“When your eyes are fixed upon a dead blank — you draw purely from yourselves” _writes Laurence Sterne in his famous ‘Sentimental Journey’. What else can better describe the modern man in front of the TV set or a computer screen! But it also describes how ancient Technologies of Self may look in modern days. The notion of “Technologies of Self” was introduced by a French philosopher Michel Foucault to describe a process of subjectivation, “thought‑through and intentional acts, with the help of which people not only establish particular rules of conduct, but also intend to transform themselves, to become different in their singular being, to make their life their own artwork”.
Our laboratory of interactive arts “Acoustic Images” discovered a particular usefulness of this notion when trying to describe results of our 7 year research. The main goal of the lab is to research diverse aspects of human – machine interaction in the arts field. For example, the interactive audio‑visual installation “Acoustic Images” is about interdependence of audience’s movements, sound and video. Every viewer becomes a co‑author, a conductor and a performer, who adds her own music part to the sounding composition. A camera captures movements of the audience and transforms them into sound. Different motions produce different pitches, timbers and volumes and panoramic position of sound. At the same time the resulting music produces video images. Thus the audience can simultaneously see and hear results of their motions. Importantly, the resulting sound is harmonised so that it does not produce cacophony but meaningful music. It is a “concert sculpture” where a full‑length 40‑minute 4 parts concert can be performed solely by the audience. Originally we expected participants to enjoy the power of being able to control the process of music production. To our surprise, instead the participants preferred to enjoy themselves, their bodies and reflections of the bodies on the screen, rather than to control the results, and were not taken aback by the cacophony produced. They did not want to improve the cacophony by creating harmonious sounds. Instead they enjoyed the very act of the interaction. That made us re‑evaluate the very meaning, raison‑d’etre of the interactive arts. It turned out that the ancient technologies by which the Greeks and Romans represented to themselves their own ethical self‑understanding (Foucault) – “Technologies of Self” – did not disappear. Moreover, they have regained their power thanks to introduction of interactive technologies into our daily life.
Perhaps, one possible explanation for this is that today we are exposed to a constant flux of information mediated by all possible types of devices. To preserve oneself in this flux one has to work hard to constantly reproduce ones own integrity (Selznick). As results of our research suggest, in the human – machine interaction people put the interaction first, above the content. They actively involve in processes of subjectivation (Foucault). Thus we find Foucault’s notion of Technologies of Self useful to describe this proactive engaged viewpoint.
- Polina Dronyaeva, Artists-Run Laboratory Acoustic Images, RU, studied Journalism in Moscow and Arts Management in London, UK. She participated in a number of international arts events as a sound artist, curator and a researcher. Since 2008 she runs a laboratory Acoustic Images where she researches diverse aspects of human – machine interaction in the arts field.
Full text (PDF) p. 318-323