LIA, an Austrian artist, has been making interactive software-based pieces since the 1990s. In most cases, viewers have interacted with the pieces through a familiar but not particularly glamorous interface: a mouse and a computer screen. A recent collaboration with creative engineer Damian Stewart, however, has given one of LIA’s pieces a far more polished look. And it’s given museum visitors something much nicer to play with than a mouse.
For the piece, which is called Rain and is currently on view at the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria, the duo designed a sleek enclosure, made with wood and aluminum, that serves as the point of interaction for curious visitors. Passersby interact with LIA’s custom software with five sliders, each of which tweak the look of a cascading series of lines generated on a screen above. Where a computer is just a computer, this polished panel is something totally different. It begs to be touched.
In addition to giving LIA’s piece a bit more interactive allure, Stewart’s custom hardware raises questions about what software art should look like in a museum space. In one sense, it seems like something that shouldn’t be more than an ancillary concern for artists. Let them create—whether they’re working in paint or in code—and leave the installation to the people who work in the museum. But as Stewart suggests on the project page on his website, there are reasons for people working in code to concern themselves with presentation.
"A collector does not want to collect a 'computer’ and have to think about the associated complexity, maintenance and upgrade issues that are associated with this idea," he points out. "They would rather collect objects that are self-contained, embedded and maintenance-free: devices that 'just work.'"
Still, he considers his box to be a secondary part of the project. The true artwork, he says, is LIA’s algorithm—something that’s reflected in the multifaceted presentation of the piece in the gallery. Stewart’s enclosure hangs on one wall; images generated by an autonomous version of the software are projected on the one next to it. Opposite that hang prints of the software’s output. The viewing experiences are totally different, but they’re all products of the same software. Which is one of the most interesting aspects of this type of art. A futuristic wall enclosure is only one of many forms it can take.