Driven by his passion in theater, Matt Adams has incorporated performance and interactivity in his projects, exploring sociopolitical themes while applying new and unorthodox methods. Merging the realms between the real world and the virtual, Adams has certainly redefined the genre of play within itself.
Interactive = Unfinished
Adams began his talk by claiming that when a work is interactive, it means that it is also unfinished. He highlighted the importance for us to see the relation between the two words. When a work is interactive, it means that it leaves and offers something opened for the viewers or participants to come and engage with, and complete for themselves. The viewers are the ones completing the experience for themselves and in turn become a part of the artwork or installation. That is why it is the artist’s responsibility to ensure that the work is tidied up into a narrative to be properly presented to the viewers.
The idea of having a work ‘unfinished’ is pretty evident in all of Blast Theory’s projects that Adams shared during the talk. The participants and their experience play an integral part in making these projects complete.
One project that really stood out for me during the talk was Kidnap (1998), a performance that featured two participants kidnapped in a safe house for 48 hours under the surveillance of several online viewers. The online viewers were given the autonomy to control the cameras in the cell and communicate live with the kidnappers.
Prior to the kidnapping, a registration was posted online to call out for interested participants to partake in the project, which also required them to pay £10 and sign a disclaimer to confirm their consent. Ten entrants were then picked at random to be under surveillance, where their behaviours and daily activities were closely monitored by the team over a two week period. Two of the ten shortlisted participants, Debra and Russell, were then randomly picked again as winners to be involved in the actual kidnapping while keeping law enforcement, friends, and family informed of the situation.
The team was then engaged in a lengthy chase to capture both winners and have them confined in a purpose built room at a secret location where live footage of them were streamed to the online viewers. Over the 48 hours, the winners were fed and taken care of by their kidnappers while the process was monitored by a psychologist. The winners were also offered a prize of £500 if they managed to escape, reach a telephone and call a designated number.
The project was covered by several news reporters across London and was also turned into a 30-minute film which was then premiered at The Green Room in Manchester in September 1998. It managed to garner a major response from the public as it raised the awareness of several social issues circulating the area.
The project was a work of control and consent, inspired by the Spanner Trials where sadomasochists were prosecuted despite carrying out activities out of consent, has also delved into themes that revolved around several other social issues. It exposed the workings of the media in Britain while addressing problems in lottery culture (similar to how participants had to pay a certain sum with a small chance of being awarded a prize money), and voyeurism (where online viewers were able to “spy” on the kidnapped participants in private).
Kidnap is a perfect example to demonstrate how the interactive work was completed by not only the kidnapped winners, but also the online viewers who have spectated the events that transpired over the course of 48 hours with having a certain amount of control to what they were seeing on the screens. The experience was different for the winners as they were physically confined in the space and in the center of attention while the participation of the online viewers were rather more passive. Therefore the work goes unfinished if the participants were taken out of the picture.
“Interactive = Agency
Interactive = Political”
Before ending the talk, Adams also made relations between interactivity with agency and how it is political. Works should have agency for narratives to unfold and different actions may result in different outcomes. It goes the same for how interactive works can be regarded as political, in which it is able to offer a new perspective to spectators or provide change to how certain things should be carried out.