Week 12: Is Interactive Art Really Art If It Isn’t Being Used for Its’ Intended Purpose?

I wanted to start off my post asking the very question that entitles this blog post; “Is interactive art really art if it isn’t being used for its intended purpose?”

I felt that after visiting the Hirshorn, the idea of interaction within art and the idea of the museum as an incubator or container for art was something of distinct interest and a question I wanted to explore more. Firstly, I will explore the idea of the museum as a “container” for art. Let’s take Mark Bradford’s piece, “Pickett’s Charge”. From an new outsider’s perspective (never having visited the Hirshorn before) I found looking at the piece daunting. It stretched for what seemed like miles and I was interested to know just exactly what the purpose of this installation really was.

The piece deals with layers and layers of glue, string, and more layers of paper, while strategic rips reveal certain aspects of the orgional painting of “Gettysburg National Military Park”. The idea behind the creation was that this war was one that was quite important regarding the Civil War and succession from the south. By Bradford’s ability to cover over and then strategically tear off paper in certain places, it sort of shows how history covered up for a long time the historical racial bias, but now the next generation works to peal away the layers in an effort to both know and celebrate the people that fought for freedom and equality. It also should be noted that Bradford’s use of rope is interesting, given his idea for creating this work was to hinge on slavery, and the hoops African American’s often had to jump through. Rope, which was typically used by white people to hang African Americans or lynch them, was now being taken back, given a place within the art, as a method of showing what Bradford and his ancestors had to go through. This gives the work an almost three-dimensional aspect, and allows for the audience to see how history can be weaved (as the ropes are within the work), while the glue maintains a symbol of sticking together, even in the tough times.

However, getting back to the Hirshorn as a container for this piece, is as important as the work itself. As explained, Picketts Charge couldn’t just be ripped off the wall or taken to another museum. Bradford installed the 400 linear foot installation in 8 parts, a feat in its own right. However, this begs the question; is the container or space in which an exhibit is being shown as important as the work itself? In short, the answer is yes. In my opinion, viewing this in any other capacity other than the rounded hallways of the Hirshorn, might not do it justice. To me, the specific place in which is resides is as important as the piece itself. The audience is encouraged to interact with it, albeit not touch it, this piece seems like an incredibly interactive piece in my mind. You are encouraged to walk along side of it, following its story as you go along, and no one part is the same, which can often change how an audience member might decipher the piece. Without the space in which it is in, this might not give the audience members the chance to thoroughly be a part of the art, stand with it, closely look at it, and delve into the details, as well as it allows for the audience at the Hirshorn.

The second aspect I want to speak on is this idea of interaction mean in terms of a physical-spatial context. I won’t lie to you, after visiting the Pulse Room, I was a bit afraid to walk into Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s last stage of his Pulse series dealing with lights. It’s like you were transported to a horror movie, where all of the lights were black because there was an absence of a controller for the work, for that interaction. The idea behind this specific part of the exhibit was that there are hundreds of lightbulbs on the celling, dimly lit, and only to be turned on or off by the presence of touch. Without this touch, the room would cease to go black. So when I said I was scared, I was petrified when the lights flickered on suddenly, and you could see a child at the end turning it on with the pulse of his hand and the pulse of his heartbeat. But this begs the question, what is interaction art without the other actor? Is it still doing its job if there is no one to turn on the lights? If so, what is that job of the art then, if not to be interacted with?