Category Archives: Week 12

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?


Experience in Hirshhorn Museum

Zhe Lu and Huaiyu Zhang

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.

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.


  1. Evelyn Hankins and Stephane Aquin, Mark Bradford, Pickett’s Charge (Washington, DC and New Haven: Hirshhorn Museum and Yale University Press, 2018).
  2. Foster, Hal. “Archives of Modern Art.” October 99 (2002).
  3. Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.
  4. Julie H. Reiss, From Margin to Center: The Spaces of Installation Art (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000).

This, too, shall pass

Historical events have always been a popular subject of art. We have seen how Delacroix romanticized the spiraling chaos in The Death of Sardanapalus; we have seen how Goya unequivocally hailed the martyrdom in the The Third of May 1808; and of course we remember the distressing illustrations of terror overflowing in Picasso’s Guernica. The reason why these paintings are so compelling is not they merely recreated the stage based on reality, but because they all sought to connect us, the viewers, to the message that the artists much strive to convey and magnify. We see them as tales visually retold by not just “what happened there” but bold use of colors, rapid brushstroke movement, heightened light contrast, underlying rules of composition, etc.

In that sense, Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge is such a transcending piece that he employed a unique approach to present the scenes of this bloody Civil War battle. As he introduced his method, he is an artist who paints with paper, cardboards, ropes—materials we can easily find around our garage, basically. Without using paint to alter the appearance of these elements individually, he layered them and positioned them against each other. However, the most fascinating part of this creative process, in my opinion, is to choose what is left underneath to reveal; simply by looking at the final product, I can’t stop imagining Bradford’s process of creating it, and I can’t stop thinking how this process parallels so closely with the concept of human history—things happened were forgotten, things were celebrated then disparaged, things were arbitrarily covered only to be unveiled later, but no matter what we choose to deal with each one of the episodes of human history, they will stay here; they will always stay here.   

Not only that, what else I found unique about this artwork, is the way it takes advantage of the physical setting of the space where it is positioned in, and it probably won’t have the same arresting impact on viewers if it were placed in a different room. In a circular space, you don’t get to see everything at once, and yet it is unobstructively continuous and expansive: as you walk around the circle, the entire installation will send you into a holistic and dynamic experience. As you set yourself in motion to engage different portions of the artwork, you see the wheel of history is moving forward through your own reflection—excitement and joy shall pass, so shall disappointment and pain; memories will fade away, but the only thing absolutely certain is right now, right at this moment, you are reading and absorbing what the artist is trying to say—that is the only thing that truly matters.  

AR + cyclorama ?

Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge impressed me a lot because of its special way of reproduction of the original. When I first read the introduction of his artwork on the Hirshhorn Museum’s website, I had no idea of what does it mean by “cutting, tearing, and scraping through the layers”. I am now totally impressed by his innovative way after experiencing his work on site. I choose to use “experience” instead of “see” because each canvas section of his artwork is so huge, more than 45-feet long, that gave me an immersive feeling. Standing close to the canvas, I was strongly attracted by the different layers and textures lurking beneath the surface and couldn’t help exploring more about the details. Visually there are not only many layers hidden beneath the surface, but also horizontal layers built by ropes on the surface. When I stand a little far away to see the whole picture of the canvas, I felt like standing in front of a brick wall that has survived the history and has been standing there for many years witnessing the historical change.

Artworks curated in the museums are usually framed by different media, sometimes by the space, sometimes by its form. Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge is an example. Bradford installed his artwork in the specific round room in Hirshhorn Museum because the original artwork was a cyclorama painting. Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge will be exhibited in the Hirshhorn Museum until 2021, but how does the artwork’s fate after 2021 is not clear. Bradford produced his artwork in such a unique way, it is not possible to be totally duplicated and installed again in another museum (cutting, tearing, and scraping all have randomness). Also, whether there is another place that will perfectly present the reproduction of a cyclorama painting remains unknown.

However, Bolter, Engberg, and MacIntyre’s article about Augmented Technology used in the media area hints me on the possible way of installing Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge in other museums. If AR technology can be used as a part of the curation and exhibition, visitors can use mobile devices to experience Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge as they were right in the Hirshhorn Museum. Thus, visitors can virtually see Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge in its original context. As for the physical experience, I would suggest exhibiting small parts of the original artworks in those other museums, so that visitors could also explore and experience the details when they use the AR technology to virtually immersed in Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge. This is a way of using a new medium to get rid of the limitation of other media.



Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre. “Media Studies, Mobile Augmented Reality, and Interaction Design.” Interactions 20, no. 1 (January 2013): 36–45.

Hirshhorn Exhibition:

A New Interaction with Art

Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre mention that tablets offer users opportunity to view panoramas. The exhibition of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a great example: extremely large screen allows every viewer and participator to see the production of their heart beat clearly. At the same time, the production which is shown on the screen creates an immersive feeling for viewers, enabling them to merge themselves into the whole art work. The exhibition of Mark Bradford has a similar effect. Eight large size art pieces are presented in a circular space, surrounding all the visitors. Everyone is so small in front of each piece of art. Every detail of the art work creates a strong expressive and visual impact.

One of the eight pieces of Mark Bradford’s art work

More than that, the exhibitions of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer demonstrate that artworks are no longer limited to oil on canvas and sculpture. Instead artwork can be a process of human computer interaction, which further indicates the changes of art that are made by technology (digital media). For example, Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre introduce an idea of poly-aesthetics, which means that “a way for the user to experience the world around her as a mixed and hybrid reality of information on the one hand and physical location and embodiment on the other.” Be more specific, with the help of mobile application, artists can examine the relationship between touch, sight, and sound. Art is no longer a symbol of static object. Alternatively, art is three-dimensional and full of actions.

A HCI in the Pulse exhibition

The development of digital media adds a new meaning for the idea of museum as medium and/or interface. Historically, people’s way of interacting with artworks is only limited to observe and touch them. Now, people are able to participate into the creation process of an art work. Visitors do not see themselves as observers anymore. In fact, they are the participators and the producers. This is much deeper interaction than what they can do historically, which is also a new definition of “museum as medium and/or interface.”


The artworks in the Hirshhorn take on a whole new meaning because of their location, or in some instances site-specific locations, within the Museum. The dialogue of the artwork in the museum space acknowledges that these artworks are art, not merely something you’d find in a mall. The Museum itself provides some of the meaning for the art. This symbolic space is especially necessary for works like Mark Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge. Referencing our visit, the Hirshhorn is a container for art. With this characterization, it has influenced how we perceive these artworks.

Pickett’s Charge takes on new meaning when placed in the Hirshhorn and in the city of Washington, DC. Discussing racial inequality in the States is a key component of this panoramic work. Installing this piece in America’s Capitol connects history back to present day, and brings time full circle, much like the shape of the Hirshhorn. Since the Horn is circular, there is no one correct way to experience the installation, and no one way an individual feels the effects of racial bias. Additionally, with entrances and exits to different experiences in the Horn, those sites interface with Bradford’s piece.

One of those exits/entrances is to the panoramic view of the National Mall and historical buildings. Viewing the Mall, and referencing back to Bradford’s installation, reminds the viewer how far America has come, but how far we have left to go to truly recognize everyone as equals. We don’t think the placement of Pickett’s Charge was a coincidence. The curators could have placed this installation on the second floor, where Sean Scully’s installation used to hang, but there are no windows directly facing outdoors. This dialogue between the Hirshhorn, Pickett’s Charge, and the National Mall was a conscious decision made by the Museum, and we noticed.

Samantha Bedell and Andrea Xu