Avatarium: An Interactive and Collaborative Public Art Paradox


Session Title:

  • Interactivity, Space and Public Space

Presentation Title:

  • Avatarium: An Interactive and Collaborative Public Art Paradox




  • When art leaves the confines of galleries, exhibition halls or museums –places designated specifically for art itself, and goes out into the public space, almost always an intensely passionate debate arises about how it should be evaluated and criticized. Furthermore, when public art makes extensive use of digital technologies, what is already a fiercely complicated issue becomes even more perplexing. Technology calls for a redefinition of public space to accommodate new media like video screens, and 3-D virtual worlds; it transforms the way the artwork engages with its audience, enabling them to quit the role of passive bystanders, and become active collaborators in producing new meanings for the artwork. Yet, throughout the process, if the artist’s intentions conflict with the values or interests of others who share the same public space, it is then the artist’s responsibility to reconcile such different concerns, and secure the work’s co-existence in that particular site.

    “AVATARIUM: A Consumer Paradox” (2008), Paul Sermon’s interactive video installation at City’s Nisantasi Shopping mall in Istanbul, was an intriguing example of such kind of public art. Through a telematic and live video installation, “AVATARIUM” linked the glamorous City’s Nisantasi shopping mall with its rickety counterpart, which the artist constructed in Second Life®, allowing the visitors of both malls to coexist and share the same public spaces like passages and sitting areas. Due to its invasive and disruptive digital nature, and its subtle but highly political message that was so deeply interconnected with the essence of its site, Sermon’s work carried a real potential to provoke conflicts with the other stakeholders of the real and virtual spaces it occupied. During the exhibition, some of those potential conflicts did materialize while others did not. We discuss in our paper how the artist and the curator managed such conflicts and disputes, and placing the issue in the larger context of public art, and reiterating the eternal question of where to draw the line between compromise and auto-censorship, we question the accountability and responsibility of the artist when the artwork is taken out to the wilderness of public space, real or virtual.