For: A Wedge between private and public
Symposium in interactivity and public space
22 April 2010
SESSION 2 - Interface
Report by Juliana Brunello
Christa Sommerer's main topic is interfaces in art. She starts by citing Lev Manovich: the language of new media. He predicted that "we will see a language of interface develop as we saw a language of the cinema". After that, she quotes Peter Weibel, who read in an exhibition catalogue that artists in the age of Youtube, Flickr, MySpace, etc., lose the monopoly on creativity. This means, everybody can be artistically creative these days.
The question of "what is an interface" is what interests Sommerer the most. She tries to look in her research on how interface and interaction have been used in different domains so far, with a special focus on art and interactive art.
According to Sommerer, Peter Weibel has shown that cartography was one of the earliest forms of interface studies. This means that interface goes back to surface science. There is therefore a connection between surface and interface. Nowadays we see a tendency of the representation of the interface to become the interface itself. Weibel points out to the system Google Earth, which is making the representation of the earth turn into the way we see the earth itself.
Interaction is a term that has been used also in sociology and social psychology. Wechselwirkung is another term similar to interaction, but with more 'layers'. Georg Simmel defines Wechselwirkung as a kind of interaction between interpersonal relationships. This term has also been used by Herbert Blummer in the symbolic interactionism theory. Moreover, the stimulus-response theory deals with the social relationships and the interactions amongst people.
Human-machine interactions (e.g. through the mouse or the keybord) have been changing the way we interact with technology. Nowadays we are talking about the disappearing computer, cloud computing and the miniaturizations of the interfaces. Now every object can become an interface. The challenge is for her how to deal with these transformations from an artistic point of view.
Interaction-design is a consequence of these types of interactions. She believes that designers are becoming the engineers of social meaning, as they are the ones who define the interfaces that need to disappear and the ones that need to be easy to use.
The concept of interaction and participation in art has a very strong aspect of involving the public into the work of art. The enacting of the work of art becomes part of social participation. This is not new to the new media era, but has been around for a long time. Already in the 1930s it has been proclaimed that the audience should get more involved. Humberto Eco also suggests that. Yoko Ono's Cutting Piece is one example of performative/interactive art.
Peter Weibel's project Ation Lecture Number 2, is another example of interactive art. While Weibel is on stage, a film of himself giving the same lecture is projected, during which the audience could interact by changing things in the projector. Sommerer points out that this would be a good example of Galloway's edge as interface.
She recommends the book Art as Feedback where they look at the connection of early cybernetic art to nowadays examples of media art, interactive art as well as how topics have evolved or changed.
Examples of cultural interfaces:
Cultural interfaces is a term from the book of Steven Johnson, where he argues that interfaces were intruding our lives. Sommerer believes it is important for artists to think about the impact of such interfaces as well as how to deal with them.
E.g. 1) Laurent Mignonneau's and Sommerer's work Interactive Plant Growing is about intuitive interactions and interfaces, by using plants as interfaces. There people could touch real plants and grow artificial plants on the screen.
E.g. 2) New music instruments: Reactable (Kaltenbrunner), pipeSound (Wagner, Rettenbacher), Mountain Guitar (Kanebako),
E.g. 3) Headbang Hero: a wig that measures the bits per minute and brain damage of a headbanger.
E.g. 4) Interfaces integrated into homes/intelligent ambiences:
a) The Living Room: a project that one could use the whole body to navigate the internet
b) Interactive Wall: a wall that reacts to your breathing. The wall breathes with you.
E.g. 5) Garden of Eden: an experiment involving polution data taken from the internet and salad growing (Wilks, Moser)
E.g. 6) Mobile feelings: a telephone to exchange useless information, like breathing or heartbeat.
She finalizes by pointing out that it is important to draw a distinction of interfaces in art and for industry. Often these experiments of making new interfaces in art are not driven by the idea of usefulness, but by the pleasure of exploring new ideas.
Going back to the statement of Weibel, it is true that everybody can be artistically creative, but it is important to reflect back on artistic values and individualism in contemporary media art production. Artists should not only be concerned about using technology in a creative way, but also to ask questions like why we use such technologies. They should go beyond the technology.
Recommended books: Interface Cultures. The art of science of interface and interaction design.