Monday, March 17, 2008

Pantoume - Some of the Pleasures & Possibilities of Hypertext

There were days in that city when I would not face its streets, previous experience of leers, catcalls, projected identities brute incentives to pull out, if only for 24 hours. Foreign women were defined by an influx of game students who frequented the clubs and, by proxy, the rest of us too were divorced from local femininity, marked for an extraordinarily rampant mitigation of social mores. Pale-skinned, blue-eyed, so tall I could rarely find trousers of the right length in shops, sans camouflage, I was effortlessly Other.

- Text and image, by Kai Fierle-Hedrick & Marianne Morris, respectively, from their collaborative project Pantoume.

Pantoume is a new media project by Kai Fierle-Hedrick & Marianne Morris published in How2, an online journal that is interested in exploring innovative writing projects, non-traditional directions in poetry and scholarship by women. Pantoume exists as an interactive hypertext art work, you can visit Pantoume at How2 by clicking here. Marianne Morris' visual pieces were also exhibited at Cambridge Experimental Women Writers’ Festival. (Click here for a link to that festival).

Sophie Robinson has written an introduction to Pantoume as well as written her own poetic response to the work, titled Sugar and has interviewed both Kai and Marianne about the project.

I think this work particularly interests me in terms of what I have been reading about interactivity and differing levels of user participation across the myriad of new media works. I am particularly alerted to a comment Julian Stallabrass quotes in Internet Art to illustrate his and others' point that user/screen interactivity, that which necessary for new media works (having someone behind the computer screen clicking on the hyperlinks to "move through" the works for example). However, he argues this does not necessarily mean the work should be marked out as "interactive", considering the base level of audience "interactivity" that is required to "read" (that is to view or experience) any work of art, whether materially object-based or hypterextual. It does seem perhaps unusual to mark out these works as interactive when any viewer in any art space, actual or virtual, is required to "move through" the space in order to "read", view or experience the work(s). This actual bodily movement in space does not seem so differentiated from hypertextual leaps. We may conclude that all artworks are indeed interactive, although require different levels of participation from the spectator, viewer or user.

I think our tendency to think of a painting, for instance, as not necessarily interactive comes from our thinking about it as an art object, one that we stand before, in awe and contemplation. Because new media works require a user to activate them, it is difficult for us to perceive them as objects, in the way we do with painting or other works that exist in the actual. I also think that this (non)differentiation has to do with the passivity/interactivity binarism heavily engrained into our thinking about art that exists in the actual and art that exists in the virtual, a binarism that helps us describe how virutal based works are differ from works that exist in the actual. However as I was reading Pantoume, I recognised there is the possibility of reading the piece, by clicking on the hyperlinks, without actually "reading" each page. The presence of hyperlinks makes it easy to "move through" the piece without actually reading Kai's text or really engaging with Marianne's collages, which makes it seem as if the user is missing out on what these works have to offer.

However, in saying this, I think that hypertext makes more tangible (rather than limits) possibilities for reading that exist in the actual. Alternative ways of reading are made more "real" in virtual space. These alternative ways of reading are always possible and may occur in "actual" reading, however our dominant mode of reading a book "cover to cover" in the actual is sharply contrasted with the demands of hypertext. I think it is also useful to consider our normative ways of viewing artworks aswell. Hypertext seems to free us from the linear mode of reading where we feel that we must read every word on the page to understand or make sense of the narrative, and in doing so it makes it possible for us go on reading the book. (Although I do acknowledge there are projects and books that resist this and the argument that "actual" reading has always been hypertextual, I just want to point out that the linear normative mode of reading still prevails - and on the other hand, I think that perhaps there are those who attempt to carry this mode into viewing and "reading" artworks online).

So does moving through hyperlinks at hyper-speed mean we are no longer "interacting" with the work and therefore we should equate with a kind of passive spectatorship? This seems to undermine our capacity to register and reflect upon all that we may see (or interact) with, even if it is only for a fleeting moment.

No comments: