Response Paper 1 – What is Interactivity

Roy Ascott explained the meaning of interactivity, by depicting the difference between interactivity and reactivity in the arts. He suggested that in visual arts, artists aim to communicate a clear message to the spectators. Hence, the spectators here, only function as receivers of the message, who can only react to the art piece. Meanwhile, spectators in behavioral art, contribute to the act of creation as much as the artists and their art pieces do. Therefore, behavioral art is a collaboration between the artists, the art piece, and the spectator. The three components create a feedback loop that allows the created piece to exist and persist.

After reading Chris Crawford’s ideas on interactivity, Roy Ascott’s ideas became more patent to me. Crawford suggested that interactivity is a cyclic process, much like a conversation between two people. For the conversation to exist, the two individuals involved must listen, think, and then speak to each other. So, if we incorporated Ascott’s idea with Crawford’s, we would get a clearer idea of what interactivity is.  So in visual art the artists always speak through their art pieces, while the spectators listen and think. Here, the spectators would never speak back. On the other hand, in behavioral art, the artists would speak through their art pieces,and the spectators would listen to them while they think about the information that is being fed to them. However, the process does not end here in behavioral art. Because the spectators would eventually respond by speaking again through the art pieces. This is how the feedback loop is created through the participants’ interactivity.

Assignment 1: Interactive Light – Make a Friend

Make a Friend

Back in 2012, Tim Noble & Sue Webster created an art installation titled Youngman. The piece consisted of a wooden step ladder, some discarded wood, and a light projector. The wood pieces were utilized to create a carefully constructed structure. The structure did not have any recognizable features or an overall distinguishable shape. Yet, when the light was projected onto the structure, a shadow of a young man was formed on the wall behind it. Personally, I believe that the piece is quite fascinating as it stands on its own. However, I could not help but wonder how its impact would change if it was more of an interactive piece. This, is where the idea of Make a Friend came from.

One spectator would be allowed to walk into the space at a time. But before the spectator walks in, the spectator is asked to make a friend in 15 minutes, by moving the objects inside the space around. So when the spectator walks in, they would see a light source placed at one end of the room, and a white screen covering the wall on the other. In the middle, there would be six objects of unrecognizable features. The shadows of the unidentifiable structures cover the white screen. The structures are placed on platforms that have wheels attached to their bottom. The goal here is for the spectator to push and pull the structures in front of the wall to specific spots that are unknown to them, until they can create a recognizable shadow with all the structures. To help them achieve this in 15 minutes, motions sensors would be placed to detect the movement of the structures around the space. The further away they move the objects from their intended spots, the dimmer the light would be. The closer they move the objects to where it is supposed to be, the brighter the light would be. Eventually, when they move all the objects around and form a shadow of a person on the wall, a camera would take a picture of the spectator and his new friend. The spectator would now be a allowed to leave the space.

Audio-reactive light room

To begin figuring out how a single light can be used to communicate something, I mapped out what I thought to be the significant communicative elements of a light. These were:

  • Brightness/intensity
  • Direction
  • Colour
  • Stability/instability/frequency
  • Form/type

Each of these elements could affect what a light communicates in several ways. For example, directionality of light leads to the question of what is being illuminated and what is being hidden, and why those choices have been made. The form of the light would determine the “texture” of it e.g. tight beam, general flood. The form has technical implications such as directionality and spread but also aesthetic implications. Physically, the different types of light would be read differently based on how they interact with the space.

Colour also became an extremely important factor for me. What would be the relation between emitted light colour and the perceived colour of the environment and objects within the environment. What would be the emotive weight or affect of particular colours? What would be the subjective synesthetic relations established between colour and individual participants?

Then came considerations of how to interact with the light. I started by deciding that the light must do more than change a parameter based on something one does. Changes to its output should in turn result in a change in the participant’s actions. The output of the light should feed back to the input (participant).

I came up with this idea: an audio responsive room. The room contains nothing but a single large light (I thought of it as a big RGB LED). I imagined the whole space fitting comfortably fitting about 20-30 people. My idea is for this light to communicate something on the nature of communication between the audience members in the room. The light has 3 parameters that can be changed:

  1. Colour (RGB)
  2. Intensity/brightness
  3. Frequency/stability – the rate at which parameters 1 and 2 change

The light would be responsive to changes in the following elements of the room sound:

  1. Predominant pitch(es) (if any).
  2. Amplitude/loudness
  3. Noise vs. tone(s)

The interaction would be as follows. The predominant pitch maps to the colour spectrum of the light. Lower frequencies correspond to redder light, while higher frequencies correspond to bluer light. The amplitude corresponds to the intensity/brightness of the light. Louder room = brighter light. A prevalence of tones would mean a more stable light, while more noise would mean greater fluctuations (rate at which room information is sampled and light output is changed).

The idea here is that different forms of communication would be reflected in the light output. For example, a hushed conversation would have no predominant pitch (white light), a low amplitude (brightness) and, be noisier. But imagine if the room was full of shouting, singing, or wailing. And ultimately, the output achievable by a group of participants working together would be far more interesting than an individual interaction.

So essentially the idea is for the audience to explore first how their individual sound affects the light and then to realize their full potential as a group in engaging with their vocal capacity and different methods of sonification as reflected by the changing light. The audience would hopefully understand that their co-operative effort can achieve things that they cannot individually.








Behaviourist art and Interactivity

I can’t remember whether it was in this class or another, but someone said something that has been troubling me the whole weekend. “Books are the most interactive medium.” I thought “What?!” How is reading interactive? The words on the page will never change based on my reaction to them. So it was a pleasant surprise to return to Crawford’s The Art of Interactive Design and have this issue dissected by him. I like Crawford’s differentiation (but not distinction) between interactivity and reactivity, and that interactivity is not a defining category but a spectrum. I also thought it was important that he mentioned that interactive art it note essentially superior to reactive media (books, traditional painting), but that they are different beast, and operate on different levels in terms of information transmission.

The Ascott reading helped me to understand why there exists such confusion and debate surrounding interactivity and reactivity. His argument is that we’ve moved away (or are in the process of moving away, I would say) from art that is governed by “deterministic aesthetics.” This means we no longer produce with the wish to send a specific, defined message to a viewer. Instead, we now make art with the purpose of stimulating events and thought processes, an art which is tied to the subjectivities that each viewer can bring to it. But since this is a fairly new shift, I think he’s saying that a difficulty we face is how to avoid using the technological language and media of modern “behaviourist art” with the same determinism of “old” art.

Also, feedback loops are critical.


There is a pitch black room. It’s a small room, but it’s so dark that you cannot see corners in the room and so have a feeling of expanse, of endlessness. Unseen in the middle of the room is a floating sphere.
A participant enters the pitch black room. As soon as he/she takes a step forward, the sphere illuminates. Dimly, just enough so that the participant is aware that there is a source of light in the room.
The closer the participant walks towards the sphere, the brighter it becomes. If the participant circles around the sphere, it flickers (gentle dimming and returning to its luminosity). The sphere moves away if the participant attempts to touch it. Meaning that, a participant never makes physical contact with the sphere but instead at a certain proximity (ex. three inches between the participant’s hand and the sphere), the sphere will move. This means that the participant is able to guide the sphere where it gently floats, without making contact with it.
The idea behind immersive installation was to create a meditative space. It was also to mimic a small scale solar system in a way, with a participant being a planet that travels around the source of light. I want participants to trust themselves in being placed in a room that is completely dark, and without knowing how big or small the space is. Taking a step forward ‘activates’ the sphere, conveying that their assurance and trust in themselves will guide them.
For sound, there is a general sound to the ‘air’ of the room. The sound changes the closer to the person is to the sphere, perhaps increasing the frequency/pitch gently but never so that it is deafening (emphasis on meditative space).
One problem though is that the installation is conceived for one person in the space. I thought about expanding the idea for multiple participants, and having it so that each participant enters and embodies a new musical note. Each step a participant takes is equivalent to the act of playing a note. However, I am uncertain of how the source of light should change with the number of participants, and whether in this case the sphere should be kept still rather that being able to float freely. The room would then be bigger and have multiple entry points so that participants can enter from wherever they please, and are aware of each other’s presence because of the addition of new musical notes and how bright the sphere might be.

Roy and Chris and Interactivity

What I love about the way both Roy Ascott and Chris Crawford write is how their work is easy to digest because of their conversational tones.

Crawford’s main argument is that there is a difference between interaction and reaction. I am reminded of my brother when he uses the word ‘interactive’ in relation to blogs and websites, and I often have to ask him what he means  by that. Now, I can bring up Crawford’s points in how he anthropomorphizes interaction by using the terms ‘listening’, ‘thinking’, and ‘speaking’.

There were two main arguments I valued from Ascott’s text. The first was how he articulated interaction as a feedback loop. The second, was the importance he placed on uncertainty and participation. He talks about how “an important characteristic in modern art…. is that it offers a high degree of uncertainty and permits a great intensity of participation” (Ascott 112). This re-emphasizes Crawford’s argument on how the installation/object should receive an action from a participant, decipher and choose a response, and then respond. Interaction should be seen as a conversation between audience and the product.

Examples Class 1