I N T E R A C T I V E  D E S I G N  F O R U M
Talking with Chip: a computer-mediated dialog


<--[HOME]                         Issue 1 | July 1999 (updated 11/2000)         [Who's doing this]





If you have ever gone to a gallery where computer-based art is being shown you have probably seen a beige computer on a white pedestal (the artsy installation) or a beige computer on a office-style desk (the functional approach).

Neither is particularly attractive. In fact, if you spend your workday chained to a computer, the last thing you want to do is sit down at another workstation. Or if you still are a bit intimidated by technology, an unadorned computer will probably not entice you to explore whatever content it offers.

In designing an installation for my computer-based interactive piece called Image/Self-Image I wanted to make it approachable, human-scaled, and a bit lighthearted. The result was a life-size wooden figure, traced from my own body. Let's call him Chip. Chip has the monitor in his chest (close to the heart) and he holds the mousepad and keyboard in his "hands."

Previous comments The monitor in Chip's chest allows you to view photos of parts of my body and to listen to my comments about them. Most importantly, you can at any time go to a Comments section and type your responses to what you see and hear. Your entry is automatically dated and added to previous ones, creating a running commentary that can be read by all. This interaction is the most important part of the piece, and one that I hoped would be encouraged by the installation.

Chip first met the public during the Herron School of Art Faculty Show, February 1999 at the Herron Gallery in Indianapolis. Based on what I saw in frequent visits to the gallery, he did his job. The presence of a human-sized figure in the gallery drew people like a magnet (the red question mark pulsing in his chest like a heartbeat may have helped, too). The computer technology, partly hidden, was clearly secondary.

Gallery visitors walked directly up to him, showing little of the hesitation often seen when there is a computer on a desk in a public area.

Standing in front of him you are close and easily in touch with the mouse and keyboard. The closeness makes for an intimate, more conversational setting. You can type comments in relative privacy, since your body shields the monitor from the view of bystanders. For many people this factor is important.

So Chip seems to make friends easily, but the resulting dialog recorded in the Comments section is the payoff for me. As expected, many people shared their reactions to what I had said or compared their own feelings with mine, but at least one discussion took off in its own direction with several women discussing (in effect among themselves) the pros & cons of large breasts. This unpredictability is similar to what happens in a real conversation.

Creating the opportunity for conversations that are between people but facilitated by the computer strikes me as a promising direction for artistic exploration. It is meaningful interaction, not the gratuitous, ATM-style interactivity discussed in one of our recommended books.

The Image/Self-Image installation starring Chip is available for bookings (needs a space about 8 x 8 ft. square). If you know of a gallery that may be interested, please contact me by email [click here] or phone (Al Wasco, 216-241-6523).

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