Author Archives: Mary Margaret Ewens

Interaction, Participation and the User

by: Mary-Margaret Ewens


In art, there in lies an intersection between technology and interactivity. Within that interactive sphere lies another important component of the user experience;  participation and the social media experience. With the dawn of the “Social Age”,  museum goers are taking to social media now more than ever to showcase their highlight reel, especially when it comes to the hottest and most coveted exhibits they visit around the world. This paper will seek to answer the question of the role the user plays in interactive art, and how social media allows users to be a participant and interactive member within the art itself. We will focus on two specific exhibit examples, Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit “Infinity Mirrors”, which was exhibited at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington DC, and “Everything in Existence” by Italian multimedia artists *fuse, which was exhibited at Artechouse in Washington, DC. From there, I will seek to both identify and categorize key traits of a participatory versus interactive exhibit, while understanding the history behind interactive art, its purpose, and its message for the audience, while combing through social media’s presence within the exhibits, and how by its presence, it helps to user to interact further.

“Museums are inherently an interactive multimedia experience. The visitor is in control of the paths along which they navigate through the artifacts, images, sounds and texts and they are under no obligation to follow the linear structure imposed by the curator.”- David Bearman,

“Museum Management and Curatorship”

Why do I go to museums or exhibits? Is it for the immersive experience or just for the Instagram? This was the question that plagued me to write this piece, especially after learning about how important interactive museum exhibits are to understanding and living through the immersive experience of certain exhibits. Historically, people would go to museums to look at the priceless works of art, to discuss them, argue about the point of them, or why artists used certain shapes, colors, canvases, and other some anomalies to reveal a certain expression. As our generation has gotten less enthused with the idea of attending a museum just for the sake of seeing old artwork, they now tend to see a bigger reason to visit a museum; for the Instagram. To say you’ve been to the Met is one thing, but to have a picture on the iconic steps, or inside a photo of one of the illustriously built and curated art exhibits, that is another thing.

Go through any hashtags of current art exhibits going on, and you’re bound to be bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of photos of girls and guys, millennials and baby boomers alike, posing for a picture. When I first heard about the ArtTechHouse, my first incentive was to look it up on Instagram. Why did I do this? My initial call to Instagram the new attraction was because I came across a photo of a girl I knew, in front of what looked like some spacey, otherworldly backdrop. Between the backdrop, the light, her outfit, and how many people commented on how cool she looked, it obviously made me, a social media millennial, want to see this place for myself. I took to Instagram and dreamt about how incredibly fascinating the pictures would be, not realizing that this museum, and more specifically this exhibit, was much more than a photo that would be taken within a split second.

The History of Interactive Art

The historical context of how interactivity came about can be dated back as early as the 1920’s when Marcel Duchamp created the Rotary Glass Plates, which allowed the user to rotate the plates to see an optical illusion on the other side. Other examples included Yaacov Agam, an Israeli sculptor of the 1960’s, who created “Vibralite”, a “low relief genetic sculpture to function as dynamic pseudo-2D images. By using small manipulations by guests to vary the image, the artist was able to give interaction of his piece back to the user. Edward Ihnatowicz,a Cybernetic Sculptor of the 70’s, explored the “interaction between his robotic works and the audience, by using sound and movement sensors to react to the behavior of the visitors.” (Interactive Architecture) His works would go on to become one of the first ‘computer controlled interactive robotic works of art.” (Interactive Architecture)

In Ken Feingold’s article on the “History of the Interface in Interactive Art”, he describes how Myron Krueger was responsible for “the development of computer-controlled Interactive Art. He began as early as 1969 to conceive spaces in which actions of visitors set off effects. In co-operation with Dan Sandin, Jerry Erdman and Richard Veneszky he conceived the work Glowflow in 1969. This exhibit used “pressure sensitive sensors on its floor, loudspeakers in the four corners of the room and tubes with colored suspensions on the walls. The visitor who steps on one of the sensors sets off either sound or light effects.” (Ken Feingold)

In following, the technology world was also at the helm of creating a never-seen before interactive design, headed up by a University of Utah professor named Ivan Sutherland, who created the worlds first pair of “Head Mounted Display glasses,” which allowed viewers to wear a pair of glasses, which “contained two small monitors, each of which showed a stereoscopical sight to the eyes. Sensors register the head movements and transmit the information to a computer which then calculates the perspective and gives the viewer the impression to move within the image.” (Ken Feingold)

Following the invention and installations of both Krueger and Sutherland, the art and technology world would be turned on its feet. The future of art and technology would now involve the engagement of the audience and “development of responsive environments” for users. Without these very important creations, interactivity within art might not have existed, nor be as advanced and calculated as it is in today’s current interactive environment.

Participation Versus Interaction

It must also be noted the importance in defining the difference between participation versus interaction within the realm of interactive design. While the viewer can participate in the experience, it is not always categorized as necessarily interacting with the art it self.

Interactive art historian, Ken Feingold uses the example of Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw, who’s exhibit, “Points of View” allowed the viewer to sit on a chair and “move the projected video

image of a stage with Egyptian Hieroglyphs. With a second joystick she or he can steer sound traces.” The user is in complete control of where the picture goes and is described by Shaw as

a “particular audio visual journey made by a spectator who operates the joystick which constitutes a’performance’ of this work.While the person using the stick is considered the performance, those watching on are considered the audience, therefore concluding that the person acting is the performer.

However, the quick change from participant to interactant comes with very subtle changes.

“The term movement does not any longer signify the movement of the performer in space, but the movement of the image caused by the joystick. The projected scene can be changed in its perspective with only very small physical expenditure. Thus, the computer-controlled system inverts the reception situation. Formerly the spectator had to change her or his position to perceive differently; now she or he induces the computer image to change its perspectives. Thus, the movement of the spectator is substituted by the movement of the image.”

The very definition of interaction is “the situation or occurrence in which two or more objects or events act upon one another to produce a new effect,” while participation is the effect resulting from such a situation or occurrence.” (Webster) Exploring these minute differences between definitions is important if not vital to understanding specific artists interactive works. To further delve into these theories in an effort to explain these key differences, I will present two key exhibit examples; Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors and ArtTecHouse’s “Everything in Existence.” Through these two key examples, we will be better able to understand both importance of interaction within art, but also the key distinction between participating and interacting with the works themselves.

Infinity Mirrors by Yayoi Kusama

In February of 2017, the Hirshorn presented what would be come one of its most well known and  highly trafficked exhibits thus far; Infinity Mirrors by Yayoi Kusama. Kusama, who was already a household name in the world of art, had done collaborations with Louis Vuitton, using her famous dot technique that was incorporated in many if not all of her works. In one room, rainbow colored dots were splattered all over the walls, furniture, and floors, giving the room a dizzying, colorful effect. The other was a room filled with mirrors, where the viewer could see oneself from any angle no matter where they were in the room.

The idea was that both the elaborate creation featuring the endless dots and endless versions of oneself reflected in the mirror, was born out Kusama’s idea that she wanted to represent her version of what infinity looked like.

“At the Hirshhorn Museum, visitors will experience Kusama’s version of infinity in six mirrored installation rooms illuminated by LED lights — infinity rooms that expand a viewer’s sense of time and space and suggest a cosmic hyperreality. Kusama has said she’s interested in the concept of “self-obliteration,” seeing her kaleidoscopic installations as connecting her viewers so completely to their surrounding environment that their sense of self is lost.”

While Kusama’s art differed from that of the emersion of true multimedia interaction, her art gave her viewers the ability to be both viewers and performers within her art, thus the very definition of interaction. Visitors were encouraged to not only take part in the experience of taking in the work from afar, but to also be immersed within the art as well, by taking photos sitting on the dot-covered ground or of themselves in the mirrors. It was Kusama’s idea that by making her art interactive, she was making the people viewing and visiting her art, performers. She wanted to fully immerse her viewers in an experience that could only be replicated in real life. Furthermore, to probe into the idea of performers within her art, by taking photos and posing, and posting to social media, Kusama’s “performers” were being able to take in the experience of her art, but also the point of her art; the interactivity of it.

Her artwork allowed for people to be present within the here and now, and while the photos in the coveted exhibit were ones that thousands of people would use and post to Instagram for social media “clout”, the purpose of her art only came through once the viewer themselves was able to fully take part in it. So to say her exhibit was primarily successful for her name and the exhibits ability to be “instagrammable”, would be an incorrect assumption. It was successful because it allowed the viewers to be fully integrated into the exhibit while experiencing the full nature of infinity from Kusama’s point of view, and taking home with them an indescribable untransferable experience that could not be translated over social media.

Within the dotted room, aside from the collective experience the user feels when they walk in, the purpose of the exhibit isn’t to take pictures. Kusama had the idea that like most people in the word, she was “one of the dots among the millions of dots in the universe,” and decided to use them to evoke individual disintegration and cosmic unity. “Polka dots,” she has said, “are a way to infinity.” (The Atlantic) By issuing this notion, the audience sees themselves within the art, a part of the art, not just by joining in and taking photos, but connecting with it as well from the sense that we are all just small dots in a larger universe that can go on for infinity. This premise is what makes the exhibit so intuitive and interactive, is that it engages the audience to think about themselves in the bigger sense of the world. Without the user, the exhibit would just be a room full of dots.

As we see, Kusama uses interaction in a different way than *fuse does with their exhibit in Artechouse. Kusama’s, while interactive provides a different although similar sense to the connection between the user and the interactivity.

“Everything in Existence” by *fuse

When my friends and I first arrived to the ArtTechHouse, it was a tiny structure from the outside. No queues, no waitlist, nothing. We were asked to put on a pair of blue booties as to not scuff the floor of the installation and were lead downstairs to a brief introduction by one of the museum heads who explained the point of the exhibit to us. “Everything in Existence”, was the title of the exhibit. Created by Italian artists fuse*, the exhibit was created to open up users to “new perspectives from which to observe and consider our reality.”

“Everything in Existence traces a line that highlights the evolution of the studio’s practice, presenting four multimedia installations that invite audiences to experience different perceptions of reality and new perspectives that are designed to remind us that we are all part of something bigger. The works are generated by a software that processes data in real time, whether that data is derived from interaction with the viewer (“Snowfall”), from social networks (“Amygdala”), from sound (“Clepsydra”) or from the software itself (“Multiverse”). Using this generative technique, fuse* creates “living” art that constantly renews itself and changes before one’s eyes, rewarding prolonged viewing and repeat visits from the spectator.” The largest part of the exhibit, combined both the Snowfall and Clepsydra is displayed on a large screen on three different sides of the room. Using digital and multimedia effects, the artwork uses sounds and imagery to repeat patterns similar to waves, spirals, and rainfall. Users can then watch the animation either standing up, or sitting on the benches or pillows provided.

Another room provides a space which mirrors the users actions, capturing them in digital manner using millions of tiny light probes to gather intel on the shape of the person, then repeating it back onto the frame to show the user. In yet another space, the technologies used locate algorithms within the social media sphere, specifically categorizing Twitter hashtags into colors depending on the “mood” of the hashtag using key words. The colors are then thrown together on various screens that illuminates each tweet for a brief second in time, in coordination with its mood color, thus creating the art piece.

Without the interaction between the art and the users, a museum like ArtTechHouse would fail to exist. While its job is to create intellectually stimulating works that not only grab the user, but engage, encourage, and challenge the users to think outside of the realm of their everyday notions, its job is also to create an aesthetically pleasing situation for the user. People wouldn’t just come to a museum just to go. There must be something in it for them. That is where user engagement, technology, and social media come into play.

“I think as humans, we appreciate art and we connect to it when we can be a part of it, when we can interact with it,” Tati, partner and managing director of Artechouse said. The director also explained in an article how while “interacting with the installations over the internet doesn’t do it justice, they’re happy visitors are sharing their positive experiences,” in other words through social media. Much of the hype around Artechouse originally came about with their very first exhibition XYZT: Abstract Landscapes, which originally debuted in the summer of 2017. Then, just a small gallery in Miami, Artechouse was met with international attention. After its opening in DC in 2017, it has seen over 100,000 visitors in less than a year, much in part due to its overwhelming marketing abilities on social media. Of the nearly 30,000 plus Instagram tags the gallery gets, nearly all of them involve pictures of the user within the exhibit, as opposed to the exhibit itself. But that is in a sense, the point of interaction within exhibits, no?

“The magic is what the person experiences interacting with the art,” said Lorne Covington, Noirflux’s, the company behind the XYZT exhibits, creative director and principal. “Most art is an object or a thing. We work with something that is intangible — that direct experience.”

Whether or not the user is visiting the space for social media usage is not a point of contention. The very idea that the user is interacting, be that taking a photo with the exhibit or of the exhibit, shows that the art is doing its job. However, much like the Kusama experience, the point of the audiences visit is to both experience the exhibit in real time, and moreover to understand the vast capabilities of multimedia art and allows for the audience to picture themselves in a space larger than their own selves.


As we have traced the history of interactivity, melding together technology and art, to how its influence is ever-present in the current interactive art models, the importance of user participation and interaction is highly important to the understanding of each exhibit. We learned that historically, interactive art began in the early 1920’s with people using early technology such as bikes and the invention of the worlds first gaming glasses. As technology progressed, more and more artists began incorporating the use of technology into their work with such examples as sensors within the exhibits themselves, where the audience would press on a sensor in order to engage the users with the very idea and point of the work itself. Further down the line, with the invention of data, and multimedia, artists such as *fuse, began incorporating large scale media projections, encompassing multiple forms of technology and art, to create a futuristic experience for the audience members. Others like Kusama took a different approach and used technology at a minimum, such as the use of lights within her work of “Infinity Mirrors.” However, in looking at both “Everything in Existence” an “Infinity Mirrors”, we can see similarities in their approach to how to engage their audience and utilize participation in order to further the point of their work.

While both exhibits were phenomenally popular and amassed a large social media following of Instagram heavy audience members, this never impacted the very premise under which the artists created their work. For Kusama it was getting the audience to be a part of the art, if but for a brief minute. It taught that we are all tiny beings in a large world, and to think of ourselves as just one person in an infinity of multiples. Infinity Mirrors allowed the viewers to be the performers within her work, be that existing in it themselves or taking pictures and sharing it on social media. All examples of interaction played into the very reason Kusama created the work in the first place.

Within “Everything in Existence”, in the main room, the very idea is much like Kusama’s; to picture oneself as but a small imprint on the world in its existence as a whole. It allows the audience to sit and contemplate just how vast the space of time really is, while immersing themselves in the multimedia experience. The very purpose of their exhibit is to engage their users to a point where they not only share their experience on social media, but moreover so that they take in the full feeling of what it is like to be both a performer and interacting within an immersive experience.

Art and the interactive experience are more now than ever becoming the future of art. For newer artists looking to break into the sphere of art and media interfaced, their new challenge is not how to engage people, but to make the audience feel the purpose of the piece itself. “It is about the experience the artist delivers to the public – whether it is provocative, whether it changes how the viewer thinks, feels and views the world,” graphic software developer Rama Hoetzlein said.

While social media and particpation can both prove to be important in the overall growth and expansion of interactive design, it is up to the artists themselves to make sure that the experience people take away is immersive, particpatory, and allows them to interact with the overall message of the work. As Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, said: “I don’t think we can predict nor prescribe the future of art. It is the famous ‘etonnez-moi’ [astonish me] of Diaghilev and Cocteau’- great art always surprises us, takes us where we expect it least.”


Adrienne Fletcher & Moon J. Lee (2012) Current social media uses and evaluations in American museums, Museum Management and Curatorship, 27:5, 505-521, DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2012.738136

David Bearman (1993) Interactivity in American museums, Museum Management and Curatorship, 12:2, 183-193, DOI: 10.1080/09647779309515356

Boxer, Sarah. “An Artist for the Instagram Age.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 30 June 2017,

Campos, Pedro & Campos, Miguel & Pestana, João & Jorge, Joaquim. (2011). Studying the Role of Interactivity in Museums: Designing and Comparing Multimedia Installations. 6763. 155-164.


“Everything in Existence by Fuse*.” ARTECHOUSE,

Feingold, Ken. The History of the Interface in Interactive Art,

Gever, Eyal. “Technology and Art: Engineering the Future.” BBC News, BBC, 4 Oct. 2012,

Hannon, Kerry. “Artechouse Lights Up Washington’s Museum Scene.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Mar. 2018,

Levin, Golan. “Interactive Art & Computational Design, Spring 2015.” Interactive Art Computational Design Spring 2015, 2015,

Studio, EPW. “Yayoi Kusama Made the Ultimate Instagram Exhibit.” The Cut, 6 Feb. 2017,

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?


A Hirshorn Discussion

Museum used to be thought as a family sepulchers of artworks

According to the reading, in the history of museum, ideal viewer such as Proust takes museum as a “family sepulchers” of artworks. The paintings there were described as being “put to death”. The soft version of this extreme statement is what Baudelaire and Manet held: they believed what museum doing is collecting the artistic memory. Both statements viewed not only museum, but also implied the role of painting. Once upon a time, art museum gathered no more than classic paintings and sculptures. The artworks carry the aesthetics meaning, but also have the function of recording or reification of some ideology. Genres as landscape, portraiture, still life and historic events are all a condensation of certain time. Under the religion theme, the work also tries to narrate tales as a telling truth story. All the practical function of artworks impressed viewers as something static: past congeal in the works. History and creating context could be shown in the details. That is why the museum serves as mediation between public and history: not only the artistic history, but also a reference to a certain period. Thus, museum, also reanimate the artworks, by bringing them back to the public attention. No matter “reanimation” or “sepulchers”, the interaction between museum and artworks is weak.


Installation Artworks and the Museum Space

However, the installation art is another story. When seeing the installation art last week, we feel deeply that the strong interactions exist not only between audiences and artwork, but also between museum and artwork/museum and audience. Museum participated in the relationship as an indispensable factor, not just a replaceable medium. The Hirshhorn Museum has a special environment, both the environment inside and the environment where the architecture located in is designed for its own purpose. The environment of the museum is like the context of symbolic meanings, and it forms the context of how curators and designers interpret their artworks and set up the background for the visitors to understand the artworks.


As we learned from Professor Irvine, a museum can be what is called an “interpretive container” for the artwork, and the museum and place in which the artwork is place plays as much of an important role as the artwork itself does when up for interpretation. As we looked at and discussed the importance of the Hirshorn as a “container” for Mark Bradford’s installation piece, it was noted that this specific work couldn’t be just peeled off the wall and placed somewhere else. It was meant for the Hirshorn, meant to be glued and configured in a type of way that was supposed to push the audience to interpret what certain aspects of the artwork means.


Since the work was installed on a curvature, and encases almost a whole floor of the museum, the idea is to go along the work, taking in every piece of material used, and try to not only understand why Bradford did what he did, but why we are viewing it in this way. Was the piece meant that this specific war in which he enlarged the photos and then tore it up, lengthy to show the extent of the war? Or perhaps he wanted to create an ongoing piece that contained much of the same materials throughout, but expressed how the suffering and toil that slaves had to go through was a long and treacherous journey to freedom?


The Mark Bradford’s artwork relies on the unique space: the inner-circle building provides enough length for the giant frame of the work. It is created based on the context, therefore, the door to the inner-space on this level is naturally avoided. The distance between the wall and window (the diameter of the annulus) is perfect for viewing the full scene of those paintings. Similarly, the space of museum also impressed me deeply in the exhibition What absence is made of. When viewing the installation work Safe Conduct, the dark lighting, surrounding sound and empty room all foiled the quirky and detached atmosphere, makes the whole installation standing out. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s work also benefit by its interaction with museum space. The continuous cambered wall became a natural medium of his work. When the fingerprints and water waves was projected on the huge wall, the shocking visual effect really leads the audience to believe the power of pulse. The circle space makes the lights square stretching into endless in our point of view, immersing the individual in the dazzling sight created by himself/herself. If the room is a square like many other museums, the experience will be limited. Besides, the interaction presented by the museum uniquely emphasizes the function of museum as an interface. We related to the artworks not only in the gazing. There is no more division between object and subject, cause we are part of the artwork, and the artwork is the extension of us.


Space and the Sense of Time


What we found more interesting about the Pickett’s Charge and the Pulse series is that both of the two exhibitions, installed within the round construction of the Hirshhorn Museum, expressing a different sense of time, and therefore producing a contrast with the “static” artwork as we talked before. The first exhibition shows a linear or sequential time, while, the second exhibition record both the linear and the multisequential time of the visitors interactivities.


For Mark Bradford’s exhibition, the environment the museum and the artist created set up a series of story and history. The abstraction reminds me of the Rothko room in the Phillips Collection. With the shape of a cube, the Rothko room form an environment of still and self-reflection, and the time of the Rothko room seems stopped when I walked into it. However, Mark Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge was installed on the round wall of the Hirshhorn Museum. To view the whole series, visitors need to walk alongside the wall and see each piece individually. But the process did not become fragment or broken but composed a linear storytelling experience, and the round installation consisted the infinite time, just like “historical cycles”, representing “historical cycles emerge anew”, and serve for “unity and continuity”.


Both the museum and the new media technique are mediums, and both of them are part of the exhibition and compose the context of the artworks. For the Pulse series, the linear time was recorded by the photos of the fingerprint, the data recorded by the interfaces, and the multisequential time was represented by the bulbs and the water wave. Visitors participated in the environment by “specific activity.” In the room for Pulse Index, each participants’ fingerprint was recorded by a photo and the photos are shown on the large screen, consisting of a community, a timeline formed by the visitors. However, in the Pulse Room and Pulse Tank show the multisequential timeline because, for each time of interactivity, the water and the bulbs compose a different artwork. The artwork seems never finished before the last participant’s interactivity.


To continue on this, the interactive rooms within the Hirshorn allow not only for constant continuity, and this idea of never being finished with a work of art, but also putting the art back into the audiences hands. Without interaction, there would be no work, right? So what is an artwork without its audience to interpret it? These are questions that continue to plague us when it comes to interactive art, especially within museums. With a traditional work of art say take, Rothko’s piece, there are multiple ways in which the audience can pick and prod at what the point of the piece is. However, with the Pulse Room, this interactive side brings in more of these nuanced questions. We beg the answer; Is the Pulse Room and the Lightshow Room examples of art if they are not being used for their intended purpose?


Work Referenced:

Foster, Hal. “Archives of Modern Art.” October 99 (2002)


Evelyn Hankins and Stephane Aquin, Mark Bradford, Pickett’s Charge (Washington, DC and New Haven: Hirshhorn Museum and Yale University Press, 2018)

Evelyn Hankins and Stephane Aquin, Mark Bradford, Pickett’s Charge (Washington, DC and New Haven: Hirshhorn Museum and Yale University Press, 2018).

Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Julie H. Reiss, From Margin to Center: The Spaces of Installation Art (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000).

Week 10: Mass Production; Good or Bad?

Something that has always been of intrigue to me is when I see people taking photographs of artwork or even of other photographs, be that in a museum or gallery. I never really understood the very point of taking a picture of a picture, except to have it on your phone to show for social media. Another intriguing thing is when you google an artwork and can automatically have thousands of copies of the image right at your fingertips. Mass media has both fed and starved the art world in a way that we haven’t seen before. You could never make it to the Louvre and yet you could fully study the history, artistic style, and everything about it, without ever coming close to touching or seeing the real thing.

This can be a positive thing, as it gives many people the chance to see things they might never have the opportunity to see. However, with a reproduction, you can’t learn about the painting style, the colors, even the brush strokes, because usually what your seeing is a digitally reprinted thing that has been pixelated and saturated, loosing a lot of its original mystique. Something that Mansfield speaks about is the “meditation” on a piece. In order to get the full affect, one has to look at the original. There is something to be said about meditating on the true work itself, as well as its placement within a museum, allowing the audience to notice certain things that they would most certainly not receive when looking at a digitally transported image on a reproduction.

Another interesting aspect of art and meditation is the placement within the artistic realm in which it is placed. I used to think that when I walked into a museum, different art works were just thrown up on the wall, and didn’t necessarily think that there was a thought process, mindset, and reason for placing certain works near others. In one of the readings on Malraux, possibly the first creator of the idea of a museum, this idea that there is a specific reason for placing certain artworks near each other. This came more to light in our visit to the Philips Collection, where we saw various pieces playing off each other in order to give the visitor a more of an immersive experience. By just Googling a photo or seeing it out of its specifically chosen place definitely affects how it is viewed and understood more complexly.

I think it is incredibly interesting to think about how art digitization will progress. Museums, in my opinion are crucial to understanding originals, and reproductions, while they offer the ability for everyone not just a certain group of people to see the art, I think that by not acknowledging where and how a piece is seen takes a lot out of the viewers immersive experience. Digital museums could be of interest for a situation like this. Albeit these pictures will still prevent the watcher from truly seeing all of the qualities of the original artwork, but can lead to further understanding and learning within the realm of art history, and encourage people to visit the real life artwork, rather than Googling the reproduction.



Week 8: Modernism and the Modern Art World

In deciding which two artists I wanted to focus on in the Modern Period, I chose to focus on two of the larger names from the period, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock; specifically from the Abstract Expressionist period. This period in modern art came about in the late 40’s, and was defined by  “a development of abstract art that originated in New York in the 1940s and 1950s and aimed at subjective emotional expression with particular emphasis on the creative spontaneous act.” (Tate)  However, even though both men painted during the same time and are categorized in the same artistic genre, their styles although in some ways similar, still differ a good bit.

In Pollocks art, he was defined as one of the premier Abstract Expressionists of his time, brining about a new type of painting called “drip painting”, which he created by “flinging and dripping thinned enamel paint onto an unstretched canvas laid on the floor of his studio. This direct, physical engagement with his materials welcomed gravity, velocity, and improvisation into the artistic process, and allowed line and color to stand alone, functioning entirely independently of form.” (MOMA) Within his paintings themselves, they invoked a ” life-force in nature itself, at others they could evoke man’s entrapment – in the body, in the anxious mind, and in the newly frightening modern world.” His early life could also be connected to the wild ways in which he created art. An addict, he grew up without a stable family life and often bounced around. This chaotic upbringing can be mirrored in his works, which as stated above evoke a sense of anxiousness, instability, and lack of form. In Pollocks work, much of his feelings were quite literally thrown into his art. His ability to be “in” his paintings by standing from different angles and splattering the paint allowed him to connect with the art on a deeper level. Like some other modern art pieces, Pollocks pieces lack a focal point, and rather allow the eye to wander around the painting, rather than centering on one distinct piece within the painting itself. It is more about the colors, the chaos, and the feelings that it evokes.

(Pollocks “Autumn Rhythm No. 30)

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(Conversation with Jackson Pollock No.41)

Despite creating works within the same time period and being categorized within the same art era, Mark Rothko’s paintings differ significantly from Pollock’s. Rothko was known largely for creating what is known as the “Color Field” painting “which employed shimmering color to convey a sense of spirituality.” If we take the meaning of Pollock’s paintings and compare them to Rothko’s there is a distinct difference in how one is supposed to feel after looking at each one. With Rothko’s paintings, you feel a sense of calm, much related to the “sense of spirituality” as his works are defined by. His art takes on a sense of form by using rectangles on a canvas and is categorized by “floating” on a background of color that often melts into one another. Unlike Pollock, Rothko’s form shows”formal elements, such as color, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale.”, whereas a Pollock painting shows just the opposite. Rothko also makes sure to explain that his paintings are not a referral of anything else, nor any other period, (as suggested that his pieces are of Western landscapes), but rather are what the viewer makes of it. “Colorfield painters believe that art could encourage the physical sensation of time and being there with the work.”

To say that two artists creating works during the same time period could be so different is something of an anomaly. One would expect the two to be quite similar, yet their form, the methods, and even their feelings towards their art differs completely. While both Rothko and Pollock define very clear elements of Modern Abstract Expressionism, the two men create pieces of works are unlike each other. This shows that although you could belong to the same genre, a lot of what Abstract Expressionism is are artists that have backgrounds in Surrealism or Cubism, many are categorized simply because they fail to fit into one category. Their art has similarities with other pieces created during the same time, yet drastically differ in important aspects. With Pollock, you see a frenzy, an anxious and chaotic piece free of form or any rules. With Rothko, you feel a sense of peace and calm, almost connectedness to God because of the ability to blend colors together to give the illusion of rectangles floating. Rothko has a distinct form, Pollock does not. Pollock entered his work, while Rothko painted from afar. Both artists show that you can belong to a similar artist genre, and create art during the same time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the art will be similar, even on a very basic level.


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(Mark Rothko Untitled c.1956)Image result for mark rothko

(Mark Rothko Untitled No. 12)

Visual Semiotics Research Questions: Week 6

1.) In many various examples of artwork, there are often present and hidden signs and examples of semiotics within the work. Sometimes these signs can be noted right away, and others must be gained from understanding the underlying story that artwork tells, the historical time, the feelings of the artist, and the list goes on. If semiotics is a “science which studies the role of signs as a part of social life,” what are better ways to figuring out what particular roles of signs are, if the signs are not necessarily outwardly present? In other words, if there is a hidden sign we aren’t aware is there but that we should be pursuing, how do we decode this sign?

2.) In the Chandler reading, I found it interesting how the writer explained how language was important, if not the most crucial part into understanding semiotics. He then goes into the explanation of double articulation and uses the example of the English language to explain that the “language only has 4-50 elements of double articulation, yet can generate hundreds of thousands of words. It is by combining words in multiple ways that we can seek to render the particularity of experience. It is argued that works like film, photography, and painting, all semiotic systems, have this double articulation. My question is in understanding this idea of double articulation, how can it be argued that it doesn’t exist in art or film. If there are multiple ways we can seek to render an experience, then works of art should illicit multiple different feelings and experiences towards a particular piece, correct? Or is there one experience that the artist is looking to get from the audience, and any other experience or feeling is proved to be not truly understanding the work; yes or no?

3.) What is a sign to one person versus another? Who decides who can understanding the underlying semiotics and signs of a work? The artist? The native language of the person? The culture background? The museum? The placement of the work? What influences a person to understanding the signs?

4.) Who decides what is considered art or a symbol? There are hundreds if not thousands of museums throughout the world, each with pieces carefully curated and placed with a particular reason in mind. However, who or what decides what is a symbol of something? Who tells us that something is art? Is it the culture we are born in? The underlying symbols? The feelings it illicit or the lack of feelings? Something that stands out is Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain.” It was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists for not being “art” because it was not created by Duchamp’s own hands. But who decides what makes the cut and what doesn’t? Why do some pieces make it into the glossy museums, and others like my own kindergarten abstract mobiles are fated for a life stuffed in a box in my parents basement?