What does interactivity mean? Which is the original and deep meaning of this word, and how the world of new media and creativity confront themselves with it? In which fields can interaction dynamics be traced back and which are the parameters defining interactive environments, structures, works, networks?

The 7th edition of the Dutch Electronic Art Festival , held in Rotterdam from 10 to the 29 th of April 2007, was focused on the most varied realities of this substantial and substantive subject. The days from the 10 th to the 15 th of April well entirely devoted to debates, workshops, conferences, lives and live sets, an international symposium for specialists and scholars, all connected by the red line of interaction.

Rotterdam is a perfect location for this kind of operations: brand new city, with new spaces and brand new architectures, innovative realities working daily within the field of experimentation, creative research, with strong international networks. Rotterdam is one of those strategic places, in the middle of the old Europe , one of the fertile environments which never stops; the V2_ – Institute for unstable media, is undoubtedly one of the emerging environments of this panorama.

Much of the dynamism connected to the research on audiovisuals and new media was made possible thanks to the twenty-year activity of Alex Adriaansen & company. This new edition of Deaf, after a couple of years of inactivity, celebrates the 25 years of V2_ with a night with live performances, among which by Mouse on Mars and Ryoji Ikeda , and sanctions the official opening of the renewed seat of Las Palmas , inaugurated during this edition of the festival with the presence of the Queen Beatrix of Holland (18 th of April 2007).


Deaf is present even in many other historical seats of culture of the town: Nai, V2_, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen , the Parkhuismeesteren , the Arminius , the ro teather and the Staal. Las Palmas, given the width and “yard” atmosphere, it is obviously the seat chosen to house the exhibition, which proposes renown and emerging names in the field of new media art, with a particular attention to Chinese research.

China is the host country of Deaf 2007- an outcome of previous collaborations and networking activity developed recently- with 20 key personalities of cultural and artistic panorama of the emerging and independent media community. 4 out of the 22 works are Chinese: Chinese Portraiture by Zhou Hongxiang , Go Up! Go Up! By Hu Jie Ming , Lowest Resolution by Zhang Peili and Surrounded by Yang Zhenzhong; all very different between them, showing some of the subjects present within the Chinese artistic activity and providing you the chance to approach to them.

Chinese Portraiture (2006) is a work whose origin is more manifest, thought as a dictionary to look through from the top to the end of the page, from right to left, according to the Chinese tradition, present the portraits of faces and typical characters of the contemporaneous reality and of the history of the origin country, to observe in a waiting and quiet state.


The other works are more connected to the physical presence of the spectator, and, under a certain point of view, by him:

Go Up! Go Up! , waiting the audience in Las Palmas hall; it is made up of 16 monitors through which human figures climb, but this ascent is influenced by the audience entrance who, with the noise and annoyance of their presence, cause the fall and a new start.

Totally surrounded by Surrounded images, the spectator is overwhelmed by a sort of panoramic media wheel, but is even more in trouble when theycross the corridor towards the Lowest Resolution (2006), little lcd screen with video images which can be hardly recognized from far, which become even more confused with the approaching of the spectator, up to the total noise of the image, turning into a veritable electronic snow when the spectator is nearer.

A wide section of works present at the Deaf focus on sound and on game art as preferred ambits of experimentations and, gathered within the space of the exposition, represent a panorama of a few forms completed or closed and many moments of experimentation. Project b (2006) by Exonemo is a 3D shooting game, a cube in which a first virtual person acts, whose actions depend on the activation of real external electronic objects which vibrating, shaking and activating interact with the game environment.


One of the more curious works within the computer music is Harddisko (2004) by Valentina Vuksic , whose activity of different hard disks produce orchestrated electronic sonorities, which serve as a counterpoint to the patterns generated by the activity of 20 old Macintosh SE in SE/30 (2006) of Code31 .

Linked to the sound is the work Pneumatic Sound Field (2006) by Edwin van der Heide , at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, a sound installation made up of an architectonic structure over the heads of who cross the inner courtyard of the museum, a true sonorous building which “breathes”, generating different sounds according to the interaction of the wind with the devices on the structure, giving life to an unpredictable new sonorous composition.

Sublime are the images created by Ondulation (2004) by Thomas McIntosh , installation for light, sound and water, from which spout sonorous and visual scores, subtle and poetic, which attract and create an unreal and meditative atmosphere.

Parkhuismeesteren space was chosen fro 2 virtual immersive environments, reflecting on the relation between real and virtual Common Grounds (2005-07) by Workspace Unlimited , accessible simultaneously through terminals in the towns of Rotterdam, Gent and Montreal, and EI4 – Exercise in immersion 4 by Marnix de Njis , to test thanks to the use of a sort of “suit of armour” to wear to move in a reality confusing itself with virtual.


Other subjects were present at Deaf07: the relation between art, science and technology, in Experiment in Galvanism 2003-2004) by Garnet Hertz , which allow you to control a frog’s leg , in whose body is inserted a miniaturised web server, and in Morphing Machinery by Graham Smith, inspired to the world of nanotechnology and on the idea of a future urban reality, in which the structures and architectures are in constant transformation according to environmental and programming changes.

The playful aspect of an interactivity involving completely the audience is explored in Drawn (2006) by Zachary Lieberman , installation in which the spectator is encouraged to draw and give birth to his own creations through a simple and intuitive interface , and in the networks objects of the installation Soft(n) by Thecla Schiphorst , common objects create a pillow, implemented by interactive proprieties allowing man to interact in totally new ways, creating relations and attitudes through moods and behaviours.

5voltcor, winners of an award during Transmediale 2005, have presented a new project Knife.hand.chop.bot (2007), insisting on the relation between user and machine, defying the user’s courage. Inserting a hand in a device whose extremity has a knife, you undergo a dangerous game of ability with the system, which , acting undisturbed shouldn’t fail in hitting the pre-established zones, but which, in the case of interferences generated by the stream flowing in the human body, could aim high.

Only two Italians Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio ,together with the duo Ubermorgen.com , with Amazon Noir – The Big Book Crime (2006).


Not only artists, performers, experimenters, researchers, but architects too, Rotterdam which was conferred the title of City of Architecture of 2007- and anthropologists, scientists, communicators, academics, curators as well were present during the days devoted to the Symposium on interactivity.

The idea of interaction interest everybody and you can’t find it in all the artistic activities developing and which creativity unchains. A multiform term, which sometimes talks about environments which seem to auto- generate their own dynamics: machines, technology, software interact, sometimes even without man. The main question emerged and discussed is the meaning of the word interaction and the places in which it is traceable.

Anyway, the risk is to be carried away up to the frontier of hazardous and nebulous definitions, the merit of the survey on the subject of interaction stays in the freedom of creation it allows. The beauty of its meaning stays in the semantic multiplicity characterizing it and in the mutable interpretation you can give to it.

The participants have reflected on this open subject, many seminaries, workshops organised during Deaf07, surfing through the more different origin fields.

The intervention by Mitchell Whitelaw Australian researcher, writer and academic who tried to indicate different modalities of possible interactions, during the seminary ” Not everything is interaction“. The lecture by Whitelaw originated by an idea of interactivity based on a pre-established system, within which exist limited chances of interaction. This type of interactivity is only a limited part of what the term can mean now, Whitelaw lists a series of new chances and interactive chances in which the alternatives are not only pre-determined. The exploration goes into the forms of programming of artificial life, in ecosystems interacting one with another, defining the relations between computer/machine and spectator/participant as a ” cybernetic ballet of experience“.


We discussed with Roman Kirschner on the meaning of interaction. He showed some of his works, among which the famous Painstation, ideated with the collective //////////fur//// , innovative station which provokes true pain each time you are wrong, thanks to a device applied on the hand of the user during the game.

Silvia Scaravaggi: How is it important for you the presence of the body in defining the meaning of interaction?

Norman Kirschner: The bodily presence in interaction becomes important for me as soon as a certain group of people discusses the topic. In general I think that you can never think of art without the involvement of a human being perceiving it. So I can be very fascinated about the complexity of data exchange that happens exclusively in computer systems. E.g. on the international stock market. The fascination comes from the incredible meaning and abstraction from life that strikes life with almost unexplainable and pityless precision. But I cannot feel the least impression if people discuss interaction as the mere cooperation of data systems although it is important from a technical perspective.

Silvia Scaravaggi: Interactivity has then a strong meaning in the relation man/machine?

Norman Kirschner: Yes. But it would be presumptuous to only focus on the meaningful part of interaction. There surely are many ways to create and perceive meaning. So let’s let it flow and judge later. I am sure you can answer this question much better than me.

Silvia Scaravaggi: But the aspect of pain in your works remembers us we are human, that interaction derives from a relation which is still human.

Norman Kirschner: Did we forget that we are human? Did we get absorbed in cruel worlds of concepts and meaningless semantics? I don’t know. I guess that everybody has to answer this question for him/herself… I hope that it will not only be pain that guides our focus to ways of being that seem to consist of less substitutions. Though I like substitutions a lot of course. But there is pleasure that is certainly more intense than the safe and delegated one.

Silvia Scaravaggi: I wonder what interaction ISN’T to you….

Norman Kirschner: I would prefer not to make restrictions… sorry


As in this short dialogue, during Deaf07, the subject discussed with a prospective of opening and absolute not limitation, a type of approach which has generated many discussions and in certain way dissatisfaction, indeterminacy.

The debate never closes, it doesn’t provide any specific definition, but it confirms that the field of interaction is one of the most open and challenging subjects in the field of new media.

The interventions of the participants to the Symposium “Interact or Die!” organised in the magnificent seat of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, have testified the dynamicity, variety and multidisciplinarity of the subject. Detlef Martins, Lars Spuybroek, Howard Caygill, Noortje Marres and Janne van Heeswijk, have discussed the meaning of interactive art and interactivity within political, social, cultural, artistic, biologic, architectonic, cognitive networks; even belonging to different work ambits, they share the same passion for the creation of networks and research of new relations in which perception and action are integrated by experience and memory. One over all, Lars Spuybroek’s work who, in an inspiring intervention, has presented the activity of NOX , study which is developing interactive architectures, in relation of exchange and reciprocity with the environment and man, introducing the constant of the variation as key element in each good interactive building, as in musical compositions, scores and design.