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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Embodiment and Instrumentality


This paper investigates the relation between embodiment and instrumentality in interactive new media art. It discusses three artworks that encourage embodied interaction within a completely abstract visual and/or auditory system. Whereas David Rokeby’s Very Nervous System invites visitors to engage with a soundmovement composition by means of embodied performance, Tmema’s Manual Input Workstation encourages them to manually explore the basic characteristics of sound and form. Sonia Cillari’s Se mi sei vicino, on the other hand, invites them to reflect on the effects and perceptions of touch and bodily proximity. All three works are not representational in the sense that the visitor contemplates a visual or auditory statement created by the artist. They are rather systems that enable the manipulation of processes that generate ever new outcomes. As such, they might seem comparable to (musical) instruments, but their complexity and unfamiliarity to the users characterise them more as apparatuses. This paper argues that their operators’ struggles with apparative resistance can be identified as creative exploration, which constitutes the core of the aesthetic experience of interactive art.

Furthermore, the works analysed challenge the dissociating effects of the apparatus by inviting different modes of bodily engagement, from the figurative via the subconscious to the emotional. As opposed to the operation of musical instruments, here the relation of bodily actions, apparatus and audiovisual configurations is not based on physically causal effects, but on settings determined by the artist. The exploration of these settings is characterized by an oscillation between playful immersion and moments of distanced reflection, guiding the aesthetic experience of the work.

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