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

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Interacting with an unpredictable artwork is something far more unknown than interacting with a well-oiled functional machine. While the computer-driven work is not truly unpredictable, in fact, mathematically, it the opposite - the subjective experience of it is that it is unpredictable, complicated, mysterious. As Edmund Jabes has written, "Complexity is a game of the visible to attract the invisible", and here we can get back to the real import of Duchamp's statement, "All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act." The complexity in these works provides the path upon which a participant can find these inner qualifications, in a dialog between the work and their own subjectivity. Art is a social form of the imagination. Whether audiences can perceive value in works depends on the extent to which their own im agination can intersect with the work, the way in which their experience of the work is constructed in their own subjectivity, and the ways in which the work moves toward and relates to their prior experience. It is not enough for interactive works to sim ply respond - vending machines can do that. I try to think about and to write computer programs as complexly determined traces of a self - obviously, myself. They have "behaviors" and respond as a traces a personality might, oscillating between disguising their inner identity and revealing glimpses of it, an erotics of meaning created through this play of disguise and disclosure, interacting, more than anywhere else, in the mind of the viewer This is still, for me, the primary site of interaction with art. The goal is to get beyond the vending-machine menu-driven forms of interaction. The efficient, simple, logical, clear work - "if viewer does this then computer does that" - is too fixed, and as a result lacks mystery, complexity, or paradox, which I consider to be essential qualities of a good work of art. As John Baldessari has often said, "I only like art that I don't understand".


(This is a frame from George Landow's 1971 film "Remedial Reading Comprehension".)

But I have been disappointed to learn that, to a large extent, audiences and critics expect to find the same formats in these artworks as they do in popular culture. For some reason, the "difficult" artwork is resisted by many audiences, who prefer to be guided and rewarded as they are in games of the common variety, with obvious metaphors and off-the-shelf mysticism. This earnest spirit of so-called understandability and functionality, in my opinion, the most limiting and conservative notion of art that has emerged in recent times, because it does not raise questions. Many artists, too, champion this kind of "user-friendly" work. This frightening spirit of happy-happy good citizenship, of artist-as-designer as techno-populist, of art having to have a moral code which equates responsibility NOT with breaking from the constraints of commercially driven forms, but rather, with a kind of new-age entrepreneurial "Media-R-Us" sensibility, has no chance to offer any alternative to a status quo increasingly dom inated by a globalized consumer-fascination with electronic technology and products.


I made this work, titled "Jimmy Charlie Jimmy", rather early on in my experimentation with interactivity - around 1992. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to making a decent videotape of it, though I think some of you may have seen it last Fall at Po stmasters Gallery here in New York. Basically, it speaks all the time. But it doesn't speak in a very loud voice, and getting really close to it causes it to stop speaking, because it has sensors which detect someone standing close to it, and these trig ger circuits and software I made to shift it from one state to another. As it also happens, if one speaks to it while it is silent, it will repeat what you have said to it, in your own voice. So it is pretty obviously about the vain desire to have some electro-mechanical device, whether computer driven or otherwise, become truly like a person. He is incapable of a real conversation, but what he has to say might be worth listening to... so why interact? Why force the issue?

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