| Loose Ends/Connections:
Interactivity in Networked Space
Loose Ends/Connections: Interactivity in Networked Space was published in Style: Style in the Media Age, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 1999. Style is published by Northern Illinios University.
of us understand the complex set of interactions that make up a world
scale network like the Internet? The hardware, the translation of digital
data across physical distance, pulsations of light fed through fiber optic
tubes on the bottom of the ocean, or transformed into invisible beams
of electromagnetic energy beamed to floating reflectors hovering above
the earth's atmosphere? (1)
Clearly not many of us.
Yet we come to understand this network as we project our sense of its usefulness onto it.
The business community has done thisthe global network is a place to do business; it is useful for the development of new markets. Researchers have done thisit is a place for information gathering and exchange.
Artists, many of whom have operated initially under the business and information paradigms, are also exploring alternatives.
What new uses does their participation make possible?
How might these help them rethink their own practices as writers, visual artists, composers?
How will these practices change?
The following, which draws on my short experience in the digital realm both as an artist and as director of the Turbulence website (2), is about these questions.
|LOOSE ENDS/CONNECTIONS: A STORY|
|What is the separateness of things when the current that flows each to each is live?-Jeannette Winterson, Gut Symmetries|
has been a lifelong interest of mine. I began my writing career with stories
that failed completely to conform to the traditional notion of what a
story is. While initially retaining a small cast of characters, the familiar
linear and climactic plot was gone; there was no accumulation of information
about events. They were not stories about people but about ideas, and
their energy derived from the connections they made between apparently
unrelated subject matters. North Country,
which was written for the page in 1995 and has since been adapted for
CD-ROM, the web and radio, is a latter-day case in point.
North Country moves from the newspaper account of the discovery of the skeletal remains of an unidentified woman
NORTH ELBA, NY
The skeletal remains, believed to be
that of an adult female between the
ages of 37 and 47, were discovered
by a couple fishing in a small lake
off route 73 near the town of North Elba.
The skull had a gunshot wound in its
right side. Additional bones and the
remains of clothing, including jeans,
work boots, a shirt, sweater and a
leather jacket were also found.
In spite of the grisly scene, suicide, not
murder, is the suspected cause of death.
to a forensic expert describing the findings of the investigation,
The investigation revealed numerous signs of animal activity in the area.
The lower portion of the skeleton was missing and while the upper part, including the skull, was relatively complete, the heads of a number of the bones, including those of the long humeri and ulnae from the arms, were bitten off postmortem. The remains of the victim's jeans, shirt and jacket were found near the bones.
An hour after the police brought them in, I removed the remains from the carton and systematically laid them out on a tabletop in my office. The reassembly process began with the skull.
to the Question: "WHO IS SHE?"
to the voice of Simon Says (3) insisting that the story be told from the beginning, followed by the a response of an unnamed woman, who
goes back as far as she can...thinks of astronomical space...thinks of the picture she has seen of matter propelled forward by the hypothetical explosion known as the big banggreat chunks of spherical matter moving toward her from some distant point, some earlier moment.
and yells back at Simon,
"I can't think a time with a beginning."
to Wittgenstein's sly remark:
"It's always difficult to find the beginning. Or better, it's difficult to begin at the beginning and not try to go further back."
From the description of a northern lake, and the remains of a tamarack tree, to the forensics expert singing "Tie a yellow ribbon round the whole crime scene...", to the sudden forgetfulness on the part of a female character
"veni, vidi I came, I saw..." She can't remember the last word
and later, the equally sudden return of the word she has sought
"vici," she says, "I conquered. No wonder I couldn't remember."
all in the interest of North Country's central themes: continuity/ discontinuity; beginnings/ends, fiction/reality and the questions they raise about perception.
With a broader view than most the forensics expert suggests the arbitrariness of cordoning off a small section of earth and labeling it "the crime scene", while the story's beginningthe discovery of an unidentified skeletondescribes an end not a beginning and introduces a story that can't be told. The bones are of an unidentified woman.
Connectionspatterns, rhythms, shifts and over time the lines of thought they tracethese are the life, the activity of the North Country story.
1: MULTIMEDIA DIRECTOR (for CD-ROM):
You see a misty lake. Fading into it, a newspaper account of a skeleton found near a small lake. The words small lake and additional bones shimmer. They are links. The code is simple:
go to "lake"
go to forensics
Click on small lake and you will move to the section of the story describing the lake and its shore. Click on additional bones and you will move to the section in which the forensics' expert describes the investigation and its findings.
Code 2: HTML (for WWW):
<a href="Thorington/nc/page2.html">additional bones</a> -"additional bones" is a link.
<a href="Thorington/nc/page6.html">small lake</a> - "small lake" is a link.
Choose one or the other. Click on it and a message requesting page2.html or page 6.html will be sent to the server on which "Thorington/nc" resides, a connection will be made, the distant computer will respond, locating the requested page and returning a copy to your computer.
This is interactivity at its simplest: by clicking on the highlighted word, you interact with the work; you play a role in how the story is told (to you).
In moving North Country to the digital realm, interactivity was my first concern.
Pins and Thread: Mapping the text
The North Country story was written for the page. The challenge presented by the text was to provide optionsmultiple pathways through the story. As I did not know about Eastgate's "Storyspace" or the other available software used to author hypertext stories, I sat on the floor, cut my text into paragraphs and with pins and thread determined a number of possible navigational routes. After three days and considerable aggravation, I came to the conclusion that to create new paths through this story, would be to create totally arbitrary - "twitch" - routes, i.e., a series of buttons or links that users could click on just to be able to click and move on. They would in no way advance the meaning or complexity of the story.
And so I accepted the limited, predetermined navigational route through my text, adding only 3-4 options between sections, and turned to what I considered legitimate interactive possibilities in sound.
The very nature of the digital realm begs multi-disciplinary development: the use of more than one artistic discipline to tell a story, (4) and the concomitant enlargement of the possibilities of interplay between them: new connections.
If interactivity was my first concern in recasting North Country as a CD-ROM, the enlargement of the work to include images and sound was my second.
With 580 megabytes of space available on the CD-ROM, it was possible to think of recording the text using actors and actresses, create a soundscore for the full work, and have quality graphics as well. With a background in radio art, this was a familiar undertaking for me.
North Country has a full sound track: voice, and music composed of processed accordion, ambient sound and sound effects. In the CD-ROM version (5) there are additional sounds as wellthree on each pagethat the interactor can add to the track by moving his/her mouse across their locations (right middle, left middle and center top) as he/she listens. In the scene with the forensics expert these include the sound of bones; in the woods they include a gathering of noisy crows, the chatter of an angry squirrel; on the lake, the sound of paddling, the cry of a northern loon. Along with a limited choice of navigational possibilities, the selections and manipulation of these sounds were the ways in which the user could interact with the story.
I am not a visual artist. My artistic career has been divided between writing for the page, and writing, composing and producing for radio, and composing for installation and film. The initial visual work for North Country was none-the-less easy. The images would derive from the small lake in upstate New Yorkthe real North Country of the title and the source of many of the text's descriptive passages. Mirroring aspects of the text, they would be both images of the shoreline and of its reflection in the waters of the lake. Later graphic artist Isabelle Sigal would manipulate some of the images, causing mist to move across the small lake, embedding skeletal remains in the North Country landscape, creating a moving collage of bones and skull.
CD-ROM (6) (1995/96) lives in its multi-disciplinary connectionsthe
patterns, rhythms, shifts and reflections in its spoken text, sound and
imagesand in the "experience" its smooth progression makes
possible for its user.
By comparison, the 1996 web work, North Country is paler, flatter and more apathetic (click and wait, click and wait)a story trapped in an environment of underdeveloped and yet to be realized possibilities. The bandwidth does not exist to present the full soundscore or the spoken text and still maintain a reasonable download time for decent-sized graphics.
If you have embedded sound in your work, as I have, for instance, on the title page of North Country (click on Part 1), what you are doing is initiating a series of actions. First, your click sends a message to the server (computer) on which North Country is located, to download a metafile to your computer. This metafile is actually a little text file I have written that has the location of the RealAudio file in it. Once this is downloaded your browser invokes the RealPlayer, the helper application needed to playback RealAudio files. RealPlayer then reads the metafile and contacts the server specified in the metafile. It then buffers the RealAudio file and plays it back for you.
What you see is first of all the metafile on your desktop. Then the RealAudio download popping in over top of the page presumably to let you know the download is taking place but also to let you know RealAudio made it possible. This is followed by a box that gives information about the artists and the title of the piece and provides yet another reminder that you are using a RealAudio product. That was '96. Today the box also gives you the option to switch to preset destinations: Real Audio News, Biz/Tech, Sports, Entertainment, and the new RA logo is no longer stationery but circles round and round. Then or now, you must click on your browser to be rid of the box.(7)
In 1996, the appearance of the box signaled the coming of RealAudio 1.0 sound replete with static, drop-outs, and other artifacts of a developing technology. (8)
How can this work possibly deliver the delight and surprise of its unlikely connections, its sudden changes, how surround its users with the beauty of carefully composed ambient and instrumental sound? How in short deliver an experience for its user when it jerks and staggers across the screen in a spastic imitation of its original digital incarnation playing music with a hiss, crackle and pop accompaniment?
A wiser and more experienced web artist, Marianne Petit, approached her narrative work of the same year, The Grimm Tale, with an understanding of the network, the limits of available software, and an intuitive sense for the web's emerging (1996) aesthetic. Her decisionsto break the original tale, "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was" by the Brothers Grimm into small increments, to limit each page to a single event, action or piece of dialogue, were decisions made in the interest of fast viewing. For quick and easy download, she made efficient use of imagery and animation.
She created GIF (9) animations that ranged from 4 to 31 kilobites, checked download timesif a page seemed to take too long a time loading, it was preceded by pages with virtually no download time; her tiled backgrounds were designed with the browser's cache (10) in mind: when she introduced a new, larger visual element, she made sure all the other elements on the same page had been introduced on earlier pages, so that they were already resident in the browser's cache and available for faster downloading. In creating sound for her work she used MIDI, (11) a method that makes use of files so small they add virtually nothing to the download time, and introduce no extraneous sounds.
But perhaps the most intriguing thing about The Grimm Tale was the appropriateness of its use of animated GIFS.
Scene from "The Grimm Tale," [Andrew Leonard wrote in The Jerk-Stop Aesthetic]: Man holds club. Man swings club. Man thumps demon cat on head. Gout of red blood spurts from cat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Four frames jerking forward in endless, cyclic succession, a textbook example of "gif89" animation technology.
GIF animations are helping comprise an emerging aesthetic for Web-based creativity.
Call it "jerk-stop art"a stuttering, jittery, clunky mode of expression rising up in response to the low-bandwidth, high latency limitations of the Web as a medium...
As Leonard went on to note, The Grimm Tale profits from the web's restrictions "Cartoonish, clumsy, and stark, the endless cycling" of GIFs picks up on the repetitive theme of brute horror in this, one of the darkest of Grimm stories about a boy so obsessed with his inability to experience fear, that he sleeps with dead men, uses skulls as bowling balls, and commits all sorts of violence.
There is a tendency to compare and disparage web works because they do not share the aesthetic of works produced in other, more technically sophisticated media. (12) But these works are not poor competitors. They are necessary parts of the ongoing process of creating more lasting and meaningful art in this medium. The Grimm Tale made efficient and imaginative use of the tools available to it and ingeniously exploited the shortcomings and limitations of the medium to become one of Turbulence's most popular works ever; North Country did not. But it too had its redeeming features. (13) And both are part of what net artist and theorist Andy Deck so aptly calls "the unfinished insufficient precursors of what one may expect tomorrow" (Deck).
North Country (web version) did one thing its earlier iteration as a CD- ROM could not. It invited public participation. (14) And it is here that North Countrys importance for me lies. Twice in the web telling, the work shows the skull of the unidentified woman and asks the question: WHO IS SHE? (fig. 1) A form is provided for the user's reply. CGI scripting transfers the reply to a storage bin on Turbulence's server, and returns it to a special page in North Country where it can be accessed by others. (Thorington, turbulence).
It was through the use of the simple CGI scripting in this work that I first became involved as a writer with the public imagination. (15) The surprise of the unexpected, and the challenge it presented to me as a writer were unbelievably exciting. (16) This was the beginning of an understanding of what network might mean to me connections with others that could be profoundly and unexpectedly creative (17) the potential for digression and development in almost any directionwork that could continue for yearswork that could be larger than the expression of a single artist or artist/ programmer.
A yearning for the epic possibilities of narrative in this medium began to shape.
The following are examples of early responses to the question and my replies. (18)
|Fig.1 WHO is SHE ?|
I think she's my granny, who went missing around August 1990. Roxanne Coy-Martin. The old bat went out into the woods near Lake Placid an wan't heard from since. About 5'2 and so dumb she couldn't tell deer shit from hard black cherries til she chewed on it. You think it was her? Arkie*%* Mon Apr 1 12:24:57 EST 1996
Tues April 2 9:30:47 EST 1996
Dear Arkie: Your grandmother's body was found in upstate New York. However at the time it was discovered it was still in relatively good condition. It was shipped back to a location in Harlan County, West Virginia. As neither family claimed the body, it was buried in a pauper's grave. Police said that foul play was suspected. Mrs. Coy-Martin was ostracized from the Coy family for marrying a member of the Martin family. Hostility has long characterized the relationship of these two mountain families as you well know. In an interesting turn of events Coy-Martin was buried on the very day West Virginia legislators met to discuss a promotional campaign to alter West Virginia's image (see The New York Times, March 24, 1996). It is said that the song celebrating this long-standing family feud will soon be banned in the state. The Civil Liberties Union is gearing itself up for yet another court case on free speech.
she is Lucy, the neandertal. *%* Tue Apr 2 16:23:30 EST 1996
Wed Apr 3 9:30:46 EST 1996
We checked with the museum where Lucy is supposed to reside and they did in fact report a theft in the summer of 1991. We'll look into this one.
Sun Apr 14 15:24:20 EDT 1996
Lucy appears to have been a "progressive" Neanderthal. She is believed to have carried a spear and done her share of big game hunting. Typical animals hunted by Lucy would have been wild horses, woolly mammoths, reindeer, and rhinos. Lucy's skull was returned in 1992 to the museum from which it was takensad to say, considerably the worse for wearso we must rule her out as a possible answer to our question. Thank you, however, for your intelligent suggestion.
some dead chick *%* Tue Apr 9 14:21:28 EDT 1996
Thurs Apr 11 9:46:30 EDT 1996
Dear (who are you?):
No, you've made a serious mistake. These are human bones not chicken bones. If, as it appears, your tastes run to the traditional dead wings and leg stumps that make up most holiday dinners, you may want to consult the Poultry Internet Resource Hotline: http://www.oneglobe.com/agrifood/aginform/poultry/idxpltry.html
With long legs and a plain face she seldom got the double take. But talk to her for more than five minutes and you wanted to know her for the rest of your life.
If you were a girl she'd be your new best friend. If you were a guy she'd be the one you didn't want to get away.
But if you knew her for more than a few days you'd know that neither was possible. All that would be left of the encounter was memories; fond or furious depending on how much you gave in the beginning. *%* Tue Apr 16 03:47:57 EDT 1996
Sat Apr 20 12:28:30 EDT
And the memories would fade as well. And she would be, as she is, unsought and unidentified?
Perhaps she did commit suicide. Why has everyone written that off so fast? Maybe she was bored with work, bored with tv, bored with the bars, bored with boys and girls, bored, bored bored. She has fallen victim to our times. She has realized that life is getting worst, not better, and she figured she have a nice picnik an get out while the gettin out's still good.
P.S. for bad days I recommend finger painting and food fights *%* Fri May 3 12:27:24
I was concerned for the writer of this message. I replied asking her to be in touch with me. I never heard from her.
Gaia is her name, but she looks like a normal bewildered western girl who forgot her name. Somewhere in space someone is calling her name, but she doesn't know what it means. She is cold from having her bones exposed, which is her profession. Perfect bones in perfect limbs, just that. *%* Tue Apr 30 05:52:34 EDT 1996
Wed May 106:58:36 EDT 1996
In the hopes of securing a firm identification, your message was forwarded to the U.S. Government Department of Criminal Investigation, Bureau of Unsolved Crimes. The following reply was received: "The Bureau of Unsolved Crimes is unable to process your request due to insufficient information. When resubmitting, please include Gaia's first name and middle initial."
How might North Country have become an epic work?
Imagine it as the core and each of the responses to the question, Who Is She?, as entry points for new narratives. Imagine programming that would make it possible for each of the respondees to continue developing their stories at will. Imagine programming that would make North Country and all of its responses (developing narratives) available to you. Imagine that you , with the click of your mouse, could link a new page to any word or section of any narrative that interested you, and without interfering with anyone elses story, begin your own. Imagine that everyone else visiting the Turbulence site could do the same. Imagine this work five years hence.
Is this technically possible? I dont think so. If it were technically possible, would it happen? Im not sure.
Solitaire (1998) takes another approach to narrative. relying on a process built into it for its development as a multi-authored work. A collaboration with Marianne Petit (drawings and Flash programming) and John Neilson (CGI programming), it combines a card game with story telling, and it allows the interactor to put his/her own story together using (for the time) my texts and some of his/her own.
on the card. (fig. 2)
Give yourself a name
Shuffle the deck
Deal yourself a hand
Draw a card, and another, and another.
Click on each
Black and white drawings appear. They are roughly drawn; they look like woodcuts: the face of a woman, a city in shadow, a dark figure fading in and out of focus. (fig. 3)
Click again and there is text
deck contains 54 cards picked randomly from a database of cards. 52 of
these have drawings on one side and a line of prewritten text on the other.
Two are jokers or free cards on which the interactor can write his/her
own text. The game begins with three cards. If the text on any one of
the cards interests the interactor, he/she can select it. If not he/she
can "throw it away" and call up another. Each time a selection
is made, the text comes up on the right side of the screen making it possible
to keep track of the progress of the developing story. When finished,
the interactor can name and sign his/her story and store it (or not) in
the online gallery. New texts, ones written on wild cards, are recycled
to the data base of possible cards. In this way the texts that Ive
written become over time some among many, and the stories increasingly
the work of many writers.
The following are samples of my texts:
(1) she comes to believe that darkness is her natural habitat...
(2) but a shadow she had thought her friend confuses her.
(3) he glides quietly among the ghostly buildings...
(4) he listens for a presence he knows he will never find again
And here is a section of a user's story. The users contribution is in italics:
(1)A milky twilight settles over the city, tall buildings become ghostly shadows.
(2) As he slips through the night her thoughts unfold in him
(3) eggs, lettuce, cereal, cigarettes...
There is something wonderful for me in the unexpected transformation of my vague, gloomy, almost vampiric text into a grocery list, my more literary style into the familiar style of everyday life.
During the late Spring of '97, I was invited to take part in the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria. I was interested in developing a "performance" work for the occasion and asked Jesse Gilbert and Marek Walczak to work with me. Both had participated, as had I, in PORT: Navigating Digital Cultures, an online festival of works organized by Artnetweb in Feb-March 1997 and presented simultaneously in the List Center for the Visual Arts at MIT and on the Internet.
The initial idea for this collaboration was that I, acting as a writer, would compose texts during my week-long stay in Linz, Austria, and send them via the Internet to Gilbert and Walczak, who were at separate locations in New York City. Walczak, who was in the East Village, would respond with VRML (virtual reality modeling language) and Gilbert , who was in Greenwich Village, would respond with live and pre-recorded sound. Text, VRML and sound, unified by a Java applet on our Boston server, would be returned to me in Linz, and projected there for a live audience. (figs. 4, 5, 6, 7) Simultaneously it would be made available to Internet users. (19)
Streaming technologies: audio, VRML and text transmitted on demand under real-life conditions, technologies that allow them to play as soon as they are received... visuals in motion, texts appearing, disappearing, soundmovement, the work unfolding before you like a film...
The Spaces of Online Performance
My collaborators and I met at a distance. I was in Linz, Austria. Walczak was at home in the East Village, NYC; Gilbert was in his office.
The space of the performance was elsewhereframed by the computer screen.
|[4 screen shots from Adrift]|
My pre-performance activity was filled with stress. Unfamiliar with the Linz setup and the computers I would use I relied on two young engineers to help me to assure my access to the Internet through the welter of wires feeding multiple projects at the Ars Electronica festival; through the hub where access lines came together and on to Boston where our server resides. Gilbert was similarly stressed. If Walczak was less so it was only because he was at home, familiar with his own setup and using his own computers.
There was no real space of encounter for the three of us. Rather we wrote to one another using a small program called Ircle. Ircle is basically a way to do real-time chat between sites. For us it was a "back-stage," another space on the computer screen.
The real time of our performance activities was similarly devoted to technology, for me, the activation and manipulation of the application that governed my performance. To relieve the pressure I had pre-written a series of texts and given each a number. I kept a book at my side in which text and number appeared. Once the performance began I selected a text by writing its number into my application, clicked a button to preview the text, and another to send it to the Boston server. I could have written a new text. There is a place in my application for me to write, but I didnt have time. I have never had time.
Following an agreement on Ircle, I initiated the performances from Linz by sending my first text. Within seconds after hitting the send button (6-10 seconds on an average) the interactivity became visible. The text appeared on the bottom part of the computer screen with Walczak's VRML above. Gilbert's musical response began to fill the room.
I heard the music, but alone at my desk in Linz, absorbed with the correct functioning of my application, I was too busy to pay any but the most cursory attention to the space of the performance.
About the Texts
Initially Adrift texts were partially developed stories, fragments of stories, some related, some unrelated. Adrifts idea of story was of many stories, any one of which might be developed. Or not.
The texts centered around a harbor and its city. There was no sustained action, no central characters, no plot. The performance watcher was, in a sense, set adrift in a medium whose text content was fragments or potential stories, each of which could be perceived differently by differently situated and differently disposed observers.
Herbert Muschamp speaks of looking as an architectural act. "A city ," he writes, "is constructed daily by the glancing perception of its parts."
The Adrift texts were intended for individual construction in a similar manner...Situated as they were in a sensory context where visuals and sound rivaled for attention, they were there to be assembled by the observer's own organizing processes and combined and connected as he/she chose.
Inevitably there were associations, shared language and shared sentiments in the texts that gave rise to meaning. To my meaning. In the initial Linz performances, for instance, there were numerous head references: decapitated heads, heads suspended in liquid nitrogen, heads to be filled with memories and new systems.
At the same time movement was stalled. The ferry boat, which was the center piece of these early Adrift versions, drifted, "making no headway against the soft white billows." The story didn't get ahead. It didn't have a headthere was no hierarchy, no structure.
Now and again a phrase or paragraph suggested that all of the fragments were parts of a larger, more inclusive story . The phrase: "The circumstances are unexceptional", for instance, appeared in these early versions. When selected for use at the end of the performance, it suggested some modest form of closure, a kind of summing up for all the fragments that preceded. A way of saying: There's nothing exceptional in what you've read. All of this happens all the time; i.e., it 's a part of the stream of potential ongoing stories here to be perceived and possibly developed (or not), and to be differently perceived by differently situated observers.
When the same phrase, "The circumstances are unexceptional" was used elsewhere, it failed to carry the same weight and implied closure only to what immediately preceded it.
Without the benefit of a printed text, I did not expect performance viewers to pick up on all of the planned connections between texts, but it was my hope that over the course of a performance the texts would begin to reveal connectionsa temporary and changing web of relationships between water, weather, sky, city and people, a fluctuating view of events happening simultaneously, or nearly so, in the same harbor/city area. (20)
My first complete viewing of Adrift occurred in Walczak's studio in late September 1997, on my return from Linz. It was at a party of celebration. We had given five live performancesone that began on time and was completed without technical problemsfour that suffered technical problems of varying degrees of gravity, usually originating from the European side where the complexities of routing were at their greatest. It seemed something to celebrate.
My memories, however, are of how completely startled I was. I have no idea now what I expected, but what I saw sent two thoughts shooting through my head: first: The text doesn't work. The text has to go. (later revised) and second: the VRMLits colors were beautiful, its space a continuous flow. There was no horizon, no top or bottom, left or right , just a continuous topological transformation. The world it created was wiped clean. It was a world of space and surfacefuturistic, cleansed.
It was, on reflection, the text and the sound that introduced into the work whatever of humanity it had: the text that spoke in fragments of the homeless, the demented, the silly, the brutish; the sound that represented for the ears the sound of the harbor, ferry, and its urban travelers.
What we had created was a mirror of a divided world-the virtual above with all its slick beauty and seductive powerand beneath and separated from it the local, the geographical, the deteriorating community of human life.
1. Based on a statement by composer/engineer, Jesse Gilbert.
2. Turbulence is an experimental site. It commissions artists to create work that engages with the networked medium. Launched in 1996, it has commissioned thirty web projects, hosted over twenty online performance events, and is home to seven additional works, including an ongoing story.
3. Years ago I interviewed Native American poet, Simon Ortiz, who told me that his father always insisted that a story be told from the beginning. This practice, Ortiz said, made for some very long stories, but it also placed the Native story teller and his listeners in a context, an historical continuum. It made them part, but only part of the long on-going flow of the life of the tribe. You would not of course know about Simon Ortiz or his father from my text, but his argument is there, representing at the time the story was written my own ambiguity toward a new medium that seems to discourage ideas of context and continuity.
4. Writers will doubtless hold onto the text only approach to narrative on the Internet, but it seems unlikely to me that the text only approach will survive as the dominant way of telling a story in this medium. Visual artist Annette Weintraub, in a 6/7/99 email to the author, describes what I think will become the more characteristic ways of using narrative: I don't think of my work [Sampling Broadway (downtown on the Turbulence website) as primarily narrative, yet it does have narrative elements--it mixes multiple narratives in diverse media. I am interested in work that simultaneously blends reading, hearing and seeing. For me, narrative acts as a grounding or cohesive element which is useful when mixing technologies or working in a mode that emphasizes fracture. I've used narrative as a means of establishing tone or ambience, and also as carrier of information; it also can be used to amplify an experience by giving it momentum or resolution. I think about writing in a particular voice, shaping the narrative almost theatrically and finding a way to marry that "characterization" (though not literally a character) to images and sound. Narrative also lends the work a particular flow or tempo (Weintraub)
5. North Country, CD-ROM is a demo only and not available for purchase. Eric Schefter was the manager for this project; Isabella Segal, the graphic designer, and Steve Jones, the programmer. I wrote the story, shot the video, and created the soundscore with Guy Klucevsek, accordion. The work was funded with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and a grant from the Meet the Composer/Readers Digest Commissioning Program.
6. In the three years since North Country ROM was completed, enthusiasm for the CD-ROM as a medium has abated considerably. In the American publishing world, fewer ROMs are being published than in earlier years and those houses that are still publishing are focusing on what they assume will be sure hits.
artnetweb. "Port Navigating Digital Cultures." http://www.artnetweb.com/port
Deck, Andy. "In Search of Meaningful Events: Curatorial Algorithms and Malleable Aesthetics." http://andyland.net
Idle, Eric. "A Mystery." Also known as the Dysson Story. http://pythonline.com/fakeopen/dysson/
Leonard, Andrew. "The Jerk-Stop Aesthetic." http://www.hotwired.com/packet/leonard/96/42/index3a.html
Muschamp, Herbert. "street Dreams That the
Eye Can Cherish." New York Times, 8 January, 1999.
Thorington, Helen. Turbulence Web site. http://turbulence.org/Works/Thorington/nc/page24.html
Winterson, Jeannette. "Gut Symmetries."
London: Knopf. 1997.
© Helen Thorington, 2004 Contact