What the Field of Human-Computer Interaction can Learn from Fluxus

In May, Laura presented some new research at the annual conference on human computer interaction (CHI) describing what the field of Human-Computer Interaction might learn from the artist network known as Fluxus. The work was a collaborative project between Laura, Kristina Andersen, Daniela Rosner, Ron Wakkary and James Pierce. The conference talks were not recorded, but you can view the transcript of our presentation below or read the paper here:

The talk starts here:

This is a formal representation of a design space. It represents the entire scope of possible questions we could be asking as a field and the practices we could be engaging.

 

What we consider a “contribution” to our field is only a subset of these areas. For non HCI audiences, a “contribution” is how the value of a research process and publication is assessed during peer review. The papers that are seen to make the strongest contributions to the field of HCI are selected for publication.

 

But one of the strengths of our field is the room it makes for broader forms of critique. Many of which are expressing that we are living in a moment where we face deeply complex and urgent challenges, leading to questioning of what counts. The methods of proof we typically rely on may be keeping us to addressing global issues and “wicked” problems in all of their complexity.

 

Our project asks how Fluxus, an experimental collective of artists working in the 1950’s and 60’s might help us think through and reflect on our discipline in a new way.

 

In the rest of the presentation, I’ll address this by attending to what Fluxus offers, how we might engage it and the expanded perspectives it can bring forth.

 

So lets go back to this idea that what we call a contribution is only a subset of the possible practices we could be engaging. Just as we are facing a challenge in our own notions of a contribution….

 

Fluxus was confronting a challenge in what was allowed to be called “art” or what “art” practices typically described to be 1950s and 1960’s.

 

This piece by Rauschenberg created in ’57 is characteristic of fine art’s turn towards the use of more everyday and familiar materials as a way to speak to, reflect on contemporary culture. But Fluxus felt that this was not a true engagement with the everyday because it was still largely outside of everyday life, it was about commodity but it did not consider the more tactile and embodied modes of engaging, producing, and rethinking commodity. So they took an approach of creating “art amusements” as a means to reflecting on the boundaries and subjectivities of the fine art establishment.

 

In one of their many manifestos they describe art amusement as those that: 

 

“must be simple, amusing, concerned with insignificances, have no commodity or institutional value. It must be unlimited, obtainable by all and eventually produced by all.”

And this ideas, and the work created by Fluxus had lasting effects on art practice: the art amusements they developed have been folded into the arts establishment and had a lasting impact on an explosion of experimental and performative art practices that have taken root in the present day. As art historian Natalee Harren writes, “the impact of the international, neo-avant-garde Fluxus collective seems to register everywhere” in present day contemporary art. 

 

Ok – so in response to what they found to be restricting and limiting in the realm of art, they created art amusements.

 

Along similar lines, we wondered if we could reflect on the boundaries of our own discipline by creating “HCI-Amusements” which might colloquially be understood as intentional ways of not contributing to our field.

 

Specifically, we ask what might we learn by trying to make something that does not contribute by traditional HCI metrics? How do we do this for and within HCI? and How does this allow us to pay attention to things in a different manner?

 

So now we turn to how we specifically went about engaging Fluxus within HCI, and developing different forms of HCI Amusement:

 

We created three kinds of HCI Amusements which we called a correspondence, a copublication, and a cookbook.

 

A correspondence is a structured exchange of personalized prompts for action inspired by the Fluxus Event Score and Fluxkits.

 

Fluxus event scores are like musical scores, but they use text as notation of activities to perform in everyday life rather than notes to play on an instrument.

 

FluxKits were similar to event scores as well, but they used objects instead of words, inviting the “viewer” to touch, prod, and otherwise engage the seemingly mundane materials inside.

 

The development of our correspondence began in 2016 after we (Laura Devendorf and Kristina Andersen) talked about our shared love of flux kits. Kristina quickly drafted a set of rules for the exchange seen above. 

 

A few weeks later I get this in the mail.

 

Inside of it is a collection of things…

 

And I make a thing from those things.

 

Then I refilled the box with some new items and shipped it back to Kristina.

 

She received it…

 

Unpacked it…

 

and made a thing…

 

The rules were made to be evolved based on the amount of amusement they produced. The rule to have a matchbox stayed but the return in 10 days was quickly abandoned. This exploration became an activity of looking for small things that had been left behind. We dug through junk drawers and the odds and ends just laying around to “craft” a special kit for the other. In an odd way, we began getting a sense of the other’s life by what they had to get rid of and the odd ubiquity of certain products like dessicant “freshening” packets, pencil stubs, and bits of thread. 

 

We saw the correspondence as activating the mundane in a way that made it more noticeable and present. Something we noticed putting into our boxes would continue to become present to us in ways it hadn’t before. 

 

This included an odd fascination with bag fasteners that extended into our digital communications. 

Check that one out! 

 

 

The next kind of amusement was a community exchange of prompts for making, which we did because we were curious how people in HCI might already be adopting some of these open-ended techniques in their practice.

This was particularly inspired by Fluxus publishing….(to be continued)