About

The interest and use of interactive methodologies continues to grow among artists, curators and funders. Yet, each artistic discipline and even each individual artist uses an independent language for describing interactive works. There is currently no commonality between these languages.

Architecture of Interaction is a project realized by a group of five artists and theorists who have set out to develop a communicatory toolbox that can be useful to talk about and compare the processes, meanings and effects of interactive work, especially the parts of interactive work where no outcomes or precise outlines can be defined.

Architecture of Interaction really came from a desire to connect vocabularies, to develop a more sophisticated discourse and to share the eclectic and hidden ideas and processes involved in interactive works from various disciplines from theatre, music, dance, film, visual arts, performance to new media. The main idea is to make interactive working methods more tangible and discussable first of all between other artists from very different backgrounds, but the project also gives a resourceful insight into the tricky zones of interactivity for critics, curators, commissioners and interested audiences.

Prescript

Yvonne Dröge Wendel

The last decade has seen a steady rise in the recognition of interactive working methods in the field of visual arts. Nowadays it’s quite common practice for artists to involve the public as part of their working process. As such, it is no longer necessary to justify the mere fact that a work develops in collaboration with others. What still remains however, is the necessity to find a language to successfully communicate how this collaboration within an artistic process is shaped, as well as showing what the specific qualities and characteristics of interactive working methods are.

Since I started working as an artist in the Netherlands in 1992, I have used interactive working methods. My projects tended to develop without much theoretical reference but rather according to the situation and according to the actions and responses of those who came into contact with my work. I wanted my work to be alive and to grow intuitively and so I purposefully tried to avoid reflection and strategic thinking that might disturb the dynamics of the process when making the work. Although I still like to work in this ad-hoc, intuitive way, I now frequently find myself in a position where I have to clarify my working methods and outline the outcome of a project months in advance. This is mainly the case when I am commissioned to produce a work. But how should I as an artist communicate the characteristics and the dynamics of a process based work that has not yet been developed? In my experience, this is a problematic question faced especially by visual artists and is based on the fear that meeting this demand and making a clear outline of a project takes away the excitement of creating the process. At the same time, determining the way of working also seems to narrow the input of the participants and the range of choices. If you already determine the result you are striving for beforehand, why make the work at all?

Another difficulty in successfully discussing interactive works is that each artist, each commissioner and each participant has his or her own idea of what an interactive work is. We all know what ‘interactive’ means in general, but upon closer examination it becomes clear that each of us has a different definition in mind. While one person will think about interactivity purely in terms of a technical system — a push-button work — somebody else will consider it as an experience that allows the participant to be actively involved in a creative exchange. So, depending on their different disciplines and backgrounds, each person will have a distinct understanding of what interaction means and what they consider the qualities of an interactive work to be. The fact that each work is made up of many different kinds of dynamics makes it difficult, if not impossible, to describe exactly what happens and makes it hard to find shared definitions and values in relation to interactive work. As such, it is a considerable challenge to compare and criticise works constructively.

An Architecture of Interaction developed out of the wish to simplify and clarify discussions in this field from the maker’s point of view. It arose from discussions with fellow artists who also confront similar limits and stumbling blocks while realising interactively based art works. The reason this project took place in Amsterdam and London is due to a personal experience I had while on a yearlong residency at Delfina Studios in London in 2002. During this period I was confronted with buzzwords about art and participation. In London I suddenly found myself labelled a socially engaged artist and first heard other labels being applied to artists such as the ‘artist as facilitator’, the ‘artist as enabler’, the ‘artist as educator’ or questions such as: “do you make art in communities or are you a community artist?”

Returning to the Netherlands after my residency in the UK, I found that there was a shared desire among other artists to look more closely at interactive working methods from the perspective of practice itself, and to find a language that enables a discussion of interactive work in a more constructive way; one that does not resort to the jargon of labels. Two artist friends, Lino Hellings and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, who expressed their concerns when it came to talking about interactive work, showed an interest in working together to come up with a methodology that would help to develop a more nuanced and understandable discussion about interactivity in art practice. The fact that each of us comes from a very different background has meant that we have our own ideas and this has also led to disagreements.

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Nonetheless, our conversations and disagreements made us aware of the limitations of having to describe our practice according to our specialised backgrounds, whether in the visual arts, new media, Lino Hellings is an artist and lecturer who was also my teacher and mentor at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Lino has been working across different art forms for more than 30 years. Although she began with theatre making (she was a co-founder of Dogtroep), after fifteen years she moved into the visual arts. Strongly influenced by her performance background, she has employed a variety of media including audio guides, video installations, large-scale photography and choreography for the public. It was Lino who roused my interest in interactive and process-based work. She has developed a teaching practice that concentrates on the fissures and overlaps between different artistic disciplines and sensitivities. In her own practice Lino approaches making art as a visual operation on the borders of fiction and reality. One of her guiding maxims is: “Adding a drop of fiction to reality can expose beauty, anguish, humour, passion and wonder in everyday life.” Klaas Kuitenbrouwer is an artist and theorist. He studied recent history before becoming involved in theatrical productions as an artist, organiser, curator and technician, organising and curating performance events at the SILO gallery in Amsterdam. Alongside theatre-oriented work, Klaas has made radio programmes for the VPRO and Radio 100. Since the late 1990s, Klaas has been developing and conducting interdisciplinary workshops on ‘Designing Behaviour’ across Europe for the Mediamatic Foundation in Amsterdam. These workshops investigate the artistic possibilities of interactive media. Klaas also lectures at universities and art schools on different aspects of interactivity. As a musician, he also explores improvisation through his band Oorbeek. Klaas has an extensive knowledge of the field of interactivity, and is one of the few people I know who can successfully mediate between artists and theorists coming from different disciplines.

A little later, the UK-based artists Mine Kaylan and Anna Best joined the project’s research phase. Then some months later, in April 2005 we were joined by Nikolaus Gansterer, an artist who works in Vienna and Maastricht. Meanwhile, the curator Wietske Maas became involved as our project coordinator. She collated, translated and edited our research material and helped organise the discussion sessions that took place in London and Amsterdam. Wietske has also been the driving force behind this publication.

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Originally from Istanbul, Mine Kaylan is a close friend of Lino Hellings, and is active as a performance artist, theatre practitioner and poet. She is a full-time tutor at the University of Brighton and leader of the LAA@B research project (Live Art Archive @Brighton). She is also the founding director of the Leleg Institute Project, an international project for performance and live-art research and education based in Turkey and the UK. Mine’s interest lies in the idea of interactivity as an essential element in live art. For Mine interactivity is an art work or process that can include very diverse formats and media and in which creative interactions and collaborations can take place. Also from the UK is London-based artist Anna Best. Her works often defy categorisation but one consistent element is her interest in making connections between people and situations and telling stories. Anna gives equal weight to the various aspects of the interactive work of art from the process of researching the piece to its live performance and documentation. Nikolaus Gansterer is an artist whose work ranges from drawing and mapping to sound and installations, often in the context of collaborative live performance acts. In his installation works, Nikolaus focuses on the translation of processes emerging out of cultural communication and social networks. He became part of an Architecture of Interaction in order to visualise the aspects of the interactive processes that were central to our extensive conversations and debates during our research.

Amsterdam, November 2006.

Chisenhale Gallery, London

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Veemvloer, AOI meetings

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