Meanjin: Interactive Media Art

by Jane


Over the past four editions Meanjin has published a series of essays on new media art. I was ecstatic to write the last in the series, looking at contemporary Australian artists working with interactive media art. My essay gives a short international summary of the art-form, from its origins in the 1960s to its recognition in the 1990s and the impact of artists like Blast Theory. Talking to Perth’s pvi collective (with a focus on Deviator), Melbourne’s one step at a time like this (focusing on en route), and Adelaide’s Jason Sweeney (focusing on Stereopublic: Crowdsourcing the Quiet), the essay explores the way these artists are using mobile phone technology and the built environment to question, highlight and/or alter the way we interact with our cities. You can read the essay here, or buy the journal (Volume 73, Number 3, 2014) here.

As artists began to move their work into publicly shared spaces, the notion of the ‘performativity’ of the audience became increasingly pertinent. This idea has always been intrinsically tied to interactive media art and other participatory art forms: once the audience member stops being simply a witness to the work and instead is integral to its presentation, or even creation, how does this affect the way the audience member approaches a work? In gallery spaces, these interactive works often lead to a separation of audience members into those who are activating the artwork and those who view the first group’s viewing of the work. As interactive media art expanded into privately accessible net art, the notions of the viewer as performer dissolved, but locative art opens up the possibility that the audience can be anyone who shares the urban environment, whether they are aware of the participant’s role in an artistic product or not.

Locative art can range from blending the audience member into the environment, as is the case with Stereopublic, to loudly proclaiming the audience as other with defiance of social norms, as in Deviator, but both can modulate the way the participant exists in the world: do they become timid and try to disappear, or do they actively seek out a role as performer? Much of en route works by allowing its audience to be hidden voyeurs in their city. But even here, the act of asking the audience to become attuned to their space can make them hyper-aware of who may be watching them, while also wondering whether the people in the environment are actors or participants in the experience. In these locative works, the audience not only has to place themselves in the work and the physical space, but also determine to what extent they are comfortable being viewed by those outside the work.