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WriteSites: revisualising new media writing

Tatiana Pentes, Talan Memmott

Tatiana Pentes co-developed Strange Cities CD-ROM with radio producer Eurydice Aroney & video artist Geoffrey Weary in association with the AFC. The title won Best Arts/Cultural Title/Site at the AIMIA Awards 2000 & Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Production, ATOM Awards 2000. She is currently teaching interactive media at UTS.

I User, exit this for that—
sorted compartmentalized, archived.
RE:organized—stacked, a body with
organs elsewhere.
The de:parted body rests, no longer active/ on Blur;…
Ka Space: encryption >book< of the dead
in the DOUBLE-FUNNELS pathway,
LEXIA to PER[(p)[L(ex)]]ia

San Franciscan artist/writer Talan Memmott’s LEXIA to PER[(p)[L(ex)]]ia was awarded 1000 pounds sterling for 1st place in the 2nd trAce/Alt-X New Media Writing Competition 2001. In many ways the work realises the promise of Lissitsky’s constructivist utopia in Manifesto Towards the Electro Book circa 1921. Produced in the heady days of the Russian communist revolution, the dream of electronic writing is now an everyday reality for people riding the wave of the information age. Memmott’s poetic ficto-critical work is a web-based synthesis of image and text, emblazoned upon a darkened stage/screen surface: words, typographical configurations, linguistic and mathematical formulas transform with geometric patterns, ideograms, and dynamic hypertext links.

In this cyber-cultural space, the legacy of modern experiments in painting, literature, music and theatre come back to haunt the computer screen surface, which becomes an electric theatre of iconographic symbols and self-reflexive slogans of futurism. Inside this world, the act of writing transmutes into the act of composition, an assemblage of signs, fonts, graphic representations, pronunciations, in which there is a subjective interplay of meanings, thrown up through the slippage in and across a series of interactive screens. Foregrounded by Soviet montage aesthetics, the unfolding narrative of poetic juxtapositions between word and image is revealed over time by the subjective experience of each player and in a spatial relationship with the program.

Shelley Jackson (of hypertext Patchwork Girl [Eastgate 1995] fame and) judge for the competition suggests that “Memmott borrows as much from the convention of html code as from the not much less difficult codes of Deleuzian theory, metamorphosing them into a jammed, fractured diction full of slashes, dots and brackets. There is purpose to this play, since the piece is about the code-mediated relationship between reader, the (electronic) text, and the author…What you-the-reader do IS the text.” Jackson’s feminist focus, in her own e-publication My Body (Alt-X 1997) and CD-ROM Patchwork Girl (see RT#34, p19), has been to self-consciously create for the reader/player a place to construct/re-construct the body and self. Memmott’s latest offering realises this on an abstract level—the narrative is the morphology of the electronic text. The self-reflexive activity of drawing attention to and designing an architecture from which the reader/player navigates and manipulates the text mirrors our earliest experiences of perception (in the apprehension of the visual world and upon our entry into language). Memmott describes coming to writing by way of the visual arts, drawing together his respective practices of design, painting, installation, video, performance and writing. Transcribed from a MOO interview he writes “…I think painting is one of the most richly narrative mediums…which probably sounds odd…the way painting offers narration as something that must be discovered and unfolded…”

The fetishisation of word play and typography, with the arrangement of fonts and symbolic forms on the screen/canvass—in the pathways The Process of Attachment; Double-Funnels; Metastrophe; and Exe: Termination—are a condensation of Memmot’s previous concerns, explored in the online works LUX: Bronsino 1540, Sky Scratchez, and NEXT: [N]ex(I)t. Memmott is prolific and his contribution to e-writing substantial ( tabRich.html).

LEXIA to PER[(p)[L(ex)]]ia is a reminder of the blank page text experiments in Lawrence Stern’s novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, the playfulness with text on the page in Joyce’s Ulysses and the investigation of non-linear structures in the writing of William Burroughs, not to mention Russian Constructivist propaganda. However, the distinguishing feature of net-specific hypermedia is the ability to interact in a 3D immersive environment with the material, re-visit and re-play episodic fragments, download segments/surfaces where the meaning making process is a collaboration between artist and visitor.

Whether or not LEXIA to PER[(p)[L(ex)]]ia constitutes writing is what makes this compelling and ground breaking work. The inflated rhetoric of convergence often referred to as transmedia or intermedia (etc) has exceeded the borders drawn around the canons; a new kind of writing/production has emerged. The cross-fertilisation of genres, styles and modes in the digital domain has developed into a site specific one, where the opening up of digital space has made possible new creative forms. The absence of sound in this work reinforces the notion of visual dominance in our culture, the image/text/ (no)sound relationship might refer to the technological innovations present at the moment of authorship. Jackson states, “the first pleasure will probably be a visual one…Memmott’s most elegant arguments are made visually, through the logic of layout and the grammar of the link.” This is highlighted in the section Ka Space: encryption >book< of the dead where an Egyptian icon of Osiris has been named Ausere [phonetic], which according to Memmott is “a simple frivolous manipulation of the name you come up with, ‘A User.’ On top of this we have attempted constructing something akin to the ‘Body Without Organs’ of Deleuze and Guattari, misread through an attachment to the Egyptian funerary text…in reference to attachment to the internet apparatus and the distribution of ‘being’ across it—as data, as pixels, as energy…” It is no surprise that Memmott sees himself then as “something of a para-academic, or pirate-academic…Outside in…”

Talan Memmott, LEXIA to PER[(p)[L(ex)]]ia, visit the trAce website at for competition runners-up.

Tatiana Pentes co-developed Strange Cities CD-ROM with radio producer Eurydice Aroney & video artist Geoffrey Weary in association with the AFC. The title won Best Arts/Cultural Title/Site at the AIMIA Awards 2000 & Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Production, ATOM Awards 2000. She is currently teaching interactive media at UTS.

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 22

© Tatiana Pentes; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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