Communication Front 2001

Cyber and my sp@ce - Netizens and the new geography

From 1-14 June in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

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How many complex interactive installations are experienced fully installed, in their complete version, even in specialised venues for electronic art? Not many, it seems: they are technically too demanding, and too expensive for the "white cube" galleries.

How to produce and exhibit such a work? More and more artists are turning from fine arts funds to scientific research centres that can provide facilities for developing art projects. MIT, Cambridge University, and Australia's CSIRO among others present such opportunities for artists. Is it another trap? Scientific institutions do not exhibit their "products" in public, nor do they have or need exhibiting spaces. But the work itself needs equipment for being exhibited that is often not found in galleries or museums...If an artist finally manages to produce a piece of art called an interactive installation, where and how to present the work to the audience? To make the problem bigger, almost absurd, the work cannot exist without the audience; its essence is to become an artwork through interaction with audience. Without the audience, it simply can not exist.

In their performative aspects, interactive installations are closer to the theatre than to fine arts. It is a complex artform, composed of separate art disciplines, conjoined with engineering, team work, and is similar to film or the theatre. It seems that this work is slowly nesting in spaces that were projected or re _ decorated for experimental theatre years ago. Those spaces with no fixed stage or audience areas, unlike the traditional European theatre, i.e. plain "dark cubes" with construction for audio/visual equipment on the ceiling, appear ideal. But this is still at the first stage.

Interactive installations are a category of electronic art, and in symposia or festivals are difficult to exhibit due to their complexity. So we come to the question of how to introduce them to a wider audience? Most exist through varieties of representations _ presentations on the internet, on CD-ROM, in writings and lectures. So, if we can't actually construct them, how to explain or present them to a live audience, while being clear, but not too long, or too boring, or too hermetic, etc?

Following commercial logic it is difficult to present and elaborate the essence of an artistic work: its mystery, sensations and magic. How to create a summarised description of the complex cerebral/audio/visual experience? If you make a full explanation of the philosophical and aesthetic aspects of the work, with technical descriptions, explanations of software design and construction, with the analysis of audio and visual elements, and above all of the interactivity that underlies the project (which is the only way to give some idea of what is it all about) the audience will most likely lose track after the first quarter of the presentation or lecture. If you exclude some elements, then, it is again impossible to present the work meaningfully.

If we try to make a parallel with other art disciplines that require a model or maquete, like architecture or sculpture or theatre, we will see again that we can not make simple comparisons. An interactive installation is not just an object. It has interaction as its final goal, and is concerned with abstraction and process. It is close to the theatre in a number of respects, and one is never in a position to make a presentation of the theatrical experience as such. An interactive installation emerges through its relation with "participants" instead of an "audience". This changed role of the observer is another difference that characterises the artform.

How can an audience visualise a project before it is constructed? Or an author describe a personal vision of the artwork before it exists? Does it need a different logic? What could be the best way to make a representation of an artwork? It might be to create a new artwork instead of trying to explain something that is ultimately non-verbal. It seems that a new category of electronic art has emerged. Instead of trying to describe something that exists in the spheres of emotion and non- verbal communication, we should make use of the same mechanisms that are engaged in experiencing an artwork; ie not to try to compose a representation of a complex emotional experience, but to create a new one. In other words to create a new work that will be a carrier of the same basic idea and concept as the installation, having as a result an entirely new form that will present the essence of the work.

In the particular case of the installation "Infonoise", presentations have been given to different audiences, from postgraduate students to international symposia, with a result that never completely satisfied the authors. For this reason we decided to produce a new piece that does not literally illustrate the different aspects of the installation, but rather focuses on an expression of its essence: information noise.

on "Infonoise" performance presentation:

As basic material for the presentation, which takes the form of a performance, we have used texts, audio/visual explanations and samples that were produced for various applications to festivals, sponsors and producers, and have concentrated on creating a clear expression instead of a literal explanation. In structuring the work, we have followed the principle of the musical canon as an analogy between the different layers and themes that are developed simultaneously in the installation work. Sound used in the actual installation, combined with textual explanations of the project in three different languages (English, French and Serbian) become polyphonic elements. The intention was not to read an explanation, but to use the vocal elements as sound. The result of this process is a performance for the audience, addressing the same questions as the installation with the same symbolic elements, but in the new, compressed form of a performance/lecture.

From the visual material that was produced during the working process, we have composed an abstract video without any of the schematic elements that describe the form and function of the installation, but rather an audiovisual expression of the substance of the basic idea. This approach became a kind of game, or an ionising of the academic, petrified ways of presenting an artwork. But it instantly evolved again into its original form: an installation. Now we have new material for an installation that is not too difficult to be exhibited. Unfortunately, it is not interactive any more. So how far does an idea need to mutate until it is simple enough to be presented? The so-called "project history" becomes important as an additional text for this purpose; it becomes an exciting story about the struggle for an idea, and how to express and shape an original vision to share with the audience.


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