Excerpted from exhibition essay by Winnie Wong, Director of Curatorial Planning.
The potential of interactive art to create new positions of art-viewing is made most explicit in this exhibition by Shawn Lawson’s Mona Lisa (2002). Lawson’s appropriation of the most famous painting in the western canon contemporizes Mona Lisa and imagines her theatrical reaction to gallery visitors. Literally offering a painting that looks back at its viewer, Lawson suggests it might be possible for a viewer of the 21st century to interact with the portrait sitter of the 14th century by erasing the hand of the original artist, Leonardo. Lawson imagines an intimacy between two impossible persons, anyone and La Joconde.
Daniel Peltz’s Digital Quilt (2004) explores the possibilities of intimacy within a large group. Collaborating with 207 University of Arizona students, Peltz directs their use of a scanner to photograph their own body parts which they then compose into personal quilt squares. Peltz’s interactive projection of this composition asks viewers to experience the visual as a kind of digital textile – unfolding and uncovering layers of the quilt to discover its undersides. The quilting metaphor in Peltz’s piece, therefore, extends beyond the creators of the quilt to include its future participants.
Peltz’s use of interactive photography to enable intimacy contrasts with the apparent intimacy amongst Victoria Scott’s Lay Down (2004) – a group of robotic sculptures who can choose whether to grudgingly accept or scapegoat the individual human that comes to interact with them. Instead of concentrating on the pleasantly useful aspects of ubiquitous technology, Scott presents us with a semi-artificial intelligence that does not foreshadow a technology-empowered human utopia, but an already existing human-to-machine tension.
Brian Knep’s Healing Series (2003-04) gives us an alternative vision of human-machine interaction. For Knep, we are “foreign bodies” that invade an organically-represented technology, leaving a deep wound that the machine must heal itself. However, the regeneration we force upon the interface elicits many different emotions and behaviors from gallery visitors – destruction can be a game, a pleasure, or a horror.
The secret, inner world of a machine is also the gallery visitor’s reward in Simon Schiessl’s Haptic Opposition (2003), which offers a jarring response from a puzzling machine. Haptic Opposition forcibly fights back – unexpectedly resisting the participant’s attempt to interact with it. An obviously useless machine, it nonetheless seems dysfunctional for a participant expecting a certain kind of behavior from a mechanical interface. In the end, the “haptic” fight ends with an optical reward – the failed machine coughs up its programming code on its ancient screen, and we can leave with a sense of domination achieved.
Expectations of function and dysfunction of machinery are playfully highlighted in Chang, Ruzanka and Strakovsky’s (In)Security Camera (2003) – a surveillance system that is capably deployed to calculate human threats through constant visual mastery of the world. While appropriating a current technology, the artists have also anthropomorphized the surveillance camera itself by giving it personality traits of shyness and skittishness. The interactivity that gallery visitors experience with the (in)security camera speaks to the public’s larger insecurity with systems of surveillance that always function as the one-way gaze of an unseen system. The system and the camera refuse to look back at us or to answer our attempts to engage with it.