TPDR

Interact To Survive – Arjen Mulder

Posted in MediaArt, Society and Technology, Theory by tpdr on March 2, 2009

This post is based on an interview with Arjen Mulder by Arie Altena, ‘Interageren om te overleven’, Rekto:Verso, published by Rektoverso vzw, nr.33 Jan-Feb 2009, p.5-7.

First of all I think it is interesting to know that Arjen Mulder is actually a biologist. This means that his texts about interactive art, is influenced by biological phenomena. I guess this is the reason why I have the feeling, when reading his articles, essays, they always feel more ‘media ecological’ than other texts (to read more about Media Ecology, check other article on my blog).

ABOUT CONTEMPLATION

First of all Mulder states that all art is mediated, but that it will/must always try to make something happen ‘outside’ of the medium, especially today, in times that we are surrounded/blinded by media. Art has always been ‘interacting’, and these days it seems like it is surviving because of interactivity.

Interaction is a fact, but ‘Interact or Die!’/’Interact to Survive’ gives it some kind of biological aspect. It is of course true that we, as humans, have always been interacting with our environment in order to survive, what is really new are the images that first appaered on the walls of caves and later became paintings, drawings, photographs, etc. These pictures were stable and established a one-way-communication with the audience. They made it possible to contemplate, something which is difficult when it comes to moving images like film. For Mulder it is hard to analyse a movie while watching, and he finds it easier when he just starts thinking based on the first image, which is some sort of archetypical image from the viewer’s point of view. Afterwards you can add other snapshots of important actions in the story of the film to make connections and complete the analysis. You can, in this situation only contemplate if something happens. Mulder further remarks that the new media don’t seem to force themselves on us as much as older media. They also allow more interaction, an exchange of ‘thoughts’. The consequence for the new type of contemplation, is that you don’t hav to look back anymore but are invited to look forward to see where it is going or how to make you think about how to get there. Instead of telling us that life is hopeless, the new media tell us we can achieve something if we put our mind to it, like reaching the next level in a game or how we can work towards an economic system without waste and/or pollution. We will have to learn about what will go wrong or what will work for the future if we do this or that.

ABOUT ART AS EARLY WARNING SYSTEM

An important question related to this is whether art can be an ‘early warning system’ like Marshall McLuhan stated years ago, even if there will be no more autonomous art, like Mulder said in his book ‘Over Mediathorie'(About Mediatheory, 2004). According to Arjen there is no problem since what McLuhan was talking about is that art can make us think about what media do to us, how they change/affect our thinking, feeling, etc. Mulder says media art today will still show what the new media are doing to us. Artists have always been interested in new technologies, trying to find out what they can do, how they can be used and what effects they have on society. What interactive art tells us now is that we are part of a network, not being separate individuals but connected to other spaces, objects, etc. than our own. This does not mean that we are nomads again or become schizofrenic, but we will have to try and think ‘cradle to cradle’. This means we have to learn how to think back from the future to the now. Only then one can see what is realy possible, it is the same methodology used for durable product development.

ABOUT REMIXING

‘Copy-paste’ and ‘mash-ups’ are common actions today, ex. on Youtube, Lev Manovich talks about ‘deep remixability’ but doesn’t feel like there is much innovation happening. Mulder thinks Manovich is making the mistake of just looking at the images, which even though there are a lot of clips online aren’t always as old-fashioned/’classic’ as one might think. The interfaces added to this the ‘activation of the screen’ which is already an innovation on its own. According to Mulder Manovich is one of those people who don’t think of ‘interaction’ as an important change, a ‘revolutionary phenomenon’. He remarks that interaction has had an impact as important as the influence of film has had on the future of photography, with this one important difference, it is not about the images anymore, but about the interaction itself. Mulder would even call it the ‘imageless art’, but it poses even more important questions such as: What makes us move, react and decide and where does this takes us? What are the consequences, how will the world respond and what can we learn from this? Conclusion of Mulder is that art is exploring new terrains

ABOUT YOUTUBE AND THE END OF MASSMEDIA

According to Mulder YouTube is about editing the overload of clips and picking out the most interesting/popular ones. This leads to a new/own kind of evaluation of teh content, in other words ‘from primetime to primeposition’. Now to answer the question of YouTube being the end of massmedia, we have to say it will/has change/changed the older media (re-mediation). First of all we have to remark that Mulder has some problems with the term ‘massmedia’. TV(in the pre-digital TV era) for ex. is not really a massmedium to him as we watch it on our own, or with a limited amount of people and we can’t talk back to it, or interact with it in any way. Therefor to him a politician giving some kind of lecture or a music group doing a pop concert are more ‘massmedia’ to Mulder than TV or other so called massmedia.

ABOUT THE FUTURE OF ART

Art should be unstable, ephemeral, no more heavy pieces that will cause problems in the future in relation to conservation and stockage. For Mulder the beauty of the new media arts is that it lets you experience something new until the exhibition is over and the installation is taken apart, removed, … , it becomes ‘ephemeral’, making it more ‘touching’ than solid forms of art. Even though some people think it is all about big machinery, it is more about what happens to the visitor, how the process of affection/emotion is triggered, not purely technical but also not totally human, it is a mix, it is ‘in between’. Mulder adds that he really likes interactive art the is still ‘a little bit of a mess’, almost like some kind of silly game. To illustrate he rcalls this action during Ars Electronica which asked people living in the neighbourhood to create something in their backyard at a certain time on a certain day. At that time the area would be photographed from a helicopter and he really liked the mix of words, typography, drawings made by the locals in their yards. The good thing also accroding to Arjen is that it could have failed and that this would have been experienced as an enormous desillusion.

ABOUT MEDIA THEORY

As a final remark I would like to add that Mulder is suprised that ‘Media Theory’ is still holding on. Some time ago Arjen stated that he expects media theory to be replaced by software theory, since all media are affected by the computer, and thus by software, as a metamedium. It might not be true today yet, but I certainly hasn’t given up hope.

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