2000) until the n-Cha(n)t (2001) and his recent works , but the main type of his utterance are the installations, particularly the interactive ones. Dinkla are characterised that early works by the concepts of proximity and manipulation, but in the context of these works the term „meta-interactive art” appeared.(19) Works of Lynn Hershman, such as Lorna (1984), Deep Contact (1990) and A Room of Ones’ One (1992) are considered in the aspect of a strategy for seduction, but of course this is just one of the options, and the artist „does not use interactivity in order to liberate the user from the passivity, but to expose his or her attitude of the voyeur.„(20)
Graham Weinbrena is widely regarded to be a pioneer of interactive film (Sonata, 1991-93), although Dinkla refers to his earlier installation The Erl King (1986), considering it in the aspect of non-linear narrative as a specific property of interactive cinema, or rather in the aspect of experiments in the field. Starting from Kinoautomat (1967) by Raduz Činčera, and Switching (2005) by Morten Schjodt and Late Fragment (2007), ending with Daryl Cloran, Anita Doron and Mateo Gueza – one constantly speaks about interactive cinema, however, one should use this term as a project which is still unfulfilled happily. Finally, Ken Feingold, namely the issues of “memory, forgetting and reconstruction.” Using perhaps the first time as a touch-screen interface in Surprising Spiral (1991) – Feingold used the photographic, film, and sound materials, exploring the mechanisms of non-linear editing, intuitive exploration of images but also texts, which become a part of the user of the installation.
The first generation of interactive art artists (Krueger, Shaw, Rokeby, Hershman, Weinbren, Feingold) announced the arrival of the whole pleiade of successors, followers, artists looking for new solutions. But again, a „canonical” set of authors and works invoked in the majority of studies, devoted to this subject, emerges. Bill Seaman, Luc Courchesne, Paul Sermon, Miroslaw Rogala, Agnes Hegedüs, Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, Toshio Iwai, Perry Hoberman – these are only the most obvious examples. Of course, especially when it comes to the issues of new interfaces, the development of technology implies completely new and complex problems. In order to realize it, just have a look at one of the most recent publication on „the culture of the interface” as well as the aspects of interactive culture.(21) The extent of such problems is very broad and representative for the contemporary state of research on cyberculture.
In the beginning of the nineties Erkki Huhtamo in the article It Is Interactive – but Is It Art? described the problems with many works that are interactive, but there is a doubt whether they can be regarded as works of art.(22) Today, I want more and more to reverse the question and formulate it as follows: it is certainly art – but is it interactive? I would like to support my doubts with some references to several realizations, which in recent years received the Golden Nica at Ars Electronica in Linz. Note also that many problems with the classification of works representing cyberart caused that in 2007 a new category of hybrid art appeared at the festival. But it has not subverted my doubts as to the works presented and many award-winning ones in the category, which over the years (since 1990, when the historic first prize in this category Myron W. Krueger received for Videoplace for his successive version, which had a symbolic dimension) been a showcase of Ars Electronica.
After the festival in 2004, when a major prize in the category of interactive art went to Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen for the work Listening Post (2003), Erkki Huhtamo wrote a characteristically entitled article, Trouble at the Interface, or the Identity Crisis of Interactive Art, which was an expression of his dilemmas and doubts about the current status of the interactive art. Interestingly, in the title (as in Söke Dinkla), the „interface” appears, and just among others the question of interface, or simply speaking the spot of contact of and the work and the user, appears to be a sensitive issue. Because this „contact” is often simply not there. Listening Post is a very interesting realization. Consisting of 231 small displays, the installation collects and transmits messages from the Internet. The viewer can stand, sit, lie down in front of it, listening to discrete sound effects, which are the result of „work” of the installation, he can also see the words appearing in the infinite movement on displays. The authors claim their realization to be a „computer-controlled audio-visual environment”(23), in which happens a sort of collective communication through the network in the real-time. What role does the viewer who watches the work play in this context ? He may only watch it, he becomes a traditional viewer, who from a certain distance can contemplate the refinement of technology or give in to the meditative climate that this work undoubtedly generates.
Huhtamo states that „compared to „the interactive classic” there is no interactive element in Listening Post„(24) and it is difficult not to agree with such a statement. Why, therefore, has the jury decided to award the work in the category of interactive art? It is necessary to refer at this point to the reasons set out by the group of jury members (Scott deLahunta , Peter Higgins, Hiroshi Ishii, Tomoe Moriyama, Elanie Ng). Here it is how the jury made „an expanded definition of interactivity,” which contained three main elements:
„(1) Mediation by the computer is not required, this approach to the use of technology has been expressed by the jury in 1999;
(2) Restrictions on „real time” and direct interaction should be loose and
(3) We agree to passive interaction.
These last two points cause the opening to the reception and contemplation of „interactive work” and do not require „active participation”, that is something that was a key element in the earlier stages of development of this type of art.”(25)
The concept of „passive interaction” seems to be really quite bizarre, not to say contradictory. I have the impression that such a broadening of the definition of interactive art as a result, blurs the essence and diversity of such artistic strategies. The jury referring to Listening Post wrote that this work can be a kind of manifesto for this extended definition of interactivity, taking into account the new criteria, which assume that the active audience participation is not a necessary condition for the existence of interactive art. However, the question still remains valid why we, therefore, have to call these works the interactive works of art? Of course, you can always speak about „internal interactivity” of a given system, or put forward a thesis that, in the case of this realization, we have to do with „the experience of totality of technology and Internet communication, at the same time in the immersive and humanistic dimension”(26), because it’s true. But no-one knows why the jurors situate such actions in the area of interactive art.
An excellent example of such an internal interactivity is the already mentioned work of David Rokeby n-Cha(n)t, however, it is worth asking yourself whether this kind of work in fact realizes the old idea of mental interaction which is characteristic of each work of art. You can also speak of a category of intra-activity, an intrinsic component of the elements constituting a dynamic system or a system designed by the creator so that it could be put in motion (sometimes literally) and act as an independent and autonomous work. Such a type of interaction generated by the internal developed software for this purpose can, for example, be understood in many works of art representing generative art.(27)
Perhaps 2004 should be taken in a symbolic way, as in subsequent years the awards at the festival in Linz went just to works that had little in common with the classic interactive art and, generally, with the idea of interactivity, based on a close collaboration of the creator and the co-creator of the work, playing the role of the user, guest or inter-actor. Actually, each of the Golden Nica prize-winning work in the years 2005-2008 can be regarded as an example that meets the expanded definition of interactivity mentioned above, that is, in fact, these are realizations which found a special kind of inter-passive attitude. MILKproject (2005) by Ieva Auzina and Esther Polak, The Messenger (2006) by Paul DeMarinis, Park View Hotel (2007) by Ashok Sukumaran and Image Fulgurator (2008) by Julius von Bismarck, of course, vary a lot from one another, but in a sense, these works are combined by the fact that the role of the recipients of these works is their passive observation. Sometimes, indeed, as is the case of MILKproject or Image Fulgurator, these works are presented only in the form of documentation, which further aggravates the situation of passive viewing activities in which someone else acts to a certain extent on our behalf, or the project is addressed to a closed group of people (MILKproject). But even in this case, the questions of interactive co-creation of the work (in this case as a process) seem to be problematic. Of course, each of these works would require an individual approach and discussion, but this is not my goal here.
It seems that in the case of the realizations referred to above, one could use the concept of interpassivity used as a specific type of the receiving disposition, implied by works, which are included in quite a problematic way in interactive art. In order to clarify it, I would like to refer primarily to the theoretical concepts and Slavoj Žižek and Robert Pfaller. The Slovenian philosopher treats the interpassivity as „the other side of interactivity”, a kind of “a supplement/a double”, much more amazing than interactivity.(28) Presenting his own understanding of interpassivity, Žižek, as usual, used the examples which were a permanent method of conducting investigations for him. Nota bene, Robert Pfaller(29) has devoted a separate text to this strategy, analyzing the role of examples (to which I will refer later) playing in the philosophy of the author of The Sublime Object of Ideology. Examples have also emerged in this book, to which the philosopher will return many times later ( „the laughter at the can” or the analysis of Lacan’s formulation of the role of the choir in Greek tragedy(30)) in the Plague of Fantasies.
I have the impression that interactive art has reached a sort of impasse, and at the same time it is seeking its new identity that cannot be redefined only through new interfaces, or improving those that have already been created and are continually improved. „Classic” examples given by Žižek, such as television „the laughter at cans,” compulsive (at the time) recording of films on video recorder, ever delaying the moment when recorded videos are watched, the choir of the Greek tragedy – they are different ways to describe a similar situation. Here is the „other” who, acting on our behalf, takes over our activity, either by using different strategies of substituting or replacing our activity. He replaces us in our own active participation in a specific event. This „entity which laughs instead of us, (i.e., through which we and the audience, embarrassed as well as bored, laugh in spite of everything), it is an anonymous „the Other great” of the invisible artificial audience.”(31) As it is the case of the „laughter at the cans” can be an extreme, but at the same time a model example of generating inter-passive situation. Someone on our behalf, and properly simulating our behaviour, performs the job, encourages us to laugh (laughter is „contagious”), but in fact this situation is no longer the place of our (inter)activity. This leaves us with passivity, motor element has been amputated, while this strategy results in, or tries to give to, a sense of co-presence and co-creation. Unfortunately, they have only illusory and simulative dimension.
Thus, interpassivity is a metaphorical, but also a literal transfer of our activities to someone else. This may be an interactive system, a work that presents its internal interactivity, an interactive work, in another situation the documentation of work, where in fact interactive participation of inter-actors was realized, we, however, play post factum only the role of a “witness” of former events, someone who, as aptly remarks Gips van Oenen, examining theories of Žižek and Pfaller, “”delegates” their faith and pleasure to others.”(32) This delegating is, however, delegating our passivity rather than activity, so, „the inter-passive turn” would have to consist in the return to a situation when art did not require the active participation; now, simulating our activity is carried out by the inter-passive procedures. Intra-active works function in the self-reversible loop, they do not need our activities as they are in fact self-sufficient, well-programmed to act within an infinite loop not demanding any interference from the outside. The work in such a sense is driving and verifying its operation, it does not need any external instance, which would verify the nature or re-programme the principles of its functioning.
When the same work (or rather its principle of action) is based on the internal inter(intra)activity, it turns out that there is no place for user’s interactivity. The form of delegating our own experiences on the other moves towards reconciliation with the fact that we can at best be only part of the implemented logic of the work. Interactivity in this context is not completely denied, it is rather to highlight the changes that have in recent times occurred there, moreover, not only in the art of new media. Theoretical discourses, unfortunately, often work well only in the proposed area and the desired solutions, in slightly different way (using euphemism) it is in practice.
Robert Pfaller, who is seen as one of the main theorists of the phenomenon of interpassivity(33), in one of his articles used this term for the analysis of a rite. Examples already cited ( „the laughter at the can,” a VCR as a machine views „for us” the watching of a recorded video film, and another – as a photocopying machine reading „instead of” intellectuals engaged in producing a huge number of copies of texts, which they will never read) can be seen as ritual forms . In other words:
”Interpassivity consists in ritualizing an action. This ritual nature of inter-passive practices provides us with the answer to the question on the method of interpassivity: an inter-passive person and medium, which it uses, not connected by any ties, but through the representation. An inter-passive person delegates its pleasure to the medium through ritual performance that this medium shows a symbolic representation of consumption.”(34)
Today, interactive art often takes the form of those activities which – in fact, depriving us of the possibility of interaction and collaboration – provide us with a sense of illusion of participation. The „substitution of real action” highlighted by Pfaller, such as reading or watching (because media devices make it for us), has the dimension of a media rite. Interpassivity is based on the ritual forms, but at the same time the strategies considered to be interactive in art – have currently been ritualized and, unfortunately, more and more often form the illusion of interactivity, or by means of theoretical reformulation of past determinants of interactive art – they legitimize works which do not have much in common with the actual interactivity. This does not mean that now interactive works are not already created, but probably unnecessarily many new media art works are included in the context of interactive practices by frequently unclear qualification. Perhaps this is due to another form of the rite, that is the attachment to the belief that „real” new media art should be interactive. Interactivity is the distinguishing feature (in the „genetic” sense), and indeed the primary feature of new media art. Meanwhile, interactive art should be seen as an important, but not the only segment of the practices of artists using new media and creating cyberart.
But inter-passiveness can also be seen as a positive feature of participation, for example, in virtual reality and cyberspace, where by means of an avatar we delegate in a way our own subjectivity to the digital object broadening and increasing our identity. In this mode Laetitia Wilson writes about this phenomenon and instead of the utopia of interactivity she prefers to deal with the phenomenon of „interpassivity, being possible to define as a model of consensual relations involving the transfer of activity and emotion to another object or substance, in consequence „acting” on his behalf.”(35) The substitution of the entity transferring activity to the digital „replacement” in cyberspace constitutes digital identity, which is probably some form of a surrogate of real identity, but the best way to connect these two dimensions of identity is an integrated model of double identity. This does not need to cause a schizophrenic split like an avatar does not have to be seen as our digital copy, but rather as a part co-creating our increased identity. You may recall at this point that this type of reasoning is present in the theoretical considerations of Sherry Turkle, and especially in the book Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. The motif of a multiplied or continuously and without an end multiplied identity, however, remaining an integral whole, now has become a sort of the canon of thinking about peregrinations of identity in the digital era.(36)
These issues are so important that it is the development of the Internet to a large extent, that has contributed to the changes in the field of interactive art and activities, enabling entirely new ways of activating the recipients while at the same time changing the traditional parameters of interactive strategies. Let us recall that the work that led Erkki Huhtamo to the reflection on the „crisis of identity of the interactive art”, was the realization Listening Post by Rubin and Hansen, using just the possibility of the net. On the other hand, in the light of the realizations existing in the net, or using some of its aspects, one might speak about ergodicity rather than of interactivity. This term proposed by Espen Aarseth was also as a sort of negative reaction to the ideological dimension of interactivity. Aarseth, as Manovich and Shulgin have already mentioned, believes that it is „an entirely ideological concept projecting rather unclear fantasy than something that has any analytical significance.”(37) And the interactivity tacitly assumes that „people and machines are equal partners in communication”(38), which is an obvious illusion of interactivity believers. Ergodicity, ergodic discourse (the word was created from a combination of words ergos – work, and hodos – path, road), is a new type of discourse, emerging as a result of an active operation of the user each time becoming the actual producer of a work that is not determined by the pre-programming of the effect of reading or reception. One should add, however, that the term ergodism is used primarily for (hyper)textual objects, and computer games, but also with regard to cyberart, especially that created in cyberspace, and using virtual reality.
Interpassivity, as you can see, can have many faces; it may not necessarily be associated only with the denial of our opportunities to actively, interactively function in the area set out by using new media technologies for the creation of interactive works. Interpassivity should be regarded as complementary to the natural form of interactivity. Another issue is absolutizing of interactivity and recognizing it as a necessary condition for the existence of cyberart. As already mentioned when I referred to works with most authentic values of art and which are important achievements of contemporary media art, to a certain extent the enforcement and artificial „inclusion” in the area of interactive art simply seems to me not to be a procedure reasonable enough.
1. See: Piotr Zawojski, Dokąd zmierza sztuka nowych mediów. DEAF i Ars Electronica 2007, „Opcje” 2007, No 3. It is also available on my website:
2. Joke Brouwer, Arjen Mulder, Interact or Die!, [in:] Joke Brouwer, Arjen Mulder (eds.), Interact or Die!, V2_Publishing/Nai Publishers, Rotterdam 2007, p. 4.
3. Peter Weibel, User Art_Nutzerkunst, http://www02.zkm.de/youser
4. Mona Sarkis, Interactivity Means Interpassivity, „Media Infromation Australia” 1993, nr 69, p. 13.
5. Alexei Shulgin, Art, Power, and Communication, http://sunsite.cs.msu.su/wwwart/apc.htm
6. Lev Manovich, On Totalitarian Interactivity (Notes From the Enemy of the People), http://www.manovich.net/TEXT/totalitarian.html
7. Dieter Daniels, Strategies of Interactivity, http://www.mediaartnet.org/source-text/65/
8. Lev Manovich, Language of New Media, Język nowych mediów, trans. by Piotr Cypryański, Wydawnictwa Akademickie i Profesjonalne, Warszawa 2006, p. 128. See also my review of this book : Piotr Zawojski, Wszystko, co chcielibyście wiedzieć o nowych mediach, „Kultura Współczesna” 2006, No 4.
9. I wrote extensively on the subject of Soft Cinema and Manovich’s artistic practice elsewhere. See: Piotr Zawojski, «Soft Cinema» Lva Manovicha i Andreasa Krakty’ego. «Język nowych mediów» w praktyce, „Kwartalnik Filmowy” 2007, No 60.
10. Lev Manovich, Język…, op. cit., p. 323.
11. Lev Manovich, Kim jest autor?, trans. by Mirosław Filiciak, „Kultura Popularna” 2003, No 1, p. 92.
12. Roland Barthes, Śmierć autora, trans. by Michał Paweł Markowski, „Teksty Drugie” 1999, No 1-2, p. 250.
13. Michel Foucault, Powiedziane, napisane. Szaleństwo i literatura, trans. by. Michał Paweł Markowski, selected and ed. By Tadeusz Komendant, Fundacja Aletheia, Warszawa 1999, p. 199.
14. You may find a detailed description of these events in my reports. See: Piotr Zawojski, Globalna sztuka mediów, „Opcje” 2003, No 3; by the same author: W poszukiwaniu kodu(ów) cyberkultury, „Opcje” 2003, No 4-5; by the same author: Wizje podwojone. Sztuka wideo dziś, „Opcje” 2004, No 3; by the same author: Transmedialny Berlin, „Opcje” 2005, No 1; by the same author: WRO-cławskie biennale sztuki mediów 05, „Opcje” 2005, No 3; by the same author: Hybrydalna rzeczywistość. Pamiętnik z Ars Electronica 2005, „Opcje” 2005, nr 4; by the same author: Transmedialny szum pofestiwalowy, „artPapier” 2006, nr 7; by the same author: Dokąd zmierza sztuka nowych mediów. DEAF i Ars Electronica 2007, „Opcje” 2007, No 3; by the same author: Tożsamość sztuki mediów. 21st European Media Art Festival. Osnabrück 2008, „Opcje” 2008, No 2; by the same author: Remiksowanie ego. Ars Electronica 2008, „Opcje” 2008, No 3. All the articles referred to may be fund on my website: www.zawojski.com
15. Stephen Wilson, Information Arts. Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, London, p. 881.
16. I also wrote on this subject elsewhere. Comp.: Piotr Zawojski, Archiwizacja, prezentacja i dyseminacja cybersztuki w sieci, [in:] Agnieszka Dytman-Stasieńko, Jan Stasieńko (eds.), WWW – w sieci metafor. Strona internetowa jako przedmiot badań naukowych, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Dolnośląskiej Szkoły Wyższej, Wrocław 2008.
17. Maria Poprzęcka writes about his Large Glass “that it is the first work given to the disposal of the recipient”. Maria Poprzęcka, Inne obrazy. Oko, widzenie, sztuka. Od Albertiego do Duchampa, Wydawnictwo słowo/obraz/terytoria, Gdańsk 2008, p. 95. Although Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics[in motion]) rotorelief executed by Duchamp and Man Ray in 1920 is commonly referred to in the context of pre-interactive works.
18. Söke Dinkla, The History of the Interface in Interactive Art, http://www.maryflanagan.com/courses/2002/web/HistoryofInterface.html
19. See: Erkki Huhtamo, Silicon Remember Ideology, or David Rokeby’s Meta-interactive Art, http://homepage.mac.com/davidrokeby/erkki.html
20. Söke Dinkla, The History of the Interface…, op. cit.
21. See: Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau, Dorothée King (eds.), Interface Culture. Artistic Aspects of Interaction, Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2008.
22. Erkki Huhtamo, It Is Interactive – but Is It Art?, [w:] Thomas E. Lineham (ed.), Computer Graphics Visual Proceedings: Annual Conference Series. 1993, ACM SIGGRAPH, New York 1993.
23. Mark Hansen, Ben Rubin, Listening Post, [in:] Hannes Leopoldseder, Christine Schöpf, Gerfried Stocker (eds.), CyberArts 2004. Prixars Electronica, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruin 2004, p. 114.
24. Erkki Huhtamo, Trouble at the Interface, or the Identity of Interactive Art,
25. Scott deLahunta, Peter Higgins, Hiroshi Ishii, Tomoe Moriyama, Elanie Ng, Rearview Mirror: 1990-2004, [in:] Hannes Leopoldseder, Christine Schöpf, Gerfried Stocker (eds.), CyberArts 2004…, op. cit., p. 106.
26. Ibidem, p. 110
27. I was occupied with these issues in the context of Brian Eno artistic output. See: Piotr Zawojski, Para-obrazy. Audiowizualne eksperymenty Briana Eno, in print.
28. See: Slavoj Žižek, Przekleństwo fantazji, trans. by Adam Chmielewski, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2001, pp. 175, 175. The philosopher highlights that he uses the work of Robert Pfaller.
29. See: Robert Pfaller, Interpassivity and Misdemeanors: The Analysis of Ideology and the Žižekian Toollbox,
“International Journal of Zizek Studies” 2007, vol. 1, nr 1.
30. Slavoj Žižek, Wzniosły obiekt ideologii, trans. by Joanna Bator i Paweł Dybiel, intr. by Paweł Dybiel, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2001, pp. 50-51.
31. Slavoj Žižek, Przekleństwo fantazji…, op. cit., p. 174.
32. Gijs van Oenen, Interpassivity Revisited: A Critical and Historical Reappraisal of Interpassive Phenomena,
33. See: Robert Pfaller (hrsg.), Interpassivität. Studien über delegiertes Geniessen, Springer, Wien, New York 2000; tegoż: Ästhetik der Interpassivität, Philo Fine Arts, Hamburg 2009.
34. Robert Pfaller, Little Gestures of Disappearance. Interpassivity and the Theory of Ritual, “Journal of European Psychoanalysis” 2003, nr 16, p. 4.
35. Laetitia Wilson, Interactivity or Interpassivity: a Qustion of Agency in Digital Play, http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au/dac/papers/Wilson.pdf
36. See: a selection from excerpts Life on the Screen made by Sherry Turkle herself, Who Am We?, [w:] David Trend (ed.), Reading Digital CultureReading Digital Culture, Blackwell Publishing, Cambridge, MA, Oxford 2001.
37. Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Baltimore 1997, p. 51.
38. Ibidem, p. 48.