Installations: Video, Sound, Interactivity
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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:
the convergence of art, entertainment and information
the expectation of sensory overload
the desire for “real time” experiences
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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of Digitextuality (New York: Routledge, 2003).
Eleanor “Video Installation and the Poetics of Time”
in Outer & Inner Space: Pipilotti Rist, Shirin Neshat, Jane
& Louise Wilson and the History of Video Art (Richmond:
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2002).
Chrissie Into the Light (New York: Whitney Museum of Art, 2001.)
Margot Digital Currents: art in the electronic age (New York:Routledge,
Malcolm Digital Ground (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004).
John B. “Introduction” in Outer & Inner Space:
Pipilotti Rist, Shirin Neshat, Jane & Louise Wilson and
the History of Video Art (Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine
Jeffrey, and Weibel, Peter Future Cinema, The Cinematic Imaginary
after Time (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003).
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