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Mariana Tschudi / Camberwell College of Arts

Internets Organic Narrative

By Mariana Tschudi MA Digital Arts, Camberwell College of Arts.

Internets Organic Narrative - UAL, UK - 2011

Mariana Tschudi / Camberwell College of Arts

INTERNETS ORGANIC NARRATIVE

Is technology and interactive narrative allowing us to connect with the organic flow of life? An exploration of the work of Chris Milk and Katerina Cisek as examples of how interactivity in new media art is influencing video artists to grow into organic structures of narrative.

ABSTRACT
If we consider art as an anticipatory thermometer of how human mentality is going to change, it can be interpreted from the development of virtual art that we are shifting from the rational and logic approach that has governed the world to a more intuitive and organic one. We are currently experiencing a revolutionary shift from an economy based on industrial production to an economy based on digital information. As stated by some new media theorists like Lev Manovich, this new revolution seems to be more profound than any previous one, and we are just feeling its initial effects. This affects people in different realms of life. In the visual arts a new terminology was created to situate works of art based on digital code or numerical representations: new media art. The traditional notion of the isolated artist seeking for inspiration is shifting to artists working collaboratively in cooperative processes of work. Art pieces are also shifting from being contemplative to interactive, and the concept of the spectator is increasingly changing from being the witness of an artistic project to becoming a partner in crime. Considering this collaborative artistic atmosphere, I wonder if narrative is reconfiguring itself into a sort of collage-generated nature where authors appropriate content and source-code of the World Wide Web for the egoless co-creation of different alternatives. Is narrative developing into organic structures so that it will resemble the genetic evolution of cellular networks? In this paper I will discuss the role of new media arts interactivity in the

Internets Organic Narrative - UAL, UK - 2011

Mariana Tschudi / Camberwell College of Arts

evolution of film/video narrative by analysing the works of contemporary virtual artists Chris Milk and Katerina Cizek.

KEY WORDS:
Organic filmmaking, collaboration, interactivity, new media art, virtual art, interactive narrative, Chris Milk, Katerina Cizek.

INTRODUCTION
Artists are considered to be perceptive people who question and challenge societys deepest parameters, bringing awareness and allowing for social change to happen. Therefor, artists play the same roll as scientists. Both along history have questioned the established and have innovated to make society move one step forward. Very much of todays art is being developed with software application programs. Such digital art is power-free art, with no control of how the work of art may evolve on the web. The process of making art over the Internet means interconnecting all disciplines in a selfless process. There is a growing tendency to see artists working in collaboration. The World Wide Web allows a system of interactive complexity in which a collective of artists work under their own management helping each other by networking, pooling resources, information and knowledge. Artists are breaking from the egocentric vertical power structures and sharing instead, ownership, risk and benefits. The power of collective creativity goes beyond the traditional notion of film stories developed by a single author for a single release movie. In the virtual world it is difficult to control authorship because we seem to be getting rid of it through its anarchic structure. Many programmers create open source programs anonymously and for free so that anyone may contribute to their development. The solitary

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Mariana Tschudi / Camberwell College of Arts

anguish of an artist seeking to be understood dissipates in a fluid network of different disciplines finding coherence in a constantly flowing artistic process. This is a forever-morphing concept of art growing in the Internet that resembles the organic flow of life.

Natures evolution of genes and Internets evolution of art


While this new revolution is taking place in the arts, there is a new concept of evolution being studied by biologists. It is called evo-devo, short for evolutionary developmental biology. I find a strong similarity between the concept of evo-devo and how things develop on the web. Evo devo states that all animals share the same basic toolkit or body-building genes (from a fly to a human being) and what varies is the context in which the genes develop. If the context or network doesnt vary, there is no evolution in the morphology of the animal. And as stated by scientist Sean B. Carroll, Professor of Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Medical Genetics, Only those variations that make the organism fitter will be preserved in evolution; the rest disappears. (Brouwer, Mulder, 2007, p 6) As Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder state in the book Interact or die (2007), Exploratory behavior is about creating as much variation as possible, and then letting the parts of the network that function and interact select themselves and letting the nonworking parts degenerate. (Brouwer, Mulder, 2007, p 4) Digital artists working in collaboration resemble the genes of a living organism as described in the evo-devo concept of evolution. In the digital culture, there is a notion of living art that emerges from codes or digital genes through which the living art replicates, recombines and deviates. Genes interact through their developmental network, (their RNA) the same way digital artists interact through the World Wide Web. And in the same way that the functioning parts in genetics select themselves to survive and be stronger, users of the Internet select successful programs or codes to interact and make them grow better. The more ranking artworks have over the Internet, the better

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Mariana Tschudi / Camberwell College of Arts

placed and faster they appear on search engines and the more succesful they become. If there is no interaction, they vanish. Perpetration of art works in virtual world history will depend on the success of the interaction between the work of art and the viewer/user.

Interactive Story Telling in the Web.


In traditional storytelling, narrative is a chain of events in a cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space (Bordwell and Thompson (2008) p. 75). This definition of narrative can be broken down into plot and story. In a film, a sequence of shots is considered the plot and what the viewer imagines between sequences of shots, is the story. Narrative has dramatically changed this traditional structure on the Internet. A new 'cinema' with much more flexibility is rising in which the users subjectivity while interacting with an everchanging interactive movie is crucial. Choices made by the viewer/users create the story. The movie can be played innumerable times, can have more than one entry point to the story, and is created through different threaded webs without ever exactly repeating the same image sequences, screen layouts and narratives. When narrative moves to the computer it combines text, video, and navigable spaces, and deals with interactivity, collaboration, databases and even real-time databases. But even when it combines the confusing multiplicity of these mosaic media, the computer offers us new ways of mastering fragmentation. It gives us search engines and ways to tag the fragments so that it can find things that are related to one another (Murray, p 156) We are only experiencing the very beginnings of the interactive story-telling capacities of the web. Its potential is unpredictable and immensurable. There are innumerable examples of interactive narratives in the web. I have chosen to research two artists who, through their work, illustrate the potential of narrative in the cyber world.

Internets Organic Narrative - UAL, UK - 2011

Mariana Tschudi / Camberwell College of Arts

KATERINE CISEK, and the potential of documentaries in the web Katerine Cisek is a Canadian documentary filmmaker and web creator who has won several prizes like the 2000 Montreal New Talent Award, the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam, or the International Digital Emmy, for her innovative way of using media and creating programs to reach real communities. I consider Cisek to be a great example of a filmmaker who has adjusted to the digital environment after a long career as a traditional documentary filmmaker. While being a Filmmaker-in-Residence from the National Film Board of Canada, Cisek has been directing community-based documentary projects that innovate in the use web platforms. Working collaboratively with artists, urban planners, urban theorists, activists and residents in different countries they developed various ideas and projects that are all integrated under the HIGHRISE concept, which is described in their main webpage as a multiyear project to document human experience in vertical suburbs. The aim of HIGHRISE, however, is much more ambitious than simple documentation; is rather to create a series of projects to help re-imagine and re-invent the experience of being an urban species living in the 21st century. A big global project, winner of several awards that came out of the High Rise project was Out Of My Window, a 360-degree documentary project built in Flash, which documents the phenomenal diversity that exists behind the concrete walls of 13 high rise neighbourhoods in the world. When Katerina Cisek wanted to understand the experience of living in towers she did not simply interview people and edited the audiovisual material to illustrate her point of view; rather she let the story come to her by using the web. As she said in an interview with CollabDocs Its not about deciding what happens and going and grabbing everything thats going to prove your case. (Cisek, K. to CollabDocs, 2011) Out of my Window has a formidable web scenario esthetically conceived, where
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stories of real people are being told in a very natural way. Cisek offers the users the chance to view real-life scenes and situations inside someones apartment. The viewer is infused with curiosity navigating all around a strangers room through the 360 degree interface. It is possible to find random stuff, click in different objects to learn more about the person living in that space. However, every one of the 13 people presented in the project seem to have been carefully selected, and therefore, Out of my Window was not free from content manipulation. To retrieve this problem another sub-project of the Highrise concept started to come alive to: Participate. This Project permits spontaneity to happen, by allowing people around the world to send pictures and stories of their life in tower blocks. In Participate the sense of collaboration and crowd sourcing comes truly alive and Katerina Cisek seems to act more as a facilitator, than as a narrator. As Katerina said, in a collabDocs interview Were trying to keep a balance: allowing the research, the story, and the technology, to develop in tandem, and speak to one another along the way and its really a fantastic process to be part of. (Cisek, K to CollabDocs 2011) Katerina and her team wanted to explore even deeper how documentary films can unfold inside a web browser, therefore they created their latest project so far: One Millionth Tower. This interactive project plays with 2D and 3D representations of 6 different towers of Toronto, and has the potential of expanding to many more towers of the world. It tells the story of how it is possible to transform a physical space by transforming the virtual representation of that same space online. Using the arrow keys the user walks through the virtual 3D space. There are several layers of assets in the project: every building is a 3D object, the floor surface is separate, videos, photos and graphics appear at different points, but they all play out together through code in a way that you cant tell one apart from the other. The project is created with the support of two new trend technologies: webGL which allows the 3D experience to happen in the browser, and Popcorn.js, a tool for linking video to real time information from the web. This allows for real weather information to affect how the virtual world looks in the project. For example, if you are navigating through the One Millionth Tower project and it is foggy in Toronto, then the weather looks foggy in the project.
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One Millionth Tower opens up a real-time relationship with reality and is an example of how the cyber world allows a more spontaneous form of narrative through the use of powerful tools that connect the virtual world with the real one. Together, all of the projects that are branching out of the HIGHRISE concept are creating a network documentary that portrays the world we live in. The Kaleidoscope power of the computer allows us to tell stories that more truly reflect our turn-of-the century sensibility. We no longer believe in a single reality, a single integrating view of the world, or even the reliability of a single angle perception. (J. H. Murray, p 160)

Chris Milk Deeper Audiovisual Experiences in the Cyberspace


Chris Milk is an American music video director who comparable to Katerina Cisek, has also been developing innovative ways of using the cyberspace as a medium to engage the viewer in a deeper audiovisual experience. One of his projects called The Wilderness Downtown, was created for the music group Fire Arcades song We Used to Wait. This is a different type of music video, one that brings the viewer's own childhood associations into the work. The Wilderness Downtown project, uses HTML5 and Google maps to
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personalize the experience by showing satellite Street View images of the viewers first house and neighborhood, bringing old memories back. The project interweaves publicly available databases (Google Maps) with multiple-window actions in the screen.

The synchronized video content showed to the viewer makes him/her experience the feeling of virtually running through the streets where he or she grew up. This project assembles together the audio of a bittersweet song with personalized video to create an individualized nostalgic visual experience. The era of globalization, in which we are currently living, dyes us all with the common sensation of being homogenized. Projects like The Wilderness Downtown, brings back to the viewer the sense of individuality. Another project directed by Chris Milk is The Johnny Cash Project, a Google Chrome project created in 2010. This crowd-sourced venture is a tribute to Johnny Cash and a beautiful example of the power of communitarian collaboration on the web. The projects aim was to construct Johnny Cashs last

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music video clip. Chris Milk took the musicians last song Is not No Grave, recorded in the studio before his death. He then put together an extensive collection of Johnny Cashs pictures and developed an online drawing tool with limited range of brushes, colors and textures. Fans were invited to participate and share their visions of Johnny Cash through choosing one of the many pictures (frames) available to create their own portrait of Cash. Currently, there are over 250,000 contributions, but as specified in the projects main webpage, it will continue to grow one frame at a time. All the portraits run one after the other in a timeline during the flow of the song, and together they create the music video. This wonderful idea resulted in a really touching collaborative piece. Chris Milk laid out the parameters of the work and ordered the frames to create a cohesive story line but allowed any person in the world to enrich it by making each frame personal and thoughtful. 3 Dreams of Black, the latest project directed by Chris Milk was released in May 2011. It is a truly immersive 3D world created exclusively for the web. 3 Dreams of Black, produced by Radical Media, features a song from the album Rome by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi and is told from the point of view of a little girl who goes to sleep and has three dreams, each with its own interactive adventure experience. 3 Dreams of Black is created with code, most of what we see is not video but real time rendering of visual models. The technology used for this project is webGL. With the use of the mouse the user can move around the virtual world navigating in three dimensions, to create objects that people will vote on. The most popular objects will be incorporated into everyone elses experience of the film. 3 Dreams of Black is a dreamy trippy environment, riddled with surprises, and the experience never unfolds the same way twice.

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Chris Milk has directed these pioneering interactive narrative experiences in the web to move beyond the classic music video concept. Both, Katerina Ciseks One Millionth Tower and Chris Milks 3 Dreams of Black, release their code to the public so anyone can learn about these technologies and built on top of what they already created. As Branden Bratuhin, One Millionth Towers Technical Director, said in a Youtube video posted by the NFB: Everything that youve seen in the site you can go back and explore at the technology page. Find out exactly how is made, see the code line by line, and take it and make it something of your own. (Bratuhin to NFB, 2011) This open source characteristic is a tremendous detachment from the traditional artistic egocentric way of creating and it is helping us to understand the cyber language.

The dark side of cyber-narrative


We are currently experiencing the shift from a passive reception of narrative films, to active interaction through computer narratives. This has the potential to engage the viewer on a much deeper level, although the technique has still not been mastered. There remain some big problems concerning hyper narrative. The post-modern cinematic strategies of de-centering and non-closure through non-cohering narrative threads are strategies that engender the viewers distraction rather than deep engagement. (Ben Shaul, N. 2008, p21)

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According to Nitzan Ben Shaul the only way narrative will adapt successfully to the computers nature is when the human cognitive strive for coherence are taken into consideration. I consider however that through the computer we are accessing another reality that goes beyond the cognitive stimulus, which brings with it even bigger problems. There is a risk that the increasing capacities of virtual narratives to generate the feeling of real presence in virtual worlds will create significant problems of perception. The serious contradiction between corporeal reality and artificial image illusion is likely to be at a level that almost precludes rational access. (Grau, O. 2003 p 203)

Conclusion:
Story telling tools and programs are constantly being created for the web, allowing people to access a more personal, intuitive and organic way of communicating and understanding a story. The Internet enables artists to pull in real-time information to their projects, so that reality influences their narrative. Adapting our brains to this new fluid narrative will take some time, but we are already facing a new world where the rational mentality is opening up and we are learning to cohabit with spontaneity and personalized experiences.

Based on the open source code characteristic on projects in the web, it is undeniable that the Internet is fomenting selfless thinking instead of rational and egocentric desires. Modern capitalist life emphasizes individuality to the point where a personal computer turns into an extension of a person. The sense of community is lost. Paradoxically, the computer is bringing this back. The Internet embodies the notion of interconnectivity. This allows collaborative ways of developing narrative, which combined with databases and powerful search engines, altogether connects the right person with a particular story. Therefore, real people living a specific situation enrich online stories by sharing their reality, and those stories become even more subjective since Internet allows for real time connections to the viewers personal reality. Viewers and creators are merging into one another. Furthermore, the network opens up kaleidoscopic narrations, which mirroring real life situations, never unfold the

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same way twice. Narrative in cyberspace is adapting to the flow of life. If there is no interaction with the story, it fades out of existence. How much time do we need to open up to this organic and intuitive way of interactive narrative? The tool to connect into a deeper level of narrative, one that brings together intuition and rationality, individuality and community, is already created. We just need to follow suit. We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us (Mcluhan 1964, xi-xii).

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BIBLIOGRAPHY: Aarseth, Espen J. (1997) Cybertext Perspectives on Ergodic Literature The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London. Ben Shaul, N (2008) Hyper-Narrative Interactive Cinema. Problems and Solutions. Ed (Rodopi B.V. Amsterdam New York, NY) Brouwer, J, Mulder, A. (2007) Interact or Die: There Is Drama In The Networks Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2008). Film Art: An Introduction (Eighth ed.). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc Grau, O (2003) Virtual Art: From illusion to Immersion Manovich, L. (2001). The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Mark Tribe and Reena Jana, (2006) Art des nouveaux medias. TASCHEN McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw-Hill. Murray, J.H. (1997) Hamlet on the Holodeck. The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wilson, S. (2003) Information Arts, intersections of Art, Science and Technology. First MIT Press paperback edition. WEBSITES: Barreto, R. and Perissinotto, P. (2002) The Culture of Immanence Available at < http://www.file.org.br/english/conceito.htm> [Accessed 20 October, 2011] Kinder, M. (1999) Doors to the Labyrinth: Designing Interactive Frictions with Nina Menkes, Pat O'Neill, and John Rechy. Available at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2342/is_2_33/ai_59586987/ [Accessed 10 October, 2011] Amerika, M. Networks Installations, creative exhibitionisms and virtual republishing: an attempt at contextualizing the ongoing ungoing. Story of being in cyberspace. Available at <http://www.altx.com/ds/amerika.html> [Accessed 5 November, 2011] National Film Board of Canada (2011) Highrise/One Millionth Tower - Open
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Technology. Internet. October, 2011 Available at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byTZENR5L_Q> [Accesed 31 October, 2011] Cisek, K (2011) Kat Cisek on Highrise. Internet. Agust 11, 2011 Available at <http://collabdocs.wordpress.com/interviews-resources/katcizek-on-highrise/> [Accessed 20 October, 2011] Rose, Mandy (2011) COLLAB DOCS. Internet <http://collabdocs.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/the-worlds-first-opensource-3d-documentary-and-more> [Accessed 28 October, 2011] National Film Board of Canada (2011) Out of my Window. Internet Available at: <http://interactive.nfb.ca/#/outmywindow> [Accessed October 2011] National Film Board of Canada (2011) Highrise. Internet Available at: <http://highrise.nfb.ca/> [Accessed November 2011] Roundtable on media communication and Technology: Healthy Mental Development for children and youth. National Arts Center, October 4, 2008. Internet. <http://www.nac-cna.ca/pdf/corporate/roundtable_2008_e.pdf> [Accessed 30 September, 2011] Milk, C. (2010) The Jhonny Cash Project. Internet. <http://www.thejohnnycashproject.com/> [Accessed 23 September, 2011] Milk, C. (2011) ROME 3 dreams of black. Internet. <http://www.ro.me> [Accessed 20 November, 2011] Rose, Mandy (2011) COLLAB DOCS. Internet <http://collabdocs.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/the-worlds-first-opensource-3d-documentary-and-more> [Accessed 20 November, 2011]

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