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David Rokeby : I’m an interactive artist; I construct experiences

Louise Boisclair

section entretiens

Long Wave, David Rokeby, LuminaTO, Toronto

Interactive installations would not have became what they are without pioneers like David Rokeby who devoted three decades to tame them, making them accessible, subtle and fruitful of complex resonances. His artworks speak several languages, visual, auditory, proprioceptive, synesthetic. Their vocabulary is rooted in our relationship with the world and the perception of our every move. Coupling calculated programming and artistic intention open and original, Rokeby talks about his artistic development by revisiting several works with his visceral understanding of interactivity or interaction, particularly the creative sap of  Very Nervous System and the subtle composition of Taken. As the lamplighter of the Little Prince, David Rokeby is a consciousness lighter.

About interactivity 

The Giver of Names, David Rokeby

L. B. : David Rokeby, to start this interview, as you describe yourself as an « interactive artist who creates experiences »1, I would like to ask you your definition of interactivity and how it has evolved in nearly 30 years of artistic practice?

D. R. : I started thinking about interactivity before I was working with computers for my artworks. I was interested in art systems that somehow incorporated the viewer in the creation of the work. I had a very broad sense of how this might be accomplished. In the end I suppose, I decided to slant things towards the artist’s intention rather than any explicit mechanism of interaction. One can argue that any work has an element of interactivity in it. I was interested particularly in work where the artist explicitly left room for the subjectivity of the viewer. This sort of challenge intrigued me, and, I felt, addressed some of the problems that have come to exist between artists and audience in the last century. So I do not privilege work that uses some explicit sort of interactive interface. As I have written elsewhere, an interactive interface can just as easily prevent experience as it can enable experience.

Among the things I explored in the early 80s where explicitly interactive interfaces, and I got quite excited about them. I guess I had a bit of a utopian approach. I felt that by giving people a sense of agency through interaction, that they would understand that their actions had consequences and that they therefore would develop a sense of responsibility (i.e. knowing that I affect the world around me is affirming and gives me a sense of power but understanding the consequences of that power I hoped would bring people to a state where they would simultaneously act and perceive... to affect the world, but even as they affected it, to carefully observe the impact that one had... that is to say, to fully engage in the loop of feedback.

In the late 80s I began to realize that people did not want the responsibilities that I felt were inherent in interaction, or indeed, life. They were looking for a sense of engagement and affirmation with no strings (consequences) attached. This was simultaneously depressing, and alarming, because I realized that abuse of interactive technologies would seem to point directly to a disengaged public, trapped in a feedback loop that did not extend out through the world... playing at participation, but engaging with neither the power nor the responsibility that it involves. The utopian dreams were dashed!

I remembered at that point that interaction is everywhere and banal. The artworld was an exceptional place where interaction had mostly been abolished, but most of life was always and constantly multidimensionally interactive. Interaction still seemed to me to be a useful way to represent systems and relations. I looked forward to the day when interaction was just another tool in the artist’s toolkit, to be used on occasion where appropriate.

I used interaction from time to time now, when the situation seems right. The whole question of interactivity remains a very interesting one for me in the broader sense, beyond the bounds of a particular branch of new media art.

L. B. : If I may ask, what distinction do you make between interaction and interactivity? Your answer would help me to make the nuance in french.

D. R. : I do not think I make any strong distinction.... normally I think I use interaction to refer to an individual's relation to a work, and interactivity to refer to the more abstract notion of interaction in works, although I am sure that I am not consistent in this...

L. B. : Also you declared that you wanted to create a more humanistic exchange between human and computer, what do you mean by that and how has it Taken form?

Watch, David Rokeby

D. R. : It is not exactly that I want to create a more humanistic exchange between human and computer. It is more like that I want to create a more humanistic exchange between people through a computer, or between me and myself through the computer. Working with the computer is among other things, an act of communication with oneself. Even writing with a word processor is an act of communicating with oneself. The words and ideas as edited and restructured come back to you as the other part of a peculiar kind of dialogue. I have written extensively about the interactive system as a transforming mirror.

It is true that the computer’s very existence seemed to present a direct and obvious challenge. Its resistance to human modes of communication I took as a provocation and set about seeing what could be done to make create richer interfaces. I like a challenge.

But the real motivation here was not to allow computers and humans to cozy up to each other, but to probe what a computer is, and how it relates to what we are, what we think we are and what we wish we were. And then, to step beyond that, how does the computer’s presence in our culture change who we think we are.

L. B. : Some theoreticians, I think mainly of Lev Manovich and Jean-Paul Fourmentraux by example, criticize this notion as being tautological or to broad, or use other expressions, like médias partiquables. We see also ‘arts programmés’, probably from Umberto Eco, etc. How do you position yourself within these tendencies?

D. R. : I don’t read many media theoreticians. I don’t really enjoy arguing about definitions, and I do not like labels to restrict what I do. I do what seems obvious and interesting to me.

L. B. : How do you approach interactivity, how do you decide what type of devices you will develop, how do you define a successful interactivity? Basically you are your first interactor, the fist participant. What criteria do you use to evaluate?

D. R. : My approach is on one hand largely pragmatic and experiential. I probe and test and try out things. I am guided in my choice of interfaces and technologies by my interests. I am interested in perception, so I often explored perceptual interfaces, that is to say, interfaces that are required to make judgements and generalizations rather than that respond to simple quantitative stimula. For myself, I seek to destabilize myself and surprise myself. I like to pose situations to myself that draw out unexpected responses from myself. So when I am developing a work, I am working in a very rational way (since I am programming) looking for the completely unexpected experience not predicted by the what I understand of the system (including myself).

L. B. : Is interactivity going to disappear with the miniaturization and the sophistication of the interfaces ?

D. R. : It does not go away, but it may become transparent. Is that what you mean? I am very interested in the problem posed by the interface that one cannot sense and therefore cannot critique or interrogate. Any interface of this sort inevitably creates a distortion of one’s sense of one’s self, since the behavior of the invisible interface must be incorporated into one’s model of one’s self. This is why I have written about the implications of constructing experiences through programming. The programmer in this case is in a sense modifying the interactor, changing their relationship to themselves and the world. As this act of modification becomes impossible to locate or detect, it becomes politically problematic.

Years of development and sources of inspiration 

Seen, Biennale de Venise, David Rokeby, 2002

L. B. : Can you speak about what talents, interests and motivations brought you to the creation of interactive art work ? Is it something that you dreamt of when you were a kid? How did it appear in your life and how did it became a constant in your life?  You seem to be in your « element » as Ken Robinson qualifies people whose work seem to be a passion that lasts.

D. R. : I think creating interactive experiences has been for me a way to bridge theory (scientific and cultural) and embodied practice. I never feel comfortable unless I am in the act of connecting an idea with a thing. I always had a very sensuous connection to ideas. It took me a long time through my teens to find an outlet for this odd mixture. Working as I do, not only interactively, give me a way to keep connecting the abstract and the particular.

It started in my life in Art school. I was looking for ways to address the viewer’s subjectivity. I was troubled by the fact that when I mixed sounds together, every combination was interesting, and so I was unsure what my role as organizer of those sounds was. Interactive systems allowed me to present the set of potential combinations rather than the combinations themselves. I was looking for ways of representing or sculpting or twisting time... All these things were part of what led me there. I had separated myself from society at some point in my teens, and interactivity was also a way to explore and reclaim the value of social relations.

As for how it became a constant... it was for a time, a way to bring all my interests and questions together into one large enterprise. There was in 1989, however, the first glimmer of the fact that everything I did did not have to be interactive. Interactivity is somehow a surface feature of a set of interests that more correctly correspond to the deep set of interests that drive my passion.

L. B. : You mainly create interactive installations, what artistic filiations of installations, interactive or not, have inspired you ? Did you yourself practice music, painting, sculpture or any other medium? Any direct influence from your family? Were you fan of video games?

D. R.: As a boy, I drew cars and buildings and guitars and typefaces. I played guitar. I did some kinetic sculpture at the end of high school. I almost became an architect and a graphic designer. I wrote music for films. My family is not very artistically active. I think my father’s creativity was quite damaged by early experiences of rejection and criticism. I can fall into addiction with video games, but I have never been a fan. I could perhaps be a fan of making video games, but not of playing them.

L. B. : How about school, as an artist did you get along well in an organized environment, was it a good framework ? How did it serve, if it did, your artistic mission and your vision of projects to accomplish?

D. R. : I had a very unorganized school experience at the Ontario College of Art. I had many radical teachers who inspired me. I quickly organized my own trajectory. I had the good fortune at OCA to have a few teachers who worked in computers and electronics and this made it easier to ignore the fact that for most people, art must not have anything to do with things like computers.

The sap of the tree : Very Nervous System 

Very Nervous System, David Rokeby

L. B. : On your Web site, I counted 28 installations in the list. Fondation Langlois Web Site distincts two principal roads : « l'une explore la perception visuelle et le temps au travers de ce que filment les caméras de surveillance. […] L'autre piste […] mène au langage, celui des humains et celui des machines, et comment ils (se) représentent le monde; dans cette exposition Le donneur de noms (1991-) et n-cha(n)t (2001).2 »  How do you yourself group them? Do you identify periods, if it suits the evolution of your artwork?

D. R. : Very Nervous System was born as a rough and broad idea in 1979. It started to narrow and take shape in 1981, and I worked on it pretty steadily until about 1991. This period is the trunk of the tree. In 1991, the language / perception branch split off as I started to work on the Giver of Names... moving away from real-time interaction. In 1995 the surveillance / real-time visual branch split off starting with the installation Watch So one trunk became 2 branches through the 90s. In 2000 I started to broaden out again. At first the work did not change much but how works came about did. I started to enjoy working on site-specific installations. Up until then I had not liked them much. In fact now it is one of my favourite work related pleasures to go to a space and imagine what I might do there. And I have no way of knowing where I might end up. Perhaps no media at all, and I love being this unpredictable to myself.

L. B. : Your artwork became famous all over the world with, many would say, Very Nervous System (1986-90), the third one on the list,  which was preceeded by Body Language(1984-86) and Reflexions (1983). Is there a link between these three installations? How do you yourself feel about the success of Very Nervous System?  Also the title suggests an acute sensibility or sensitivity. And the body movements make us think of a dancing improvisation or a tai chi choreography.

D. R. : There is a direct line from Reflexions to Body Language to Very Nervous System. I kept finding new names I liked better than the old ones...

The success of Very Nervous System was a huge blessing and a substantial curse. I had the opportunity to show all around the world in some amazing shows, met wonderful artists, etc. But when your first major work is a big success, it is sometimes hard to come up with another work that matches its success. I spent a lot of time living in the shadow of Very Nervous System. I think it was not until 1993 that I started to feel that there was life after Very Nervous System.

L. B. : Very Nervous System led you to invent a software called VNS. May you elaborate on this happening of the art work and of the software ? As you know, many artists have used VNS for their own artwork? Je pense notamment à Wald de l’artiste allemand Chris Ziegler et KinéFusion de l’artiste montréalais Robert Chrétien.  How do you explain this ‘engouement’?

Very Nervous System image, David Rokeby

D. R. : Very Nervous System was initially both a medium and an artwork in that medium. This got to be confusing. At a certain point I started to deliberately differentiate between the system and the artwork. At the same time (1989 or so) I started to have interest from other artists to work with my system, usually in very different ways than I did. In about 1985 or so I wrote a text called "Dreams of an Instrument Maker." This reflected my sense that there was creativity in the making of instruments (creation of VNS) and in the creative use of those instruments. Offering a powerful creative technology to others to use as they see fit was an exciting venture for me, which gave me a way of experiencing the creativity of instrument making and of instrument using with more clarity than when the two were united in my practise. Instrument making in this way is meta-interactive art making. I love handing people a pile of potential, like giving them dynamite. I also liked the feeling that I did not have to explore every possibility for VNS anymore... Others could take some of it on.

L. B. :  There is also another very important dimension associated with Very Nervous System, qui a donné lieu à une adaptation thérapeutique pour des enfants handicapés, que la professeure torontoise Jutta Treviranus a présentée à l’occasion du colloque Mobile/Immobilisé3. Did you yourself think of this therapeutic dimension during the art processing? What do you think of this specific case, on one hand, but also in general of the therapeutic dimension of interactive art, on the other hand?

D. R. : I think it is inevitably part of the therapeutic dimension of interactive art. Any interactive artwork has something prosthetic about it. It is an alteration, or augmentation of the body and or mind of the user. It provides experiences that can change your relationships to yourself and body. I did not think of the use of it in explicit therapeutic contexts while I was making it, but it may be that I was creating for myself a kind of therapy that I instinctively felt I needed.

Taken : between surveillance and a plays with memory and perception 

Taken, David Rokeby

L .B. : In september 2009, during the « Mois de la photo » à la Maison de la culture Plateau-Mont-Royal in Montréal, I experimented Taken.  At the beginning, I was surprised by the simplicity of the installation. For instance, it demands of the part of the participant mainly to look at the giant screen, to walk and move, trying to influence the image of himself as generated by the software. But afterwards, I found its resonances particularly complex. To start with, why do you (if it is you) qualify it of « installation de surveillance » instead of « jeu avec la perception et la mémoire » or any other expression? It did not appear to me particularly critical of the surveillance society, moreover using the technology for playing with the perception and memory.

D. R. : I think it is both a surveillance installation and a game with perception and memory. IT is not intended to be pointedly critical of surveillance society. Most of my surveillance pieces are not particularly critical of surveillance society. They are however, installations that enact surveillance.

Taken is a space that complicated the space between yourself and your image. This complication is something that I have explored before in installations like Silicon Remembers Carbon, though in a very different way. Before creating Taken, I had been quite careful to avoid situations where the audience looks at itself in an interactive piece. This mirroring situation is a popular and powerful mode for interactive installations, but not one that I was particularly interested in. In Taken, the relationship between your proprioceptively sensed body, and the image on the screen, and the space around you is complicated. In one case, you cannot readily identify which of your images in the projection is you NOW. In another case, the system removes you from space, or deprives you from the ability to move you image through space. In another case, you, lonely in the room, swim in a flood of remembered visitors. In another case, you are judged or described by a system that cannot understand you. These are all experiences that are present in some way in our relationships with computers and media. I suppose one of my motivations was to make these everyday experiences strange enough to experience again.

L. B. : How did the « mise en abîme », the gallery in a gallery, came to you ?

D. R. : The gallery in a gallery was really the result of another set of calculations. I did not think of it in that way initially. To be honest, the piece started as the solution to a problem I kept running into. With some of my pieces, like Watch, there is often not enough activity outside on the street to make the piece satisfying. I figured that by pointing the camera inward, there would always be someone in the image if someone was looking at it. Of course this is a trivial and purely pragmatic start. Not enjoying interactive pieces where you watch your own silhouette or image on a projection, I then had to make this kind of reflexive space interesting to me.  

Echoing Narcissus Image, David Rokeby

The simplest way I know to do this is to substitute narcissus with echo... insert refractions into the reflection that energize the relationship between the onlooker and their own image. McLuhan said that Narcissus was a servo-mechanism of his own reflection. Taken adds several layers of resonance to the mechanism, which increases the interest and loosens the lock. Narcissus cannot be conscious. He is engaged in mechanical reflection. The imperfect relation of action and response produces (self-) consciousness.

L. B. : Very interesting, also it seems that three main categories reassemble the plastic, iconic and interactive figures of your installation. I think of codage, combinatoire et classement. Furthermore, it appears to me that the dominant effect can be synthetised by ‘effet de mémoire de la mémoire’ without forgetting the leurre or the irony produced by the alliage with words.

D. R. :… coding, combination and classification... an effect of memory of the memory... The memory of memory seems to me to relate to consciousness. If I want to dig deeper, I would say that coding, combination and classification are ways that we denature our experience, and that is certainly at play in Taken. I have always felt that one of the great gifts the computer offers us is a way of making the familiar strange to us. And consciousness seems to me to arise from a sense of the strangeness of self.

L. B. : It is funny because I made a mistake in this question : I wrote mémoire de la mémoire and I meant miroir de la mémoire... Does that change your answer ?

D. R. : Well the mirror of memory and the memory of memory are not so different if you think of memory as a distorting and delaying mirror of experience. As a mirror of memory, Taken is very literal, unlike our own memory seems to be highly selective. Therefore, like Machine for Taken Time, it reflects an unattainable memory experience... a mechanical memory experience that is alien to our memory experience. On the other hand, memory is a very resonant and very human thing and so even in its strangeness, these different kinds of memory resonate with a kind of poetry... Although these pieces involve a memory-like system that is unusually precise and literal, the strangeness of the resulting experience makes them feel more like dream-memory or fantasy-memory. I have always been fascinated that literal things created by computer create dream spaces when digested as human experience. One of the strange ironies of the computer in our culture.

L. B. : As noticed in your demo accessible on YouTube, when the participant spends enough time, he can play with what you call the « visual echo », the main interactive figure. I did produce a visual echo, but it was not as elaborate… The demonstration that you make is fascinating, but I suppose it would take a good amount of practice to be as habile to generate such effect. Or may be some people are born with this ability of spatial intelligence, as kids by example ?

D. R. : That was something that a young woman did at the opening of the first exhibition of the work. Nobody realized what she was doing until we suddenly noticed that she had created a chain of herself right across the space.

L. B. : About the echo, how long is it, since it reverberates, becomes fade and disappears. Furthermore, it operates at many different levels. The way the visitor plays with its image and how the screen  returns the mirror of his action in the room and its disappearing in the time. How long lasts an echo and how long lasts the installation itself, is it in terms of days, weeks? Does the guardian turn it of at night and start it again the next morning ?

D.  R. : The delay is about 30 seconds from one repetition to the next. When there is action in the room, the echos decay faster. When there is no action in the room, there is no decay at all. So echos can stay on the screen forever, if there is no action on the screen and the computer remains on. However, usually, the computer is shut down at night. On start up, there is an initial set of "echoes' which are all me from some past show, because otherwise, the one screen would be completely black at the start...

The decay is set to decay faster when there is action because there is a limit of accumulation of echoes where they stop being readable at all, and become a kind of unreadable noise. So I balance the system to keep a reasonable level of history, while making the image digestible.

L. B. : There is another phenomena about experimenting interactive work in general that I would like to hear from you. Very often, the experimentation is destabilizing and, in some way, a bit depressing. We have to ‘work’ to find the way to interact and mean while sometimes disconnect or loose some of the pleasure of contemplating what happens. Either it takes quite some time to understand the atmosphere and the intention of the purpose or either it requires some special ability to manipulate the interface. I feel it is different with your installations. The simplicity of interacting with it incites us to pay attention with the link between movement and visual and to go on with playing with it. Of course the more we experiment and observe other people experimenting, the more we get out of it. But also the pleasure of it grows when we search how it works and what it is all about. That is what happened to me since I studied it with a phenomenological and a semiotic approach. But I read some comments in the book of the visitors and they were literally seduced by Taken. Do you have a similar impression with interactive installation in general?

D. R. : Well, I like to make the mode of interaction as natural as possible so that the destabilization (which is also necessary) is very intimate and close. The refraction in the interactive system seems to operate within the viewer then rather than within the technology. This is both useful and exciting and dangerous (as I mention in the first or second answer of this interview). Or perhaps more properly, the destabilization is sensed as being integral to the experience that the person is having rather than as being part of an external system. It is therefore not alienating in the conventional sense and creating distance between you and the system / artwork. It may create distance between you and your self or your experience...

L. B. : When I experimented Taken, very few informations were given on the pamphlet available. I was intrigued by the difficulty of understanding where exactly was located the camera, if there were more than one, and how the capture of the participant was programmed to provoke this feeling of insecurity generated by the specular effect of the system on the giant screen  and the reduction and stylization of the image of the bodies. I was also wandering if the apparition of the words on the zoom was related to specific angle or random.

Machine For Taking Time, David Rokeby

D. R. : The camera position is very important to the success of the installation. We expect a mirror, but because the camera is far to one side, our internal map from image to space is very different from the actual map of position in the image to position in space. This allows one to see oneself from outside, in a sense, and to lose track of oneself, and to identify with a past self accidentally. We see ourselves as an object, at the same time as we feel ourselves as a subject. This is one way that the piece is a surveillance piece, but one where the act of surveying and being surveyed are folded into one another. (again like consciousness?) The words are chosen randomly, but the selection of possible words was made so that each description would have double meanings, or ambiguities which made them seem more applicable than randomness would seem to allow.

Technically speaking an infrared sensitive video camera is placed in the upper corner of the room. Infrared lights illuminate the space. A computer capture the live video stream. The computer software separates people from the background of the room. It then calculates the approximate location of their heads. A digital zoom algorithm is used to zoom in onto a person's head. This is not like an optical zoom. There is no additional image information in the zoomed version so it is blurring and somewhat indistinct (like most surveillance images of faces that we are asked to identify). This zoomed image is shown on one of the two projections. The image remains live, but the computer maintains its tracking on the head, making it difficult to escape the center of the image, even when jumping or moving quickly. When the system has completely zoomed in, an adjectival phrase is presented above or below the image of the head. This phrase is chosen at random from a set of possibilities. These texts have been selected for having multiple meanings and a vague generalness that makes them seem apt despite being random. This use of randomness was a conscious decision because I have done work that ascribes descriptions in a much more intentional and meaningful way, but such a system is more complicated, and in this case, it seemed to me, unnecessarily complicated.

The other process visible on the screens is the accumulation of the actions in the space over time. This is done with a 30 second video loop. New actions are added to the loop and the overall loop slowly fades away over time. Many copies of ones-self are often seen simultaneously.

The position of the camera is important to the feeling of the piece. The camera never produces a proper mirror image because of its position above and far to one side or the other. It therefore becomes hard to properly orient yourself to the image. This also makes it possible to mistake older recordings of ones-self for the current video image of yourself. This misTaken mirroring is something that has long been interesting to me. It speaks about our literacy or relative lack of literacy in grasping ourselves within an external image. »

L. B. : If we may go back to the list, it seems that the following installations are all related with Taken one way or the other. I think mostly of Machine For Taking Time (Boul. Saint-Laurent) (2007), Taken (2002), and Watched and Measured (2000). Do theses installations constitute a work in progress or are they real distinct pieces?

D. R. : Watched and Measured is a precursor of Taken. There was actually another installation called Guardian Angel before Taken that carried on directly from Watched and Measured. Machine for Taking Time is related in its complex relationship to time and memory, but I would not have grouped them together myself.

Other related activities and the next future  

Cloud explained, David Rokeby

L. B. : Considering that you were already at Biennale de Venise in 1986, before many other participations aftewards, and have been honored entre autres by le Prix du gouverneur général en arts visuels et médiatiques en 2002, can we conclude that financing have not been a real issue for your work ? 

D. R. : I wish I could say that that was true. I have been lucky. I have had lots of opportunities to show and received awards, etc. Nonetheless, there never seems to be enough money! I have to keep many balls in the air all the time to keep enough money coming in to pay bills...

L. B. : I understand that you give workshops to artists interested with interactive programming, is teaching an important activity of your time schedule ?

D. R. : It has not been a major activity. It comes in spurts. I may do more in the future.

L. B. : How do you see the future of interactive installations, if I may ask you as I did with other interactive artists? How do you see the development of devices, their short and middle term evolution? Will they be more and more integrated to clothes, to become miniaturized in our glasses, to be inserted in the body itself, and so on ? How about detection?

D. R. : I don’t think about it much. I thought a lot about these interfaces when there were very few around because I found they allowed me to ask questions in a new way. It is not that I do not think that really great stuff can be done with all these new developments in technology, but my interests have shifted.

Surface_Tension, Eve Egoyan and David Rokeby, 2009

L. B. : What project are you working on these days ?

D. R. : My major project for the next year is a work that explores the way we consume images. It is a commission for a new gallery at Ryerson University here in Toronto and the whole show is related to a large archive of photojournalistic photos. Each artist is approaching this archive in their own way. I am looking at the way we digest a historical image in order to place ourselves in time, space and history, as it were, at the position in time space of the lense of the camera that took the picture. This is partly related to explorations that were part of the Giver of Names. In particular, the role of detail in perception, versus the role of larger scale features of an image. I figure this sounds pretty abstract at this point, but I am very excited about it... I am up to other stuff as well... some large public art works, a continuation of a long term exploration of the voice as a place of meeting between language and the body, continued explorations of time...

L. B. : To conclude, for students, artists, searchers who will read this this fascinating interview, what kind of testimony would you like to transmit ? Among all your artwork, what project are you the most proud of and why?

D. R. : Certainly Very Nervous System is a key to my whole oeuvre. Most of what followed was stimulated by experiences and observations made during its development. I am very proud of the Giver of Names for its simple framing of enormous complexity and of Watch for the resonance of its simplicity. But, in fact, I no longer feel qualified to judge the works in this way. I love n-cha(n)t like I would love a trouble-some but brilliant child, and no work of mine has surprised me more. I love long wave because I never expected to create anything like it, and I enjoy surprising myself more than anything... it is not an IMPORTANT WORK, but it made me deliriously happy. It takes me about 10 years to really understand past work, since I work very intuitively, so there is much recent work that I cannot assess at all yet...

I am not sure that I have anything to say about a legacy that I would like to transmit. I have put works, and words out there. They will resonate where they will...



1 David Rokeby, « Construire l’expérience, l’interface comme contenu », article publié en anglais dans Digital Illusions (2000) et en traduction française dans Interfaces et Sensorialités (2003).

2 Extrait du site Web de la Fondation Langlois, accessible à, consulté le 14 mars 2010.

3 Conférencière, Mobile/Immobilisé. Art, technologies et (in)capacités, colloque dirigé par Louise Poissant et Louis Bec, novembre 2007,, dernière consultation le 24 mars 2010.



Auteure, artiste et chercheure, Louise Boisclair  a publié de nombreux articles pour Archée, Inter art Actuel, Vie des Arts et Parcours. Outre ses œuvres plastiques et médiatiques, elle a créé et produit une cinquantaine de vidéos dont quatre Vidéo-Mag primés. Parmi ses réalisations : le film d’art expérimental, Variations sur le hook up, le mémoire-création, Variations sur le dépassement et L’écho du processus de création, et le prototype du conte visuel interactif, Variations sur Menamor et Coma et Vitrine Cosmos. Ses recherches portent sur  Voir l’image et ses effets à l’ère de l’interactivité. Membre du groupe Performativité et effets de présence, elle est doctorante au programme de sémiologie à l’UQAM. Par ailleurs, elle offre aussi des ateliers de créativité, mandala et peinture gestuelle.

Artiste international né en 1960 à Tillsonburg en Ontario et basé à Toronto, David Rokeby, lauréat du Prix du Gouverneur général en arts visuels et en arts médiatiques 2002, expose depuis 1982 dans de nombreux pays, notamment à la Biennale de Venise en 1986. Sa carrière de près de 30 ans poursuit deux pistes principales : la perception visuelle et le temps à travers les caméras de surveillance, le  langage  des humains, croisé à celui des machines. Rokeby jouit d’une renommée internationale particulièrement associée à son installation interactive sonore Very nervous system (1986-1990). Il a créé le logiciel VNS qui permet de transformer le mouvement de l’interacteur en son, dont plusieurs artistes se sont inspirés pour leurs installations, notamment Wald de l’artiste allemand Chris Ziegler et KinéFusion de l’artiste montréalais Robert Chrétien.



Texts by David Rokeby online
Challenges in Intermodal Translation of Art
Constructing Experience: Interface as Content
Transforming Mirrors: Control and Subjectivity in Interactive Media
Lecture for the Kwangju Biennale (A survey of my works placed in context)
The Harmonics of Interaction (MusicWorks)
Predicting the Weather (MusicWorks)
Dreams of an Instrument Maker (MusicWorks)

Texts on David Rokeby online
Seeing (Dot Tuer)
Disembodied States: Vision, the Body and the Virtual (Dot Tuer)
Interactive Strategies and Dialogical Allegories (Ernestine Daubner)
Dances With Machines, Technology Review, May 1999 (Rebecca Zacks)
Silicon remembers Ideology, or David Rokeby's meta-interactive art (Erkki Huhtamo)
Very Nervous System,Wired Magazine issue 3.03, (Douglas Cooper)

David Rokeby, Taken :
David Rokeby :
Fondation Langlois :
Mobile/Immobilisé. Art, technologies et (in)capacités,


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Cette publication a été rendue possible grâce au soutien financier d'Hexagram, du groupe de recherche des arts médiatiques (GRAM), de la Faculté des arts de l'UQAM, de la Chaire du Canada en esthétique et poétique de l'UQÀM (CEP), ainsi qu'à une subvention, pour une quatorzième année consécutive, du Conseil des arts du Canada (CAC).