Nov 6, 2020
category: Art

According to Marcel Duchamp, a viewer looking at the work of art can be and perform the function of an artist, adding his or her own meaning and interpretation. The words of this French painter and sculptor are particularly relevant to the art of the second half of the 20th century, when such new forms of art as performance, happening, installation, the art of action, and actionism started to develop. New types of art tried to destroy a line between the artist and the audience, creating a common aesthetic field for art. In this case, the viewer is not only a passive subject, who perceives pieces in certain rules and limits. The status of the audience has changed; and the cultural mission of art has transformed from an isolated transcendent area to the critical corporeal reality. In the current essay, it is important to compare such new media arts forms as This Exquisite Forest, The Virtual Choir, and Life in a Day in their aesthetical context of cooperation between the author and the audience.

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This Exquisite Forest

This is a virtual project, which uses some elements of animation and video art in order to express collective ideas. Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin conceived this plan as a new form of visual art, where high technologies cooperated with collective human imagination. The official sponsor was Google Data Arts Team and Tate Modern that attracted the advanced technologies for this project (This Exquisite Forest 2012). Anyone could visit the site for two years and create a short animation with online drawing tools. The authors did not limit the audience. Therefore, everyone could choose a convenient method and paint out (Appendix 1). In the beginning of This Exquisite Forest, Filip Visnjic commented that, “someone may start a drawing, you may respond to it, making the tree grow larger” (Visnjic 2012). Other visitors could build a little movie basing on animations. It was more similar to the avant-garde cinema rather than to modern commercial narrative films. The reason was that such movie resembled a rapid succession of different abstract drawings. As a result, some visitors shaped the material; and others used it for constructing a visual narrative. All these images were united into one growing tree. Then, there were more trees than only one. Thus, it was “primarily a crowd sourced animation drawings tool which combines drawings into ever growing trees” (Visnjic 2012).

The project was launched on the site. However, it also was established as the interactive gallery installation on the third floor at the Tate Modern (Appendix 2). There was a room with projections of designed trees on the walls. Therefore, every visitor could observe how the wood is being built by the audience. Furthermore, each tree could be made out in details with ultra-red colours without destroying its structure. Similarly, a visitor at the main entrance of the Turbine Hall could choose one of woods on a two-projection ramp. At the same time, everyone could create the tree on the third floor in the real time. Thus, it created an effect of interaction of different types of viewers, as well as cooperation of installations, performances, and classical painting. All people felt their real involvement in the creation of something special, which could be accurately described as a growing tree.

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It is obvious that every leaf represented a collection of animations that had succeeded one another. It was like the leaves changing depending on the season. However, the basic fact is that the tree seemed truly alive, though it was created entirely in a virtual space. Moreover, the idea is that different types of images could form a mosaic canvas. This technique is known since the time of Surrealists and Dadaists, who also used the audience for the creation of the collective work. Nevertheless, the project of Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin differs from surrealist collages. First, the elements of spontaneity and improvisation were kept to minimum. However, it seems that everything was created by chance. Second, it was important for the authors consciously to draw all these images, and their vision of specific colours and metaphors. This Exquisite Forest is more like a collective conscious project, not the one from unconscious; and this collaborative platform shows “how technology and art can push each other further, together” (Kubina 2013).

This Exquisite Forest is a unique layout not for its collage moving structure, but also for the participation of different people. In this case, it is an open art project for cooperation; and Marcel Duchamp’s idea works here in the best way. In spite of age, sex, social status, everyone could draw any object or sign. Thus, the tree really equalizes various people. It created a unique space for transparent and reflective participation. The project is closed now. However, anyone can visit the site “to browse the forest of animations” (This Exquisite Forest 2012). This way each individual can more passively engage in this unique visual project.

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The Virtual Choir

Eric Whitacre is known as one of the most popular composers. However, for many critics, he has become popular as the author of The Virtual Choir. It is a global project that unites together “singers from around the world and their love of music in a new way through the use of technology” (Eric Whitacre’s Virual Choir 2015). This Exquisite Forest belongs to the visual arts and has used the expressive participation in a predesigned layout. As for The Virtual Choir, it is an auditory project, where voice is a piece of art. Despite this, Whitacre’s performance is also a visual digital art. The reason is that it represents a graphical collection of different voices and faces united into one single mosaic image (Appendix 3). However, the same participants performed Sleep in 2009 (Appendix 4) being a less visible but still powerful project. It was inspired by Britlin Losee’s video sent to him. This young girl performed one of his choral pieces. Therefore, the composer decided to develop this idea into one huge project with professional choral singers.

The main idea was to collect different voices from the entire world, thus creating a monolith fabric of sound, where all choral singers were performing the same tune. The participants were engaged in the whole process, according to the predesigned idea. It was a very organized and structured art layout. Singers from around the world recorded their voices and sent them to the composer. Then, Eric Whitacre listened to them carefully and synthesized into a single stream. The Virtual Choir “has been like a drop of water on the surface of a still lake, rippling the musical and online landscape to reach millions” (Eric Whitacre’s Virual Choir 2009). The complexity of work was that all voices had to be heard as the one. Thus, the conductor was well aware of what he really wanted to create in the end. As a result, every voice was lost in the general one recalling the universal chorus. The idea is similar to the medieval choir that sounded in the walls of the cathedral. However, now the walls were very conditional as for the ecumenical choir there were no obstacles. Moreover, a separate voice of each participant was a part of a unique project. Therefore, everyone felt a great responsibility capturing a chance to do something really big.

Eric Whitacre retained his function of conductor, who unwittingly became an artist using his voice as the material for making art. In contrast to This Exquisite Forest, he did not allow the audience to perform anything but carefully prepared them for his great performance. Everything had to work as a single, well-planned project, where every mistake could cost too much. Such control over the project has made it one of the most ambitious arts for the last time. The reason is that it synthesized the complex technology, different types of art, and the participation of the audience also. However, there are many similar layouts with the same principle of cooperation. However, this one stands out among others for its special attention to listeners and the human potential. Thus, the composer tries to show the true nature of humanity through the cooperation with voices. “It was about bringing peoples together from all manner of backgrounds, from dozens of countries, and – cliché though it sounds – finding their common humanity through song” (Classicalite Newsdesk 2015). For Eric Whitacre, the voice is not really a worse material than the paint. Therefore, he uses it in his other projects in order to empower the audience and the arts as well.

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Life in a Day

It is a large-scale special project by the producer Ridley Scott, director Kevin Macdonald, and famous video hosting YouTube. It is an attempt to create the world’s first so-called global film from the materials provided by Internet users. Life in a Day is a transparent artistic work, where all participants have organized the whole visual text with a certain idea. It is a frank story about the lives of people within one day on the Earth. The work presents an inside look, when everyone talks about the personal narratives of their living. These individual stories join together in order to form the single one of human life. Life in a Day proves that the people from different countries have many things in common despite the vast distances that divide them. Moreover, it is a good example about the integration of such various persons into one art project with the idea of humanity.

The purpose of the film is to unite various people in a single picture, where basic human values are represented. In other words, the movie purposes “to tell the story of a planet, but it’s the vulnerability of these individual moments, contributed as part of a larger project that lingers” (Sternbergh 2011). For example, the authors show the first shaving, the birth of a child, the ritual of commemoration, and the world adventure by one Korean bicyclist. This list can be added because there are many unusual and very familiar stories in the world that have not yet taken their place on the YouTube page. Still, these actions reveal something about each person not depending on the race, culture or ideology. All participants do not play any role. It is the life itself. Hence, Life in a Day is a documentary version of a passive observer who simply combines the most important episodes of life into one canvas.

The most difficult is that Kevin Macdonald was able to choose and combine at the same time thousands of videos from July 24, 2010. In this case, the artistic mission was to see a storyline between different visual stories. Hence, the whole collage was built according to a single organizing principle. Thus, the performance has lost its original improvisational principle being in the beginning. Kevin Macdonald mentioned about this idea that, “My aim was to create a whole movie from intimate moments – the extraordinary, the mundane, the preposterous – and thereby take the temperature of the planet on a single day, 24 July” (Macdonald 2011). This project is very similar to The Virtual Choir by Eric Whitacre, who also combined different voices in order to tell the universal story about the human nature. This idea also was in This Exquisite Forestby Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, where anyone could put a small piece into the overall picture.


Therefore, these current examples of media art show that the function of the viewer has changed, thus, realizing the idea of Marcel Duchamp about the collaboration between an artist and the audience. These projects involve the viewers to a single communication space where the method of interaction is image, sound or routine actions. However, the very audience is not only the creator, but also a piece of art itself. The viewer not only observes the work, but also performs as the artist. Each one inputs the part to the aesthetic message. The artworks by Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, Eric Whitacre, and Kevin Macdonald lead to the following conclusion. The artist’s and the viewer’s interaction leads to the creation of complex, integrated, and universal art. Meanwhile, the audience takes part in the transparent, expressive, and reflective creation, thus changing the landscape of contemporary visual culture.

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