Robert Adrian on Fri, 10 Apr 1998 05:48:05 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Re: interactivity:

When reading Felix Stalder's initial text I couldn't really
identify his statements with "interactivity" - it sounded
much more like "control that he was talking about. Press
button "A" - get result "B" ... the old problem of man-machine
interfaces with their suggestion of "interactivity" barely
disquising the master-slave relationship.

But interactivity surely implies a certain degree of symetry
in the relationship ...  not a hierarchy of control but a sharing
of control. Give and take. Mechanical devices simply perform
the tasks for which they are built and interaction with them
is an entirely one-sided business. The machine is controlled
by its operator. A device for measuring time is no different
than any other machine in this respect.

Interactivity would seem to imply a degree of loss of control -
situations in which it might be possible for the machine to
do something unpredicted by the handbook or make its own
demand on the operator in some unforseen way. The machine
would have to be understood as having some sort of
intentional capacity for real interaction to be possible.
But when mechanical devices become unpredictable they are
simply broken - and are either repaired or discarded.
But what I really wanted to say is that, when working with
the www or other communications media, "interactivity" is
a condition (in the above sense) of the work. By this I don't
mean that the artist, or whoever, intends their work to be
necessarily "interactive" - it is simply inevitable that the
viewer/receiver of the work will determine how the work
will be experienced. That is the person looking at your work
on line or on tv will make the decisions about how the work
will be seen - by deciding on the size of screen, the amount
of time viewed, the context (by zapping channels or surfing),
browser type/configuration etc etc.
People producing work for these media are obliged to share
the decisions about the work with the viewers of the work.
They must accept a loss of control in an environment which
is determined by interactivity ...

Genuine interactivity is therefore a serious problem for the
traditional artist accustomed to a feeling of having total
control over the appearance of their work. A great deal of
so-called "interactive art" is actually more often a strategy
for reasserting control by limiting the variables for the
viewer or incorporating them into the work.
Thats what makes so much of it so boring.

Living in Toronto, Felix Stalder must know the work of
Norman White who has spent more years than he would care
to remember building robotic devices of one kind or another.
One was a bunch of wires and computers called, I think,
"The Lazy Robot" which just lay there waiting for someone
to press a button or come in range of its sensors ... it was
designed to attract the attention of gallery visitors and put
them to work activating its systems.
Of course its apparent intentionality was a function of its
program but it cleverly reversed the man/machine, master/
slave relationship - and gave "interactivity" a different

robert adrian
wiedner hauptstrasse 37/69
a-1040 vienna, austria
tel.++43 1 504 3110
fax++43 1 504 4849
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