Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Whitdel Arts: ENGAGE, Oct.6-27 2012

Phillip Olla and two viewers synchronizing the signage.

The topic of interactive art is somewhat overwhelming to me, because there are so many kinds, and I have not had extensive experience in interacting with interactive art, with making it, or with talking about it.   This, in combination with my chronic plague of mixed feelings about definition, is why I have been procrastinating in putting down my responses to the exhibition Engage at Whitdel Arts, Detroit, MI (Oct. 6-27, 2012). However, I have just happened to skim over  The Museum on my Mind, Part III by Rob Marks, and was reminded that interactive art is not so very different from experience of art in general. 
Matthew Lachowski, I know a director living out in L.A. who owes me a few favors. paper towel dispenser, ink. [Photography by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts]
Any work of art demands from a viewer some type of response, bodily or subjective; it waits to be activated.  When thinking this way about interactive art, it can be observed that the point of activation is quite basic, familiar, and democratically (?) accessible.   

Video games and iPhones come to mind… hands-free hand dryers, payphones, self-checkout stations in grocery stores – processes of utility that most people know and understand, and which at some point were new and had to be learned, standardized, accepted.   (Interactive) Art, too, is a learning process.  (what isn’t?)
 Konic Thtr, "Cuerpo SMS", documentation of live performance.   [Photography/video documentation (of documentation)  by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts] 

I went to Whitdel Arts with Phillip Olla, curator of the exhibition.  Phillip Olla is new to art, and new to curating. I found this interesting, because he is not of the 'art species', and closer to the patterns of living life that don't need to be reconciled with the patterns of living art.  His identification as "futurist" is more practically tangible than romantically utopian, as tends to be the stigma associated with the term "futurism" (in my humble experience). 

 After allowing me some personal time to experience the show, I was given a brief tour, explaining how each piece is meant to work.   I am glad I was given the chance to discover on my own, prior to the tour.   

Andrew Malone, Exquisite Corpse Machine. (Photo by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

Detronik, Mannequin Forest, video installation. (Photo and video (below) by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

Figuring out how to activate the work is important… Otherwise, if you are told what to do, it becomes a didactic process, like being told how to add and subtract. [aside: Why are math lessons in school not based on the process of figuring out how to solve problems unsupervised, instead of regurgitating recipes? I may have become a mathematician had mathematics not been treated like a product in a marketing system.]

Dawnice Kerchaert's Sensory Chamber-Sound. wood/birch exterior, piano string, mixed media. [Above video/interaction by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts]

In some cases, however, as in Detronik's Mannequin Forest, it is a sort of reversal of roles... the viewer's movements direct the robotics, the viewer provides the instructions, and the work reacts. A similar reversal happens in Nicolas de Cosson's sound-reactive animation Gathered Voices (below).

 (video doc.  of foot stomping by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

DataSpaceTime (Lisa Gwilliam, Ray Sweeten), "Dear Detroit". (video doc. by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

 I would not have gotten so addicted to self-checkout counters in grocery stores if the supervising cashier gave me a lesson.  I use them now only because it is a process I stumbled into on my own, it is my own.  One day I went shopping at Superstore and discovered there is a piece of art waiting to interact with me.  Well what’s this, how does it work? It was mysterious and enticing, like art; however, it quickly became didactic as well (like art?).  The machine gives instructions, taking charge and roboticizing the customer in the process. Perhaps this is where interactive art differs from the “real” world of technological experience – although interactive art is in some cases didactic, it is not a service and it is not anything in particular… You can distance, or “disinterest” yourself in the end (a nod to the aforementioned Rob Marks text, nodding to Kant), you can pull the experience apart and not come up with any definitive conclusions like “I just bought broccoli without using eye contact”.  Maybe it is because of this, that there is always room for chance and error, individuation, anomaly, even with specific instructions. In Erika Heffernan's installation, for example, everyone is given the same directions on how to build a structure using the same set of blocks, yet everyone ends up with different results. Similarly, DataSpaceTime allows the same parameters or circumstances for engagement for anyone (at least anyone with the right technology), but the determination of which "Dear Detroit" letter the viewer will interact with is left up to chance.

Video still from Erika Heffernan's Learning How to Build.  (Photo by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

Erika Heffernan, Learning How to Build (video), 28 Variations on the Same Building (photography), & Please Build (installation with sound). (Photo by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)
(Photo by Sasha Opeiko)
"Engage" comes from Old French for "under pledge", implicitly suggesting ideas of choice toward a kind of promise or irrevocable exchange. The labeling of work, with instructions, can both aid and dismantle this irreversible vow to interact.  Again referencing  Rob Marks, <<The more traditional label ... risks undermining the piece’s multiple levels of experience—aesthetic, psychological, political—not by offering such an instruction, but by providing an explication of the concept behind the work, by dissecting the joke before telling it>> which can <<make “getting it” into an intellectual exercise that inoculates against the revelation that the emotional experience delivers.>>  However, to a more wary viewer who is not accustomed to touching art, the label can entice interaction and visceral experience that would otherwise go unactivated. 

Sang Jun Yoo, Distant Light, projection, Kinect, mixed media. (Photo courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

Matthew Lachowski, Boys should learn to anoint what burns with points they've earned, pinball machine, tape, ink, paper. (Photos by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)
Matthew Lachowski, Please believe Aunt Maxine when she says she's seen the scene screened inside this stupid thing, so it seems she means to plea: notice when he leaves, he leaves. cardboard, tape, paint, video. (A booth with propaganda video designed to fail in the conversion from hetero to homo-sexual... There is no label to clarify this.) (Photo by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

Video still from Matthew Lachowski's Please believe Aunt Maxine when she says she's seen the scene screened inside this stupid thing, so it seems she means to plea: notice when he leaves, he leaves. (Photo by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)
4 different views of Tommy White's Dialogue, acrylic on acoustic panels, shelf. (interactive painting, which makes sound upon rearrangment) (Photo courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

Angelo Conti, Walk. mixed media. (Photo by Sasha Opeiko, courtesy of Whitdel Arts)

Angelo Conti, "Walk" [Video documentation/interaction by Sasha Opeiko]

This exhibition is predicted to be a biennial event.

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