The Internet is basically a text-based segmented network. But in it, the rule of the printed word, definitive and immutable, has given way to another rule, fragile, alterable and unfinished, with an exponential chance for expansion, dissemination and replication by readers-writers located all over the network. This break from the linearity of narration is related with other ruptures involving history, truth, that of the author as the omniscient narrator, and will give way to fragmented texts, to reading as an exercise in decoding, to machine-poets programmed to recite words, to toy books or to the decline of the author-reader.
Avatars, fantastic heroes, graphic tales, virtual toys, puzzles, game boards, rattles, these are some of the examples we will find in this selection of works which, like in a koan, will make us wonder whether we are the pieces or the players. Who is moving whom? Who reads and who is read?
My boyfriend came back from the war
Online project. 1996
This piece by Olia Lialina is one of the first works involving the narrative developed for Internet, perhaps one of the most cited within a European context. Implemented with simple HTML shapes, frames, posterized images, and default colors and fonts, they comprise a strategy for communicating with the web user that would characterize later works by the artist.
My boyfriend came back from the war could be defined as a story on love and solitude. An interactive story on love and solitude? It is difficult to answer since it is more like a monologue than a story, which only serves to reinforce the sense of solitude. A solitude which, unlike other artistic disciplines, is what characterizes the literary and which we can see both in the web user and in the reader of a book. A monologue that seems to play with the tension between a public confession and a private experience.
Net poetry. 1996/2006
Wordtoys proposes a reading exercise as a task in deciphering that doubles as a narrative toy. It gathers together a series of works on hypertext, e-poetry, and audiovisuals made from 1996 to the present. Framed within the context of net poetry, with roots at the historical forefronts that emphasized the materiality of signs, these works are constructed using randomness, permutability, process, games and re-writes.
This sort of digital analogy of a book, a toy book, allows us to access pieces like Procesador de textos Rimbaudeano (Rimbaudean Text Processor) and Escribe tu propio Quijote (Write your own Quijote). In the latter Gache reminds us that in her Quijote, Cervantes the narrator tells us that he is not the author of the book, but that he found it in a manuscript written in Arabic, and she tells us that in 1944, Jorge Luis Borges wrote Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote (Pierre Menard, Author of Quijote), in which the French symbolist attempts to re-write the original text. Gache proposes that we write our own Quijote through a word processor console in which no matter how hard we try to resort to our imagination, we can only write Cervantes’s original text.
In the case of El idioma de los pájaros (The Language of Birds), she presents a series of bird automatons who, with synthetic voices, recite poems on birds from famous authors. These birds turned machine-poets have been programmed to recite words. Gache reminds us: “Aren’t words always someone else’s?”
MidiPoet is a project from artist Eugenio Tisselli framed within what could be referred to as e-poetry. It is software conceived and developed by programmer Eugenio Tisselli and which is freely available for download and use on PCs.
It consists of two programs: “Composer” and “Performer”, which can be used to compose and perform, respectively, manipulable pieces of text and/or images. These pieces may or may not respond to external impulses, such as MIDI messages or the computer keyboard, and generate visual manifestations involving the manipulation of the different text attributes (content, letter type, position, size, etc.), the image (content, position, etc.) and other visual elements and effects. With its simple and intuitive interface, MIDIPoet is designed to actualize words, rescuing the transience and performance from poetry and adding the visual quality of signs to the setting.
Online project. 2000
This web project is based primarily on the brief essay by Jorge Luis Borges, Pierre Menard: autor del Quijote. Using this fiction essay, in which Borges proposes not only the validity of the re-write, but also the impossibility of the existence of the true original, Navas establishes a comparison between the possibilities of the hypertext and Borges’s narrative mechanisms, involving the reader-user in the task of reinterpreting the texts.
Navas also seems to give the reader-user the task of reconsidering the traditional book format, where pages are presented fragmented and unstable. He achieves this both through the use of formal and visual HTML characteristics, and by the superposition of layers, of text over images, the appearance of pop-ups with mixed versions in English and Spanish, and by the addition of external links and third-party content which force an active and reconstructive reading.
Video game. 2002
In the piece Afalud, Marcel.lí Antúnez presents the interactive version of his character from Afasia. The word “afasia” (aphasia) refers to an inability to understand the spoken or written language resulting from brain damage, and is the title that summarizes Marcel.lí’s unique take on Homer’s Odyssey. The plot of this founding myth is adapted to a set of images and sounds that Marcel.lí controls through his “dreskeleton” in a set of non-verbal situations that result in a disjointed and striking narration. The original verse is replaced by an ample interactive device that places the viewer in front of, for example, a psychedelic island of Lotus-eaters, a cartoonish Circe or the sirens consummating an orgiastic ritual. Afalud is the game adaptation of Afasia. The metamorphosis of the play Afasis to the game Afalud (Afasia/Ludic) compresses the complexity of the show to the setting provided by the typical videogame interfaces: screen, speakers, keyboard and mouse. This transition requires that greater importance be placed on Antugroc, the game’s main character, and that the user be given a more enjoyable experience.
Antugroc, a robotic Ulysses, is both an actor and spectator of his own destiny, as he is manipulated not by the gods but by the audience. He sets off on an ever-changing adventure and changes from a Homeric character into a digital avatar.
Online project. 2005
As Santiago Ortiz himself describes it, “Bacterias Argentinas [Argentinean Bacteria] is a dynamic model of autonomous agents that recombine genetic information by eating one another and where genetic information is narration”. The piece is a virtual stage that allows for the random crossing of textual microstructures, but within a model with strictly pre-defined rules of behavior. Adds Ortiz: “The most important thing is the feeding process. The bacteria eat each other. When one bacterium eats another it kills it, taking all its genetic information and linking it to its own. In other words, it extends its text with that of the eaten bacterium”. It highlights the eternal desire of ideas to feed, to cannibalize, to circulate. In brief, to outlast their human host. The user, in this piece, is limited to the role of viewing the battle over meaning, in a ecosystem of words that compulsively, after each clash, generates new meanings.