INTEGRATION: Mark Petrakis

A Theory of Living Fun

So, in the brief space available to us, we have explored the notion of the audience experience and considered it from multiple angles.

In TRANSFORMATION, Marcia Crosby showed us where it starts: the ability to work with people and space - to see what needs to be done, and then to do it.

Invoking PARTICIPATION, Ron M. Davis looked specifically at the interface between audience and action. What is the intent of the experience and how do you tease the audience into following you towards that end?

By way of ENCHANTMENT, Patrick Martin's empowering view of the audience as an accomplice to the act of magic challenges us to balance innocence and intelligence into a single perspective.

Looking at INTERACTION, Steve Durie and Geri Wittig opened up the issue of how electronic and interactive art may well transform all notions of art and public space.

And finally, in the act of STORYTELLING, Abbe Don tracked her journey through the great mother archetype of memory and shared experience that is at the core of the artist/audience experience.

Which leaves us right HERE, at a point where technology offers us all sorts of new options for amusement and group response. A Theory of Living Fun extends the artist/ audience transaction by suggesting that communication in any medium is enhanced when art and ideas are balanced with a healthy measure of interaction and improvisation.

There are more than enough signs evident that we are undergoing a fundamental change in how audiences form, how they encounter new work, how they help shape that work and how they communicate with each other. Observe the following:

• Rave culture and the rise of the DJ have made the rock star largely obsolete among audience/communities that have moved beyond passive spectatordom.

• Video games have allowed two generations of kids to see their TVs as something more than passive viewing boxes.

• The Internet, by way of email, chats and message boards, has brought audience members into direct contact with their heroes, but more importantly with each other. The horizontal many to many sprawl of these audience members into each other’s life is wholly unprecedented.

• Theme parks are becoming ever more interactive. The range of experiences they offer are ever more demanding and even risky. The increasing popularity of extreme sports, rugged eco-tours and participatory workshops is another signal of our changing definition of what it means to be entertained.

• Corporations are newly focused on their show - on the entertainment side of their marketing message which has the effect of turning customers into audience members.

• Live events and large stores are becoming increasingly mediated; webcasts, videowalls, and all sorts of immersive and even networked environments.

Clearly, the next generation audience raised on high energy megashows and festivals is now scanning the horizon for transmissions of a more empowering and involving nature.

Those of us in the Bay Area who have witnessed the rise of the Burning Man ( phenomena through the 90’s, know the profound effect that its "No Spectators" policy has had on our local art/technology community. This annual do-it-yourself gathering of thousands in the desert of Nevada casts a long shadow of influence across the West Coast art landscape. It has inspired thousands into seeing themselves if not as artists, then at least as celebrants in an art—driven ritual. And in such an environment, it should surprise no one when audience members cross the proscenium line and assume a central focus. In the context of Burning Man, participation in the art-making process is considered by many to be something of a civic responsibility. That is a very different model than the one promulgated by commercial interests whose profits depend on keeping their brand of art/stuff floating like a blimp above the heads (but not above the pocketbooks) of the masses.

So, at the same time that technology presents us with a great monolithic virtual simulation of reality, it also reveals new ways around this omniscient data construct. The implication here is that the medium is subject to manipulation in both directions, from above AND from below — a far more democratic model of meddling than was previously possible. The implications for artists and audiences are limitless.

What new forms will emerge in the coming years? What models of audience/artist interaction can we expect to see? As with so much in the past decade the most likely scenarios are the least predictable ones. The best forecast we can provide to artists is to listen closely to your audience. Talk to them. Engage them. Ask them for feedback. Do not avoid, but rather embrace the politics of audience as community. And for audiences, the challenge is not to settle for less, but to push forward in asking of art that it raise the bar to ever finer and subtler levels of interaction and realization. If we are going to leave the security of passivity, then give us something worthy of the risk.

As the boundary between art and life further dissolves, we must see that art exists as an integral part of our life experience. As yesterday's boundary between art and audience dissolves as well, we must learn to accept the multiplicity of responsibilities that accompany such a change.


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