A note from the editors
The disparate works in this issue reflect the disparate paths of New Media writing. While we hesitate to define the genre, we know one thing for sure: the more interactive, the more invested we become. We are suckers for pieces that can hold our attention or make us scratch our heads or encourage us to play around. We like it when pieces grow deeper under scrutiny. And though we call it New Media writing, language isn’t necessarily what strong-arms our guts to produce the human response we most want.
We want to laugh or cry or cringe at smart work. The works included in this issue amount or mound up for us by virtue of their interdependent nature. While they may use sound and video, they become most interesting when they make us click and choose, when they allow us to direct and create, when they encourage us to explore and find, which sometimes involves sound and video, but not always. Print sources pull us in by other means—perhaps the beauty of the language, the initial situation, the logical argument. But these online pieces raise us to new heights of participation. Somehow, in the user-computer exchange, art gets created as we find our emotions roused. Credit goes to those writers able to set up a framework conducive to this outcome.
“Conjunctions,” a compilation work by many authors, including Jill Talbot and Eric LeMay, offers a variety of pieces linked by clickable segments of a bar that will take users to segments of a co-created ‘essay.’ We were intrigued. As a revision of the essay, we were excited to see writers pushing the boundaries normally associated with an oftentimes academic and formal genre.
Matt Mullins’ “Our Bodies” offers users a similar opportunity not only to view a revised genre but to actively participate in its revision. Have you ever wanted to scramble the sound bites of a televangelist? Playfully subversive at its core, “Our Bodies” bends the sermon genre with an unexpected degree of self-awareness. The user looks at a screen that contains a television set that contains the preacher. Re-noticing the detail of a screen within a screen after spending some time with the project emphasizes how layered and self-conscious New Media writing can be.
Lyndee Prickitt’s “Weareangry” uses real video footage, numerous definitions and pictures, links to actual news articles, made-up news articles, and fiction drawn heavily from real events to produce a profound and riveting work. We fell in love with this one. Blending genres while also becoming a genre all its own—New Media writing tends to do this latter part—“Weareangry” speaks as art speaks—powerfully, accurately, lucidly, humanly—about the rape crisis in India.
And as for Andrew Beales’ “New Slideshow”—well, open it up. Never the same twice, it will always make you laugh. With images scraped from Instagram feeds, it involves users not even aware they are helping create New Media; with a variety of voiceovers, it allows the computer to take a pivotal role in the creation of a final, ever-changing product.
In putting together this issue, we had fun getting lost in these works. While print literature invites readers into the mind(s) of an author(s), these New Media pieces invited us to direct our reading experience, sometimes to participate in creation, and often to think about computers as a medium that alters how we perceive the world. We found our brains turned on and got invested simply by our interactions with these works. We are proud to present this issue. Kudos to these talented writers.
As we near the twentieth anniversary of The New River, we revisit the question asked in the very first issue: what kind of art will be made with hypertext and hypermedia? In the case of this winter edition, the answer seems to be art of reinvention, as the four pieces we have chosen for this issue deal with old forms made new and often blend the lines between mediums, as well as those between fiction and reality.
“Conjunctions,” a collection of experiments curated by Jill Talbot and Eric LeMay, was created with “the aim…to see what ‘essaying’ might look like if [pushed] beyond a reliance on writing alone.” Fourteen contributors challenged themselves with extending the boundaries of the essay form through multimedia, and the resulting seven pieces of “Conjunctions” mix everything from interactive graphics to spoken word with musical accompaniment. All seven pieces are all magnificently different from each other, with varied elements and subject matters, yet at their core, they are all still essays, concerned with the organized exploration of a focused topic.
Matt Mullins’s “Our Bodies” (created in collaboration with Darik Hall) is the latest piece in his larger new media project, lit-digital. Described by Mullins as “an original poem in praise of the inherent divinity of our bodies,” the piece breaks apart and reconstructs an Oral Roberts’s sermon to derive new meaning. It allows for further remixing through an interactive interface, framed as an old analog television where the pieces of Roberts’s sermon can be repeated and reordered as the user desires. With Roberts having passed in 2009, the piece also raises interesting questions about reinterpreting his intentions, and openly invites users to engage with those questions.
In “We Are Angry,” Lyndee Prickett and the team of Digital Fables tackle difficult ground through multimedia, exploring womanhood and violence in India. Politically charged and socially significant, “We Are Angry” draws pieces of its narrative from the real-life tragedy of a young woman brutally raped in New Delhi in 2012 and other similar tragedies and fuses them with a fictional story about such a situation. When asked about blending fact and fiction, Prickett had this to say:
“…I felt very strongly that my fictional story on the Indian rape crisis should be bolstered by the real facts that surround the story—the stats about rape/abuse/prosecution, but also the hotly contested and passionately argued debate on the issues around the subject and, equally important, the public’s reaction as it marked a changing-point in a young democracy’s history. All of these facts are part of the story and, thanks to the digital medium, can and should be included in layers upon layers of the fictional story, especially one which deals with an important social issue.”
Combining everything from audio and artwork to reports and editorials, “We Are Angry” achieves emotional resonance by rethinking the way stories are told.
Andrew Beales’s “New Slideshow” recreates the analogue slideshow experience using constantly changing internet content. A mostly hilarious, sometimes poignant randomized combination of Instagram images and narrated commentary largely taken from song lyric and romance novel websites, and the pictures themselves, the piece explores oversharing and what Beales calls “all these ‘quantified self’ apps.” It is “a piece of its time,” bridging generations of oversharing by framing the content of a contemporary social media app as a classic slideshow.
New media has changed a lot in the last twenty years and continues to change rapidly. As Beales commented about “New Slideshow,” “If I were to set out to make a similar piece in 5-10 years’ time, things would no doubt have moved on again.” Likely the same would be true of all the artists and works included in this issue. With every combination and reexamination of genre, with every technological breakthrough and advance, more possibilities emerge. And so we at The New River will continue to ask—what comes next?