FlagrantWorld | Hymn 43

network-based, self-assembling, database-driven electronic book

How do/can emergent technologies alter our basic vocabulary? Specifically, how might electronic social networks and their associated technologies allow us to think differently about what a book is or might be? Do these new technologies allow us to construct new and different ways to think about storytelling and narrative?

These are some of the questions that this project has allowed me to explore.

Hymn 43 isn’t for everyone, because it breaks some rules. Most importantly, its a slow piece. Electronic networks and social media encourage speed and skimming. People scan, browse, and move quickly from site to site, screen to screen. In this era of  ‘the information highway’, Hymn 43 requires viewers to slow down, a bit like asking people to get out of their fast cars and make the trip at a walking pace.

I fully realize that many folks won’t take the invitation, but for those who do, a distinctly different journey awaits them.

Although I’ve migrated through a whole range of tools and media in my career, the ideas and motifs have been consistent for many years: memory and history, faith and fear, desire and joy, gender and the stories that bodies tell. A big part of my process is the constant inscription and collection of instances and variations of these ideas, in multiple forms: written, visual, sound. My studio is a mashup archive of material collected and organized into these ‘buckets’.

As an artist, I am always searching for ways to put these themes into conversation with one another – because in my own life they are not separate or discreet – and so I have experimented with a variety of ways to combine them, either in a singular image or by combining images with words with sound with … whatever.

Type a few lines of code, you create an organism. – Richard Powers

An epiphany occured when I started to consider code as the newest possible candidate for the next ‘whatever’. I realized that, up until that point, my work had ‘hard coded’ these combinations; that when I created a print that incorporated text, or used video to combine image and sound, that the connection between my various ‘buckets’ was frozen in place and unchangeable. I wondered if code might allow for the creation of a set of rules for combining elements in ways that had the potential to be predictable but also unexpected and surprising. In other words, I began to dream of creating a software engine that would be rule-bound, but also semi-autonomous.

This was the spark that began to take form as Flagrantworld – the umbrella title for a website I envision as eventually housing a trinity of individual pieces that, while each can stand alone, have connected themes; a little like a book of short stories. Hymn 43 is my first experiment in this domain and the first piece I have brought to completion (a second piece, vision|ministry, is under construction).

With this work, instead of selecting particular elements and ‘hard coding’ them as a single piece, I organize raw material by theme and medium and create these ‘buckets’ as databases – a database of images, a database of videos, a database of audio files, and a database of text fragments (think of these as short poems).

So, there is no one single ‘version’ of Hymn 43, per se. Instead, when a viewer (or reader, depending on how you want to think of it) connects to the piece online, it spawns a new iteration of the software engine that uses the databases to collage and create a ‘performance’ of the piece on the fly and in real time.

This also means that two people, sitting next to each other and each with a separate laptop, could simultaneously ‘run’ the piece and each would experience an entirely different and distinct version of the work. Semi-predictable but surprising, and also entirely fugitive – like dance or drama, what would be left behind would be only thoughts and feelings, not an enduring material object.

So, if you are willing to enter the work at a walking pace, willing to let the interactions and juxtapositions among the elements build into a conversation through slow time, please be my guest. [flagrantworld.net]

For those not yet willing to make that commitment, below you will find a series of screen grabs from one particular performance, of course without audio or any of the animated qualities of the real work. But perhaps this will make you curious and patient enough to give the real piece a try.

All images © copyright Joseph Squier, 2016. No reproduction or re-distribution with explicit written permission. Contact: joseph@lightsensitive.media