originally published in German
in "Klangkunst" Munchen:Prestel/Akademie der Kunst. p. 124-125, 1996

by Julie Crysler

The live performances and interactive installations of Canadian artist Don Ritter fuse technology and human action to create a "living" and ephemeral visual art form. Ritter's work allows the audience to become an active participant in the creative process, liberating the spectator from the passive manner of observation required by most visual media.

Ritter began his career in the fine arts as a painter and sculptor. His electronic art work incorporates his disparate interests in psychology, human interface design, engineering and his longstanding fascination with technology. In the 1980's, Ritter began collaborating with musicians and developed his Orpheus software which allows imagery to be "played" like an instrument. This unique software provides real-time video imagery in response to music or MIDI data. When combined with improvised music, Orpheus permits the simultaneous creation and experience of a work of art.

Like his live performances, Ritter's interactive installations allow the instantaneous control of sound and/or imagery by a person in real time. They are, in their very essence, collaborative works of art. Installations like his series "Captured Moments" are dependent on the viewer to determine their performance. In the installation "Intersection", the sound of cars along four lanes of traffic reacts to the presence of visitors in the space. Infrared sensors determine the position of the visitor, and alter the sound of the oncoming cars accordingly. Similarly, "TV Guides" requires that spectators remain completely motionless if they wish to watch broadcast television; when sensors detect even the slightest movement, the television screen fades to black, the sound fades out and a text message appears, requesting that the viewers remain still.

In Ritter's installations, the spectator is enveloped by technology, and becomes as much a part of the work as the sensors, speakers and video projection equipment. Human action is melded with technological systems creating an symbiotic and cybernetic hybrid. By becoming part of the machine the spectator brings Ritter's art to life.

In a sense, these installations collapse the concepts of spectacle (Debord) and surveillance (Foucault). The performance of Ritter's spectacle is dependent on the actions of the spectator, but also on the surveillance of that same spectator. The location and motion of each visitor to the space is observed by sensors, triggering a response in the installation. Ironically, in these works, it is ultimately through surveillance that the spectator is given power over the art.