Karenina.it - Art / Interaction



Please ‘do’ Touch the Artwork: New Approaches to Interactivity in Arts, both as an Ideology and a function of New Technology.[1]


Genco Gülan.



Conventional museums or fine art galleries are not designed as interactive enviroments. I believe that restricting the audience to limited participation to artwork should be considered as an ideological choice rather than a technical one. Today, new digital technology and computer networks bring new tools for interaction. But still using these tools does not guarantee a perfect interaction as well. Therefore we should study interactivity in terms of multiple levels of information exchange. In this regard, the net-art exhibition “Reload: Net Art Open 2002” organised by istanbulmuseum.org can be regarded as a useful example.


Key Words: Interactivity, art, museum, net-art, open, ideology, technology


In museums or at the fine art galleries most signs are designed to keep the audience away from the artworks. For example, I’ve always wanted to get closer to the paintings to see the brush strokes or touch a sculpture to feel the material but whenever I tried to get closer, I either hear an electronic alarm ringing or a guardian shouting; “please do ‘not’ touch the artwork”. This traditional approach implies that  these institutions are all about preserving the art and not about exhibiting them.


I believe that restricting the audience to limited interaction with the artwork should be considered as an ideological choice rather than a technical one.[2] Conserving artwork is an important mission but we have to double check our priorities as well. If one can not communicate with an artwork properly what is the use of conserving it?


As a viewer, I always want to interact with the artwork that is why as an artist I am also trying to create projects that invite the audience to interact. I learned the importance of ‘touching the artwork’ literally, when a group of blind students visited my painting exhibition in late 1980’s. I was using a heavy textured paint in my paintings in those days and I immediately let them touch my paintings when they asked about the works and that was how the blind audience had a chance to see my artwork.


It is not easy to communicate with modern art. However today I believe that the new technology and digital networks bring improved tools for interaction. This eases the communication process in certain cases. Still “...the belief that a shared media platform alone could facilitate or even implement a cultural exchange has proved, by and large, to be an illusion encouraged by the superficial resemblence of various interfaces”.[3] This means that using a computer is not a guarantee for the artist to create interactive art.

Before moving any further I would like to put a comma here and continue my discussion by opening it to your comments and questions. As we would be discussing ‘interactivity on digital networks’ and as I have already mentioned that I believe in audience participation, please do not hesitate to raise any questions you want by e-mailing me: gencogulan@yahoo.com/
I will continue to collect these questions and my answers, adding them to my article for further publications. Meanwhile I also invite you to browse through the “Reload: Net Art Open 2002”, an online net art exhibition at the adress http://www.istanbulmuseum.org/reload/ while I continue with this specific example.

Reload: Net Art Open 2002

“Reload: Net Art Open 2002”[4] is a web based net-art exhibition launched on September 2002 at www.istanbulmuseum.org/. The exhibition was ‘open’[5], which means that it was not curated and the artists were not chosen or invited by any one. All the applications to the exhibition were accepted, to create a non-hierarchic form of a collective. The link that is supposed to be linking the introductory text of Mehmet Sinan[6], the virtual organisator, was connected to an e-mail adress and not to a text, for the purpose of promoting communication over presentation.[7]


All announcements were made online and the calls were posted on free public domains like rhizome.org,[8] artswire.org and absolutearts.org/. Not one single individual e-mail is sent to invite or inform any artist.  I believe that most of the curated exhibitions or the art events run around friends and family but in the case of ‘Reload’, we tried to draw a cluster of net artists who are active on the WWW.


After four months of online announcements, through May to September, 62 artists from 13 countries responded to our call, they send us their URL’s, images and bio’s.[9] As we have mentioned before, everybody was admitted to the show except very few commercial portfolio sites. As a result, a large global exhibition of international net artists was created with a very small budget. This online cooperation should also be regarded as a new way of social interaction among artists.[10] ‘Reload’ project began to be exhibited in other museum portals as an artwork itself, for example at the le-musee-divisioniste[11]. This showed that not only the individual works but the exhibiton process itself became an example for interactive art.[12]


Levels of interaction

In discussing interactivity we need to talk about multiple levels of interaction. First of all we have to see that the interaction process was different before the exhibition and after the launch. Interestingly enough these two levels of interaction adresses two different kinds of interaction. The first one is more related with ‘human to human interaction’[13] and after the launch we begin to get involved with ‘human to computer interaction’[14] through the network.


There are also different levels of interaction through these layers of relations. For example, while interacting with web pages, there are mainly two different levels of “human to computer interaction”. These levels are defined technically as front-end and back-end interactions. The term ‘front-end’ refers to what we see on the screen immediately, it is “the interface that allows a user to access the information or application.“[15] While "back-end" refers to what we don’t see eventually; it is the server side application, for example a database or a multi user game. 


When we open a web page, we automatically download the front-end content, all the multimedia files; images, animations, video, code, sounds etc. All the files are saved in the ‘temporary Internet files folder’ of your computer. Hence the options of simple interactivity within a single page (embedded in the code)  is also downloaded with all other content. Still the content is not only limited in size but also restricted in terms of functions. For example, one can download and play an interactive game but changing the rules of the game requires a change on the source code which is mostly unavailable.


Server side or back-end interactions and programming is more complex. This time the interaction is not limited with the size but with the level of user permissions, the capacity of the server and the programmer. The whole idea of the Internet is built upon this network of computers and permissions for file transfers from one computer to another one.[16]


When you browse through the different projects at the Reload net-art exhibition you will observe different applications of interactions. For example in soda (sodaplay.com) you not only build a custom virtual creature but you can also enter into a race with it, then save or send the model. While in the project by Doctor Hugo (doctorhugo.org/) the animations are simple and the interaction is limited with links but still this does not make the artwork less poetic.


Thinking about the different levels of interactivity among various works, we should also take into consideration that a high level of interaction can bring us to a stage where the boundary between the author and the user becomes fluid. In certain cases interaction might require modifications in the (source) code. The fact that in 1999 the jury of the Prix Ars Electronica[17] chose to award the main prize in the ‘.net’ category to the operating system Linux may have something to do with this. The prize was given to  Linux not only it kept its source open but also it create an online community that kept developing the code. 


Istanbul Museum, Web Biennial 2003

For the year 2003, istanbulmuseum.org/ is organising its first ever ‘Istanbul Museum, Web Biennial’. The project will be produced, realised and exhibited exclusively on the W.W.W.[18] Again the exhibition does not have any limitation on media, size or the number of the artists participating but all projects will be presented as hypertexts that lead into individual sites of the artists or groups. This time all the participants are asked to manipulate their source code of their index pages or build jump pages and add the title ‘Web Biennial 2003’ on top of their browser windows. So that we will not only create a common identity of a net art Web community but maybe bring a different approach to the city specific Biennials. This is again an open exhibition and an open call for all so if you have any proposals please do not hesitate to e-mail it to: webbiennial@yahoo.com/ together with your URL till the end of the year 2003.


Before concluding I will go over the questions that are received through e-mail. As an example I will write about Garnet Hertz, a participant of the Reload exhibition who sent us an e-mail asking for a presentation text written by Mehmet Sinan. Below is the question and the answer extracted from the e-mail exchange.


> Dear Garnet Hertz,

> I prepared an exhibition statement for the exhibition (Reload Net Art Open)

> then I decided not to put it online. I believe that

> the statement should be made by the artists with their

> artwork. So my statement was ‘no’ statement. Sincerely,

> Mehmet Sinan.


> --- Garnet Hertz <garnet@vividworks.com> wrote:

> >

> > Mehmet Sinan - are you ever going to post your

> > exhibition statement at

> > http://www.istanbulmuseum.org/reload/

> >

> > Please put this online!

> >

> > Please!

> >

> >

> > Garnet Hertz

> >

> > http://www.conceptlab.com

> > http://www.garnethertz.com



I have to admit that Garnet Hertz is one of the persons who convinced me to write an article on the Reload exhibition. Still Mehmet Sinan insists that there should be no introductory text and he will keep his e-mail as the intoductory text.


To conclude briefly, I will continue to invite you; “Please ‘do’ touch the Artwork”. Being the audience is comfortable but get involved, it’s fun, try to become the author. But when you become the author, keep on opening new grounds for the others. Only if the other people touch your art work, then the process cycle will be completed. Not only in net-art but also in all arts, the artwork can only exist through interaction.                  




Bio: Genco Gülan, is a conceptual artist and a writer with a focus on new media. He studied Political Science and Art at Boðaziçi University, Istanbul. Then he pursued an MA degree on Media Studies at New School University, New York. His name appeared in the group exhibitions at Centre Pompidou et du Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris; Yildiz Palace Museum, Istanbul, Neue Gallery for Contemporary Art, Graz. He also participated to: Steirishes Herbst, Graz; 1997; Ars Electronica, Linz, 1998; Mediaterra, Athens, 2000; La Biennalle Venetia, 2001 and Free Manifesta, Frankfurt 2002. He is a co-curator for Alternative Museum, New York and Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum, Istanbul. He is also in the coordination committee for Web Biennial 2003 and Thessoloniki Biennial 2004. His articles have been published in Arredemento Architecture and NY Arts Magazines. Currently Genco Gülan is a full time faculty at Yeditepe University, Istanbul. He lives and works in Ýstanbul.









[1] This paper has been presented at the “1st International Symposium of Interactive Media Design” at Yeditepe University, Istanbul, on January 14t, 2003.

[2] See the article “Strategies of Interactivity” by Dieter Daniels, translated by Tom Morrison at Medien Kunst Nets: http://www.mediaartnet.org/Texteud.html/ . The article starts with the question: “Is interactivity an ideology or a technology?” In the same article, the origins of todays digital interactive technologies are linked to Fluxus movement.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The term “Reload” is inspired from the icon on the browser windows, which enables us to restarts what we see on the screen.

[5] Here I am using the term parallel but not exactly similar to the usage of Umberto Eco, in his book “The Open Work” (ISBN: 0674639766) and in his article ‘the Open Work in the Visual Arts’.

[6] Mehmet Sinan is the founder of Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum, he founded the museum in 1998.

[7] I believe that Deleuze and Guattari's description of the rhizome in A Thousand Plateaus is relevant here. Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.21.

[8] Unfortunately ‘rhizome.org’ began to require contibution from its members starting from January 2003.

[9] The full list of artists participated to the Reload: Agence TOPO, Agricola de Cologne, Ana Maria Urebe, Andamio Contiguo, Andrea Flamini, Andrea Polli, Anette Weintraub, Anke Schafer, babel, Bikem Ekberzade, Cardarelli Luigia, Caroline Bell, dane, Doctor Hugo, doll yoko, Dooley Le Cappellaine, Doron Golan, Ernest M. Concepcion, Faruk Ulay, Garett Lynch ve Michael Sellam, Garnet Hertz, Genco Gülan, helghi, Ian Haig, Isabelle Sigal and Jay Murphy, Jody Zellen, Jorn Ebner, Judson Wright, Karen J. Guthrie, Keserue Zsolt, Kurt Ralske, Lane Last, Lorie Novak, Marcello Mercado, Maria Beatriz de Medeiros, Marina Grzinic ve Aina Snid, Marina Zerbarani, mez, Michael Mandiberg, Miguel Uza, soda, Nicolae Comanescu, Nicolas Clauss, niki anderson (me), Pat Badani, Paula Cordova, Philip Foeckler, Plasma Studii, Robert J. Krawczyk, Rozalinda Borcila, Richard Kriesche, Sergio Maltagliati, Seth Thompson, Soo Yeun Ahn, Stanza, Stefan Sun, Tamara Lai, Tlaolli Arguello Servin, Tomasz Konart, Trang Chung, Winston Yang.

[10] Mehmet Sinan refers to net artists who inspired him on this exhibition model; Evgenia Demnievska and Wolfgang Zimmer, ‘Chaos in Action’ project, 1996 & 1997, and also, Arthur X. Doyle, “The Open Museum Net.Art @ The Irish Museum of Modern Art”, 2002.

[11] See; www.le-musee-divisioniste.org/service/ pages/2002/istanbul01.htm

[12] See the article in Turkish “Sahici, Çükü Sanal” (Real, Because its Virtual) by Sanem Öge, at ‘Akþamlýk Magazine’, a supplement of ‘Akþam Newspaper’, No: 36, p. 15.

[13] For example see; Human-to-Human Interaction on Internet HHII at http://www.ipo.tue.nl/ipo/pdf/IPO-1999-14.pdf

[14] See “Human-Computer Interaction Resources on the Net” by Mikael Ericsson http://www.ida.liu.se/labs/aslab/groups/um/hci/

[15] http://www.motive.co.nz/glossary/backend.html/

[16] The term FTP is made up of the initials from File Transfer Protocol which was first published in 1973. See “A Brief History Of The Internet”, http://www.freeessays.cc/db/12/cot20.shtml/

[17] Ars Electronica Official Site http://www.aec.at/

[18] Cyberspace as first used by Roy Ascot. From the book “Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. A Source Book of Artist’s Writtings”. Edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz. University of California Press, 1996, Californnia US. pp: 394-396.