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Exposing an emerging genre

Kaz Madigan

Kaz Madigan is a writer, web artist and handweaver currently serving as a mentor for the trAce International Online Writing Community

Archiving Imagination is an accumulating exhibition of online projects. On the surface, the viewer is drawn in to read both the technical nuances and literary ideas inherent in the text and imagery but these also foreground the collaborative objectives of the artists. Aside from individual works on the site, writer/web-author Diane Caney and digital media artist Robin Petterd have creatively documented both their meetings and thought processes about the nature of collaboration itself. Poetry, hypertext, sound, video, imagery, diary entries and email correspondence are mixed in a way not easily possible before the internet and this is the artists’ aim; to expose an emerging genre.

A synchronised collaboration is often sought by writers and other artists in an effort to create, extend and support new ideas. I asked Caney and Petterd if they viewed collaboration as a strength of working in digital media in comparison to conventional media forms.

RP Maybe…new media and media arts generally require collaboration as part of the process.

DC Yes, as with filmmaking, I think new media often needs people with different skill bases, and yes I see it as a strength, but I do think that people have been desiring an artform with which to collaborate (especially across media) for a long time. Musicians, poets, technicians, software developers, writers, artists, filmmakers can all now work on projects which emphasise the projects themselves rather than foregrounding any particular ‘genius’ involved.

The combination of technical and artistic/literary skills is plainly evident in Archiving Imagination. But I wondered why you choose to focus on the actual idea of collaboration as a subject in itself…

DC Working collaboratively certainly moves us away from our individual creative practice, but it also developed out of my research into Patrick White and Sidney Nolan and the ways in which their artwork enmeshed. I really became fascinated by image and words intersecting and producing transient new meanings but…it really just began with Robin taking away some hypertext I’d written and making Imaginative Reading V. After that I was hooked by the actuality of collaborating as well as the idea of it!

The site itself utilises an understated interface using white backgrounds to accentuate meanings in the text while gently inviting the viewer to interpret and make ‘sense’ of the work. I felt the artists had provided ‘space’ and had confidence in my hypertext choices. This is confirmed in the diary section which points out that the artists intended to place the viewer in a “fictive space” and “distance them.” As much of the web can be bossy in interface design, what was behind the decision to give the viewer space.

RP I looked at this the opposite way. I don’t think we set out to make things that are not bossy. What we may have set out to do is introduce ambiguity into the interactions. Ambiguity is a common way of working in the visual arts, but not as common a method in interactive media. People seem so focused on the ‘interface’ and the ease of use, that they forget that art doesn’t need to follow those rules, and perhaps the most interesting interactive art doesn’t follow the rules of interface design.

DC There was a definite decision to sometimes use non-linear navigation, which tends to give readers a sense of freedom from manipulation…I hope. As a writer I certainly began writing in a less linear fashion, although I probably didn’t develop this skill as quickly as Robin might have liked. I love fictive spaces and I always want to lure my readers away from too much analysis of the text…of what’s going on. As to the ‘distancing’, much of my writing is about personal stuff and because that can feel overwhelming and suffocating, I wanted to distance readers, but that was more from a writer’s point of view, not so much from the position of someone creating interactive media.

Irina Dunn of the NSW Writers Centre has written that “web technology will remain insubstantial until writers specialised in the artform begin to make their contribution and create an audience for the medium.” What type of audience are you seeking to create for your work?

RP The artist/writer audience is a difficult question. I often feel that it’s driven by concern to apply marketing to the process of producing the works. I think these sort of comments are also driven by people who are unsure of media and are maybe scared of technology. But as I’m working I do generally have a person in mind to whom the work talks and as an artist I know that my work online is visited by more people than it would be if it was in galleries.

DC I tend to agree with Irina. I haven’t liked a great deal of what has been labelled ‘hypertext’ on the web. And I don’t see the point of simply transcribing poems which might be published in hardcopy onto a web page and thinking that the transcription is, in itself, anything amazing. It’s legitimate. I publish my poems in that form online. But, it will be as writers embrace the possibilities of the web that substantial things in writing will emerge. A piece called SURFACE, which is a collaboration of ours, is a good example. In it, Robin makes the words ripple and sparkle, stand still and disappear, and he accompanies them with one small moving illustration, an almost whimsical reference to the fact that words do conjure images and vice versa. You can see it at: http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/frame/level2/petterd.html

Is Archiving Imagination an ongoing project…sort of open ended?

DC Yes. All the works are in a sense unfinished. But that’s because readers will always make of them what they will. Robin and I hope to do more on the works that are still there. We’re giving a presentation at trAce’s conference, INCUBATION, and the online piece we’re making for that will add to Archiving Imagination. It will be a meta-narrative which traces the formations of our existing online stories/semi-autobiographies/fictocriticisms in innovative ways and also addressing questions about narrative, intertextuality and the blurring of text/image/sound boundaries as they occur on the web. We’re looking forward to making that. And we’d also like to rework our first ever piece, Imaginative Reading V, to make it less linear.


Archiving Imagination, Diane Caney & Robin Petterd, www.archiving.com.au

Kaz Madigan is a writer, web artist and handweaver currently serving as a mentor for the trAce International Online Writing Community

RealTime issue #37 June-July 2000 pg. 26

© Kaz Madigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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