Applied Postsructuralism

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The interactive media texts Väljarna and Loss of Grasp are very heavily based on the ideas and values behind relational aesthetics.  Relational aesthetics makes sure to put the user at the center of the experience therefore most works are created with that premise in mind.  What these interactive digital works do well is not only do they focus on the user experience, but also they really show the other aspects of what make relational aesthetic art interesting in that they let you interact with the works in real time. This then amplifies the meaning or points their works meant to convey originally, not to mention being online the social context adds another interesting dimension to the pieces as well.  A Frenchman by the name of Nicolas Bourriaud is the one who came up with the theories for relational art or aesthetics.  To paraphrase his definition he stated that they are artistic works that make a point to bring meaning through their social context as apposed to the traditional art space.  According to him because these art works are interacted with in a social context it gives them a much larger ability to cause a conversation between those interacting and experience unlike before in traditional private gallery settings.

With that understanding of what relational aesthetic art is and how it applies it’s pretty easy to see why Väljarna fits the description.  Väljarna is a work that uses a simple yet detailed and interactive nature piece to show poems or written words.  Although the work is in Swedish and the words were beyond my understanding it did not subtract from the overall experience it offered the first time.  I did manage to find an English translation of the game and tried it again, which after reading the words you see the creators true intent for the piece.  The game has a great soundscape in the sense that it uses a monotonous, repetitive tone to create a unique and intentional bit of tension.  There is a revealing of a tree from a foggy haze and you see words faded in the background above it.  Then some birds fly out and it becomes pretty obvious that you can click them however, should you succeed it reveals one of the words from the upper poem or fail and it reveals part of the poem below.

The most obvious quality that makes this work fall under the category of relational aesthetics is that the piece itself is not the main facilitator of the experience the viewer is.  The work will keep going through its motions so to speak in an infinite loop unless the user starts to try and click on the birds which is pretty apparent from the get go.  Then you start to get the words on the screen revealed as you try to catch the birds.  The overall tone and subject for the art is the words themselves and as you see the words revealed it give the user a feeling like you are in the poem or story via the interactive digital work in a way that reading a book or hearing the words cannot provide.  The landscape of the work is described in the poem above and below even the birds themselves are no accidents nor are the actions that happen when you click on them as they are all in the poems themselves.  Another quality it has is the way it can be a catalyst for conversation.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who interacted with the piece differently every time and when I asked others to play with it they too approached it differently from myself.   The entirety of Väljarna helps illustrate the words that are bolded in the sky and the words below all based on the participant’s interactions in a way that makes you read between the lines.

In a way a work like this reminds me of what David Rokeby was doing with his work “Very Nervous System” in the 80’s and how it evolved over the years.  I feel he was one of the first to really push live interaction with a work of art while also using the social context of the piece to start a conversation.  There is a cool interactive work by Peter Kogler where he takes a space and on the walls has created morphing and ever-evolving patterns, which change, based on where and how you walk through the room.  The whole thing is like walking into a big illusion and as you try to move in and focus on something it continues to shift.

The other digital interactive work Loss of Grasp takes the participant for what appears to be a guided journey through a story with you as the main character. Again placing emphasis on the user in this piece in what would seem like a regular relational aesthetic work, quickly becomes strange because the functions of mouse movements, clicks, or keyboard commands seem bountiful and purposeful but this is not the truth as the story progresses.  Hence the title of the interactive digital work, it mimics the experience which takes away control from the players until you realize the control was an illusion.  There are six different scenes in total where you can interact or just mouse over to keep going.  It starts off on a dark screen that makes you select a language.  You are then guided by a narrator from then on where the piece starts out spritely and vibrant with lots of functions available and bright colors accompanied by what seems like a scale being played with each click.  What makes this relational in nature is that the story on the screen mimics the feelings and experience of the participants as they go through the scenes.  The way the work draws in the user to almost place them in the world of the narrator is paramount to the overall meaning the author is trying to convey.  The text on screen and actions provided such as click or moving the mouse also add to it and as they mention the ideas of control that’s when they start to take it away.  Much like the first work Väljarna Loss of Grasp offers the user a sense of participation but then makes you question what that is really much like the character in the story on screen.

Loss of Grasp reminded me of the media burn clip we saw in class where they called they press to a parking lot and drove a car through a bunch of burning televisions.  They make you ponder that question of what really is a “media event”, in the way Loss of Grasp makes you think about control and both do it in real time as they happen or in the cases of media burn happened.  To maybe stretch that idea a bit further I can’t help but think of how often artists use work like this to get a conversation going and one artist that comes to mind is Banksy.  His works are the definition of placing art in a social context as a means to be a catalyst for change and conversation.  Perhaps not as interactive as similar relational aesthetic works online just as potent and social relevant.

The works Loss of Grasp and Väljarna are good displays of relational aesthetics because they really make the participant feel apart of the piece as they are experiencing it and by using technology to further its meaning and depth.  The fact that they are on the Internet allows them to be social in a way that most physical works could never be which after all is a main objective of relational art.  Both pieces are really just stories that could be read or heard but now we see the value technology can provide and the unique experience that offers.

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