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technology in the '90s  

the interactive gambit (do not run! we are your friends!)

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Duchamp [Cover of the catalog for Le Surrealisme, 1947 by Duchamp]

This work by Marcel Duchamp, the cover for the catalog of the 1947 exhibition titled Le Surrealisme, organized by Duchamp and Andre Breton, has a reverse side. The back of the catalog bears the inscription, in French, "Please Touch". I thought about thi s work almost instantaneously when I first saw a computer touchscreen positioned over an image, wherein one is coaxed to "touch" the image, touch the object of desire. It seemed to me that this link between looking, wanting, and touching, connected quite directly to these very fundamental urges - to touch the breast, or, more autonomously, to play with feces. To touch to acquire, to investigate, to examine the results of ones production... to affirm ones own existence in the world - the earliest and most durable forms of agency. Freud writes in Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex , "At least a certain amount of touching is indispensable for a person in order to attain the normal sexual aim. It is also generally known that touching of the ski n of the sexual object causes much pleasure and produces a supply of new excitement. ... The same holds true in the end with looking, which is analogous to touching." This is clear and not at all surprising- touching is analogous to looking. And it is these two senses which dominate the field of interactive art.


[Mikhail Kaufman]

The gesture of the hand as that which "opens-up" the work, so that we might perceive and thereby decipher and interpret its inner qualifications, can be connected to the fundamental technology of the moving image itself. Cinema, from the beginnings, was i nvolved with the physical gesture - the hand-cranked camera, mutoscope, projector. .. - the gestures which mark the moment of the exposure, the interruption of the light by the shutter - the cutting of time by the clock crystal in the circuit, that shift the flow in an interactive work. And these are also present in the basic reception and choosing of radio and tv - adjusting the antenna, tuning the dial, the remote-control... This intervention of the hand is reproduced again and again, marking our ever-ambivalent relationship to time: we use it, it finishes us....

[Referring to "Tango" by Jasper Johns, 1955]

This is a painting by Jasper Johns, titled "Tango", from 1955. Note that in the lower right there is a small key protruding from the painting - the key of a music box. Something to touch, to turn, to activate another dimension of the work, hidden within. Johns is quoted in Michael Crichton's 1977 book (referring to `Target with Plaster Casts' and 'Tango): "I wanted to suggest a physical relationship to the pictures that was active. In the targets, one could stand back or one might go very close and lift the lids or shut them. In Tango, to wind the key and hear the sound, you had to stand relatively close to the painting, too close to see the outside shape of the picture".

Crichton goes on to say: "In other words, Johns was already aware of trying to influence the observer - in this case, to influence the observers physical position in relation to the painted surface. And he did it by providing a temptation, a source of cu riosity, a reason to move closer and then to step back. The painting provokes an interaction with the viewer : it takes two to tango."

[Referring to "Target" by Jasper Johns, 1960]

Johns last work, to my knowledge, which overtly evokes physically interaction was this 1960 Target, in which the painting itself is to be physically completed by another, unknown to the artist. Here, the interaction is conceptual, meta-interactive. The p hysical interaction is essentially irrelevant, as it is simply the idea of the action which is enough to carry the meaning of the work - and it is, perhaps, in the fact that probably no has ever taken up the job we can find other meanings about the valuat ion of token and gesture in our culture. Here it is clearly the idea of a viewer participating in the work which is significant, and this piece was often discussed in the early 70's as a proto-Conceptual artwork.

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