Wide Angle 21.1 (1999) 105-113
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Intersecting the Virtual and the Real:
Space in Interactive Media Installations
The production of space is a search for a reconciliation between mental space (the space of philosophers) and real space (the physical and social spheres in which we all live).
From the cover notes of Henri Lefevbre's The Production of Space. 1
To experience space is to engage with it through one's presence, to possess it by being immersed in it, in the way one possesses space when inside a room, in a park, or on the streets. Computer generated virtual, immersive environments create the illusion of space by simulating visual clues such as boundary delineations which allows us to perceive directionally and to circulate. Internet space is a metaphoric space accesses through a technological window, linking individuals in real-time across geographical territories. In the process of interacting with the digital world, we can consider real space as the site where our bodies come into contact with the technological devices by which we experience virtual space. Social space then, becomes the site where we gather to watch each other come [End Page 105] into contact with the technological devices used to engage with virtual space.
Real-time data streams of digital images, texts, and sounds make it currently possible to trespass geographical and cultural boundaries, expotentially increasing aspects of Walter Benjamin's analysis on the nature of art production and its reception within a technologically driven society. My sense of perspective requires an initial readjustment when I am confronted with a culture-specific experience that I know belongs to a specific geographical, cultural space but becomes accessible anywhere where I can log on into the internet. For instance, listening to NPR radio played through a "'RealAudio"' internet plug-in on my laptop computer in Budapest, broadcast from New York, received through ethernet connection while working simultaneously on the same computer in some other application.
Artists who create in digital media can produce works that do not require embodiment in a physical object. These works are free from the constraints of materiality as they exist as numeric data in highly transportable storage devices such as hard drives, disks, and CD-ROMs that can be materialized when needed. Digital works can be experienced in any given time and any given (institutional) space, or simultaneously in different geographical spaces through the web environment, making it possible for real-time interaction between multiple users or producers. These forms of distribution seem to imply experiences free from the constraints of the material world, but in fact, the experiences are highly shaped by the reception devices through which users come in contact with the transmitted information. For artists and communicators who want to create a specific experience, conceptualizing the interface environments within which the digital based interactive artworks are to be experienced becomes as much an integral component in the design process as the design of the interaction and the visualization of its information data.
When digital based artworks enter real institutional spaces such as libraries or museums, a number of issues come to the foreground. If the work exists as a CD-ROM or on the internet, does it shift functions from being an artwork to being a reference if presented in the library section of a museum? What are reasonable contractual obligations when a work published as a CD-ROM but intended as an installation in a public context is presented within the museum exhibition space? What kinds of experiential differences can be generated [End Page 106] through a work designed for both the public viewing of the exhibition and the more private home reception on the internet or CD-ROM?
Information as Production Material
Digital media works are by nature information based. The two forms of artistic production which seem prevalent parallel artworld strategies of either authorship or appropriation. Artists either invent perceptual or experiential simulations through computer programming code production, or produce by processing existing, digitized data, sorting and storing them in datastructures. The creative activity is...