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More on Inter(intra)faces and Inter(intra)active Art

I would like to bring some examples to supplement my previous post on interfaces. I will engage with two art examples that will help me to make “visible” the maybe “too philosophical” comments I made. I will start by giving a brief explanation of the two pieces I wish to focus on, and then relate them to the points I raised in my previous post: intrafaces, intra-activity, event value, staging situations. I will also relate them to other notions such as micropolitics, microperception, the collective. Lastly, I will articulate their relations to digital and analog processes.

Voz Alta – Rafael Lozanno-Hemmer

The first project is Voz Alta (2008), a piece by Montreal based artists Rafael Lozanno-Hemmer. I will quote Lozanno-Hemmer’s description of the project as I don’t think I can explain it better than himself!

“Voz Alta (Loud Voice) is a memorial commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the student massacre in Tlatelolco, which took place on October 2nd 1968. In the piece, participants speak freely into a megaphone placed on the “Plaza de las Tres Culturas”, right where the massacre took place. As the megaphone amplifies the voice, a 10kW searchlight automatically “beams” the voice as a sequence of flashes: if the voice is silent the light is off and as it gets louder so does the light’s brightness. As the searchlight beam hits the top of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now Centro Cultural Tlatelolco, it is relayed by three additional searchlights, one pointed to the north, one to the southeast towards Zócalo Square and one to the southwest towards the Monument to the Revolution. Depending on the weather, the searchlights could be seen from a 15Km radius, quietly transmitting the voice of the participants over Mexico City. Anyone around the city could tune into 96.1FM Radio UNAM to listen in live to what the lights were saying. When no one was participanting the light on the Plaza was off but the three lights on the building played back archival recordings of survivors, interviews with intellectuals and politicians, music from 1968 and radio art pieces commissioned by Radio UNAM. In this way the memory of the event was mixed with live participation.
Thousands of people participated in this project, without censorship or moderation. Participation included statements from survivors, street poetry, shout-outs, ad hoc art performances, marriage proposals, calls for protest and more”.1

D-Tower – Lars Spuybroek

The second is D-Tower, a project by Dutch architect Lars Spuybroek. The D-Tower is a sculpture in the town center of Doetinche in Holland. The sculpture is hooked up to a website where the town residents are asked to complete a questionnaire about their mood. An example of question/answer is: ‘Are you happy with your partner?’ Possible answers: ‘very much’ – ‘yes’ – ‘a little’ – ‘no’ – ‘absolutely not’ – ‘not applicable’. Each answer has a score2. The D-tower uses the questionnaire to record emotions: the statistical results of the survey are sent to the D-Tower, which changes colour according to the results. The questionnaire contains 360 questions. Four new questions are made available every other day.

Interfaces and Interactivity

My interests in these projects is that their interfaces are not only based on a series of action/reactions. Even though one could understand the installations according to the action/reaction logic they both go way beyond it. If we were to understand these installation in relation to the action/reaction (or encoding/decoding) logic, one could say that for the D-Tower, the survey is the action and the tower colour is the reaction. For Voz Alta one could say that the act of speaking in the megaphone is the action and that the resulting distribution of the lights (and also the distribution of the messages on the radio) are the reactions. To me, however, the D-Tower is more based on the social interactions (mood) that are encoded in the survey and on the interactions that result from the tower’s changing colour. I also think that The Voz Alta project operates the same way: it is related to (1) the massacre (2) the people talking on the microphone (3) the light distributed in strategic points of town, and also (4) the people listening to the radio. Accordingly both these projects seem to be more based on staging social relations, e.g. on relationality rather than on actions/reactions. Both theses projects hence are social before being technological, which means that the technology only gets its consistency when it is incorporated and given form/meaning by and through social assemblages.

In addition, it appears to me that these projects exhibit what I would call “distributed interface”: their respective interfaces are in fact not localizable in a specific place. Hence, they becomes intra-faces: they ensure the linkage (intra-relations) of the different levels of the situation staged. For example, one could argue that the D-Tower project’s interface is the online survey but also the tower itself. To me, the fact that the interfaces are “distributed” makes these projects operate on the level of intra-action. It is the relations between the survey’s answers, and the tower changing colours, and the effects generated in the way the people interact with each other that constitutes the whole system functioning (the whole system is intra-structured by and through the various relations at play). In fact, these various relations operate as intra-actions, and these intra-actions participate in the intra-structuration of the whole system. In the context of Voz Alta one could ask what or where is the interface: the megaphone, the computer that transduces the messages and that activates the lights, the lights projected on the buildings, the distribution of the messages on the radio? To me, the most interesting way of looking at these projects is to actually refuse to reduce them to a material or localizable interface but rather to think about them as intra-active projects: to incorporate the whole set of relations at work. These projects are concrete examples of what I called an intraface in my previous post: their operate more on the level of the relations, they facilitate the emergence of relationality rather than being based on the use value of the interface (in fact they integrate the heterogeneous modalities that Suchman talks about: human, non-human, technique, discourse (my emphasis), artifacts, living, non-living, etc. These projects all take a specific situation as their object. Indeed, their realization is not based on the efficiency of the interface but rather on its power to facilitate the emergence of new forms of relations. Of course Lozanno-Hemmer and Spuybroek are very professional artists who work with skillful people, which reduces the possibilities for the technical components to be dysfunctional. However the point I want to make here is that the intraface is not necessarily technological, and that the realization of the projects do not foreground the transparency of the interface but rather various levels of relation -a series of intra-actions- that generate and are generated by a distributed interface, by an intra-face.

Both these projects take seriously what Brian Massumi thinks is the strength of interactive art (according to his arguments, it might be more appropriate to talk about relational art), that is to say taking the situation as its object. The D-Tower takes the citizens mood as its situation rather than the technological components that ensure the realization of the project. Voz Alta also takes the massacre situation (and also the pirate radios) as the situation. In doing so, they do not subordinate the event to the technology but rather put them in a relation of co-extensivity. Accordingly, they both trigger the emergence of new forms of relations. Here the situation, along with the technological components used to stage it, become co-relates in the context of the art installations. It is in this sense that both these projects operate for me on the level of intra-faces.

Co-evolution and Co-operation

D-Tower and Voz Alta both operate according to the co-evolution logic I talked about in my previous post. For instance, the D-Tower changes according to the citizens mood. In this perspective both the citizens and the tower “become together” according to a logic of co-operation. The affective mood of the citizens affect the colour of the tour which in turn affect the interactions of the citizens. The co-evolution is actualized according to a very interesting feedback loop between the citizens and technology. Voz Alta operates on the same level. The light is co-evolving with the messages recorded by the megaphone, and transduced by the computer. In addition, the people listening to the radio co-evolve with the messages transmitted, as these messages are certainly affecting them. This set of relations generates a feeling of togetherness between the messages, the light and the radio listeners. This togetherness performs relations of co-evolution and co-operations I talked about in my previous post.

Politics and Perception – Micropolitics and Microperception

One of the things these projects foreground that I think is extremely relevant is that they are political in effect and not necessarily in content. Even if they are all related to a more or less “political” situation: the social relations for the D-Tower and an extremely charged political event for Voz Alta, they also operate on the political level through the effects they generate. The D-Tower play with the politics of social relations, making the citizens aware of the collective mood. Voz Alta also plays with the politics of social relations, offering new forms of engagement with the massacre that most likely generated new forms of social relations, new forms of social engagements amongst the citizens.

Politics is always enacted through perception3”.

Recently I became very interested in micropolitics. With the people form the Sense Lab at Concordia University we have been engaging with the notion of micropolitics for a whole year. Following this engagement, Nasrin Hamada and Erin Manning edited a whole issue of Inflexions on the topic. In the issue there is a very interesting interview with Brian Massumi that was conducted by Joel McKim4. In the interview Massumi argues that micropolitics are politics of microperception and that microperception is another way of talking about affect. I think that in the context of interactive art, it is important to question the potential to trigger new, e.g. non-traditional modes of perception. I also think that that affect can help us understand the notion of the threshold that I questioned in my previous post (following the fact that Zach raised the issue). If we take both Bobette and Massumi’s comments about micropolitics, what would it mean in the context of the projects I talked about to say that their politics is only enacted through perception? And that their politics of perception ought to be politics of microperception? It would mean in fact that they both have to be analyzed on the level of affect. Affect is the capacity to affect and to be affected, it is a change in capacity that is carried from step to step. I think that both the projects operate on that level. The D-Tower is affected by the mood/interactions of the citizens which in turn affect their mood/interactions. Voz Alta lighting is affected by the citizens messages which are in turn affected by the brightness produced. Although affect, following Massumi, is more complex than the capacity affecting and being affected, as it is only visible or perceptible in its effect as it operates on the non-conscious level. According to him, microperception (or affect) “is not smaller perception; it’s a perception of a qualitatively different kind. It’s something that is felt without registering consciously. It registers only in its effects.5” He adds that “affect and microperception are always related to a shock.” Affect, he says “is inseparable from the concept of shock. It doesn’t have to be a drama. It’s really more about micro-shocks.6” I think that affect is in fact this passing of a threshold that generate a change in capacity. The D-Tower triggered a change in capacity through generating micro-shocks. These micro-shocks were actualized through the encounter with the tower. People might not have registered the colour of the tower consciously but it was most likely felt in its effects, that is to say in the ways in which it affected their interactions with the citizens. This was made possible by the feedback loop between the private mood and its public image/manifestation. In the context of Voz Alta, the fact of enlightening buildings that are considered as power and political centres is not traditional and might in fact generate micro-shocks in the population. In addition, the massacre was considered a taboo for many years. The simple fact of giving it a place in the collectivity certainly participate in generating these micro-shocks. As those cannot be registered consciously, it is in a way impossible to qualify them (as Massumi puts it: affect is unqualified7). My interest in bringing this is to emphasize once again the importance of staging the situation not in the form of action/reaction that are encoded/pre-encoded and therefore pre-determined but to stage the situation in the form of an open situation that leaves space for micro-perception and micro-shocks to take place.


My interests in the collective comes from micropolitics. According to Deleuze and Guattari, micropolitics is realized by and through the minor collective assemblage. To me, both Voz Alta and the D-Tower foreground the collective. The D-Tower makes visible the collective mood and generate effects on the ways it gets assembled. In fact, if the tower turns out being a colour that means people is angry or mad (I am sorry I tried to find the colour chart but I could not) it might make people being more attentive to the people around them. Giving a visible colour to the people’s invisible mood holds the potential to generate effects on the social ecology of practices, on the ways in which the city inhabitants interact with each other. In this context, intra-actions are addressed on at least two different levels: (1) the interactions of people that are being compiled following the survey and (2) the potential for new forms of interaction to emerge from the colour of the tower. As Brian Massumi puts it “this can undoubtedly reflect back on the interactions taking place in the town by making something that was private and imperceptible public and perceptible.”8 He adds that in this context “the feedback loop here has been created between private mood and public image that has never existed in quite this way before9”. Again, I think that this project is also related to the notion of the threshold that both Zach and I have been interrogating. The colourful collective mood can be seen as the potential for change in capacity: the capacity of the tower to affect the citizens and to make their mood pass a threshold that will push them to interact differently with the other citizens.

In the context of Voz Alta, giving space to the massacre most likely had similar impact on the social ecology of practices. On the one hand it foregrounds the collective in the first place: its departure point is the collective itself. The massacre affected the collective and it is put back into the collective. In addition its effects are addressed to the collective through the distributed interface that generated the possibility to relate heterogeneous components of the situation. It probably also regenerated social relations in the community through giving the citizens the possibility to express themselves to the population (and indirectly to some political charged places: the buildings where the light was reflected). It also gave them the feeling of sharing an event.

Digital versus Analog

Some of you could say that the projects I talked about, and the analysis I produced, do not address the digital in a direct way and that I failed at foregrounding the potential for the digital realm to trigger new forms of experience. According to me, new forms of experience and the emergence of new subjectivation processes is based on change. We have to focus on generating new subjectivation processes that don’t reproduce the dominant ones. This, for me, is made possible by working with the potential and the virtual: we need to ask what potentialites, virtualities and impulses hold the potential to generate change. In chapter five of Parables for the Virtual (the chapter is entitled on The Superiority of the Analog) he says that “digital technologies have a connection to the potential and the virtual only through the analog”. All these projects I talked about in the context of this post highlight this passage from the digital to the analog. The D-Tower codes the survey’s answer which are then transduced into the analog through the tower’s changing color. Voz Alta encodes the sounds, voice, messages that are also transduced into the analog with the light that reflects on the building. In this perspective, the key point with digital art seems to reside in the project’s capacities to transfer the code into analog processes. I would argue that the potential for the micro-schocks to be actualized resides there, taht is to say in the transformative process of the digital to the analog. So I think I could go as far as saying that -and here following the projects I analyzed in the context of this post- that with digital art, the threshold -the potential for a change in capacity- resides in the passage from the digital to the analog.



7Massumi, B. (2002) p.28


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