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technology in the '90s  

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

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Turn of the century fantasies and experiments in ways to utilize machines and, especially, electricity, to recreate a person, or a part of a person, where widespread. This device, shown in a 1908 publication, in which a variety of vocal sounds could be p roduced via touching one of the valve-buttons below the mouths, is a kind of proto-interactive work, if we take interaction to mean that the work responds, in some way, in an overt physical manner to a physical gesture by a person who participates in its scheme. This, of course, was not intended as an artwork. But I think it also is a predecessor of much of today's techno-art, largely preoccupied with demonstrating a technology. This sensibility is very familiar, of course, in the contemporary science museum, which today is being transformed from this earlier form of electro-mechanical interaction to more contemporary forms of computer-driven interaction. And much of what is called "interactive art" or techno-art borrows or derives from this science m useum demo-aesthetic. Push a button, something happens. Put in the money, out comes the candy bar...


Going back even farther in time, looking for cultural formations which are now familiar aspects of interactive art, I was struck early on by the essentially interactive nature of shrines, and other somehow consecrated public places. What differs here from the contemporary interactive artwork which relies on, as Crichton said, temptations and sources of curiosity - here the encounter is ritualized and made into theater. It is performative, highly prescribed and passed on from generation to generation. In the ritualized encounter, there is quite often an actual physical exchange which is also a symbolic exchange. One leaves something, in a certain way, and takes something away - usually as a mark upon the body. It is generally performed by simultaneous ac tions of touching and looking, but here, very importantly, and in most cases completely absent in interactive art, the voice of the participant plays an important role.

[wishing-well shrine]

The orchestration of the body's movement through space plays an important role, too, in the framing of the interactive encounter. A path, such as this one, not only makes one highly conscious of each footstep taken, but also clearly has a destination, an d unfolds in time, like cinematic works, leading to a cathartic moment


which itself is located in another place of exchange, where the "real" meets the magical, though "real" here, too, when speaking about money, is several levels abstracted as well. But the point is, reaching the destination, one knows what to do - The wishing-well - marked by the trace - clearly, "someone else has been here"... It is the prescribed, known actions which carry ones gesture forward - and improvisation is at a micro-level. "Real" money is exchanged for the fulfillment of a wish - so it is, in a way, a kind of time-extended vending machine. Put in the money, the wish comes true, in some other time and place.

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