Jordan Backhus

Physical Computing: Week 1

Physical Interactions: Thoughts In The “Artistic” Context

I believe the most significant challenge for any inventor — or artist for  that matter — is creating an instrument that can properly achieve a functioning discourse between its audience and its technology. Any purposeful instrument that wishes to create a dialogue has a system to its operation — much like a debate between two adults, the petting of an animal, the exchange of love, the game of chess. Chris Crawford, self-proclaimed lexicographer, colloquially labels this a “conversation,” a dimensional discourse that requires listening, thinking, and, in turn, action on both ends. In accordance, I would further the discussion by proposing that interactivity is dependent on the idea that the interaction is experiential, a matter of participation, involvement, and effect/affect. Ever-evolving computer technologies allow the modern-day inventor and/or artist a medium through which he/she can can combine technological capabilities and human reactivity; the product will respond to the audience and adapt to its environment. Both the technology and the audience listen and, in turn, speak to each other. To define interactivity as an active conversation may limit alternative variables that exceed tangibility. Crawford and Victor look at interactivity from a functional (and arguably austere) standpoint. Perhaps I am seeking a part as the Devil’s Advocate, considering I am hardly spiritual, but I would certainly allow room for cultural and artistic ethos and divine interpretation in my definition of interactivity. In antiquity, a painting of Carvaggio or a fresco of Giotto garnered an audience who sought a divine personal experience, a feeling of the present, of an experience created specifically for them; they believed that through the artist(s) and/or inventor(s), God (or whichever divinity) was interacting. Though I agree with each author’s terms of interaction, I would leave room for “conversation.”

As far as defining “good” physical interaction, I’m not quite sure I know where to begin. When posed this question, I think mostly of modern day interactive art. Art can, of course, do many things: excite us with its ingenuity, its technical originality; comment on culture, human conditions, political agendas; give us discomfort or pleasure, and cater us with allusions of inexplicable beauty. It can transcend the constraints of our human language. But aside from aesthetics, I find that less and less frequently does contemporary art inspire its spectators with anything approaching an intense emotion. This may be in part tangential to the way in which we experience the art. In a generation of biennales and celebrity art fairs, we cannot truly avoid our surroundings unless we are in fact alone. If we step too close to a painting, in the hopes of intimacy, we are approached by a guard or hear the complaints of our fellow spectators whose view we are indubitably blocking. Such caution only limits our ability to entirely interact with the art. Just a thought (or two…).





One thought on “Physical Computing: Week 1”

  1. I appreciate your devil’s advocate approach because neither Victor nor Crawford explicitly declare the value judgement they assign to interactivity. Do you think “interactivity” is equal to “good” in either or both of their arguments? Can a high level of interactivity be undesirable or bad? Can a low level of interactivity be desirable or good? How would this play out in the prototyping process, and/or in your prototyping process?

    As for the discussion of modern day interactive art, can and/or should interactivity evoke the “intense emotion” you discuss? How about art outside the gallery or museum?

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