The underriding problem facing computer artwork is the computer itself. The computer is a work tool, that complains of underemployment if it is not surfing the web or manipulating funds in some financial spreadsheet. It ill serves contemplative pictorial display, at loggerheads with urgent utility. Joetopia is trying to develop a display device which will reconcile the computer as support for artwork, inscribed within the symbolical tradition of pictorial representation.


Interactive photography questions the status of the picture itself. Over and above the image, it is the displaying device, the computer and screen, which must be placed within its sociocultural and psychological context.

Pictures call out to us across the ages. Ever since humanity experienced the irresistible urge to exteriorise herself through artistic expression, she has adorned the walls with the fruit of her creativity. This was already so in caves, this is at present so in boardrooms, via burial chambers, cathedrals, museums, and all our houses. It is a question of universal desire, present in all periods, all peoples, all styles, with religious, ritual, social, cultural, economic, political, dynastic motivations, everything is concerned. It is as if these illustrated walls represent both the exterior facade of our inner being and the interior facade of the world surrounding, a mediator which allows our inside to appropriate and tame our outside.

The means chosen for presenting a pictorial work are never neutral. Decisions concerning aspects exterior to the content of the work itself, such as its dimensions, or the form, even the opulence, of the frame contribute in a fundamental manner to the experience of its viewing. These aspects, though foreign to it, inevitably intervene within the meaning vehiculed by the work. A film is not perceived in the same way in a cinema amongst our fellow beings as on a television in our living room.

Picture vs Computer

The interactive work challenges the inert nature of traditional pictorial representation, whether painiting or photography: a picture, within which the observer engages an interactive dialogue is not scrutinised in the same manner. An active relationship, a complicity, is established, which goes beyond contemplation or interpretation, autonomous actions relative to the work. Thus the act of representation borne by the work opens itself up to self-metamorphosis thanks to interactivity, in rupture with traditional pictorial art...

The computer, though essential for the functioning of such pictures, is nevertheless not the ideal object for so doing. The computer brings a whole load of connotations and impatiences, in contradiction with the mono-utilisation denoted by the display of pictures. Such a ubiquitous tool imprints its strong identity upon everything that passes through it. As activity centre the computer symbolises the work tool itself, and the displayed image is generally confined to the role of screen background, hinted at on the periphery of Microsoft Office document windows.

Digital art suffers from this ambiguous relationship with its support: its own status is without cease devoured by the invasive nature of the computer. Certainly digital works, more and more numerous, benefit from projection within the framework of an installation. But in the case of my interactive photographs, I wish to recreate the intimate relationship which exists between the observer and the framed work.

At the same time, we are surrounded by devices which, under other exteriors, remain computers. The most emblematic example is the digital personal assistant, the Palm and company, which is perceived of as being an agenda, address book, notepad, before being a computer. A cellphone offers more possibilities than computers from fifteen years ago. The best disguised computer is probably the game console.

This specialisation obeys several imperatives. Optimising a device for specific utilisations allows one to avoid the trap offered by the ubiquity of the computer and the accompanying crashes. A dedicated device is more intuitive to use relative to the complexity of the general-purpose computer. Finally, the form of the specialised device allows it to be adapted to its function - both in operational and representational terms - so that it should be in accordance with its environment and use.

Computer vs Frame

The project consists of the design and the fabrication of a wall-mounted "computer-picture". The motherboard will be tucked behind a flat screen, the assemblage being held together within a frame that is both structural and decorative.

It is to be assimilated with a picture in its frame, so as to assert its affiliation within the very long tradition of mural representation. In this way, the pictorial digital work will be able to develop upon a foundation based within its historical and cultural context.

The blurring between "framed picture" and "interactive work" will in itself be generator of meaning, creating the surprise and the realm of intimacy where the observer might approach the work contained within with a supplement of emotion and perceptual sensitivity.

Is it "archaic" to want to shut a computer up in a frame? One might answer in the negative, precisely because one wishes to establish the association with customary usage in the field of pictorial art, to better facilitate the dialogue between work and observer. The contrast between traditional form and interactive media is in itself striking and thought provokng.

Indeed, to escape the computer, the picture has to adopt the symbolic of the picture, through the grammar of pictorial representation which has developed throughout the historical evolution of art.

The current state of the project

The objective is to design a computer-picture device assembled from standard PC components, so as to establish an easily reproducible system. The ensemble should be sufficiently generic and adaptable so as to be capable of displaying diverse interactive works, thus usable by any artist who so wishes for the exhibition of their own work.

A technical design process has resulted in plans for the fabrication of a prototype device for testing and validation. The diagram presented below is excerpted from these plans. Anyone interested in this project is invited to contact joetopia.