Interactive art can and does exist without digital components, however digital art rarely exists without some form of interaction. One of the goals for this project was to create an installation with the theme of play that combined both physical and digital interactions. The result is Catapult Launch, an interactive game for the gallery. The purpose of this paper is to examine Catapult Launch from its inception to its current state. To fully explain Catapult Launch it is necessary to first study the history and the importance of interactivity within the genre of digital art. According to Christian Paul, in her book Digital Art, “the digital medium’s distinguishing features certainly constitute a distinct form of aesthetics; it is interactive, participatory, dynamic, and customizable.”1
Marcel Duchamp’s Rotary Glass Plates, in 1920, is one of the first artworks that required the audience’s participation to complete the art, making it one of the earliest examples of interactive art. Rotary Glass Plates was an optical illusion that only worked while spinning; in order to view the artwork in its intended state the audience was instructed to “turn on the machine and stand at a distance of one meter.” 2 In 1957, Duchamp stated: “the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” 3
Shortly after Marcel Duchamp shared his thoughts on the creative act, Allan Kaprow was starting to explore his ideas on art through The Happenings. During an interview in 1958, Kaprow predicted that artists in the future “shall utilize the specific substances of sight, sound, movement, people, odors, touch. Objects of every sort are material for the new art: paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies, and a thousand other things.” 4 Kaprow’s first Happening took place at the Reuben Gallery in Manhattan, Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts, 1959. Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts was a complex organized event where participants compiled scripted performances which included but were not limited too, “readings of texts, everyday activities such as squeezing oranges, choreographed movement, slide projections, live music, recorded sounds, and the scripted movement of the audience through the space” 5. Kaprow was one of the first people to consider digital media as a material used within the arts. This way of thinking is much different than traditional art mediums such as painting, printmaking, photography, or sculpture. Kaprow has influenced Catapult Launch through his dedication to interactive art and the acceptance of digital as a medium. Kaprow further influenced Catapult Launch due to the questions The Happenings raises in regards to art and the gallery. Kaprow’s monumental step of moving from rectangular paintings on the wall to Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts started another movement in regards to exhibiting art and what is expected for the gallery.
Myron Krueger’s Responsive Environments are extremely important to digital art and interactive art. Krueger was a computer-scientist with a strong desire to bridge the gap between art and technology. “The result was the concept of a responsive environment in which a computer perceives the actions of those who enter and responds intelligently through complex visual and auditory displays.” 6 The first of these environments is GlowFlow, 1969. GlowFlow is a darkened room with lines of glowing light on the wall. The light was made possible by pumping phosphorescent particles through tubes that passed through columns, revealing the light; in front of each column was a pressure sensitive pad that reacts to footsteps. The reaction of the footsteps allowed the computer to respond by changing the lighting or changing sounds; this creates a direct interaction between the person, computer, and the environment. GlowFlow led Myron Krueger to make a number of decisions; two of which have been very influential to Catapult Launch. The first conclusion by Kruger is as follows, “interactive art is potentially a richly composable medium quite distinct from the concerns of sculpture, graphic art or music” 7. Krueger’s second influential point is that “the visual response should not be judged as art nor the sounds as music. The only aesthetic concern is the quality of the interaction” 8.
I have been making interactive artwork with the theme of play, in some form or another, for the past four years. A huge turning point in my art practice occurred in 2008 when my ceramics professor assigned a site-specific project. We were required to pick a site, research the site, and then create an artwork specifically for the site. I choose the skate park because, as a skateboarder, I had a strong history there. The object that I created as a result from this site was a ceramic skateboard. For me making the object was not enough so to complete the project I rode on the ceramic skateboard. In the end the skateboard broke but that did not matter because the art was not an object; it was a performance, an interaction, most importantly it was an experience. Theartwork was the act of riding on the skateboard, which meant that only I was able to fully experience this piece. All of a sudden traditional art objects, which sit on pedestals, became boring and I had no interest in making objects for the sole purpose of visual display. Myron Kruger’s statement best describes how I felt “The only aesthetic concern is the quality of the interaction” 9. Although my work has changed and developed over the last couple of years I am still exploring interactive art.
Last year I created, Wall Maze, an interactive installation for the gallery where participants are challenged with the task of successfully maneuvering a porcelain ball through a series of tracks. Some tracks are straight while other tracks are ramps; at the end of the maze there is a padded landing zone. If the tracks are aligned incorrectly the ball will most likely fall to the ground and break. If the tracks are aligned correctly and the ball makes it to the padded landing zone the participant may keep the ball as a reward. The participant’s interaction with the artwork combined with their skill and determination ultimately determines the future of the porcelain ball. In Wall Maze the interaction between the participants and the physical objects become the art. The interaction is more than a physical act of touching the ball and placing it on the track it also includes the reactions and feelings throughout the entire experience. After a while I started to think of Wall Maze as a game.
Games are important within the context of digital art because “they explored many of the paradigms that are now common in interactive art” 10. Christian Paul states: “One of the essential characteristic that many of these games share with interactive, digital art is that they are collaborative and participatory: players/ users often have to collaborate…another aspect of participation that games and digital art projects have in common is that of audience contribution” 11.As mentioned in the beginning of the paper, one of my goals for Catapult Launch was to continue exploring interactive work, focusing on the theme of play, with the addition of digital media. Knowing that I wanted to continue exploring play, creating a game was a very natural step.
Catapult Launch is an interactive game for the gallery. Upon entering the gallery, visitors will first see a projection on the wall, one pedestal with a computer, one pedestal with a wooden catapult, clay projectiles, and instructions. The instructions, which are on the computer screen, command the gallery visitors to create a player alias; to do so they must type in their name and hit enter, the computer then takes their photograph and saves the information. At this point the people in the gallery are no longer visitors but players. The computer is programmed to randomly select two players to compete against each other; once players are selected the game starts. Catapult Launch is a two-player targeting game that uses a physical catapult to launch clay projectiles at digital moving targets that are projected on the wall. A single game for Catapult Launch consists of 3 rounds; both players are allowed to take one shot during each round. Each round increases in difficulty as the targets decrease in size while increasing in speed. One point is scored for each target that is hit correctly. The intention of the artwork is to create an installation that challenges typical gallery visitor’s expectations for the gallery while at the same time allowing them to take home an experience of play through physical and digital interaction combined.
The development of Catapult Launch took place over a period of two months. In the beginning I was making a wooden catapult to create an interactive game that involved shooting porcelain projectiles at cushioned targets. Learning about the importance of interaction within digital art increased my desire to create an interactive installation using digital as a medium. Rather than using the catapult to launch projectiles at a physical target I decided to make the targets digital. Making a digital target became far more challenging than I had ever imagined; which led me to collaborate with Tom Lapann. Lapann is a third year sculpture graduate student making interactive artwork using digital technologies.
During an early meeting with Tom Lapann I introduced my project goals as well as my problems. Lapann and I came to realize that our artwork had many parallel ideas: the main one being interaction with the theme of play. From that point on the two of us collaborated together to make Catapult Launch. The original goal for the project remained the same, however with Lapann’s input for our project developed many layers that I would not have come to on own. During one of our early weekly meetings Lapann explained how he was going to create a digitally moving target. Lapann informed me that it was possible to make the targets move using Max, a visual programming language for music and multimedia. “Max programs, called patches, are made by arranging and connecting building-blocks of objects within a patcher, or visual canvas. These objects act as self-contained programs” 12. With Lapann coding the patches, I was able to focus building the physical catapult and projectiles as well as develop game structure. Lapann and I had weekly meetings where we shared our progress.
After one of the meetings, Lapann showed me a patch he was working on for a different project. The patch used the computer’s camera technology to make different sounds depending on where there was movement within the camera’s view. This technology made me think about Catapult Launch, which was still in development, in regards to the social aspects of the gallery and interactive work for the gallery. The gallery space shares a common interest with most games; they are both social experiences. The social aspects are impossible to ignore while developing an interactive game for the gallery. Immediately, I thought to use the computer’s camera technology to randomly select players to compete against each other. This way you might play against someone who you have never met or maybe have been two shy to talk too; this helps to change the social aspects of the gallery. The computer’s ability to randomly select players also makes it possible to participate in the game for those who came to the gallery alone.
Now Catapult Launch has another digital component, the computer’s ability to randomly select players. The patch is simple; first it opens the computer’s camera. Next, someone types in their name in order to create their player ID. The last step is to hit enter; this instructs the computer to record for a set length of time, which is adjustable. Instead of recording the player’s photographs we adjusted the camera to record a very short video clip. Participants are unaware of the video clip until the game begins, and the clip is displayed on the wall. This uncontrolled randomness is designed to be an added level of interaction for both the players and other gallery visitors. The results have been humorous short clips, similar to an animation, of a person’s jaw moving or their head bopping up and down. The people in the gallery who are not playing become spectators through the act of watching and reacting to the game being played. Spectators cheer, make noise, and side with opponents; ultimately they become part of the experience.
Creating game structure was by far the most challenging part of the entire development of Catapult Launch. Good game structure often goes, unnoticed however bad game structure stands out. It was important for Catapult Launch to have Flow. Flow is a theory best described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
“In order to maintain a person’s Flow experience, the activity needs to reach a balance between the challenges of the activity and the abilities of the participant. If the challenge is higher than the ability, the activity becomes overwhelming and generates anxiety. If the challenge is lower than the ability, it provokes boredom” 13.
As an attempt to achieve Flow Catapult Launch was designed to have multiple levels of difficulty. This was accomplished through structuring the game to have 3 rounds, with each round increasing in difficulty. The scoring structure for Catapult Launch is another attempt to achieve flow. Games are often competitive however when the competition is too high much of the fun is lost. Each round in Catapult Launch features a target that is worth one point. If each player can score the same number of points it is possible for the game to end as a tie.
In the past two weeks Catapult Launch has been installed and played on four occasions. Each time Catapult Launch is exhibited I am able to observe the art in its intended state; an experience of play through physical and digital interaction. The creation of Catapult Launch has helped me to further understand the importance of interactivity within the realm of digital art.
- Christian Paul, Digital Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 2008) 67
- Paul, Digital Art, 11
- Robert Lebel: Marcel Duchamp. New York: Paragraphic Books, 1959) 77,78
- Holland Cotter, “Allan Kaprow, the creator of artistic happenings, dies at 78”, New York Times, April 10, 2006
- Frantisek Deak, “In memory, Allan Kaprow 1927-2006”, The Drama Review, 50:4, 2006
- Myron Krueger, Responsive Environments, Montvale, New Jersey, AFIPS Press, 1977
- Krueger, Responsive Environments, 1977
- Krueger, Responsive Environments, 1977
- Krueger, Responsive Environments, 1977
10. Paul, Digital Art, 197
11. Paul, Digital Art, 197
12. “Max Software”, Wikipedia, accessed on November 18, 2012, accessed at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_(software)#Language
13. Jeneova Chen, Flow in Games, accessed on November 19, 2012, accessed at, http://www.jenovachen.com/flowingames/Flow_in_games_final.pdf