The work of art always includes compulsory interaction if it presupposes any kind of audi- ence. As Marcel Duchamp writes: “…the spectator brings the work in contact with the exter- nal world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribu- tion to the creative act.” (The Creative Act, 1957.) With the emergence of time-based arts and technical media the situation has changed insofar as the individual works require much more active collaboration from the spectator, with both artform allowing, even asking for numerous individual methods, paths, durations of the viewing .
Johan Thurfjell’s film provides an elementary example of this situation. The work, also real- ized as a computer game, was drawn from a motif of Stanley Kubrick’s movie, “The Shining”. The spectator can act as the character of the original film’s young hero, Danny, who has spe- cial talents and with the help of Thurfjell’s fiction test his/her capabilities to foresee the future. An excerpt of the instruction: “One round of the game consists of fifty corners. The twins are waiting behind one of them. The only way for you to escape death while passing the corner where the twins are waiting is to keep your eyes shut. You are allowed to close your eyes ten times throughout the game.” The viewer can either obey the instructions, thus accepting this absurd situation of closing one’s eyes and by doing so partly missing the film, or in order to watch the complete film refuse to comply with the rules. The minimal interaction – I watch something or I don’t – turns into a dramatic role in a playful form.
In Bill Spinhoven’s installation entitled I/Eye a gigantic, monitor-size eye “watches” the spectator. This is not a simple glimpse since the pupil follows the motion of the person pass- ing by. Controlling people via observation became a fundamental experience again in the twentieth century. The all seeing divine glance coming from the church’s facade to a street shop-window in the I/Eye is no longer a sign of transcendent attention, but rather of secular supervision and the reality of power.
Dan Graham’s classic work entitled Performer / Audience / Mirror deals with the presence and (self-) reflective attention. The documentation of the Amsterdam performance shows very well how the customary audience-performer hierarchy changes in the reflective space of a real mirror placed behind the performer, in front of the audience, as well as in the space of the other, simultaneous, personal, verbal “performer’s mirror” which gives a permanent descrip- tion of the situation.
Similarly, the duplicated, mediatized present is the basis of Nika Špan’s video installation. Although the curator of the U3 exhibition in Ljubljana (Peter Weibel) and the artist showing and explaining her works to him are in the same environment, they can only communicate with each other by means of a closed circuit video, without sound, via the monitor image. The transmission as an interface represents the hierarchy of the roles as well. This non-public per- formance becomes accessible through the exhibition of the recorded documentation.
While in Dan Graham’s work the mirror plays the chief part, in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s interactive installation it is another archetypical image phenomenon, the shadow, that takes that role. Body Movies counts on the active presence of the visitors: on the giant screen sur- face in a public space various portraits are shown which only appear within the shadows cre- ated by spectators and passers-by. If the spectators cooperate and reveal all portraits through their shadows, a next set of pictures becomes available. This communal game, which requires movements, perspective changes in the context of the light source, is also a tableau-vivant, a re-enactment of an illustration from a 17th-century book. The direct reference to a (media) historical archetype – Samuel van Hoogstraten: Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schil- derkonst (Introduction to the Art of Painting), 1675 – is not unusual in contemporary media art at all, even if it is not immediately evident in all cases.
Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák’s Cryptogram encodes text messages to virtual, three-dimensional sculptures in the computer space. The background pattern for this was provided by the 3D model of Leonardo da Vinci’s small horse statue kept in Budapest. The Cryptogram was originally displayed in the “The Butterfly Effect” exhibition as an interactive installation. The current version adapted for the World Wide Web has an additional feature, providing real cryptography as part of the installation at a time when encrypted communication is becoming attainable to anyone by means of the publicly downloadable program. This motif, the espousal of the human rights, the electronic private sphere, was an important message at the time the work was created.
Olia Lialina’s net art work starts with a dialogue between Agatha, the country girl arriving in the big city, and a system administrator “fired from his job”. The user is peacefully clicking and reading the dialogues, but all of a sudden it seems as if his/her own computer sends error- type messages: at a specific point during the dialogue, when the SysAd is trying to upload Agatha to the Internet, a new window pops up, and the story continues in the form of a series of warnings. The user has to become aware that as long as he/she presses the OK button, the error messages will persist cyclically, and he/she can only return to the base frame at a given point of the cycle by pressing the cancel button. Then Agatha goes to the Internet (“New world? I want to try”). In the course of the teleportation the image on the monitor does not change, only the URLs in the browser’s title bar. Agatha, handed over to the servers happily continues her way in cyberspace in a best case scenario cyclically, around the world, as long as the sad message appears (like the twins at the end of Thurfjell’s film): 404 Object not found. Olia Lialina uses elementary tools to teach her spectator the fact that it is always worth observing and understanding the complete context of the apparatus, not only the image on the display and the seemingly pleasant story.