Social Media Archeology and Poetics: Web Archive
Anna Couey and Judy Malloy
From: "Anna Couey" <email@example.com>
T hanks for your invitation to have this conversation about the Interactive Art Conference, which you and I co-founded in 1993 "to engage artists and cultural workers particularly in the investigation of contemporary art and new communication technologies."
As it turns out, 1993 was also the year Mosaic was created, the graphical web browser that was to propel the World Wide Web and the Internet into the cultural mainstream.
Interactivity was an important concept for artists working with computer-based media and telecommunications at that time. It signified an active relationship between an art work and the people experiencing it, and was used to describe a range of strategies. Works that employed a narrative branching structure to allow for multiple story paths, such as Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Lorna videodisc (1983) were considered interactive, as were works such as your Bad Information project (1986), for which you invited online participants to contribute content based on a set of instructions and coded a database to contain their responses, and Roy Ascott's Planetary Network (1986), in which participants at 24 designated sites in Europe, North America, and Australia, contributed "news" to a feed exhibited at the Venice Biennale. The degree to which producing artists guided participants’ engagement with an interactive work varied significantly: people encountered Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz's Hole in Space (1980) without any contextualizing introduction or invitation to participate; the human interactions through the telecommunications portal were entirely self-directed.
To me, interactivity was not only an artistic practice, but a political one. It blurred boundaries between artist and audience, creating space for multiple voices, including people who didn’t consider themselves artists, to make meaning. It opened up questions related to the power of voice: who is allowed to speak and who must listen. I saw interactivity as a strategy for advancing a paradigm shift from a mass communications model in which content was created by a few and broadcast to many, to a horizontal communications structure in which many voices shaped our culture.
I had recently organized the telecommunications project Cultures in Cyberspace (1992) in collaboration with you, George Baldwin (Osage/Kaw), Phillip Bannigan, Anne Fallis (now Anne Fines), Susan Harris, Joe Matuzak, John Quarterman, Randy Ross (Ponca/Otoe), and Eric Theise, as a vehicle to engage a diversity of communities in envisioning the Internet-connected world we wanted to create. The exper ience left me with ethical questions about how to make interactive art in social space, including how to meaningfully and appropriately work with existing communities I was not a member of in the creation of interactive art. I was eager to explore these and other questions with other artists exploring interactivity.
You and I chose to locate the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire, an online home for artists and arts organizations, institutions, advocates and funders primarily in the U.S., initially directed by Anne Focke, and launched in 1992. I believe you and I were both working for Arts Wire when we began conceptualizing Interactive. We had also both been active in and influenced by the Art Com Electronic Network established by Carl Loeffler and Fred Truck in 1986, which became an online artists space for the production and dissemination of art works and information on the creative use of new communication technologies. By placing Interactive on Arts Wire, I believe we were seeking to create a place for artists to explore “interactive art, electronic and otherwise” across a diversity of disciplines and cultures, and also to move digital interactive art out of the margins of the art world.
I also hoped that Interactive would help strengthen artists’ voices in shaping the development of the Internet.
What is your story about the founding of Interactive?
From: "Judy Malloy" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Yes! We were looking at the growing role of interactivity in digital media, and we were interested in focusing on that aspect. As you point out, we wanted to "strengthen artists' voices in shaping the development of the Internet". And the public advent of the Mosaic browser in 1993 was an auspicious start for an interactive art conference that began in the same year.
In my own work, at Xerox PARC, on LambdaMoo, in 1993, I began creating Brown House Kitchen, which used virtual objects to interactively disclose text in an environment where groups of users collaboratively unfolded the story. Also in 1993, Its name was Penelope, which integrated reader choice into generative hypertext, was published by Eastgate, and my The Yellow Bowl, which hinged on continuous reader choice between sequential narrative and generative narrative, was exhibited at FISEA, in Minneapolis. In the summer of 1993, at Deep Creek School in Telluride, I worked with MFA students to document their interactive works of environmental issue-based art. So, in 1993, I was very interested in talking with artists about how they were using interactivity in their work.
Additionally, I had been working as an editor for Leonardo Electronic News (later Leonardo Electronic Almanac), and I thought that enhancing online documentation of digital media with informal discussion would be desirable. When I was a younger artist, I loved reading the View interviews with artists, partially because View was talking to artists about work that interested me and partially because the informal nature of these interviews brought me into the lives of people whose work I admired, such as Ian Baxter, Joan Jonas, and John Cage. I thought that on Interactive we could create this kind of environment for artists, who focused on interaction in their work. I liked the idea of creating online interviews on Arts Wire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts, where other artists and arts workers could participate in the dialog.
The early history of interactivity was not so well explored in 1993. And some works from the distant past were not well known in the field. I'm thinking of The 15th century Chaunce of the Dyse narrative game and Sydney's 16th century The Lady of May (recently documented by James Ryan at the 2017 First Workshop on the History of Expressive Systems), as well as Dorothy Richardson's early 20th century idea of the "collaborative reader". Then, in the not-so-distant past, branching interactive narrative was developed in works of Interactive Fiction, such as Gregory Yob's Hunt the Wumpus (1972); Will Crowther's Adventure (1976); and the late 1970's MIT researcher multi-authored Zork. In hyperfiction -- running sort of parallel in different parts of the country, my Uncle Roger (1986) and Michael Joyce's afternoon (1987) fulfilled our visions for hypertextual interaction with narrative content.
Early generative literature was not predominately interactive, but I like to think of Christopher Strachey's 1950's "Love Letters" as interactive because of how they were created collaboratively with Strachey's programming and his friend Alan Turing's Manchester University Computer-based (pseudo)random number generator. And if we look at how Alison Knowles expanded her 1967 work of generative poetry, "House of Dust", with subsequent participatory installations, there are interactive elements in "House of Dust". I've very much enjoyed writing a book chapter that looks the role of these works and others in the history of electronic literature.
The point is that much that was veiled when we began hosting the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire in 1993 is now better known. But, contingently, much that we and our artist guests explored on Interactive in the 1990's is now veiled in contemporary discourse.
Thus, looking back at our interviews in the light of contemporary media archeology, there is material of interest, in part because the role of interactivity in the work of artists -- such as Hank Bull, Lucia Grossberger Morales, and Sonya Rapoport -- is discussed in-depth. And, as indicated by the inclusion of our conversations with Sonya Rapoport and Jim Rosenberg in two recently published books,[1,2] the documentation that emerged from our conference is now a good source for the role of interactivity in new media in the 1990's.
I also want to say that in 1994, a year after our conference began, a car ran directly into my leg breaking/shattering my bones in 14 places and severing an artery. Arts Wire and our conference were among the virtual spaces that allowed me (since that time on crutches) to begin to resume professional life without the difficulties of travel.
We talked "backstage" about focusing on interactivity as expressed in specific interviews in this conversation, but perhaps we should first set the stage by talking about how our conference was structured and how it worked.
It would be great to hear your thoughts on this! But if you prefer to move directly into the interviews, I can pick this up later.
Thanks for bringing in the context of your work and goals for Interactive. I remember entering Brown House Kitchen, and being so intrigued with how you made reading/discovering the story a process of examining objects in the virtual environment!
I would also like to add that another model for Interactive was the "Software Is Art" discussion topic in the Art Com Electronic Network. As we discussed in your Social Media Archeology and Poetics book, "Software Is Art" was an important venue for artists working with code to talk about their work and to begin to articulate with each other an aesthetics and theory for what was then a new practice. The informality and conversational nature of the conference topic, and its unfolding over time, contributed to its impact.
As you point out, interactivity was not a new practice in art, and yet at the time it seemed new to focus attention on how artists were using interactive strategies. And yes, now that our culture has shifted to a social media paradigm that makes certain forms of interactivity pervasive, I think it’s useful to reconsider how artists approached interactivity in new media before it was the norm.
Thank you for surfacing the role that Interactive and Arts Wire played for you after your accident. It makes me think of the collaborative work you initiated on Interactive, name is scibe, which provided an important place on Interactive for artists to co-create. I hope you will talk more about this project!
I do think it would be useful to talk about the structure of the Interactive Art Conference before we get into discussing the interviews with artists, since platform structures have changed so much since the early 1990’s. At the time we started Interactive, Internet access was not widespread. Most people still accessed online content by logging into discrete systems – bulletin boards, or conferencing systems. Some systems were free to use; larger ones typically charged a subscription and use fee. You could access information and conversations within these systems, and you could exchange email with people on other systems. You could also share documents with people over the Internet using tools such as Gopher. The Web was pretty new at the time we started Interactive, and the online environment was text-based.
We set up Interactive as a conference within the Arts Wire conferencing system, which meant that only people with an Arts Wire account could participate in our conversations. After logging into Arts Wire, subscribers would "go" to Interactive. This is the screen they would see when they arrived:
The conference structure allowed for any Arts Wire subscriber to create a discussion topic, called an Item, and anyone could respond to that discussion thread. A discussion would develop over days or months, and the entire discussion would remain unless the conference hosts, you and I, removed it.
Here's an example, from the beginning of our very first discussion Item:
Item 1 09-JAN-94 0:18 Anna Couey, Arts Wire
Introduction to the Interactive Conference
This conference is dedicated to interactive art, electronic and otherwise. We envision it as a forum for both experimentation and dialogue.
Interactive art involves reciprocity and collaboration between artist, artwork, and audience. It often emphasizes communication, process, and the building of perceptual systems.
We consider interactive art to draw from a broad spectrum of media. A book, says Isabel Allende, is interactive because the reader creates it.
<Interactive> originates on Arts Wire to engage artists and cultural workers particularly in the investigation of contemporary art and new communication technologies. Everyone is invited to participate.
23 responses selected of 23 total
1:1) Anna Couey, Arts Wire
<Interactive> maintains Documents on Interactivity, an electronic library of texts, articles, and documentation of interactive art works. Documents in the archive may be downloaded for personal use. They may not be sold without prior permission of the author.
To contribute a text to the library, please contact Judy Malloy
(email@example.com) and Anna Couey (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- - - - -
In addition to creating the conversation space, we also wanted Interactive to serve as a repository for documents about interactive art. As the above discussion thread describes, we set up a Documents of Interactivity archive within the Interactive conference, and a Gopher site for people to access Documents of Interactivity over the internet.
Judy, do you want to say more about the overall structure? And/or how we set up the conversations with artists? I also think it’d be useful to talk about how we handled ownership of content contributed to Interactive.
Yes, when we began our Interactive Conference in 1993, Arts Wire was using Caucus, the text-based conferencing software developed by Camber-Roth. At that time, Anne Focke was the founding Director of Arts Wire, and, as Arts Wire's first network Coordinator, you coordinated the implementation of Arts Wire's initial conferencing system on the Meta Network. Although there were differences, Caucus worked in somewhat the same way that PicoSpan worked in the Well.
Initially, the Interactive Art conference was primarily discussion among Arts Wire members, as well as the associated documents that we mention. My recollection is that there was an interlude in 1994 when "name is scibe" was created, and then, to focus discussion and bring in new voices, we began hosting conversations with invited guests in 1995.
There were elements, as you point out, of the "Software as Art" discussion on ACEN, but on Arts Wire, although there were discussions of the role of authoring systems and authoring system choice -- talking with Rob Kendall comes to mind in this respect -- we focused on the role of interactivity, rather than on "software as art", which, in my recollection of the origins of the ACEN conference, had at its core, discussion about the role of software in digital art and whether the software itself could be art.
Thus, in our conversations on Interactive, in addition to computer-media works, we also talked about interactive processes that were not necessarily computer-mediated, such as Bill and Mary Buchen's sonic playgrounds and Tim Collins and Reiko Goto's public art-situated participatory environments. I also recall media archeology conversations, for instance Lucia Grossberger Morales talking about her role as a co-creator of the Designer's Toolkit, how her visual sense in this respect shaped her use of interactivity; for instance, Jody Gillerman and conference participants discussing the role of CD's in distributing digital art.
We took turns hosting the interviews, including choosing the guests (although there was usually some discussion about this). I don't think we always precisely alternated; rather we worked with each other's schedules. So, in some interviews my voice is dominant and in some interviews your voice is dominant. At other times, Arts Wire members with expertise in the field joined, not as audience but as active participants in the discussion. For instance, Pauline Oliveros, David Gamper, Doug Cohen, and Gary O. Larson, who spent much of their time on the NewMusNet conference, visited Interactive to join our discussion with Tim Perkis about the collaborative processes that informed The Hub, the computer network band he started in 1985 with composer John Bischoff and eventually other musicians/composers.
As you emphasize, the web began taking off in 1994, and by the fall of 1994, Arts Wire had its own home page, much enhanced by Tommer Peterson's interface graphics. At that time, Arts Wire also acquired its own domain name.
Arts Wire's GUI-based conferencing system, that ported the underlying Caucus conferencing database onto the Web, was developed under the direction of the new Director, poet Joe Matuzak, and unveiled in 1995.  My sense is that for Interactive, the new interface did not make much difference, because for the most part the participants were familiar with text-based conferencing. But Arts Wire was focused on the arts as a whole, and the new web-interfaced conferencing both contemporized our look and feel and made participation for all members more seamless and inclusive.
You ask about name is scibe. In the ensuing years, because of the difficult time it represents, I have often avoided revisiting this work. And yet it is the collaborative X Reality involvement of other writers in changing the focus of a difficult time that makes this work effective. In a paper in Modern Fiction Studies, Sue-Ellen Case points out this dichotomy when she writes "Malloy's narrative set-up resonates with other currently popular tropes, such as the movie The English Patient, where the wounded body became "the site of the production of a story." 
To introduce the web version of name is scibe -- which went up in late 1994 at https://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/scibe/story.html -- I wrote:
"This work -- written simultaneously on ARTS WIRE and on The WELL -- was begun on August 17, 1994 while I lay in bed in Tempe, Arizona recovering from a serious accident. I could not go out and sometimes days went by when there was no human contact.
The collaboration (hoped for but not asked for) was spontaneous. While (restlessly fictionizing on a laptop generously lent to me by Xerox PARC, I wrote out the pain, other writers added words about the details of their lives -- providing windows on the world for 'scibe'"
So, name is scibe began when my voice, mostly missing from Arts Wire and The Well, since I was run down on July 9, 1994, emerged with two posts. In the first, I explained the origins of the avatar, "scibe". The second read as follows:
AW 20:1) Judy Malloy 17-AUG-94
I call it hell.
As Sue-Ellen Case observes:
"Instead of a narrative line, this screen offers a genealogy of sites on the web. The story seems to travel and to accrete itself through this travel. Accretion replaces plot line as the signature of fiction-writing on the Net. The traditional time and ordering of space gives way to an absorptive electronic space, eddying different places into a common pool, which, while emulating the sequential in sites, overcomes its temporal axis. Malloy's call for company also promises an accretional, collecting culture production..."
The first meaningful response (https://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/scibe/s5.html WELL#4 of 33: tom igoe Aug 18 '94) came from the WELL on the following day. Tom Igoe's words of encouragement reverberated in my room of wheelchair, heavy cast, pain, and initial adventures with crutches -- as did the story he told of a visiting cat's travels across his environment that included, a Sega Game-boy, a TV, a Powerbook on the floor, and the destination of the cat's travels: the kitchen.
A few days later, on Arts Wire, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto ( https://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/scibe/s11.html WELL Tim Collins Aug 22 '94) shared a vivid description of their walk down Carson street in Pittsburgh (where they were visiting professors at CMU): past the Lithuanian Bingo Hall, the neighborhood bar, row houses, conversations with neighbors, an Italian Deli, and the signs of a changing neighborhood, where old fashioned hardware stores co-existed with a tie-died imported natural clothing store, past coffee houses and antique shops -- until a pizza parlor destination was reached. There, they asked if I was hungry!
I remember these initial words from Tom (on The WELL) and Tim (on Arts Wire) vividly because it was as if friendly voices had appeared -- introducing different windows into the painful hell of recuperation.
I remember scibe appearing on Interactive, her first posts especially have lingered in my mind. It was unclear what was going to happen – scibe staked out a space for herself and began to tell her story. Were responses desired? It took a little while before Chris Abraham began to interact with your words, and then others of us did, connecting our stories with yours. As I look back to name is scibe as it took shape on Interactive, I realize how critical your technique was of summarizing responses from the two sites that participated in the project. From the perspective of a participant located at one site, scibe was in motion, traveling between sites, between body and cyberspace, linking fragments of stories shared from one place to another, creating an interconnected whole. Interestingly, in retrospect, name is scibe was the only art work produced on Interactive. Perhaps this reflects the expanding range of sites and tools available for interactive online art, and/or of a shift from artists' use of computer networks as a trajectory of telecommunications art practice to a broadening framework for networked art with a multiplicity of histories and trajectories as the Internet and the Web were becoming popularized.
Interactive participants did contribute warrior dreams for Ione and Pauline Oliveros' interactive satellitecast work Njinga, the Queen-King: The Return of a Warrior, which involved weaving "dreams and warrior themes into an orchestrated exploration of ancestry, identity, and audiovisual technology." Along with satellite transmission of audiovisual performances from designated sites, our written dreams, and those from other Internet contributors, were streamed via Internet Relay Chat and became part of the live mix.
Yes, as you point out, the "Software Is Art" topic on the Art Com Electronic Network was focused on whether and how software was art, not on interactivity, although as I recall, interactivity was discussed (I believe I was introduced there to the concept of levels of interactivity – that the greater the audience’s role in shaping the work, the greater the interactivity). What I intended to convey was that "Software Is Art" was an aspirational model for me as a vital space for artists to explore together processes, tools, and ideas about making art with computers at a time when it was so new – I hoped Interactive would become something similar for interactive art. On Interactive, the conversations we had with artists about their work and ideas became almost synonymous with the conference in my mind. In looking back over the conference archive, it surprises me to rediscover a discussion I started on "What Is interactive art?;" Hank Bull’s item on "Towards a History of Telecommunications Art;" your "Hyperfiction" item; the "Art and Community" conversation Lucia Grossberger Morales organized with guest artists Mark Petrakis, and Aida Mancillas and Lynn Susholtz; the discussion Beth Kanter initiated on "Commercialization of interactivity;" among other content rich conversations.
Yes, the guest artists who participated as "virtual artists in residence" on Interactive covered a broad range of approaches to interactivity. The artists were David Blair, Ben Britton, Bill and Mary Buchen, Hank Bull, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Abbe Don, Robert Edgar, Jeff Gates, JoAnn Gillerman, Lucia Grossberger Morales, Eduardo Kac, Robert Kendall, Nancy Paterson, Tim Perkis, Ian Pollock and Janet Silk, Sonya Rapaport, Sara Roberts, Jim Rosenberg, Henry See, Bonnie Sherk, Patricia Tavenner, Fred Truck, Stephen Wilson (most of these conversations are archived on the web at https://www.well.com/couey/interactive/guests.html). While many of them considered interactivity as a process of engagement with an audience, this was not a universal framework. Robert Edgar, for example, was exploring interactivity as the relationship of a performer and his computer-mediated cinematic instruments in live performance, juxtaposing elements across systems to create paradoxical meanings. As he describes Living Cinema, "the interactivity is to navigate the flow, and for me to play across the flow--in addition to the chance elements making choices." For Tim Perkis, the interactivity between musicians (and other collaborators) during computer networked band the Hub's performances was about "exploring new modes of collaboration" and "changing the blends of possible activity, redefining conceptions of what is private and what is public work."
Interactivity also referred to computer interface design and hypertext navigation for artists' software and electronic literature. Many guest artists who produced interactive computer art were engaging with issues of representation, of how to make the operation of a work comprehensible to an audience or reader, of the possibilities of new forms of language and meanings in layered word clusters, in non-linear narratives, in multiple voices. I remember Lucia Grossberger Morales talking about her process of bringing her Bolivian roots into her computer-based visual art practice –- a medium so synonymous with a Euro-American male aesthetic, "it took me several months to come to the realization that ... there was no problem or conflict in creating work using interactive methods that would honestly represent my content." And the impact of her work:
"In Bolivia I was consulting at the Children's Museum. I had created some animations which incorporated some current weavings of the area and .. animated some of the characters on those weavings. A group of about forty kids came to see the animation. Of course I didn't have to give them instructions, they were all pretty computer savvy. Afterwards an eight year old girl said to me, 'I didn't know that you could do that.' I wasn't sure what she meant, but finally what came out was that she didn't know that it was possible to have her culture represented on the computer."
And there were artists who were engaging with interactivity in the sense of audience participation in shaping the work, experimenting with co-creation. Here too there was a wide range of practice –- including the transnational participatory telecommunications projects Hank Bull organized that were "intended essentially to become conversations, open networks, as full of interruptions, lost threads and ambiguities as real communication. It is important for me to make these conversations global and planetary. That's when you run into the problem of translation, of looking for ways to bridge the enormous differences between cultures. How do you interact with someone who speaks a foreign language, sees the world with a completely different imagination?"
Including Tim Collins and Mark Thompson’s Tidal Well, described by Reiko Goto as "a boat house type structure along the Richardson Bay. Inside of the wooden house the whole walls were covered by copper. Tide came in leaving a green patina. People came in and wrote with their hands, feet and bodies dipped in water. The graffiti was made by the viewers beautifully."
And Ian Pollock and Janet Silk's Local 411, a public memorial to the people displaced by the development of the San Francisco Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which included the artists having spontaneous one-on-one conversations about housing and gentrification with passersby in the neighborhood who picked up ringing public phones: "These moments were exciting for us because they broke the boundary between artist and audience in a way that we had not previously experienced. The combination of anonymity and contact as determined by the use of the public phone was dynamic. It made room for a private, intimate conversation with a complete stranger about a complicated social issue."
Also Bonnie Sherk's A Living Library:
"birds, trees, air, people, and all the things we create, such as parks, gardens, artworks, communities, computers, networks, cities ......As such, it is a vehicle for linking culture and technology as part of nature… Each Living Library is designed in a site and situation sensitive manner and involves the local people in its creation, use, maintenance, and communication. Each site will incorporate communications technologies so that they can be linked forming a planetary Living Library of diversity and commonality."
Thanks for the great review of our conversations!
Yes, with the interactive affordances of the web and with a larger number of artists creating inherently interactive digital art, interactivity has become so much a part of the infosphere that it is not always explored as deeply as it was in the 1990's. And even then, discussions were not always as intense as they were in the 1980's, when many artists were beginning to explore the field. In an April 1997 conversation with Rob Kendall, when he was a guest on Interactive, I wrote:
"Jeff Gates was recently asking me what I thought were the best interactive art sites. Coincidentally I'd been flummoxed by the same (self-asked) question in preparing material for a SFAI course on the web. What were 10 years ago, 'new' ideas of interactivity have been incorporated into mainstream web page design - reader choice, pathing, incorporation of reader response - and it is harder to separate out new, experimental interactive works."
It should also be noted that in the 21st century, artists, critics, and scholars have developed new vocabularies to address computer-mediated interactivity and/or facets of the interactive experience. For instance, Henry Jenkins et al. (Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, New York University Press, 2013) generally uses "participatory culture". Fox Harrell (Phantasmal Media: An Approach to Imagination, Computation, and Expression, MIT Press, 2013) prefers to use "agency".
And, increasingly interactivity is differently defined in different genres. There are seven entries under "Interactive" and "Interactivity" in The John Hopkins Guide to Digital Media, (2014), but rather than deal with the meaning of interactivity as a whole, for the most part, they are genre specific. For instance, Emily Short, the author of the entry on Interactive Fiction (IF), emphasizes that interactivity is defined in IF by the use of parsed input in conjunction with a world model. Other genre specific entries in the JH Guide are "Interactive Cinema", "Interactive Documentary", "Interactive Drama", and "Interactive Narrative".
In Expressive Processing, Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies (MIT Press, 2009), Noah Wardrip-Fruin's focus on the relationship between system processes and audience experiences echoes early discussions of interactivity, although in the three effects he details -- the Eliza Effect, the Tale-Spin Effect ("for works that fail to represent their internal system richness on their surfaces"), and the SimCity Effect -- system processes purposefully drive his interpretation.
In contrast, in her June 1995 interview on Interactive, Sonya Rapoport explores the three basic *user-centered* levels of interactivity expressed by Steve Wilson, among many others. They are in Rapoport's interpretation:
"1. the viewer completes the work by perceiving it;
Variations on these three are myriad, and all such simplifications are fraught with peril. Nevertheless, looking at their responses through this lens is a useful way to explore the viewpoints of the artists who participated in our conversations. In some cases, it is also possible to consider these viewpoints in terms of Wardrip-Fruin's expressive processing approach.
1. the viewer completes the work by perceiving it
When artists confront user reaction to interactive art, one issue is that widely varying interfaces and unexplained affordances create perception difficulties. In your (Anna's) words: "Many guests artists who produced interactive computer art were engaging with issues of representation, of how to make the operation of a work comprehensible to an audience or reader, of the possibilities of new forms of language and meanings in layered word clusters, in non-linear narratives, in multiple voices."
On Interactive, talking about the problems he encountered in creating Bottega, a 3D representation of an electronic artist's workshop, Fred Truck observes that "For someone passing through a museum, who wanted to give BOTTEGA a whirl, the situation was impossible because you had to know too much to begin with" (Interactive, January 1995).
Looking at this issue from a perspective of shared space and communication as ends in themselves, in his March 1996 Interactive conversation, Eduardo Kac suggests that:
"Once the shared space is created, there will always be tension between what I say and what you hear, between what I write and what you read. In this shared space, language, sounds, and images oscillate between my intentions and your intentions, between my expectations and your expectations, and so on. I think of this oscillation as communication, regardless of whether one can get a point across or not -- i.e., regardless of one's 'success' in expressing an idea or obtaining the desired response."
Contingently, for Sara Roberts, who addresses ubiquitous computing in her work, a level 2 interactive situation may underlie an installation, but that might not be apparent to the viewer when, in Roberts' words, "Instead of using computers to simulate or replace our common physical space, computers are imbedded invisibly and directly into the real world. Everyday objects and our normal activities become the I/O..." (Interactive, June 1996)
In April 1996, the time of their interview on Interactive, Bill and Mary Buchen, who also designed interactive playgrounds, had recently returned from India where they created Sound Vessel, a rowboat with a windharp, underwater microphone and contact mikes on the oarlocks. Sound Vessel carried passengers, as well as a family of musicians, who sang North Indian Dhrupad songs. Sitting in the front of the vessel, Mary created a live mix of the wind harp, oarlocks, and hydrophone.
One way to look at this would be that when the audience boarded Sound Vessel, with its roots in installation and performance practice and its occurrence during Shivaratri, there was a blurring of viewer and creator -- perhaps not extraordinary in such music making, but when created in conjunction with technology, it was a rich interactive alteration of "the viewer completes the work by perceiving it."
2. the viewer interacts with computer programs from a predetermined set of options
Many of the works discussed on the Interactive Art Conference, fall into this broad and differently implemented category -- expressed succinctly by poet Jim Rosenberg, who writes: "With _Intergrams_, you simply can't read it at all without 'operating' the poem" (Interactive, December 1995)
A potent example of level 2, that also confronts early work in this field and the process itself is Sara Roberts' Early Programming (1988):
"...the visitor sits down at a kitchen table with a computer "mom", (named MARGO), and is recruited, if not forced, into the role of a child. Scenes on a monitor, shot from a child's point of view, introduce topics of conversation like cleaning up your room, practicing the piano for half an hour, eating the rest of your dinner, etc. MARGO says the things mom say, like "Are those my good scissors?!" You have a menu of replies ranging from goody two-shoes obsequiousness to outright rebellion. Your reply effects her overall mood, and thus what she says back to you..." (Interactive, June 1996)
Among many other examples are Nancy Paterson's The Machine in the Garden, where scrolling video imagery is displayed when the viewer pulls the slot machine arm (Interactive, October 1996) and Tim Collins and Reiko Goto's Latent August.
In Latent August, the politics of nuclear power were subtly explored in an installation where viewers revealed the names of 190 nations by breathing on glass on which the names were inscribed with a vapor sensitive chemical. (Interactive, August 1995)
Addressing user interaction in literary systems, Robert Kendall emphasizes the importance of "adapting a software interface in response to how people are actually using it".
"This isn't a matter of changing what your work is expressing", he emphasizes, "it's a matter of fixing the mechanics of how your work functions in its physical environment...If your average user can't figure out how to use your interface or if users are typically using it in an unexpected way that undermines the effectiveness of the work, then you've got a problem before people even get to the point of trying to interpret your piece." (Interactive, April 1997)
3. the viewer's choices alter the final form of the artwork.
The idea of the audience contributing to the content and/or form of the work was core in early telematic art -- such as Roy Ascott's La Plissure du Texte (1983), where artists at nodes in different places created a collaborative fairy tale, for which they were also were the audience. In the 1990's works of net art, such as your (Anna's) collaboratively created Imagining the Information Age (1994), explored the Internet and the future of the Internet; and in 21st century, works, such as Nanette Wylde's Qi Project (2008) -- which asked "What does it mean to be human? What is humanity?" via postcards, email, telephone, website, and in front of a camcorder -- reimagined the collaborative process.
On Interactive, artists shared their experiences with producing level 3 work. You (Anna) wrote about this extensively in your last response, citing our conversations with Tim Perkis, Lucia Grossberger Morales, Hank Bull, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Ian Pollock and Janet Silk, and Bonnie Sherk. So, I'm adding to your response.
Sonya Rapoport -- who was a pioneer in making work that presented the audience with an artist-created work of art; asked for responses of various kinds; and incorporated the responses into the work -- describes Objects on my Dresser (1979-83), a continuing evaluation of, in her words, "the random set of objects that had accumulated on my dresser for about 20 years." The work included both a dialogue with a Psychiatric social worker and the responses of viewers. (Interactive, June 1995)
Abbe Don talks about how at the Magnes in Berkeley, when she showed We Make Memories, a 1989 HyperCard/video disc work, based on her great-grandmother's stories, she created a companion piece, Share With Me a Story, where visitors to the museum could add their own story. She describes her "role in a 'collaborative' piece as creating a strong framework that encourages a particular kind of participation but you can't try to control it or limit it." (Interactive, November 1995)
In some situations, Hank Bull notes in a separate conversation "...the need for a good moderator is clear. I have often taken that role in telecom pieces, trying to create a situation in which people can collaborate and working as a kind of coordinator." (Interactive, November 1996)
"In its best sense, interactive work ACTIVELY engages the viewer -- invites him/her to participate. Often something new comes out of that involvement". - Jeff Gates. (Interactive, January 1997)
In January 2018, you and I invited artists who had been guests in the Interactive Art Conference to reflect on the significance of the conference and the evolution of interactivity in their work, using the Social Media Archeology & Poetics group you created on Facebook as our conversation space. Those who joined in that conversation – Fred Truck, Robert Edgar, Lucia Grossberger Morales, Tim Collins, and Bonnie Sherk – each contributed important insights on the Interactive Art Conference in historical and personal contexts.
Robert Edgar described the Art Com Electronic Network and the Interactive Art Conference as being "important sites for discussion for a generation of artists who were experiencing and tracking the transition from analog to digital media. This is a transition that is unique and not likely to happen again, and the documentation is important, because those of us who passed through it displayed the disruption and attempts to regain orientation for both the meaningful and the truthful." He pointed to early artists' software, specifically your Bad Information, Fred Truck's ArtEngine, and his Memory Theater One as reflecting attempts to make meaning "at a point where a mark was no longer a documentation of a physical action," and he noted that "It is difficult today, with the digital so dominant, to imagine the cognitive and related sensory confusion of the time was for artists who found themselves in mid-leap between two worlds, one of which had attributes that did not apply, and one of which had attributes that were not yet mapped. For me, this is the importance of that work, and the documentation and discussion of that historical moment."
To me, Robert's attention to the impact on artists of the shift from analog to digital media is an important lens through which to view the conversations that took place in the Interactive Art Conference. By the mid-1990s it was clear that a technological shift was underway and that our communications systems were changing at a societal level, although norms and conventions were still in flux. What had been new art activity practiced by a relatively small group of artists when the Art Com Electronic Network started in 1986 was beginning to be explored by artists more broadly when we launched Interactive in 1994. To some degree, I think our focus on interactivity, rather than electronic art per se, reflects a particular moment in the diffusion of digital media into mainstream culture. The sense of leaping into a new world that I experienced on ACEN, became a bridging of worlds on Interactive, an exploration of how analog and digital art practices might inform each other, a simultaneous looking forward and back at what to bring with us and what to leave behind.
Lucia Grossberger Morales picked up another thread. Writing that she was "touched and frustrated when I read what Anna posted referring to example I wrote, in 1995, about a young Bolivian girl's surprise when I showed her a computer screen which included a weaving of her culture," Lucia reflected that "Unfortunately, I find that rather than allowing many voices, recently computers have flatten[ed] culture. Software designers are rarely sensitive to other cultures." She pointed to how Aymara people responded to her experiments in digitizing Bolivian culture: "it was the first time I saw the stoic Aymara's eyes sparkle. Maybe they were equally thrilled when they saw that they could communicate with text on the computer, but I tend to doubt it. The Aymara, like the Inca, did not have written language. (...) They created a prosperous culture, with many achievements, just not what we consider high achievements. One of their most important focus was on feeding their citizens. While Europe was living through famines, the Incas had three to five years of freeze dried potatoes and other tubers. These are two very contrastive world-views and approaches to culture." Lucia noted that "Computers don't inherently have to follow a Western paradigm. Appreciation of cultures can challenge software and interactive designer to explore other gestures, ways of moving through time and space."
In highlighting the cultural biases and values coded into the digital platforms and tools that today connect people across the globe, Lucia recalls a social vision of interactivity: the idea that we could design digital media to facilitate cultural pluralism and exchange. Her focus on the significance of platform design in shaping how people communicate – "In our world to be literate you must know how to use digital technologies and therefore adapt to what the tech companies decide is the way to interact with digital devices. There is such cultural-centric bias, that I personally make a point of keeping my other cultures by constantly code switching" – speaks to a continuing need for the decolonization of our digital media infrastructure.
Bonnie Sherk situated interactivity in a broad context of human evolution and adaptation: "It is amazing to see how far we have come in terms of interactivity and the ubiquitous nature of the internet and communications technologies today. And yet, we have many more extraordinary opportunities to explore and become - in the present and future - to do and become more fully evolved as human beings --- as human creatures - to evolve in consciousness and being. (…) I am especially interested in human evolution and consciousness, and our abilities to become more fully who we are and can be as human critters tapping into our psychic DNA and abilities, and interactive ways to communicate in multiple dimensions - past, present,future." She is continuing to build A Living Library, which she describes today as "a planetary genre, and beyond, of place-based ecological transformations with systemically integrated hands-on learning and doing for all ages in each locale" networked through "sculptural elements in the landscape that can draw water forth as needed, showcase local resources through Multimedia Archives, and allow for live interactive broadcast between places”; creating "Funchuional Art" that "marries Eastern and Western, Northern & Southern sensibilities …"
Bonnie's vision and work chart a trajectory of interactivity that connects living systems in a process of continuing transformation. In A Living Library, green communication technologies –- making possible links between places -– are integral to evolving ways of being human in harmony with other life forms in a time of climate change. Growing out of Bonnie’s early work, including Portable Parks and The Farm, A Living Library also plays homage to the satellite art experiments of Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz. Her holistic approach, rooted in physical being and places, points to an interactive art practice that incorporates evolving technologies into an interrelated web of art and life.
The perspectives that each artist articulated singly and collectively provide a way of seeing the Interactive Art Conference at its best – exploring a multiplicity of approaches, realities and trajectories that reflect off each other, revealing more nuanced meanings. As we close this conversation about the Interactive Art Conference, I am grateful to the artists who participated then and now, whose words and practice help shape a vision of how to make art in relationship. In my own practice, the Interactive Art Conference was a point of departure toward making art in social space, using organizational processes to co-evolve new social awarenesses and practices through relationships built across difference. Our current conversation and its concurrent processes of looking back at the body of work represented by the Interactive Art Conference and forward at how interactive art practices are continuing to evolve, remind me how valuable it is to connect discourses on interactivity across genres.
Thank you, Judy, for our collaboration on the Interactive Art Conference, and for inviting this conversation.
T hank you, Anna! I have very much enjoyed reviewing our collaborative hosting of the Arts Wire Interactive Art Conference.
Looking back, I realize that because I had worked designing an interactive computerized information retrieval system for Ball Aerospace, beginning in the late 1960's, I saw the 1980's and 1990's as a time when everything was coming together, rather than a time of radical change. I don't regret what may currently seem quixotic (My 1970's attempts to replicate computer-mediated structures in artist book formats served to build systems to which I continue to refer). But at the same time, the mid-1980's importance of computers being accessible to artists in their own homes was vitally important.
"Our current conversation and its concurrent processes of looking back at the body of work represented by the Interactive Art Conference and forward at how interactive art practices are continuing to evolve, remind me how valuable it is to connect discourses on interactivity across genres."
Yes! And as we look to the future, for me an iconic image of 21st century cross-disciplinary interactive art is composer Pamela Z walking across the stage in Baggage Allowance (2010-2011), a work in which multi-media performance, gallery installation, and a web portal share interactive practice to convey narratives of the meaning of "baggage" and the difficulties of post 911 travel. At the heart of Baggage Allowance are interactive sculptural objects -- such as a "weeping steamer trunk", that divulges different stories, depending on which drawers are opened.
Contingently, rather than clearly fitting an established category (generative literature, hypertext literature, or interactive fiction, etc.), in the field of electronic literature, currently electronic manuscripts represent one exploratory approach to combining words and images on the computer screen, with recent examples including Matt Huynh's vertical scrolling The Boat, (2015, adapted from Nam Le's The Boat), a compelling narrative of the fates of Vietnamese "boat people" refugees. Rain and storm, laments, floating/rocking images, and the reader's own movement through the work contribute to reader immersion in a harrowing narrative.
In Emily Short's First Draft of the Revolution, (2012, produced by Liza Daly/inkle); the reader is involved in a perilous interactive letter writing process, and the story only progresses with reader participation in this process. In my own Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems (2017-2018), the life of a woman programmer unfolds along paths that each reader chooses, but because the paths themselves are aleatory, the way that computer mediation controls the random production of texts echoes the uncontrollable situations and technological shifts that shape her life.
During the first two decades of the 21st century, artists also have continued to play with both on and off-screen-based computer-mediation -- in which interactivity is a part of a process in unexpected ways. Works that come to mind in this respect are David Hockney's process-oriented iPad drawings of Yosemite; Eduardo Kac's Inner Telescope, created in 2017 aboard the International Space Station by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who followed Kac's instructions; and Will Pappenheimer's Ascension of Cod, a 2017 augmented reality work (for the Boston Cyberarts The Augmented Landscape exhibition and viewable with the Layar App on a smartphone or tablet). Ascension of Cod creates the illusion of a school of virtual cod swimming upwards in a column around and above Scale House in Salem Massachusetts.
Conversely, narrative data structures may use generative data without user-based interactive components. For instance in Israel-born digital artist Shirley Shor's Terra Infirma, considerations of network stability/instability are represented by a sandbox filled with white sand on which colored lines are generated/projected in real-time by software -- forming a synthesis between code and territory. For instance, in Spanish-born e-poet Maria Mencia's poetic data visualization Gateway to the World, open data from a maritime database continually visualizes the real-time routes of vessels arriving to and departing from the Port of Hamburg.
Meanwhile, on the waterways of New York City, Mary Mattingly's Swale, a "public floating food forest", invites people to come aboard and pick fruit and vegetables.
Currently based in Scotland, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto continue their work in that in their words "demands reflection on environmental changes and crisis. Under these circumstances we intend to make art that explores new relationships between humanity and nature." they write about their "A Critical Forest Art Practice" that aims, among other things, "to establish a model for art with forests rather than in forests."
All of these seemingly different approaches are of interest, and that is one of points of this concluding riff on interactivity now.
On the FB Social Media Archeology and Poetics discussion, Tim Collins observes that:
"The critical next step is to clarify a critical climate art practice that takes into account the fact that it is a phenomenon distributed in time and space. The challenge is to describe an aesthetic and ethical practice that orients more than human and suggests pathways of long term engagemeant useful to us for a decade or more.... So it goes art never ends."
Yes, and one of the pleasures of the Networked Projects in the Formative Years of the Internet project is resuming dialogue. Fred Truck, who is currently working with photography and developing his own 3D applications, responded to our FB conversation by saying:
"The Interactive Art Conference gave me the opportunity to state exactly how I felt about the state of the art at that time. I had just finished the Leonardo da Vinci Flying Machine project at CMU, and had shown it at the Machine Culture show at the Siggraph convention. The Flying Machine was early virtual reality. These days I can see how lucky I was to have done what I did. "
Judy Malloy: Introduction
Early Telematic Projects
Projects Nurtured in Online Conferences
Networked Art Works in the Formative Years