mark fell





report on art and interaction


The report presents an account of interactive environments that is grounded in my experiences as a technologist, and my professional practice as curator and artist. I discuss three primary models: Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Fluxus, and describe how each challenges commonly held assumptions about human activity. The aim of this report is to develop these challenging frameworks into a radical re-description of interaction in contemporary art practice.

Here I place debate about interactive art within a wider and problematic context that both constructs and explores relationships between technology, culture and creativity. The area covered by this report is considered to be a small part of this overall picture. The report shows how many of the themes raised in a study of interactive art can be applied to wider debates about technology, creativity and culture, and to show how such a model is flawed. Similarly, interactive art practice is placed within a framework of other artistic practices such as digital art and time based media.

Wittgenstein’s description of language as a kind of game [1] is developed into an understanding of how we engage with the logic of interactive systems, and to differentiate kinds of logical activity. I make a distinction between the interface and the interaction, between the equipment itself and the way it is used. I call these the interactive ‘object’, and the interactive ‘activity’. Wittgenstein’s work is developed by Richard Rorty [2], who’s neo-pragmatic account of language, metaphor and cultural shift. I apply this to artistic interactivity.

Hubert Dreyfus’ [3] reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time [4], is used as a framework to understand interaction in artworks. It is common for such an account to be applied to our understanding of human computer interaction, where the emphasis is placed upon simple usability (as promoted by Shneiderman [5]), involving issues such as control, expectation and understanding. This is called user-centered interactivity. Here however artistic activity is seen as being in some ways opposed to this simple usability. Dreyfus’ description of disturbance and malfunction in use of equipment proves to be a very fruitful framework for dealing with this difference, and is used to describe experimental forms of interaction found in contemporary art works. And from simple usability I talk about forms of ‘complex dialogue’ and ‘user-decentered interaction’.

In addition to the interactive ‘activity’, the report addresses the interactive ‘object’. Here I attempt to classify these in terms of spatial, tactile and physiological, causal and semantic, geographical distributed and centered, multi/single-user and so forth. In each case examples of works are given and possible areas for further research are highlighted. Technical methods and procedures are outlined and categorized.

  1. Wittgenstein, L., Philosophical Investigations.
  2. Rorty, R., Essays On Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers Volume 2. 1991,
  3. Dreyfus, H.L., Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time. 1991
  4. Heidegger, M., Being and Time.
  5. Shneiderman, B., Leonardo's Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing technologies. 2002

written while working at the creativity and cognition research studios in loughborough.

© mark fell, modified June 13, 2009, at 05:41 PM PDT edit print