Setting Up The Stage and Having a Conversation

Most of the time, we think of art as a form expression, but introducing interactivity into our work means that we have to let go of our urge to make statements for our audience to passively absorb. Crawford defines interactivity as a conversation, “a cyclic process in which two actors alternatively listen, think, and speak,” (4). The question then becomes: how do we take a form of assertive self-expression and make it into one that not only elicits a response, but that solicits a response in order to have meaning?


Tom Igoe argues that we should set up the stage, shut up, and listen. He asks that we give context and suggest ways of interacting with our work, but that we refrain from interpreting it. Instead, we must think of ways of recording our audience’s reactions — to watch out for how they experience our work. In this sense, Igoe proposes that our audience completes our work.


I understand Igoe to be making a more profound statement about the nature of interactive art, one that goes beyond the making of one piece. If we take his thoughts to be relevant only to the making of an interactive art object, we risk using our audience as a “switch” in our work, and escaping listening altogether by just using their input (touch, movement, etc) to “make something happen.” When considered in a broader scope, I think Igoe’s thoughts can help us answer the question about soliciting responses and creating meaning. One possible answer is to take interactive art as an inherently iterative process: our audience does not complete our work there and then, but their experience suggests how we can ask questions/communicate things more effectively, and off we go to make it better. Another possible answer is to create works (and environments) that record and present our audience’s reaction and their thoughts to what they think the piece is about as a component without which the piece is devoid of meaning. The challenges with implementing the latter is that it suggests a larger program for the place of interactive art in the art world more generally.
Coda: I want to highlight two ideas in Igoe’s article about the hits and misses of physical computing: the need to consider how specific interfaces structure interactions (what they suggest people should do with them/affordances/the extent to which they do this at all), and the importance of not confusing action with attention.