Interface – the Art of Interface – „Interface Culture”

Published in: Wonderful Life. Laurent Mignonneau + Christa Sommerer. Ed. by R.W. Kluszczyński. Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia. Gdańsk 2012.

„They are ‘artists sans frontiers’, working in
labs in the Far East and Central Europe, in
galleries and museums in the Northern Hemisphere
and in the south, lecturing scientists
and technologists, as much as artists and
theorists”.
Roy Ascott

Interface

Like many other concepts in techno-culture
(but also in chemistry, physics, cartography,
and geology), the concept of interface has
both a conceptual and a technical dimension.
The latter understanding of interface
may be more concrete and exact, but it is
the first aspect which forces us to move
beyond a technical or technological frame
of reference for understanding interface
and seek a cultural context.
As I write these words (using a keyboard,
mouse, touchpad, and above all,
a monitor with a cascade of windows),
I am part of a multi-interface system.
At the same time, I am aware that this
interface is not something transparent –
quite the opposite: it directs my actions
not only in terms of simple operations
(hands – keyboard), but also in terms of
my conceptualization of what I want to
convey (write). Such thinking has been
succinctly and accurately summed up by
Lev Manovich: ‘far from being a transparent
window into the data inside a computer,
the interface brings with it strong
messages of its own.’1 We need to bear
in mind that he is thinking here primarily
about a graphical user interface (GUI),
but this way of thinking can most certainly
be extended to other types of interfaces,
including those in which contact
between the user and the machine
is not based on a screen/monitor.
So, although interfaces are helpful,
even essential, at the same time (when
using an interface), they hold a powerful
influence over us. What kind? It is
worth recalling here the old structuralist
and anthropological truth that ‘we
do not speak language, language speaks
us.’ It is not we who use language, but
language which uses us as a medium for
manifesting an internal, self-contained
discourse of language – an autonomous
tool for communication.
Therefore, do we, as autonomous
and independent entities, use new interfaces,
or do the interfaces use us?
Is it not true that new interfaces will
naturally force users of new media to
change their behaviour? Interfaces
possess an ambiguity: they provide us
with something we had never even previously
sensed, and, at the same time,
they greedily subordinate us to their iron
logic (efficiency, usefulness, interconnectivity,
etc.), because their use is demanded.
The philosophy of the interface
is based on an intersection (we can also
call this moment a ‘meeting’), or rather,
a wide variety of intersections, which
are in many cases are freely chosen, and
in many cases forced or predetermined
by the apparatus and its system. The
more advanced they are, the more they
demand, and hence a paradox arises in
relation to intuitive and invisible interfac-
es. Technical apparatuses are equipped
with natural interfaces, which basically
simulate their own non-existence. They
are a boundary, a shared space, a place
of contact, a border area – they do not
belong fully (or at all) to one side or the
other. They belong to both sides at the
same time, without being an integral part
of either. This is the interface. I am both
‘here’ and ‘there’ without really being anywhere.
I am simultaneously on both sides,
but I am really in between: inter. It is like
a face turned towards something that
requires a reaction – like a shot/countershot
in a movie – the eye turns towards
something that is presently outside the
frame, and which is revealed only when
the camera is turned 180 degrees.
The interface is the world of technology,
but it is also the realm of thinking about
technology. It is a technical term (Human
Computer Interface, Graphical User Interface,
Application Program Interface) that
provides the basis for reflecting on the
culture of the interface. This is no longer
about merely the computer aspect of the
concept of interface, but, above all, about
viewing the interface as a key category
in cyberculture, which is, in short, essentially
a ‘culture of interface(s)’, because
they established (and continue to do so)
a new form of technoculture, the foundation
of which is the philosophy of contact
at ‘the border’, that is, the philosophy of
interface.
The rapid development of graphical
user interfaces ushered in by the groundbreaking
inventions and ideas of Alan Kay
in the early 1970s (graphic and iconic representations
of computer functions, the
Dynabook), caused that the study of in-
terfaces in media studies was reduced
to a study of the functional aspects of
various interfaces. But this represents
a major simplification. In their general typology
of interfaces, Florian Cramer and
Matthew Fuller supplement the category
of user interface with four additional
types of interfaces: user-hardware, hardware-
hardware, software-hardware and
software-software.2 Particularly interesting
here are their comments on the
‘asymmetry of power’, which is an inherent
feature of man-machine interaction
(in this instance, we are thinking about
the computer primarily as a ‘Turing machine’).
Despite the continued emphasis
that is placed on the creation of userfriendly
software, hardware, and interfaces,
these often operate, in fact, like
‘black boxes’, whose function remains unclear
to most users. Flusser’s notion of
the ‘functionary’ of an apparatus, that
is, a docile executor of mysterious programmes
and algorithms, has lost none of
its universality or relevance. In our contacts
with machines, humans function
as an extension of their programmes, in
other words, they are implemented into
the system. The interface then proves
to have been an illusion, because the
subject has been included by the object.
Inclusive practices are those situations
in which interfaces become invisible.
Intelligent technologies ‘things that
think’, sensitive space, Radio Frequency
Identification (RFID), and wireless Internet,
which has become a prevalent phenomenon
in ‘urban IT’, as it is commonly
referred to, are causing the interface to
become ‘so seamlessly embedded in the
objects of everyday life that it conceals
its own presence.’3 At the same time, an
ongoing translation of digital information
is taking place between computers and
humans via these invisible interfaces,
which make information comprehensible
to the user. This is a socializing practice
that takes place in social space; this
space, however, is increasingly becoming
a hybrid space. Real and virtual environments
overlap, there is reciprocal
augmentation of these two areas, carried
out largely by means of mobile technology.
As Adriana de Souza e Silva has
rightly noted, mobile technologies are
becoming interfaces for a hybrid space
in which ‘social interfaces’ determine
the relationships between users operating
within this space. The author writes
that ‘social interfaces not only reshape
communication relationships but also
reshape the space in which this interaction
takes place. It is important to highlight
that interfaces are also culturally
defined, which means that generally, the
social meaning of an interface is not always
developed when the technology
is first created but usually comes later,
when it is finally embedded in social practices’.4
Thinking about interfaces also means
thinking about the founding of new science,
one that will meet the challenges
of hybridizing space and that will create
a general theory of the various surfaces
that come into contact with on another.
Before the study of interfaces began,
there existed a study of surfaces, because
an interface is nothing more the
surface between the two states, for example,
liquids (oil and water). The term is
used to describe the chemical and physical
phenomena that affect the formation
of the surface, the border between two
bodies, species, or phases. In a very inspiring
study that forms the preface to
a collective work entitled The Art of Science
Interface and Interaction Design,5
Peter Weibel outlines the broad historical
context for our changing understanding
of the concept of interface. From
geometry, which dealt with ‘measuring
the earth’ (and its surface, literally: ‘geo-
’ – land, ‘-metry’ – size), and cartography
(description of the land, the creation of
its ‘pages’, that is, maps), we arrive at
the study of simulations and representations.
This process is perfectly and
succinctly illustrated by means of the
oft-cited Baudrillardian interpretation of
Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘On Exactitude in Science’
from A Universal History of Infamy.
Borges brilliantly anticipates (in 1933/34,
when the ‘samples of narrative prose’
contained in the book were written) the
concepts of simulation and simulacrum,
which essentially concern the problem of
interface.
„In that Empire, the Art of Cartography
attained such Perfection that the map
of a single Province occupied the entirety
of a City, and the map of the Empire,
the entirety of a Province. In time,
those Unconscionable Maps no longer
satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds
struck a Map of the Empire whose size
was that of the Empire, and which coincided
point for point with it. The following
Generations, who were not so fond
of the Study of Cartography as their
Forebears had been, saw that that vast
Map was Useless, and not without some
Pitilessness was it, that they delivered
it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and
Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still
today, there are Tattered Ruins of that
Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars;
in all the Land there is no other Relic of
the Disciplines of Geography”.6
The map and territory in this visionary
story is nothing more than a prolegomena
to the study of the surface, which
is the basis for learning about interface
– representation and simulation interface
with one another. Today, with the increasing
popularity of dynamic and interactive
maps that can be actively (digitally) converted,
we are better able to understand
that old-fashioned cartography, in fact,
presaged the study of the interface. But
this was played out only on the surface,
whereas the hard sciences mapped out
a new type of contact, a new type of interface,
one that goes beneath the surface
and leads to an interface between
the interior and exterior, which brings to
mind the concept of endophysics. According
to Otto E. Rössler, ‘the world is
an interface’,7 and a person who walks
along (and acts upon) the earth’s surface
is in permanent interface with its interior.
This theme, which is worth remembering,
was the theme (along with nanotechnology)
of the Ars Electronica festival in
1992. The publication8 accompanying the
event included articles by Rössler, Peter
Weibel, and Florian Rötzer included both
scientific and philosophical perspectives,
as well as artistic ones, while the understanding
of interface moved decisively
beyond a simple technological formulations,
and was incorporated as an element
in fundamental scientific questions.
Questions about the ‘interface between
the observer and the rest’ and the issues
that are central to endophysics, that is,
to descriptions of reality from the inside,
by means of the senses – are among the
main problems confronting the study of
the interface. This, in effect, must lead to
subjectification, since an ‘observer who
is part of the world cannot see the world
from what is objectively the best observation
point.’9
Peter Weibel, looking at the question of
the interface from a very broad perspective,
has established the rudiments of ‘interfaciology’,
noting that today the Barthean
‘empire of signs’ has become an
‘empire of interfaces’. Our contacts with
reality, or the world as an interface, are
not only the result of our use of media.
Rather than having direct contact with
a territory, we have contact with a map
of it, which confirms the accuracy of the
Borgean diagnosis about the establishment
of a dominant order of simulation.
‘The boundaries between the map and
the territory, representation and reality,
between what is mechanical and what is
organic, machine and man, simulation and
reality are blurred. That’s how we look at
the world from the perspective of the
theory of the interface.’10

The Art of Interface

Use of the concept of interface in various
artistic strategies can be broadly
divided into two categories. The first
would apply to any type of artistic activity
where there is contact between the
user/viewer and some artefact. In this
wider sense, the interface is a domain of
art because a boundary (interface understood
literally, with etymological roots in
French) between the work and the viewer
has always existed. The most natural
boundary is a simple ‘air interface’, for
which ‘you don’t need any devices as
technical intermediaries in order to communicate.
We do not have to learn this
form of mediation: we already breathe,
see, hear and feel natural scents.’11 The
second category concerns technical intermediaries
that are used in (new) media
art, and it is these which demarcate
the field of interface art in its contemporary
meaning. As Anthoni Porczak writes
in a briefly definition of this phenomenon,
‘The art of interface is another way
to participate in the creation of works
on the basis of a non-permanent (unfinished)
authorial artefact. The interface
allows for a new perceptual-operative
means of converting an artefact into
a work of art.’12 In this way, we are also
reminded that interface art, although it
should not be confused with interactive
art, is very close to this phenomenon.
Because even though not every work
of interface art has to be interactive, in
every interactive work there is an interface,
which is the point of contact between
the viewer and the work.
The variety in the interfaces used
in new-media art projects is directly
derived from the appearance of an increasing
number of new interfaces in
all areas of the information society.
These dependencies are two-sided:
what cyber-artists design is used in
non-artistic domains, while that which
is aimed at the mass user and has
commercial applications for a number
of devices – is adapted and applied in
the world of cyber-art. This process of
adaptation often has a critical or subversive
dimension. You can also describe
these phenomena as alternative
applications of widely used interfaces,
which only after being utilized by artists
reveal their potential as tools for
the creation of unique works of new
media art.13 Technical interfaces make
use of a variety of tracking and detection
systems (detecting and controlling
audio, video, motion picture, and kinetic
objects), sensory experience, facial
and body recognition treated as an interface,
voice/speech, gestures, hand
movements, wearable systems (sensors
and displays integrated into clothing
and textiles), virtual reality, etc. This
list could be expanded, perhaps not indefinitely,
but far beyond the elements
mentioned above.
From the beginning, the artistic path
of Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau
has been dominated by
the problem of the interface, which is
a consequence of their quest to establish
a new modus for being an artist,
in which art is regarded as a research
process, and scientific experiments find
their culmination in concrete artistic realizations.
Thus, since the start of their
shared activity, they have had a strong
sense that today’s media artists should
work as inventors. Inventors who use
new technologies to revalorize something
that has essentially always been
present in culture, the phenomenon of
artists as explorers/scientists.14 Even
if their works continually provoke questions
about where the line runs (another
interface) between the worlds of art
and science. These two artist’s meeting
one another, which would later result
in ground-breaking works in the field of
interactive art, interface art, and artificial
life, to name a few key areas of
their artistic and scientific exploration,
was the result of a particular form of
‘aiding and abetting’, or maybe intuition,
which was as much pedagogical as it
was artistic. The spiritual father and
midwife of this relationship was Peter
Weibel. As the Austrian artist, theorist,
teacher, long-time artistic director of
Ars Electronica, curator, and currently
director of the Zentrum für Kunst und
Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe15
Christa Sommerer recalls, she visited
Weibel in 1991 after graduating from the
Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1990.
Two years earlier, Weibel had co-founded
the Institut für Neue Medien at the
Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main. She
would spend the next few years there,
pursuing her artistic interest in artificial
intelligence and artificial life, which was
a continuation of her earlier interest in
botany as a student. As the director of
the institute, Weibel decided to admit
Laurent Mignonneau into the school on
a research grant. He had studied fine
arts in France and already displayed impressive
programming skills, using new
computer technology as a tool for the
creation of digital art. This quickly led
to artistic collaboration between the
two young, aspiring artists, brilliantly
evidenced by their first joint work, Interactive
Plant Growing (1992).17 This was
the beginning of the brilliant career of
these two great artists, who today are
emblematic authors of interactive media
art. Their use of a formal language (socalled
L-systems) developed by Aristid
Lindenmayer, and implemented for the
first time in a computer code created by
Przemysław Prusinkiewicz,17 gave rise
to the creation of a pioneering interface
that used live plants as a kind of ‘tangible
antenna’ that generated the formation
of real images and sounds generated
by the system’s users. The use of
‘living objects’ (plants) as the interface
was a true breakthrough.
Let’s turn our attention to another
aspect of their work – the turn toward
tangible interfaces: both tactile – based
on physical touch, and haptic – projecting
a physical sensation without actual
physical contact. Already in the duo’s
first realizations, this issue would be an
important part of their artistic strategy,
with the artists themselves touching on
(literally and figuratively) one of the most
important question in new media, the
issue of the media society, which had
been posed as a fundamental question
by Marshall McLuhan. We can recall here
A-Volve (1994-95), Riding the Net (2000)
and Mobile Feelings (2003 and 2004).
These works explore fundamental questions
about the changes taking place in
the means of making contact with art
through the sense of touch. Much has
been said about the primacy in Western
culture of the paradigm of distance in
the relation to the reception of art and
the aesthetics of contemplation, which
come out of an essentially anti-tactile
tradition. This tradition, however, has
been deconstructed by the many artists
through the use of digital media.
The term ‘digital’ itself contains a reference
to touch, since digitus is Latin for
finger’.18 In the works mentioned above,
experiments were made with multimodal
interfaces (eliminating the keyboard,
mouse, and touchpad), which provided
an intuitive and natural means of entrance
into the world of immersive haptic
effects. Also important for the formation of
their attitudes as artists and scientists
were research fellowships, research
grants and artistic residencies at the
National Center for Supercomputing Applications
(NCSA) in the United States
(1993-94), the InterCommunictation
Center (NTT-ICC) (1994-95), and Media
Integration and Communications Research
Labs (1995-2001) in Japan. Another
important stop along their path
of learning and artistic research, experimentation
and exploration was the International
Academy of Media Arts and Science
(IAMAS) in Gifu, Japan (1997-2005),
where they gained experience not only
as an artist-residents, but also as faculty
members, which most likely had an impact
on their idea later to create an original
programme in Interface Cultures for
students in Linz A particularly key role
in this effort was played by Itsuo Sakane,
who invited them to an exhibition he had
organised at IAMAS (Biennale of Interaction,
1995-2003). Sakane characterized
their work in this way: ‘their works have
always been a beautiful unity of scientific
knowledge and artistic sensibility, not
to mention the audience’s elation when
interacting with a particularly unique
type of interface design.’19s
This is a very brief summary of the early
cooperation between Sommerer and
Mignonneau, but I believe it is important
in terms of their futures and the choices
they would make, which related not only
to their artistic activity, but, above all, to
their work as teachers. In some sense
everything related to the work they do
in their signature ‘Interfaces Cultures’
programme at the Kunstuniversität Linz
(Universität für Industrielle und künstlerische
Gestaltung) can be seen as their
following in the footsteps of their master
and mentor, a role undoubtedly played at
the beginning of their careers by Peter
Weibel. This represents an example of
the long-standing academic and scientific
formula of the master-teacher, which
successfully led to the crystallization
of the artistic personalities of this pair
of collaborating artists. They decided to
help the young artists applying to study
at the school in Linz in the same way,
giving them an opportunity to study under
the guidance of artists who today
are widely regarded as masters of interactive
art.
Weibel aptly characterized their actions
as being determined by an imperative
to obtain knowledge and understand
complex problems related to genetic
algorithms, cellular automata, programming,
artificial intelligence and artificial
life, and to use these in their artistic activities,
which are treated as a form of
cognitive activity, or even a science.20
What distinguishes them is the way they
combine creativity (understood as artistic
inventiveness) and an intellectual
approach (i.e., understanding complex issues).
‘Their intelligence allows them to
understand the problems of art and their
talent allows them to solve problems
through artistic creativity [...]. They study
the literature in order to understand and
to investigate the problematics. This
requires intellectio.’21 But following this
comes the time for artistic expression,
as a result of which their projects acquire
their final form, and this is the domain
of artistic freedom, the search for
the best form of expression for the complex
research problems that underlie the
creation of a specific project. Moreover,
this project is never complete, since it requires
active participation in its realization
on the part of users who are invited
to collaborate in what Weibel calls ‘the
art of pARTicipation’. In these activities,
Sommerer and Mignonneau are, at the
same time, inventors, engineers, scientists,
and the creators of new technologies
and interfaces, but, above all, they
are visionary artists.
One of the most important of Christa
Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau’s programmatic
statements was published in
the year 2003. The text, which is a kind
of summary of their experiences as artists
and researchers with new interfaces,
is entitled From the Poesy of Programming
to Research as an Art Form.22 ‘Art
as a living system’ – this in a nutshell is
how you would define their philosophy
for what they do and create. Research
procedures that become an art form, the
‘poetry of programming’ their own software,
interfaces and dynamic systems
for violating the principle of end-user artist,
these are the imperatives of their activities.
‘The freedom to design your own
software and create your own hardware
can be compared to the mixing of colours
and pigments, it is the opposite of
using a pre-determined set of colours.’23
But that freedom can be achieved only
when you have a thorough knowledge of
the procedures leading to its existence –
and this can only be acquired from study
and learning from the best practitioners
and theorists in new media. Of course,
just as one cannot know in advance the
impact of dynamic systems that do not
have entered into their generative formula
the principles that predetermine
the effects of their use, in the learning
process, one cannot assume that having
the most titled and respected educators
as instructors is no guarantee that the
classes will produce brilliant artists. It
is difficult, however, to imagine a better
way of learning – one’s personal example,
knowledge, and position in the world of
art and science are the best way to build
not only authority, but also a worthwhile
sharing of knowledge and experience.
Art which is technologically determined
by the use of sophisticated digital tools
and computers is constantly faced with
problems, not much with its tools, as
with it conceptual ‘instrumentation’ and
an understanding of how new technologies
can be used to produce art. ‘Like biological
systems in which the phenotype
differs from the genotype, programming
as a form of artistic activity is not about
the code itself, but rather about how the
code finds expression, how it connects
with other environments and what it
means in this system.’.25
Can this way of thinking and acting be
taught?

Interface Culture

This above question can be answered
contrarily: it is extremely difficult (like
every form of art education), but we
should try. The introduction of Interface
Cultures in 2004 to the curriculum of
the Kunstuniversität in Linz was such
a form of educational experiment. In
the city where since 1979 the world’s
most important festival dedicated to
new electronic media art has been held,
where in 1994 Sommerer and Mignonneau
received the Golden Nica for Interactive
Art for A-Volve, the city to which
they later returned several times with
other projects, and which is now their
home. It is hard to imagine a better place:
the Ars Electronica Center (with the Museum
of the Future and Futurelab) and
Ars Electronica Festival (featuring the
Prix Ars Electronica awards) are natural
reference points for the students, that
is, beginning artists, studying here. Every
year, everyone held in esteem in the
world of digital media art comes to the
event. Since 2005, when students first
presented the work they had produced
during their first academic year (2004-
05), there has been a tradition that
during Ars Electronica shows are held
of work produced during the course of
the school’s two-year Master’s program.
Between 2005 and 2012, young artists
presented roughly 100 interactive projects,
most of which were presented at
exhibitions at the Ars Electronica Campus,
as well as at many other international
shows. It should be said at the
onset that although most students are
Austrians, the programme has always
been open to foreigners, and since its
first year, students from Spain, England,
Germany and Japan have studied there.
The name of the program was coined
from the title of an important book by
Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How
New Technology Transforms the Way We
Create and Communicate.25 The first part
of the title drew attention to a segment
of the cyber-culture paradigm that was
newly-forming at the time of the book’s
publication, and which raised the issues
of interface to the rank of one of the most
important problems in digital culture. The
second part (‘how new technologies are
changing the ways we create and communicate’)
emphasized the changes taking
place in the area of cyberculture.26 Johnson
demonstrated that, at the time, interfaces
were becoming a kind of translator
and moderator between the user and the
computer, but this aspect of translation
had a largely semantic dimension (i.e., it
is naturally immersed in culture), rather
than technical. ‘Digital computers are “literary
machines,” as hypertext guru Ted
Nelson calls them. They work with signs
and symbols, although this language, in
its most elemental form, is almost impossible
to understand.’27 The breakthrough
represented by the creation of the principles
for the GUI at the Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center proved that the technical
dimension of interfaces was in fact
of secondary importance. Perhaps the
most spectacular event that brought
this home was Doug Engelbart’s famous
presentation in 1968 during the Fall Joint
Computer Conference in San Francisco.
This was a turning point in the history
of both computer and screen technology
because it then became obvious
that the future would be dominated by
screens, monitors and displays, as the
areas where words, numbers, and all
other information would appear. Also presented
at that time were the computer
mouse, a form of video conferencing and
teleconferencing, hypertext and hypermedia
presentations, the use of a word
processor, and the oN-Line System – all
this formed what Steven Levy28 called
in 1994 called ‘the mother of all demos’.29
Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau
clearly point out that in formulating
the assumptions for this new
field of study, they focused not only on
the purely artistic dimensions of education,
but also its social aspects. ‘When
we were asked to take up the position
of professors for Interface Cultures in
2004, we were able to start a whole
new master study program that not
only needed to concentrate on humancomputer
interface design in the classical
computer engineering approach, but
also include artistic and social aspects.’30
As a result of such thinking, a new area
was staked out, which afterwards lecturers,
professors, and students continued
to work in, and whose dominant
and immanent feature was interactivity,
understood as the breaking of traditional
models of communication known from
the classical approach to the artwork as
a finished artefact. Thus, the Interface
Cultures program ‘teaches students of
human-machine interaction to develop
innovative interfaces that harness new
interface technologies at the confluence
of art research applications and design.’32
In the programme, the focus is placed on
interactive digital media; and while the
programme is theory-oriented, the practical
ability to create new software and
hardware, and teaching students that
the use of ready-made and widely available
applications is always to some extent
an imitative and uncreative activity.
This vision clearly results from the artistic
and research activity of Sommerer
and Mignonneau, who have become, like
Peter Weibel once did for them, the mentors
and custodians of young, emerging
artists.
This area of study, despite the apparent
limitations of the category of interface
in the context of interactivity activity,
is quite extensive, covering:
• interaction and interface design
• multimodal, hybrid and tangible
interfaces
• audio interfaces and audiovisual
interaction
• gaming interfaces
• ubiquitous computing and intelligent
ambiences
• handheld computer technology
• interactive art, net art and hybrid art
• experimental forms of interaction
including nano-art and bioart
• media art history and media
archaeology.
These general principles and problems find
their interpretation in specific courses and
subjects, whose names sometimes overlap
with the above-mentioned thematic ranges,
but which are also complemented by
such important questions (from the point
of view of new media artists) as: learning
how to write academic texts, authorial
explication, presenting and documenting
one’s work, practical knowledge on planning
exhibitions (budget, production, etc.),
how to obtain grants and apply for funding
to institutions that support the work
of students, how to establish relationships
with galleries, museums, festivals, and
game designers, mobile interaction, a ‘journal
club’ (regular meetings to discuss current
issues in the fields of science, art and
politics, based on scientific publications),
workshops on robotics, and classes on
programming and the use of sensors and
microcontrollers, as well as on methodology
and research methods. As can be seen,
this is a very well-developed programme
that not only prepares students to create
their own work and experiment with
interactive art and interface art, but it also
offers the possibility of learning how to
navigate the often complex mechanisms
governing the contemporary art market.32
In subsequent exhibitions held during
the Ars Electronica festival, virtually all
of these specific topics appeared in the
works of the young artists. Moreover, the
work was often produced using modest
means, which does not mean that
there were no interesting works among
them. Each edition of the ‘Interface Cultures’
exhibition had its own theme, such
as this year’s (2012) ‘kitchen interface’,
which explored issues related to making
art and the affinities of this process to
cooking, food and kitchens. In previous
years, themes included tangibility, audibility,
playability and wearable computers
(2006), physical computerology and
hybrid interfaces (2007), mobility and
performative interaction in public spaces
(2008), ‘DIY style’ (2009), and the ability
to play (2010). These are just selected examples
of the themes of exhibitions, although
it should be noted that the works
presented in the exhibitions at Ars Electronica
were not always directly related
to the previously-determined thematic
constraints. In terms of the formal aspects
of these works, we can find a full
cross-section of contemporary art forms
using new digital technologies based on
the concept of interactivity and making
use of all known and theoretical interfaces:
net art, software art, robotic art,
soundspaces and soundart, digital music,
video games, digital storytelling, mobile
art, hybrid art, genetic art, spaceart,
bioart, nano art, audiovisual installations,
information visualization, conceptual
works, interactive environments of artificial
life – and the list goes on. The overall
number of represented types, splinters,
mutations, styles and poetics from with-
in the artistic conventions that comprise
the broadly-defined world of new media
art – is difficult to classify and catalogue.
An extremely important part of the learning
process of students is a program of
lectures of invited guests who regularly
visit the university in Linz. A record of
these visits and lectures can be found in
the previously mentioned book Interface
Cultures: Artistic Aspects of Interaction.33
The texts found within in it are based on
lectures delivered in Kunstuniversität. It
is divided into five sections, which clearly
show the thematic range of the topics:
informational design and social media,
bio-inspired interfaces, cultural and aesthetic
aspects of interactivity, stage and
audio-visual interaction, and interactive
art practices. This book shows at the
same time, that we need to significantly
expand our art education methods, and
that the candidates for becoming new
media artists must acquire skills related
not only to the ability to use new technologies,
and knowing the traditions and
history of art, but they should also be
able to navigate the broadly understood
market for art. Undoubtedly, the position
in the world of contemporary media art
attained by Christa Sommerer and Laurent
Mignonneau makes it easier for them
to attract artists and theorists who will
be willing to share their experiences with
students. The combination of theory and
practice, art and science, is also characteristic
of the activities of this Austro-
French duo. Kim Cascone, Scott Delahunt,
Erkki Huhtamo, Katja Kwastek, Ulf
Langheinrich, Klaus Obermaier, Dietmar
Offenhuber, Christiane Paul, STATION
ROSE, Keiko Takahashi, Machiko Kusahara,
Michael Naimark, and Joachim Sauter
– are among the well known names from
the world of new media art and theory
who have been part of the Interface Cultures
programme.
Finally, I would like to mention a Polish
angle. This year’s exhibition during
the Ars Electronica festival included
Justyna Zubrycka’s work Mórimo – a device
for receiving music via the somatic
senses. This is probably the first time
that a Polish student studied at the Kunstuniversität
in Linz as part of ‘Interface
Cultures’, which was facilitated by an
Erasmus scholarship. As a result, the
project has become the artist’s thesis
at the Faculty of Industrial Design at the
Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. We can
only hope that this is not the last such
case, and that young Polish students of
new media art in the future will be more
likely to find their a place within the walls
of this school in Linz.

NOTES

1. Lev Manovich, The Language of
New Media, p. 46.  MIT Press. Cambridge MA, London
2001, p. 46. Commentary on Manovich’s
understanding of interfaces can be found in a book
about interfaces by Nicholas Gane and David Beer.
See: Nicholas Gane, David Beer, New Media.
The Key Concepts, Berg, Oxford, New York 2008,
pp. 53-69.
2 See: Florian Cramer, Matthew Fuller,
Interface, [in:] Matthew Fuller (ed.), Software
Studies. A Lexicon, MIT Press, Cambridge MA,
London 2006, pp. 149-152.
3 Nicholas Gane, David Beer, New Media…,
p. 64. For more on the progressive networking
and technologization of urban space, see: William
J. Mitchell, Me++. The Cyborg Self and the
Networking City, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, London
2003.
4 Adriana de Souza e Silva, From Cyber
to Hybrid: Mobile Technologies as Interfaces of
Hybrid Spaces, „Space and Culture” 2006, vol. 9,
nr 3, p. 262.
5 Peter Weibel, Foreward, [in:] Christa
Sommerer, Lakami C. Jain, Laurent Mignonneau
(ed.), The Art of Science…, pp. v-x.
6 Jorge Luis Borges, On Exactitude
in Science, [in:] Jorges Luis Borges, Collected
Fictions. trans. Andrew Hurley. Penguin, New York
1998, p. 325.
7 Otto E. Rössler, Endophysics: The World
as an Interface, World Scientific, Singapore, New
Jersey, London, Hong Kong 1998.
8 See: Karl Gerbel, Peter Weibel (ed.), The
World from Within – ENDO & NANO, PVS Verleger,
Wien 1992.
9 Otto E. Rössler, Peter Weibel, ‘Our
Rainbow World’, [in:] Karl Gerber, Peter Weibel (ed.),
The World from Within…, p. 14.
10 Peter Weibel, Foreward, p. x.
11 Antoni Porczak, Jak kontaktujemy się
ze sztuką? [in:] Antoni Porczak (ed.), Interfejsy
sztuki, Wydawnictwo ASP w Krakowie, Kraków
2008, p. 118. I will only add that this last statement
on the ‘naturalness’ of the processes of
perception is a gross simplification, and does not
account for historical changes in the socialization
processes of our vision, for instance.
12 Ibid, p. 119.
13 There are a range of examples in the
work of artists like Ken Feingold, Simon Biggs, Toni
Dove, Camille Utterback, Scott Snibbe, Norimichi
Hirakawa, David Rokeby, Marie Sester, Golan Levin,
Zachary Lieberman, SSS-Sensors_Sonic_Sights,
Luc Courchesne, Joanna Berzowska, Manel
Torres, Martin Frey, presented by Steven Wilson
in a chapter entitled Alternative Interfaces in:
Stephen Wilson, Art+Science Now, Thames &
Hudson, London 2010, pp. 130-15
14 For more on the subject, see: Dieter
Daniels, Barbara U. Schmidt (ed.), Artist as
Inventors. Inventors as Artists, Hatje Cantz Verlag,
Ostfildern 2008.
15 See: Peter Weibel, ‘The Art of Artificial’,
[in:] Gerfried Stocker, Christa Sommerer, Laurent
Mignonneau (ed.), Christa Sommerer. Laurent
Mignonneau. Interactive Art Research, Springer-
Verlag, Wien, New York 2009, pp. 14-19.
16 I would only add that at the same
time the artists were also working on another
interactive work entitled Anthroposcope (1993),
which, like Interactive Plant Growing, was
presented at Ars Electronica in Linz in 1993.
The authors’ description of both projects can be
found in the following catalogue: Karl Gerbel, Peter
Weibel (ed.), Genetische Kunst – Künstliches Leben,
PSV Verleger, Wien 1993, pp. 398-400 and 408-414.
17 See: Przemysław Prusinkiewicz,
The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants, Springer-
Verlag, Wien, New York 1990, or Armin
Medosch, Technological Determinism in
Media Art, http://www.thenextlayer.org/files/
TechnoDeterminismAM_0.pdf, pp. 36-37.
18 See: Erkki Huhtamo, Twin – Touch –
Test – Redut: Media Archeological Approach to
Art, Interactivity, and Tactility, [in:] Oliver Grau
(ed.), MediaArtHistories, MIT Press, Cambridge
MA, London 2007, pp. 71-101; and in terms of the
creative output of Sommerer and Mignonne,
see: Touchscapes, [in:] Gerfried Stocker, Christa
Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau (ed.), Christa
Sommerer…, pp. 32-35.
19 Itsuo Sakane, On the Nostalgic History
of Interactive Art – A Personal Retrospective,
[in:] Gerfried Stocker, Christa Sommerer, Laurent
Mignonneau (ed.), Christa Sommerer…, p. 30.
20 See: Piotr Zawojski, Nauka i sztuka
w wieku technologii cyfrowych. Bezpieczne
związki, [in:] Piotr Zawojski (ed.), Digitalne
dotknięcia. Teoria w praktyce/Praktyka w teorii,
Stowarzyszenie Make it Funky Production,
Szczecin 2010, pp. 29-42.
21 Peter Weibel, The Art of…, p. 17.
22 Laurent Mignonneau, Christa Sommerer,
From the Poesy of Programming to Research as
an Art Form, [in:] Gerfried Stocker, Christine Schöpf
(ed.), Code. The Language of Our Time, Hatje Cantz
Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit 2003, pp. 242-249.
23 Ibid, p. 243.
24 Ibid, p. 248.
25 See: Stephen Johnson, Interface
Culture: How New Technology Transforms
the Way We Create and Communicate, Basic
Books, New York 1997.
26 See: Piotr Zawojski, Cyberkultura.
Syntopia sztuki, nauki i technologii, Poltext,
Warsaw 2010.
27 Stephen Johnson, Interface Culture…,
p. 14.
28 Steven Levy, Insanely Great: The Life
and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That
Change Everything, Penguin Books, New York 1994,
p. 42.
29 Documentation of this event can
be founf online at: http://sloan.stanford.edu/
mousesite/1968Demo.html
30 Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau,
Interface Cultures – Artistic Aspects of
Interface Design, [in:] Christa Sommerer, Laurent
Mignonneau, Dorothée King (ed.), Interface
Cultures. Artistic Aspects of Interactions,
Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2008, p. 9.
31 Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau,
Interface Cultures, [in:] Gerfierd Stocker, Christine
Schöph (ed.), Hybrid. Living in Paradox, Hatje Cantz
Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit 2003, p. 304.
32 This concerns the programme of
studies described in the brochure Interface
Cultures. Master Study Program, University of Art
and Design, Institute of Media Studies, Linz 2012.
33 See: Christa Sommerer, Laurent
Mignonneau, Dorothée King (ed.), Interface
Culture…

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Cambridge MA, London 2003.
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sztuką? [in:] Antoni Porczak (ed.), Interfejsy
sztuki, Wydawnictwo ASP w Krakowie,
Kraków 2008.
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Verleger, Wien 1992.
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Stowarzyszenie Make it Funky Production,
Szczecin 2010.
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nauki i technologii, Poltext, Warszawa 2010.

 

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