Thesis Info

Thesis Title
An exploration of a diversity of vision in digital art projects in relation to issues of engagement
sonja van Kerkhoff
2nd Author
3rd Author
MSc (Media Technology)
Number of Pages
Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science, University of Leiden, The Netherlands.
Thesis Supervisor
Michael S. Lew, LIACS Media Lab
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Sarah Kettley, Nottingham Trent University, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, U.K.
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Media Technology, dept. Computer Science
Languages Familiar to Author
Dutch, German
URL where full thesis can be found
Augmented reality, digital media, discourse analysis, engagement, immersion, interactive art, virtual reality
Abstract: 200-500 words
Contemporary digital art projects are often dominated by an emphasis on the technology. What is striking is the uncritical approach taken towards the use of much of this technology in contemporary art projects. There is also the idea that interactivity and reflection interfere with each other, which seems to follow on from the idea that a medium is either invisible (like a mirror of 'reality') or mediated. The assumption is that it can't be both or that as participants we cannot multi-task or switch between modes of reception. Artists and theorists in digital media also tend to focus on the technological, ignoring the role of reception. In terms of making the works, technological requirements are distinctive, but we do not discuss literature in terms of the technical requirements and potential of the printing press, but from the point of view of the reader. My position is that any art form is primarily a question of achieving engagement, which as Rosalind Picard states, relates to our emotions. While she adds that “emotion theorists still do not agree even on a definition of emotion,” she argues that “we can base solid facts and knowledge on structures that are themselves imprecisely defined,” just as we don't need to define whether Mt Everest is rock or ice, to discuss it. This paper looks at how engagement can be mediated in digital art projects and whether this is significantly different to other media such as the novel, film or photography. This leads to questioning the dominance of cartesian spatial relations as the norm for visual expression. A distinctive characteristic of digital media is that the medium itself is capable of palpable responsiveness to the user. Are there ways this can affect issues of engagement, particularly in the case of immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality? Interactivity in media, as Stefan Agamogolis argues, is as old as the history of storytelling, but if you view automation as the appearance of autonomous interactivity from the medium, the possibility is a characteristic of new media (even if the possibility is not always used, such as for three dimensional modelling and digitally-mediated effects). Because of this characteristic of interactivity, gaming and game theory can shed some light on interaction in digital media art projects. However “Today, many games are promoted for their "immersive qualities." But what do they mean by "immersion" in this context? Mainly life-like characters, better graphics and the use of new interfaces.” Popular multi-player online games (known as MMORPG or MMO) are dominated by the competitive motive and an overkill of the male role-model, so obviously popular games are not useful models for innovative art projects. Playfulness can be the primary factor in making a work engaging, or it can supplement the kind of engagement which one has with a work that stimulates the imagination and requires the suspension of disbelief. I end with some examples of art works where play is incorporated in ways which can be considered engaging while also stimulating critical reflection. Successful practice in digital art projects can feed back into gaming: it suggests that realism and technical wizardry are not necessary, and not sufficient, conditions for achieving engagement.