Mutual Actions

Sylvette Babin

This issue on “Mutual Actions” is an exploration of two overlapping notions: interactivity, which refers mainly to the relationship between a person and a machine—notably in technological pieces calling for the viewer’s participation—and interaction, which elicits a connexion between individuals, i.e., the artist and members of the audience. In both cases, we can turn to the word “spect-actor,” a neologism which despite its sometimes arbitrary use raises exactly this question of active participation on the part of the viewer in contemporary artistic practices. This participative aspect, although it goes back a long way, still deserves to be questioned not only in terms of its constitutive modalities, but also with regards to its genuine efficiency in opening up to the Other.

Our theme was put forward to writers as a series of questions, and some of our contributors drew directly from them for inspiration. Here are some examples. Has technology become a necessary interface to address interactivity? How can the artist’s role be differentiated from that of the participant or the work itself? How can we rethink the public sphere and intersubjectivity under the sway of technique? Is the image a passive or active entity? Does it accept the gaze or is it a vehicle for subjection? Can it be grasped as a pragmatic entity, i.e., as the subject of mutual action? In a society of the spectacle, what does participation mean? Does the sphere of mutual action go beyond the sphere of representation? Has contemporary art succeeded in renewing mutual action as effective political action?

Deliberately open to various perspectives, this issue tries to answer one or several of these questions. It features essays reflecting upon practices that use so-called relational strategies or questioning the idea of interactivity as such, as well as analyses of various media and web art practices. The writers also examine more indirect or symbolic types of participation, with mirrors and reflection acting as forms of engagement with the viewer. From the practices studied here, be they interactive or interactional, a constant seems to emerge: the desire to develop a less autarchic form of art. It is in fact the main objective of mutual actions. Do these so-called interactive technological apparatuses make it really possible for the viewer to interact with or even modify the work? Do interactional works truly open zones of significant exchange between artist and viewer? These questions remain open.

[Translated from the French by Colette Tougas]

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