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Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Therories of Interactive Art

Marie-Luise Angerer, Dieter Daniels, Söke Dinkla, Marie-Laure Ryan, Christopher Salter

In conjunction with the Prix Ars Electronica, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Media.Art. Research has initiated a prize for outstanding work in the field of art history and media theory. The main focus of the Media.Art.Research Award is fundamental theoretical research, though this is to be understood explicitly within the context of contemporary thought and in relation to current social and artistic issues. Decisive for the award is how a work contributes to contemporary research and not an author’s historical merit. This accommodates the prime objective of the Boltzmann Society, which is to promote academic careers. Unlike the other categories of the Prix Ars Electronica, the Media.Art.Research Award invites submissions on a different topic each year. This year’s theme is “Interactive Art Forms”. A total of 75 entries were submitted in a variety of formats, including published and unpublished books, essays and collected works. In contrast to 2007, no relevant media-based publications (e.g., online or hypertext works) were entered. In 2008, all three awards are for books that have already been published.

This year’s submissions documented a broad range of investigations on the topic of “Interactive Art Forms”. The jury identified the following focal points: the relationship of body and data space, interaction models for computer games, the connection between architecture and interaction, and references to organic life processes. As was to be expected, some of the entries were related to last year’s topic, “Net-Based Art Forms”.

One aspect that became apparent was that the term “interactive art” varies in its demarcations and definitions. The so-called classic understanding of the term concentrates on computerbased installations within the context of digital art; broader notions also address, for example, processes of interpersonal interaction, spatial or situational models and biological processes. Hence, it became evident that even such a long-established and much-discussed term is constantly undergoing reinterpretation. On the one hand, this involves historical ties going back to epistemological and philosophical models or arthistorical precursors, ones that evolved before the actual era of digital interaction. On the other hand, an expansion to all hybrid forms of communication between humans, machines, artefacts and organisms has contributed to both the term’s reinterpretation and innovation.

Consequently, the jury’s discussions in 2008 were a reflection of the different definitions of interaction, which the jury then sought to do justice to by choosing the winning contributions by Arjen Mulder, Mark B. Hansen and Anna Munster. While Munster’s and Hansen’s comprehensive and more academic studies represent a deeper analysis of the practice and history of digital art, Mulder’s conceptually broader collection opens up the term of interaction to a large number of artistic practices. With respect to the future of interactive art forms, a similar tendency could also be observed in the work of the juries in the three other relevant categories of the Prix Ars Electronica (Interactive Art, Hybrid Art, Digital Musics). They also decided to award their prizes in 2008 to artistic projects that expand the horizons of media art beyond the bounds of purely technical specifications. Hence, current artistic development correlates to the objective of the Media.Art.Research Award to promote the development of media art forms that have not yet established themselves in museological and/or commercial contexts, art forms that evolve through processual, conceptual, interactive as well as subversive, situational and committed means at the interface of art technology and society.

Media.Art.Research Award 2008
This year’s Media.Art.Research Award goes to Interact or Die!, edited by Arjen Mulder in collaboration with Joke Brouwer, published by V2 (NAi Publishers, Rotterdam 2007). This book with its collection of theoretical essays (including one by Arjen Mulder himself), interviews with artists and scholars, as well as presentations of outstanding individual works, puts the term “interactivity” in a wider frame of reference. In an open form and attractive design, this work does not focus primarily on a final theory but rather on an ongoing thinking process within a network of experts. Alongside human-computer-interaction, organic life forms, processual architecture and system theory, as well as the social, ethic and affective dimensions of interactivity are taken into consideration. Historical references to artistic positions of the 1960s (e.g. Lygia Clark) as well as philosophical models from the 1950s (Gilbert Simondon) are integrated meaningfully into the current discourse. By doing so, a seminal perspective emerges that goes beyond the set ideas associated with the term “digital media art” in the 1990s. Mulder does not shy from expanding his thesis to issues related to the cultural and epistemological, and allows it to be extrapolated to “big” themes involving the interconnectedness of people, apparatuses and social structures in a contemporary interactive form of life.

Acknowledgements of a Contribution to the Field 2008 The first Acknowledgment of a Contribution to the Field goes to Anna Munster for her work: Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics (Dartmouth College Press, 2006). In it, she critically analyzes embodiment and materiality in relation to interactive digital media arts practice. Based on experience as both a practicing artist and scholar, Munster, challenges reigning paradigms of interaction based on informatics and disembodied models of the digital, and instead advocates a more useful “genealogy for digital engagements with the machine”, one that takes issues of sensation, duration, situatedness and sensory experience into account—topics that have had a long history in disciplines such as cultural studies and philosophy but which, according to Munster, „need to be re-examined in light of newly embodied approaches arising in media art and design practice.”

The second Acknowledgment of a Contribution to the Field goes to Mark B. N. Hansen for his Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media (Routledge, 2006). In a similar way as Munster, Hansen foregrounds the role that affect plays, as well as that of the body and human-machine agencies in interactive media art and architectural practices. Hansen’s argument to focus on the non-visual senses, such as touch and perceptual motor processes, instead of traditional models of visual representation, provides media theory with the much-needed phenomenological modes of analysis. In particular, his theorizing on the fusion of embodiment and technology proves valuable in helping to grasp the complex interactions in human-machine relationships being articulated in materialized form by digital media artists and designers.

All in all, the jury believes that the three winning publications explore this year’s topic with a high degree of intellectual acumen, one that attests to years of theoretical thought on a particularly high level of scholarship. This was also substantiated in part by the very interesting and far-reaching parallels between the three studies that evolved concurrently but independently from of another. This observation applies, for example, to references to the body and performativity as a basic element of interactivity, but also extends to historical and topical theoretical models (from Gilbert Simondon to Brian Massumi). Enlightening as well was how all three studies illuminated specific artists’ positions from different theoretical perspectives.

 
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