Donna on “Deviant: The Students’ Questions”

As with J.R. Carpenter’s responses to our questions in early October, I am bowled over by the Donna Leishman’s fulsome generous responses to the lines of questioning worked up by the students last Friday.  Check back tomorrow for the English 214 students’ closing thoughts on “Deviant” and our guest blogger pilot programme.  For now, Donna’s responses to the student-generated questions from Friday, November 14th.

1) In your blog post, you state that you often start with what you do not want to achieve. This implies that you possess a primary objective. Is this the case?

DL: This is a very pertinent question — simply answered no I don’t have a primary (sic ‘singular’ or ‘main’) objective in my artworks in general nor with Deviant. What I normally have is a set of questions or aims which run alongside more primary / Meta artistic concerns. Within Deviant I specifically wanted to test the affects, purposes and limitation of a narrative that ‘confutes’ the participant. That challenges a set of premises namely: the expectations of hyperfiction, what constitutes narrative/ history, functionality in interaction, visual immersion / limits of attention. These multiple issues layer and mix between each other allowing the participant to feel and grasp tastes of these confutations depending on their immersion and understanding (there is no clear right or wrong reading). I sense/believe that trying to create work that has a singular objective within an interactive and often non-linear environment works against the natural mediation. My more Meta concern is creating an experience that is aesthetically engaging and generally more inclusive than a lot of electronic literature. Given my interest in creating ‘difficult’ texts I work particularly hard at the visuals and sounds to try entice, engage and sustain the participants’ interests.

2) In your blog post you state that the reader is supposed to feel like a “child protector”, however everything the reader does seems to push the protagonist deeper into his/her possession so where does the feeling of the protector come from within the story? How does it come about in the beginning?

DL: You are correct the whole project is essentially a linear trajectory, which always results in Christian performing her roles as unnatural child, and accuser, the modern interpretations of what her ‘possession’ may have been vary greatly from the proposal at the time. It is my position that all interpretations have consequences on the living memory of who and what Christian Shaw was and as such have a ethical dimension. Personally I was drawn to the narrative because of the young age of such a key protagonist (10 years old at the start 11 by the end), and a feeling that it was more likely that she was a tool in larger political narrative, the inherent immovability of this narrative backbone in Deviant reinforces the tension in a flawed or instable history. This quote communicates my aim well:

“I personally felt, she being a child, that it was something that threatened her–and not that she might be a threat to others, though those are co-ordinate. I think the piece is extraordinary at building up the sense of secret bad stuff happening that ‘the authorities’ have no authority over. By contrast Red Riding Hood, though flipping that story, seems jocular, eye-winking. Of course, the fairy stories to begin with have done the job of ‘normalizing’ frightening content.” [Stephanie Strickland email correspondence 22.06.04]

The participant does have the power to deconstruct the various interpretations and consider their own understanding. I try foster a feeling of responsibility ‘child protector’ or close connection to Christian in the visual vocabulary of how she looks: passive, lonely, dreamy. And through the interactions a participant a empathy with the protagonist’s suffering:
“I feel complicitous. Its funny, but when the monsters are touching her I feel it must be painful but the old lady’s touch seems that it might be therapeutic” (George Fifield).

“The girl spits coals (actually until I read the final summary of the story I didn’t realise they were coals and I thought the lines were of smell, not heat. I was disgusted anyway, so I don’t think it mattered)…”(Jill Walker).

The viewing platform (the internet as both symbol of remoteness and connectivity), also gives a highlighted intensity of private space.

3) In the conclusion you make explicit mention of how you go about including the “real story” through the use of invisible rules of engagement and shapes. Does the reader require prior knowledge of the events surrounding Christian Shaw in order to aquire an understanding of the work?

DL: The conclusion or epilogue offers only a partial elucidation. At the end of the project the narrative source is available, a little is given about the context of the tale and I visually depict the different hypotheses on Christian. This new narrative enlightenment combined with participants’ sense of the missed links are designed to encourage at least one more new re-reading. Gaining access to the source text reframes what the participant has just experienced. Between one and three re-readings may be required to gain a full sense of the whole world. As stated above there is no intended/ authored singular or main or correct understanding of the project, its more experiential with a plethora of emotional and narrative understandings on offer.

4) Is all history a kind of folklore “possessed” by the perversions/predilections/preferences of any given community (of readers)?

DL: Personally I think yes, however the authority of the reader to intellectually challenge or pervert the history comes from social and formal educations, the general default at least in the UK is to asborb history as true, somehow factual.

5) “Deviant” is an incredibly visceral piece: how do you feel your sense of colour plays into creating an intensely physical response to the work?

DL: I’m really glad you asked me that question — I rarely get questioned about the visuality of the project (normally its the treatment of the narrative and or the interaction style). There were a few things I considered for the colour of Deviant: overall subtlety was important thus the use of muted colours and rendering detail, a palette of ‘off’ pastels were led by Christians blue shift dress and the unrelenting block sky. Generally colours were ‘cool’ whereas ‘hot’ colours such as orange or magenta were used to draw the eye to interaction key links or areas of interest. I hoped the project would yield a visceral experience for the participants and indeed conceptualised the world as an extension of Christian’s character / worldview / possible psyche. This bodily or sensual level relates to the above potential for participant complicity or manipulated and powerless sense of responsibility as much of the acts of so call possession manifested around her body.


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