Talan Memmott

Across the wide world of the World Wide Web creative practice can take many forms. This is perhaps part of the charm of developing Web Art -- there are so few restraints outside the limits of technology, the area lacks an entrenched culture, and the development of creative digital artifacts is open to any given practitioner's relationship to the media, the network, and potential modes of expression. Of course, this does lead to certain difficulties in judging digital artifacts for a Web Art contest. How is someone to judge one object over another when the objects are so diverse? Web Art is more than a genre of creative practice; it is a phenomenon -- global, disparate, explorative, subjective and personal.

With the above in mind, I set out to explore and interact with the Drunken Boat Web Art finalists. There were many excellent examples -- some testing the limits of aesthetics and poetics, some elegant and refined, some playful, some serious. In trying to pick a winner from the finalists I surveyed the applications, the creative artifacts and let pieces rise naturally in my consciousness. After a while a few of the works kept presenting themselves to me. Again and again I returned. This sort of natural attraction to certain works proved to be an interesting method for determining a winner for the Drunken Boat PanLiterary Awards Web Art contest (along with a couple works deserving honorable mention).

And the winner is...

Jason Nelson's This is How you will Die. I was immediately intrigued by this piece and its complex use of mixed metaphors. The user is presented with the timeless concern of divination -- how and when will I die? -- through an interface that mitigates the direness of the concern via metaphors of game play, gambling, chance and to a certain extent fate and mythology. Set to a haunting soundtrack, and borrowing from the devices of a slot machine the user operates a death spin machine that recombines fragments of text to form seemingly limitless tragic narratives that will lead to the user's demise. An example of one of the potential recombination is:

After losing everything, your property, your love, your dark voice and hair ... you try suicide by eating nothing but cardboard and drinking wet sand ... and then attempt to sell stolen cake decorating supplies to foreigners. The police fight crows for your blood, collected in rusted communion plates ... And sales of your previous poetry books are still not enough for lunch.

The piece also provides access to small death movies and poetic explanations of the user's death. Demise credits are given or taken away from the user with each spin... When the score drops below 10 -- this is how you will die -- play is ended.

Overall, the piece is a realized work and a thorough example of the power of inference through an integrated use of media technologies and methods of signification. I spent hours playing, or playing with and being played by the piece and was both entertained and confused by the variety of ways in which I will meet my demise.

Two pieces deserving of special mention are Thomas Petersen's Monochromatic Landscapes and Neil Jenkins' Cacophonie. Petersen's Landscapes are splendidly realized in black and white through a recombination of simple angles. The piece insinuates cityscapes and skylines without explicitly rendering them. I was fascinated by its simplicity and effectiveness. Jenkins' Cacophonie is an anti-aesthetic play on the term ontology that, indeed, ontologically complicates expectations of the screen through a sort of ASCII art anti-design. This is not a clean piece -- intentionally messy, and despite its simple use of technology I found it conceptually complicated.

Works like these are not things to be read, though reading in a traditional sense may be part of how they operate. They are not works to simply look at either. They require more of their viewer, their reader, their user. They produce feeling, or feelings through an extended, transactive poetics and require further (mental) processing for the work to be understood. They are happenings; they are becomings...