The Flight of Ducksworking with little bits
Draft of an article which appeared in Cantrills Filmnotes 85,86 June 1997
To write by fragments: the fragments are then so many stones on the perimeter of a circle: I spread myself around: my whole little universe; at the centre, what? Roland BarthesWe all have different ways of working. The challenge is not to be ashamed of the way that suits us best even if it doesn't fit the way most people work. I work very slowly and incrementally, building piece by piece in little bits - constantly refining as I go. I don't have the confidence to make big marks. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the drawings I did in Italy where I took my wife and children to live in 1988. We went on a whim without plans or language and very little money. Fortunately, we fell on our feet. We became caretakers of a 9th century monastery called Scampata just out of Florence on a hill above a little town called Figline, pronounced - 'fill-yeeni'.
Dots making a picture of Scampata
It was the full Tuscan fantasy with its own vineyards, olive groves and a library in five languages. I would sit all day in front of anything that looked interesting to draw, if you could call it drawing. I had no experience so was very tentative - drawing in dots with an indelible black ink pen and building the pictures up dot by dot. Some of the pictures took more than a week. Old ladies with agrophobia would come out with trays of biscotti and grappa. Children would gather around. With practice the drawings got better.
Luccia Barbarini was 86 and still carried fire wood down from the mountains
Working on the web in pixels is much the same process. It also puts you in touch with people from all over the place. But I miss the old ladies (not to mention the grappa).
The biggest problem most people seem to have with doing anything is starting. Working with dots solves this. To begin, you just put a dot in the middle and then another one and before you know it - a picture starts to form. This is exactly how I work with the web. It could not be more simple. To start, you get hold of any old computer, and a (free) copy of a browser like 'Netscape'. Take a simple text editor like 'notepad' or 'simple text' which comes with the machine and begin by marking up a single screen. If you don't know how to do this there are plenty of people who will show you in less than an hour. You only have to decide what that screen is going to lead to. Forget about structure - just begin.
On one side of a computer screen you have an encoding window and on the other - a window for what you will see. You write some code in the first and then press 'reload' in the second and there it is - a shimmering pixilated display of an idea. You can fiddle with it endlessly. The only thing that comes close to this sensation is that moment in a darkroom when a photograph is appearing in the tray - developing.
When it comes to web development, the film makers, I've met, seem to have difficulties from this point. I'll probably be shot down by any film makers who might read this but, by its very nature, the process of making a film seems to be about completion, all activity moving inexorably towards an end. Digital networked media is quite the reverse. Web works are always evolving, publically - inviting ongoing participation. Working in this medium is like working with a living breathing proliferating organism. You never know where you are going to be taken. It will end only when you lose interest and the work dies through neglect. There is a great deal of dead work on-line just waiting for some webbot to come along and erase the last traces of its existence. Live work is in a constant state of transition not just because ideas change but because the medium itself is in transition.
Fortunately it is a medium which can accommodate learning as you go. So if there is anyone who wants to start building a web work and is worried about computing - don't worry - just start. Whatever you do will evolve anyway. It is the simplicity of writing for the web that has led to its enormous and exponential success. With this medium anyone can tell a story. Before I began The Flight of Ducks I had hardly any computer experience. In fact I came to the medium out of the demands of the material I was working with rather than out of some attraction to computers.
It began simply enough when my father died in 1990. I found among his papers a collection of photographs, journals and artifacts relating to an expedition on camels into the western desert of Central Australia in 1933. His companions were: artist - Arthur Murch, animal and skull collector - Stanley Larnach, an Aboriginal guide - Hezekiel, and T.E. Strehlow about whom there has been great controversy. This was the time of Lasseter and Kidman.
I typed up these journals for my family in the form of a short book. They were actually one journal - re-written over time. To my surprise I discovered that many of the stories I had grown up with had been expanded through time, to the point of being imaginary.
The book form was inadequate. The material needed a medium where the footnotes could have a life of their own and the wealth of visual material could be adequately displayed. So, like the web itself, The Flight of Ducks grew out of a text base. The work has now grown away from this base into a particular form more like a poem which cannot be printed and exists solely on-line and on-screen. It is another place more thjan a landscape - a datascape. I describe it as part history, part data-base, part novel, part research diary, part conversation, part museum, part poem, part shed.
The title The Flight of Ducks comes from a particular point in the expedition where members of a tribe known as the Ngalia sang a song in a language they has lost or forgotten which was unlike any other song the men had heard. But it was absolutely clear to everyone what the song was about. we all knew that the ducks were resting on the water, were surprised, and took off clumsily then flew off and away but returned with a swoop at terrific speed to disappear into freedom again and peace. All the men on this expedition spent the rest of their lives returning to the desert country. It refers to a lost moment and to the flight of the imagination. As I title it begins to shape the story. Something that I am only just beginning to appreciate is a web work's ability to mutate into a vehicle for what seems to need exploring at the time. People who work in closed media usually complete a work and then move to the next. A web work just keeps changing direction or expanding into other areas. I can imagine myself still working on The Flight of Ducks in 20 years time - seriously!
Just because the textual origins of The Flight of Ducks have been left behind does not mean that they have not been absorbed into it. It is interesting that digital storage media such as CD-ROM's (like film) do not favour text at all. Work in this medium tends to be sound and image based. In fact, filmic conventions are endemic. Have a look at the cover of a CD-ROM authoring package like 'Director' and you will see what I mean.
The web, on the other hand, loves text and tolerates image but (at this stage) is not so fond of sound. In the foreseeable future digital transfer rates (byte sizes) are unlikely to speed up very much, so the name of the game, at this stage, is to do a lot with a little. Text, in ASCII form, travels fast and is the life blood of the web's ability to communicate through email etc.
This does not mean that text, as it is found on paper, is dominant. What seems to interest some people lately is what I call the 'Uses of Text'. Before all the people who are interested in images stop reading I had better say that in a digital environment the distinction between text and image is not very clear. Explaining what I mean is probably as good a way as any of introducing people to some of the depths of this medium and The Flight of Ducks and also of continuing to talk about building with little bits.
I should say now that writing about this medium is much harder on paper than it is on-line where what I am about to try to write about can be shown and demonstrated.
It is not a new idea that the structure of a work should reflect the nature of its content; that form conveys meaning. Form and meaning were inseparable for Marshall McLuhan, and Jacques Derrida called the phenomenon a mise en abime (arrangement to the extreme). The Chicago theorist, Gregory Ulmer, gives to this wholeness the rather awkward expression 'reflexive structuration ,' a means of which a work shows what it is telling, does what it says, displays its own making, reflects its own action.
So it is with The Flight of Ducks where an old travel journal is used not only as the primary source for a larger journey but also as a model for how to use and write for this new electronically networked medium.
In Australian literature the travel journal has been as closely associated with the physical landscape as with an imaginary landscape of the mind. Interest in this form of writing is usually reserved for the picturesque or for the accounts of explorers whose heavily revised field journals were imaginatively re-shaped into epic struggles of survival in a hostile and alien land. It is not hard to trace the way the literature of exploration converges towards the centre of the continent and a sense of national identity. The quest for an inland sea was such a tantalising idea that it was inevitably accompanied by disappointment. With hindsight, it can be seen how this imaginary destination was not just a projection of need but an essential part of the journey itself.
Over the last century the known and mapped landscape has been peppered with new destinations. Natural features are promoted by tourist operators as essential stops on a journey of discovery. The projections of need remain, perhaps as they have always done, drawing people inland towards an inward journey which has a perfect physical counterpart in the landscape.
The 1933 field journal of my father, F.J.A Pockley was written at the very end of the frontier period, when there were still isolated groups of Aborigines ( wild blacks ) who had yet to have white contact. He had been a member of a scientific expedition based at Hermannsburg Mission but out of boredom and a need for adventure, hired camels and travelled west along the MacDonnell Ranges to Mount Liebig.
Although my father was only twenty when he wrote this journal in the field , he did rewrite it several times before his death in 1990 and changed it considerably (mainly through elaboration). He never sought to have it published. In fact, he insisted that it was not of sufficient interest (or quality) to warrant publication. At first glance, he was right. The original journal, though anchored in its time and now of some interest as a primary historical source, is, by itself, little more than a few sparse jottings. In fact, until work began on The Flight of Ducks , only the passage of time had pulled the original text back from the edge of ephemera and oblivion.
As a narrative account of a journey into central Australia it underwent many of the revision processes that served to shape published accounts. Paul Carter is the only person I have read who has serious and profound insights into this kind of writing. In Living in a New Country he describes how journals of this kind are typically discontinuous and lack 'plot'. They are successful narratives but they do not have the narrative structures we usually attribute to the mechanisms of fiction or conventionally written history. Narrative structures usually depend on a fixed and central line of thought or structure. Although there are notable exceptions in written religious works such as the bible, continuity is usually favoured by the closed media in which stories are delivered. Discontinuous narratives are more likely to be found around camp fires.
Trails and PathsThe development of a re-centreable system based on hypertext can be seen in the larger context of post-structural theory. Discontinuity provided a focus for another process of exploratory convergence where the literary theories of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes and the computational theories of Theodor Nelson and Andries van Dam, met in their rejection of a primary and fixed centre of organisation of ideas.
The lineal progression of the book came to represent all that was outmoded and tyrannical. From its chapters to its sentences and punctuation, the book displayed a fixed central line of authoritarian thought. This form of writing demonstrated a hierarchical structure despised by the marxist semioticians who have dominated intellectual inquiry for the last thirty years. Ironically, they have chosen to present these ideas in book-like form although most are unreadable.
The anticipation of hypertext by these critical theorists and the reciprocal embodiment of these theories by its implementation, is no less historically remarkable than the prescience of the American engineer, Vannevar Bush, who, in 1933, (the same time as my father's journey and before the desktop computer) had the idea of the memex . His description of this machine can be found on-line in an extraordinary article published in 1945 called As We May Think . It was like a desk with translucent screens, levers and motors and could be used for the rapid searching of records. It had a capacity for contextual association where anything could be caused to select immediately and automatically another. It is an eerily accurate description of the personal computer and the use of hypertext. I want to quote from it now because the idea of the journey is important.
When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book, and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him are the two items to be joined, projected onto adjacent viewing positions. At the bottom of each there are a number of blank code spaces, and a pointer is set to indicate one of these on each item. The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently joined. In each code space appears the code word. Out of view, but also in the code space, is inserted a set of dots for photocell viewing; and on each item these dots by their positions designate the index number of the other item. Thereafter, at any time, when one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button below the corresponding code space.This cognitive trail, as a trace, a thread, or path through a data based landscape actually makes reading resemble writing. A path is recorded in such a way that a narrative is constructed out of a labyrinth of discontinuous possibilities.
Few travellers in this electronic medium or datascape, take the trouble to record their paths or to pay attention to the trace they leave unless they are actually engaged in the process of writing. In the physical world, travel accounts are usually retracings through memory at the end of the day or even at the end of the journey.
Difficulties of Book-like textThe idea of the path as an ordering mechanism has also been implicit in the development of theories of text processing and encoding since the 1980's. Many of these theories have been based on the idea that text is composed of an ordered hierarchy of nested objects such as chapters, sections, paragraphs, extracts, lists and so on. They are called objects because they can be read by machine. The structure is hierarchical because these objects have a linear relationship to each other. Sentences, for example, exist within paragraphs. This is essentially a book-like view of text and it is reflected in the most commonly employed markup language, SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language).
I want to briefly mention book-like text because I had so much trouble with it. A book-like form is employed in two parts of The Flight of Ducks . Neither part has anything to do with semiotic concerns or with paper based origins, but everything to do with portability. In 1996 I decided to retrace the original 1933 expedition as best I could. The first book-like form is a version of the edited hypertext (1933) journal with embedded photographs. The second, a book-like journal of the retracing. The second acts as a post-script to the first so it seemed appropriate to retain the form. This may change.
Screen image 1 (book like screen for printing)
Some people make books of films. A book-like version of a web site, when printed out in chapters and with headings, seems like an obvious and simple thing to do. It was not. I used to scoff at requests for a book-like version of the site because I saw it a poor substitute for the electronic datascape through which I had been travelling. However, once I began planning to retrace the expedition through a landscape, the need for a portable non-electronic copy made it obvious that such a version would have many advantages in the field, not the least being that it would serve as a comprehensible book-like object to show people with no understanding of the World Wide Web. The ability to print out a book seemed like an interesting functional extension of the web site and it was therefore inadequate to simply photocopy the original and subsequent versions and combine them into some mammoth folder of text to take with me.
To date, the ease of text publication on paper afforded by the word processor is not matched by any such reverse facility on-line. The complexities of page formatting encoded text with embedded images are enough to make you shake your head in despair.
A book-like form needed the photographs integrated with the text that described them. Embedding the photographs was extremely time consuming because their screen sizes bore no relation to their physical sizes. This meant that they had no physical representation beyond the screen. Each of the 200 images (from 1933), had to be re-sized for a paper space which was quite different from screen space. They had to be located in the text so that when printed, the page break would not cause image enjambment (dividing the image between pages). I also wanted each page to be numbered. Forks in the hypertext were generally resolved by footnotes which again complicated page layout. The large byte size presence of the images meant that chapter divisions were primarily determined by the need for manageable file sizes. This meant that each chapter had to be displayed on a separate screen if it was to have print integrity.
While I was able to complete this task successfully on my own equipment, the process was not a universal success because some printers make a mess of my formatting and make the book-like facility less than perfect. What was interesting was that the process of making these book-like versions changed my view of the material. Before doing this I had thought that the bulk of the source material was text but once the images were embedded I found that I was looking at a picture book with occasional chunks of text.
MorselsTaken simply as a word, 'text' carries with it ideas of texture and woven fabric. It is certainly more than a sequence of binary oppositions represented by the abstractions of 0's and 1's. While deconstructionists attempt to reduce all forms of text, even punctuation, to the level of distinctive signifiers or marks, the most useful way of looking at the question is to focus on a unit of text as a block of words, referred to by Roland Bathes as a 'lexia' but more commonly known as a 'text chunk'. I like this translation of Derrida by Gregory Ulmer who refers to the same process as citational graft Ted Nelson calls it transclusion :The first step of decomposition is the bite and the organ of this new philospheme, is the mouth, the mouth that bites, chews, tastes. . . the 'morceau,' the bit, piece, morsel, fragment; musical composition; snack, mouthful. This mourceau is always detached, as its name indicates and so you do not forget it, with the teeth, and these teeth, refer to quotation marks, brackets, parentheses: when language is cited the effect is that of releasing the grasp or hold of a controlling context"Text encoding is the method by which these units are gift wrapped using markup so that you can put words or images or sounds into another context by rearrangement or association.
There are several encoding languages of varying degrees of complexity which have the ability to create hypermedia. The spectacular development of the World Wide Web has been largely based on the simplicity of HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). To a large extent The Flight of Ducks is an encoding project based on the application of HTML.
At the time of writing HTML has a number of advantages:
It works It is simple to learn It is non-proprietary It is platform independent It is software independent It accommodates upgrades (new versions) It permits almost any form of document structure
HTML's primary disadvantage is that (at this stage) it will not support many of the more sophisticated functions available in SGML from which HTML was derived. This is always changing. Fortunately, so far, the web, as a medium, accepts these constant changes.
Travelling Through a DatascapeDevelopers of web works sometimes feel compelled to provide everything ( electronic copia ) - to fill their sites with every known instance or reference to a particular subject. They try to create a form of archive so that their audience can move about in a kind of subjective universe. This may well be a natural characteristic of any new medium where new works lack the context they have when they grow out of a tradition. It could be seen as part of the process (to paraphrase McCluhan) where new media makes old media content. It is Theodor Nelson's idealised 'docuverse' and Derrida's 'vast assemblage'. The primary ability of hypermedia to create associations between things makes it more like a contextual universe.
Theories abound with questions concerning the degree to which a work needs to be embedded in contextual data in order to have meaning: Do we need to know anything about the author? Do we need to know anything about the culture? Is it possible for a work to stand alone? Can images have meaning without text? Can text have meaning without image.
This makes some people nervous because the physical qualities of electronic texts are so abstracted as to have no physical existence at all beyond their shimmering, mutable, pixilated representations. It creates a tension between word and image where both require some form of substantiation if they are to be perceived as real.
Substantiation is important to The Flight of Ducks because it ties the work to the land itself. From my own perspective it has been interesting to see how the importance of representing the original journal has receded as the contextual world of the work has grown. Attempts to annotate the original pencil version with either the pen or the type written text, have been abandoned in favour of a powerful line of hypertext which acts as a kind of narrative spine running through the work.
Without this spine The Flight of Ducks would probably have no shape and dissolve into a series of tracks leading nowhere. Similarly, without any indication of the breadth of the site or the placement of this spine The Flight of Ducks could be perceived as a collection of jottings.
Screen image 2: The Flight of Ducks as datascape
This picture is more than it appears. It is a picture of the site with the lines of the stories as they travel through a vast datascape. You can see the hypertext spine of the main story. If you look closely there other narrative lines in the distance. It is also identical to the MacDonnell Ranges running east towards Alice Springs.
The original pencil version runs parallel to the central line. It not only functions to substantiate the hypertext spine but also gives it a context. The persistent presence of this version draws attention to the textual differences. For the close reader it poses a problem: why are these texts different? The answer lies in the passing of both time and memory. It draws from the original a narrative structure layered through time as the story unfolds. Consider the following collection of lexia:
Screen Image 3: Text 1 - From the original (press for full page)
As we now had a good reserve of meat I set off for a prominent hill to the south, on foot. Something about it caught my eye when we were favoured by the panoramic view and I had seen it again from a ridge a couple of days before. I doubted if I could make it as, at my best guess, it was about forty miles away and I knew water would be a problem. I decided to walk as much as possible at night and took a full water bag, a rifle and one blanket, rolled as a swag. I had shot off all my film for the camera round the native camp and it was too heavy to carry anyway. I knew that there would be enough moon and that I could steer by Pavo. The others were all against it, but I felt that it was something I had to do, largely because I was half scared and had had it on my mind for days, with a growing fascination.
Text 2 - from the hypertext spine
I was on the shady side and the ground looked awesomely remote when I looked down, for the first and only time. I ate the apple slowly in order to prolong my stay, but forced myself to edge out onto the face again in the end, rather acutely aware of diminishing courage. I climbed more slowly now taking infinite care with foot and hand holds which seemed to get steadily harder to find and more awkwardly placed. The pitch was just short of vertical, but had where the surface was more glossy and smoother and perhaps rather darker in colour. I began to stop climbing and to cling to the face, rather than rest, fighting off a looming panic.
Text 3 - from the 1976 returnLooking north it seemed unlikely that he had indeed be able to see The Olgas from Mount Peculiar. I felt that in some way I was looking at The Olgas with a view to climbing. What a pointless endeavour that would be - the son trying to match the father - for what? While thinking about the significance of all this I recalled a sonnet I had written to him in 1979 when Susan became pregnant with Emily. Interesting the way imagery enters the subconscious:
Text 4 - from the 1996 retracing
This is a narrative that can be traced through the site as it spans over 60 years. It is significant because the formation of narrative is independent of the text. It is still unfolding. A close look at the original shows that the journey on foot was, in fact, imaginary.
Because substantiation relies on the noise (stains and creases etc) of each of the handwritten pages for its verisimilitude, the digital representation of this text is enhanced by a slight sharpening and increase of contrast. This also has a practical purpose of making the pages more legible than they are in the original.
Attachment to the physical medium is further emphasised by using a miniature version of each page to represent the link between the two. This miniature draws on the iconography and positional conventions of the illumination in medieval manuscripts where the text flows from a miniature illustration. Such a metaphoric resonance (another practical application) also provides a source for an appropriate low resolution precursive image which allows time for the high resolution, image to arrive.
As a text unit, the original pencil journal is so bound to its paper medium that the digital representation of each page shares most of the characteristics of an image or representation of a photograph (file type, size specification etc). The distinctions which do exist emphasise the powerful role of representation (as opposed to content) in determining lexia.
The distinction between two kinds of textual engagement: that of 'looking through' and 'looking at' has been made by Richard Lanham in his book, The Electronic Word. Looking through means the text is transparent in that we are transported by its meaning and looking at means examining its representation. Usually we oscillate between the two. Looking at the text of the original journal makes the order of the pages sequentially neutral. More importantly, as lexia, looking at the pages can have a quite different meaning. If you go back to the previous example the lexia are saying 'Yes, these pages look old, they were written at the time and they are evidence that these events did actually happen' but when the original journal is being looked through there is actually no reference to the walk at all (Text 2). One has to conclude (as I did - and it came as a shock) that 'No, this did not happen.'
Before looking at the difficulties inherent in having parallel journals it is necessary to look at another determinant of lexia most commonly ignored or denied by screen writers and that is the role of the screen space.
Writing SpaceOne of the strongest limiting factors to the reduction of size of computer devices is the size of the screen. Regardless of resolution size is limited by our ability to discern type. The threshold of legibility is somewhere between 9 and 12 points. Once this threshold is reached, less data can be shown and more interaction with the screen will be needed, ironically, requiring more screen space.
While large computer screens are becoming more common, the platform independence of the World Wide Web means that client side screen size cannot be assumed. Good writing practice therefore, means that a lowest common screen size of 640 x 480 pixels is usually adopted as the writing space.
Screen image 4: Screen integrity in the 640 x 480 pixel writing space
This space effects lexia in diverse ways. The most obvious is that large texts and images are not easy to send down-line as complete lexia and therefore have to be broken up into smaller file sizes or scaled down. Less obvious but I think, more important, is a desirable information arrangement within the screen space which I refer to as screen integrity . In this space all accessible information whether text or image is visible in one instance without the need to scroll up, down, or sideways in order to find hidden text or images. Integrity implies an unimpaired wholeness and relates to an comfortable appropriateness of form. Certainly there are forms of text, such as lists, where scrolling is acceptable. But when acknowledged, screen integrity further refines the notion of lexia.
Any random access of the World Wide Web will show what little value or awareness is given to screen integrity. I suspect this is because most users have yet to free themselves from the spacial demands of the paper page with its more flexible aspect ratio. Evidence for this is immediately apparent in the use of the term 'home page' or just 'page' when these users are referring to screens or screen space.
There are some interesting parallels with the development of the form of the novel to be found in the the representation of progress. Progress is implicit in the images/icons of transport used for navigation through the material: train truck camel etc. Each of these indicates a distinct lexia by the use of an icon drawn from the photographic material it describes. The only exception to this was the time spent in Alice Springs where I used the image of a windmill which was not only common to the town but has a Quixotic reference (similar heritage).
Screen image 6: Seamless movement with changing icons
The progress of time is emphasised by diary-like entries followed by a brief summary of the content of the text. This serves as a quick form of reference to the passage of narrative and also acts as metadata to the screen. It is reproduced in the title tag and then dropped into the main combing screen where a sense of the breadth of the site can be found or searched.
ParticipationThe form of text most directly linked to origin is the contribution of the participant. Both text and image arrives by email. and the body (without salutations) is simply cut and pasted on top of the previous message in chronological order. Remnants of the original email include a date (without the year) and a return email address. Usually these follow email etiquette in that they are short and to the point so it has not been hard to incorporate them as lexia without editing. Most have not solicited any reply. I usually send an acknowledgement with gratitude.
In this way the site seems to be acting as a kind of camp fire around which people are gathering. Recently one participant sent me some of her photographs from central Australia as attachments.
This generosity points towards a further extension of The Flight of Ducks by accommodating other people's interpretation of the material and even allowing them to alter or write over the original text and images so that they become another experience or perspective. The transclusion envisaged by Ted Nelson. is not yet available in a workable form, but the new Hyperwave browser appears to offer this facility. Difficulties with is development are at present delaying its use.
Poetics of the ScreenIn order to experiment with this more active form of participation that this development promises I began visiting the site as myself and writing my own path. This path is sequential and linear. It works in one direction only (except by using the 'back' button). The shape of the screen text that is forming (and seems to work) is the ancient verse form of the quatrain.
The origins of this began several years ago in another part of the site. Where I had written a sonnet to describe my engagement with the project. My father was a prolific sonnet writer and our most intimate communications were by sonnet. But the fourteen lines of the sonnet form did not suit the screen aspect ratio without using a font size too small to read.
Screen image 8: Linear path through octet - a one way journey
When the sonnet is broken up into octet, quatrain and couplet and sent to separate screens they suggest a rhythmic progression. The progression is enhanced through the use of rhythmic imagery. In the screen above the image has a pulse fitting the first words
'Lamplit I work'
The image moves into focus and then moves out again with a movement representing the meaning of the octet itself. Progression is made sometimes through linking images, sometimes through linking text. In some screens there is no text at all. One screen loops through a huge cycle of one hundred aboriginal faces without names - extracted from the photographs. The tightness of poetic form is further emphasised and celebrated by presenting the text as plain ASCII using preformatted tags in markup, so that, unlike the hypertext spine, the text does not float. The hyperlinks gain depth and texture by drawing from the mediabase which is really a gathering of a collection of databases which form the datascape.
This tightly drawn linear thread both demonstrates and revels in the contextual universe referred to earlier. There is also a resonance which comes from the way in which it reflects the way we use the World Wide Web itself - following a line/idea through a larger datascape.
This line runs straight into the hypertext spine and merges with it - is engulfed by it. Curiously it has grown in reverse to its direction of travel, in the same way that rain water flashing is installed or fish travel upstream to spawn. The tiny lexia of quatrains, couplets and images are constantly evolving and spawning others as this line describes its own journey through the datascape.
It brings this line of thought full cirlce to the question in the epigraph by Roland Barthes at the beginning:
at the centre, what?
The answer lies somewhere between the accounts of these journeys to the Centre and the screens and traces provided by the participants in this site. Their movements (and mine) through this datascape provide a shifting centre of perspective - a viewpoint. Anyone who might like to comment on their own experience can overwrite this material by way of conversation. You are welcome to participate.
'The Flight of Ducks' can be found at http://www.duckdigital.net/FOD/
It is the current winner of the ATOM awards for best Australian on-line production as well as the Premiers gold award for best Australian Multimedia production (shared with The Dame was Loaded). It is also considered by the National Library of Austwralia to be a site of national significance and one of 6 digital works chosen as a pilot project for preservation.
Simon invites your comments and participation in this work. He can be contacted at (03) 96511510 or by email at email@example.com