If indeed a work of art is "an object vehicle for a message" (205) as architect-designer Yona Friedman suggests, then the nine in this exhibition have been selected to express the unique ways in which interfaces can impact reader experience and the relationship readers have with the stories told through them.
Interface is interrogated here as much more than a "point of interaction between any combination of hardware/software components." Rather the exhibition responds to Lori Emerson's notion of interface as "threshold," one that "inevitably acts as a kind of magician's cape, continually revealing (mediatic layers, bits of information, etc.) through concealing and concealing as it reveals" (x). This approach begs these questions: What is concealed and revealed in each of the works? How does this process (of revealing and concealing) impact the reader's experience?
John Barber's sound installation "Remembering the Dead" (2016) presents the computer interface as an extension of a tombstone. It honors those killed by gun violence by calling out and displaying their names against the screen's black background and amid hundreds of spent bullet casings. The imposing six and a half foot wooden kiosk thus serves as both a monument for the dead and a reminder to the living of "the human cost of violence" (Barber) in the U.S.
Like the other works in this exhibit, Matthew Mosher's "If These Walls Could Speak" (2011) relies on computing technology to tell stories or make poetry. The difference though is that its interface consists of a box of river rocks programmed to relate stories as they are moved by readers from one section of the box to another. Some of the rocks have been left blank so that readers can overlay their own stories on them. User interaction shifts in this way from trivial to nontrivial, forcing readers to decide to simply listen to the stories already told or impose their own upon the rocks.
Presented as a mobile app environment that makes it possible for readers to produce their own poetry as "constellations of words and stars" (Strickland an Hatcher), Stephanie Strickland and Ian Hatcher's "Vniverse" (2014) is accompanied by a print book of the poetry, entitled V: Wave Tercets / Losing L'una. Experienced side by side, the interface of words fixed upon the printed page of the book contrasts against the indeterminacy of the universe presented on the app where words appear at the whim of readers, elevating readers to co-creators of the world the authors have produced.
Alan Bigelow's dark humor and wit are on display in his newest work, "How to Rob a Bank" (2016), a serial narrative for tablet and desktop computers. The author uses the interfaces of various web technologies—social media, Google, video games, and text messaging, among others—to tell the story of a young man planning to commit a robbery to impress a girlfriend. What is remarkable about the work is the way in which Bigelow draws readers in, slyly changing their perspective from viewer to the very one committing the crime.
Serge Bouchardon, Pièrre Fourny, Guilliame Jacquemin, Luc Dall Armellina and Hé'lène Caubel's "La Séparation" (2013) plays with the notion of interface as a site of playful meaning-making. Interacting with the work, readers construct new words by separating words and combining them with parts of other words—ultimately producing a work of poetry. The work's three modes of interaction provides levels of participation, from knowing how the "poetry works," to creating poetry, to experiencing poetry created by others.
Talan Memmott's early net art piece "Lexia to Perplexia" explores the interface as a site for theorizing about language, code, and literature through complex interaction and animation. It was originally produced in 2000 with Shockwave and accessed via Netscape Communicator or Internet Explorer (version 4) at a time when access to the internet required modems running at 14.4 kilobytes per second. The exhibition makes it possible for readers to experience the work on both a contemporary computer in the work's updated form and on a vintage computer (circa 1998) in its original version. In this way readers understand better how technology affects the interface and reader experience as well as the importance of preserving works of art with high cultural and historical value.
Aaron Tucker, Jordan Scott, Tiffany Cheung and Namir Ahmed challenges assumptions we have may about the relationship between digital and print interfaces with their 3D sculptural poetry, "Loss Sets" (2016). Digitalized poems are mapped mathematically and then rearticulated through 3D printing into plastic cubes. The instantiation of poetry as three-dimensional physical objects by way of digital technologies demonstrates how truly technologized the digital word can be—an awareness we may have lost lulled as we are by writing on the web where the interface remediates print conventions of pages.
Game, book, app, art—"The Ice-Bound Concordance" (2014) by Aaron Reed and Jacob Garbe is all of these. Experimenting with transmedia storytelling, the work crosses boundaries of interaction and participation through shifting interfaces for gameplay, reading, and viewing. Augmented reality builds complexity in both the story and experience by mediating between the reader and the interfaces of the screen and pages of the book.
We come to expect our experiences with computer interfaces to occur through touching a screen directly or interacting with it via a keyboard. Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse's "Whispering Galleries" (2013), instead, requires hand gestures to drive the narrative as well as erase the stories they evoke. The effect, both magical and ghostly, aptly reflects stories of those whose livelihoods were gained through the use of their hands.
I end my curatorial statement with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist's comment that "[m]y medium [for intellectual discourse] is the exhibition" (187). It is my intention that readers experiencing these works come away from "You/I" with an expanded view of the interface as it can be envisioned and conceptualized for the digital environment and in association with print.
Emerson, Lori. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minneapolis: MN: The University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
Friedman, Yona. "Afterword." Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Curating*. NY, NY: Sternberg Press, 2011.
Obrist, Hans Ulrich. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Curating*. NY, NY: Sternberg Press, 2011.