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Playful interactions: A critical inquiry into interactive art and play

Bech, Tine

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Tine Bech


My practice-based doctoral research explores how I, as an artist, can create conditions and possibilities for playful interaction in and around interactive artworks. Using practice- based research methods four artworks were created, presented and examined in relation to my research questions concerning play. The three key research questions were:
1] How do the properties and affordances of materials and technologies foster play and interactions?
2] How can artists conceptualise physical participation and play in interactive artworks? 3] What kind of play takes place in and around interactive artwork?
My inquiry focused on the development of a model for making playful and interactive artworks and the creation of a vocabulary of play, which demonstrates the different kinds of play initiated through my practice and research. The model provides alternative ways to think about the role of play within interactive art and consists of a series of tangible making gambits for eliciting playful interactions from the audience. The model will be useful for future interactive artists, as well as other fields concerned with the creation of playful experiences. Underpinning my process of creating playful experiences were methods of observation of the participants’ interactions, which were used in order to enable change and improvement of the artworks throughout the research process.
I argue that by employing a sculptural approach to interactive art, using the visual arts tradition of working with the properties of materials and affordances of technology, an invitation to play was created. I propose that to focus on the material’s affordance, rather than on interactive systems, provides additional ways to create interactivity. I also suggest that by understanding technology as a sculptural and embodied material we can move the focus from the technology to what the art does and says. In this sculptural playful interactivity audience members are allowed and encouraged to touch and physical and immersive participation is invited. I explored the body as a particular mode of interaction that can bridge the divide between doing and looking in the gallery, developing theories of the playful body and how audiences connect through play. I argue that the combination of sculptural, captivating interfaces, where the artwork reacts reliably, enables the audience to develop play mastery and become fully engaged. These playful interactions invite people to be curious and seek to engage audiences into dialogue, thereby opening up the possibility for play. Play is an essential pre-condition for the emergence of possibilities and, as such, it is the flexible structure by which meaningful interaction can arise. These interactions are not about our relation to technology but rather about new ways of experiencing culture. In this context interactive art is part of a wider change in contemporary art, where artists are creating culture to be experienced rather than consumed.


Bech, T. (2014). Playful interactions: A critical inquiry into interactive art and play. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Keywords interactive art, sculpture, play theory, practice based research, audience participation, media art
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