Contradictions of Interactive Art

A conversation of the theories of “thinking-feeling” and relational aesthetics


The work Come Sit With Me is one that has been forged with a combination of dance research, travels to Romania and a deep passion for the investigation of support. Unpacked within the writings of To Counterbalance: A Manifesto, ideas and ideals of support can be metaphorically seen within the dance movement categorized as a counterbalance - the active, engaged and reciprocal movement between two; suspension of a pair either in movement or stillness. 

Dance is an interaction, support is an interaction, so how can this work and the art itself be an interaction as well? 

Specifically within Come Sit With Me, there are two viewing surfaces. First is the video which includes the installation on a table with two chairs and two pairs of headphones, inviting viewers to come with another, to listen with company. Second is within the video, the interaction of the dance and the constructed set. Activated by prompts and gesture, layered in histories and  narrative. They each have their own moments and places for interaction, encouraged and inherent. 

Brian Massumi, a Canadian social theorist, claims that art does not need to be inherently interactive because seeing is a dynamic cycle. Claiming that a person views the world and interprets what is seen by relating these visuals back to the self. In a moment, one can see a chair and know that there is a texture, and mass and a backside to the chair even though we cannot see it. We pull from the past and create an interaction with what we see in a single instant of sight. This is what Massumi calls “thinking-feeling” a way we see think through what we feel to construct a fuller understanding of the world. To complete the cycle, Massumi writes about what he calls “the vitality effect” or a sense of Deja Vu when interacting with the world. This constant state of repeating experiences because we relate our present to our past which influences our future interaction. Since sight is actually a movement of “thinking-feeling” that is inherently dynamic and interactive with the self, then there is no need to create an environment to declare something as “interactive art” or to encourage audiences to consciously interact with a piece. It is something we already do subconsciously. 

There’s a conversation between “thinking-feeling” and support here. One that sits within a relation to lived experience and action in the present. Perhaps the need for support and how we perform support lies in the experiences we have and how we utilize tools from the past; seeing moments in the present and pulling from experience to know or guess how to interact with another in need. 

Come Sit With Me and the intent of shifting the type of support we perform highlights a need to create new lived experiences to pull from. Ones that harbor healthy interdependence and empathy. How can art add to that pool of lived experience? How can we create a moment that gives impact to create a tool for the future? 

I suggest creating an experience that activates more than just sight in a moment of witnessing counterbalanced support. In the installation of Come Sit With Me in the Parsons Master of Fine Art Photography thesis show NOW (2018), the video piece is placed upon a kitchen table with two chairs and split pair of headphones - inviting the viewer to take a moment and sit and listen. The chairs activate the kinesthetic aspect of our experiences, the headphones add to an auditory interaction. Accompanied with dance, retold poetic stories, and the feeling of wood chairs to sit on, perhaps this encompassing moment can leave a mark in the experiences of the viewer. 

According to Massumi, this is unnecessary. That sight is inherently interactive enough for art. But in a loud and abrasive world, perhaps creating a sensory experience around a subtle investigation of support is needed. Support in itself is a sensitive and fragile dynamic, one that is constantly shifting and changing between two people. There is no brash way to approach this subject. The intricacies must be allowed to sit and live and flow. To create a space for someone to sit and listen and feel the experience is a way to hold ideas with an individual. Bold perhaps, but support is a universal need and perhaps activating different sense is a way to capture the attention of different types of people. 

Although the installation of the work in the group show NOW is interactive and in a sense a rejection of Massumi, the video work as a piece embraces the cycle of thinking-feeling when thought about alongside ideas of performative identity. 

As mentioned before there are two surfaces of interaction in this work: the way one views the video, and the video itself. While the installation is multifaceted, the video as a piece of art functions against Massumi’s ideas of “thinking-feeling” and instead aligns itself with relational aesthetics. 

Relational aesthetics is the antithesis of Massumi’s ideology around “thinking-feeling”, believing that the viewing experience of a constructed social environment is part of the art. That to have interaction, there must be space created for social experiences activated by the viewer. In the work Come Sit With Me I would argue that the social circumstance created is not necessarily the one between the viewer and the video, but the constructed set and the dancers. By stripping down organic elements to be a simple solid color back drop, a table with a tablecloth and four chairs the dancers must interact with the space to activate it and its potential. Removing extra elements of the video, the movement can be the center of the work and the focus of the art, allowing the dancers to explore the meaning of counterbalance within a space meant for this exploration. 

It is this conversation between relational aesthetics and “thinking-feeling” that I find a lot of interest. At what point does the dynamics of sight and the self collide with a physical or auditory interaction with work? Although they are direct contradictions of each other, they can work together within Come Sit With Me

Perhaps the elements of Come Sit With Me are more in line with relational aesthetics, both in the presentation and the video itself, but the way the piece is meant to function resonates with “thinking-feeling” as a cycle of change and dynamic relation rather than simply an act of sight. In this way, the two theories work together - a way to envision the future that can shift and change. 


Written by Shannon Finnell
July 29th, 2018


Reading List: 

Chayka, Kyle. "WTF is… Relational Aesthetics?" Hyperallergetic. February 2011. 

Massumi, Brian. “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens.” Interview with V2 Institute for the Unstable Media, 2008.