Interactivity in Cinema-Based Media Art: a Phenomenology-Influenced Discussion



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Interactivity in Cinema-Based Media Art:

a Phenomenology-Influenced Discussion
Peter Cho

December 17, 2004


In this essay, I will be discussing “interactive cinema” in media art primarily through an investigation of Luc Courchesne’s work Landscape One (1997). My discussion focuses on issues of visual perception and relation between the body and the artwork. The definition of “interactive” is a matter of long debate over the past several decades. We could argue that any work of art may be interactive even if it stimulates only contemplation, speculation, or a bodily reaction for the viewer. These reactions to an artwork create different types of dialog: between different viewers of the artwork, between the viewer and the author of the work, between the artwork and the viewer’s subjectivity, or between the work and the context in which it resides. Others may insist that interactivity requires a two-way communication between artwork and viewer. Ryszard Kluszczynski proposes a definition of interaction in art as “a kind of dialogue, communication between the viewer and the artwork that proceeds in real time and takes the shape of mutual influence.”1 Within the context of this discussion, for a work to have interactivity, a viewer must physical engage with and manipulate the work, causing content within the artwork to respond. This discussion focuses on interaction in “cinema-based” media art, artworks which draw their vocabulary from the language of film and video and include these media in their visual presentation. Physical engagement with cinema in media art stems from a long history of bodily, usually manual, interaction with the cinematic image,2 from the pre-cinematic kinetoscope, zootrope, and phenakistoscope devices, to the hand-cranked camera and projector of early cinema. This history of access to the moving image through gestural hand motions continues with television – we find such gestures such as tuning the dial, adjusting the antenna and pressing buttons on the remote control. Media art continues this history by allowing more specialized and piece-specific means for physical and physicalized access to the moving picture.

For some people familiar with the media arts, “interactive cinema” is an idea that has already come and gone, a field already explored, with limited success. When we think about how to link interactivity with the medium of film, we might imagine a theater full of people watching a film with remote controls in hand. The film pauses from time to time, and the audience members are asked what they want to see next: press button A for love scene; press B for big fight; press C for giant tidal wave to hit city. Experiments incorporating viewer’s input into a film’s narrative structure naturally suggest this “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type interaction: a branching story structure in which the path splits at juncture points into multiple possible episodes. For the viewer who is expecting a “film,” this creates a problem because each fork in the road requires the viewer to make a selection thereby taking them out of the customary, immersive cinematic experience. The pleasure of narrative is often that we are being “taken for a ride.” From narrative theory, we know that a story traditionally involves the interplay between sujet, the way the story is narrated, and fabula, the actual causally-related events of the story. Films such as Christopher Nolan’s Memento and novels like William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury ask us to construct the fabula from a complex sujet. In an interactive story, we create the sujet ourselves through our interactions but may find in the end that the story fragments do not point towards a stable fabula. If a hypertext or hypermedia story is pure sujet with no stable, underlying sequence of events, our expectations of a traditional narrative experience cannot be met. Additionally, in an open-ended interactive media art experience, especially in a gallery setting where users may come and go as they please, we may not come away with the satisfaction of closure we customarily expect from stories. We find a conflict between storytelling and interactivity, and we may be unable to reconcile the expectations of film viewing with the workings of an interactive experience. Furthermore, we may find in an interactive cinema experience we are no longer able to put trust in the vision of an auteur who has created the film experience with his or her artistic expression and best judgment.


Whether or not a “forking paths” structure in a work holds promise for an engaging art experience, we can learn much about the prospects and problematics of interactive cinema by examining a recent work by Canadian media artist Luc Courchesne. His work, Landscape One, first exhibited in Tokyo in 1997 and at least 12 times around the world since, begins with this basic forking structure, but is made more complex by many of the details in the experience of the work such as bodily engagement and visual immersiveness. While the piece contains story components of character, setting, flow, and rudimentary plot, Courchesne’s focus is less the narrative aspects of the work and more the media apparatus and delivery. In this essay, I begin with a description of the piece from an audience member’s point of view and discuss the successes and shortcomings of the work, looking at points at which the media technology becomes less or more aware to the viewer. Many aspects of the work also serve as excellent entry points to other related projects, which add to a larger discussion of how cinema and interactivity may be combined in different ways and what this might mean for media art in general.

Landscape One, Luc Courchesne, 1997. Image from http://www.din.umontreal.ca/courchesne/download.html.




Landscape One: Description

Courchesne’s work Landscape One is a video installation piece composed of four large projection screens enclosing a square region. On the four screens are projected scenes from a wood, a park on Mount Royal in Montreal. The viewer enters through one of the gaps where the screens meet and steps up onto a platform made from metal slats. Once inside, the viewer sees that the four projected images create a 360 degree panorama view of the park scene. The viewer sees a path through the park extending into the distance on two opposing screens and a clearing in the wood on the remaining two screens. They also see a pedestal in front of each screen on which sit small, clear, acrylic panels positioned to overlap with a central area on each screen. Characters come into the scene, sometimes moving from screen to screen around the viewer: a stray dog, a family on a picnic, two lovers riding bicycles, an old man and his granddaughter. When they enter into the scene, the characters mind their own business and do not address the camera until the viewer speaks or makes another sound. At this point, a character approaches the foreground of one of the screen views. He speaks directly into the camera, in French, and a text translation in English appears superimposed on the clear panel in front of him. The character looks into the camera and poses a question directly to the viewer, such as, “Where are you from?” On the small panel display appear three pre-scripted choices, and the viewer may touch or speak out loud the answer they wish to give, for instance, “I am from Tokyo.” This back and forth may continue with a few rounds of questions and answers. Depending on which responses the viewer chooses, the interchange either reaches a dead end, at which point the character bids the viewer goodbye and retreats into the scene, or the character may lead the viewer to another place in the park. When this occurs, the four views move together as the character leads the way to another part of the wood. In one such departure from the origin, a character invites the viewer to mount a bicycle and ride with him to the lookout point at the entrance of the park. Once there, the character acts as a tour guide, pointing out sights to the north, to the east, and so forth.

When I viewed Courchesne’s piece Landscape One in the Ars Electronica retrospective exhibition in New York City in July 2004, I was alone in the gallery and was able to experience the work on my own. What I found notable were two aspects of the piece. First was the sensation of motion I felt when one of the characters “led me” away from the clearing to another part of the wood. The feeling of motion through the space while looking forward was especially strong because my peripheral vision could see the moving scenery to the sides, captured in sync by the handheld cameras. While this illusion of walking through the space of the wood was convincing, I felt also disoriented when I moved my vision across the screens during these segments. I could look, for example, behind me, and see the receding woods as the camera views moved resolutely forward. The second notable point was that my exchanges with the characters in the scene often proceeded in unexpected ways. Due to how the segments were scripted and pieced together, direct requests could go unanswered or be refused obliquely by the characters. For a user expecting a linear machine-like response, this was a surprise. That the characters do not respond in a direct and expected way contributes to the illusion that the virtual characters have personalities and desires of their own. We might feel that the characters have been invested with agency within the work.



Conversation and the interface


These two aspects of the work, the conversational technique of interaction and the panoramic vision, are two of Courchesne’s main interests that can be seen in his prior and subsequent works. Courchesne’s interest in conversation was first developed in Portrait One (1990). In this piece, the viewer sees a video image of a female character, who responds when the viewer uses the mouse to select questions from choices on a superimposed display. The character pauses between questions as if in an act of contemplation. The viewer often feels compelled to try to continue the conversational thread as long as possible, until being “dumped” by the character as a result of the system’s reaching the end of a scripted path. In his next work, Family Portrait (1993), Courchesne further develops the idea of conversation between a character and a viewer and attempts to “strengthen the illusion of a growing relationship” between the two by adding “levels of intimacy” to the conversational structure.3 He scripts a number of levels, leading from general and banal questions towards more personal issues, and finally to intimate confessions which the character has “never told anyone.” The illusion that Courchesne’s characters have agency can be effective, as one media critic describes a character named Marie: “...she behaves like a real living human being – she has moods, she can behave independently from the spectator, she simply lives her own life.”4 Furthermore, a viewer of the work must depend on the character in order to experience the work: “[The spectator] can literally do nothing without the help of the virtual character. Virtual characters are free in their world while visitors need help to walk in and explore.”5

Courchesne writes: “Because the metaphor of conversation is so strong, once a visitor suspends disbelief, the work’s imperfect mechanics and crude interactive mode are forgotten and the experience remains consistent and coherent no matter what happens.”6 His phrase “once a visitor suspends disbelief” is an important one to consider, both in the context of these early works and his later piece Landscape One. When viewers approach a media art work, they are immediately aware of an interface, a framework that shapes how they perceive and interact with the works. Since media art as a field is evolving with the technologies that make the field possible, there is no single standardized interface. The interface technologies can vary widely in form and function, from keyboards and touch screens to 3D-sensing gloves and head-mounted displays. Remarking on virtual reality and immersive technologies, Katherine Hayles comments that the interface mechanisms are highly grounded in physical, bodily experiences.7 We become highly aware of our bodies’ physical contact with the devices of interaction, and we must adapt our own bodies and familiarize our selves with the functional limitations of the technologies. When Courchesne implies that a visitor may reach a suspension of disbelief quickly, he suggests that it does not take long for visitors to believe they are really conversing with the character in the work. This transformation of the viewer’s conception of the work takes several leaps of faith including an adoption / absorption of the interface. The viewer must believe that moving a mouse and clicking on a line of text on the screen is an adequate surrogate for verbalizing and vocalizing a question.8 In Landscape One, the viewer must further believe the virtual conversant is waiting for a response as the video image of the character freeze frames and waits for the viewer’s selection from three choices.

This investigation of the interface in media art works can be addressed from a phenomenological standpoint. In Experimental Phenomenology, Donald Ihde asks: “What happens to and in perception when it occurs by means of an instrument? How is the perceptual intentionality of the observer mediated, and with what result?”9 Ihde’s discussion of technological artifacts and machines points to several possible relationships among the entities of human, machine, and world. The instrument or machine may be “taken into one’s experience of bodily engaging the world, whether it be primarily kinesthetic-tactile or the extended embodiment of sight (telescope) or sound (telephone),”10 thus creating a partial symbiotic relation with the human. In this case, the tool embodies the human’s experience and perception of the world. The opposite may also be true: the machine represents a “hermeneutic relation” between human and world. Ihde’s example is the instrument panel a heating engineer watches and services to keep a building’s air conditioning system functioning properly. In this scenario, the human perceives the world by reading the machine as “something like a text.” In media art works, we see a variety of interfaces that run the gamut from machine as extension of human perception to machine as interface apparatus to world. In Landscape One, the interface metaphor of conversation is embodied dually in a touch-sensitive display panel and an auditory sensor. In order for viewers to suspend disbelief, as Courchesne suggests, they must accept and incorporate the physical apparati in order to experience the world the artist presents.

In his work, Courchesne attempts to make the interface as “transparent” and as general as possible. In Portrait One, for instance, this transparency is literalized:

...instead of placing a monitor in front of the viewer, I used glass to reflect the video image in space. This was originally designed in order to superimpose the computer and video screens and to create a single visual object for the viewer. It turned out that watching the video reflection instead of the source image lessened the reference to video and television and enhanced the impression of the character’s presence. It thus helped transform the installation into a conversational space.11
Courchesne tends to de-emphasize the interface, to minimize the machine presence and provide the most immediate access to the art “content” as possible. This discussion thus far has assumed that the role of the interface should be just this, to serve as a conduit to the content of the media art work. However, many media art works employ different strategies for viewer access and interaction. In a media art work, the interface may draw attention to itself and foreground the relationship between technology and viewer or the interface may develop directly from the content of the work itself.

We can extend the metaphor of conversation from our investigation of Courchesne’s work to address a larger discussion of other media art works. Accustomed to technological media and computers, we generally want our conversations with interactive media art works to be clear and efficient. Our computer-mediated culture privileges unambiguous, logical, and intuitive interactions, such as at an ATM or on an iPod, over transactions that are difficult to operate or comprehend. Some media artists create interfaces for works that use languages different from the point-and-click vocabulary of human-computer interaction. In conFiguring the Cave (1997), for example, Jeffrey Shaw places a wooden mannequin in the CAVE, a virtual reality environment with computer-generated stereoscopic images projected onto the three walls and floor of a room. By moving the wooden puppet’s body and limbs, the symbolic imagery changes on the surround displays. “Most significantly,” Shaw writes, “it is the action of moving the puppet’s hands to cover and then uncover its eyes, which causes the transition from one pictorial domain to the next.”12 In conFiguring the Cave, the interactive body is externalized, a mirror and duplicate of our own; our body moves an external body to explore the work.

In several of his artworks, the media artist Ken Feingold presents interfaces in which the relation between viewers’ actions and the works’ responses are deliberately oblique or even confusing. Feingold writes, “Interactivity is, in many ways, about affirmation of the human action by a non-human object, a narcissistic ‘it sees me.’ But beyond that, there is the desire for control, for mastery over the non-human entity.”13 In Feingold’s 1991 work The Surprising Spiral, the viewer touches images of fingerprints embedded in a book to direct a flow of video and computer graphic images, digital texts, and sounds. But instead of a clear reactive or interactive structure, the artist opts for a “complex cause and effect structure... a touch that the viewer makes might have an immediate visual response, happen a short time later, or much later.” He continues, “No two viewers will see the same flow of images or hear the same sounds in the same sequence, and the actions of previous viewers will also affect the structure found by another viewer.”14 Feingold is particularly interested in forcing viewers to abandon the idea of having a goal or destination and finds it disappointing when the audience do not “bring to interactive works the same capacity for abstraction, metaphor and ambiguity that is well-deployed and comfortable when viewing painting, or other artworks.”15 Learning how to use the interface of a media art work can be seen metaphorically as exploring a new terrain, following different paths and seeing where they lead. Viewers run into confusion or frustration, however, when this act of mapping a territory shows the interactive space to be discontinuous or physically impossible. In another work by Feingold, Head (1999-2000), the artist, like Courchesne, uses the metaphor of conversation with the work, employing speech recognition and synthesized speech to allow a viewer to talk with an animatronic human head. Feingold, however, exploits the shortcomings of the technology to create a schizophrenic personality for Head, prone to outbursts and nonsensical responses. He writes of the relationship between viewer and artwork in this piece:

Contact with the work as an ‘other’ is made by way of the voice, a drawing out of the inner narrative produced by the work within the viewer-participant. Not everyone is willing to engage in such a performance, some find it excruciatingly uncomfortable, even antithetical to their notions of experiencing art. But others have discovered that there is a certain pleasure to be found in talking back to art, in breaking the silence of the white space.16


Unlike in Courchesne’s work, here the conversation is not a device to “move forward” through the media space; instead the conversation itself is intended as the art experience.

Another strategy for interaction with cinema-based media art works can be seen in works where the interface is specifically integrated with the content. Experimental filmmaker Chris Hales, for example, creates short interactive video pieces in which different objects in the pictorial plane become links to related content. In Jinxed! (1993), Hales’s short comedy, parts of the character’s house become “jinxed” hotspots which play out as short slapstick episodes if the viewer activates them by clicking with the mouse. In this piece, by clicking in the right spot at the right time, a technique Hales’ calls “spatio-temporal linking,”17 the viewer becomes an agent in the narrative, causing misfortune for the hero of the film. In Amy Talkington’s short web-based video The New Arrival (2000), QuickTime VR technology plays an integral part of the story’s plot. Using the technology, viewers can pan and zoom the camera view around a 360 degree panorama, as members of a retirement home greet the new arrival, speaking directly into the camera. At the end of the piece, the viewpoint shifts to reveal the identity of the central character: an old television set. Talkington considers the piece to point toward a new medium of “immersive” filmmaking, stating that it calls for “the kinds of stories that can be experienced several times, and more and more can be revealed.”18 Both of these films encourage the viewer to interact with the framing device or content of the video image in clever ways that derive from the stories’ plots themselves. In each of these works, the interface and the world of the film are tightly coupled; in fact, the interface becomes an extension of the world itself.



Panoramic vision and sense of place


As I mentioned in my description of seeing Landscape One, one notable aspect of the work that stayed with me afterwards was the sensation of motion I felt as the vision of the four screens became mobile. Courchesne’s interest in an immersive, panoramic vision begins with this work and continues in several subsequent media art works. In Landscape One, Courchesne begins to move away from the single-camera / single-framed-view format we recognize from cinema. His primary interest is in creating an immersive cinematic environment and not in telling stories: “The way I see it, the only narrative, if it materialises, will originate from the visitor after she or he experiences the work and not from the work itself, which is constructed as a context for experience.”19 His work in recreating 360-degree views is reminiscent of 19th century panoramas, where visitors stood on a platform in the middle of a circular room to see large-scale, painted representations of cities, landscapes, battles or religious scenes. Discussing the panorama, historian Martin Jay writes:

Here, in short, we have a visual machine in which the viewing self is reduced to a seeing eye able to look at, but not enter or touch, the surrounding landscape. Although the viewer could move and thus, in Norman Bryson’s well-known terminology, “glance” with two eyes rather than “gaze” with a disincarnated single eye at the environment, there was no corresponding movement in the scene itself. This lack was understood very early on in the history of the medium, especially when human figures were portrayed, figures whose immobility undermined the sought-after realism of the experience. A number of ingenious attempts were, in fact, made to set the panorama in motion, ... [but] the integration of temporal and spatial verisimilitude never really worked, as parallax effects were impossible to achieve.20


Courchesne’s work addresses the problematics of these early panoramas by putting the surrounding scene into motion and goes another step further by making the viewpoint mobile as well. Landscape One may be part of a larger trend or cultural topos towards a quest for immersion in media technology, a trend comprising virtual reality technology, computer games, professional simulators, theme park rides, among other technologies.21 The artwork can also be seen as a descendant of Cinerama, developing in the 1950s, and Imax, starting in the early 1970s. In these technological developments, the trend is toward creating an increasingly more convincing simulation of an immersive physical environment.

To capture the four simultaneous video channels in this work, Courchesne built a special apparatus for the cameraman to wear with four video cameras pointing downward at mirrors angled at 45 degrees. In the filming of the piece, the physical effort required to embody the eyes of the four heavy video cameras was substantial. But Courchesne asserts that this imaging technology then liberates the viewer: “...in expanding the field of view, immersive imaging frees the viewer’s body in multiplying the possible points of view; choosing what to look at amounts to picking a subject and making something of it.”22 He suggests that creating an immersive view that surrounds the audience turns viewers of his pieces into “visitors.” The viewer of Landscape One has some mobility within the enclosure of the four screens, freedom to turn the head or body, but not to move unrestricted through the space, at least not very far. Australian media artist Simon Penny’s criticism of the CAVE environment applies here:

One can bodily turn, but one cannot bodily walk, lest one rend the screen of wrench the gear off your head. The illusion of forward movement is achieved by dragging the world under one’s feet using codified button clicks. This is a laughable example of the way that such systems often inhere awkward and paradoxical user constraints as a result of hardware limitations.23
Penny’s own work Fugitive II (2004), on the other hand, encourages the viewer to run about a large circular room, chasing a video image projected onto the walls. The large athletic movement enabled by this work is in stark contrast with Courchesne’s most recent experiments to create a convincing panoramic view. In Panoscope 360° (2000) and The Visitor: Living by Number (2001), the spectator places his or her head through the hole at the bottom of a bowl-like viewing apparatus. Viewers see a continuous panoramic image on the inner surface of the bowl-shaped projection by pivoting in place. While they might find the view captivating, the viewers’ bodies are literally held captive by the media art work. If Courchesne’s goal, as he describes it, is imaging that “frees the viewer’s body,” these later works seem a step backwards into a more confining and restrictive viewing situation.

Looking at the panoramic vision of Landscape One, we can consider how the work creates an illusion of space and a sense of place. In this work, the physical space of the installation coexists and coincides with the virtual space shown in the video projections; the gallery space meets a visual representation of a scene shot on Mount Royal in Montreal. The feeling of space in the images is evident in the depth of the scenes: characters approach from a distance or recede into the background. We find that the sense of place is established because, as Edward Casey puts it, the “ecological layout is not terminal in any such sense.”24 We can see into the distance in four directions, but find that our outer visual horizon has no defined limits. Through interactions with characters and journeys into other parts of the park, we come to imagine that the site may not be limited in any direction. The locale of the wooded park also suggests Bachelard’s exploration of the “immensity of the forest”: “We do not have to be long in the woods to experience the always rather anxious impression of ‘going deeper and deeper’ into a limitless world.”25 Forests conjure up this sensation of endless depth because we remember stories and images of being lost within them. In Landscape One, however, this feeling of depth does not carry any negative connotation of losing oneself. Not only can we rely on the characters within the scene act as guides through the virtual space, we also are assured that while we visit the landscape of the artwork our physical selves are safe within the gallery walls.

In my experience of the work, as I watched the views become mobile, I could feel a physical sensation of movement. This bodily sensation of motion in some ways may be more memorable than any image presented within the work itself. Edward Casey writes that filmic images are memorable for at least two preliminary conditions: first, an “isolation of the screen from its surroundings” so that the screen stands out from its immediate context; and second, the condition that movies contain “surprise” or “unexpected” events.26 These conditions suggest that Landscape One does not function as a normal film. We don’t remember the specific images because the screens, rather than containing isolated and composed shots as in a conventional film, nearly encompass our entire vision. The structure of the piece, furthermore, does not provide for many surprising and distinctly memorable events. What we remember most of all from the artwork is not a visual image but a bodily sensation.
Landscape One as an artwork

This discussion has focused on interactivity as a bodily engagement and two-way communication with a media art work. The success of the work as an engaging interactive piece depends partly on the mode and quality of interaction. However, the larger question remains of whether the media art work succeeds or fails as art. For me, a successful work of art must also provoke a reflective and reflexive involvement on the part of the viewer. Ken Feingold believes this to be a problem with much media art: “The efficient, simple, logical, clear work – ‘if viewer does this then computer does that’ – is too fixed, and as a result lacks mystery, complexity or paradox, which I consider to be essential qualities of a good work of art.”27 The question must be asked whether we run into difficulties in fulfilling a total art experience when direct manipulations with the work become possible. Does interactive media art still function as art? We wonder whether we get caught up in interacting with a work, fixating on the novelty factor or the cleverness of the technology used. Earlier in the discussion, I suggested that viewers of Courchesne’s earlier pieces often feel compelled to make the conversations with the virtual characters last as long as possible. In this case we must question whether the experience becomes a game – a game we feel compelled to control, master, and win.

As in many other interactive works, time plays a complex role in Landscape One. In traditional film, we see the fusion of two temporalities, according to Casey, the “actual now of the viewing and the now being viewed.”28 In a cinematic interactive experience, we are persuaded that the time of the viewing is concurrent with the time of video capture, since the work is presented and reacts in “real-time.” By allowing them to “talk back” to the characters in the scene, the interactive experience in Landscape One moves viewers closer to Casey’s “now being viewed” than in a usual cinematic experience.29 The “real-time” conceit of this and other interactive media art works can be problematic for viewers expecting a reflective, reflexive experience because the sensation of time is too immediate. The audience quite literally do not have the time to reflect on the work as they are viewing and interacting with it. Artist Jim Campbell believes that while art traditionally is a medium for strong personal content, the real-time attribute of interactivity can be exploited for “instilling personal process” in a work because the “process itself is occurring in the viewer’s present.”30 Campbell writes, “If the new element to film was time, then I think that the new element to interactivity is the present. And it is the program that connects the present to the past.”31

Digital media technologies can also be used in an art context to explore and exploit how we perceive time. Stephanie Strickland writes that digital art and web art can be good media for investigating the neurophysiology of time perception at different time scales:

Tools from dynamic systems help us understand how humans might develop time concepts based on this physiology, particularly the retrospective and prospective horizons involved with our sense of being in a “now.” The basic event or fusion interval specifies the minimum time between events such that they can be perceived as distinct and not simultaneous. This time is different for each sensory modality. The modalities also interact with each other, and a lot of Web art explores these interactions through the use of micro-manipulated streaming sonic and cinematic effects.32
We can also see strategies for exploring different temporalities in works of media art and video art that are not explicitly interactive. In video art works by Bill Viola and site-specific projections by Jennifer Steinkamp, we can see two techniques for creating artificial temporal structures. In Viola’s recent video art pieces such as Five Angels for the Millennium (2001) and Emergence (2002), the artist uses a technique of extreme slow motion to present scenes he has constructed and filmed. The viewer of his pieces sees a very slowly moving image – a sequence of still moments captured in time – and is entranced by the transcendent slowness of the work. Steinkamp also uses digital technologies to explore time in her work, creating abstract, looping computer graphic animations which fill the exhibition space. In the projection piece The Wreck of the Dumaru (2004), for example, she projects a synthetic, brightly-colored seascape onto all four walls of a large gallery space. We feel immersed in Viola’s and Steinkamp’s works because of a phenomenological interactivity: a perceptual inquiry into how time and space expand and contract in the work. We might say that we are free to be immersed in the work precisely because we are not asked to perform or interact in an immediate way.

Courchesne privileges immersion over interaction in discussing media art, asserting, “Any immersive medium is thus by nature interactive and transforms spectators into visitors.”33 Courchesne feels that an immersive view allows spectators the freedom to choose their own subject, create their own story, and make something of it. In his work, however, Courchesne is unwilling to present immersive media environments that do not include a material and direct interactive component. In The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich criticizes interactivity in digital media, writing that

there is the danger that we will interpret “interaction” literally, equating it with physical interaction between a user and a media object ... at the expense of psychological interaction. The psychological processes of filling-in, hypothesis formation, recall, and identification, which are required for us to comprehend any text or image at all, are mistakenly identified with an objectively existing structure of interactive links.34

Part of the danger of interactivity is that we are no longer required to reflect or associate for ourselves but are held hostage by the prescripted links we are required to follow. We have seen in our discussion of Landscape One that we find the interactivity in the work problematic for similar reasons – it is an experience we bodily inhabit and experience in real-time. We are caught up “in the moment” of viewing and interacting. An interesting parallel, however, can be seen in comments by Walter Benjamin in his landmark 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In his comparison of painting and film, Benjamin finds:

The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed. It cannot be arrested.35

Media theorists today would dispute Benjamin’s claim that the filmic image must be arrested in order to contemplate it. We suspect that as filmmakers and film audiences became more sophisticated in their experiences with the medium, cinema developed into a true art form allowing for contemplation and reflection. In his artworks, Courchesne seems to be exploring the techniques and possibilities of an interactive and immersive cinematic medium. He is fond of saying we haven’t yet seen the D. W. Griffith, Orson Welles, Buñuel or Pasolini of a medium that combines the moving image, interaction, and immersivity. While Courchesne’s work makes good progress at exploring a new realm at the intersection of these elements, we have yet to see whether interactive cinematic media art can convincingly and successfully work as art.

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Bachelard, Gaston: The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.


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Casey, Edward: “The Memorability of the Filmic Image,” Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 6: 3 (Summer 1981), 241-264.
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Ihde, Don: Experimental Phenemenology: An Introduction. New York: Paragon Books, 1979.
Jay, Martin: “The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium,” ArtForum. March 1998.
Kluszczynski, Ryszard: Film – video – multimedia. The Art of Electronic Image in the Age of Electronics. Warsaw: Instytut Kultury, 1999.
Komatsuzaki, Takuo, et al, eds: ICC Biennale ’97: Communication / Discommunication. Tokyo: NTT Publishing, 1997.
Manovich, Lev: The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001.

Ozog, Maciej: “Towards the Visitor – Mastery, Control and Communication in Luc Courchesne’s Interactive Video Installations” in Art Inquiry, Volume V: Cyberarts Cybercultures Cybersocieties. Edited by Grzegorz Sztabinski, 2003.

Penny, Simon: “Representation, Enaction, and the Ethics of Simulation” in Electronic Book Review. Posted June 26, 2004, http://www.electronicbookreview.com/v3/ servlet/ebr?essay_id=penny&command=view_essay (last checked Dec. 16, 2004).
Shaw, Jeffrey: “Movies after Film – The Digitally Expanded Cinema” in New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. Edited by Martin Reiser, Andrea Zapp. British Film Institute, 2002, 268-275.
Strickland, Stephanie: “Dali Clocks: Time Dimensions of Hypermedia” in Electronic Book Review. Posted Jan. 1, 2001, http://www.electronicbookreview.com/v3/ servlet/ebr?command=view_essay&essay_id=stricklandweb (last checked Dec. 16, 2004).


1 Ozog, Maciej: “Towards the Visitor – Mastery, Control and Communication in Luc Courchesne’s Interactive Video Installations” in Art Inquiry, Volume V: Cyberarts Cybercultures Cybersocieties. Ed. Grzegorz Sztabinski, 2003, 26.

2 Feingold, Ken: “The Interactive Art Gambit” in New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. Eds. Martin Reiser, Andrea Zapp. British Film Institute, 2002, 120.

3 Courchesne, Luc: “The Construction of Experience: Turning Spectators into Visitors” in New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. Eds. Martin Reiser, Andrea Zapp. British Film Institute, 2002, 261.

4 Ozog, 237.

5 Ozog, 237.

6 Courchesne, 261

7 Hayles, Katherine: “Embodied Virtuality: On How to Put Bodies Back into the Picture” in Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments. Cambridge: Banff Centre for the Arts / MIT Press, 1996, 1.


8 The fact that the characters speak French, requiring the sub-titled translation on the display, may actually help facilitate the viewer’s acceptance of the superimposed text display device.

9 Ihde, Don: Experimental Phenemenology: An Introduction. New York: Paragon Books, 1979, 139.

10 Ihde, 141.

11 Courchesne, 262.

12 Shaw, Jeffrey: “Movies after Film – The Digitally Expanded Cinema” in New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. Eds. Martin Reiser, Andrea Zapp. British Film Institute, 2002, 271.

13 Feingold, 123.

14 Feingold, 123.

15 Feingold, 124.

16 Feingold, 133.

17 Hales, Chris: “New Paradigms <> New Movies: Interactive Film and New Narrative Interfaces” in New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. Eds. Martin Reiser, Andrea Zapp. British Film Institute, 2002, 113.

18 Cramer, Josh: The New Arrival: Behind the Scenes. Documentary video. 6 min. USA, 2000. Available at: http://atomfilms.shockwave.com/af/content/atom_1025 (link lasted checked Dec. 16, 2004).

19 Courchesne, 266.

20 Jay, Martin: “The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium by Stephan Oettermann”, book review in ArtForum. March 1998.


21 Huhtamo, Erkki: “Encapsulated Bodies in Motion: Simulators and the Quest for Total Immersion” ” in Critical Issues in Electronic Media. Edited by Simon Penny. SUNY Press, 1995, 159.

22 Courchesne, 266.

23 Penny, Simon: “Representation, Enaction, and the Ethics of Simulation” in Electronic Book Review.

24 Casey, Edward: “‘The Element of Voluminousness’: Depth and Place Re-examined” in Merleau-Ponty Vivant, ed. M.C. Dillo. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991, 15.

25 Bachelard, Gaston: The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, 185.

26 Casey, Edward: “The Memorability of the Filmic Image,” Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 6: 3 (Summer 1981), 255-256.

27 Feingold, 128.

28 Casey: “The Memorability of the Filmic Image,” 257.

29 The perception of time in Landscape One is complicated further by the fact that the piece runs as a 12 minute loop representing a 24-hour cycle.

30 Himmelsbach, Sabine: “Jim Campbell” in Future Cinema. Eds. J. Shaw and P. Weibel. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003, 255.

31 Campbell, Jim: “Technology in the 90s.” http://adaweb.walkerart.org/context/events/moma/bbs4/campbell.html.


32 Strickland, Stephanie: “Dali Clocks: Time Dimensions of Hypermedia” in Electronic Book Review. Posted Jan. 1, 2001, http://www.electronicbookreview.com/v3/ servlet/ebr?command=view_essay&essay_id=stricklandweb (last checked Dec. 16, 2004).

33 Courchesne, 266.

34 Manovich Lev: The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001, 57.

35 Benjamin, Walter: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968. Reprinted in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 1989, sec XIV.





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