This paper investigates whether interactive works of art that are judged beautiful can contain criticism and adopt a resistant position. Its empirical case is Benayoun’s interactive piece World Skin dealing with the media’s involvement in modern warfare. The assumption is that the sentiment of participatory beauty is grounded in the pleasurable experience of agency as a feeling of unity and embeddedness. Here, also potential criticism becomes an integrated part of the interaction system consumed by each (inter)action. The paper argues for a non‑consumable rest that allows for felt criticism and cathartic beauty. In his short text “Digital apparition” (1996), Flusser writes that the establishment of science in the wake of modernity favours the presentation of the world by means of alphanumeric codes and algorithmic models on the expense of literal and pictorial representations. He concludes that such models are models of “alternative worlds”. Furthermore, there no longer are any objective criteria for their truthfulness, because there are only calculated and operationalized emergent models of alternative realities. According to Flusser, the only remaining criterion is the sentiment of beauty. Digital technology renders the numeric models of incipient modernity operational and dynamic bringing about real worlds through interaction and participation. Operational systems can be observed in many domains and societal levels exhibiting various formats of participation and agency. The entertainment and experience design industry, for example, build overt fictional realms of participation. Media and science is constructing worlds. Also artists increasingly apply digital technology and cooperate with various scientific disciplines in order to produce alternative worlds of participation. This paper briefly outlines a theory of participatory beauty for interactive art based on my findings described in my book Performing Beauty in Participatory Art (Heinrich, 2014). Participatory beauty differs from older metaphysical notions of beauty in that it is grounded in the pleasurable experience of agency within operational social (interactive) systems. Participatory art constructs these interactive systems and thus models of agency in various ways. Every participatory artwork brings about (f)actual, material interactions that render the world (of the artwork) real. Within this framework, beauty is seen as a sensory token (objectification) of an operational system’s coherence between its constituents and actants. Beauty is thus a sentiment that emerges in a coherent interplay between concrete participation and realisation, where participation yields cognitive realisation and where conceptual realizations feed into concrete interactions. Beautiful experiences tell us about the feeling of integratedness (and desintegratedness) in and thus realness of participatory art. In this process, a work of art’s critical intend seems consumed by participant interaction. In the case of Benayoun’s Word Skin, ethical judgments of media constructed wars are converted into operative functions. A paradoxical situation emerges, where the feelings of disgust and aversion towards both war and the media are transformed into ideo‑pleasures, seemingly annihilating the critical potential of the piece. However, the participant also recognizes that these (inter‑)actions are part of an artistic fictitious construction. Interactions within such overtly constructed worlds are simultaneously on‑going irrealisation and actualization processes; non‑consumable paradoxical state, which might yield criticism, in the case of World Skin in form of responsibility and guilt.
- Falk Heinrich, PhD (DK,), Associate Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark, Head of Studies (School of Communication, Art and Technology). Falk Heinrich holds a MA in dramaturgy and multimedia and a PhD in interactive installation art. He teaches art theory and aesthetics, interactive dramaturgy and artistic methodology. He worked as a theatre actor and director and installation artist. His theoretical investigations continue to develop in close relation to practical, artistic work. Heinrich is affiliated with the research group RELATE (Research Laboratory for Art and Technology) at Aalborg University.
Full text (PDF) p. 352-357