Perhaps one of the most engaging features of Born‘s storytelling on the Web is the capacity for interaction by the viewer. Interactive media allows viewers to become co–creators of a poem or story as they "click," "drag," "bounce" and "slide" text and images into new configurations and unexpected meanings. "Habits" from s3iz.com allows the viewer to use the mouse to tease out a design from acompacted snarl of lines. Clicking small circles that dot the resulting design illuminates the lines of the poem. "Lydia Sparrow," a poem by Michael Teig with concept and design by Marie–Chantale Turgeon, is awonderful "read and respond" piece that invites the viewers to answer a few questions after reading each page of the poem. Then, "at the end of this experience, a new piece of art will be generated by your answers which will be associated to pictures taken by random users around the world." The image above was composed from my own responses to this beautiful, autumnal poem.
In the "Birthing Room" on Born‘s site, one can experience a new genre of playful, interactive projects that focus on technological innovations in presenting text. The utterly charming Skywriting, designed by Andrew Richardson, allows the viewer to drag a small plane across a blank sky and watch as, guided by the movement of the mouse, the poem’s text loops and dives over a variety of curved landscapes.Michael Caballero’s Memories: The Break-Up Conversation Game is a witty look at the end of romance expressed in pairs of clichйd phrases. A click of the mouse turns over a blank tile to reveal, "We need to communicate better," followed by its pair, randomly selected from other tiles — which one time states, "Use the force," and another time replies, "You’re too much like my mother."
A typesetter’s dream, The Narrative You Anticipate You May Produce by Thomas Swiss and Seb Chevrel offers twelve randomly shuffled pages with nearly transparent phrases drifting in a sea of letters until the mouse touches them, and the phrases become bold. Each page produces the verse of a poem out of these floating phrases. However, the experience of the poem and its message is fleeting, ending on the twelfth page. Clicking the restart button reshuffles the pages and phrases, and the viewer is invited to discover a new poem.
Using the text from an 1870’s childrens’ picture book, designer Man Chui Kwong has created one of the more bizarre interactive story projects in his version of "Little Red Riding Hood." Kwong hints at his edgy take on the familiar story, introducing the project with a provocative question: "Persecution and shameless lies, mothers that spend all day baking wolfpies. Daughters with razor sharp teeth to go with their razor sharp minds. What kind of fool would want to be a wolf?"This is a grim and quirky "Red Riding Hood," sketched in ink and charcoal pencil drawings with sudden splashes of red, bubblegum pink and khaki. Supporting the grotesque and darkly comedic narrative, the characters appear as strange twitching, chopping, and cigarette smoking creatures. Little Red Riding Hood careens through a forest of thorny cactus plants, Grandma resembles a squatting toad with zipper lips and eyes that pop out like slugs. Moving lines of wolves gnash and gobble limbs while small rat-nosed creatures chop imaginary wood.Like a complicated puzzle box, these pages present a challenge to the viewer, to sort out the many layers of interactive pages, hunting at times for the right spot to click open a new section of the story. Kwong is enormously talented and a visit to his web site Sex, Lies, and Fairytales offers a further glimpse into his strange and twisted fairytale renditions as well the sketches and studies for this project, other Flash films (his "Little Snow White" is wickedly wonderful), and illustrated picture books.
In the hours I have spent enjoying Born’s innovative and experimental Flash animated projects while writing this article, I have become aware of two contradictory considerations. On the one hand, only a small percentage of Born’s remarkable collection of poems and stories might really be considered mythic or derived from fairytales. Much of the work here, while deeply poetic and compelling, takes it source of inspiration from more urban and postmodern observations of our lives. On the surface it might seem an odd choice to highlight Born on Endicott’s Journal of Mythic Arts. And yet, on the other hand, I can’t help but feel enormously attracted to the potential for these kinds of experimental and interactive storytelling techniques to reinterpret fairy tale and myth on the Web. Born has successfully spear–headed a new direction for art, poetry and storytelling on the Web. This contemporary marriage of traditional arts to emerging technologies has encouragedan exciting new form of collaboration between literary and visual artists, musicians, and the community. As a result of Born’s Promethean insight, I envision a time when future issues of the Journal of Mythic Arts will present a fairy tale poem as a collaborative project in Flash animation, an interactive gallery piece on the multi-media work of a digital artist, or one of Terri Windling’s rabbit-eared girls welcoming viewers to a new Crossroads column. In the classroom, it has been my great pleasure to introduce my students to Born and watch their astonished glances as they admire not only the literary merits of a poem, but the art in the Flash animation. It reaches them in the ears and in the eyes, and I see them later huddled in computer labs, creating small animated versions of dragons, orcs, and the occasional Odysseus escaping from the Cyclops.As a gesture of gratitude, my students have promised to teach me Flash this fall and I am excited by the prospect. Indeed, for those of us fascinated by myth and fairy tale, how can we not be inspired by Born‘s extraordinary example to offer us another innovative and contemporary form with which to explore ancient stories?
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