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Overexposure (v.2), Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France, February 2016

Experimenting and modeling interactive and performative ‘dispositifs’ in art and design

Content and goals

The notion of ‘dispositif’ [1] is increasingly important in contemporary creation, both art and design. At the crossroads of artistic, technological and societal concerns, dispositifs by definition include an operative, effective or potential dimension. This is even more the case given that dispositifs are interactive, sometimes performative: they are formed by transforming the reality in which they occur and with which they engage. This EnsadLab research program aims to investigate the ways in which these creations can establish an operative relation with their context and, most of all, with their audience.

Participating at the highest level of technological development, beyond computer science and electronics, our projects encompass experiments with video, sound, text, light, robotics and materials. By creating environments, objects, programs and content, we invent and modelize specific and significant interfaces that allow for interactive and performative situations, which are pertinent to societal concerns, both current and future. With its articulation of aesthetic, practical (operative) and critical experience, our approach leads us to consider how multidisciplinary research projects, undertaken in partnership with research laboratories (public and private) in both social and hard sciences, can be put into the public domain (or ‘published’).

Methodology and modes of appreciation and publication

Artistic dispositifs cannot escape their socio-technical conditions; to the contrary, dispositifs implement and try out these very conditions. By closely linking research and creation (‘R&C’), our program explores prospective dispositifs with underlying artistic, societal and technological concerns. Researchers question, experiment and develop - through practice - new modes of representation and action, in particular those related to new information and communication technologies. The relationship with these technologies is neither that of submission nor condescension: far from being fixed tools that are used, they are dispositifs to be operated.

The collective approach to the experimentation and analysis of these dispositifs bears as much upon their composition, arrangement and technicity as on the situations that they generate and their social impact. This approach resonates with certain academic research methods - state of the art, analysis, positioning, identification of objectives and locks, resolution and new use hypotheses - while following a recursive, iterative process rather than a linear one. Testing activities take place at each step and are carried out in a precise way on both an individual and collective basis. In maintaining a constant dialogue between these two approaches - generic and specific, collective and individual, deductive and inductive - program researchers are able to construct a methodology that combines research and project creation, entitled ‘Research and Creation’, or ‘R&C’.

The resulting creations are elaborated according to generic dispositifs and concerns that are easily shared, theorized and transferred. In order to report on and add value to these research activities, we publicize them in various ways such as exhibitions, demonstrations, conferences, seminars and workshops, as well as producing and diffusing posters, texts and images. From the moment our research leads us to develop new forms of instrumentation (in terms of both software and material), we work on its transferal to either the public domain (free license) or the industrial one (patent, etc.). We consider these different modes of issue to be ‘publications’, in the sense that to publish something is indeed to render it… public.

Dispositif: This French word is difficult to translate into English. Depending on the context it is usually translated as ‘device’ or ‘apparatus’, but neither one of these terms captures the specificity of the word. In the sphere of contemporary art, it designates the different and diverse elements – material, human and/or linguistic – that have operative capacities. In the social sciences, it is often used in the sense given by Michel Foucault.