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Take a Chance on Me: An Essay on the Mediation of the Contemporary Condition

 

Thore Soneson

 

 

"…time stands still in a raging speed, like an north american soap; rich in superficial drama, poor on development and coherence. Therefore the most fundamental project for the 21:st centrury would be: Demand control over time! Demand the right to be inaccessible, to slow time, to peaceful studies without the noise from the transmitters of trash in informationsociety, demand time to understand how we got here and how we can reclaim control over our own time." (1)

 

We live our present lifes in a crossfire of media, of stories and messages. Immersed in digital moviechannels, programmed with prepacked human interest and testimonials. We constantly decode messages, every second awake in mediasociety consists of a chase to comprehend. We live in a multimedial game dramatization, staged on web-site after web-site. We are forced to make choices, navigate according to your wishes, be constantly aware of our needs and act as a skilled hyper-text strategist.

This increasing and exploding amount of content and saleable interactivity can if continued, lead to a collapse of meaning; a state of overwhelming frustration, where the art of listening to another human being is exchanged with another quest set up by gamecreators – our urge to constantly seek new opportunities, new frontiers.

Contemplate for a while on the antropologist Hylland Eriksens opening line in the quote: "…time stands still in a raging speed like an north american soap; rich in superficial drama, poor on development and coherence." In his essay he deliberately throws incendiary torches, his viewpoints are delivered in a polemic rage. But he shares the manifest moral with a growing number of critics of media trivialities. How can we handle this condition ? How can we create unique experiences in this massive explosion of expressions ?

The Sublime

One possible road to investigate would be to recover the intensity of experience. The quality Jean-Francois Lyotard termed the sublime, the ability of art to guide us to an experience of the now – "It happens" – reclaiming the moment of experience as alive with meaning. The term "It happens" constitute for Lyotard a reverence for the experience we feel before we put words to what we feel.

One method to reclaim the experience in an age where narrative models are emptied and banal, would be to accept the collapse of meaning. To create an univere of content – text, images, thoughts, scenes – and let the machine take over. Let a randomizer generate paths for the narrative to take, leave the choice of which content to link to and what experiences to relive.
To bring meaning to such a model, we must agree on a fundamental thesis – all human communication is an experience. The process at work in art is that of an constant exchance between individuals. Or as put by the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer :


"The work of art has it's true being in the fact that it becomes an experience that changes the person who experiences it. The "subject" of the experience of the art, that which remains and endures, is not the subjectivity of the person who experiences it but the work itself. ... All presentation is potentially a representation for someone. That this possibility is intended is the characteristic feature of art as play. " (2)

 

This awareness of the process in art that it reaches its full meaning first in the eye of the beholder is a definition on one of the fundamentals in human nature – our capability to communicate.

We are actors in an ongoing process, active in a game of meaning and expression. Not, as so often in the traditional narrative structure, at the recieving end of a pre-packaged dramatization with a fixed morale and ending. To use an element of chance as a strategy to vitalize narration would be one method to eliminate the passive reciever.

 

In Contrast to One-Dimensional Narrativity

The digital technology creates a kind of counterimages to the superficial and one-dimensional content in mainstream media. It opens the field of narratives for real interactivity, opens up possibilities to play with time and discard the straitjacket of the linear experience in traditional storytelling. F. Scott Fitzgerald became aware of this artistic restraint when he came to Hollywood and formulated his analysis of storytelling art in moviemaking: "It's an amazing art form. A series of scenes put in a particular order designed to leave the viewer with no choice but to feel one particular way."

Today with the impact of the digital world, moviemakers in Hollywood can create alternative story structures, beyond this straitjacket Fitzgerald identified. One such play with reality, time and identity is to be found in The Matrix (Warchowski Brothers 1999) where the story develops on severel parallel timelevels, and on top of that, in simulated realities. All levels influence each other and depend on information from the other to tell the story.

Among artists, the possibilities created by the digital tools, have opened up a whole artistic field, labelled new media. The genre's aesthetic expressions expands constantly, at an creative interplay with software creators. In common though, the new media art has the computer. In Denmark the new media art scene early establised a forum for showing and discussing digital art, the netgallery artnode.dk. Artcritic Mette Sandbye commented the project Looped on this web-site, taking a special interest on the evolving art of digital storytelling:


"…the computer user is co-creator of the work. The work takes the form of a process; a place where something happens. Made possible with distinctive combination of every imaginable form of audio and visual, moving or still material. And the unstable condition of hypermedia, where every line is connected or can be dissolved in digital, replaceable units." (3)

 

The co-creation, the possibility to actively participate as a beholder, can be seen as a distinctive form of artistic communication made possible by the digital techonology. It creates an open field between artist and audience, a transgressive field that can accomodate "...the importance of defining play as a process that takes place in 'between'."(4) to quote Hans-Henrik Gadamer who claims that this "field" as fundamental for the interplay of art and communication.

 

still images from Soneson's interactive movie production SPEED.
Film clips and stills, quotes and fragments of monologues as text are randomly selected from a database The clock image is the navigation tool, here you make an associative choice among words that are displayed at random.

 

The Interactive Field

In the digital domain, research in the potentials of this open field delivers new results at an almost overwhelming rate. Every medialab with a digital programme investigates the possibilities of the interaction, the role of the interactor. The renewal of the narrative grammar and language comes from knowledge created in experiments with interaction. The digital innovations breads more voices, more potential stories that involve more people in communicative processes.

This multiplicity differs from the variety in the entertainment industry. It is based on an openess where the romantic image of the Artist as exclusive creator of meaning has been exchanged with an image of the Individual as co-creator. The artist / writer today create works with a multidimensional quality, made possible by digital technology.
The screenwriter and director no longer has en exclusive right to o n e interpretation of their work. A transparence has been created by digital media where the interplay - the game – have an important place.
At the same time, this deconstruction of the early secrets and models of drama in the setup of the interactive gameplay, can make us so active as co-creators of the stories that we lose out on the capability of emotional surprise and immersion in the drama. Our focus are shifted from content to process, from following a narrative stream to stearing a personal path over troubled waters.


"In electronic narrative the procedural author is like a choreographer who supplies the rhytms, the context, and the set of steps that will be performed. The interactor, whether as navigator, protagonist, explorer, or builder, makes use of this repertoire of possible steps and rhytms to improvise a particular dance among the many, many possible dances the author has enbled." Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet H. Murray (5)

 

Again, making the element of chance attractive in the setup of a digital narration, can be a method to transform the focus on catharsis that is so dominant in traditional storytelling into another narrative form; catharsis being the point where meaning and coherence traditionally is created for the audience. Interactivity and non-linear storytelling opens up for this intensity of experience that Lyotard named "the sublime". This experience is created before language, before explanation, before structure. Here we can trace the roots of attraction inherent in the elements of chance. Chance is freed from "planned" meaning and goal. Chance can re-create the moments of "it happens" as defined by Lyotard in our contemporary stories.

In the digital landscape chance can be the tool that again opens our eyes for stories and their possibilities to carry thoughts, emotions and experience. Since chance per defininition cannot be programmed with an intention or purpose, it can bring life to the play. It can open up communication and the quality Gadamer sees as immanent in the human exchange of experiences - "All presentation is potentially a representation for someone. That this possibility is intended is the characteristic feature of art as play. " (6)

 

© THORE SONESON / 2001-01-12

 

 

notes:

(1) Hylland Eriksen, Thomas "Ögonblickets tyranni gör oss historielösa" article in daily paper, Sydsvenska Dagbladet 1999 12 27 ( my own translation to english )
(2) Gadamer, Hans-Georg chapter "Play as the Clue to Ontological Explanation" Wahrheit und Methode p102-103, (1960)
(3) Sandbye, Mette Looped from cataloque to exhibition "100 teckningar" (artnode.dk Köpenhamn 1999)
(4) se footnote 2
(5) 4. s.153, chapter "The Aesthetics of the Medium", in "Hamlet on the Holodeck", Janet H. Murray (1997), senior research scientist at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
(6) se footnote 2

 


Thore Soneson holds an MA degree at Malmö University - Art and Communication, as creative producer, 1999 / 2001. He has professional experiences as a writer / producer of new media with SPEED an interactive CD-rom (Exhibited at NIC 2001, Nordic Interactive Conference,Copenhagen), THE STORY OF A, interactive movie script, 2002-4 (work in progress), IN SEARCH OF THE MILITANT CODE scenario contribution to Michael Johanssons project FIELDASY 2002. He has written scripts for feature film and television, among them NEMESIS DIVINA, feature film script 2002, THE SEVENTH SHOT feature film, scriptwriter, 1998, PASSION multimedia performance MALMÖ KONSTHALL, scriptwriter, videodirector, 1995. For more info on SPEED the paper and other media work visit www.soneson.net

 

 

 

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