Ars Electronic Catalog
1994, Linz, AUSTRIA
Interactive Art and
the Myth of Everything-ness
Interactive technologies have become in vogue
(finally!). The business and press communities have proclaimed them
the next Big Thing. But there's something that's been bugging me
about all this enthusiasm.
Go to one of the many interactive/multimedia/virtual
reality conferences or festivals and listen for how words like "everthing"
and "all" and "entire" are used.
"You can put everything the user will want on
a single CD-ROM."
"Entire libraries can now be instantly accessed."
"All the world's art can now be seen by everyone
in their homes."
I asked a colleague once about this last statement.
We were involved in a large educational "everything disc," and he
intended to put all of art on one section. I asked him how many
laserdisc stillframes he planned to allocate for the world art section.
He mumbled a few numbers and declared "1,200." I pointed out to
him that some college art history texts make mention of 1,200 artists
or more, so at most he could exhibit only one image representing
the entire life of each artist (and couldn't even use a picture
of the artist as well).
I don't mind the naiveté. But I do mind
the implication that producers of interactive material don't need
to make decisions because they're giving the user . . . EVERYTHING.
This is worse than being dishonest wth your audience: it's being
dishonest with your self.
For better or worse, I was one of the early rant-and-ravers
of interactive technologies in the arts. (In 1980 I earned more
income giving presentations about interactivity than producing!)
The artworld, the mainstream artworld, was initially skeptical.
Much of this is natural and healthy, a critical eye toward the new.
Good art ultimately is judged by surviving the test of time. The
hype around interactivity was often overwhelming. And most mainstream
artworlders didn't have enough frame of reference to stick their
But there's a deeper reason, I think, for a resistance
to interactivity, and it stems from Michelangelo famous statement
"I see the figure in the marble and I will free it." This declaration
of "I talk, you listen" set the stage (in the West, at least) for
artist-as-creator and art-lover as passive learner. The artworld
saw interactivity as, well, flakey. It was used by artists who didn't
have a strong vision or couldn't decide how to finish.
We've now had a good fifteen years of artists
exploring interactivity, and as we've seen in the Ars Electronica
jury, there's some poetic and provocative work emerging. But we
must learn to be both critical and enthusiastic if we expect interactive
art to stop being an oxymoron.