Public Art Review
Private Broadcasts/Public Conversations
by Colette Gaiter
"[...] Piotr Szyhalski's World Wide Web site, called The Spleen, is highly conceptual. It is an interactive site; viewers set their own pace and choose their own path as they move through it. The Spleen is also very visually sophisticated and seductive. The artist was trained in Poland in classic graphic design, a background quite evident in the work.
Szyhalski is a propaganda artist, with a large body of his work, and part of the Web site, consisting of agitprop posters. In one example, a screen comes up with an image of a man and woman facing off, confidently wielding hatchets. The text on top reads, "Nothing could be more true than this." Large type across the bottom reads, "YOU CAN WIN." The words "BUT YOU WONT' shortly dissolve onto the page under the other text. Szyhalski is effectively mimicking the suggestibility of advertising and other media propaganda. There are many of these posters, so one can, as he says, "go in deeper and deeper and deeper." The propaganda posters become animated in Szyhalski's clever use of "dissolves" to change content. When the message changes to an equally plausible opposite after the viewer has already silently agreed with the original premise, one is struck by how effective propaganda is.
His use of the HTML scripting language (the language that operates Web pages) takes advantage of its limited interactive capabilities. One sequence is a "play" whose script, made of found text from a 19th century book, Mental Photography, reads out in a seemingly endless horizontal scroll with intermittent images.
Szyhalski believes that art is the audience. The Internet is his perfect medium because of the directness of the communication and possibility for interaction with the audience. While he does not have a specific audience in mind when he is creating his work, his commentaries deal with a certain type of person. His public issue is the process of public indoctrination to ideas. In one training exercise, the viewer is asked, "Are you prepared to draw a clear line of distinction between you and them?"
For Szyhalski, the promise of interactivity will be in bypassing the creation of beautiful objects. "Art" occurs at the other end of the process - through the viewers and their perceptions. This is perceptual interactivity. Rather than just tell something, he allows the message to emerge in viewers' minds. Like in the best of public art, there can be alternative readings. "The resulting impulse will release a certain feeling or emotion," he says. "This is the art." He describes his current work as an "expression of my hope for art - not art yet, exactly."
These artists - Barbara Hammer, Jill Scott, George Legrady, Christine Tamblyn, and Piotr Szyhalski - are working toward a currently unattainable ideal: true interactivity in a public cyberforum. Their conceptual challenge is to create an art that leaves some control up to the viewer; although in terms of technology, the artists are working with one hand tied behind their backs. Because of their pioneering efforts, when true interactivity is possible, we may know what to do with it."
Colette Gaiter is an Associate Professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she teaches computer graphics, and an artist working in Interactive digital multimedia.