Incident Magazine

Polaroid Excavations: the Opening of Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red
Angeli Sion for Incident Magazine

Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, surfaced to air the proposition of artists Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern, co-produced with Marcelino Barsi [and curated by Jennifer Johung], to heighten an exchange of the senses in a body that barely registers the arrival of intersensoriality.

Tapping into weather as a medium via architectural and sculptural elements, the installation materialized conditions for bodies to come together in unexpected ways across becoming mercurial fields. The appearance of a tornado becomes contingent on the bodies around it. At a certain alignment of body and object, a dancing of the field occurs.

Coinciding the same evening as the installation were Juliana España Keller’s “Food Gestures“ and Michael Hornblow’s explorations of the infrathin with “OmegaVille”. Keller’s installation of hanging glass terrariums offered food such as almonds, blueberries, dried ginger, and reindeer moss from Quebec in the yard. In its poetic gesture to foraging and the act of reaching and going back to the earth it enacted an exchange of knowledge. Through video and online photo spheres downstairs, Hornblow produced an exchange of perceived space at the interface of insides and outsides, street to gallery, through conflating layers of time.

Although all three installations generated participatory conditions in disparate locations throughout Glasshouse, the long-term art-life-lab project and space of Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry, their undercurrents converged through and across the bodies of those who came the night of the opening, back and forth in loops, transforming the senses.

The following Polaroids mark this dancing of the field between bodies in performing their own mutable states, excisions into inside, outside the image, and material engagement with image-making as one that unfolds over time.
















Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, was a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, produced by Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern with Marcelino Barsi, coinciding with installation Food Gestures by Juliana España Keller and OmegaVille by Michael Hornblow the same evening at Glasshouse, June 1, 2014.

See original post in Incident Magazine

De Arte

Interactive art and embodiment: The implicit body as performance
Reviewed by Rob Myers for De Arte
Nathaniel Stern. Interactive art and embodiment: The implicit body as performance. 2013. Canterbury: Glyphi Limited. £ 18.99.

This review is copyrighted and available from Sabinet, though some highlights follow:

In Interactive art and embodiment, artist and art theorist Nathaniel Stern develops and applies a rigorous set of frameworks for reconsidering the concepts of interactive multimedia, performance, and the creation of bodily meaning and experience. Stern begins by building a lineage for his novel understanding of these ideas. He then develops a framework for the critical evaluation of interactive art based on this understanding, and applies it to some exemplary artworks. Finally he applies the parts of this framework that are relevant for non-interactive multimedia art to some well-known examples of that genre in order to show their further applicability.

“The book as a whole continues this concern both with bodily experience through interactive art and with grounding discourse in examples of art and criticism.”

“By collapsing and making strange what we think we know both intuitively and critically about our bodies as ‘performed and emerging emergence’, Stern lays the concept of the body open to productive re-thinking.”

“Interactive art, Stern argues, can interrupt and intervene in the performance of bodily relationality. ‘Moving- thinking-feeling’ is both limited by and amplified by art, as it is by games or drama.”

“Stern’s use of examples – both familiar and unfamiliar – illustrates the strength of the implicit body framework and makes it useful both to critics and to artists who wish to better understand what makes successful interactive art.”

“The implicit body framework concentrates on artistic enquiry and process rather than the ontology of such a piece, and on the experience of it as interaction and interactivity, beyond merely describing its technological construction or mechanical appearance. Doing so allows interactive art to stand or fall on its merits as interactive art, and highlights the value of a work…”

“Interactive art and embodiment makes a considerable contribution to the state of criticism andtheory of interactive art. It is useful for critics, theorists and artists who wish to further their understanding of interactive art and serves as an introduction to its worth for those unfamiliar with or unconvinced by it.”

Read the entire review in De Arte

Art Journal

Beyond Technology and Representation: What Can Interactive Art Do?
Nathaniel Stern. Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance. Canterbury, UK: Gylphi, 2013. 291 pp., 41 color ills. $29.99 paper
Troy Rhoades, for CAA’s Art Journal, Spring 2014
Download Art Journal’s PDF spread of  this article from Taylor and Francis

Forget technology.
Forget representation.
Remember the body.
Re-member: Embody again (6).

In Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance, Nathaniel Stern would like us to remember the body’s potential for moving, thinking, and feeling in relation to digital interactive artworks. He wants this triumvirate of bodily activities – what he defines as embodiment – to be placed in the foreground of thought when we discuss interactive art. It is his contention that technology and representational content have been the focal points of interactive art for too long, and it is time for a paradigm shift. “We must get away from concentrating only on the signs and images on the screen or the interface, away from privileging the technology and what it affords. We must engage with the quality and styles of movement that are rehearsed with interactive art” (15–16). Stern sees the need to stop explaining what interactive art is as a technological object or a generator of signs. He asserts instead that our attention should be placed on what interactive art does as it shapes our potential for embodiment, that is, our ability to move-think-feel with the work. It is important to note that Stern is not completely rejecting technological and representational approaches to interactive art and solely focusing on embodiment. Rather, he wants us to notice that there is a glaring absence of embodiment in many of the present methods used to analyze this type of work. This book is his attempt to address the long-overdue need to reevaluate this field of art. He reveals that we have always been moving-thinking-feeling with interactive art.

Stern begins his reassessment of interactive art by clearly defining his approach to this work. First, he declares that he will not value or define the potential of any individual artwork categorically: “I begin and end with singular works in the gallery space, and am interested in creating a discrete critical framework for encountering interactive art” (5). Stern then defines the interactive artwork as digital and electronic art that uses “various forms of sensors or cameras for input; computers, microcontrollers, simple electronic circuits, or other digital or analogical terminals for processing; and any form of sensory output – audiovisual, tactile, olfactory, mechanical, or otherwise; where all are placed together in a system that responds to the embodied participation of viewers, either in real-time, and/or over lengths of time” (5–6). From here Stern states that his theoretical approach is aligned with process philosophy and affect theory, primarily based on the work of the philosopher Brian Massumi, in order to “explore interactive art’s potential, outside of signification alone” (9).1 By approaching interactive art from an affective and processual approach, Stern associates himself with other contemporary new media thinkers (some of whom he cites) such as Anna Munster, Steve Goodman, and Stamatia [Portanova].2

With his approach and theoretical foundation clearly stated, Stern delineates in the first two chapters how recent research practices in interactive art, which have focused on technology and representation, connect and diverge from his understanding of embodiment as the body’s potential for moving-thinking-feeling. In the first chapter Stern tackles the notion that digital technology is somehow incorporeal, as espoused by thinkers such as Friedrich Kittler and David Rodowick.3 He argues against the notion that data, computational processes, and networks do not have any physical presence or materiality. For Stern all of these technologies and digital processes take on some physical form, on hard drives, computer chips, or fiber-optic cables: “Neither bodies nor information can exist without form and embodiment, and intelligence encompasses far more than informational processing” (33). Stern wants us to be aware not only of the corporeal aspects of digital and electronic technology that interactive art uses but also how we are affected and effected when participating in these technologies. He sees a real challenge in keeping “the participant’s attention on the quality of their own movements, rather than the response of the machine” (45). In Stern’s view, we need to become more attuned to the moving-thinking-feeling experience we have with interactive art, rather than focusing on the technology that drives the work.

In the second chapter Stern challenges recent thought concerning the body and representation in interactive art. He asks that we pay attention to the body as “more than its signs and significations, more than what we see or look at, more than skin, flesh, and bone” (54–55). According to Stern, for a body to be understood as a series of signs or an object, it needs to be static or “pre-formed,” like the many static points of Zeno’s famous arrow. A body becomes “explicit,” lacking any potential to experience embodiment. For a body to move-think-feel, Stern contends, it must be seen as a continuously changing entity that “situates embodiment as always per-formed: emergent and relational” (67). A body that experiences the ongoing activity of embodiment during an encounter with interactive art is, for Stern, an “implicit body” as performance.

After critiquing technological and language-based approaches to interactive art, Stern outlines a potentially paradigm-shifting method for understanding interactive art and embodiment through what he calls the “implicit body framework.” This framework comprises four areas of examination: “artistic inquiry and process; artwork description; inter-activity; and, relationality” (91). The first area looks at the artwork from the artist’s perspective, focusing on his or her approach to the work and the techniques chosen for its production. The second area gives us a detailed description of the artwork: how it looks, sounds, and plays. For Stern, these first two areas of examination are standard in most investigations of interactive art. They also represent the point at which most inquiries stop. As he states, “most visually-, technically-, and linguistically-based writing on interactive art explains that a given piece is interactive, and how it is interactive, but not how we inter-act” (91, emphasis in orig.).

Stern sees the third and fourth areas of examination – interactivity and relationality – as the missing elements in discussions of interactive art. The two areas focus on the potential for an awareness of embodiment to emerge in the viewer-artwork encounter; they foreground our capacity to move-think-feel our potential for change when we experience interactive art. The third area specifically examines the interaction itself, that is, how viewers and artworks connect at the level of embodiment. It focuses on the emergent affects, feelings, and movements generated in the midst of the viewer-artwork encounter. The final area of examination focuses on the relations that emerge in our encounter with interactive art and how these “relationships intervene in our transformation with the world around us” (97). Stern wants us to become aware of the extensive potential for relations to alter and affect our ability to move, think, and feel with regard to an interactive artwork.

In the next three chapters Stern presents a series of case studies using his implicit body framework, approaching several interactive artworks under three different thematics: body-language, social-anatomies, and flesh-space. For Stern these thematics reveal various emergent relations between embodiment and some other sensible concept, such as “language, society, architecture, other matter, forces, and matters” (97–98). The body-language chapter examines the work of Simon Penny and Camille Utterback and its parallels with Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of “excription,” looking specifically at body and language as “mutually immanent” (104). The social-anatomies chapter investigates Nick Crossley’s idea of “intercorporeality” – the capacity for the body and society to reciprocally produce each other – through the work of the Millefiore Effect, Mathieu Briand, and Scott Snibbe. The third thematic chapter, on flesh-space, approaches the interactive work of David [Rokeby], Rafael Lezano-Hemmer, and Norah Zuniga Shaw through the thought of José Gil and Erin Manning, investigating the ability of these artworks to make viewers aware of the ways in which “bodies and space are made of their relations” (176). These three chapters demonstrate Stern’s implicit body framework as rigorous yet flexible when applied to the analysis of interactive art.

In the penultimate chapter Stern takes his implicit body framework further, demonstrating that it can be used beyond the limits of interactive art. He investigates a large cross-section of new-media works by artists such as Erwin Driessens and Maria Verstappen, Brandon Labelle, and John F. Simon, Jr., as well as his own work, which he calls “potentialized art.” For Stern all of these works have the capacity to “amplify action, affect, embodiment, performativity, transformation, and/or materiality” (206). Potentialized art enables us to become aware of our ability to move-think-feel with a work in the midst of our mutual encounter. We can experience the potential for embodiment as we perform with these artworks. We can become aware of our ability to move-think-feel.


The most rewarding and riskiest chapter of Stern’s book is saved for the end. “In Production (A Narrative Inquiry on Interactive Art)” is a case study of Stern’s own art and writing practices from 2000 to the present. What makes this chapter such a rewarding and refreshing read is that it is written in an unconventional autobiographical style that is also academically rigorous, a style Stern calls an “autoethnographic experiment” (254). This experiment blends conversations, personal narrative, and several analyses of his interactive artworks using his implicit body framework in order to “amplify” and “potentialize” the reading experience (259). Stern consolidates everything he has advocated about the relationship between embodiment and interactive art into a personal story about himself and his work, effectively exposing us to an example of the experience of moving-thinking-feeling that we have been reading about throughout the book.

Stern’s experimental approach to writing is also one of this chapter’s many risks. There is the possibility that more traditional readers of art theory and history may find such a self-referential and unconventionally written account off-putting, even jarring. However, Stern’s storytelling ability is strong and will likely win over even the most curmudgeonly reader. Another risk this chapter takes is the form in which it has been published. The book surprisingly ends by giving us only the introductory section of this concluding chapter. We are invited to go online to view or download the remaining sections (253, 259).4 We are allowed just a taste of this chapter and then must shift our attention from the written page to the written screen. The risk here is that readers may be lost in this transition from the book to the Internet, leaving some of Stern’s best writing unread.

The book is part of the Arts Future Book initiative, a research project and academic book series investigating the future of academic publishing in the arts, led by Charlotte Frost. Placing this final chapter online appears to be part of the series’ mandate to exploit “recent technological advances in publishing” (xxi). Readers who go online and read the complete text of “In Production” will find the possibility to interact with others, in the ability to make comments at every paragraph. This gives readers a platform to share thoughts about some of their favorite (or less agreeable) passages. The ability to comment is an appealing feature, but publishing this chapter online has the potential to take away some of its affective impact. Moreover, it feels like an unnecessary use of digital technology, one that does not appear to follow the spirit of the book, as the online publication breaks a sense of continuity and makes it more difficult to experience moving-thinking-feeling in the work itself. As Stern states, “Embodiment only is through its ongoingness and continuity” (57, emphasis in orig.). If this chapter – which encapsulates everything Stern advocates with regard to interactive and potentialized art – were printed in its entirety at the end of the book, readers would have a better opportunity to experience the embodied potential the book commands. Despite these misgivings, everyone who reads Stern’s book (and those who are interested in reading it) should visit the website and discover the complete text of this wonderful final chapter.

It will be interesting to see how those behind the Arts Future Book series continue to explore the potential that digital and online media offers to expand the form of the book. Interactive Art and Embodiment is the first from this series, making it the first to experiment with the hybrid approach to publishing. I hope the editors will embrace Stern’s notion of embodiment and ensure that digital incarnations of future titles emerge from the potential activated within the texts themselves.

By asking us to engage with interactive art at the level of potential for movement, thinking, and feeling, Stern alters the idea of what inquiry can be, changing it from an analysis of something static into a dynamic event. The act of examination becomes as much a performance as the interactive art it investigates. Through the use of Stern’s implicit body framework, artworks become more than mere descriptions placed within a historical context. Through his writing, artworks become alive in the reading, giving us a sense of how the embodied interactions and emergent relations feel as they are encountered.

1. Throughout the book, Stern focuses on three of Massumi’s texts: Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002); “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens: An Interview with Brian Massumi,” in Interact or Die: There Is Drama in the Network, ed. Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder (Rotterdam: V2 Pub./NAi, 2007), 70–91; and Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurent Arts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011)

2. See Anna Munster, Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006); Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); and Stamatia Portanova, Moving without a Body: Digital Philosophy and Choreographic Thoughts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).

3. See Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); and David N. Rodowick, Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

4. The concluding chapter in its entirety is at, as of February 11, 2014.

Download the Journal’s PDF spread of  this article from Taylor and Francis


Homemade undersea scanner finds strange new world
Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist’s results? Bizarre and beautiful.
by Leslie Katz for CNET

Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist's results? Bizarre and beautiful.
This rig has a bicycle valve so Stern can vacuum-seal it closed when he goes underwater. He got it down to 30 feet before experiencing leaks.

It’s easy to find a good compact underwater camera, but artist Nathaniel Stern opted to go a different route for his deep-sea imaging. Really different. He strapped on homemade rigs built from custom electronics and software, melted and welded plexiglass, plastic bags, duct tape, and other bits and bobs and proceeded to dive into the subaqueous world.

The resulting odd and beautiful renderings make up “Rippling Images,” a new series of fluid and often-abstract images of flora and fauna created as Stern and his marine-rated contraptions dove along a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida. Because Stern wears the gizmos, his movements help compose the shots, some of which would look more at home hanging in the Museum of Modern Art than among other, more typical undersea photographs.

As he puts it, “I perform images into existence.”

Stern gets up close with a three-eyed undersea creature, or maybe that’s just the photographic effect.

“My movements underwater, my relations to life and gravity, what I see and cannot see, fish and plants, breathing and fluidity, all affect and are affected as these images [are] being made,” Stern, a professor of art and design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, says on the project’s website.

Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist's results? Bizarre and beautiful.
Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist’s results? Bizarre and beautiful.

The images are an outgrowth of Stern’s ongoing “Compressionism” series, in which he hitches a flat-bed desktop scanner, computing device, and custom battery pack to his body and moves through the terrestrial world doing things like swinging over flowers or jumping over bricks to capture images of objects and spaces. When he captures a shot, every part of the image is broken up into moments of time because of how the scanner beam moves across the surface of the scanner and how Stern maneuvers the entire custom rig across the landscape.

For the aqueous version of his art, Stern spent three months getting certified to scuba dive. He and his team designed 10 underwater systems, and built 5 of them to completion. He toted 3 of these hacked-together getups under the sea.

“They leaked, they broke, they scanned scratches on the surface of the boxes, they reflected, they captured things that I never wanted and never intended,” Stern reports, “and that is precisely the nature of experimental work.”

Stern, whose art often focuses on how people engage with and experience the world, previously afforded us Earth-bound social-media addicts the chance to tweet to aliens.

“Rippling Images” will be on display at the Turbine Art Fair in Johannesburg from July 17 to 20, and as a solo show at the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee in October. For a deeper dive (so to speak) into the project, watch this video.

“Flower,” a digital print on metallic paper. “The colors and hairs and mossy-like textures came out stronger than I ever could have imagined, in formation, soft and aqueous,” Stern told Crave of his technique.

“Metallic,” one of the “Rippling Images” pieces created with one of Stern’s undersea rigs.

Some of the works from the series look like they’d be at home at a modern-art museum.

Read the original article on  CNET


These Underwater Photos Were Taken By a Desktop Scanner
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan for Gizmodo


The desktop scanner is a wonderful thing, but rugged it ain’t. Yet Nathaniel Stern didn’t let that stop him: The Wisconsin-based artist, who is known for his experimental camera designs, created a waterproof version of an off-the-shelf scanner that captured a series of incredible images of sea life.

“Everything leaked, everything broke, nothing did what I wanted or expected,” Stern writes on his website about the projectRippling Images, for which he took months of diving courses to become certified to complete it. But the finished product was certainly worth it—here’s how Stern carried it out:

For Rippling Images, I worked with a team to produce a marine-rated scanner rig, including custom hard- and software, and performed a new series of digital works while scuba diving on a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida. My goal was an exhibition where where site and technology – their limitations, possibilities and potentials – take greater agency in the constitution and construction of printed forms. My movements underwater, my relations to life and gravity, what I see and cannot see, fish and plants, breathing and fluidity, all affect and are affected in and as these images, being made.

You can check out the complete batch of images on Stern’s website. They’re both bizarre and beautiful, unlike any photos of the marine world I’ve ever seen. It almost feels as though we’re experiencing how fish see the world. [PetaPixel]

See the original post on Gizmodo

Boing Boing

Artistic scanner-photos taken on a coral-reef
Cory Doctorow for Boing Boing

Nathaniel Stern straps modified document scanners to his body and then walks around, producing beautiful, glitched out art-images. Now he’s taken his scanners to the bottom of the ocean.


For the last decade or so, I’ve been making fine art prints by strapping a desktop scanner, custom battery pack, and computing devices to my body, then traversing the landscape to produce abstract but detailed slit scan imagery… The reasons are threefold: very high resolution; proximity – I’m a part of the landscape I’m capturing, rather than distanced from it (no added lens); and the potency of multiple adjacent times and spaces viewed on a 2D plane.

For the latest in the series, I produced several marine-rated, scuba scanning rigs – metal, plastic and/or polycarbonate, with various forms of gaskets, vacuum seals, and hall effect (magnetically-triggered) buttons to create the scans.

The complete body of work, 18 prints, premiere at the Turbine Art Fair in Johannesburg next week (July 17 – 20). The show comes to Milwaukee WI, where I now live, in October.

Rippling Images

See it on Boing Boing

What Animals Teach Us about Politics


Cover image: detail from Giverny of the Midwest (2011).

“This is a truly brilliant book, one of Brian Massumi’s best. More than anyone else I have read, Massumi makes real progress in untangling the relationship between play, sympathy, politics, and animality. What Animals Teach us About Politics provides a fascinating and persuasively non-subject-centered account of sympathy, and it goes a long way toward helping us to see how the practice and theorization of ‘politics’ would be radically refigured within a process-ontology.” – Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

Title: What Animals Teach Us about Politics
Author: Brian Massumi
Publisher: Duke University Press
Date of Publication: September 2014
Language: English
ISBN-10: 082235800X
ISBN-13: 978-0822358008
Order this book from


Experimental Underwater Scanner Makes for Beautiful Happy Accidents
Gannon Burgett for PetaPixel

If you enjoy strange and experimental photography, Nathaniel Stern‘s work should delight you.

For the past ten years, Stern has been creating experimental image-capturing devices using a conglomeration of hacked-together desktop scanners, battery packs and other various computer components. Once created, he straps these machines to his body and takes them from location to location capturing images unlike any other camera out there.


In his latest series, Rippling Images, Stern decided to take his images one step further by venturing to take these experimental camera creations underwater. It didn’t come easy though.

Stern spent months getting certified for a number of open-water diving licenses. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was helping his team piece together what would eventually become the five final models of the device he would be taking underwater.

Made out of everything from welded metal to magnetically-triggered buttons, the devices didn’t actually capture what Stern was hoping for at all. But what they capture, Stern still found beautiful… if not more beautiful than his usual work.

The scratched surfaces of the plastic showed up, unplanned reflections made several appearances, and the images were just overall more experimental than he could’ve ever expected:










Experiment might as well be Stern’s middle name though, so he took everything in stride and used it as a learning experience, sharing his thoughts in a video that we’ve embedded at the top.

It comes in just shy of three minutes, so give it a quick watch to see Stern and his unusual devices at work, and then head over to his website to see more of his work.

Read the article on PetaPixel


Stern traverses the land- or seascape with a desktop scanner, computing device + custom-made battery pack, + performs prints into existence.The 8’oclock Buzz: Return of the Frankensteined Scanners

Last time we spoke with Milwaukee artist Nathaniel Stern, he was trying to jerry-rig dozens of flatbed scanners to take peculiarly framed, high resolution underwater photographs. Well since then, Nathaniel reports that nearly everything that could possibly go wrong with that project did. Nathaniel Stern joined the Monday Buzz once more by phone from Milwaukee with an update.

Download the mp3 (13mb), or listen to the entire interview about performative printmaking / Compressionism with host Brian Standing:

Thought in the Act


“Every practice is a mode of thought, already in the act. To dance: a thinking in movement. To paint: a thinking through color. To perceive in the everyday: a thinking of the world’s varied ways of affording itself.” —from Thought in the Act

Title: Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience
Author: Erin Manning and Brian Massumi
Publisher: University Of Minnesota Press
Date of Publication: May 2014
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0816679673
ISBN-13: 978-0816679676
Order this book from

Neural Magazine

Nathaniel Stern – Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance

New book! 'Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance' underscores the stakes for interactive and digital art

GYLPHI LIMITED, ISBN-13: 978-1780240091, ENGLISH, 304 PAGES, 2013, USA

Man/machine interfaces have involved the body in progressively more sophisticated ways, from the mechanical finger pressure on a keyboard to the intellectual challenge of voice-recognition-based software assistants. Media art has interpreted interfaces dynamically, abstracting the interaction and playing with its modalities, symbols and meanings. Stern analyses almost forty different artworks to augment his theory: “interactive art suspends and amplifies the ways we experience embodiment – as per-formed, relational, and emergent”. The text investigates “how we interact” and the role of the body in the interaction process is here exploded and carefully delineated. Many of the connotations that the body assumes in artworks – being perceived as a structure, a tool, a territory or an imagined space – are analysed as performative and symbolic instances. One of the qualities of this book is that it provides extensive references on the topic, while remaining very focused. The artworks are carefully described in their mechanisms and their performative dimensions are acknowledged separately, representing an annotated anthology in itself. There’s also a “digital companion” chapter (called “In Production”, partially printed and freely available online, meant to be updated and expanded at will), which has been aggregated to the book as its dynamic (in a way even performative) extension. This book is very helpful for understanding our physical relationship with the digital and how to properly relate to interactive art.

See the review on


Interactif, implicite, performatif, éprouvé, le corps exploré
Louise Boisclair (read the whole article, or read the google English translation)

Dans Always More Than One, Erin Manning croise philosophie ou mouvement de pensée, chorégraphie ou mouvement du corps, art et autisme. De son côté, avec Interactive Art and Embodiment : The Implicit Body as Performance, Nathaniel Stern propose de considérer le corps implicite dans sa triple relation de mouvement, sensation et pensée lors de l’appropriation interactive. Quant au collectif, Personnage virtuel et corps performatif. Effets de présence, dirigé par Renée Bourassa et Louise Poissant, quinze artistes et théoriciens explorent, chacun, chacune, sous un angle singulier, diverses facettes du corps performatif et du personnage virtuel. Pour sa part, dans L’instance du regard sur le corps éprouvé. Pathos et contre-pathos, Élène Tremblay examine les notions de pathos et contre-pathos à travers l’insistance du regard sur le corps éprouvé. Chaque auteur-e arrime son analyse à la théorie philosophique, médiatique ou phénoménologique selon l’approche singulière ou multiple qu’ils ou elles adoptent pour cheminer avec le corpus sélectionné.

Interactive Art and Embodiment:  The Implicit Body as Performance (Nathaniel Stern)

Pour sa part, l’ouvrage de l’artiste-enseignant-chercheur Nathaniel Stern constitue une refonte de sa thèse de doctorat qu’il a auparavant résumée dans un article intitulé : « The Implicit Body as Performance: Analyzing Interactive Art. », publié dans le Leonardo Journal of Art, Science and Technology (MIT Press). Vol 44, No 3 (2011): 233-238. Globalement, la thèse est la suivante : au lieu de s’en tenir à la vision, à la structure et à la signification, Stern propose de recentrer l’intérêt sur le « corps en relation ». Il conçoit l’interaction en tant que performance et la manière d’être en tant que manière d’« être avec ». Dans un cadre de travail sur le corps implicite au sein de l’installation interactive, il propose une approche qui réunit quatre volets: la recherche et le processus artistique, la description de l’œuvre d’art, l’interactivité et la relationalité. Selon lui, les deux derniers volets propres à l’expérience interactive doivent faire l’objet d’un examen détaillé.

Cette prescription, Stern la met à l’épreuve dans son ouvrage. Composé de huit chapitres dont le huitième introduit un texte à paraître sur le WEB seulement, il met la table dès la première page :

« When we move and think and feel, we are, of course, a body. This body is constantly changing, in and through its ongoing relationships. This body is a dynamic form, full of potential. It is not “a body,” as thing, but embodiment as incipient activity. Embodiment is a continuously emergent and active relation. It is our materialization and articulation, both as they occur, and about to occur. Embodiment is moving-thinking-feeling, it is the body’s potential to vary, it is the body’s relations to the outside. And embodiment, I contend, is what is staged in the best interactive art. » (Stern, 2013, 2)

Lui-même artiste spécialiste de l’art interactif, sa réflexion philosophique, aussi stimulante que novatrice, est ancrée dans le corps implicite, c’est-à-dire ce corps qui vit et déborde le corps vécu, notion renvoyant au corps pensé. Stern invite la recherche à considérer bien davantage les forces et les champs en puissance dans le corps, alors que la corporéité est en « per-formance », ici-maintenant, au sein de l’installation interactive. L’incorporation s’accompagne donc de la métabolisation d’informations sensorielles issues du milieu d’immersion, sorte de sémiose corporelle pré-signifiante. Elle s’apparente au sens dynamique que lui donne Stern:

« The conception of a continuous embodiment, however, allows us to rethink bodies as formed through how we move in, and relate to, our surroundings. Embodiment, I contend, is not a pre-formed thing, but incipient and per-formed. » (Stern, 2013, 12).

Ainsi, la corporéité, dans sa dynamique, n’est pas une chose pré-formée, mais per-formée, insiste Stern; elle n’est pas constituée, elle se constitue. Continuellement en action, la corporéité évolue de façon dynamique au fil de l’incorporation, elle n’est jamais figée.

Tout au long de cet ouvrage, le lecteur, la lectrice rencontrera de nombreux artistes de l’art interactif et immersif, ce qui a le bénéfice non seulement d’illustrer le propos de Stern, mais bien davantage d’incarner sa réflexion philosophique dans une encyclopédie d’art interactif encore en train d’évoluer. Graduellement, au fil des chapitres, Stern joue avec les thèmes performatifs suivants: 1- « Digital is as Digital does »; 2- « The Implicit Body as Performance »; 3- « A Critical Framework for Interactive Art », 4- « Body-Langage » ; 5- « Social Anatomies »; 6- « Flesh-Space »; 7- « Implicating Art Works » et 8- « In production ». Ce livre d’une grande importance rend compte d’une vision actuelle non seulement artistique, mais « spectatorielle » du corps, assisté ou outillé technologiquement, comme on l’est de plus en plus même dans notre vie quotidienne. Bien plus que le corps performant, c’est toujours et encore le « corps implicite » qui sert de fil rouge pour explorer l’art interactif.

Read the whole article, or read the google English translation

Law and Disciplinarity


‘Wikipedia Art: At the Borders of (Wiki) Law, Lawyering, Lobbying and Power’
a chapter by Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall

Book Title: Law and Disciplinarity: Thinking beyond Borders
Editor: Robert J. Beck
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Date of Publication: December 2013
Language: English
ISBN: 1137034440
Buy this book on Amazon


The 8’oclock Buzz: Frankensteined Scanners Under the Sea

Last time the Monday Buzz talked with Milwaukee artist, Nathaniel Stern, he was sending tweets into space and subverting Wikipedia for his own nefarious artistic ends. Now, he’s jerry-rigging flatbed scanners for high-resolution, time-shifting underwater duty. Listen as Nathaniel explains to host Brian Standing how to turn a flat imager into a self-contained scuba camera, the philosophical nature of an image, and more.

Download the mp3 (13mb), or listen to the entire interview about performative printmaking / Compressionism with host Brian Standing:

Interactive Art + Embodiment


Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance
An Arts Future Book, published by Gylphi Limited, 2013
ISBN-10: 1780240090 and ISBN-13: 978-1780240091 – paperback
978-1-78024-010-7 – Kindle
978-1-78024-011-4 – EPUB

‘This remarkably readable and passionate text makes important contributions to the discourses of embodiment, perception, and affect in relation to the performativity staged by interactive art. Stern’s “implicit body” framework and the mantra “moving-thinking-feeling” offer insightful and comprehensive tools for grasping the complexity of contemporary aesthetic experience and for imagining future potentials.’ — Dr. Edward A. Shanken, author, Art and Electronic Media

‘In his very intelligent book, Nathaniel Stern shows how dynamics work: he mobilizes a range of theory and practice approaches so as to entangle them into an investigation of interactive art. Stern maps the incipient activity and force of contemporary art practices in a way that importantly remind us that digital culture is far from immaterial. Interactive Art and Embodiment creates situations for thought as action.’ — Dr Jussi Parikka, media theorist, Winchester School of Art, author of Insect Media

‘In Nathaniel Stern’s Interactive Art and Embodiment, Stern develops a provocative and engaging study of how we might take interactive art beyond the question of “what technology can do” to ask how the implicit body of performance is felt-thought through artistic process. What results is an important investigation of art as event (as opposed to art as object) that incites us to make transversal linkages between art and philosophy, inquiring into how practice itself is capable of generating fields of action, affect and occurrence that produce new bodies in motion.’ — Dr Erin Manning, Research Chair and Director of the SenseLab, Concordia University

‘Nathaniel Stern’s book is a marvelous introduction to the thinking and practice of this innovative new media artist, and to the work of others in the same field. Philosophically informed and beautifully written, it is sensitive to the many complex issues involved in making such work.’ — Prof Charlie Gere, Professor of Media Theory and History in the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University, and author of Digital Culture, Art, Time and Technology, and Community without Community in Digital Culture.

About the book

How do interactive artworks ask us to perform rigorous philosophies of the body?

Nathaniel Stern argues that interactive art suspends and amplifies the ways we experience embodiment – as per-formed, relational, and emergent. He provides many in-depth case studies of contemporary artworks that develop a practice of embodied philosophy, setting a stage to explore how we inter-act and relate with the world. He offers a valuable critical framework for analyzing interactive artworks and what’s at stake in our encounters with them, which can be applied to a wide range of complex and emerging art forms.

In the companion chapter (offered in partnership with Networked Book at, Stern offers a semi-autobiographical account of his own research trajectory, and invites comment, critique, and contributions of new work. This creates a participatory stage for rehearsing the performance of scholarship.

Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance, by Nathaniel Stern, was released August 2013 as the first in the Arts Future Book series by Gylphi Ltd. Arts Future Book is published and supported by an international editorial board. It represents a substantial practical and theoretical investigation into the future of books about the arts. As a book series it publishes unique works that establish new systems for considering art. Their aim is to explore the relations between the form and content of art books and to exploit new technologies that expand their literal and philosophical capacities. What is a book about art, and what can and should it do? The Arts Future Book project has been explained, modelled (and remodelled) in the open-access journal article/artwork: ‘Is Art History Too Bookish’ by series editor Charlotte Frost.

In its various modes, Interactive Art and Embodiment performs the philosophical environment of interactive art, and embodies Arts Future Book’s investigations into how we can and should perform art scholarship.

buy on

Meaning Motion press

IMG_5794Meaning Motion was a duo exhibition (with Tegan Bristow) of interactive art, at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, June – August 2013. It took up two floors of the museum, and featured 8 installations of work, including the international premiere of Stern’s scripted, and the first full exhibition of his Body Language suite of work – all with new, updated code.

Body Language (2000 – 2013) is a suite of four interactive works that has us encounter some of the complex relationships between materiality and text. Each piece stages the experience and practice of bodies and language in a different way, enabling in-depth explorations of how they are always implicated across one another. elicit invites viewers to perform the continuity between text and the body; enter effectively asks its participants to investigate how words and activity are inherently entwined; stuttering provokes its performers into exploring the labor and intimacy of embodied listening and communication; and scripted asks us to remember how the activities of writing, the shape and sound of language, are forever a part of the physical world.

Meaning Motion produced two publications, including a Body Language catalog with essay by Charlie Gere, and coincides with a panel on interactive art at the International Symposium on Electronic Art (Australia), and the release of Stern’s book, Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance.

Various press includes:

The Politics of Meaning and Voice,” in Business Day
Viewers Make the Art Work,” in the Mail and Guardian
“The Games Artists Play: Performance and Failure” in the Sunday Independent
An interview with Nathaniel Stern on the Morning Buzz, WORTfm in Madison
Meaning Maker” on
An interview with Tegan Bristow on Radio Today, Johannesburg
Wam set to wow this June,” in the City Buzz, Johannesburg

Body Language

Body Language catalog

Interactive art suite, Catalog and Videos

Title: Body Language / Nathaniel Stern
Essay: Charlie Gere
Design: Andrew McConville
Photos: Nathaniel Stern, Wyatt Tinder, Andrew McConville and Joseph Mougel
Documentation Videos: Nathaniel Stern
Publisher: Nathaniel Stern and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Date of Publication: 2013
Language: English
ISBN: 978-0-620-56861-6 (print) and 978-0-620-56862-3 (e-book)
Download Body Language as PDF (2.4 mb)

Art Fag City

nathaniel stern: Art Fag City interview for iCommonsArt Intercom: featuring artist
Nathaniel Stern

Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City interviews Nathaniel Stern, commissioned by iCommons

Part I

Inspired by pioneering artists in the field of Interactive art such as David Rokeby andMyron KrugerNathaniel Stern builds upon their work by reintroducing traditional art- making techniques to reinterpret digital records of movement. In the first half of my interview with the artist we discuss works leading up to, and informing his current body of prints he titles Compressionism. In these images Stern manipulates visual documentation of movement distorting memories or impressions of the body.

Art Fag City: So I wanted to begin by discussing your work, and so I thought we could start with the prints you make. I wonder if you could talk about your process a little bit because you have the Compressionism series that you’ve been working on, and, you use a lot of ‘techy’ things, but the actual process is very traditional. You’re also making very traditional art historical references and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that and what your interest is in pairing those things?

Nathaniel Stern: Absolutely. I guess obviously with any series I’m pulling inspiration from various places, but I think when that series started my interests led me to two things: the first was I was working with interactive installation and performativity, trying to get people to move in ways they normally wouldn’t, and that was kind of my mantra for a while; rather than trying to think of immersion as a goal, I thought of immersion as a side effect of playing with affect – the involuntary ability to effect, and be effected – and how such art can sort of put the body in quotes. And what I found was that it was a very special kind of person that would actually engage and interact with those pieces; most people would just kind of watch and talk about the work, and it was everyone from, like, my mother, who didn’t understand the technology – and just kind of said how proud she was and sat in the corner – but also the writers and critics who really liked my work would kind of stand back, and nod, and talk about how it’s interactive, and it’s performative, and playful, but they would never actually use it.

AFC: Now specifically at this point we’re talking about the installation“step inside” or are we talking about more than just this..

NS: I would say “step inside”, and the two works that preceded it,“stuttering” and “enter: hektor”. And even though “step inside” is the piece that gets the most talked about. I think “stuttering” actually succeeded in accomplishing getting people to move about in ways they wouldn’t normally.

AFC: And, just to back-track a little bit, can you briefly explain those pieces for the readers?

NS: “stuttering” was a kind of Mondrian painting with 34 differently-shaped squares on it, but they’re invisible. So instead of actually seeing the squares, when you step in front of the screen, you see an abstract outline of yourself, and any time you cross over one of those squares it’s triggered and it recites a line of the text out loud, as well as animates text on the screen. So what winds up happening is that there are too many trigger points and that it almost asks you not to interact; so on the one hand the piece itself stutters, but on the other hand in order to get it to say few enough things for you to hear and understand it, you have to almost ‘stutter’ with your body. “step inside” in many ways came out of what I thought were the shortcomings of “stuttering” — people really only got beyond the surface of “stuttering” when they were alone with the work. But when there were a lot of people in the space, or in the room, they wanted to perform, and it became a kind of interactive one-upmanship, and showing off, and more of the play between how others saw you and what you could do with the piece, instead of the rich attention to minor gestures that came out when no one was looking. Rather than working against this, “step inside” was more about enhancing and playing with that kind of performance of self in relationship to perception of others. It was a literal performance space, where people stepped inside a large box, and a combination of their footsteps and their movements made a live video feed of profiled bodies filled with white noise, which were projected on the screen outside the box. But they were cut off – neither could participants see people’s responses to their interactions, nor could the external viewers see the people inside. So, it invited participants to make images based solely on their immediate actions, and nothing else. I also added a few elements to again give a bit of awkwardness, like instead of being a mirror projection, the camera was picking up your profile, and the opacity of the field was based on the amplitude of your echoed footsteps; you had to really think about how you were going to move, both literally and metaphorically, to manipulate the video feed.

Should I go back to how this got into the prints?

AFC: Yes, absolutely.

NS: So I guess what I found here is that technophobes weren’t interested. The traditionalists had a hard time with it too. But even those who were interested, unless they were a special kind of person, wouldn’t interact with it. Even the theorists who liked the work would often be standing in the corner, talking about how wonderfully performative it was [AFC: right]. But they weren’t using it. The point is, that it wasn’t about what was on the screen; if you don’t engage and interact, you are not experiencing the piece. So I thought, rather than try to find a way to force people into performing – and I should mention that I am also working on other pieces where people inadvertently interact to address this issue – I wanted to make a series optimized for people to imagine a performance, if that makes sense. If people were using these as visual stimulations of performativity, then why not make, specifically, visual elements that help to imagine that performativity. And I still wanted to reference signs and language in it. And that’s the one angle of it I was talking about when you first asked this question – how I got started; The other is that it actually began as a joke. I didn’t know that these prints were going to be – for lack of a better word – so ‘pretty’… It started when I was working on this site-specific exhibition with Marcus Neustetter in Johannesburg – we collaborate together often – and I was kind of drawing in straight lines across the gallery space with my scanner – the performative element – and then re-stretching these compressed images out to the size of the original subject. The Compressionism title is obviously a joke, but people were fascinated by the results and really interested in the process…

AFC: Can I interrupt for a second and ask how many prints you have in the series?

NS: It’s an ongoing series and the first exhibition I think was more of an experiment that led to the rest –about fifteen pieces, now in storage; the second exhibition, Call and Response, has 17 digital prints and 13 handmade prints. Or, I should rather say pieces [instead of prints] because some of the pieces are triptychs and polyptychs. I also just finished another series for an exhibition in Ireland which has an additional 12 digital prints, and I’m working on another series now that will have both handmade and digital prints —the handmades will be done in collaboration with Zhane Warren while I’m on residence at the Frans Masereel Centre in Belgium this Summer. I guess I haven’t explained that after I made the initial digital prints, I decided to take it more seriously, and play with painting light, make references to using found objects and references to Duchamp and the cubists, as well as tributes to abstract expressionism — that’s when I built the ‘scanner appendage’ and started going out and scanning foliage and the like.

AFC: But these works – the second series of prints versus the first series – are they less performative then?

NS: Well I almost don’t want to talk about the first series of prints, but to answer your question, I was too scientific about it in the first series; and so in other words I would go out onto a table that was five meters long and I would scan exactly in a straight line – and so the first series was actually less performative in that regard… I would take a straight line across five meters, and print out the ‘compressed’ image, then stretch it back to five meters – the exact width of the table — and that would be my ‘decompressed’ print, and then I would do an edit (so, three prints from each scan). Whereas with the second series and thereafter, once I discovered people were interested in this, I decided to play more of a role as an artist and perform an image into existence rather than trying to mimic the actual size, which merely showed inconsistencies in my own movement. Now it’s more about dynamism and relationality in the performance. And it’s a lot more fun.

AFC: So with the print “Wind” for example (pictured above), I think that print is a really nice piece in that series; can you talk about the performative aspect of that particular print?

NS: Sure. That was taken at a construction site in Johannesburg, actually, and I was walking around with the scanner and battery pack attached to my body and…

AFC: And that equipment is something you created specifically for this project right? It’s custom tech stuff…

NS: Actually it is and it’s not. That’s the funny thing about it… It sounds so technical but actually the appendage is a piece of wood that’s shaped in order to accommodate me, my laptop and the scanner… it’s basically a sand and a saw used for a shaped fit, outfitted with various bungee cords, Velcro, holes and clips – it’s more of a handy man’s tool belt, you know. It’s less Cory Arcangel and more Bruce Wayne… and the battery pack is just a rechargeable whose standard use is a home alarm system’s backup, with a new lead I think the most technical side of this is that I tested a lot of scanners to see which ones were the best for outdoor lighting. I also use open source drivers so that I can get the same results from different scanners, and spend a lot of time hand-coloring in Photoshop – outdoor scanning tends to blow out most color.

So I was at this construction site and – actually that day probably gave me about four prints, where I did “Earth”“Wind”“Fire” and “Joburg Boogie Woogie” all in one day – and I saw some ticker tape; the performance basically consisted of me trying to catch the ticker tape floating around in the wind… if you can imagine me with the heavy weight of a scanner and battery pack over my back, out on the construction site, looking over my shoulder making sure no one is going to mug me.

AFC: So I guess in a certain way you are forcing your own body to move in ways it wouldn’t normally…

NS: Exactly. I so appreciate your saying that. This is precisely what I said to my supervisor (I’m doing my PHD right now) about wanting to do a chapter on Compressionism. And it’s my hope that people will not only see them as beautiful art objects in their own right, but also try to imagine them being made, and want to hear the stories of them being made like you just asked. When we opened the show in Joburg – there’s a drama professor by the name of Jane Taylor, who opened the show – and I was calling them, for a while, “digital performance; analogue archive” … and she said that I got it backwards, that the prints are actually the performances, and the pictures of me scanning them are the archives.

AFC: Oh interesting. Yes.

NS: And I think given where I started with the series, that’s wonderful. With regards to the handmade iterations, that was just another way to invite people in to the images. And I think that’s where the other angle came in – for the non-tech people and the people who give more credit to more traditional means; and I don’t necessarily do that, but I want to again invite them into that performance and enter into the process between the two spaces.

AFC: So your titling process then… Is it basically descriptive? Because“Wind” is basically describing the element you were working with at the time.

NS: That’s a good question. The title of an artwork, and I’m sure you know this as an artist yourself, can come from anywhere, from just being descriptive and humble to someone else making the suggestion. Most of the time it is really describing the subject and hoping that the performance is then implicit. However, sometimes there’s something bigger at hand, or where there’s an inspiration, for example “Joburg Boogie Woogie” was obviously a direct reference to Mondrian and I was trying to do the map of Joburg on some level; and “Nude Descension” was a Duchamp reference, he painted a “Nude Descending the Staircase”, and instead, I descended the nude. I‘m always performing some relation, and sometimes it’s a direct relation between me and the subject, and sometimes it’s broader than that and it has to do with our relation to images or art itself. And I often title in that way, too. I don’t think, it’s not a grandiose thing.

Part II


Art Fag City: So we’ve talked a little bit about the prints. I should note that you also make videos, which are on your site as well, before we move on so readers will know to check that work out. I wondered if you could talk about your connection with Creative Commons.

Nathaniel Stern: Admittedly, it’s by default that I’ve become a bit of an iCommons activist. I was one of the few people who had a blog in South Africa – now there’s many, but I was one of the earliest ones there and certainly the first in the art world – and it was under Creative Commons, so I was contacted by the South African CC team early on. Since then, I’ve become an impromptu spokesperson for them on some level and I’ve tried to direct that dialog not only toward my personal interests but also the interests of professional artists more generally.

I guess I have two main themes with regards to Creative Commons: the first is that I want to ensure that we make work that’s free and available in the public domain for remixing and playing and generating discussion, but that’s not exploitative of artists. And so with this, ideally, I guess I’d like to see Fair Use expanded exponentially and I see various CC licenses as doing exactly that. With issues of distribution I guess I like to differentiate between ‘art’ and the art’s ‘content’ – the former is for collectors and the latter is free: I think it should be available to everyone.

I believe, for example, that you should be allowed to download and play with my video art; I give away files for my prints, they are available on my site – not at super high res, but high res enough that you could print them out or re-mix. I think it’s important that they are out there. That’s the art’s content, not the art itself.

From my perspective, with Walter Benjamin‘s “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” he was right in saying that potentials for easily copying work changed the relationship we have to art objects, but he was wrong in saying that the more copies, the less the authentic original has value: it’s exactly the opposite – the more people that have posters of the Mona Lisa, the more collectors will want the original; the more people that watch my video on their home computers, the more value the signed and numbered DVD will have to the collector.

AFC: Absolutely.

NS: And so I’m trying to find new ways of convincing collectors of that. Because they believe it when it comes to photography, which took a long time, and we need the same understandings for new media. Clive Kellner, the curator who bought “step inside” for the Johannesburg Art Museum, once had a debate about this with me, because he said I couldn’t distribute the software once they purchased it; and I said, “they may have the software, but they don’t own it” – they can watch it, they can play with it, but you have the rights to it, you have the artwork itself, they only have its content. The more people that have this, the more the piece in the museum increases in value. I want to change that discourse. I want to make sure that we can talk about and remix and distribute art to our heart’s content, and still have the ability to see the value of the original (or at least the ‘authenticated’ piece).

AFC: I guess I was just wondering whether you had specific ways of doing that?

NS: Well, you can’t really see the direct impact of someone seeing a poster and therefore immediately going and buying a work, but there are implicit connections; I have this blog, I upload my stuff to Flickr under Creative Commons, I write about other people’s work as well as my own work – indirectly my name and work has gotten out there, and is being talked about. It’s exactly how we met, it’s exactly how I met the people at Creative Commons and iCommons, and it’s where most of my non-South African exhibitions come from. And none of my work has any less value because I have CC lower resolution versions of it online – I think it’s had quite the opposite effect through that indirect relationship of exposure and dialogue.

I think the discussion right now is in the wrong arena – copyright or CC, Fair Use or piracy, this is what big companies should worry about, not artists. Artists should raise questions around whether you do the full high-resolution or lower-resolution under CC, or do you allow people to exhibit the video or do you sell the exhibition rights separately – I think these are the models that are different for each and every one of us, potentially for each and every art work. For example, I have distributed videos before as a podcast; so obviously that’s free. So what I did when someone was interested in purchasing it, I gave them a certificate of authenticity, as well as some prints, and all the videos were pressed, screened and signed.

AFC: And so it’s a package that you get, and it’s an object.

NS: Exactly. There are still people out there that, believe it or not, buy CDs, because they like to have the packages. You know, there are still people that will spend $300 on a really good ballpoint pen.

AFC: People still buy books!

NS: People still buy books, present company included! And, I think we need to recognize that it’s not necessarily at odds to both give away the content and sell the object. Art that is in the public interest can be distributed widely, and the same art can be a luxury item for sale.

AFC: Yes.

NS: I guess my other interest in CC is, going back to my role as an artist rather than as an activist – the particular modes of production. A lot of CC is either about distributing content that is educational, or about re-mixing, which usually defaults to music. And, you know, like MTAA say “we just give our work under CC as a gift;” but I’m also wondering about other uses, other production roles for CC.

Like for example, one of the main projects I’m doing in Croatia is my first in a series of what I call “sentimental constructions,” which are abstract buildings made of rope, that are actually performed. So it might be a huge architectural structure, a literal wireframe, held up in the four corners by volunteers, as a public performance or intervention, somewhere outside a gallery space.
So the question might be, What does this have to do with CC?

AFC: Sure.

NS: And for me, obviously, there are aspects and interrogations about construction, architecture, space, and performance – but what changes the meaning of each performance is the site specificity. In Dubrovnik, it could be about facades or emptiness in relation to the tourism industry that’s been burgeoning there. While, when I try to do it in Joburg this September, it could be about disparity, and decay, and the homeless. So if I put the design of the project under open source and CC, and other artists start to perform sentimental constructions in their parts of the world, people might enter a much different kind of dialog, and it gives a shifting context. So, the important thing for iCommons is that it actually invites others to do something to, and with, the ideas, and it’s less owned by artists and then remixed, and more of a collaboration between several artists at once.

AFC: Right, it’s much more of a conversation.

NS: Yeah. I think the one problems I’m trying to resolve with it, is that a lot of artists, in the age of conceptualism, say, “Well, it’s his idea and that’s the way he did, and I have to find a new way of playing with it” – that makes it a collaboration and a dialog instead of, saying, well, “Shit. I’m doing the same work as Nathaniel.” And that’s where I’m still struggling – I need to make sure it’s seen as a collaboration, rather than as a call for participation. But, as you say, I want to open this dialog and I want to find other modes of production that say, ‘Why CC?’ that go beyond remix and Fair Use. Not that those aren’t important discussions…

AFC: Hah. Those are really interesting questions….

NS: Well I think that’s part of what this residency is about for me, and these are the two questions I want to explore most; even if we don’t have any answer, I’d like to, as you say, dialog about it and see where it can take us. It’s to the credit of the iCommons organization that they’re giving us the space and support to see where these kinds of questions might lead.

Read in context: Part I and Part II