- Unthinkable Writing
Described as a media-kit journal of theory, technology, and art, Perforations is just one facet of Public Domain’s activities. Jim Demmers, Robert Cheatham, and Chea Prince (PD’s coordinating committee) also sponsor “Working Papers”—“a series of presentations devoted to the various crises of legitimation, representation, and communication.” Held at various venues around Atlanta, recent sessions addressed “the new alien in science fiction,” “Madonna, Paglia, Camp, Queer Theory, and PoMo Feminism,” “mirror, myopia, modesty, weakness, failure, scandal.” Their Kiosk project-in-progress (demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 93) will be a series of interactive hypermedia stations as alternative public sites for displaying electronic arts. PD also engages in video and public access cable television production, and provides internet access for arts organizations.
In short, PD has learned one of the fundamental lessons of the information age: the goal is not to design only a product—a tape, a form, a performance—but also the institutional frame capable of receiving that product. They approach the electronic as an “apparatus” consisting not only of technology but also of institutional practices and individual behaviors (ideological subject formation). Functioning as a relay site (a booster switching node operating as an information wild card), PD represents a new kind of creative activity that challenges the old subject/object divisions separating criticism from art: you cannot study PD without having them study you back. For now, though, I am going to consider one of their products—number 5 in their series of media kits.
Perforations 5 is a collector’s item not only because it is a limited edition but because it constitutes an exhibition of the status of multimedia in this brief transitional moment of the convergence of media between the book and the computer: after the desire to write with sound, image and text together has spread to the general citizenry but before the technology capable of democratizing such writing is widely available. The kit comes in a large box, the receipt of which is better than getting a crate of Florida citrus and almost as good as Christmas. The contents: an oversize “adult comic” (black drawing on yellow paper)— “Brain-Dead Dog,” by Tom Zummer; a book-length loose-leaf anthology of writings by a diverse group of contributors, including PD members; an equally diverse tape anthology of video works; an audio cassette of music by Dick Robinson (side one) and Michael Century (side two); a computer disk with a hypertext (“Genetis”) authored in Story Space by Richard Smyth. The kit is a snapshot of this moment when the media are suspended in their separate technologies, yet brought into virtual contact with one another under the theme that heads the issue: “bodies, dreams, technologies.”
In the same way that some people watch “television” rather than any one particular program, one way to read Perforations is to scan or surf it as a whole: browse through the colored pages of the anthology with the cassette playing in the boombox, the tape going in the vcr, while flipping the screens of “Genetis” on your Mac. The natural medium for Perforations, in other words, might be cd-rom, with all the pieces hyperlinked to bring out the pattern that emerges from the wholistic reading. The title suggests the nature of this pattern (the interface of bodies-dreams- technologies) but not the specific quality—the feel or effect—of the collection. Rather than trying to name that effect, I want to follow a personal thread that forms the whole into a constellation for me.
My point of entry is Richard Smyth’s “Genetis.” Smyth, who just completed his Ph.D. in the cultural studies program at the University of Florida, has been testing the genre of mystory that I introduced in Teletheory as a support for electronic reasoning. To see how Smyth adapts mystory to his own purposes and how it looks in the context of Perforations clarified for me some of the outstanding questions about electronic style. “Genetis” (self-described as a “rhizography”) is arranged in five “plateaus” (alluding to Deleuze and Guattari...