Review of the book “Interacting: Art, Research and the Creative Practitioner”

Author: Anna Xambó //

interacting

Candy, Linda, and Ernest Edmonds, eds. Interacting: Art, Research and the Creative Practitioner. Oxford: Libri, 2011.

This book is a collection of essays written by creative practitioners and edited by Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds. The essays document a range of artists practice in the realm of interactive art. The authors are researchers, associates or PhD students linked to the Creativity and Cognition Studios at the University of Technology, Sydney. The book is divided into 5 sections, each with a short introduction. The sections are: interactive art and research (3 chapters), curatorial and reflective practice (3 chapters), collaboration and communication (3 chapters), creative engagement (3 chapters), and art practice (7 chapters). The book contributes to interactive art studies, museum studies, practitioner-based studies, and practitioner-led studies. Although not directly related to embodiment, I think these essays can inform on a range of methods and theories used in multidisciplinary practice-based and practice-led research mediated by technologies, which can be useful to understand the case studies of the MIDAS project within the Arts focusing on digital arts and embodiment.

What are the methods used?

In the chapter “Research and Creative Practice”, Linda Candy summarises the methodologies used by the practitioners who are involved in the publication. The two main approaches are:

  1. Practitioner’s own reflections on her/his creative process and the artefact(s) produced;
  2. Inquiries on the nature of audience experience with the artworks.

The first approach is an iterative process based on the practitioner’s personal experience of making artefacts: “creating -> reflecting -> creating again -> reflecting again”. Linda Candy points out that recording methods such as using diaries or online blogs to reflect and share the creative process, as well as the creation of personal frameworks is common here. An example of this approach is shown in Andrew Johnston’s chapter Almost tangible musical interfaces. The practitioner built a collection of virtual musical instruments in collaboration with Ben Marks. This process included two steps: 1) documenting the creation of a collection of virtual musical instruments using blogs, and 2) building a personal conceptual framework for designing and evaluating their systems mainly informed by the blog entries.

The second approach, also iterative, is an evidence-driven approach: “creating -> reflecting -> creating again -> investigating -> creating again”. This second approach can be in addition to the first. Linda Candy indicates that this approach includes data collection using direct observation, audio and video recordings, or interviews, among others; and its methodology is informed by ethnography and HCI research, or qualitative research methods such as grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967). An example of this approach is illustrated in Zafer Bilda’s chapter Designing for audience engagement. As an experience designer, the author worked in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team on three stages: 1) evaluating a set of interactive art installations based on audience experience, 2) building an audience-centred conceptual framework, and 3) developing a set of experience design principles.

In her chapter, Linda Candy highlights the existing tensions between the two approaches, and the implications of including more formal methods. On the one hand, it can help the practitioner to improve the next iteration of the interactive artwork (e.g. getting confirmation of intuitions with systematic studies, understanding better the audiences), but on the other hand, it can slow down the creative process (e.g. new skills to learn related to social sciences, time-consuming data analysis, or rational thinking as opposed to creative thinking). In my opinion, and in agreement with the author, collaborations between practitioners and social scientists seem promising and fruitful, and can counterbalance the negative aspects. Also, practitioners seem to combine both approaches and either customise existing methods or create their own methods, which points to methodological innovation.

What theoretical approaches are used?

In the last chapter of the book “Reflections on Interactive Art and Practitioner Research 2 – Interpretation”, Steven Scrivener highlights the main theoretical approaches of these practitioners to interactive art and practitioner research:

  • Jacques Derrida and “a way of talking about a work that already exists”;
  • Donald Schön (1987) and the notion of “reflection-in-action”;
  • Ongoing conceptual frameworks, which can include a range of categories such as interactive art systems, or modes of interaction. These frameworks are represented in different forms such as diagrams, visual representations, or verbal classifications;
  • Scientific theories;
  • HCI theories.

What is the digital/technology used?

As pointed out by Ernest Edmonds in his chapter “Interactive Art”, emerging technologies are exploited from an aesthetic perspective with interest in finding new ways of interaction to engage the audience. Some of the technologies mentioned are:

  • computer-vision, gestural interaction, real-time image and audio processing, augmented reality, image-recognition cameras (ch. 2.1);
  • multi-touch surfaces (3.3);
  • virtual instruments (4.3).

An aspect of interest to develop further for the MIDAS project is to investigate to what extent audience experience in interactive art is related to embodiment, and what are the methods, theories and technologies involved.

References

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner, San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Inc.
Glaser, B.G., and Strauss, A.L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory Strategies for Qualitative Research, New York: Aldine Publishing Company.

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