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When Berlin-based artist Don Ritter bought the heavy-duty green army vest used in his installation piece Vested, a German man behind the counter asked what kind of gun he owned. But this particular piece of military equipment wasn’t bound for the shooting range. Instead, it became the central aspect of Ritter’s daring interactive exhibition that will get its Canadian debut February 4 at Great Northern Way Campus (near the Olympic Village Vancouver) as part of CODE Live, an 18-day exhibition of interactive digital art installations. In Ritter’s piece, a participant dons the modified vest, which has been loaded with batteries, infrared sensors and a red detonation button and is tracked around a large dark room by two eerie green spotlights. Flanked by towering high-definition screens depicting political buildings, churches and temples, famous art museums and ancient structures, the “vested” person navigates around this virtual environment until they decide to press the button. That is, if they decide to press it. “I don’t tell you that you have to press the button,” says Ritter, although he admits participants, as well as the audience, generally want to experience the spectacular explosion that is the climax of the piece. In some ways, that’s the whole point. “There’s a German word, ‘Schadenfreude,’ which roughly means ‘a gathering of people to watch other people suffer.’ This is a peculiar behaviour that humans have been doing for thousands of years, the best-know of which is probably the gladiator events of ancient Rome,” says Ritter. A similar process is occurs in attention given by audience members during Vested. Without realizing it, the apparently passive, observant audience is actually playing an active role in this virtual, but still very real, social narrative. “The person is pretending that they’re a suicide bomber. Some people love it, and start running around, hitting the button over and over and laughing,” he says. “But the main participant is not the person wearing the vest. It’s the people who are standing around and watching, waiting for that explosion.” While participants may find the piece fun and interactive, Ritter says he doesn’t want audiences to think of it as a video game or find its premise intentionally offensive. “Initially, I was wondering if someone was going to be offended by this,” he says thoughtfully. “That’s really not what I want to do; I’m just trying to reflect what people are already doing.” “Vested” runs February 4 to 21 from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Great Northern Way Campus, 577 Great Northern Way, Vancouver. All CODE Live exhibits are free. More information on “Vested”