Learn to be a Machine|DistantObeject #1

DescriptionLearn to be a Machine (2013) is an interactive installation. It is composed of a trackball, a bench and a projection showing the upper part of a human face. The audience can control the line of sight of the face in the projection via the trackball. This direct and shallow interaction is the intended appearance of the piece. It is intended to give an impression of a banal interactive installation that is done with computer graphics or sophisticatedly coded with a mass collection of images.

MechanismThe system can be divided into two parts. One part is outside the box, the other part is inside the box.

Outside the boxThe box should look like a bench for audience to sit on for watching the projection. And audience will see my cropped face as the only thing in the projection. There is a trackball in front of them while they sit on the bench. When they scroll with the trackball, my eye movement in the projection will follow. In the end the work should give an impression of an interactive video work. Artist should not give hint about he is inside the bench. But it is alright for audience to aware the presence of artist inside the box.

Inside the boxI lie down in the box/bench. There is a monitor above my face. The trackball from outside is controlling the cursor in this monitor. My eyes will follow. And there will be a webcam place in the middle of the monitor to capture the video feed for the projection.

This work is a day job for me when it is exhibited. I work in the bench for the whole exhibition period, with 2 to 3 short breaks in a day. I have worked for this piece for three exhibitions, counting about 180 hours in total.

ConceptLearn to be a Machine | DistantObject #1 is an abstract system of obedience and manipulation. The video installation features a representation of the artist himself, who has provided a means for the audience to interact with the system. By scrolling a trackball, the audience can manipulate the direction of the artist’s eyes. Blinking and facial expressions are generated randomly.

The work explores the power relation between humans and machines. It also emphasizes the ambiguity between reality and virtuality, the tangible and the intangible. We often find ourselves within systems where we are both following and giving orders, never sure whether we are controlling or being controlled. This artwork is a system that empowers and manipulates the manipulated so that they also in turn, manipulate the manipulated.

In this work, I want to re-question interactivity and obedience. It is commenting on the passiveness of us that almost works like voluntary obedience, towards technology/society, or any blackbox. I put myself in the role of obeying orders. The audience has the power to control my eyes’ direction. The manipulation is completed with my voluntary obedience, actively following the cursor with my eyes. To become a part of the machine, thus the title Learn to be a Machine.

Learn to be a Machine is an attempt to address this issue that clings to interactive arts since the coining of the term. The intended banal appearance gives participants an “old-school” impression. Even though the participants in Learn to be a Machine cannot make a significant variety of inputs or trigger a meaningful difference in the outputs, it is a window to point participants towards the direction of examining the interaction. With the subtle hint of the impossibility of the video being pre-made or computer generated, participants who pick up that hint are being led to focus on the production of such video instead of the video itself. For the participants who believe that the video is a live-feed, the work transforms into an inquiry of dialogue, interactivity and manipulation. The interaction that happens between the participants and me becomes the focus of their examination. It is a piece in which active participation is rewarded.