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of day, of night

Megan, your new interactive work of day of, night follows on from I am a Singer, the CD-ROM which you completed in 1996. Like other artists with a fascination for a field that has been called “interactive cinema”, you continue to examine the operation of memory and the construction of identity in the subject. The latter is a woman who “has lost the ability to dream and has set herself the task of re-learning.” The way she achieves this is with the collaboration of the other subject, the ‘user’, who navigates the work. Could you outline what a typical series of encounters might be?

The tasks involve firstly collecting found objects from various locations in the day environment—from a street-market, river and café. Imagining the objects’ fictional traces and histories, and arranging the objects into a kind of cabinet. Upon completing these tasks, the user/audience gains access to the night area of the work, where the objects and their stories collide, transmute and create new meanings in a regained/re-imagined environment of dreams. of day, of night is part narrative and part game, part memory and dream. Fundamentally, it explores intersections between new media and the nature of dream experience.

There is a dualism here, in both works, where the subjects—the woman in the piece and the user or navigator of the work—observe or are observed, constructing a personality through the encounters that are made and the stories that are told. How would you distinguish between what happens for the individual audience member encountering memory and identity in the cinema, and in your work?

As the audience moves through the work, there is a gradual slipping away of the prominence of the woman, Sophie, and a growing emphasis on the objects and their traces, histories, intersections and juxtapositions. The dreams of night do not represent an individual psychology as such, but rather are a set of interweaving stories comprising aspects of various cultural rather than strictly personal identities. All of these are refracted and reconfigured, by and through Sophie to create new stories and meanings within night. I think it’s revealing that some of the earliest and most deeply embedded conventions within cinema involve the depiction of memory and dream sequences including fades to white or black, colour effects, specific approaches to set design and mise en scene, the use of compositing etc. Fragmentation, multiplicity, association, juxtaposition, collision: these are all qualities of memory and dreaming that are shared, for example, by hypertext.

Influences

Much of the experimental work with narrative and hypertext has occurred on the internet, on listservs, MUDs and later websites. Were your ideas aided or helped by these discourses or do you see your influences lying elsewhere?

Though I am familiar with listserv and MUD narratives, my influences are more from experimental cinema, literature and hypertext. My work always starts with the writing. In researching and preparing to develop of day, of night, I immersed myself in a range of works concerned with dreaming such as Breton’s Communicating Vessels, Sontag’s The Benefactor, Moravagine’s anthologies of literary dreams, and Jungian archetypes. I revisited early Surrealist cinema and literary games, the wonderful Dreams That Money Can Buy, dream sequences from classical cinema—although the dreams within of day, of night are very different to these expressions. From a new media perspective, I looked at a lot of hypertext, in particular writers like Shelley Jackson, Michael Joyce, Deena Larson and more recently Talan Memmott. Intermingled with this was research into visual style, music, objects and the locations to be used within of day, of night.

Beyond the hard sell

Before entering the area of new media technologies in the early 90s, you worked and taught in the advertising industry. Did this provide you with an identifiable set of skills or experiences which led you towards what was known then as the hyper-linking of text, narratives, images and sound?

Advertising desires the immediate, unquestioning, and spectacular. The layering and association inherent in new media and hypertext involves work by an audience—associating ideas, making room for or reconciling multiple viewpoints, exploring an environment that may reveal its stories over time, not necessarily immediately. These qualities are anathema to advertising. Advertising is also an environment of very strong professional gender stereotyping, where invariably men were allowed to have a creative vision, and women were the enablers of that vision. I didn’t know of a single female director, but at least 70% of producers were female. A reaction against these kinds of entrenched gender inequalities in the traditional media industries has probably contributed to the embracing of new media by female artists, and the range of female voices in this area.

The limits of broadband

CD-ROM-based work over the last 10 years has probed, essentially, the potential for affecting the experiential substance of an interactive encounter with a work. Option-taking is a requirement for the work to have meaning. This is at variance with the dynamics required for making a linear drama or documentary narrative succeed. However, you have been lecturing on new media at the University of Technology, Sydney since the mid-90s in an area shared with film, video and sound production. Though the course has recognised the benefits of overlapping specialism and the continuing convergence of production media and dissemination channels, what conclusions have you reached concerning the convergence or divergence of the aesthetic dimensions of linear and non-linear work, for the audience, rather than the producers? For instance, has your current research into broadband delivery of media rich content (video and sound) indicated that as a delivery system (using ASDL telephone and cable connections), broadband will address the distribution issues that have so affected the availability of artist’s CD-ROMs? Or is there a more fundamental issue concerning the audience’s reluctance to engage with interactive artefacts unless they appeal to the gamer instinct?

I believe audiences are engaging with a wide range of works, sometimes almost imperceptibly, other times provocatively. From interactive installations and hypertexts, to certain expressions of traditional media—feature films that play with linearity or point-of-view, or the participatory elements of reality television. What is clearly an issue has been the lack of distribution opportunities for interactive works. However, it should be remembered that commercial interactive work has also proved very problematic.

And while broadband technologies supposedly offer the potential for distribution of media rich interactive works, they also present some serious barriers. That is, the added complexity and expense of the production process for broadband delivery (after shooting and editing, compressing, coding, hosting), and the specialised marketing required to actually get people to visit your site. It is clear to me, through observing new media art and from working with students, that there is a desire to write, read and communicate in ways that are increasingly complex, which involve linkages and associations across ideas and texts, and which bring together text, sound, moving image and participatory elements. This is worth holding on to.


of day, of night has been exhibited in the Experimenta Waste program (October 2001), Stuttgarter Filmwinter (January 2002), the Fusion program, St Kilda Film Festival (May), and will be exhibited at ISEA 2002 in Nagoya, Japan (October). It was shortlisted in the new media category of the 2002 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature.

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. 19

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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