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"Is it possible that the most truthful witnessing can be fictional rather than documentary?"
This question slides across the screen as one navigates (or perhaps, more accurately, gets navigated by) "Programmed Visions." Following its lead, we might also ask "Is it possible that insight derives from opacity as much as from transparency?" This is not an easy project to traverse. It resists your desire to unfold or unpack it, to hone in on its point, its secret. Rather, its meaning layers and accrues as you give in to its difficulty and its structure. The opening screen hints at the complex architecture of the piece (and Reagan Kelly's "Designer's Introduction" informs us that we are exploring a "hypothetical z-axis" of 38 fields), but none of this is obviously apparent from our first attempts to move through its structures.
Many will resist this difficulty, turning away to more transparent and obedient interfaces, but I believe the project can teach us at least two things. First, it refreshes our awareness of the interface as something coded and constructed, reverse engineering our perceptual frames. While I suspect that to some users it will feel 'broken,' for me it powerfully illustrates how naturalized the many interfaces I encounter daily have become. This distanciation is, of course, the goal of much net art (and of much avant garde practice in general) but is less typically the province of 'scholarship' proper. But "Programmed Visions" is not content to trouble our perceptual frames simply for difficulty's sake. Rather, the piece weds this opacity to a complex figuring of the systematic production of race as a category of power/knowledge and, most importantly, inextricably links race (as archive) to our understandings of visuality, whether opaque or transparent or somewhere in between.
- Tara McPherson, USC, LA, CA, USA, 10.09.2007
"Assemble and Read the Archive" is the first command one is given. And with it, one is already subjected to a machinic logic that Wendy Chun's project replays as the auto-construction of race. The archival urge may seem like a perverse path to take when it comes to the somatic and that which is supposed to be written upon the body. Nonetheless, Chun and her media collaborator Reagan Kelly put in motion the duality of inscription -- the mute legend of what the body writes and the invisible face of its appearance in mediation, in text. I, the reader/user, click on a section of text and it doubles itself, floating by over the trace of its "original" and across the brown-toned screen.
The question asked is "to what extent race can be conceived as an archive?". The answer, open to be sure, is enacted. Networked interactive media as filtered thought the hands of Chun/Kelly. The piece is navigated by binaries. One is led to a definition of the science of eugenics or an international document (France 1950) announcing the end of the race, the recognition of one human race. Slipped in between expert/common knowledge/power, and categories such as determinism, class, or language, one finds Toni Morrison's Pecola Breedlove, she of the broken heart and bluest eyes, planting her garden.
"Programmed Visions" presents a tension between the indexical, that which is purely information, and an aesthetics of information. As mediation, it creates a sense of vertigo and a chase. If I touch or move can I still grasp this archive? Can I get it all? How is it held? The slippery motion is indicative of Chun's point about the semiotics and ideology of race. It makes for difficult reading. I look for an index or other more familiar navigational tool, and magically one appears. It is a graphic chart of the territories this archive spans, citing authors in a static view. If one hits on the points of connection on the map, the texts reanimate in the background. At this moment, when humanists and scientist alike are recognizing what most 13 year olds understand intuitively -- our lives as integrated circuits -- Chun takes a daring step into the critical reflection on such times and spaces. The archive, a sign of mediation, reflects, reassembles, and reads an integrated history of race.
- Beth Coleman, MIT, 10.15.2007
This is a very striking--what?--piece, essay, archive. Like Tara I felt I was interacting with an artwork. But that is simply to say that this work is what I like to call the 'practice of theory' rather than the theory of practice. How interesting to see how well Foucault's lectures in "Society Must Be Defended" remediate onto the web. Then again, perhaps it's no surprise that the pre-eminent theorist of power networks renders well in networked form.
I took several points from my first few encounters with this archive. It reinforced my sense that there is a certain futility in writing race--that is to say, the archive of race is not logical, consistent or transparent (even as the dialectical other to Enlightenment) but is rather necessarily illogical and an articulation of domination as domination. At the same time--and this is point that Chun has made elsewhere but comes through strongly here--one sees how the protocols--whether 'visible' or 'invisible'--of the internet continue to articulate that domination in and as race. The Platonic web-dream of leaving the 'meat' of the body behind seems further away than ever.
At the end I found myself asking the Derrida question--which may be somewhere in this archive--about the archon of this archive. Is the designer in charge or the 'writer'? What difference does that make? Or is it a différance? I'll think about this and come back later. Thanks for such a provocative piece, in the sense that it calls forth so much.
- Nicholas Mirzoeff, New York University, 10.18.2007