"In these challenging economic times, it is important that artists devise new ways to create, share, think, and dream about what is possible." - FIGMENT website
Figment, an anual event held in NYC (and several other cities across the country), is a festival of art that is interactive and participatory. "You touch it, smell it, write on it, talk to it, dance with it, play with it, learn from it. Interactive art creates a dynamic collaboration between the artist, the audience and their environment." (via figment.com)
What you end up is a pretty wild, and I mean untamed. Works range from whimsical or silly to amazing and even, quite possibly dangerous. But ultimately, it offers visitors a chance to consider the idea of engagement from a lot of perspectives.
A colorful, splashy enterance to an oversized tree house is a fun invitiation to investigate. Others presented a pathway or a mysterious opening encouraging curiousity. Still others ask a question or leave a mad-lib a fill in the blank to say "what's missing here? YOU!"
Anyone involved in communications, marketing, media etc. can learn a lot from artists who are experimenting with such interactivity.
Think for a moment about the fact that a photograph once need to be imprinted on a physical surface in order to be shared. Sometimes you even got “double prints” so you could share it more! The contemporary photo is reproduced instantly and ad infinitum, from context to context. Once, when families gathered, we would go to the shelf and pull out one of the weighty tomes of photographs documenting the history of our times together. Huddled around the book, we'd reminisce together about terrible fashion choices and family members no longer with us. Now, the labored over, bound album has been all but replaced with an intangible, digital slideshow. In fact, rarely seen in any circumstance, are the bent cornered snapshot, the discolored Polaroid, the wear worn artifacts which allow us to hold memory in our hands.
The digital family album has many benefits. The obvious one being that, they can connect families whose members may be spread across continents or are otherwise unable to physically connect. (Also, a tremendous benefit is not having the chemical waste from darkroom chemistry, yuk!) Yet, while mother and daughter may be looking at the same images, each looks at them in their own individual viewing setting. The reminiscing now takes form of individually written comments. This not a replacement for the collective experience created when a physical image is shared among a group, but something different entirely. In their digital incarnation photographs are beginning to loose a purpose they long served. Photography worked as a sort of magical relic maker, turning a fleeting moment into an object, which could contain and preserve a memory. As the physical-ness of the photograph slips away, they becoming less effective as momento mori and function more as constant form of reportage on a life as it happens.
A collective focus on the present tense could indicate an existentialist enlightenment but a lack of ability or willingness to contemplate ones own mortality.
We all have access to a sophisticated commercial distribution platform, which is built specifically to incentivize the constant publication of images.
The digital photograph's insistence on distribution shifts the relationships between the participants involved in a photographic engagement. The priority in the photographic moment becomes to the audience or end viewer of the images rather than to the subject of the image. When this relationship becomes secondary to the relationship between the photographer and the audience of "friends of your friends" we create a very different kind of photography.
Vernacular photography, today, has more in common with commercial photography because it is dependent on an audience’s reaction for its relevance – in contrast to the purely personal documentation created for the purpose of sharing amongst small groups of friends and family, as was the way with its earlier non-digital uncle. Amateur in its photographing but professionalized in its distribution, digital photography professionalizes the casual photographers sensibility in the way that it prioritizes the relationship of the photo taker to the photo's eventual audience above their relation to the subject in front of their lens.
In order to share these photos you must use some kind of third party tool. Be it email or any number of photo sharing services, the sharing of personal photos becomes an opportunity for commerce. And it is not the kind of commerce which makes more objects from photographs, like paying to have photos printed on mousepads and mugs for grandma, this is about about the collection of data from each friend who you want to see your birthday party photos. By doing this, we allow for our personal communication to be used as a medium for commerce (or are we using a medium of commerce as our personal space?). It is something we have grown far too accepting of, we are loosing something of value when there is no way to participate in such communication without involving commerce.
For me this is a big big biggie and relates to a lot of timely topics, in particular "social media" as a bajillion dollar business. The idea of private individuals sharing personal information in a public forum that is privately owned and sometimes even publicly traded, seems so clearly ethically dodgy to me, anyone else concerned about how this will play out down the road?