Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

On Interactivity

Masaki Fujihata

A Dilemma of this category

This category is entitled "Interactive Art". The objectives of this category relate to "interactivity" but the selection has to be done without any interactive environments; we do not have a chance to interact with a real work or project. When we observe the whole Ars Electronica competition, it is actually strange that only this category deals deeply with real-time interactive processing in digital media, but its selection is done by viewing video documents. In all the other categories, the works are viewed and selected by the real piece which was submitted by artists, in other words CD for Digital Musics, video tape for Computer Animation, and URL for the Web category. The method of selection forces to us to analyze details from documented video, inquiring with the paper, and we need to activate our imagination to understand what happens there. Unfortunately, the quality of the submitted video tape is a very important factor for the selection. This year we had around 50 submissions with CD-ROMs containing digital movie documents or the CD-ROM production itself, instead of documentation of the pieces on video tape. It is clear that it is impossible to see the whole contents of a CD-ROM production and search the files by hand on the fly (although we ultimately took the trouble to do so). We really want to have well documented, summarized video tapes showing only the essence of the production for your creation of interactivity.

Interface is not a core of interaction

While we viewed the video tapes, we tried to understand the construction of the work, the type of interface used, how people can play. And then what happens between the participant and the system would be considered. Understanding the interface is the main issue for the first stage of the selection. We don't want to misunderstand the interface, which leads us to a wrong understanding of its interaction.

Let us think about what is a good interface. Especially in the field of Computer Human Interfaces, a sophisticated interface is called "transparent", if it connects human and machine without any stress. This type of good interface contains an instruction of usage within it. But when we simply extend this idea to the ultimate user interface, interface will not be seen; it is totally free from the human's body, the interface can be regarded as a part of body. This idea has opened up current serious developments in "Virtual Reality" and "Weareables", and the final goal of these developments is realizing the "transparent" interface.
These transparent interfaces never impose any stress on us. The result is that the man does not need any consciousness for the interface. I think this is a very poor interface, nothing new, nothing creative for the user as a human. I love to use pencils, chalks, and brushes as a medium for expression, however, we need to be trained with these interfaces. Exercising interface is a part of the pleasure of expression. One should be conscious of the interface. I would like to say "interface" must not be invisible. Interface is an object or an icon which sends some signals to the user, which attracts you to do something, which shows what it is connecting to and what you can make possible. Interface is not only an input and output device that determines what you can get. For example, a red chalk prompts you to the possibility of drawing a red line on paper. And then it puts that possibility in your hand. "Red chalk" is more valuable than the red line, because it reminds us of the possibility of drawing a red line. This type of discussion was conducted extensively in the early years of multimedia productions, such as desktop design, Human Computer Interface, and more popularly with CD-ROM productions, for instance. This is still an important issue now when doing interface design. When we focused on desktop design, the starting point was how the icons should be designed well and link to the contents of databases. There were discussions about how to design interface, but very few discussions about how to connect to the database, how to manipulate the data through the interface. Usually a database is fixed / pre-edited / recorded, and it is impossible for the participant to alter / add to it. All one can do is change the order of appearance on the screen by using Yes / No buttons. These discussions are already long past.

Let us move to the field of real-time interactive art: in some cases the artists have constructed totally new, somehow bizarre, somehow physical, somehow invisible devices as an interface. We saw some good interface design, new devices as an interface. But if it is just about the creation of the interfaces, we were not moved much by it. These new interfaces are just new attractive icons, but what is it for? I recognized that the creation of interface and the creation of interactivity are different issues.

To understand is to invent

What is a new type of creation of interactivity? Through the interface, by interaction, one can reach something which enables us to start understanding it as an object of interaction. This process prompts one's participation and activates one's imagination. When one interacts with it, one starts to imagine what will be happen a few seconds later as a reaction, then it happens in front of him. The order of events must follow a kind of grammar, which shows a certain connection between the icons of the interface and the thing that one will get. This process of reading leads to meaningful action to understand objectives. In an art of interactivity, one must be stimulated by interaction and enjoy having one's imagination activated. Interactivity is a stimulation of the power of imagination. By the power of imagination, one tries to see what will happen a few milliseconds ahead. This brings a future to the present. It is a bridge between a past and a future. Only interactivity can make such a jump, enabling us to escape from the chronological cage. I believe it is a real creation.

It is possible to apply this type of understanding of interactivity not only to human-machine interaction, but also, rather originally, to human and human. We talk, discuss, and love each other. All events are real-time and interactive. It is entirely common to the human that when we are talking to each other, both react interactively. Here we reached the point, though, that talk between humans is not always interesting / delightful / enjoyable / meaningful. What makes it meaningful to talk with someone? It is precisely the same question as to how one can get a splendid personality. Perhaps it is the content of a person. It can not be fixed until their death, but after their death nobody can interact with them. Hopefully, it may be possible for digital media in the future to include / record / store one's life as a digital format, a generative database, which can be accessible through a special interface with good interactivity. This is an important point of the difference from reading book, when one starts to consider a book as an interactive medium. Up to this point, it is possible to say "interactive art" is an interface medium which can connect one to someone (the author?) at the other end, who can conduct an enjoyable / meaningful discussion with him interactively. The creativity of a system, constructing interactive art, is designing the structure / function of the medium. It is not about creating oneself (content). While creating the system, the person emerges. It is a kind of magic, a participant invents himself in that interactive system. There needs to be an invention of a new language of interactive systems.
The creation of interactivity will be a very popular aspect of the history of art in the very near future as a mixture of computer technology, science, and art.

Remarks from all the jury members regarding the selection criteria:

Hiroshi Ishii wrote: The boundaries between art, design, science and technology are now getting blurry. New forms of interactive expression are emerging at the boundary between physical and digital worlds. My hope in the media arts is to see the "resonance" between the invention of new interactive languages and the experience of a profound message that takes advantage of those new languages. If the resonance becomes strong enough, we will see the breakdown of the walls among old disciplines.

Ulrike Gabriel remarks: Criteria of individuality / uniqueness of artistic approach / imagination. Degree of freedom / radicality in artistic research / exploration. Strength / intensity of artistic concern / content / result / essence. Sensuality. Sensitivity and deepness in questioning and realization. Stringent use of artistic material.

Peter Higgins wrote: I believe that an objective of the jury is to encourage the collaboration of artists and scientists working in the digital domain to create conceptual / tangible opportunities to enable a wide ranging audience to engage with interfaces and processes that extend their cognitive, imaginative, or emotional state.

Joachim Sauter wrote: New media language means that there has been a development of a media language in the last 15-20 years. New paradigms, patterns and principles for how to use this new medium to communicate content (or narration) have been developed, like in the language of film which was developed a hundred years ago, after the invention of the technique of film. Also like the language of film 100 years ago, nearly all the grammar for the new media language has been written down in the last decade. In good media art you see that the artist is able to "speak" with this language and not just stammer. And in very good media art pieces, you see that they are able to break the rules of this grammar and to arrive at unusual results. A lot of so-called media artists don't even know that there is already a language. So I think it is important to look for this new use of media language.

Short comments on the winners

This year, we selected three prize-winning works. Each work has a different type of interactivity.

"Polar" has a highly complex structure, where the authors are exploring the original concept of the real. This is dealing with the way one's unconsciousness that delivers / affects the globe, slightly changes unconsciously. We found their interesting approach encouraging.

This year we also found several works / projects that deal with an interactive communication medium. "Bump", does not use a kind of network software, such as C-U-see-me, but constructs a physical interface between distant cities. It realizes one's existence as a ghost in the other place. But when someone else starts to interact with this ghost, he / she realizes it is a shadow of a real person playing at the other location.

The third one, "Remain in Light", can be seen as an ironical piece for science and art. Traditionally, science approaches nature by using strong technology, such as microscopes, telescopes, nuclear-accelerators to analyze the world precisely. Artists made this system which amplifies / transforms / interprets natural phenomena to visible / audible forms by using special sensors / probes. With this piece, one plays with the metaphor of science by using an insect net as a probe / antenna for catching radio waves and making them visible.

Interactive art is an area of a new creation of medium, which enables us to explore the world in order to know it better, more precisely, or which even changes the world by creating it. Interactive art is not a given form of art, not an established medium yet. The process of creating interactive art is still the process of understanding the world.

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