The Invisible Interface

At our meeting on December 1, our group met with Rob Duarte, who — as an artist — offers a unique perspective on how objects can be used as a critique of culture and culture’s tacit political ideologies. What makes these critiques powerful is also what makes them scary.  The “work” may not always be seen as a product of its original intent.  A satirical critique about consumer culture may also be seen through a lens of real needs or wants.  A simplified realization may require an understanding that is unrelated or contrary to the artist’s beginning desires. Duarte’s machine that inserts razor blades into apples, for example, capitalizes on commodified fears in recent cultural memory. It may well be this element of danger that engages the mind for critique and inspires a potential deeper realization: If there were no danger, would there be no need for critique?

One comment that surfaced during discussion was a statement about Millennial Culture: We may realize what is happening upon consumption, but accept the message for its convenience. Similarly, artistic critiques may incite concern that we will one day stop questioning our involvements and simply accept a dystopian society of our own making — we might accept the interface as something invisible.  On the one hand, although invisibility of any interface can make things easier, on the other hand the interface’s invisibility limits creative potential. (For example, the digital camera that adjusts your blurry picture, even if blurring was the intent.)  An invisible interface obscures options that the user can’t see and may not think about.  As more features become embedded in our tools and as interface becomes a more integrated component of human activity, how will this affect our critical making?

Finally, extending Duarte’s theme to questions of alterity: Who makes these interfaces?  As these interfaces become more invisible and embedded, they may subtly alter our personal frameworks — they may begin to alter how we view the world.  As Duarte states, artists mean to create work that provides a frame for others to see the world differently.  Programmers and marketers provide frameworks for access, and the frameworks in turn become embedded cultural practices, wherein users inherit their biases. If consumer culture continues to be built on a principle of invisible interact, then the frames of a select few could conceivably dictate the experiences of whole communities.  An alterity lens might require expanding these constructive frameworks to include more viewpoints.  It might also mean looking at the technologies we use every day, recognizing the biases that went into making them, and finding ways to counter these biases in our daily lives.


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