Our New Media Initiatives department documents its explorations of new ideas enabled by technology.
The act of confessing has a history as long as the notion of secrets. Their histories wrap both societal and interpersonal dynamics, their forms changing as new revelations appear and values change. In this age of self-publishing on online social networks, confessing becomes as easy as rapidly typing and pressing post or send. Parthenia (1995), an adaweb project by Margot Lovejoy, was an online confessional for victims of domestic abuse. Although the concept of the Internet confessional was nothing new, this “monument” utilized and formalized the network to be presented as an instrument of change, a cyberfeminist public space to express without judgement that could heal and empower those voices that were not heard before.
The promise of any new medium is that it will offer new possibilities for those that were previously disenfranchised or marginalized. However, there is a lot of research that shows that even the Internet, as disseminate and accessible as it is, just reinforces and codifies old patterns. Parthenia emphasizes this as it re-enacts domestic abuse support groups but then changes its relationship to the audience – rather than confessing to a specific group, confession occurs at a public level, amplifying its awareness and cathartic value. As a safe space, many of these responses are anonymous; even when a name is assigned there is no profile or identity associated to it. This artwork foretold many confessional websites of that Internet era such as PostSecret or Group Hug. These are ways we found to not be alone when in front of our computer terminal.
Although confessing often benefits the confessor as a way to relieve feelings of guilt or anxiety, the confessee often benefits as such statements serve to create social bonds, enable similar relief or to extract reciprocal information. These projects illustrate the magnification of broadcast that the Internet has and that social movements can indeed be brought forward when the network itself is addressed. The network-as-confessee could reach an anonymous audience larger than those reading scribbles on bathroom walls.
However, in this post-Snowden era, when we confess on these platforms, we not only confess to our communities but know that we are also subjugated to governmental and corporate surveillance. There are real names or IP addresses tied to our confessions. It is not surprising that anonymous apps such as Secret did not last long as our confessions, intrinsically linked to our identities, have to be revealed in order to be monetized as digital labor. In the case of Whisper, another anonymous confessional app, they have trivialized their content and transformed them into memes and listicles, losing the intimate aspect of telling a secret. Not only the network, but the individual has changed as well: we curate our social media identities, some even to the point of imposter, utilizing the cape of code to send off false confessions in pursuit of gain. How can we trust anything or anyone online?
A solution to this is going back to the basics: tribalism. Postmodernity has shifted identity from a fixed entity to one that is continually in process, evolving our ideas of shared interests and activities from simple tags (Tame Impala, art, Catholicism) to a more holistic approach. In a recent lecture by K-Hole, they said: “Once upon a time people were born into communities and had to find their individuality. Today people are born individuals and have to find their communities.” We are now individual individuals seeking like minded people. Instead of being born in a tribe, we now seek out and eventually find our tribe within a globalized public. From this tribalism, we can seek out mutual support and understanding, a safe space where we can enact confession, both given and received.
“Dunbar’s number” is the theoretical limitation of the number of people that one can sustain social relations with. Robin Dunbar came up with the number 150, but this number is actually a starting point, following a “rule of three”: five is the limit for your intimate friends, 50 for your close friends, 150 for your casual friends, and 500 as your acquaintances. In Dorthy Howard’s recent Rhizome essay, “Feed my Feed: Radical publishing in Facebook Groups,” she argues that Facebook groups can produce “some exciting new ground as the smaller, granular levels of conversation become fodder for the public sphere.” These conversations can range from selfies to similar aesthetics to cybertwee to memes. Although she recognizes the irony in utilizing Facebook as a way of generating intimacy, Facebook has become our contemporary public. Private groups, with the recognition of Dunbar’s number, can entice a new tribalism in response to an ever-increasing unsafe and sousveilled environment, both online and off.
Jenny Holzer’s first public works, Truisms (1977–1979), seem to have been presaging contemporary Internet chatter, where tweets are restricted to 140 characters and sometimes the most complimented updates are those that are short but sweet. Her statements are attentive to both form and content, appearing poetic and digestible yet urgent and homiletic. They have been inscribed, projected, etched, electrically powered, carved, cast, screen-printed, and painted. The fluidity in her manipulation of physical mediums inverts the evolving landscape of public messaging by appropriating corporate, governmental, and advertising techniques to reveal contentious issues of the time. As information displays change, she is able to subsume and then imbue them with her take to irritate our environments dominated by impersonal text.
Holzer’s works range from the tangible (paper, marble) to the dynamic (billboard signs, LED columns) to the interactive. Although most of her work is static in its content, thus preserving its authoritative and authorless voice, she also delves in web based work. Her Twitter account currently has 53,000 followers, enabling others to retweet and thereby emphasize her Truisms. A lesser known work exists in Ada’web, an online art gallery acquired by the Walker in 1998. Titled Please Change Beliefs (1995), people enter the website with a single Truism presented to them, able to constantly click through to get another one. This predicted the proliferation of single-serving, aggregated, generative websites such as What The Fuck Should I Make For Dinner, This Is Less Of A, or even what would i say?.
However, what makes Please Change Beliefs unique is the ability for visitors to “improve or replace the truism.” These user-generated truisms then become part of the artwork, which inevitably looks like an anonymous Facebook account with a lot of caps-locked status updates. However, these posts are often not created arbitrarily—most truisms are “improved” instead of “replaced,” and since they are indexed alphabetically, a pattern starts to emerge: the verb and object in the statement is usually changed, whereas the subject stays the same. And in that very way, this work emphasizes that the public and its displays is undeniably tied with the nous of our subjectivity.
Robin Dowden, our beloved director of New Media, leaves the Walker today, and as she’s been cleaning house, she has also been rediscovering little gems of the past. With the initiation of our campus renovation, it seemed like an appropriate time to look back at this project that recreated the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in a virtual reality context back in the late ’90s.
Created in 1995, the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) served as a predecessor for the current web’s WebGL, which allows for 3D modeling and manipulation online. The VRML version of the Sculpture Garden allowed for a self-guided tour of the area, giving the ability the navigate wherever you wanted at your own pace, something relatively new in 1998. There were obvious limitations, such as not having the ability to recreate the actual sculptures in 3D—they are 2D image placeholders, but at the time, it was rare to surf the web as something other than the semblance of flipped pages.
You can also read more about this project in an interview between Steve Dietz, former director of New Media Initiatives, and the artists/engineers Marek Walczak and Remo Campopiano here.
Minneapolis is about to be flooded with more than 15,000 writers, editors, and publishers. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference and book fair takes place this Wednesday through Saturday. Although it costs about $200, it is akin to SXSW, in which there are plenty of off-site events that will offer comparable content with an intimacy that the Convention Center does not offer. These are all from my Facebook and (*) denotes my picks. (more…)
The Internet has always been an experimental publishing platform.
In contrast to the linear nature of most publishing endeavors in history, the hyperlink was invented in 1965 by Ted Nelson, who was obsessed with keeping track of his neurotic and divergent paths of thinking, and in turn, the publishing of his writing. Superscript, the Walker’s first conference on arts journalism and criticism in a digital age, intentionally puts the hyperlink — one of the definite features of new media — in the forefront of its design. The hyperlink is not simply a software feature; it is telling of our shift in thinking beyond linearity and context to an arena of layered networks and interconnectedness: the medium is the message. The web is a postmodernist tool necessitated by a postmodernist perspective.
Publishing online ranges from pre–built platforms with uniform templates and one-click submission buttons to articles that have custom layouts that take months or years to implement. The aesthetic of the Superscript website is intentionally retro, stripped down and typographically emphatic, to pay homage to text as the only necessity in publishing.
We can see this minimalism within modern services such as Readability or Pocket; sometimes we just want to digest the text-as-information like a machine. Text speaks to our modern combinational approach of social communication with computational models:
Text is the most socially useful communication technology. It works well in 1:1, 1:N, and M:N modes. It can be indexed and searched efficiently, even by hand. It can be translated. It can be produced and consumed at variable speeds. It is asynchronous. It can be compared, diffed, clustered, corrected, summarized and filtered algorithmically. It permits multiparty editing. It permits branching conversations, lurking, annotation, quoting, reviewing, summarizing, structured responses, exegesis, even fan fic. The breadth, scale and depth of ways people use text is unmatched by anything. –always bet on text
II. Conference Websites
There are limitless examples and templates of typical conference web design. But as a conference that is devoted to digital publishing, it would be a mistake to miss this opportunity for creating something unconventional.
A typical conference will have a navigation bar with multiple items (e.g. Speakers, Schedule, Register, Location). I wanted to call out navigation-as-hyperlink-as-content, so as to not necessarily distinguish between them. This purposely obfuscate details as to create a dialogue between the page and the user. So-called best practices instilled in design to create an interface as no interface creates a one-sided transaction that is hardly memorable. In willfully obscuring, we create conversation. Although there are risks in this approach, such as alienating readers, we know for the most part that those seeking this conference will have both the curiosity and engagement to grapple with a novel display.
III. Page Dimensionality
The horizontal layout of the site is inspired by two publication platforms: Triple Canopy and Tankboys. The landing page serves as a merged Cover and Page 1 with an index and key information. It imitates the format of a book or a magazine, using headings and paragraph blocks, split across two leaves. However, when clicking a link on an index leaf, it branches out. The interacted hyperlink shows its essential function, not necessarily to open another page, but to unfold more information. On this unfolded branch, hyperlink clicks are then used to unfold more information, albeit as toggles that expand vertically. Then, hovering on hyperlinks of names overlays images of those individuals. These three interactions — (1) the vertical extension of the leaf, (2) the horizontal toggling of details, and (3) the hovering of overlay images — create a visual three-dimensionality that encapsulates the networked and stratified modularity of the hyperlink.
The identity and personality of Superscript was done by Dante Carlos, a senior designer at the Walker. It is his attention to both print and web typographic styling and mixing that is able to demarcate the hyperlink while not backgrounding plain text. Although there was only a postcard designed with this identity in mind before the website was launched, it went through many iterations:
Two distinct graphical elements that I gleaned from his sketches were the use of spinners and graphs. The spinners serve as a visual cue of process when it comes to producing or publishing. On the web, there is the indeterminate loader when waiting for the design and content elements to load; in print, there is the printing register to align design and content properly. The graphs are arbitrary trend lines. They are telling of the dichotomous cycle of publishing: enduring and disseminable yet ephemeral and disposable.
Although Superscript is a conference occurring on-site, this does not mean we will be subordinating our virtual audience. The Superscript website will go through two additional phases: a live version and an archival version. As the conference is occurring, a video stream, live stenography embed, and Twitter feed will be added. Once the conference is over, we will be archiving all the live material that was produced. In addition, we will be hosting a second page called Superscript Reader that will aggregate digital keynote commissions, Walker Channel film commissions, and related article and blog entries.
This is a unique conference that coincides overlapping domains of design, curation, editing, publishing, and technology. It is a distinct time to condense and skim this online activity to a singular aggregate reflection. This mirrors our everyday browsing: we consume a neverending flood of hyperlinks that we filter and coalesce internally. The screen emerges outward through us.
Presented as part of