A Conversation as Storytelling through Questions and Answers
Ana Carvalho, Marc Behrens and Heitor Alvelos
Ana Carvalho and Marc Behrens wrote “Each Minute Draws Possibilities of Parallel Futures”1.
The conversation about this text lead to “Text to be Named”, written in many voices: from within each author and between them. It is directed to many readers: sometimes to the other writers, to the reader personally and to the undefined. Although in direct reference to one other, this text stands for itself as registration of a discovering process towards individual and collective growth, having in mind how the reader can actively participate. Each one of the writers would like to receive ten letters of constructive comments on the two texts written and on all the possibilities originated in there.
The work methodology behind “Each Minute Draws Possibilities of Parallel Futures”
The principle is based on a system of two forces: we understood the construction of the text as a system. This is the best way to describe its dynamics, which becomes apparent only to a reader who returns to the text. Odd as it may seem, the text can be referred to by calling it “Each Minute” or “Parallel Futures”. Between the two of us, the work “Draws Possibilities”. It is the meeting of our complementary skills, the cross point of two trajectories, one departing from the auditive and the other from the visual. The work is defined as a joint effort. At the start of “Each Minute Draws Possibilities of Parallel Futures” the tasks were clearly divided: one writes the fictional and the other writes the theoretic part. In each of these parts, the presence of the other is perceived: the environment is sometimes described through detailed descriptions of sounds, and the theoretic part unveils a close combination between audio and visual. References from the fictional part can be found, as references, in the theoretic part and vice versa. We find a common ground in reading and writing.
The online version of “Each Minute Draws Possibilities of Parallel Futures” generates its own subversions by moving the paragraphs of the fictional storyline around, each time the text is accessed. The fictional paragraphs alternate with the theoretic paragraphs, which remain fixed to keep the text’s structure. Juxtapositions of the paragraphs emphasize the different references between the two forces. The reader looks at the computer, looking at a familiar code, constructing his/her own landscape of meaning. The original dynamics is only perceptible in the online version. The forthcoming print version2 will present a fixed, chosen structure.
Transfamily – collaboration – networking
The outcome of the relationship between two writers who write collectively, is a world existent in a text.
In the present social-political context in Portugal, the legislated concept of family changed. At the moment, gay marriage is legally correct. This change results from deeper social changes that have occurred throughout the past century, to which art’s contribution is fundamental, especially cinema. The role-playing seen in films is fundamental for the development of this social change. The semi-immersive space of the cinema contributed to this as well, with the viewer’s attention directed to absorbing the narrative without distractions, through sound and image. Nowadays, concepts such as “family”, “friend” or even “co-worker” are ambiguous and multi-meaningful. The consciousness of the collective is reinforced by the way we communicate at a distance. If once we had telephone, an audio-only bi-directional device, today we can communicate with several people located anywhere on the planet, using audio, video and text simultaneously. In addition, Postmodernism came to openly state through fashion and art, as well as philosophy and literature, that there is no axiomatic rule that cannot be broken. Derrida opened the discussion on the multiplicity in language. Deleuze and Guattari opened the individual unit to the multiplicity within. The intro (the acknowledged text on the Rhizome metaphor) to the book “A Thousand Plateaux” starts with the following sentence: “The two of us wrote […] together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd”3. Between two writers a crowd expands, within each one and also from both of them together, to include references originated in a multitude of authors and their related networks. From a similar methodological perspective, Deleuze and Guattari suggest a reading of their books as machines made out of text, which only exist in connection to other machines. Another example, “The Process” (Kafka), exists only because of its connections with the bureaucratic machine that takes place in the non-fictional reality. In this sense, no text is purely fiction or real nor lonely, but all of them combine in different ways and proportions. The authors become authors only through the group of others who interact through them. In this light, it appears logical to work collaboratively, at the same time enhancing the multitude.
Nowadays, the multiplicity of the possible connections is clear to us, especially in the richness of collectively produced outcomes (although all human production is collective anyway). The roles of the reader and of the writer have been questioned, even killed (by Roland Barthes) and then later reinvented.
The way relationships between people are acknowledged socially has been questioned continuously and is at the verge of reformulation. Fiction is a way to explore endless possibilities. In the book “The Disposessed”, Ursula K. LeGuin rehearses a possibility for anarchy by creating a whole planetary order under its inspiration. The plot of “He She and It”, by Marge Pierce, explores possibilities on gender role, human and machine (humanoids) and the possibility in relationships between. To further expand possibilities for connections within family structures, the fictional side of “Each Minute Draws Possibilities of Parallel Futures” introduces a family to the reader which doesn’t match our biological example, except for being a combination of adults and children in an identifiable group. It is another take, between reality and fiction, on the possible combinations between us and the others.
What awakens a spontaneous curiosity in you about the writer of your favourite literary work? When the writer succeeded in getting me immersed in the book, no longer a volume of paper pages bound together. Is it possible to arouse such a spontaneous curiosity (in similar ways) about a programmer of a software application? Software is developed by groups of people, in which users (beta testers especially) are key elements, although sometimes an author is acknowledged – perhaps the person who had initiated the software.4 In Open Source software especially, users and developers are very likely the same anonymous group of people.
It is the software that becomes known, as it results from the dynamics of their efforts.
Some abstract works, made with words for example, are capable to cause immersion in us – to the point of forgetting the surrounding reality. Sounds and visuals are capable of provoking this experience as well. When the reader clearly understands the code, it makes no difference if the message is simple or complex, if it refers to existent reality or to an abstraction of itself. The link between immersive technologically developed environments and literature has been the base for imagination. This is the case with the Holodeck, the inspiration for “Each Minute Draws Possibilities of Parallel Futures”. The Holodeck is a fictional role-play game, which exists aboard the spaceship Voyager, in the Star Trek: Voyager series,5 under the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway. In fact, the inspiration for our text was not only the Holodeck itself, but also a book on narrative called “Hamlet in the Holodeck” by Jane Murray. In this book, referring to the Holodeck as a sort of ultimate immersive environment, Murray draws on developments of recent digital technology and its possibilities to interact with the environment in the construction of narratives where the user has an active role. Many times writers tried to escape the linear structure of the classical book. In the light of current knowledge and what can be envisioned ahead, they have been pioneers of present-day non-linear digital narratives.
Fiction has the function of analysing possibilities in evolution.
All colors of flowers, all textures of leaves, thicknesses of stems, all apparent complexity of roots (visible and invisible), are answers to questions (or problems) that existed once in the history of the whole environment (not only of each specific plant). Each answer takes more time to be formulated than a human lifetime.
Each piece of technology, being it as simple as a spoon or as complex as an immersive (not-yet-possible) environment, is an answer and at the same time a question, a part of our own, human evolution. During the 1980s, kids played with electronics in garages which later produced new art forms in visual and sound cultures. Back then, each kid and her/his friends thought to be unique – so it happened that the Internet came to be the innocence breaker. Through the network kids found out that there were many many more other kids, in other garages, far and nearby, doing the same. Evolution happened at the same time in different places: teenagers + curiosity + free time + electronics = technological evolution.
We can find a parallel to this playing with technology in “Each Minute Draws Possibilities of Parallel Futures” in the way Tom, the youngster, develops skills using a Device. The principle of the Device is evolutive. The symbiosis of human and machine is complex to the point of changing its components in a process-based learning relationship. In a thread of the text, Tom is aware of what he can see is an error or a coincidence. An error in this symbiosis happened unexpectedly: when routine is broken, a question is posed and we have the chance to push forward, to evolve.
What are we considering an implant? An implant: something that is permanently put inside something else, but with a specific functional imperative, a reason to be there.
Is it simply a piece of technology in the human body? A psychic implant, does it exist? A memory constructed to fill a gap between two moments in one’s life, is it an implant? A story that one borrowed from another person and made one’s own?
Besides the stories that describe the possibilities of human behavior and evolution, the world we inhabit, understand and conceive through implants, is also fictional. The border between fiction and reality is thin, sometimes translucent. This combination plays a role in evolution.
On the other side, outside of the body or mind, is the networked entity of distributed explants: the surgically removed. Cancers. Foreskins. Limbs. Organs. The terrifying vertigo of Leng T’che: the point at which the being ceases to be, death by division. The body being less than “whole”, or being “too much”. The absolute need to consider the body as whole, regardless of what may be missing. The body is not any longer a whole in the perception of its biological boundaries. Parts of the brain can be found outside the cranium, in its explanted form of a Device: a network, a computer, which simultaneously subtracts and extends. Out of sheer physical limits, explants are not autonomous nor permanently prosthetically connected to their original body and thus already in the present, every time a computer crashes, every time a hard drive dies, one dies a little inside. The brain, as its explanted memory dies, has to cope with reconfiguration in a moment of vertigo. Without undo.
A few decades into working with the undo function, one would make remarks, sometimes jokes, about the fact that there is no such function in physical reality. But recently, reports were recorded, in which people experienced moments in which they were absolutely convinced that there was one, not even in dealing with objects, but with situations. More vertiginous instants.
You’ve just entered the main reading room of the British Library. What do you see/hear around you? Pick one of the readers in the room and follow from a distance throughout the day. Describe what you see.
Read a reader like a reader reads a book. The book she/he reads might be one that you would have liked to write. Maybe it is not a conventional book, not a paper volume, not a text as in letters and sentences. We observe this one reader in the near future which makes the observation also a matter of perception, settings and conventions. We see/perceive a trail unfolding as an inverted Klein bottle,6 above the reader’s head, folding back into itself, a closed world that can nevertheless be filled from the outside and rinsed again into the surroundings. This device is of a psychomental function and looks not unlike the aura (which we can photograph, perceive by intuition). Gaining knowledge from literature or any other empirical or scientific practice, will change the precise form of the psychomental device, propelling its evolution. Our present-day brain and memory prosthetics will perhaps become part of this, in more evolved reincarnations, in a future when we understand that magic, psychokinesis and paranormal communication are achievable with vireal technologies. Back to the reader we are observing in the future library: we are aware of the device’s nature, that she/he carries. It contains the context, the reader’s network of ideas, conceptions, imaginations, neuronal connections. No, it is not all visible to us, but we are aware of its existence.
Knowledge is visible in old libraries – these spaces of enlightenment and study where the human body is more a sustainment vehicle to the mind and spirit, than a physical actor. Over epochs of study and research, with varying methodologies and focuses, a permanent electromagnetic energy field developed, a catalyst cloud collectively generated by present and past readers. Literature (and we mean all kinds of literature) printed onto pages, created worlds of possibilities in the reader and in the cloud of the electromagnetic collective.
When the virtual and the physically real blur, converge and become vireal, a non-separable multiplicity results, in which the old differentiation has become obsolete and impossible: this is the setting for Involuntary Narratives7 to happen.
Much of the information in urban space is not limited to the context of a given individual. Buildings are overlaid with data: impulses to many, knowledge to few. They influence behaviour and direct or cancel attention: these narratives can only be understood as a collective flux, suddenly transported to awareness through an individual.
How an individual suddenly experiences an Involuntary Narrative: an overlay of imagery that brings remembrances of another place with the means of references to commonly familiar music overheard on someone’s mobile phone, is an example of possible combinations that have the power to break the lucidity of the present and to make one jump back into the past, or towards a longed future.
This form of blurring we refer to as Involuntary Narratives can happen to anyone, it is not exclusive to an imaginary elite of art intellectuals. It is more likely to happen in an urban context because of sheer quantity and density of information, but it will also occur in a technologically enhanced, networked, largely natural environment. When it happens, it is not a question of understanding it, and a sensitive person will more likely experience it. It takes a tuning onto, as in lucid dreaming.
We use the terminology of the Involuntary Narratives to work on micro stories that keep up connections of the fictional to the physical reality of contemporary life. We use the terminology of the Involuntary Narratives to research about the physical reality of contemporary life and construct reality-based fiction.
Reports of possible Involuntary Narratives
1) One night, while seated on the upper deck of a riverboat anchored in a lake in Amazónia, I had a cinematic experience of an amazing emotional narrative intensity. I was under the halo of the moon, the largest I had ever seen (covering half my vision1s perimeter), looking at the river dolphins all around. Breath out, they sounded like humans, and adding to their curious presence, there were also frogs and night birds and many background sounds of the jungle on the faraway shores of the lake. All this caused a sense of peace in me, of stillness, of time stopping. Body and outside temperature perfectly merged: it was overwhelming. I remember sound, a kind of 360° view, smell and taste, and – happiness.
2) Memories of conflict, much stronger than any recollection of harmony. There is an almost-photographic record of various instances in my brain. I hear the sounds (or a karaoke version of what these would have been) and see a still image, frozen off the original scene. Carnage. Soothing. Sunsets. Pain. Redemption. Resentment. All of these amplified by distance and compulsion. Boltanski knew what he was doing when he re-enacted / re-invented his past for the art world to see; he would trigger mine, and I fell into a reenactment of my own. Those pseudo-fossils of arcane toys were both metaphorical and prophetic, like laptops waiting to be created.
3) I had no more than two books at home: a bible and a Christian education manual for young couples. Aware of the inappropriateness of the available cultural references, when I was three years old, mum turned on the TV for the first time and taught me how to read subtitles: life on screen was The Real, in it there is no dust on top of surfaces, no loos, no dirty clothes. There you go, this is my thrill: the accidental surprise of finding a scene, but happening around me, to be present at the moment when the original from the screen was repeated in one of its (possibly) infinite versions. Each of these moments takes me back to childhood, and I have the same feeling of an endless first time repeated, through a love scene, an heroic scene, a dramatic separation or someone’s death.
4) What would you like to have been your awakening this morning? Total utopia, of course. Sunshine, a world of possibilities, all exciting, all smooth rides and certainties, flowing and breathing. A merging of the bedroom and the street, woken up by friends calling from outside the window in the downtown calle of your choice. Replacing the morning papers with a meaningful online conversation with a stranger – logging onto chatrooms in the morning gives you a much higher chance of getting somewhere: the ones who are there at that particular time of day tend to be sober, and they tend to be there for a reason besides being bored or horny.
Walking is already a part of a methodology, empirically developed from rewarding results (but are we to say OURSELVES that we had rewarding results? SOMEONE ELSE can say that about us, but we ourselves? Yes, but it is about what we integrate in our methodology. Not the results of it are rewarding. It’s the fact that there were RESULTS AT ALL, yes sure. Well, we walk now in a more methodological way, and we start subject of discussion related to work on purpose, as we found walking to be beneficial, right? Maybe we should replace REWARDING with BENEFICIAL? Beneficial is funny, it sounds like pharmacy. MAYBE WE SHOULD EVEN LEAVE THIS PARAGRAPH LIKE IT IS, with traces of how we worked in it?) of experiments within everyday life.
Artists adapt, combine and appropriate research methodologies in unique ways. What will be the new, about-to-come approaches to art based research? Together, as we move forward, a unique perspective opens up, with moments of evaluation and exchange rather than end results. Within our integrative approach, virtual and physical appearances are planned: both in a human-controlled generative work online, through investigation into knowledge structures, finding in accident and coincidence moments of exchange with others, and within as many cultural backgrounds and environments as possible. Documenting the process helps to focus on the chosen subjects and to create modules of aesthetic research. Performance-Research in physical space will generate reflections onto the ongoing achievements and give us more opportunities to get into conversation, exchange an active audience. Performative moments do not function as result or final product but rather as tools for research throughout the process. Themes remain: social encounters, studies of narrative – reflection through practice on Involuntary Narratives, audiovisual practice and a space of simultaneous theory-research-fiction.
1 An online version can be accessed through any of these addresses:
2 A printed version will be published in: «Sonic Ideas/Ideas Sónicas, Vol 3 No. 1», Magazine (Mexican Center for Music and Sonic Arts, CMMAS).
3 Deleuze G, Guattari F 1980. A Thousand Plateaux. Continuum, 2004 edition, 2010 printing: London/New York.
4 As being the case of Miller Puckette, Pure Data and Max/MSP.
5 To know more about the Holodeck, check the wiki specific to the three Star Trek series at: http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Holodeck