One possibility is that the structure of late capitalist society, with its focus on the self, pushes us to become authors of content rather than consumers of it. Differing views abound around the use of individuals as content creators, especially on online platforms. Opinion is sometimes viewed to be as valid as a fact if it holds the same quantitative metrics, at least in purely programmatic terms. Of course, art production doesn’t have the same issues as Facebook’s feed algorithm. However, the societal context feeds into ideas of value and the use of language, so it’s relevant here.
On an institutional level, by inviting an audience to be physically involved in a work, any mechanical interaction concurrently generates a data stream which can then be used to quantitatively show that the viewer has engaged directly with the material. This data might not be stored, but it’s obvious to see that it could have its uses for institutions needing to prove their worth to funding bodies. In documentation of such works, it’s far easier to display to funding bodies or the public that people were involved in the “creation” of the work. It’s far harder to show and record that a viewer has created a powerful mental memory of a painting, or experienced an emotional response to a performance. In recent online applications for awards and commissions from organisations and institutions, I’ve seen an increasing rise of requests or “we are interested in” statements for works that have an element of interactivity using digital technology, and I wonder why that may be. In my thinking, all works are interactive, it’s simply that the type of exchange is different between the physical and mental commitment a viewer gives to the experience of a work. Some of the best digital works I’ve seen or experienced – such as Protomusic #1 (pictured below) – have no physical or content manipulation possibilities, so the two aren’t immutably intertwined.