Critical Reading #1: Erkki Huhtamo, “Trouble at the Interface, or the Identity Crisis of Interactive Art”

Erkki Huhtamo’s “Trouble at the Interface, or the Identity Crisis of Interactive Art,” provides a brief overview of the history of interactive art. Huhatamo states that this medium is critical of the human-computer relationship, and that it is the combination of subject matter and the medium of interactive art itself which are imperative to its meaning. Through examples given, Huhatamo describes the early works of interactive art as a conscious blending of these two aspects. The parallels drawn between these early works were that “they were publicly exhibited as installations, used computer technology, images and sounds, and were supposed to be ‘activated’ by the user – they required a physical effort from the part of the visitor to function and to reveal their meanings” (Huhtamo, Erkki. “Trouble at the Interface, or the Identity Crisis of Interactive Art.” Framework, The Finnish Art Review. Emily Carr University. Vancouver B.C. 2/2004 ). The aspect of interaction challenges the historical practice of gazing and analyzing a piece of art; user interaction is an imperative support to the subject matter in the examples given by Huhatamo of early interactive art.
The discussion of Ben Rubin’s and Mark Hansen’s Listening Post requires us to question the importance of physical user interactivity which changes and forms a work as opposed to passive interactivity. Huhatamo states that compared to “the ‘interactive classics’, there is nothing interactive in Listening Post” (Huhtamo, Erkki. “Trouble at the Interface, or the Identity Crisis of Interactive Art.” Framework, The Finnish Art Review. Emily Carr University. Vancouver B.C. 2/2004 ). However, he then goes on to describe the earlier interactive works that did not pertain to computer technology. Because the “‘roots’ of interactive media and interactive art go back far beyond the era of digital technology, [i]t is quite possible to conceive complex user-actived interactive artworks that don’t require computers at all” (Huhtamo, Erkki. “Trouble at the Interface, or the Identity Crisis of Interactive Art.” Framework, The Finnish Art Review. Emily Carr University. Vancouver B.C. 2/2004 ).
The conclusion that Huhatamo reaches in this article is that the definition of interactive art is at a crossroads; he believes that the current ideas around it cause “more confusion than clarity” and that perhaps sub categories are necessary for pieces such as Listening Post. This article is successful in providing an idea of interactive art, and also with providing us with an important discussion that is current within the medium.
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