Eric Kluitenberg: Affect in the Overburdened Information Environment

For: A Wedge between private and public
Symposium in interactivity and public space
22 April 2010
SESSION 1 – Affect

Report by John Haltiwanger

Eric Kluitenberg’s presentation concerned the relevant future paths for affective interactive art. As a first example, Eric showed footage of Radio Ligna’s “remote controlled flashmob” I am(not)sterdam to highlight a central element of his thesis: that forced interactivity is integral to developing new affective art.

Our senses are overburdened by the ever-increasing velocity of new images, especially in public spaces. What is to be done about it? Paraphrasing artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “In relation to the ‘violence of the visual’ that is taking over the public space: we don’t want less images, we want *more* images.” The informational environment is hyper-saturated, leading to a tension between that environment and the cognition’s capacity to be affected by it.

Digging into the specific problem of affect in relation to digital art, Eric invokes the notion of the ‘third body’. To illustrate this idea, imagine the experience of putting a new vinyl album on a record player. The first time listening to a record, a new experience happens. When the record is put away, the experience is not fully present. It’s only a memory. But when the record is played again, the experience returns. The experience is not attached to the listeners body, nor the record, but to this ‘third body’. The third body is not technologically determined and still exists and receives these experience attachments even if the music is not contained on a record but in a digital file. Digital technologies are technologies of complete and perfect articulation, especially in regards to control sequences. However, the completeness of the digital is accomplished at the loss of a continuous flow (digital representations occur in discrete steps). Something needs to be left out for digitization and what is missing is the precise thing that makes us feel that the digital object is anemic. In other words affect is the thing discarded by digitization.

The means, then, for injecting affect into digital art are two-fold, i.e. “breaking the frame” and “imposing the frame.” The former means developing art that points beyond itself in a negative way. This type of art should deny a system’s rules, its inherent methodologies. An example in this vein is Bubblespace, a radio frequency generator that, when turned on, effectively jams all wireless communications in the device’s area of effect. This is accomplished by injecting white noise into the wireless frequency range which wireless-dependent devices interpret as the absence of a connection, thereby stopping all network functions.

A divergent yet similarly effective approach, especially in regards to interactive art, is to create scenarios in which interactivity is truly and literally forced. The aforementioned “I am(not)sterdam” may be an example of this, but Eric seems to want to push it further by proposing the design of a system through which the audience must go through procedures in order to accomplish anything, for example even leaving the system at all. This space of “undesired activity” is ripe with the potential to affect.