response to Delusions of Dialogue: Control and Choice in Interactive Art

It’s hard to articulate, and read about, programming and art — maybe because both fields are so opposite to each other on the subjectivity scale. As Campbell writes, we tend to see computers and programs as passive tools with on and off switches; presenting “a closed set of possibilities” and “not capable of subtlety, ambiguity or question.” Art, on the other hand, seems to thrive on ambiguity and question.

This opposition creates tension, and tension generates interest. Campbell describes examples of interactive art that generate that interest by asking viewers to examine these perceived contrasts between art and code — between visible and invisible, meaningful and random, continuous and discrete, and so on — and the differences in how viewers respond to each.

The example that resonated most with me was the piece in which sensors calculate the viewer’s distance, and sound and image fade as the viewer approaches. As Campbell explains, without a slider bar, this discrete calculation seems continuous, so it removes the natural instinct “to look for a logical reason to make the correct choice.” It reminds me of all the times I adjusted my TV volume to a round or “pretty” number, trying to follow a logical reason that obviously had nothing to do with the volume itself. These instincts are also hard to articulate, being so deeply ingrained in us — which is why art and tools that help highlight them can be so fascinating.