Exit Archive

Fall 2005 | v.01 n. 01 | Invitational Issue |

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Media Installations: Video, Sound, Interactivity
Joyce Rudinsky

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The popular, even insistent, use of computer technology is altering our cognitive experience and sensory perception. Visual experience dominates human experience. Viewer interface with the visual technologies of television, computer monitors, and screens have created a technologized form of seeing and comprehension that is unlike the concentrated viewing required by traditional art. These experiential shifts lead to the development of new forms of art as well as new venues for viewing. Artists working with digital media must respond to these cognitive and perceptual changes while relating to the aesthetic, historical, and critical issues of the art context.

I will discuss four characteristics of our technology-based visual culture that influence these cognitive and perceptual changes:

  1. the convergence of art, entertainment and information
  2. the expectation of sensory overload
  3. new narrative formations
  4. the desire for “real time” experiences

To illustrate the strategic integration of these items I draw on the media performance and installation NATURAL:SELECTION by rudy (ru-D.tv), a media performance collective based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I initiated rudy in order to develop the potential for an interdisciplinary approach to art practice that investigates lived experience in an information-based society.

NATURAL:SELECTION explores the human behaviors of conflict and competition through evolutionary terms by combining imagery and data to look at the mapping and representation of behavior. The performance includes live video mixing and manipulation as well as analog information and sculptural elements. The installation creates an immersive space by surrounding the viewer with projected imagery and sound: light and sound react to the actions of viewers, altering their perception of physical space.

Art, Entertainment and Information Convergence
A system of rapidly developing visual codes formed by individuals in diverse disciplines influence both the artist and the audience in digital media. Art, entertainment, and information share the modes of production and often the same distribution channels and, most significantly, share a common viewing interface, the screen. The screen becomes the site for negotiation of new representations. A viewer’s understanding of visual signs comes from the everyday viewing experience with diverse media. As a consequence, we read electronic media artwork within stylistic terms developed and proliferated by television, movies and other mass media. When confronted with new media art, a viewer must combine an everyday visual understanding with the experience of a structured formal viewing setting of an art gallery.

NATURAL:SELECTION alters diverse imagery from mass media and scientific illustration and includes video imagery made in public and in the studio. The combination of these various sources in the gallery produces an interface that represents the overlap between communication convergences. Encountering this constructed overlap shakes the viewer out of the conditioned cultural response engendering a new cognitive experience of ambiguity and discord.

We project the imagery onto multiple screens. The screen commonly associated with the stationary experience of television and computer monitors becomes a surface to define spatial layers of information. The screen, no longer a distinct object, is integrated into the viewer’s space. Viewing becomes a bodily involvement, as viewers must decide their orientation to the projected information. This conflation of movement and viewing disrupts a viewer’s spatial and visual perception.

Expectation of Sensory Overload
Media art shares a visual format with mass media. The overwhelmed screen format used by news programs such as CNN and Fox, and web sites combines live image with static and streaming text. Viewers have become accustomed to the constant bombardment of information. These modes of communication require a different method of reception based on quick glances between differentiated sources. Users exhibit what has been described as “hyperattentiveness” as a viewer’s attention is spread among many inputs. The overwhelmed look of television and web sites have accustomed viewers to understanding multiple and varied simultaneous information.

Communication technologies create vast amounts of fragmented, undifferentiated information. An invisible membrane of information shapes our physical spaces. Space itself becomes an interface for information reception. The process of information reception, selection, and subordination, and its accompanied sense of continual motion and constant flow, is transferred to our physical spaces. This experience shapes our perceptual selectivity.

User experience with electronic media (through Internet interaction, video games, and television) also creates an expectation of interactivity. Media theorist Anna Everitt describes this expectation as “click fetish” – where information is “available simply, instantaneously, and pleasurably” through the mouse, cell phone, or TV remote. The pleasure is derived from the simultaneous engagement of sight, sound, and touch with heightened speed and excess. Everitt describes this experience of computer/human interaction as not a bodily transcendence (i.e. Neuromancer) but a persistence of the body, the tactility of touch. Touch is the most intimate sense, limited by the reach of the body. It implies contact between a person and the world. Users can experience different levels of referentiality instantly and bodily through the “click”.

rudy projects investigate the spaces that emerge when material space and information space interact. Viewers are surrounded by video, sound, and interactive light shifts. These spaces create an overload of fragmented, undifferentiated information which changes the real-time associations and hence the sequence and understanding of the work. This is a method of perception that mimics an individual’s everyday lived experience.

As a respite to media induced fragmentation, rudy projects are embedded with moments of contemplative viewing that call attention to these changing modes of reception.

Eight Plexiglas lenses hang along the length of the installation. These lenses reflect the flicker and traces of the video. When motion sensors are triggered, lights come up behind the lenses to focus the collective viewers’ attention on silhouetted figures painted on the wall. The images read as human forms and as data. The lights turn off after 10 seconds. This shift of attention from the focus to the periphery and back alters the viewer’s experience by providing a contemplative engagement. It also momentarily alters the viewing experience by drawing attention to a central location.

New Narrative Formations
Experimental projects that use interactivity and screen-based storytelling alter traditional narrative. Traditional narrative unfolds sequentially over time. With new media, narrative expands, becoming the “flow of experiences”. It has a spatial structure, understood associatively, where data and retrieval shape meaning.

New media narrative alters the relationship between the audience and the author. With new media the user has an interactive experience that the author can only influence indirectly by making certain viewing options available. The user experiences variability and control of the viewing sequence, which creates a differentiated space that allows for complex and unpredictable narrative forms. This method of reception involves the integration of items taken from a set of fragmented data that induces dramatic shifts in levels or referentiality and perception in the viewer.

The NATURAL:SELECTION installation consists of nineteen screens to provide multiple narrative perspectives. I design the space to compel the viewer to move to move through the installation to view the various nodes of information. The path a viewer takes through the installation scripts an individual narrative. rudy projects present information such that visitors experience the project in a fragmented way. The work has no single beginning and no end. The movement of the body through the space forms understanding; the piece shapes relationships between the viewer, the focus of the viewer and the peripheral imagery. These elements change constantly to create innumerable instances of unique perception.

rudy projects create a system of reference and association without a fixed meaning. An understanding of the work is influenced by the live elements as well as the individual and collective actions of all viewers. NATURAL:SELECTION uses a large amount of diverse and stimulating imagery to entice viewers to “do the work” of creating a personal narrative. Viewers simultaneously experience the visual codes of mass media, intended to be understood quickly, and the layered associations of the art context.

Desire for “real time” Experience
The media experience produces the expectation of speed. The computer industry instills this desire for speed through the marketing of faster processing, faster connections, and faster downloads.
New media spectatorship incorporates this desire for immediacy by offering real time experience. Contemporary viewers believe real time is more truthful because it represents something at the time it occurs. Real-time access to digital culture is seen as necessary to modern life and to success. This access to and excess of media generates a frenzied perception of time.

NATURAL:SELECTION contains a performance element. The artists mix video elements in the gallery in real time. The performance aspect draws attention to the artistic process of the selection and manipulation of information that amplifies the present where each alignment of viewers and information happens only once.

The viewer’s s experience is a constantly evolving present where they are able to explore and investigate through a variety of perceptions – aural, visual, and spatial.
This experience makes the viewer aware of the process of creation and the process of viewing. It is experiential, not content driven.

These four characteristics of our visual culture are not exclusive or discrete. I employ them as a framing device to define an experimental collaborative process. rudy projects reflect contemporary issues involved in living in a technology-based culture. Our collaborative strategy incorporates media convergence, real-time events, sensory overload, and new narrative formations to create an experiential art environment. No one piece is fixed in time or meaning and one event evolves into the next. We seek to suggest alternative uses and contexts that take the viewer, even briefly, out of their daily habits of understanding culture and potentially altering later informational interpretations.


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