Is it still possible for us to see the virtual as something rich and mysterious rather than purely technological? Gareth Damian Martin’s virtual exhibition/performance ‘The Inscribed Labyrinth’ will explore the question – but he needs your help.
“The house is the same size as the world; or rather, it is the world”
Jorge Luis Borges, The House of Asterion
Virtual space has become something of a dying frontier. From the thinner-than-paper scroll of a Facebook feed to the ever deepening corridors of gaming’s alternate worlds, plumbing its depths has now become a daily task. Its a frontier that, like any past frontier, possesses an iconography of aspirational images; in this case bright sunlit networks full of communication and convenience.
Yet virtual space hasn’t always been depicted like this, in fact, before the rise of global communication networks, it was a space of dreams, hallucinations and mysteries. Artists like Jorge Luis Borges were writing about these mysteries before the internet was ever imagined, taking trips to places that had no physical manifestations in reality. In fact, it could be claimed that all of literature operates on the level of virtuality; creating whole worlds from the little more than ink, paper and language.
Its from this idea that my long-term project, Re-reading the Virtual, was born. With virtuality occupying a larger part of our lives with each day, it’s easy to think that what we face is an exclusively contemporary problem. The aim of Re-reading the Virtual is to find ways of accessing new images and ideas of virtual space that are unrelated to the tech-centric network that dominates its iconography. Rather than depict virtual space as a transcendent network, Re-reading considers it as an opaque labyrinth, projected out from the human mind as an altered mental state, a waking dream or hallucination. My aim is to achieve this through connecting virtual space into a historical narrative of unreal spaces in literature, and by producing texts that queer the virtual, revealing it to be a dense and impregnable space that is inherently human in nature.
Re-reading the Virtual will take the form of several smaller projects, with each of these projects being designed to explore interconnected issues, building on the findings of the previous work.
The first of these projects is called The Inscribed Labyrinth.
The Inscribed Labyrinth is a virtual exhibition/performance that takes the form of a text adventure. Visitors to the Labyrinth have the opportunity to explore it at their leisure, encountering critical texts and pieces of fiction as they do so. The project presents a way of mixing subject and form so they become inseparable, highlighting the elements of virtuality that exist in all texts, as well as creating a virtual space that exists simultaneously online and in the mind of the visitor. The Labyrinth will feature a series of texts by contributors on the subject of literature on virtual space, which will then be curated and arrange in a virtual exhibition space, created in the program Twine.
Twine is a free piece of software designed to allow for the easy creation of text adventures. I first came across it through the work of game designer Porpentine. Her adventures stand on the art side of games, but it was always my aim to repurpose the software as an artistic tool. This type of repurposing is at the heart of the Re-reading the Virtual which aims to take existing technologies and re-imagine them as artistic tools, exploring their potential for the dissemination of their own form.
My aim is that The Inscribed Labyrinth can engage with contemporary debates of virtual space, as well as creating its own context for a new set of debates. As part of the project the Labyrinth will be played live on stage by a panel of guests, who will attempt to commentate and articulate the debates within, as well as offering a critical framework from which users can engage with the piece. This performance will go beyond a simple panel format, with live readings, secret revelations and a live and reactive soundtrack.
Frontiers have always been an odd and subjective thing, after all in the case of indigenous peoples, one man’s frontier is another man’s home. Even for the settler, the frontier eventually becomes a house, just as the American West transformed from untamed land to sprawling suburbia. So, as virtual space becomes something we inhabit on a daily basis, I hope to find ways to make it strange once more, to twist it in on itself in order to re-read its signs. To blur the boundaries between the house and the world.
I am seeking contributors and collaborators for the project. Although primarily interested in writers, we welcome interest from other disciplines. If you would like to be involved, get in touch at [email protected] Please state why and how you’d like to be involved, tell us a little about your experience and provide at least two links or samples of your work.