MPM17A – Art Paper: New Media History Essay

The Birth of Interactive Art

New media is often defined as the digitization of traditional media with the use of advancing technologies. For example, from newspaper to online news websites, and television shows to online video streaming. Even though the media is renewed into a new digital form, a lot of the properties prior to the change are preserved in the latter. For example, even though a magazine company is digitalized for the online viewing on the web, the core content is most likely going to contain the same structure and guidelines as it was in it’s old paper form. Thus, a lot of new media elements are not essentially ‘new’. However, there are concepts that emerged as completely new, and helped culturally develop the digital transformation. Interactivity in art, was a new concept that emerged within this transitional stage. Interactive art, can be described as installation-based artworks that involves active participation from the viewers in order for the piece to achieve its artistic purpose. This interaction may as simple as physical movement, or it may require the viewer to deeply experience the piece with an immersive state. Although there were early examples of interactive art seen back in 1920s, it was not until the 1990s when this concept made its official entry (Wikipedia). Interactivity is a crucial element of what we define as ‘new media’ and the following three artists all contributed greatly in introducing interactivity to society through their specific medium specialty.

Interactive art was early exemplified by American artist Allan Kaprow. He noted that participation was a key element of his improvisational art performances known as ‘happenings’ (Heartney, Eleanor). A concept he first introduced in the 1950s, a happening is an artistic performance in which the observers becomes the artist. At first, the happenings were controlled, where the direction of the art is guided. Kaprow’s work evolved and became more open ended, giving more room for improvisation and incorporated more everyday activities to evoke a sense of realism. With props and minimal guidelines, the participants are the ones that depict the art. Happenings disregards the standard values of art and shifts the focus from craftsmanship to unplanned developments from spectator participation ( Eliminating the traditional one sided relationship where the audience is just ‘viewing’ the art, happenings breaks away the boundaries between the art and its viewers allowing a deeper connection to emerge. In addition, experiencing the art in an entirely different way using all the senses, including those that are commonly absent from viewing traditional art. Since there is little to no structure to happenings, each experience is unique, one of a kind and cannot be replicated. Kaprow’s media included interactivity, participation, audience, experiences, human improvisation and the human senses (Wikipedia). ‘Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts’, was Kaprow’s first happening piece that took place in 1959 at the Manhattan. It involved spectators moving, on cue, to different parts of the gallery to witness artists painting, a woman squeezing oranges, and a concert performed on toy instruments ( ‘Fluids’, was a happening done in 1967 where enclosures of ice blocks were built at various locations in Pasadena and Los Angeles. Participants were recruited through Kaprow’s billboards that read: “During three days, about twenty rectangular enclosures of ice blocks (measuring about 30 feet long, 10 wide and 8 high) are built throughout the city. Their walls are unbroken. They are left to melt”. Rectangular structures were created through the stacks of ice, and melted over the following days. People came and made his work into a reality. Between 1958 and his death in 2006, Allan Kaprow executed nearly 250 events (Primary Information). Kaprow’s work has influenced many other artists as well as the development of fluxus, performance art, and installation art (Wikipedia).

Scott Sona Snibbe is another artist that heavily incorporates interactivity in his “social immersive media” art, a term he coined in his research paper describing the interface techniques to create effective immersive interactive experiences forced on social interaction. artwork. He is one of the first artists to work with projection-based interactivity, where a computer-controlled projection onto a wall or floor changes in response to people moving across its surface. Snibbe earned his undergraduate and masters degrees in computer science and fine art from Brown University. Also, he studied animation at the Rhode Island School of Design. Snibbe was a professor at UC Berkeley, California Institute of the Arts, and the San Francisco Art Institute. He worked for Adobe Systems from 1994 to 1996 as a computer scientist developing special effects and animations for Adobe After Effects. He also worked for Interval Research from 1996 to 2000 where he worked on computer vision, computer graphics and haptics research projects. In addition to Snibbe’s independent works, he is also the founder and CEO of Snibber Interactive, a company that develops interactive experiences in museums, entertainment and branding. He is also the founder of Sona Research, a non-profit organization that researches the social benefits of interactive technologies applications (Wikipedia). With a strong education background and experience from reputable employers, Snibbe advanced understanding of projector-based and social immersive media art allowed him to create unforgettable pieces of work. Snibbe is best known for his full body interactive piece Boundary Functions showcased at Ars Electronica in 1998. A camera detects the existence of the human body within a four by four meter flooring and the computer and projector draw lines between all the people on the space. The lines define each person’s personal space (Wikipedia). As the people move, the tiles move and change to show the changing interpersonal relationships. Snibbe states that this work “shows that personal space, though we call it our own, is only defined by others and changes without our control”. It is a social work of art, that is as much about relationships between people inside the artwork, as it is about the art itself (Scott Sona Snibbe: Interactive Art). Most of Scott Snibbe’s art requires the audience to interact with their body.

Teddy Lo is a LED artist based in Hong Kong and New York City best known for his interactive light installations. The popularity of Lo’s LED art has proliferated since 2003 when his first exhibition was held in NYC titled Morphology. Since then, his art pieces have been featured in many exhibitions located in Europe, North America and Asia (Wikipedia). In addition to his personal art endeavors, he is the chief vision officer of his company LEDARTIST focused in creating architectural lighting designs and interactive systems (Cheng, Beverly). The company received many international commissions for interactive commercial LED installations including work for companies like Intel and Mercedes (Christine). In addition, he has founded Input Output Gallery, a new media art gallery in Central, Hong Kong. Lo’s fame and recognition is well deserved for the work he produces. His artwork spans from creative video panel installations, organic sculptures, and interactive arts to persistence of vision pieces. Believing that LED art installations evoke an emotional response in viewers in a way that non-luminous art cannot, Lo expressed that “People relate to lighting emotionally”. His goal is to create different aesthetics and physical forms of light art that pushes limits while exploring different ways for the viewer to perceive this digital information (Cheng, Beverly). He showcases how his work does just that in Phaeodaria, a marine-inspired, interactive lighting installation that reflects the fast paced energy of Hong Kong and the advanced information flow present in the heart of the city. Created in 2008, the motion graphics of the LED lights react to the invisible frequencies and radiations that dominates our lives in this information age: GSM, Bluetooth, 3G and Wi-Fi signals. In addition, each visitor participates in a digital symphony in conjunction to the structure through the control of a custom Bluetooth program which assigns a specific instrument to each participant. The LED point sources can also be changed according to the movement within the dome space surveillance by motion tracking sensors (Wikipedia).

Allan Krapow, Scott Sona Snibbe and Teddy Lo are all cultural innovators that introduced interactivity in their art in their media of their time. What heavily contributed the cultural shift from old media to an advanced new age was the connection between the art and its viewers. Throughout history in art, it has always been a one sided relationship where the viewer’s only purpose was to ‘view’ the art. With the introduction to interactivity, the viewer becomes a part of the creation process, becomes a part of the artwork itself. The new found concept was a revolutionary transition from the old media to the new. These artists reinvented the cultural norms by creating an interactivity immersive experience between the audience, the artist, and the work itself. Kaprow’s happenings turned viewers into artists, and gave the audience an unique experience that is one of a kind. Most of Snibbe’s project-based work are dependent on human involvement, which changed the way the participants interact with others, themselves, and the space. Lo made anyone with any digital device that can emit the specified frequencies, the controller of his LED light interactive installations. All these men excelled in their respectful times and places, and they all shared the commonality of interactivity in their art.

Works Cited
“Allan Kaprow.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 Oct. 2011.

Cheng, Beverly. “Upclose with Teddy Lo.” Asia City Online. 21 July 2011. Web. 3 Oct. 2011.

Christine. “Teddy Lo Is LED Art and Design’s Renaissance Man.” Elemental LED. Web. 7 Oct. 2011.

“Fluids: A Happening by Allan Kaprow at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.” Jose Villarreal. Web. 3 Oct. 2011.

“Happening.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 Oct. 2011.

Heartney, Eleanor. “Art & Audience.” Art & Today. London: Phaidon, 2008. Print.

“Interactive Art.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 Oct. 2011.

“Kaprow/How To Make A Happening : Primary Information.” Primary Information. Web. 03 Oct. 2011.

“Scott Snibbe.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 Oct. 2011.
Scott Sona Snibbe: Interactive Art. Web. 03 Oct. 2011.

“Teddy Lo.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 Oct. 2011.


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