Ryszard Kluszczynski
Interactivity and the Problem of Communication in theContext of the Philosophy of Deconstruction (1993)

Язык оригинала: русский

Within the body of speculation addressed to the problem of cyberculture and all its component phenomena - including both interactivity itself as well as interactive art - we can discern (on the theoretical level) two radically distinct currents. The first one is the converging place for all those who in one way or another voice their views on interactive art against the context and in relation to the basic concepts constituting the aesthetic patterns of modernism 1. The central dogmas of this system include representation, expression and the belief in the dominance of the author-artist over both the artefact (well-illustrated by the general sentiment that art is what the artist indicates as such) and its meaning, which automatically implies also dominance over the viewer and over the process of his/her perception and interpretation. In consequence we are often faced with the notion of interactive art perceived as interacting not with a machine (or an artificial intelligent system) but - indirectly - with the people who contributed to the work or created the software. Thus the prospects for communication embedded in the interaction should be judged - writes Margaret Morse - according to the human communication standards 2. We discover this standpoint in numerous pronouncements on interactive art, irrespective of the language used by their authors and in spite of the number of new concepts and categories, like telepresence, or navigation, introduced specifically to recognize and describe the new properties of the present state of art and culture. The revolutionary and innovative character of these concepts is therefore painfully often put to test by the attempts to constrain them within the bounds of the traditional aesthetic paradigm.

Quite to the contrary, writings on cyberculture, which belong to the second current, seem to have the trait more appropriate to the subject: they present a tendency to emphasize (even with exaggeration) all these qualities of the new art phenomena which cross and tend to invalidate the old aesthetic canon. In this way, probably, authors of those publications try to avoid overlooking or underestimating the new perspective on future parameters of art culture. In the pronouncements composing the second current the most important points are that art of cyberculture is breaking with the idea of representation. This art is basically interactive, and neither its state not its cultural status can be fixed or precisely defined, because it is in a constant and endless process of becoming and transformation. This revolution in the art causes the radical metamorphosis of the role of the artist, who, instead of creating, expressing, or communicating any content and meaning, is to design context, within which the recipient (the observer) can construct his/her experience, and its sense 3.

It is worth noticing, that the deconstructivist philosophy of Jacques Derrida creates the fundamental philosophical-methodological context for the discussion on the interactive art, a context especially useful for the analysis of the opposition between the two currents in the art critics‘ speculation concerning the cyberculture, which was pointed out above. The basic point in the philosophy of Jacques Derrida (particularly in relation to our discussion about interactivity) is the thesis that the logocentric and phonocentric approach to the text, language, communication, and interpretation is predominant in the Western culture. This standpoint consists in the assertion that the being of any entity is always predetermined as presence. It means that the meaning always procedes any kind of its materialization. To interpret the text one has to decipher its sense, which is already present (readymade) and waits to be understood. The sense is different from the text, and situated “outside” it. As its foundation the sense prevails against the text, which is only a neutral, transparent vehicle that carries the meaning.

The classic hermeneutic-type interpretation reduces the text/work of art to the representation and/or expression of the ultimate truth of the text, or the author‘s intention. Thus, the communication actually means the transmission of meanings from one subject to another. The transmitted meaning should not (or cannot) be changed in the process of communication. As with the text, so the communication is inseparably connected with the function of representation and expression. The thought precedes and runs the communication, which carries ideas, meanings, and contents. One can communicate only what has been already known.

The approach to the interactive art that I presented as characteristic for the first current is rooted in this philosophy, outlined above in accord with Derrida, and which I call “modernist”. Certainly, usually, this standpoint does not take extreme shapes; critics who feel to be representatives for the traditional aesthetic paradigm, accept the fact that the meaning of the interactive work changes in the process of communication (but they would never agree that each meaning is neverending process). They agree that the meaning of the interactive work of art does not prevail over the recipient`s experience of the material structure of the work. However, they again overestimate the role of transmitted meaning while talking about the problem of meta-interactivity. The interpretation of the work is not anymore dependent to such an extent on the dominance of a priori given sense. The communication itself becomes a process not so much predetermined by the idea of transmission, becomes an “open” communication. However, in spite of all those transformations of the rules of the traditional aesthetics, this whole process is subordinate to Author-God, who is always in charge, whose distant presence makes our problem a matter of art, provides us with values and meaning, and determines - indirectly - all aspects of interaction.

On the contrary, the deconstructivist theory of Derrida can be viewed as a methodological matrix that lets us approach the cyberculture and interactivity in the way which leads to the essential properties of the discussed matter. This theory is backing that kind of speculation addressed to the interactive art which is typical for the second current described above. According to its principles, the text (the work of art) must be free of any dependence on the sense. The text itself takes a primary position against anything else. The structure of the text and the process of shaping it comes to focus. The process of understanding the text (navigating through the text) displaces understanding its sense. A new form of interpretation, the one closer to play (playing a game) than to the hermeneutic approach has been encouraged. This sort of playing accepts its endlessness, its unaccomplishment. In the same way as the interpretation of the text, also the process of communication becomes playing (with rules and roles not necessarily fixed). A cognitive function has been supplemented with a self-cognitive one, and communication takes the form of participation. Communication, as well as interpretation, becomes the process of making sense, an essentially creative activity.

The art of interactive media seems to be the best example of the new, deconstructivist, postmodern idea of the text/work of art and communication. It rejects the traditional dogmatism, but does not build a new one to petrify the world of art again. Derrida has not exchanged logocentrism for graphocentrism, but has only reduced the role of the author, treating him/her as one of the text‘s contexts. The interactive art can demistify the role of the artist reducing it to the function of designer of contexts when the recipient can develop the process of his or her creation. Nowadays, the idea of the author is being displaced by the idea of authorship - the common task of sow-called artists and so-called recipients. The art does not have to be a form which represents a world preordained and finite. In the cybersphere - I agree with Roy Ascott - to construct art is to construct reality, the networks of cyberspace underpinning our desire to amplify human cooperation and interaction in the constructive process 4.

There are many similarities between the philosophy of deconstruction and the logic of the interactive media art, which makes us think that deconstructivism could become the methodological context for the research on the interactive art and cyberculture. Its categories can easily examine all new properties of the interactive media art, and establish them as basic and essential for this field of human activity. In such a context the interactive communication can get rid of traditionally understood notions of representation and expression, of the meaning prior to the communication, as well as of notions of author and recipient. The interactive, artistic communication could become thus a multiform, endless process of common creation of values and meanings, creation of new realities.

Those two ways of approaching the interactive art, which I described above, should be recognized only as theoretical models. As models, they can only point out the most general properties of cyberculture and the art of interactive media, as well as, the most general methods and technics of interpretation of those phenomena. In the space between those two poles we can find a great variety of thoughts, theories, activities, and works. There are artists working in the field of interactivity, who believe that they have to express their ideas, that they have to shape other people‘s minds. And there are critics who, in parallel, consider all works of art, also those interactive ones, to be an extension of an artist‘s imagination, sensitivity, wisdom, and desires. And, on the other side, there are artists and critics who think, that interactivity means to share responsibility with recipients, and to let the work of art exist independently.

This is not, however, such a juxtaposition, which distinguishes, in the area of interactivity, good a tists and a “proper” idea of art from mediocre artists and a bad concept of art. We are just dealing with two different projects for placing interactivity within the culture. And we can only say: this project, which allows recipients to feel and act in the independent way, respects the internal logics of interactivity, and produces the “pure” interactive artefacts. And this is the only way to let the recipient take a truly creative position. The second project is an attempt to install the idea of interactivity within the context of the modernist theory of art and culture, with all its categories and principles. In this case, however, recipient's creativity seems to be a wishful thinking. With reference to this kind of interactive art (but only this kind) I share the opinion with Mona Sarkis that the user of interactive machines will not turn into a creator, and will resemble “a puppet responding to the artist's/technician's programmed vision” 5.

Irrespective of all those controversiers, a lot of interactive works are being made nowadays. They represent not only two models of interactivity, which I described above. We meet a great diversity of artefacts resultant of mutual relationships between those two. Interactivity is becoming the most important and the most typical feature of postmodern culture. Both models of interactivity strongly influence the artistic praxis of the last decade of this century. And there is no reason to think that one of them can disappear in the near future. Culture is just becoming more and more differentiated.

Foot notes:

1. A typical example of this was the recent controversy concerning “A-Volve” - an installation by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, the controversy occurred during the discussion at the Artists' Forum at this year's edition of the Ars Electronica festival, when the most important question for some participants was: “Is it art or not”?, and “Who is in charge, the authors or the viewers”?
2. Morse M., Art in Cyberspace: Interacting with Machines as Art at Siggraph's “Machine Culture - The Virtual Frontier”, Video Networks, October/November 1993, p.22.
3. Ascott R., From Appearance to Apparition: communication and culture in the cybersphere, in: Leonardo Electronic Almanac, MIT Press, October 1993.
4. Ascott R., op.cit.
5. Sarkis M., Interactivity Means Interpassivity, “Art & Cyberculture”. MediaInformationAustralia, 1993, no. 69, August, p.13.

In Russian: Интерактивность и проблема коммуникации в контексте философии деконструктивизма

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