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Jouable : art, jeu et interactivité

Jouable : art, jeu et interactivité, Genève, 2004
Jouable: art, jeu et interactivité. — Genève : Haute école d'arts appliqués; Paris : École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs; Saint-Denis: Université Paris 8; Genève: Saint-Gervais Genève: Centre pour l'image contemporaine, 2004. — 365 p. — ISBN 2839900181. 

Jouable (Playable) is an interdisciplinary research project organized jointly by the Haute école d’arts appliqués (Geneva), École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs (Paris), Ciren, Université Paris 8, and the Saint Gervais Centre for Contemporary Images (Geneva). A number of Japanese universities and art schools also participated in the project. (1)

The criterion of "playability" is commonly applied in industry to measure the modulating potential of a system and the flexibility of an interface (video games, visualization tools, etc.). Using academic communications and exhibitions of works, the Playable project presented the heuristic value of this evaluation criterion, which in this case became a notion through which to identify the common characteristics of artistic offerings. The research led to a conference entitled Jouable: art, jeu et interactivité (Playable: art, play and interactivity), which was held on April 23 and 24, 2004, at the Saint Gervais Centre for Contemporary Images in Geneva. The conference followed a series of exhibitions that gave substance to the theoretical premises outlined in the communications. In 2002, the first version of the exhibition was presented at the Haute école d’arts appliqués in Geneva. In 2003 and 2004, a second and third version were produced at the Centre for Cooperation for New Media in Kyoto and the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs in Paris respectively. The publication presents the conference proceedings and catalogues of the three exhibitions.

In his introduction, artist and theorist Jean-Louis Boissier, one of the project’s originators, defines the concept of "playability" as it applies to the artistic practices exhibited. Boissier explains the notion as the common thread linking proposed works that vary greatly in both form and content. According to the author, artistic propositions under the rubric "playable" share a dependence on the rules written into their programs or offered to the spectator by way of experiences. Boissier then makes the distinction between play as leisure or entertainment and play within a broader definition, as a prescribed program of interactions between individuals or human and machine. Parallel to this preamble, in Jouable, pourquoi : contextes (Playable, why: contexts), Jérôme Baratelli (a professor at the Haute école d’arts appliqués and another originator of the project) writes about the genesis of the project’s research component. Baratelli also emphasizes the spectator’s mode of interaction with the exhibited works, which is different from the relationship offered by traditional exhibitions. He believes that the gathered works here thus extend technology to functions beyond those confined to its programmed uses in industry.

While the publication’s pagination presents texts alphabetically according to author, the conference proceedings are divided into four themes, a format we will also follow in this summary.

The first theme, Observer, analyser (Observe, analyze), brings together contributions from recognized art theorists and historians who seek to define the concept of play in terms of its impact on discussions about art. In Jeux de langage, art numérique et interactivité, (Language games, digital art and interactivity), Jean Pierre Cometti draws a parallel between Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion of play and the behaviour of "interactive" works, the manifestations of which depend on specific rules. Like Cometti, Daniel Pinkas in Une théorie praticable de l’art (A feasible theory of art) applies Wittgenstein’s concepts in order to present a list of the conditions needed to analyze the "art value" in works based on scientific research. In Le musée dilaté (The expanded museum), Simon Lalumière compares the showcasing of museum collections on the Internet with display platforms designed specifically for the Web. Lalumière uses case studies to underscore the fact that the use of virtual architecture to present works of art on the Internet should not preclude the existing productive tension between online information and the physical venue represented. In To Take "Play" Seriously, Hiroshi Yoshida explores the philosophical connotations of play, emphasizing the loosening (2) effect it has on the rituals of productivity imposed by the capitalist Japanese society.

The second theme, Chercher, expérimenter (Search, experience) combines texts by emerging artists, who present their approaches, with texts by young researchers, who examine various theoretical problems associated with artistic practices. In L’image apprivoisée (The image tamed), Caroline Bernard cites a number of her projects as examples of interfaces where images of the spectator captured in real time interact with pre-existing content. In an interview with Jean-Louis Boissier, Atsuko Uda explains that the interface of her works and their audio-visual content are two components that she often creates simultaneously. Uda therefore keeps in mind the methods by which the spectator will become involved in the work as she plans the deployment of the narrative blocks that comprise the work. As part of this reflection on interactive cinema, Gwenola Wagon, in Entre jouer-In-Between Play, describes certain installations of her own that allow the spectator to dynamically restructure familiar film material.

The third theme, Diffuser, exposer (Showcase, exhibit) brings together the contributions of exhibition curators and broadcasters, who discuss various methods of displaying digital works (exhibitions, spatial renderings, broadcasts). In Des propositions interactives dans la culture Internet et dans l’espace public (Interactive offerings in Web culture and public spaces), Catherine Quéloz and Liliane Schneiter offer updates to aesthetic notions in order to discuss the processes involved in digital works that one tends to immediately associate with a technological performance. In Milieux d’échanges : du paradigme relationnel (Discussion environments: relational paradigms), Emanuele Quinz studies the differences between the paradigm of relational art – as described by Nicolas Bourriaud in his presentation of the art work as a catalyst for interpersonal exchanges – and the interactivity that promotes a programmed relationship between a human subject and technological entity. In Des choses différentes : création et diffusion sur Internet (Differences: Web creation and broadcasting), Michel Sellam presents his approach as a Web artist and discusses works of art created for the Internet, which should be experienced at home – free from the interference of traditional exhibition venues – to ensure that their critical content has a real impact.

The fourth theme, Enseigner, créer (Teach, create) presents reflections on the creation of works of media art by artists who are also educators in academic institutions. In De l’autre côté du miroir (From the other side of the mirror), Luc Courchesne demonstrates the evolution of the concepts of interaction, immersion and playability in describing the processes behind the dialogical structured works that he has created since 1990. Courchesne states that his new panoscopic environments go beyond the immersion of his initial works to allow spectators to become one with an environment fictitiously recomposed by the work itself. Much like Courchesne, in Machines vivantes, machines de vision, machines de mémoire (Living machines, vision machines, memory machines), Masaki Fujihata presents his findings on the modalities of new display devices for moving images. In many of his projects, the artist combines video and global positioning technologies, such as GPS (Global Positioning System), to map out a territory that is both abstract and physical. In This is fun!, Douglas E. Stanley applies the reverse engineering concept to the context of video games, which spawned the reflections on "playability" offered by most of the conference’s participants. Contrary to theorists who advocate the invisibility of devices in order to obtain this level of interaction, Stanley believes that the video gamer does not wish to be confined to the interface offered, seeking instead to play directly with the program’s internal structure (computer code).

The second section of the publication contains data sheets on each work presented in the three parts of the Playable exhibition. The final section, entitled Documents, is a collection of interviews with participating speakers and artists (Donald Abad, Mariina Bakic, Jean-Louis Boissier, Luc Courchesne, and Jean-Marie Géridan). This supplementary component also presents project proposals (descriptions and images) from a number of artists (Mariina Bakic, Michael Sellam, Gwenola Wagon, and Alexis Chazard) as well as a "charter" of the ten key concepts of the Playable project.

Vincent Bonin © 2005 FDL

(1) Information Media Center, SEIAN University, Kyoto; Conceptual and Media Art at the Kyoto University of Art, Kyoto.

(2) Desserrement – the word used by the author – refers to the definition of the French word "jeu" as a small space between mechanical components, such as cogwheels. p. 130.