T-shirts As Software
Susana Mendes Silva keeps creating interactive performances and by doing so continues to investigate the nature of social relations. After Artphone and art_room, two performances in which the spectator (user, to be more accurate) had to interact with the device created by the artist, a technologically mediated question-answer situation about contemporary art, Silva developed Live Art.
The assumptions are the same. Even the name of this new performance reminds us of the previous ones and how much she enjoys questioning the boundaries of traditional art, or at least of a commodified, object driven art. In this project there is again a device the artist created, but not a digital one, or at least not one at first sight. It is a t-shirt with information concerning the performance. The information, the technical details of the work of art, functions as the instructions manual for the performance, defining how it is supposed to work.
The user, he or she who buys the t-shirt, will have to perform a determined action, wear it (or not), thus making the device work, interact with it. This performance consists in a set of rules materially formalized in an inexplicit manner in a t-shirt, . The course of action is unpredictable and is completely out of the artist’s control. Once again, through such a procedure, Silva questions how spectator and contemporary art interact, playing with concepts as artistic phenomenon or authorship.
A t-shirt, a simple, implicit set of rules. An open, modifiable, autonomous device. If we look at the user’s role as secondary, if we look at the device, and how it works and changes, the concept of generative art isn’t that far away. Thinking of it as “any kind of artistic practice in which the artist uses a system and makes it function with a certain degree of autonomy in order to create complete work of art”. Live art is put in motion and the outcome is unpredictable (as was art_room’s) being the result of chance and the limitations of the set of rules defined.
But how accurate, how realistic is comparing the human system here described with the procedures of autonomous systems responsible for generative art? What of meaning? Part of this system is made of a user to whom this whole situation in which he sees himself has a meaning and that guides his action. Not only is he influenced by what is written on the t-shirt, but also by his interpretation of the event and that has to be accounted for.
There is usefulness in another comparison. If the focus in the spectator-user’s expectations and in his reaction to the piece, in how the action unfolds and meaning is created from the interaction with the set of rules defining the performance, if the focus is in the procedures rather than in the outcome, we are clearly facing what can be called software art. Even though not recurring to digital tools or the like, Silva is, ideologically, walking through digital art’s grounds, for she is exploring communication procedures, processes over objects, relations over subjects. She is doing analogically immaterial works of art and her tools are concepts such as interactivity, software or self-organization.
Susana Mendes Silva
live art, 2005
person with t-shirt
for the exhibition
30.09 to 27.10
a loja do lopes