The Experience of New Media Art


The Experience of New Media Art

Justin Love

University of Victoria

Victoria, BC, Canada

Submitted for review to CHI 2011.


In Technology as Experience John McCarthy and Peter Wright explore the emotional and aesthetic dimensions of our encounters with technology and argue for an experiential approach to design based on the thoughts of pragmatists John Dewey and Mikhail Bakhtin. Both Dewey and Bakhtin felt that the science and philosophy of the early 20th Century had lost touch with the ordinary experience of being and acting in the world. In response both developed accounts of activity and meaning grounded in the aesthetics of everyday experience.

The Pragmatists

John Dewey

John Dewey lived in a time of time of disturbance and instability characterized by civil unrest, the development of probability and relativity theory, challenges to religious faith, and philosophical questioning that brought an end to metaphysical certainties. Furthermore, there seemed to be a growing divide separating many of the new scientific and intellectualdevelopments with the everyday experience of being and acting in the world. For Dewey, a philosophy that is not relevant to life as lived and felt should be changed or abandoned – ideas should only survive while they help us to make sense of and deal with our situation. Dewey placed experience at the heart of his work, experience he wrote: “includes what men do and suffer, what they strive for, love, believe and endure, and also how men act and are acted upon, the ways in which they do and suffer, desire and enjoy, see, believe, imagine – in short, processes of experiencing […] It is “double barreled” in that it recognizes in its primary integrity no division between act and material, subject and object, but contains them both in an unanalyzed totality.” [5]

For Dewey experience is more inclusive than knowledge because it provides sensory, emotional, and intellectual context to our understanding of the world. Dewey was also concerned with the quality of experience and argued that all experience has the potential to be rich and fulfilling.

Aesthetic Experience

In the writing’s of both Dewey and Bakhtin, aesthetic experience is the paradigm for understanding how rich all experience can be. Both argue that it is through aesthetic experience that our need for meaningfulness and wholeness is fulfilled. Furthermore, both reject the idea that aesthetic experience is limited to the domain of fine art. For Dewey and Bakhtin, aesthetic experience should be seen as continuous with ordinary experience.

The rhythmic dance of aesthetic experience

Dewey saw the “rhythmic flow of life” as the basis for our experience of meaning and value [6]. Going further Dewey states that experience is a rhythmic dance of resistance and release that can described in the processes of cumulation, conservation, tension and anticipation.

The Four Threads of Experience

In this section McCarthy and Wright describe four elements of experience to help provide a way to talk about technology as experience. In this section McCarthy and Wright describe four elements of experience to help provide a way to talk about technology as experience.

The sensual thread

The emotional thread

The compositional thread

The spacio-temporal thread

Experience is spacio-temporal by nature. Our emotional engagement can change our sense of time or make us feel that a space is confined and suffocating. Space and time can also 6 be connected or disconnected. For example, we distinguish between public and private space and boundaries between self and other. For Bakhtin time and space have an inherent quality to them. Bakhtin refers to literature to illustrate different qualities of time and space. For example, Greek Romance occurs in “adventure time” where characters do not seem to be affected by time or the places they occupy. In contrast the historical time and place in 19th century novels tend to be vital to the experiences of characters. Bakhtin contrasts these different qualities of time and space in literature in order to highlight how they can affect our lived experience and whether our experience of life is emergent or determined.

Aesthetic Experience in New Media Art

New Media art is by nature interested in aesthetic experiences. However, not all media art is concerned with the aesthetic of everyday experience.

The emergent nature of meaning in the pragmatism is demonstrated in the work of Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Figure 4. Re:positioning Fear by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. “Technologies that can be twisted away from addressing pre-existing forms and functions toward operating directly as technologies of emergent experience .


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