Interactive Futures - 2007

Interactive Futures 2007 ( November 15 - 17 ) Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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Carolyn Guertin

Beyond the Threshold: The Dynamic Interface As Permeable Technology

The computer screen is equal parts window and frame. It acts as a surface, a mirror, a threshold, a portal and an interactive space with visual depth. But, as philosopher Stanley Cavell has observed, “a screen is [also] a barrier.” Although it may be a window, it screens and is a screen against a mediated world. As it mediates, it sets us at a distance from its effects.

Anne Friedberg believes that the window is an integral component of detached spectatorship: The condition of the window implies a boundary between the perceiver and the perceived. It establishes as a condition for perception a formal separation between a subject who sees the world and the world that is seen, and in doing so it sets the stage, as it were, for that retreat or withdrawal of the self from the world which characterizes the dawn of the modern age. Ensconced behind the window the self becomes an observing subject, a spectator, as against a world which becomes a spectacle, an object of vision.

This notion of spectatorship has evolved from a particular patriarchal perspective on the world that rejects embodied experience and allows the eyes to stand in for the body as a whole. What happens to the notion of screen when we, like Alice, insert our whole body into it? What happens to the screen, the interface and to our subject position when we become interactive agents rather than passive observers? These are questions that feminist and posthuman artists and theorists are grappling with.

The binary construct of objective/subjective points of view does not adequately describe our engagements in an age of interactive interfaces and responsive environments. Vivian Sobchack constructs a taxonomy of the materialities of presence for the digital age. Anthony Vidler says that the screen does away with the notion of both picture and window becoming instead “an ambiguous and unfixed location for the subject”. Paul Virilio calls for a new dynamic personal perspective in the age of the screen that takes into account the movement and speed built into our technologies. The “trajective” subject, Virilio says, is a more accurate description of the contemporary subject as she exists in a state of perpetual motion always shifting between objective and subjective positions. Anna Munster observes that new media artists seek to rewrite subjectivity by creating three new kinds of subjects: a “pure surface”, a posthuman one, a programmatic one.

Rejecting the “faciality”, as Anna Munster calls it, of the screen as an artificial and disembodied construct, I will explore feminist and posthuman interfaces — new kinds of dynamic screen technologies — and the new subject positions artists are creating as they make room for all kinds of bodies, presences and subjects in motion.


Carolyn Guertin is Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Director of the eCreate Lab in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Arlington. Doing her best to sow Canadian ideas in foreign soil, she is also Senior McLuhan Fellow at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto—where she was SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow from 2004-06. She earned her PhD in digital narrative in the Department of English at the University of Alberta. She has taught, exhibited and published internationally, and does theoretical work in cyberfeminism, born-digital arts, and information aesthetics. She is a literary adviser to the Electronic Literature Organization, an editorial board member of Convergence, a founding editor of the online journal MediaTropes, which will debut in 2007, and curator of Assemblage: The Online Women’s New Media Gallery. She is working on a new book called Connective Tissue: Queer Bodies, Postdramatic Performance and New Media Aesthetics.


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