“Interactivity as a medium produces meaning.”1

“What’s that?” ur unsuspecting performer Angela enquired warily.

We weren’t sure what to say. It’s a simulated torture device? It’s an electrocution chamber? It’s a video shoot conceived because our chief tinkerer Thomas hooked up his phone to a lamp?

“It’s interactive art,” we finally replied.

That seemed to work. Angela nodded in (what we took for) understanding and went off to get changed.

As multimedia artists, Liu Dao is obsessed with technological experimentation. We often sit around in our black-coloured cocoon, fretting and arguing about new ways of using technology in our art. Increasingly, the way forward points to greater interactivity.

We’ve been making interactive art for six years now. We program artworks to respond in different – usually unexpected – ways, by call or sms-activation, with motion sensors, light sensors and sound detectors. From nubile lasses who enjoy their phone vibration settings a bit too much to Bodhisattvas who leer and sneer when you come a bit too near to fabric-ated jungles, Liu Dao’s interactive artworks have featured in art collections (the Wemhöner collection in Herford/Germany), tailor-made museum installations (at the Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai), and even in commercials such as the advertising campaign for Lee Jeans . No matter the location or occasion, Liu Dao loves to spring out at startled visitors with a cheesy grin and a beaming “Have you tried this…?” And oft as not, they actually like it!

This is one reason why we love interactive art. Getting the audience directly involved in the artwork is simply awesome. On the most visceral level, it brings a smile to people’s faces. How could this not?

(Click through for the video.)

Of course, we also have one for the ladies.


But more than just light-hearted fun and witticisms, the dialogue created between artist and audience in interactive art brings together two groups who otherwise rarely meet: the creator and the consumer. This connection and involvement can, apart from explain the artwork, at least bridge the gap between the sometimes twisted minds of those who created it, and those who just pop into the gallery on a sunny afternoon, a popsicle in one hand and a camera in the other, and stand in front of that screen, only to start scratching their heads.

But then something amazing happens: the screen comes to life – it responds, answers, interacts. And all of a sudden, the pieces fall into place, and contemporary art does make sense after all.

Even if in reality, such situations of perfectly enjoyable interaction don’t happen as often as we would wish it to (our visitors can be so adorably bashful), there is still another aspect of interactive art that makes it stand out from other new media art. new interpretation

The history of the use of algorithms, on which all interactive art is initially based (and computer programing in general, for that matter) is a long and complicated one. If you feel like some brain-twisting, you’ll find a great introduction here. Best of luck!

Simple PC-based interaction has been created in all kinds of artistic domains as early as the beginning of the 1980s. Digital literature, for instance, used to be a big hit back then, especially among  nerds like us. Where there had only been simple readers before, now there were users, who could create their own poems using a given set of interchangeable phrases and words.  The infamous who-is-the-artist-now-question popped up regularly, was discussed in hundreds of forums, and, luckily, remained ultimately unanswered. Still, great fun!

But we got carried away there. Let’s get back to our real predecessors, the arts, usually known as the stuff hanging on walls and staring down at you. Since we are focusing on computer-based media art here, we will skip the famous 1920 Marcel Duchamp piece where (possibly terrified) viewers had to turn on a machine and then step back to see what happens. Ok, we just did mention it. Briefly. These legendary “Rotary Glass Plates” were very early interactive art.

During the 1990s, when computers became ever smaller, cheaper and generally more user-friendly, a shift towards IT-based art took place. The temptation was just too big! All of a sudden, virtually everything seemed possible. Simple changing interfaces, paired with simple forms of interaction could be experienced by bewildered spectators as soon as …

Other types of intriguing interactive artwork – Scott Snibbe

Interactive art installations are generally computer-based and frequently rely on sensors, which gauge things such as temperature, motion, proximity, and other meteorological phenomena that the maker has programmed in order to elicit responses based on participant action. In interactive artworks, both the audience and the machine work together in dialogue in order to produce a completely unique artwork for each audience to observe. However, not all observers visualize the same picture. Because it is interactive art, each observer makes their own interpretation of the artwork and it may be completely different than another observer’s views.



1. Muller L., Edmonds E., Connel M.: “Living laboratories for interactive art”. CoDesign. 2(4):3

2. Bachleitner N.: “The Virtual Muse. Forms and Theory of Digital Poetry.” In: “Theory into Poetry. New Approaches to the Lyric.” Ed. by E. Müller-Zettelmann and M. Rubik. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi 2005, p. 303-344.