Kirsten Krauth looks at the TrAce/alt-x hypertext competition winners
Jenny Weight’s Rice is an assortment of cultural odds and ends—dominoes, spearmint chewing gum wrapper, a portrait in a red checked shirt, calligraphy, television coverage, 4 year-olds and Shockwave animations. “The time has come for action” says a United States president and it’s American imperialism full steam ahead with a voice I do know—Jimi Hendrix—and a journey into archives of memory on war. There’s a sense of displacement. A woman screams in the early morning in a hotel room. She won’t stop.
We’re in North Vietnam now, listening to the static, “In Vietnam/we swallow the future whole./But digested/is different/from dead.” The dominoes start to topple and we become “the supertourists. We stand outside, bigger than our own history.” Vietnamese fighters and quick hopping doves. An endlessness of clicking, cameras, keyboards keys, dirt and heaven. Like a game of patience, surprises are turned up and over, yet framed in circles by distance. Images are ambiguous, nothing appears as it seems, but each link lays a brick, solidifying speculation.
“If you are childless/and you visit Vietnam/it is best to lie...” A cybertourist, too, wants the authentic experience. Rice plays games with our need to know, vomits up images of truth and desire, tampered with, and then punishes us for believing. Its jewels, “the beauty of junk”, the collected past makes, and is resistant to, us. We continue searching for the poem factory in a creaky cyclo.
While Rice looks out from Australia, the other competition winner, The Unknown, in typical United States fashion, looks deep within, into the bowels and beyond. We’re all goin’ on a…another road trip folks and we’ll take up where Kerouac and De Lillo left off…to frontier fiction with a special travel itinerary, with 3 academics who can’t change a tyre, on a book tour to flog The Anthology of the Unknown. (Who says that Americans don’t understand irony?). Starting from write-about-what-ya-know (downside: “we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance”—Thomas Pynchon quoted), The Unknown is a satire on publishing and promotion as well as a tough and funny look at the nature of creating hypertext: “the reader becomes a sort of satellite taking photographs of a huge and varied terrain.”
Largely text based, the site cleverly uses audio of the ‘writers’ speaking at conferences, debates topics as crucial as that criticism can be as much an artform as literature (okay, so they are laughing hash-hysterically at this point). Hilarious shots of 3 suit-and-tongue-tied men dwarfed by huge public sculptures add to the rich subversive mix. They even criticise one of the trAce/alt-x competition judges Mark Amerika (they meet him at Tennis Home, a Rehab centre for Hollywood starlets and hypertext dropouts). The live readings with audience murmurings and applause which play throughout give the work a sense of movement and wit and, although this territory has been traversed before online, what Americans excel at is BIGness and this mammoth chunk of cyberspace defies, and plays with, expectation and The Dream: “I sat up and stared at an American landscape we had not yet named.”
Rice (Jenny Weight) and The Unknown (William Gillespie, Scott Rettberg, Dirk Stratton, Frank Marquardt) were joint winners of the trAce competition. Jenny Weight lives in Adelaide. She received a new media artist residency at Media Resource Centre to develop Rice.
The trAce/alt-x hypertext competition prize is for 100 pounds. 152 entries were received including many from Australia. Submissions had to be web-based with high quality writing; excellent overall conceptual design and hyperlink structure; and ease of use for the average web surfer.
The above winners can be found on the trAce website with further information on the competition. Three sites also gained honourable mentions: *water always writes in *plural by Josephine Wilson & Linda Carroli, (Australia), Kokura by Mary-Kim Arnold (USA) and Michael Atavar’s calendar (UK). The competition will re-open at the end of 1999.