Photo: Tomi Humalisto & Jokke Heikkilä
An image compilation of students participating Divide AR-course 2016, Nao-humanoid robots testing in TEAK 2017 and Greek city bus vending machine interface 2017.

Thinking of tomorrow's artists – what can we do with interactivity?

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Mapping Interactivity seminar gathers together artists, teachers, researchers, coders, musicians and media designers to present their ideas about interactivity and its possibilities. Seminar is organized by the programmes of Lighting and Sound design 12th and 13th December 2017. It is part of Interactivity in Performance Design project of the programmes, aiming to study and develop educational contents and practises regarding the influence of current and emerging phenomena to art making in future. In the following writing, professors Tomi Humalisto and Jari Kauppinen introduce thematic landscape of the seminar.

 

As the educators of tomorrow's artists, we feel that it is important to ask how the constantly evolving and shifting relation between art and technology informs artistic creation and research. Could an overview of parallel artistic and scientific activities investigating interactivity encourage interdisciplinary communication and give ideas to new approaches? Could the concept of interaction function as a uniting factor within not only artistic practices but also between pedagogy and research? 

Interactive mechanisms and communication have overlapped widely on different sectors in modern culture and the concept of interactivity has suffered perennial obscurity because of exaggeration when describing commercial products or art works. Andrea Zapp has been concerned of how interaction becomes post-modern slogan for technical hands-on condition. (Dixon 2007, 561.) However, critical notions of researchers have resulted in more elaborate definitions in distance education and computer-based interaction, for example (Yacci 2000). In new media theory definitions have been traced from Futurist 's deliberate provocations, Bertolt Brecht's vision of two-directional radio broadcast, Marshal McLuhan's statement "interface means interactivity", Lippmann's idea of mutual, simultaneous activity aiming at some goal, Simon Penny underlining real time factor in interactivity to Janet Murray's notion of how important it is for an agent to see the results of actions. (Dixon 2007, 560.) Additionally, Margaret Morse notes that in digital arts, interactive user has a virtual role of artist/installer. Bolter and Gromala suggest to replace interaction with the word performance to emphasize performative relationship with digital design. Jaron Lanier continues the similar performative approach defining interactivity something not entirely understood, as a concrete discussion with media like metaphorically dancing with computer. According to Söke Dinkla, a floating quality of interactive art works reveal ambivalent situations where user is both victim and perpetrator as well as the artworks are not expressions of an individual but not of a collective either. Still all participants may create a web of influences, a constantly reorganized connective state. (ibid. 560-561.) Steve Dixon has listed four levels of interaction, starting with less interactive dimension, navigation, compared to participation, conversation and the richest level of interaction, collaboration. (ibid. 563.) 

Digesting previous notions, interactivity may be understood as a wider concept for communication processes where interactions happen. Interactivity refers also to something which happens real time, or creates content and meanings by organizing interactive conversation with the media. According to Paul Dourish (2000) the relationship between action and meaning is central to the idea of embodiment. The central idea of an embodied interface is the capability to turn action into meaning. This does not happen in isolation from the rest of the world. 

Relation between action, meaning and materiality becomes understandable within the context of performing arts. Action situated in a certain space generates meanings in a wide spectrum of performances. In addition to interactive relations between performers, there is also a matrix of relations between humans and non-humans, between material and immaterial elements and entities. 

If we think of performances as certain arrangements of spaces and bodies, then the inevitable question will be: how are these arrangements affected by digital technologies, by interaction? What is theatre now, as it is constituted not only of the traditional elements of performers, texts, spaces, architectures, scenographies, sounds and lighting, but also of computing, digitality, interaction and mediality? How is its apprehension and ontology been augmented or enhanced? Must it be read differently from the traditional space and place of the performance? And while talking about these digitally and technologically augmented spaces, whose terminology is used? Is that terminology able to grasp the new hybridity of theatre space? The physicality, the discursive construction of the space, its social and political dimension? 

This presents new challenges for the interpretation of actions and objects. The concept of technologically augmented environments is certainly not new to the performing arts. The migration of computation into this space may radically reconfigure the relationship between people, objects and space. The performance and performance space are, however, already populated by conventions, relations, technologies and people. Social and aesthetic action and meaning have been generated in and through these intertwinings of materialities and practices. How are the tensions between elements negotiated?  Digital technologies produce new fields of action, new dimensionalities and virtualities, both temporal and spatial. Is the embodied presence of the performer somehow challenged or put into question in these new configurations?  

Our aim is in the first stage to try to chart the conceptual and practical terrain of interactivity. To look at the various uses of the term, its position and scope in different discourses. Based on that, we intend to project these varied conceptions of interactivity on performance, the performative event, and see what their application might bring forth or make visible.  

What we are not trying to establish is some kind of a canonical definition of interaction within the performing arts, the performance, and its design process, but rather to chart the multidimensional dynamics, which is established by the multiple definitions.  

 

Tomi Humalisto & Jari Kauppinen 

 

NB. Mapping Interactivity seminar is 12-13th December 2017 in Lintulahdenkatu 3, 6th Floor Lighting Studio.

See program: http://www.uniarts.fi/en/vuorovaikutteisuus-esityssuunnittelussa

 

Bibliography: 

Dixon, Steve. 2007. Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theater, Dance/ Performance Art, and Installation. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 

Dourish, Paul. 2001. Where Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 

Ihde, Don. 2009. ”A Phenomenology of Technics.” In Readings in the Philosophy of Technology,  edt. David M. Kaplan, 76–97. Lanham : Rowman & Little eld.  

Yacci, Michel. 2000. Interactivity Demystified: A Structural Definition for Distance Education and Intelligent CBT. Search 30.10.2017. http://www.ist.rit.edu/~may/interactiv8.pdf