Artist Elizabeth Fuller on the Intersection of Art and Technology

Dragon Skin, Elizabeth Fuller

Life Dress F2, Elizabeth Fuller

My introduction to technology has been both direct and circuitous. I grew up in Silicon Valley and quickly learned that the best method to get my way with my electrical engineer father was to present my arguments as a methodical solution. Yet, when the time came to go to college I pursued a degree in the liberal arts. It was only during my junior year that I enrolled in an introduction to programming using Processing. Enamored by the ability to draw programmatically, I picked up an emphasis in computing and applied for a masters program at Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). It was there that I was introduced to the artistic potential beyond the computer screen, with interactive sculptural using the Arduino and a growing comfort with power tools.
Throughout my time at ITP, I participated in several student shows, and it was the exposure in those events that lead to an invitation to participate in a show of interactive art in Barcelona. That was eye-opening. ITP was more a sandbox for prototyping concepts than a studio for refining work.  I had never fully build out a piece that I would not be present to set up and maintain throughout its time on display. It traveled poorly.  As a result, I’ve constrained my participation to events where I can personally deliver my work. Limiting, yes, but I’m still finding that sweet spot between concept and execution.  Moreover, there is an element of user experience that I have only come to appreciate recently.
blog_ElizabethF6
I showed my piece, Schrödinger in Boston for a month.  It is a relatively simple piece.  There is nothing to touch. It uses a proximity sensor to react to viewers and it can be turned on and off by simply plugging and unplugging it. I was, therefore, at a loss to think of what was wrong when the gallery informed me that the piece had stopped working after a few days. It was only a few months later, when I could stand near and watch people interact with it at an event in Queens, NY, that I saw that people were mistaking my sensor for a button and systematically breaking it with startling regularity. In the absence of prior knowledge of the piece and its intent, people would poke, prod, and even push the piece to achieve their anticipated interaction. Given that the piece was specifically programmed to be in defiance of expectation the inevitable, and yet overlooked, result would be a broken work of art.
Schrodinger II, Elizabeth Fuller

Schrodinger II, Elizabeth Fuller

This is the main challenge and point of excitement that I have encountered on the intersection of art and technology: it is not yet codified and can still establish its own set of rules. With paintings, we look. With music, we listen. But what to do with something that reacts to the way you try to interact with it?  Some pieces are meant to be touched, taken, or augmented. It falls on the artist to be more than just creator, to do more than guide the eye through his or her composition, but to also create an independent system for the public to experience their work.
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @jumpingship
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