Rethinking Affordances - Artists Position Paper

In the digital realm, affordances manifest through usability. However, the plasticity of digital technologies necessitates a broader conception of usability in which the artist addresses it critically as content, not simply in terms of its functionality. In coining the term "affordance" in 1977, psychologist James Gibson posited a chair that affords being sat on, thrown, stood on, etc. In HCI expert Don Norman's 1988 book "The Design of Everyday Things", affordance is redefined in a digital context as "perceivable" actions by any individual user, with their unique experiences and goals. In a complex virtual system, like a video game, the code itself has agency. By
prodding, poking and breaking a virtual system, the "user" becomes a "player", eliciting responses from the code and perceiving affordances in the machine agency itself.

By entering into such a relationship with the system, we are no longer concerned with affordances of Gibson's chair in a room, for example, but with an object manifesting possible codified connections to events in a responsive numerical space. Throwing the chair can force the code to adapt/improvise, changing outcomes and exposing glitches or "exploits" in the system. Interaction then becomes more of a relationship or negotiation between player and machine as a whole. For this reason, our practice is largely reliant on our use of proprietary digital tools.

We create custom digital systems using the video game, Little Big Planet 3, in which the peculiarities of the underlying code prevent us from predicting every response of the systems we create. This ensures a high level of machine agency with unpredictable emergent behaviours in the system's responses to our choices. In this way, we set up a negotiation between player and machine affording us the ability to converse with the system through improvisation.


foci + loci evolved through a fascination with the malleability of virtual space paired with an interest in electroacoustic improvisation leading the duo (Tamara Yadao and Chris Burke) to design spaces that could be “played” as instruments. foci + loci received a NYSCA grant for 2013 to develop their full scale game art performance installation ‘Bal(l)ade’. Tamara received an American Composers' Forum grant in 2015 commissioning the music for foci + loci's "Another Kind of Spiral" which premiered at Cluster Festival in Winnipeg with a performance at Centre Georges Pompidou following soon after. Other performances and exhibits include GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY an official exhibition of the 21st Trienniale of Milan, Vector Festival in Toronto, Babycastles, The Stone, Joe's Pub in NYC, among others.