By Julie Lam
Mary Flanagan’s [theHouse] is an interactive digital poetry piece that exposes the dissension between two people. The work begins with an orderly arrangement of white boxes. Gray cubes accompanied by lyrical couplets gradually emerge within this collection. The lines vary and repeat in designated areas, separating the now irrational clutter into fairly coherent areas which mimic rooms in a house. The text changes with user interaction. If dragged, the entire assortment distorts and swivels on an erratic axis. The piece eventually dissipates with time and reverts back to its original colorless state.
The story unveiled in this piece is one that is intimate and relatable. The content iterates common problems present in many relationships. One example is absence of communication – “never speaking” and “filled with questions”. Another is the hostility that comes with a faltering relationship. The “house” in which this piece is situated is not a place of comfort and security. Rather, it is a place that is hard and sharp with “unforgiving corners” and a place of aggression, where one is “shoved into hallways” and “pushed into chairs”. Furthermore, there is a constant reminder of detachment – “there is a distance tremendous” and “giving emptiness”.
A developed understanding of the story can only emerge through user interactivity. Couplets are distorted by the space in which they float. Words are obstructed by cubes, texts, or by the space itself, as their size alters when they float to and from the screen. Maneuvering around the space is imperative in uncovering its truth.
This constant clicking changes the seemingly serene space into a volatile environment, much like the relationship it discusses and to some extent electronic literature as a whole as well. [theHouse] multiplies in size like a virus and seemingly has a life of its own. It changes thoughts and emotions on impulse, with one swift act. It is variable and unpredictable. The volatility of [theHouse] points to the nature of electronic literature, though not entirely in a negative way. There is a level of control the user has with this piece, but there is an unavoidable randomness to its navigation system. This demonstrates that the digitization of writing gives a greater amount of power to the artist in his/her expression and to the user through the increased the level of interactivity. However, literature itself has become an uncontainable force through programming and algorithms as random variations in text and form allows for an extensive range of interpretations. All artists can do now is hope that their work will decide to be at least a shadow of their original objective.