[ISEA2011] Paper: Nell Tenhaaf, Kim Sawchuk & Melanie Baljko – Reconsidering media art dynamics


What level of audience instruction is appropriate for the exhibition of a research-based media art project, and how can those instructions be presented? This is one of two issues that I will discuss based on exhibiting my interactive sculpture Push/Pull for the first time [in Ottawa Canada, November 2010 to January 2011]. This work is the outcome of a multi-year research project that included several user-tested prototypes and a team of people working on the project. Push/Pull is programmed in such a way that layers of agencies or “voices” are presented to participants – from the agency of the system itself to abstract entities composed of a few lights. We imagined that the part of the interaction overtly based on gaming would be most accessible to viewers, but the opposite turned out to be true: they are reluctant to shift from perceiving light and sound as a play of abstraction to perceiving autonomous agents that are composed from the same elements. The question becomes how, or whether, to give instructions in the non-instruction environment of the art gallery. See www.?lo-fi.?ca, where videos are under Key Concepts –> Push/Pull.

Secondly, what does the media artist most effectively do with user experience data? We are interested in contributing to guidelines for artists to develop user experience documentation. Preservation of new media artworks, media art histories and archives, and public understanding of these works are all bound up together in the concept of “user experience” and “usability studies” – for example in the work of The Variable Media Network and the Capturing Unstable Media project. There is space made in these structures for experiential documentation gathered by the media artist her or himself, but not yet methods for analysing the significance of this aspect of documentation or addressing how it can feed back into productions. Is it to be treated as an interpretation outside of the experiential dynamic of the work, or can it be brought into that dynamic? Instructions and experience reports seem to both be elements outside of exhibiting a media artwork that might be more intrinsically part of it.

  • Nell Ten­haaf is an elec­tronic media artist and writer. She has ex­hib­ited across Canada, the US and in Eu­rope. A sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion of fif­teen years of her work en­ti­tled Fit/Unfit opened in April 2003 at the Robert McLaugh­lin Gallery in Os­hawa and then trav­eled to four other venues. Ten­haaf’s works cre­ated be­tween 1989 and the mid-1990s were aimed at de­con­struct­ing the dom­i­nance in main­stream bi­o­log­i­cal and biotech­nol­ogy dis­course of DNA as the mas­ter mol­e­cule. The dis­courses them­selves have evolved since then. Later works at­tempt to rep­re­sent some of the com­plex dy­nam­ics of life and in­volve the viewer as one el­e­ment in a con­tin­u­ous flux, for ex­am­ple in Push/Pull (2009), Flo’nGlo (2005), Swell (2003) and the touch-ac­ti­vated video in­stal­la­tion UCBM (You Could Be Me, 1999). Ten­haaf has re­cently been col­lab­o­rat­ing with sound artist John Kamevaar and com­puter sci­ence re­searcher Melanie Baljko. Ten­haaf has pub­lished nu­mer­ous re­views and ar­ti­cles that ad­dress the cul­tural im­pli­ca­tions of biotech­nolo­gies and ar­ti­fi­cial life. She has been a jury mem­ber for the Vida/Life art and ar­ti­fi­cial life com­pe­ti­tion based in Madrid since its in­cep­tion. Ten­haaf is an As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor in the Vi­sual Arts de­part­ment of York Uni­ver­sity in Toronto, Canada and is rep­re­sented by Paul Petro Con­tem­po­rary Art.                           fundaciontelefonica.com/vida
  • Kim Sawchuk Melanie Baljko 

Full text (PDF) p.  2343-2349