[ISEA97] Paper: Harvie Branscomb – Can We Evaluate Interactive Art?


Every creator in the electronic arts is faced with the puzzle of becoming understood and recognized by inappopriate out-of-date institutions set up to evaluate and present their work. Many of these institutions developed their processes to handle a very different kind of work: often paintings, movies, etc. This paper describes the discoveries of a two year effort to create an international competition for electronic interactive media which started from several challenging assumptions:

  1. no attempt would be made to discriminate art from not-art;
  2. there would be no distinction of the technologies employed… only the content would be considered;
  3. any representation other than the interactive experience itself would be considered insufficient; to allow evaluation of the work.

The unique competition process of the Interactive Media Festival of 1994 will be discussed with the aim of raising issues critical to electronic artists:

  1.     deflating the influence of the social common denominator, emphasizing individuality;
  2.     disempowering critics whose influence is unfairly great and whose thinking hinders change;
  3.     deflecting the dominance of consumer sensibility in media art;
  4.     encouraging new and even unpopular creativity; and
  5.     spreading an appreciation of new ideas successfully through existing channels.

The 1994 Interactive Media Festival was designed to permit a public appreciation of some of the most excellent examples of interactive content of its day; but more importantly (and less obviously) it was thoughtfully created to encourage a healthy openness via a process of NOT defining what is electronic art before its time. In this spirit, my remarks are offered for consideration and discussion.

  • Harvie Branscomb, USA, is a self styled techno-philosopher and elegant survivor who has been a behind the scenes catalyst for and supporter of electronic interactive art for almost 30 years. He participated in numerous early interactive art projects in the 1970s, receiving his graduate degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1979. He was the Director of the Competition of the first Interactive Media Festival in 1994, and has subsequently served as a member of the electronic art jury for the 1996 ARS Electronica. He continues to develop concepts in networked, collaborative interactive research and art, in Aspen Colorado at Sun Microsystems Aspen Smallworks, and in San Francisco, California at George Coates Performance Works.  electionquality.com/author/whyivote