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from: Frank Popper (1993)
Art of the Electronic Age, Thames and Hudson
pp 172-177

Frank Popper
Art of the Electronic Age (1993)
Social and Aesthetic Implications (conclusion)

One way of categorizing all these various tendencies is to suggest that the principal aesthetic implications of technological art are bound up with the notions and practice of interactivity, simulation and artificial intelligence.

As regards the passage from participation to interactivity in visual art, the concept of participation suffered a partial eclipse during the 1970s. However, a direct link can be established between the participatory achievements of Op and Kinetic Art in the '50s and '60s and the technological art of the '80s and at the beginning of the '90s. It is particularly in the sectors concerned with interactivity that the most significant artistic achievements can be observed.

If in laser and holographic work interactivity is limited to the spectator's awareness and perception of complex natural phenomena coupled with artistic goals, in many computer and combined computer-video works and in most telecommunication art it is at the very heart of the technical devices as well as of the artistic process.

Striking examples that have been analyzed in previous chapters include Jeffrey Shaw's Legible City, Edmond Couchot's Feather, Roy Ascott's 'fairy tale' The Pleating of the Text, Jean-Louis Boissier's Bus, Lynn Hershman's interactive piece Deep Contact, and Myron W. Krueger's Video Place.

The term 'interactive art', which came into use at the beginning of the 1990s, identifies a very wide range of experimentation and innovation in a variety of media. Interactive art presents a flow of data (images, text, sound) and an array of cybernetic, adaptive and (one might say) intelligent structures, environments and networks (as performances, events, personal encounters and private experiences) in such a way that the observer can alfect the flow, alter the structure, interact with the environment or navigate the network, thus becoming directly involved in acts of transformation and creation.(7)

Stephen Wilson's Father Why, which enables the user's voice to control a simulated walk through San Francisco's multicultural Mission District and to investigate the dreams and disillusionment of its immigrant population, illustrates the case that can be made for stressing the cultural importance of Interactive Art. It is Wilson's view that We are at a cultural crossroad in the evolution of technology. Computers promise great opportunity and great danger. They could usher in a dark age of increasing passivity and centralization and a decay into faceless mass society; or they could bring about a great flowering of individual choice, expression and access to information.(8)

Since the 1980s Wilson has committed himself to bringing about the second alternative by creating interactive networks that require the audience to act as co-creators; the audience's choices shape the flow of events. These works can also be called interactive because they require spectators to interact with each other in making these decisions. Jean-Louis Boissier, however, argues that interactivity is not the causal factor in the establishment of the new art form but only one of its most important effects.

Roy Ascott stated in 1991 that

What we are seeing develop in this new field is a broad range of attitudes, systems, structures and strategies involving the full sensorium of the body and engaging the mind and emotions in the creation of complex multimedia environments rich in their potential for meaning and experience. Take, for example, the six works which have secured top recognition in the first two years of Interactive Art submissions to Ars Electronica. The winner of the Golden Nica in 1990, Myron Kreuger, and the winner of this year's award, Paul Sermon, in many ways mark out the breadth of the domain. On the one hand, Krueger, one of the first, some twenty years ago, to research the possibilities of interactivity in artificial space, comes from a base in computer science and brings into the domain of art a 'videoplace' within which the users might play and interact on screen with exhilarating degrees of freedom, intermingling with, afi"ecting and transforming computer-generated graphic objects, images and sound. On the other, Sermon, trained in fine art, seeks through the technological and layered complexity of hypermedia and global telecommunication networks, a semantic space in which users of the systems he creates can criticize the dominant media, can navigate the dataspace for new information and insights, and can generate meanings and attitudes to the social formations in which they find themselves embedded. These two works alone, in many ways, can be seen to encapsulate both the history of the field of interactive arts and its future -- from opening up a space for interactive and collaborative work to providing that space with a spiritual, moral or intellectual gravity within which meaningful content can be generated.(9)

A most impressive contribution to the problem of interactivity in art was provided by Peter Weibel in his articles in the special number of Kunstforum devoted to interactive arts and entitled 'In the Network of Systems'. His 'Polylog: For an Interactive Art', written in collaboration with Gerhard Johann Lischka, and his 'Materials Relating to the Birth of a New Art Tendency: Interactive Art, Ars Electronica in Linz', were of major importance in a publication which also contained important articles by Roy Ascott, Carl Loefiler, Richard Kriesche, Robert Adrian X and Stephen Wilson.(10)

The more general problems of interactivity were addressed by the participants in the forum 'Towards an Interactive Culture?' organized by Claude Faure and Antonia Bacchetti in May 1988 at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie at La Villette.(11) At this forum, Christian Marbach asked the question: at what price and with what success would it be possible for the new technologies to master interactivity? Faure aligned interactivity and simulation, and raised other questions: how do the new technologies influence our perception? how do they create new languages and new images? how do they modify our cultural practices?

The forum was divided into two parts. The first dealt with interactivity in relation to technoscientific culture, the second with interactivity as an instrument of creation, in the service of artists and the public at large. Concerning the first point, Jean-Paul Natali drew attention to the necessity to quantify interactivity in order to determine its degree of effectiveness; Gillian Thomas outlined the benefits to be gained from attending to senses other than sight -- to smell, taste and hearing; Jean-Louis Weissberg highlighted the fact that in communication the act of seeing is modified, that the technologies of sight assist, objectify and radicalize the abstract components of human perception. To see is not only a passive reception but also a projection. The computerized ingenuity of simulation and the organization of interactive imagery externalize the conceptual pathways of looking.

Instead of interaction, Philippe Quéau preferred to use the term 'alteraction' -- that is to say, 'to make other'. He suggested that the notion of the model should replace that of form and that the creators of models are demiurges who create symbolic worlds with a life of their own.

Concerning interactivity as a subject of artistic creation, I tried at the forum to limit its meaning by saying that in an aesthetic context, although the term could designate either the relationship between the artist and the work in the course of its making or between the ultimate work and the spectator, it is necessary to retain a historically defensible application in which the aesthetic intentions of artists are accompanied by a very clear awareness of the technical processes involved.

Artists such as Fred Forest, Christian Sevette, Stéphan Barron and Jean-Marc Philippe argued that the concept of interactivity came not only from computer science and its derivatives, which are all capable of simulating a dialogue, but also from a new understanding of communication. Today one is able to speak of a meeting-place based on communication in which the interactive processes become a reality on a planetary, even universal, scale. The contributions to the forum at La Villette covered a large panorama of diverse aspects of the term interactivity and its pedagogical, creative and cultural functions.

The relationship between the notions of interactivity, simulation and artificial intelligence has been examined by Marie-Hélène Tramus. She assumes that interactivity can be considered as a simulation of interaction. If interaction refers to the individual's relations to both natural and artificial realities, interactivity refers to relations to virtual realities. Tramus suggests that interactivity is the transformation of reality. It permits the transformation of natural reality (all that exists outside of the works of man) and artificial reality (all that is produced by human skill) into the virtual realities of simulation. That is, interactivity is the simulation of interaction, rendering possible the dialogue between these different realities.

As regards the term artificial intelligence and its relationship to interactivity and simulation, Tramus argues:

In the man-machine relationship, interactivity would be an essential intermediary which would not only play a passive linking role but a role of transformation. This coupling of man to machine, this synergy, is possible when a single function is made by the two beings. But this coupling exists when there is a convertibility between one and the other. Thus, interactivity would participate in this convertibility, to this common coding, which permits the synergy, that is to say, the coordinated action of several participants...(12)

Simulation in the context of the new technologies is mainly concerned with the construction of a model as close as possible to the real. This model becomes visible in certain works, such as Jeffrey Shaw's and Dirk Groeneveld's Legible City, through the interactivity of the spectator.

The theoreticians who have put the notion of simulation at the centre of their preoccupations have approached it from different points of view. For Jean Baudrillard, who associates simulation with the 'desertion of the real', the notion of abstraction traditionally associated with cartography, the double, or the mirror all presuppose some real referent. In simulation, however, what is simulated is no longer the territory, an original substance or being, but a model of the real. This shift in levels has catapulted us into the hyperreal. From now on it is the map that precedes, and thus generates, the territory.(13)

Adopting the opposite position, Philippe Quéau regards simulation as a new writing tool: it opens up new territory for creation and knowledge. Since mathematics can be assimilated to an art of symbolic manipulation, one can now mathematically simulate origins. Digital images are thus captured through a logico-mathematical information language.(14)

According to Florian Rötzer, simulation with the assistance of the computer is the result of perceptions which have been transferred from the human being to machines equipped with sensorial input. Thus simulation can be the result of a total programming of the environment.

At present we are faced with the elaboration of techniques that simulate human behaviour and perception. Soon the result of our knowledge could be applied to (or transformed into an application for) the development of our aesthetic environment, although only on a virtual level. One could produce new performances which go beyond the imitation of the real environment and which do not even use elements of reality. Virtual worlds can be created with the active (interactive) participation of the public.(15)

An artist like Nicole Stenger gives three possibilities for the use of simulation in Computer Art. First, the simulation of traditional techniques (the computer, with its own languages pretending to be a paint brush, is treated simply as a tool). Secondly, simulation can be used with a desire to prove that this equipment can describe the world as it is, i.e., to reproduce the real world. Thirdly, there is also the possibility of making use of simulation with complete liberty by trying to achieve everything that seems impossible and thereby creating virtual space in which gravity and materials can be transcended.

There is no doubt that this conjunction of the real and the virtual engendered by simulation is at the heart of present research by many technological artists. They consider that 'virtual space', 'virtual environments', or 'virtual realities' in general usher in an entirely new era in art, allowing the participants a multi-sensorial experience never encountered before.

The key words 'artificial intelligence' as an aesthetic problem open up a vast,time-worn discussion of the relationship between man and the machine. Artificial intelligence embraces techniques which enable machines, and in particular computers, to simulate human thought processes, particularly those of memory and deducation [sic].

According to Jean-Francois Colonna, artificial intelligence is above all an intellectual technology. The 'expert system' as a branch of artificial intelligence can be either a 'profound simulation, reproducing in its deepest structure the cognitive function of the human expert system', or a 'weak simulation, purely operational, which produces only an approximation of the results of the reasonings of the expert system, but without necessarily passing through similar logical pathways.(16)

Richard Kriesche's Brainwork, with its accompanying catalogue, was an attempt at introducing the cultural dimension implied in the 'digital code', made up of the most varied information, into the space created by the new media. This space development has a sociocultural dimension that requires advanced technology.

According to Kriesche, the aim of all art is to make the whole world a work of art. Today art no longer has its own specific function. Whatever functions have been ascribed to art -- such as insight, discovery, catharsis, expression or representation -- are met far more elfectively today by the cinema, TV, psychotherapy.

In the face of electronic reality, art, having once been a problem of materials, becomes a digital problem. From questioning our views of the world, it has moved on to questioning the world itself. The social significance and the role of art are to be found in the context of digital image processing (in storing, processing and transmitting information).

Artificial intelligence in the arts represents the paradigm shift in response to the phenomenon of universal digitalization. Art no longer means the production of artifacts of a painterly or electronic nature -- but rather the discovery of the inner logic of a digital world view.

Art is neither learning nor perception, but a process of encoding in a manner analogous to the 'neuronal firing patterns' described by Flanagan, Buglariello, Karl Popper and Pribram. In the context of natural and artificial intelligence, art becomes a process encoded in what Kriesche calls 'artinese' language linking the inner and outer worlds, the medium and the work of art.(17)

Stephen Wilson may once again be cited as an example of an artist putting artificial intelligence at the centre of his preoccupations. His interactive computer systems take into account subtle characteristics, such as emotions, taste and humour, and make the computer simulate them. Wilson sees computer artists using Artificial Intelligence Systems also as a way of 'humanizing' such systems. He claims that the application of artificial intelligence in Computer Art has already contributed significantly to the study of art, to the distinction between the finished work of art and the processes which precede its making, and to the relation between viewers and these works of art.(18)

More recently Wilson, like Ascott and others, has developed many works and theories which we have mentioned in the course of this book, instituting an art of intelligent systems in which the interplay between artificial and human intelligence is complete and where each participating individual can be directly instrumental in the creation of meaning and enhanced experience.

These combined artistic practices and aesthetic theories show the intimate relationship that exists between the three notions of artificial intelligence, simulation and interactivity, while at the same time adding a new chapter to the long-standing relationship between man and the machine.

(sorry, I didn't scan the footnotes section...)