Friday, March 25, 2016

Embodiment and Meaning

The point of my blog post today is to signal my thinking about how embodied interactions produce meaning for a interactive art work.  In particular, I was really inspired by Dourish's discussion of meaning and phenomenology that was referenced by Dalsgaard and Hansen in their "Performing Perception paper."  Dalsgaard and Hansen summarize Dourish's point as follows: “…we can however deconstruct the systemic concept of embodiment to gain an understanding of some of the tensions between user and system.  First and foremost, it is a relationship characterized by the user’s exploration of the meaning of the system…Second, meaning is not a constant, rather arises from the user’s interaction with the system…this implies that one cannot control what the system means to the user, only influence the construction of meaning” (Dalsgaard, 5).

I looked up Dourish's 2001 paper "Seeking a foundation for context-aware computing" and found this memorable quote that provides a theoretical ground for the construction of meaning through action, paraphrasing Heidegger essentially: “it is through our actions in the world—through the ways in which we move through the world, react to it, turn it to our needs, and engage with it to solve problems—that the meaning that the world has for us is revealed…action precedes theory; the way we act in the world is logically prior to the way we understand it.” (Dourish, 6)

This theory leaves open the possibility of multiple and evolving meanings for a piece of interactive art.  This would be most true if we are fortunate to have a community form around a piece of art, as Dourish argues: “if the meaning of use of technology is…something that is worked out again and again in each setting, then the technology needs to be able to support this sort of repurposing, and needs to be able to support the communication of meaning through it, within a community of practice.” (Dourish, 12).

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