indiscipline of design

Example 2: « Just Married » by Agnes de Cayeux

In digital systems, the main assumption is that there is a seamless and fluid continuity between the activity of the user and the reactions of the machine. It is the paradise of TOOLS. However, some artifacts are openly more critical of the assumptions related to the reign of the interactive paradigm.  These art pieces not only force us to reconsider our assumptions about technical systems, they also bring our own activities under scrutiny.

In Just married[7], the network artist Agnes de Cayeux shows blurred erotic images that react only if the spectator slowly caresses the screen with the mouse or the touch pad. Attracted by the photos of naked bodies, willing to unveil more of the image or to capture the movements of the characters, the users want to hasten the whole process. But their expectations about the machine “real time” reactivity are thwarted by the maddeningly slow experiment. The image does change, revealing another scene but only after a long trial period.

Agnes de Cayeux’s work therefore confronts the spectators with their expectation of speed, feedback, effectiveness, efficiency and baffles expectations about real time interactivity. Time is made palpable again. Watching images does not necessarily equal consuming them as fast as one can click, but can be a gradual process of contemplation. Real time activity is no longer taken for granted, it is tried. Thereby, the spectator has to think about a number of things: the voyeurism directly related to expectations of reactivity from the machine, the primacy of efficiency over aesthetics, the mode of consumption of images and more generally of “cultural” artifacts.

This work of art has explicit erotic references that not only stem from the choice of images and the use of a dictionary of erotic words but also because it reflects on the users’ expectation of quick satisfaction that, for the artist, goes with interactivity as instant gratification. As Baudrillard analyzed in On seduction: “we are in a culture of early ejaculation”[8]. In the ’70s, the philosopher and sociologist already observed that our society of consumption encouraged expectations of easy and immediate reward. As couched in different terms by Virilio, it is a culture of speed and immediacy[9]. What the artist suggests is that with digital systems, we are looking for a quick emotional rush that the computer is supposed to provide.

Agnes de Cayeux therefore obstructs the users’ pursuit of efficiency, and rather invites them to focus on their own gestures, their manipulation of the system, and their relation to images. She tries to capture the way these technologies organize and shape the representation of the action as well as the action itself.

To bring the reflexive designer into action means that some reflexive media environment are purposefully created that questions their assumptions. Playfulness and exploration have to be supported rather than the use of the “efficient” of tool triggering an early creative ejaculation.