Feature: Debate2:

Friday 7 April 2006

Interactive new media and public Choice

Interactivity is the byword of new technology. But what does it really imply? Kondition pluriel’s Scheme II has dancers interacting live with the stage environment. But none of the participants had interactivity with audiences through wearable technology or responsive environments in their current work. Yet, promising high-minded ideals of public participation and empowerment in the arts, this possibility had to be on the agenda. How did these artists feel about opening their work to control by audiences, Boddington wanted to know?
Poulin and Kusch expressed some enthusiasm for devolving some control to audiences in the future. But the others were sceptical and there was a subtle but discernible sense that they felt art was being hijacked by the language and values of commercialism; becoming like a free-for-all gaming arcade.

“I’m not interested in empowering consumers” said an exasperated Marc Downie, implying that the mantra of consumer choice that permeates the IT industry and the media in general, had been taken too far.
He described the classic Interactivity scenario of a self-generating website as “not very malleable, not very well made, not involving critical thinking, and limiting you to getting something to change colour.” Much more creative and enriching, in his eyes, was good old-fashioned paper and crayons or learning to play a musical instrument.

“The public’s expectation of control (especially by the young and IT-savvy) really means you don’t want to take in anything new”, lamented Kaiser. He and Eshkar’s limited experimentation with building audience interactivity or control into their installations disappointed them. They found people’s spontaneous reactions far more interesting.

Jeyasingh, too, felt that the notion had been overblown. The best kind of interaction for her, occurs then audiences have a deep knowledge of an artform that allows them to really engage in it.

Kusch, though, thought they were throwing out the baby with the bathwater. He insisted that art involving the public through new technology can prompt self-critical reflection. In his responsive gallery installations the spectator finds themselves becoming the actor. Boddington cited examples of Shinkansen’s projects involving public participation in which ordinary people were much more curious and open to exploration than artists or traditional arts audiences.

You couldn’t accuse Merce Cunningham of being a Luddite, but perhaps interactivity is a key area of new media which dance artists will need to address.

Catherine Hale
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