On Tuesday, April 9th, 1996
the first meeting of "Art Works," a multimedia forum by the
met at 101 Federal Street, Boston. It was an
unusually sleety and nasty cold day for April; people
shuffled in and scouted a chair well after the 7PM starting time.
Twenty-odd adults, most with name tags, sat awkwardly around
a long table. One by one
programmers, CDROM developers, web designers, artists, writers,
and other folks who considered themselves multimedia professionals
According to the flyer, MIMC-Art Works is dedicated to the
exploration of interactive media as a new art form.
The first meeting was certainly more of a warm discussion than any
sort of debate. An artist fondly recounted
her experience creating multimedia installations;
a programmer described the joy he found in creating video games.
Several people, myself included, expressed
excitement at the new forms of community and
collaboration implied by multimedia art forms.
There was hardly a devil's advocate in the group.
Among the issues discussed were: What is multimedia? How
does one define the 'user' of a multimedia piece? What does multimedia
do that is different from other forms of art in which participants
actively engaged with the art and with other people, such as folk
dance? On a more esoteric note, can we call multimedia 'fine art'?
And, on a more practical note, how can corporations bring themselves
up to the task of exploring multimedia in all its possibilities?
Clearly there were some questions that would never be answered.
Noone claimed to be able to define "multimedia."
A Martian overhearing the forum might come away
with the same vagueness one has in describing
God or any other large and unwieldy concept.
artist said it herself: "It's everything": sound, imagery,
interactivity. Even on that point there was vagueness. What
is interactivity? Someone claimed that being able to choose
paths and outcomes is not true interactivity; true interactivity
requires the user to participate in the act of creation itself.
Here again I sensed a debate that might have but did not take root.
The conversation only lightly touched on the origins of
interactive multimedia; the
Exquisite Corpse and
other Surrealist parlor games are surely reborn in new guise as
web-based collaborative art.
Predictably, there was not a soul in the room who would deny the
artfulness of multimedia as a form. There was also unanimous
agreement on the power of multimedia -- whatever it is.
The undefinability of multimedia seemed to be where its
attraction lie. Multimedia is a web, an
a structure with no structure; it transforms audience into users,
users into participants. It is
layered, empowering, and, if
well-designed, exciting as hell.
The MIMC Art Works forum meets the second Tuesday of every month,
at the Peabody & Brown Board Room, 101 Federal Street 12th Floor, Boston.
That's just a block over from the South Station subway stop on the Red Line.
Easy walking even on a snowy spring day. More information about
this and other MIMC events can be found at