1 Interactivity in Cinema-Based Media Art: a Phenomenology-Influenced Discussion Peter Cho December 17, 2004

1 Interactivity in Cinema-Based Media Art: a Phenomenology-Influenced Discussion

Peter Cho December 17, 2004

My discussion focuses on issues of visual perception and relation between the body and the artwork. ..

Ryszard Kluszczynski proposes a definition of interaction in art as “a kind of dialogue, communication between the viewer and the artwork that proceeds in real time and takes the shape of mutual influence.” Within the context of this discussion, for a work to have interactivity, a viewer must physical engage with and manipulate the work, causing content within the artwork to respond. … Media art continues this history by allowing more specialized and piece-specific means for physical and physicalized access to the moving picture. (1)

Luc Courchesne. His work, Landscape One, Courchesne‟s focus is less the narrative aspects of the work and more the media apparatus and delivery.(2)

What I found notable were two aspects of the piece. First was the sensation of motion I felt when one of the characters “led me” away from the clearing to another part of the wood. The feeling of motion through the space while looking forward was especially strong because my peripheral vision could see the moving scenery to the sides, captured in sync by the handheld cameras. While this illusion of walking through the space of the wood was convincing, I felt also disoriented when I moved my vision across the screens during these segments. I could look, for example, behind me, and see the receding woods as the camera views moved resolutely forward. The second notable point was that my exchanges with the characters in the scene often proceeded in unexpected ways. Due to how the segments were scripted and pieced together, direct requests could go unanswered or be refused obliquely by the characters. For a user expecting a linear machine-like response, this was a surprise.(3)

These two aspects of the work, the conversational technique of interaction and the panoramic vision, are two of Courchesne‟s main interests that can be seen in his prior and subsequent works.(3)

When viewers approach a media art work, they are immediately aware of an interface, a framework that shapes how they perceive and interact with the works. Since media art as a field is evolving with the technologies that make the field possible, there is no single standardized interface. The interface technologies can vary widely in form and function, from keyboards and touch screens to 3D-sensing gloves and head-mounted displays. Remarking on virtual reality and immersive technologies, Katherine Hayles comments that the interface mechanisms are highly grounded in physical, bodily experiences. We become highly aware of our bodies‟ physical contact with the devices of interaction, and we must adapt our own bodies and familiarize our selves with the functional limitations of the technologies.

This investigation of the interface in media art works can be addressed from a phenomenological standpoint. In Experimental Phenomenology, Donald Ihde asks: “What happens to and in perception when it occurs by means of an instrument? How is the perceptual intentionality of the observer mediated, and with what result?”

The instrument or machine may be “taken into one‟s experience of bodily engaging the world, whether it be primarily kinesthetic-tactile or the extended embodiment of sight (telescope) or sound (telephone),” thus creating a partial symbiotic relation with the human. In this case, the tool embodies the human‟s experience and perception of the world. The opposite may also be true: the machine represents a “hermeneutic relation” between human and world. Ihde‟s example is the instrument panel a heating engineer watches and services to keep a building‟s air conditioning system functioning properly. In this scenario, the human perceives the world by reading the machine as “something like a text.” In media art works, we see a variety of interfaces that run the gamut from machine as extension of human perception to machine as interface apparatus to world. (4)

Courchesne tends to de-emphasize the interface, to minimize the machine presence and provide the most immediate access to the art “content” as possible. (6)

we remember most of all from the artwork is not a visual image but a bodily sensation.This discussion has focused on interactivity as a bodily engagement and two-way communication with a media art work. (8)

We can also see strategies for exploring different temporalities in works of media art and video art that are not explicitly interactive. We feel immersed in Viola‟s and Steinkamp‟s works because of a phenomenological interactivity: a perceptual inquiry into how time and space expand and contract in the work. We might say that we are free to be immersed in the work precisely because we are not asked to perform or interact in an immediate way.

there is the danger that we will interpret “interaction” literally, equating it with physical interaction between a user and a media object … at the expense of psychological interaction. The psychological processes of filling-in, hypothesis formation, recall, and identification, which are required for us to comprehend any text or image at all, are mistakenly identified with an objectively existing structure of interactive links.34 (34 Manovich Lev: The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001, 57.)


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