Text for A Directory of British Film & Video Artists 1996

In making work as a response to a given site or situation, the interactive pieces, usually audio and video, aim to engage the viewer in an inquiry or reinterpretation of their role within specific and often everyday contexts. The installations are an attempt to make the audience recognise and question accepted behaviour in public situations while also showing, through ironic juxtaposition of images, sounds and site, the oddity of the kind of social interaction regarded as mundane. For instance, in the publicly sited installations, such as Introductory Exchanges (Woolwich Foot Tunnel, 1993), Tunnel passersby walking underneath the River Thames were forced to step over videoprojected ‘puddles’, while triggering a series of strategically placed sound effects including sheep and running water; “Pedestrian Gestures” (Hull, Manchester and Nottingham Train stations 1994) intervened with commuters through the projection of animated trompe d’oeil of hands, mouths and eyes which when approached triggered a sensor-driven set of audio and computer animated responses including a dog howling and a voice saying indignantly “A-hem” and “Excuse me”. The site is central to the work and the viewer becomes active as collaborator and (often unwitting) participant, constructing individual and often independent narratives depending on the pathway chosen through the space.

The role of the viewer as fundamental to both the interpretation and realisation of the work is not confined to the publicly sited works. “Handle With Care” (Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, 1993) and “AudioZone” (part of the 1994 exhibition “V-topia”, Tramway, Glasgow) also worked with the concept of viewer as ‘choreographer’, but in the more controlled confines of the museum/gallery context. Whilst “Handle with Care” was a direct, evocative response to the previous function of the museum site as a railway warehouse, and engaged its audience with the site’s history; “AudioZone” played off the expectations of visitors to a ‘major show of interactive art’, by constructing a parallel, 3d audio world (only heard through headsets) which stroked, seduced and ultimately manipulated the viewer in an irreverent piece which encouraged the participants to question just who is in command.

All this work is of a hybrid, cross-disciplinary nature, threading together hitherto unexamined and unconnected issues surrounding interactivity, art and technology, public art and intervention. New technologies in particular throw up as many questions as they do opportunities. If one accepts that communication is the goal of much interactive and public artwork, it becomes clear that the questions to be asked are not merely what these technologies can do for the artist, but in what contexts they can be used, and how, if used effectively, the work may serve to bridge the gap between artist and viewer to provide a forum for mutually participatory forms of creativity, questioning and communication, and a re-examination of the role of ‘author’.

Susan Collins ©1995
published in “A Directory of British Film & Video Artists” 1996
Arts Council of England, ed. David Curtis