Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Trans-action: an actor-network approach to interactivity in the visual arts
Mark Cypher
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
University of Western Australia
Thesis Supervisor
Dr Ian McLean
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts
Languages Familiar to Author
URL where full thesis can be found
trans-action, interactivity, visual arts, actor-network theory, distributed cognition, distributed embodiment, enactive signification, relational materiality, information materiality,
Abstract: 200-500 words
In mapping the generative effects of interactive artworks, this dissertation delineates interactivity according to its distributive actions, cognition and embodiment. These distributive effects are explained in terms of Actor-Network Theory (ANT). The dissertation begins with an examination of historical notions of participation and interaction in the visual arts and considers the Systems and Cybernetics art movements of the 1960s to be important precursors to a continuum model, and thus actor-network description, of interaction. Contemporary notions of interactivity in the visual arts are also critiqued, particularly in relation to how the discourses of art theory, sociology, computer science and human computer interaction have generally articulated interactivity as socially constructed, made of separate bounded components, intrinsically linked to technology, primarily immaterial and with inputs and outputs that do little to explain the actual interaction. An actor-network approach is used to investigate how subjects and objects in participatory and/or interactive artworks actually interact. By following the actors at work in the construction of several artworks, the mediatory and distributed effects of actants of all types become apparent. In this way the concept of trans-action rather than interaction is adopted to better define the intimate exchange, reciprocal adjustments and mutual co-constituting relations such artworks produce. Trans-action, therefore, places the emphasis on the exchange of a vast array of entities that stretch across variations in space, time, materials, actors, distributed agencies, cognitive abilities and embodied qualities – not just the technology. The final chapter once more follows the actors in the exhibition of various interactive artworks, but the emphasis is on how the subsequent trans-actions generate the effects of distributed cognition and distributed embodiment. The real-time imaging of participants in many of the works presented translates and thus mediates users’ perceptions. The distributed change in behaviour and body perceptions implies that 'bodies' as well as minds are entangled as part of a new and variable actor-network. In this way, thought and indeed mind emerge along with a body which learns to be effected as it goes. If knowledge is woven from the chain of experiences that are co-constituted in distributed action, then cognitive and body perception are equally distributed properties of the network. Thus, at each step in the chain of translation, and thus trans-action, the referent and indeed reference to the interactive artwork, is considered to be materially and discursively adjusted to the requirements of a particular configuration of the actor-network.