Hey Tom,
I've been thinking about interactivity in art lately, which I think is a bit of a divider into two camps of new media artists. Seems like most of the artists I'm into don't use interactivity that much. But there are some artists who always do and almost seem to consider "interactive" and "new media" to be synonymous. But a lot of the interactive stuff I see, I don't totally get why it's interactive. Seems like if it is interactive, there should be some really compelling reason to make it so, and the interface is extremely important. Otherwise it starts to feel like it fits better in the Museum of Science and History than the art museum.

My main question is: where do I look for a history of interactive art? Any particular artists to check out? Surely there was interactive work before computers, and maybe even an early interactive "movement"? Or maybe it is relatively new? --PS

Dear PS,
"Interactive" is one of those buzzwords like "multidisciplinary" that grant panels love. I've always been critical of art that feels like it belongs in the Exploratorium. (Until 20 years later, when it becomes great kitsch.) Agreed, some (most?) new media artists require interactivity, no matter how dumb or pointless, for admittance to the Club. One computer gallerist calls me a Modernist because I believe in "stand alone" art. It's not so much a belief system as feeling that certain things are right for certain venues. I'll sit at home and click a mouse surfing for hours but resent it when someone puts a mouse on a ledge in a gallery and expects me to start navigating something to "get" the art. The gallery is better for a "heads up," moving around experience, movies are better for long narratives, and your computer at home is best for "net art." The art should fit the physical environment and the expectations of that environment.

Historically interactivity started in the '60s with kinetic art and holography, and the "anti-object" ideas of conceptualism. Michael Fried's famous essay "Art and Objecthood" was one of the first to identify what he called "theatricality" in art. But there's a big difference between the theatricality of moving around a Minimalist sculpture and thinking about how your body and the room define the experience--which was a good thing to learn--and the obligatory joystick with a sign that says "Join me in 'making' the art according to 7 preset menu choices!" After the '60s, computer science departments started grafting half-baked versions of conceptualist and minimalist concepts onto the emerging net art and robotics art fields. Thus, what we have today. I try to be open about stuff, but always ask "What purpose does this interactivity serve?"

(I dodged the question about specific artists practicing interactivity--any contributions to an etymology of the term would be welcome.)

- tom moody 3-05-2006 3:06 am

Interactivity can be used to reveal "mystical correspondences" between images, symbols, sounds, revealing levels of meaning that might not otherwise be apparent... or it can just suck.
- Thor Johnson (guest) 3-06-2006 9:13 pm

interactive game

- sally mckay 3-06-2006 10:10 pm

That's worth a quote:

1. interactive game

Moronic and meaningless buzzword to denote a video game of some kind. Originates in the days of the "interactive movie", a time of terrible experiments combining gameplay and video footage. Interactive movies quickly earned a much-deserved bad name for screwing up both the components that the name implies, so companies started using "interactive game" instead, hoping people were stupid enough not to notice. Though the genre is more or less gone today, the term is still in use, usually by the same people who say "internet website" instead of just "website" believing the redundancy will make them look, uh, smarter or something.

- tom moody 3-07-2006 8:22 am

I remember reading about an interactive movie called "Mr. Payback," in the mid-90s (?), which flopped big time. The concept harked back to a Czech experiment/goof from the '60s, the Kino-Automat, where audiences voted with buttons on their chairs to determine the outcome of various plot points.
- tom moody 3-07-2006 8:27 am

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