Re: Did you get what was supposed to be happening?

Ellen Bromberg (
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 16:42:33 -0700

Dear Robert,

My question for you is, why is it a mistake to consider that a work of art speak
on its own terms first? For me, the technology is there as a tool to expand the
pallete of expression, and it is about expression, not technology. Yes, there are
evolutionary steps along the way in which we focus on the technology, just like
when training the body to dance one focuses on technique. But technique is not
the end of the process, it is only the beginning. Ultimately I believe we are
trying to expand into new realms of aesthetic experience. When people are moved
or engaged by what they see, they become interested in understanding more about
how it was made. (I think Sallie Ann Kriegsman said something like this at the
Critic's panel on the closing day of IDAT.) And maybe even then, knowing exactly
how it is delivered is not of primary importance in one's appreciation. We all
enjoy watching movies on our VCRs, and yet most people don't know or care how the
magnetic particles adhere to the tape.

If the purpose of making and presenting work is to educate the audience about
interactivity then yes, keeping it simple and clear is of value. But if making
work represents an ongoing exploration of issues and ideas that drive one's
artistic life (of which technology happens to inform the process and its
realization), then how can one codify an approach? This seems to be contradictory
to all that I know of entering into a creative process. It is in the realm of
metaphor and mystery that art is made and there are no formulas for this. One can
still appreciate the aesthetic experience of viewing Cunningham's work without
knowing that he utilizes chance methods to create it.

Certainly we should be available to discuss these issues with audiences if they so
desire, but I don't believe these concerns should drive the creation of art. I
think when they do, if audiences don't "get the technology", then there's nothing
else to "get" from the work and perhaps that is what alienates audiences.

Ellen Bromberg

Robert Wechsler wrote:

> Dear Dance-tech:
> Even for us "experts" it was often a challenge to discern what the
> computers were doing at many of the IDAT performances
> and demonstrations. Were these challenges what the choreographer had in
> mind? If not, then why is this mistake so often repeated?
> Are dance/technologists simply so familiar with the systems they are
> using that they have become out of touch with how a lay person
> experiences the piece? Does the audience need more skill watching?
> More information?
> Or is it enough that the technical system changes the way the dancer
> feels as they move? And it changes they _way_ they move -- I can believe that
> -- but unless it results in something discernible to me then I consider
> it something better suited for the lab than for the stage.
> I believe there is a common under-estimation of how simple and clear
> interactive works need to be (assuming you care at all about bringing the
> audience with you). I certainly do not want to argue that we should
> leave out all sense of mystery and subtlety in our art. Obviously it is
> precisely the variety of applications and approaches that is opening up this
> burgeoning field. What I want to say is: let's be careful and hear
> what the lay-viewer is politely trying to tell us before we further
> alienate our audience. We need to find ways to make our discoveries
> more accessible, our shows more audience-friendly.
> I have some suggestions:
> 1. _Use less technology_. And then use it more carefully, pointedly,
> and transparently.
> 2. Begin the piece, or at least have some part of it be _real simple_
> and clear. Yes, _hit them over head_. Later in the work people will be
> more patient with subtlety if they have at least had some opportunity
> to really "get it".
> 3. Avoid confusing overlaps between different interactive systems.
> 4. Don't use a technical system when the same effect can be achieved
> without it (e.g. triggering the start of a film or sequence of music can
> be done by a technician simply knowing the cue.)
> 5. Don't "fake" interactions when they get unstable or crash. Disclose
> what's up, simply and without apology.
> 6. Its hard to make a piece today using interactive technology which is
> not, on some level, also _about_ the technology itself. Its not
> impossible perhaps, but I think it is important to appreciate how
> sensitive the audience is to the fact that it is a "computer" piece.
> Accepting this is perhaps relevant in designing the format and content of the
> piece.
> With friendly regards,
> Robert Wechsler