Earlier this year Sonia Cillari worked at STEIM with hardware designer Stock and environment programmer Ulrich Berthold for the technical realization of her new work “Sensitive to Pleasure.” Recently this piece was premiered at NIMK and also won 1st Prize in VIDA 13.0 Art & Artificial Life International Competition.
Part of the interaction is based on a human-antena-platform that detects the audience’s proximity to a performer which was built by STEIM for her previous piece “Se Mi Sei Vicino”. This time, the goal was to extending this system to induce pain onto another performer.
Obviously, safety became the main concern, and issues of liability arose as an institution co-producing the project. The dilemma was this: STEIM’s history and identity is deeply rooted in the Cracklebox, an instrument that an artist created through connecting one’s body directly to electricity. We pride ourselves as place where artists can take risks and experiment freely without being restricted by typical engineering practices. However, as an government funded organization we also can’t put people’s lives in danger. We strongly believed in Sonia’s artistic concept and Stock’s skills to build circuits, but it became a “sensitive” issue for us. Our resolution was to have Stock follow strict safety measures in his design and to use an commercially approved medical device in the system.
I recently saw the piece at the opening of NIMK on going exhibition Technology Requested. “Sensitive to Pleasure” addresses the neglection of the body in new media art and the consequences to “interact.” In technology driven art, too often has interactivity become a glossy and smooth experience designed for the “user”, and rarely are the underlining relationships that allows for the interactivity ever evoked. Does interactivity come for free or is there a power structure installed prior to the system and user?
Sonia’s work is confrontational but at the same time inviting. As one waits in line to enter a blackbox, they witnesses the artist herself electrocuted by signals sent from the viewers who enter the box one at a time and interact with another performer inside. You can’t but help to feel that you do have choice whether you choose your own pleasure over another’s pain. The performance is of course dramatized but is not deceptive, the shocks are painful. I believe it is a very strong work and we are proud to be part of it. Congratulations Sonia!
Sensitive to Pleasure was co-produced by STEIM, Netherlands Media Art Institute in Amsterdam and Claudio Buziol Foundation in Venice.
Supported by Fonds BKVB and Optofonica Laboratory for Immersive ArtScience in Amsterdam.