Ding an sich was the first commission for Walker's online Gallery 9. With it, Piotr Szyhalski has created 12 canons (10 plus a prelude and coda), that explore some of the distinctive characteristics of interactive art. As he wrote in the proposal for his project:
"I am interested in exploring the concept of core elements of the experience shared by artists and audiences in the context of new media."
At the same time, the title Ding an sich, which translates as the thing itself, is from the writings of the 19th-century theologian Immanuel Kant. Syzhalski is making the arguement for art, even "new media art," as both a universal and an individual experience.
"As a concept, Ding an sich assumes the existence of things outside of our sensory experiences. Kant describes it as unknowable though CERTAINLY existing, which I thought had a lot to do with the experience (or perhaps the very nature) of art in general. Art goes beyond matter/objects: it testifies to the existence of Things Themselves. Somewhere there is the 'constant' we all know, although each one of us would almost certainly describe it with very different words."
One of the critical and challenging aspects of Ding an sich is interactivity. Szyhalski does not fall into the common trap of not assuming that all experiences of art, whether paintings, novels, or web sites, are in profound ways interactive. At the same time, he does not take the easy route and post signs signalling, so to speak, click here and something will happen. The screener is required to experiment, explore, learn how each Canon "works." This deciphering can be frustrating for those only interested in the answers, but it is rewarding for those who accept the challenge. And for Szyhalski, this implicit conversation with the viewer, mediated as it is by mouse and screen and network, is essential to his notion of what he is doing.
"The decisions an artist makes during the process of building his/her work are perhaps the most important aspects of creation. Everything else follows: selection of the media, compositional/structural choices, etc. The nature of interactive work is based on the idea that both the artist AND the viewer make decisions. How meaningful those decisions on the audiences part will be often is the measure of how successful the piece is...."
Without this interaction, what Joseph Beuys has called exformation, Szyhalski's work does not exist. It is, perhaps, in all its variability, the thing itself.
Steve Dietz, Piotr Szyhalski "Ding an sich (The Cannon Series)", November 1998.
G9 launch: September, 1997
credit line: Commissioned by Gallery 9/Walker Art Center.