Affect and the expression of affectual capacities
Conversation with Andrew Goodman
Andrew Goodman. Artist statement : My work encompasses soft sculpture, sound, lights and electronics, and sometimes video into immersive installations, usually featuring generative or interactive elements. Current artworks explore the possibility of the event of relation between the viewer or participant and the installations being viewed as the actual work, rather than the objects or sounds themselves which might then operate more as techniques of engagement. The works references popular culture explorations of excessive or malleable bodies, in particular anime such as Spirited away, comics, Japanese stuffed toys, and science fiction pre-digital effects and costumes.
Experimenting with affectual forces in different ways
To start this conversation1, as an artist of interactive and immersive art, what role does affect and/or emotion play in the production of your works of art ?
The short answer is that I see my work as being all about affect and the expression and extension of affectual capacities, and that I have absolutely no interest in the emotional state of participants. People are always coming up to me and trying to describe the emotional states they experienced in my installations – how it made them feel, what it reminded them of – which I think is about as interesting as listening to other people’s dreams. Thats not to say that I’m not interested in their responses, as I’m deeply interested in what happened to them physically and how it might effect their perceptions and sense of their body and the world, but my work is certainly not focussed on gaining an emotional response at all, but a different kind of connection that is not entirely subjective.
My work does try to experiment with affectual forces in a few different ways. Firstly in a general sense, in that my thinking is always about the primacy of trans-subjective forces over forms. So although my work almost always has a very material and sculptual presence I very much view the objects as open ended invitations to engage; they provide constraints, platforms, some ways into the affectual engagement. Sometimes in a way this is as much a lure that channels or distracts subjective attention to enable the body to respond sensually without the concious mind controlling such engagements.
Secondly, and most importantly, I would say that what I am concentrating on the affectual capacities of the various entities that go to make up an installation, including, but in no way limited to human participants. In thinking of affect I work from what I would term, after Whitehead, a concept of ‘feeling’ – the capacity for an event/entity to influence and be influenced by other events/entities. In a Whiteheadian universe these capacities are never purely given or fixed, there is always room for some new type of connection or expression of an affectual capacity, which for me makes the concept very useful when trying to think open-ended or generative artworks. This has nothing at all to do with emotions – post-subjective responses – and in this sense everything has a capacity to feel or engage with the world that extends its expression beyond itself. I would argue, however, that often in interactive works the affectual capacities of various components are serverely curtailed, forced into linear and repetitous connections. So while I am trying to create the potential for affectual connections between human bodies and forces that bring us beyond a fixed subjectivity, I’m just as interested in how we might extend and explore the affectual capacities of a sensor, or a line of code in a computer.
In this way my work might be thought of as ‘parametric,’ involving multiple layers of feedback chains that link many components of a work through dynamic relations. To take a simple example, in Orgasmatron, there were a number of light, vibration, bend, touch and pressure sensors embedded in an inflatable ‘pod’ that participants laid in. The work was capable of generating endless subtle variations of sounds (through 16 speakers in the base), spatialisation of sounds, pulses of light and complex vibrations. The Orgasmatron sensed movement, shadows, vibrations, pressure, etc, from a person lying there to generate changes, but also sensed its own vibrations, lighting effects and sounds. In this sense (and in reality the connections were much more complex and involved other scales of connection as well, and various interactions were designed to also affect the capacities of other interactions), I tried to make as many aspects of the work open to making new connections and new expressions or interactions with any force that they were subjected to, rather than just concentrating on relations between subject (participant) and object (artwork). These ideas of interwoven intensive connections were also operating within the code, and on less concrete affectual levels to do with sensation and perception.At the same time, the work attempted to address the human bodies present on multiple levels, so that new connections between parts might arise (between a foot and an underfoot vibration, for example), and to create an environment where body boundries as a gestalt might become at least a little porous, and to perhaps allow an opportunity for experimentation with new kinds of relation that approach trans-subjectivity.
This is very interesting and the example is very inspiring. It would help to have a general description of Orgasmatron.
Orgasmatron (spaces to make love in) was conceived as one in an ongoing series of works that re-imagine bodies or environments from popular culture Sci-fi texts – in this case a combination of the Orgasmatron from Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and the excessive machine from “Barbarella.” This work reconfigured these machines from the future as a responsive gallery environment – a potential intimate space of sensual stimulation for one or more people. It was an inflatable ‘pod’ that one or two participants could lie down and move around in). Projected coloured light pulsed within the interior, changing colour and speed as the Orgasmatron became more excited; speakers surrounding the bodies whispered and spoke; and tiny speakers and a subsonic speaker sent ripples of vibrations through the base on which participants were lying. Sensors embedded in the base captured data from the weight and movement of bodies, as well as from the pod’s own expressions. When a body entered the interior space the pod began to slowly move through several stages of excitement (with corresponding increases in volume, layering, disruption and shifts in spatialization of sounds, brighter and quicker pulses of light and increased vibrations sent through the base).
To go further, here is a comment written by Alanna Thain in her catalogue essay :
“From the outside, Andrew Goodman’s Orgasmatron is all campy fun and playful lures—oversized, artificial and suggestive: an inflatable crawlspace, a held breath. Once inside this zone alive with sound, colour and motion, it invites you to stretch out and stay a while, suspended in waves of sensation. In this soft machine, comfort lures the visitor’s body into indistinct boundaries that open onto a parasitic potential we-ness, through which other forces and energies may be activated. Soft machines produce novelty in the form of relation. Through the Orgasmatron’s vibrational ecology, where the complexity of the machinic environment offers as many relations as possible in provisional and modulatory fashion, the visitor is invited to sense relation itself. A slippery and dispersive attentiveness is enacted in favour of the clarity of interaction, blackboxing the happening itself. Soft machines like this one are artificial pods, metamorphic zones suspending habitual relations of time and space to maximize points of relations, contact and suspension.”
If we go back, there are a few expressions that would benefit from further development. First: the “primacy of trans-subjective forces over forms”; second: the “affectual capacities of the various entities”; and third: “the affectual capacities of a sensor, or a line of code in a computer.”
My first impression is that affect here is a synonym of force. Is it ? But when I read ‘affectual,’, its carries the connotation of affection, a word which can refer either to love or to sickness, at least in French. As you know, words have many different connotations, sometimes located at the opposite poles in the semantic chain. Could you be more specific with what you mean by ‘affectual.’ On the other hand, when you add examples of “affectual capacities” with “a sensor, or a line of code in a computer,” it opens all sort of questions, at least for me. I remember robotic artist Zaven Paré speaking of a very intense relationship with a robot that he developed when he was working in a robotic lab in Japan. It is as if the robot had some qualities with which he could develop attatchment, even empathy. Last thing, the title of Orgasmatron is also very rich semantically, could you tell us more about its meaning and why you give that title to your work of art ?
As you say, there are obviously a number of ways to define affect, both in common usage and academically. Even within the recent writing in ‘affect theory’ (such as in The Affect Theory Reader Gregg, Melissa & and Gregory J. (Eds.) Seigworth. Durham & London: Duke Universty Press, 2010) there seems to be confusion over the term. To borrow from Murphie and Bertelsen’s definition, which I think is in line with a broad process philosophy concept of the term, affect is a force that exists prior to, and brings into existence, object and subjects and relations between such entities, which arise out of the play of forces that can be distinguished clearly from emotion, which might be thought of more as the qualification or cognition of the effects of affect on a body (see Lone Bertelsen & Andrew Murphie "An Ethics of Everyday Infinities and Powers: Félix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain," The Affect Reader :148). So while I do think that the work of people such as Teressa Brennan (on the transmission of affect) can be interesting, for me she and others who blur the line between affect and emotion are not being rigorous in their definitions, which I think limits their discussions as they tend to become mired in subjectivity and not think the fuller potential of affectual force.
In this sense, as you say, it seems at times to be utilised as a synonym for ‘force’ in general, but I’m not sure that it is necessarily meant as a blanket term for all forces – is sensation a different force ? I think I need to leave that to real philosophers to debate.
Affectual capacities are really my interest – their exploration and expansion – in other words, an increase in the expressive potential of all things. I think its quite interesting to pose the challenge of thinking how inanimate things such as algorithms can have their own, particular styles of affecting and being affected (or prehensions and feelings). For me Luciano Parisi’s recent work (Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics and Space. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013) is extremely significant in beginning to think through this idea from a Whiteheadian perspective. What’s most important is that she stresses the need to understand that an algorithm has its own automated prehensive capacities, which is quite different to trying to assign feelings that have a biological equivalence to a non-organic entity. I think Erin Manning also extends into this realm in her concept of the ‘minor gesture,’ with its understanding of the prehensive capacities of an ecology itself.
Whitehead really poses the challenge of thinking a process based system that is applicable to any entity or situation, and I think this idea of an extension of affectual capacities to every entity has been crucial in my own work, where I have tried to rethink what interactivity means and seek an ethical expansion of its possibilities. That is, the politics of interactivity is often an oppressive politics that reduces potential expression (by creating fixed linear connections and clear divisions between viewer and art object), whereas a turn towards an ethical participation (for all the entities, human and other, involved in an interactive event), begins to consider an expansion of creative connection across a broad scale and within both technical and organic components of an event.
With regards to the title Orgasmatron, it comes, as I mentioned, from a common Sci-Fi trope, and I guess it draws on that common interest in Science fiction in melding the organic and the mechanical, and reimaging bodily capacities. I’ve found Sci-Fi a very productive source of inspiration in its continuing imaginative morphing of bodies. I’ve been particularly interested in the sets and costumes of pre-CGI movies and TV, where the design manages to look at once quite lo-tech or handmade and yet still conveys a strong affectual tonality. This seems quite different to, for example, the way a horror or action movie creates effects through presenting something in a hyper-realistic fashion – that is, while a man with a knife or gun might be scary – while a strange looking alien breaks all boundaries of realism, and requires a different kind of engagement to communicate an affectual force. Perhaps its closer to ‘play’ ? Sci-Fi can also be quite political in its breaking of gender boundaries, with a long tradition of radical feminist, queer and racial explorations that interests me greatly.
But ultimately I think I had just always wanted to make an orgasmatron, it seemed both a funny and alluring thing to build – who wouldn’t want an orgasmatron in their spare room ?
Between humour, playfulness, disturbance
and affectual force
Do you plan to produce specific affects or emotions during you work ?
I don’t aim for specific emotional responses, and in fact people have quite a wide range of responses to my work, through humour, pleasant enjoyment, titilation, to a deep sense of discomfort and even anxiety. Although I’m not aiming for any one response I do think that interactive works have in general concentrated too much on ‘positive’ and enjoyable relational connections, whereas in life perhaps a lot of interactions are a little more confronting, so I’ve thought a lot about the kind of connections and responses that the work of artists like Artaud, Genet or the dissident Surrealists might evoke, rather than the ‘happy happy’ world of much media art that promotes a kind of bland, consumerist connectivity.
I find also that there is a tendancy in interactive art to be absolutely “playful” or “ludic” in order to attract visitors and to maintain their interest. Your references to Artaud and Genet (and the dissident Surrealists) give a different affective tonality. Being quite different, they seem to share the affective intensity, if not excess. What artwork of yours would examplify this tonality you are evoking ?
I agree that much interactive art is playful, at least when its not trying too hard to be portentious. That is, most interactive works try to allow some style of fairly open-ended exploration as an excess over productive or didactic relations. But I don’t think that play is necessarily ‘nice’ or light – in fact childrens’ play is often an exploration of quite dark issues (such as my own daughter’s fascination with playing out orphan scenarios), and humour in general always has a disruptive quality. In art I would think of someone like Duchamp, whose work is infinitely playful but always sinister, disruptive or violent. I suppose part of my problem with overly nice or pleasant interactivity, new media and relational aesthetics is how easily these genres have been coopted into neoliberalism in the art world, and the transformation of the gallery space into a space for the consumption of ‘entertainment’. That is not to say that I think the pure shock that the Dadaists sought has much potency in art any more.
Perhaps a way around this is to think that a work might be unsettling not because of its content, but because it in some ways troubles subjectivity or body boundaries. This is something I’m always looking for in a work – a balance between humour, playfulness, disturbance and affectual force. An earlier work of mine that I think went some way to achieving this is a video performance piece entitled Chorus.
The work featured a video of five images of a man yawning (which was projected life-size in the gallery), that was humourous and perhaps slightly gross, but also began to subtly affect the body of the viewer as they watch since it creates a compulsion to yawn and therefore a strange connection to the image. This could be disturbing, but it never lost its humour or lightness to achieve this. More recently perhaps Momo had a certain darkness or violence to its tonality, mainly on an aural level, while at the same time being quite playful. But even Orgasmatron, which most people found a ‘pleasant’ experience, still had a dislocating affect on most bodies, which might have some parallel in the strange sensation of the uncanny found in much Surrealism – that blurring of boundaries and perceptual habits.
I’m not quite sure whether or not I could say that I aim for specific affects. Certainly I try to create the potential for affectual connections, but I also try hard to make the potential connections or expressions of affectual capacities relatively open-ended and layered, and to think about the transduction of a force as it come into contact with various entities. To take a particular example I’ve been researching, the interactions between a flow of data from sensors and a series of algorithms might be capable of interacting in many ways within a software patch, so that an algorithm begins to operate more like an autonomous entity, drawing from its engagement with forces (data) but in a way that allows each algorithmic event to develop an independant solution or concrescence to this event of engagement. What I think I’m trying to say is that it’s perhaps important to develop works that not only acknowledge flows of forces, but also allow these forces to be transduced in multiple and open ways, etc. to also have a greater expressive capacity in the event.
That reminds me of an article from Adam Nash, (Fibreculture Journal Issue21, (2012), FCJ-148 Affect and the Medium of Digital Data)where he examines “first, whether it is possible for two immanently digital entities to establish an affect cycle with each other, and, second, how this relates to affect cycles established between digital data and non-digital entities ?” What do you think ?
I do believe that digital entities can be viewed, like all other entities, as having a relationship to the virtual (in its Deleuzian sense), and therefore having a potential, that (in the case of algorithms which are my particular interest), is not exhausted by any particular iteration.
That is, as Parisi and Portanova have recently argued, they have a relationship to enternal entities such as ‘Omega’ – the infinite possible combinations of ‘1’s and ‘0’s and the infinite fractions between these numbers (Parisi, Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics and Space, Stamatia Portanova, Moving without a Body: Digital Philosophy and Choreographic Thoughts. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: MIT Press, 2013). The pragmatic question for the artist is of course how to construct algorithms or other digital entities that will behave in an open-ended manner retaining this link to potential rather than the possible.
In my own recent attempts, in programming the Orgasmatron, I’ve drawn on DeLanda’s work on state systems and attractors to try to create algorithmic combinations that actively select from data flows (therefore acting prehensivelyand modulating forces) and are then drawn towards multiple and conflicting potential ways of processing this data, so there is always a creative and intensive tension at work within the actualisation of algorithmic processes. This is not easy to explain in a few sentences and without giving detailed examples, and certainly my experiments in this area have just begun. I’m hoping to collaborate with some more experienced programmers to continue exploring the potential of Whitehead in coding.
As events (that is, the particular actualising of a potential algorithm) perhaps data is always at least on some levels engaged with the non-digital in the rhythms or refrains that are created. Shintaro Miyazaki has written lucidly on this (in "Algorhythmics: Understanding Micro-Temporality in Computational Cultures." Computational Culture 2, (2012): 1-16). And if we think machinically then any machinic assemblage might be seen as always nesting within larger machines so that individual digital entities become infected with the analogue on some scale – for example, an algorithm as a ‘machine’ nests within a programming language as a machinic assemblage, within a computer, within a computer-sensor machine, within an art work machine that includes bodies, space and technical objects. Ultimately I think that trying to maintain any clear divide between the digital and analogue is unsustainable, and I would avoid trying to make any hard distinction between them. I think many theorists – such as Anthony Wilden in (Systems and Structures: Essays in Communication and Exchange. New York: Tavistock Publications, 1980), Anna Munster and Karen Barad have shown that in the long term when examined across different scales that separation doesn’t hold up. But again, as Parisi emphasises, it’s important to also allow every entity to exercise its own particular types of affectual capacities rather than try to create analogies to biological styles of engagement with the world.
Affect / a pre-subjective force,
emotion / a post subjective experience
What difference(s) is there for you between affect and emotion, if there is any ?
I would define affect as a pre-subjective force, and emotion as a post subjective experience or expression. As I said, I think of affect as being involved in ‘feeling’ – capacities of entities to interact – whereas ‘emotion’ is a feeling that is experienced conciously by a subject (perhaps there is a parallel here with the difference between sensation, a trans-personal force that is experienced by a body in the event and perception, a concious awareness of a sensation ?). But even within such a strict definition of affect, there might perhaps be many different types of affects. For example, micro-perceptible sounds (ie, below or above a human hearing range), might be very specific affectual forces that can be harnessed to subject bodies to forces outside of conciousness. This is an area I’ve experimented with a lot in recent work, layering heard sounds with up to eight or so ‘unheard’ sounds (high or low frequencies or just below the necessary decibels to be clearly identified), in order to try to make more expansive, excessive or open ended soundscapes within works. But such sounds, or other affectual forces might also contribute to an ‘affectual tone’ of an artwork or environment that might ‘infect’ the space and colour the affectual and even emotional involvement of a participant.
Would you qualify that kind of effect as being ‘subliminal’ ?
Yes and no: I’m not sure. In a literal sense it is below perception and therefore subliminal, but ‘subliminal’ might perhaps imply a return to the subject as a base position, when in fact this is what such forces begin to question in their trans-subjective expressions.
I’ve experimented quite a bit (though not necessarily successfully), with creating sudden shifts in the affectual tonality in an exhibition. This is an idea I’ve borrowed from Francisco Varela, where sudden shifts in tonality might create what he terms a ‘transparency’ in perception, making the participant suddenly aware of bodily functions that are normally perceptually invisible (see Varela, Francisco J. "The Specious Present : A Neurophenomenology of Time Consciousness." In Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science, edited by F.J.Varela J.Petitot, J.-M. Roy, B.Pachoud, 266-314. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).
Then one might also conject that the emotional state of a subject in the space might work as a trans-subjective force that affects other people and the affectual tone of the piece. And of course a colour, sound, etc. that has an affectual force in the work may also have a particular emotional resonance for a participant as well. So in these ways there might possibly be some flow between affect and emotion. Whichever way, affect perhaps belongs to, or is a condition of, the event of relation itself and therefore is trans-entity.
It seems that you approach the affective as the taste, the atmosphere or the temperature that plays the role of an entity or an element crossing the other entities. The metaphor I have in mind is a chair in a play that becomes the link between actors, a trans-actor if I follow you, but maybe you have more relevant examples to offer to our readers.
When I use the term ‘affective tonality’ then yes, I mean in some sense the atmosphere or ‘taste’. The problem for me with the example of the chair is that it could (in the wrong hands) fall back into actor-network theory and concepts of objects each with their own agency, which again can preclude a discussion of trans-subjective forces that belong to and activate the ecology in itself. Perhaps it might be more the qualities of the force of an actor’s first angry step on the stage that not only instigates the event, but also the tone of the entrance and character (bringing the character into being and creating a contrast with other characters), and a complex relationship between on and off-stage, between a boot and floorboard, between one scene and the next and so on ? It’s not the footstep itself exactly that creates the scene, but perhaps an affectual tonality that resonates throughout, modulating and being modulated as it converses with other entities. That is perhaps too esoteric an example, but I’m thinking in particular of the kind of attention to styles and tonalities of actions in Japanese Noh theatre that take what to the uninitiated looks like a rote action (as each gesture is passed down over generations without change), and yet makes each movement sing with potential.
An intuitive and philosophical approach
Would you say that your approach is rather intuitive, instinctive or linked with cognitive or psychological sciences or philosophical dimensions, if so which ones ?
My approach is both intuitive and philosophical, and I certainly have an interest in science where it intersects with a process-based approach (I’m thinking of DeLanda, Barad and Serres’ writing as intelligent examples of this). This tends to be more about physics than cognitive science, which in my limited experience is usually caught up in a neo-Darwinist essentialism.
On the intuitive level, my starting point for any work is always what I would call an affectual tone. Every work begins a response to some other artistic work – recent examples include the movies Spirited Away and Alien Four, and Artaud’s play Momo, but at times it has been another piece of fine art by, for example, by Magdalena Abakanowitz, Linda Bengalis or Louise Bourgeois. What I take from these as a starting point is the affectual tone I experience when I view/read the work, which I then try to recreate, but with no attempt to mimic the actual form of the work itself. This recreation is purely for myself, not to try and impose this tone on anyone else. This is a very fuzzy business, I never try to analyse or quantify this tone in any way, but to hold on to some faint resonance of it in my body until the work itself takes off, and then I run with that, and maybe the tone remains or sometimes it’s replaced by a completely new affectual force.
Your expression ‘very fuzzy business’ uses only three words but means a lot more! Fuzzy as unclear, as heavy, as anxiogenic ? Business as working, as producing, as managing ? It reminds me of the machinic activity from Deleuze and Guattari… Could you add a few lines to help us to better understand what you mean by that ?
You’re picking up on my colloquial use of language here ! By ‘business’ I really mean a process. ‘Fuzzy’ here is being used in a general sense, as in unclear or undefined, which isn’t to say its unproductive. To paraphrase Whitehead, a certain degree of vagueness is necessary for creativity, by which I take him to mean that there are always potentials that are yet to be sorted through and taken up or discarded, and to a certain extent one can never pre-guess what those choices will be (given that most of these choices are performed by non-human entities). As an artist – particularly in the very early stages of a project – perhaps it’s important not to get ahead of yourself and predict or try to control outcomes too much, but to find some kind of creative force (which for me is an affectual tonality), that you can both harness and be carried along by – an excursion into the unknown that is creativity. Of course there are always ideas in the back of your mind about what it might look like, but for me these need to remain vague, excessive and speculative. And the results never end up exactly where you thought they would take you if you are really invested in the process of making.
To take a very simple concrete example, my work involves a lot of sewing. This could be a fairly predictable process (if you had the skills), whereby a pattern is made and the sculptures sewn accurately from the pattern, just as a good dress maker would do. In my process I start from drawings, then make patterns, then cut fabric, then sew it, just as in clothes production, but I try to imbue each step with a rethinking and redrawing. That means I actively try to think and draw each stage afresh – the pattern differs in subtle ways from the drawing, the cutting reactiviates and rethinks the pattern’s lines, the sewing rediscovers the cut edge. This, as I would describe to my painting students, is a little like the difference between drawing a series of objects on a canvas and then colouring them in with paint, and actively thinking and making the forms with each brushstroke.
At the same time as this intuitive, vague process, I do read a lot of philosophical texts, and while I’m extremely wary of trying to illustrate a concept, this does feed into the work in both vague and specific ways. At times it might simply be that this reading helps shape my response to situations, while at other times there has been an attempt to think through potential of a concept through art making.
This happened, for example, in the exhibition Entertaining the Environment (2012), based on a concept by Erin Manning, where a number of artists (including Erin herself), attempted to make art in response to this concept as a proposition: what might a work that entertains itself or its environment be ? At the time I’m not sure any of us, including Erin, really had a complete conceptual answer, so we were certainly not illustrating something we knew, but trying to think it through making. Through this experiment Erin Manning perhaps was able to define this better through the concept of the ‘minor gesture’ (see "Weather Patterns, or How Minor Gestures Entertain the Environment." In Complex Ubiquity Effects : Individuating, Situating, Eventualizing, edited by Jay David Bolter Ulrick Ekman, Lily Diaz, Morten Sondergaard, Maria Engberg. New York : Routledge, forthcoming, 2014), which again, as a slippery term, is ripe for artistic experimentation, and Erin, Sam Spurr and I are currently working on a new iteration of Weather Patterns exploring the concept (to be exhibited in the first instance at Rubicon ARI in Melbourne September 2015).
Having just finished a PhD I’ve been forced to make very explicit links between art/art making and writing/philosophy for the last four years, but in general I’d prefer to have the two practices running in parallel, without having to justify their connections. To me this is a research-creation model: thinking through making and creating through philosophy.
The two activities will probably continue to contaminate each other but in a different manner without having to justify their connections.
Emotion with emotions of the audience
What emotions do you feel towards your work of art and what emotions have you observed in the public and concerning which work of art specifically ?
Like any artist I often feel very disapointed and frustrated with my work – when it doesn’t operate, and/or when it operates too well and fails to exceed my expectations. Unfortunately there is also always a lot of stress in setting up and maintaining works that tends to colour my own experience of the works, as they break down often. I don’t think I can really experience my own work in the way that an ‘innocent’ participant might, as I can’t really ever divorce myself from thinking about all the systems and whether its operating properly. It’s better, I think, to be able to approach the work without any concern or interest in the mechanics of the interactivity, and my work really denies such knowledge to the casual participant, addressing them on an intentionally ‘dumb’ sensual and affective level.
In terms of the responses I’ve observed, of course these run from disinterest to deep engagement, laughter (humour is a key element in my work) and/or unease. If the work can provoke a sense of playfulness I think that’s good, as really I’m asking the audience to engage on a level of play – a certain suspension of disbelief, experimentation and perhaps lightness of engagement that might occur in play. Which is not to say that ‘play’ is necessarily nice or safe or tame – in fact it might be quite the opposite.
Perhaps the work that went some way to achieving this playfulness without being in any way ‘nice’ or pleasant was Momo, a large, very pink and very phallic environment which utilised text from Artaud’s play of the same namethat formed part of the initial impetus for the work. It consisted of an installation of soft sculpture pieces utilizing metallic and bright pink fabrics (with the walls of the gallery painted the same fluorescent pink), and with internal pulsing lights and a generative soundscape). The sound was made principally of loops of words and phrases from Artaud’s text, reconfigured by being cut up and reconstructed through the participants’ movement. The central sculpture ‘conversed’ with people in the space, becoming more active as approached, and other sculptural pieces echoed these words and distributed the sounds through the space. Principally the work explored the role of movement and affect in the disruption of relation.
The words were very violent, sexual and angst ridden, and the extreme colour of the room (very bright fluorescent pink) was quite overwhelming, yet I think it achieved a balance between a fantastic (in the true sense of the word) landscape and being inside the head of an insane person (Artaud) that came across as just absurd enough while still powerful. I think it was provoking and weird enough and violent enough (violence and humour being very close together) to create more complex engagement over time.
Do these emotions make you change your artistic intentions, and if so, how ?
With a recent work, Orgasmatron, a lot of people reported that it felt ‘nice’ and ‘relaxing’. This annoyed me, as although the work was intended to be sensual and gentle, these are not very deep responses. The problem, I think, for any work that demands a high level of attentiveness and care is that most people have been habitualised into a very different type of interaction with participatory works. We’ve come to expect immediate ‘pay-off’ for any actions – the demonstration of some connection or a sense of immediate agency over a work. This is a generalisation of course, but I think it reflects the didactic nature of most interactivity. It’s very different from the way we expect to relate to a painting, although even there many people expect an immediate understanding and rush straight to the explanatory texts rather than taking time to really look.
So the questions for me are always how to prolong an engagement, how to break habitual responses and defenses against such an engagement, how to encourage a deeper attention both to aspects of the work and one’s own body, and how to provoke and trouble without just turning people away. I think by getting closer to these aims there will necessarily be a greater range and depth of nuanced response and interaction, without having to try to predicate any particular emotion or interaction. I think about how to balance the seductiveness necessary to encourage participation with my desire to create some independant internal motivation within a work that doesn’t focus on human subjectivity (which might be called ‘agency,’ although I’m trying to avoid using that term here).
In assessing a work I’m always thinking about the level of success in these areas, and how I might achieve a better result (keeping in mind that these are very open-ended aims that have no particular outcome in mind, and that there must be many ways to achieve them). Often this is as much from observing people at play in the work as it is from their verbal response. With the Orgasmatron, many people just stayed a few minutes, left saying they had enjoyed it, but a few people stayed 30-40 minutes, or went in it 4-5 times – in a way these people are my ideal audience. Often they had nothing at all to say afterwards, but you could see that they were still processing and being affected.
Being there is an expression by itself and watching them a source of comments. Spending time also expresses a lot.
Which of your artworks have induced emotions the most ? Can you describe them ?
I would say Momo, as described above.
In what terms did the participants refer to their emotion or was it rather their body language that was expressing it ?
Mainly this was from observation of body language – which is perhaps better as people tend to self-edit when describing their emotions. Some people found this work quite taxing, particularly something about the oppressive quality of the pink colour of both the sculptures and the walls, but it was also humouress in its excess.
Searching and writing about affect
Have you written any articles or collaborated on interviews that deal with affect or emotion in regards with you works of art ?
In the writing that I’ve published I’ve tried to avoid talking about my own work. There is a short conversation piece in which Erin Manning and I touch on these issues : “Entertaining the environment: a conversation”, Fibreculture Journal21, (2012): 124-135.
I’ve written about affect in a piece on Lygia Clark: “Entertaining the Environment: Towards an Ethics of Art events”, AJE: Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology, Vol. 3, (2013/2014): 61-71.
Beyond that my PhD thesis covers the area of affect and feeling in depth and discusses my own work in relation to process philosophy.
When you came to the residency at the SenseLab/SAT en 2012, you were working on interactivity with the notion of the ‘parasite’ from Michel Serres. As a way to end our conversation, could you sum up the discussion of your thesis regarding affect and feeling ?
My PhD focussed on the creative role of disruption to relation, drawing on Serres’ concept of the parasite, a mobile, third position in any relation. Some of these disruptions to relation were very concrete (such as utilising parametricism in programming), while others such as discussions and experiments with affectual tonalities were more ephemeral. I was researching how affects, sensations, movement and (Whiteheadian) feelings might disrupt established connections to create new and more mobile relations. On reflection, I would now say that really the investigation was primarily concerned with the expansion of potential for components of an interactive event to feel in order to create a more ethical form of interactive art, as I’ve discussed above. Of course being a practic-based PhD, the exploration was always larger and fuzzier than this narrow description.
1. I am very grateful to Adam Szymanski for his copy-editing help.
Unprofessional Painting, Unprofessional Teaching, Inflexions Issue 8, 2015.
Parasitic Relations: Thinking Beyond Interactivity, PhD Thesis, Monash University, 2014.
Entertaining the Environment: Towards an Ethics of Art events, 2013, AJE: Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology, Vol. 3, 2013/2014
Walking with the world: towards an ecological approach to performative art practice, version of a paper presented at “The Art of Walking: Pedestrian Mobility in Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts from the Eighteenth Century to the Twenty-First”, 9-11 October, 2013, ENS de Lyon, France.
The noise in the noise: micro-perception as affective disruption to listening and the body, Expanded version of a paper presented at “The Noises of Art: Audiovisual Practice in History, Theory and Culture”, 4-6 September 2013, Aberystwyth University, UK.
A thousand tiny interfac(ing)s, 2013, Version of a paper presented at ISEA 2013 (peer reviewed), Sydney University, 12/6/13.
Entertaining the environment: a conversation, 2012, Co-authored with Erin Manning, Fibreculture Journal, 21, 2012
Rethinking Interactivity, 2012, Conference paper from the Australasian Computer Music Conference, Griffith University, Brisbane, July 2012 (Peer reviewed), published in ACMC Interactive conference preceedings, Ed. Matt Hitchcock (Victoria: Australasian Computer Music Association, 2012).
Stillness, silence. 201, Reflections on group process at the ‘Generating the Impossible’ conference, Montreal2011.
The gaze of Medusa catalogue essay, 2006, Catalogue essay for ‘Life is getting Longer’ exhibition, curated by Stephen Rendall. (A re-write of the journal article of the same name below), catalogue essay, Margaret Laurence Gallery, VCA, Melbourne. Re-published 2008 in ‘Bureau’, Ed.Kate Daw & Vikki McInnes, VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne.
The gaze of Medusa : Notes on Justine Khamara’s Legion at TCB, 2006, Review of Justine Khamara’s show at TCB Gallery, Melbourne, Natural Selection online journal (#5).
Toyutopia Catalogue Introductory essay, 2005, ‘Toyutopia’ was an exhibition curated by Andrew Goodman that brought together 14 contemporary artists whose work utilized toys in some manner, Yarra Sculpture Gallery, Melbourne
Untitled catalogue essay, 2004, Catalogue essay on Justine Khamara’s photographic portrait of the author in the ‘Life is very long’exhibition curated by Stephen Rendall, ‘Life is very long’ catalogue, Yarra Sculpture gallery, 2004.
Andrew Goodman a contemporary artist whose work encompasses soft sculpture, sound, lights and electronics, and sometimes video into immersive installations, usually featuring generative or interactive elements. He has an Honours degree in drawing from VCA and a PhD in Philosophy from Monash University.
Current artworks explore the possibility of the event of relation between the viewer or participant and the installations being viewed as the actual work, rather than the objects or sounds themselves which might then operate more as techniques of engagement. The works references popular culture explorations of excessive or malleable bodies, in particular anime such as Spirited away, comics, Japanese stuffed toys, and science fiction pre-digital effects and costumes.
Andrew’s recently completed PhD at Monash University (2014), entitled ‘Parasitic relations: thinking beyond interactivity’, explored the concept of noise or interference in relation as a creative event.
Ph.D. en sémiologie de l’Université du Québec à Montréal, MAGG 2014, Louise Boisclair est auteure-conférencière et chercheure postdoctorale à l’Université de Montréal (FRQSC 2014-2016) sur le rôle de l’affect dans l’expérience immersive et interactive. Membre de la rédaction d’Archée, elle a aussi publié de nombreux articles, deux chapitres dans la collection « Esthétique » aux PUQ en 2013 et un chapitre dans Figures de l’art #26- Arts immersifs, dispositifs & expériences en 2014, qui lui a valu le Prix Étudiant-Chercheur-Étoiles, FRQSC, octobre 2014. Vient de paraître au début 2015 son livre intitulé L’installation interactive : une laboratoire d’expériences perceptuelles pour le participant-chercheur aux Presses de l’Université du Québec, collection « Esthétique », grâce au Prix d’auteurs pour l’édition savante (PAES). Son prochain livre, à paraître en 2016, s’intitule Affect et expérience esthétique : de l’immersion interactive à la voix de l’événement. Artiste, elle a réalisé entre autres le film expérimental Variations sur le hook up et le prototype du conte visuel interactif Variations sur Menamor et Coma. En 2012, elle a participé à la recherche-création collective Into the Midst lors d’une résidence au SenseLab et à la SAT. Elle est membre du SenseLab et du groupe élargi IMMEDIATION (partenariat CRSH) co-dirigés par Erin Manning et Brian Massumi. Ses recherches croisent art actuel/ interactivité/ immersion/ perception/ corporéité/ expérience esthétique/ affect/ empathie/ thérapeutique/ écriture expérientielle/ recherche-création/ mandala/ tai chi.