Thursday, February 7, 2008

writerly text and interactive art

While reading Barthes's S/Z, I became interested in the distinction he makes between the writerly text and the readerly text. Patchwork Girl clearly has a lot in common with his description of the writerly text. It has multiple places you can start, it can be read in many different directions, you can move through it forwards and backwards, and it doesn't have a clear beginning or end. The reader shapes his or her own experience of the piece by exploring the thick network of writing and images. I'd never come across any hypertext pieces before and I had a lot of fun trying to find my way through this piece and building the experience for myself. As I thought about what it felt like to experience Patchwork Girl, my mind drifted to other art forms and I found it interesting how much the writerly/readerly division could be applied elsewhere. Many interactive art pieces (such as installations using some combination of video, sound, sculpture, and text) seem to share a lot with the experience of Patchwork Girl. In these pieces, viewers create their own experiences by exploring the installation. Again, there are often no clear starting or ending points and there are many ways to experience it. Of course there are tons of peices out there that let the viewers participate in such an open way. Many more traditional art pieces, such as a painting on the wall of a museum, could be considered similar to the readerly text. In this case there's an established way to view the painting and the viewer "is left with no more than the poor freedom either to accept or reject" the piece. (Barthes 4)

One interactive installation artist I was recently introduced to is Camille Utterback. She had a piece set up at Brown a few years ago that some people may remember. It was called 'Text Rain' and was in the CIT. I like a lot of her other pieces more and if you're interested you can check out some videos of them here: I particularly enjoy her External Measures series which combines painting and interactive video in really intersting ways. In these pieces the viewers are left to paint the picture themselves by moving their bodies. These pieces do let both the artist and the viewer contribute to what happens on the screen and viewers can shape their experiences, but I don't know if they totally qualify as a writerly text. With Patchwork Girl too, the reader's/viewer's experience has limits and his or her path through the piece is defined in some ways.

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