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
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