“We drank and insulted each other’s mothers.”

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ (YHCHI) “Dakota” is a re-telling of Ezra Pound’s Cantos I and II as a drunken ride though one of the two Dakotas (the artists do not specify)…but you wouldn’t immediately know that to see it. Nor is it important to the artist or the understanding of the piece that the viewer be familiar with Pound’s work (though it is a fitting use of Pound’s own dictum: “make it new.”) The animated black text (available in English, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese) flashes across the white screen in step with highly syncopated jazz drumming, eventually punctuated by the exuberant hollering of band members as the piece escalates towards its conclusion. The effect is a kind of dizzying digital beat poetry (that, after the repeat viewings required for critique, leaves the same visual echo as staring too long at a light…and a bit of a headache.)
In an interview with Thom Swiss, YHCHI notes the “tendency to read quickly” online, perhaps limiting the length of text passages whether creative or critical. While the interview as it appears in the link isn’t dated, YHCHI’s joke that the need for small, instantly accessible clips of writing comes from a fear of receiving a big phone bill does seem to “date” the conversation. But even with flat-rate in-home Internet access, immediacy is still preferred. Lengthy posts on blogs or in discussion forums are occasionally dismissed with the comment tl;dr (too long; didn’t read). This may be seen now a result of the increased portability of screens made smaller and smaller. It’s physically difficult to read long articles or passages on smartphone screens.
“‘Dakota” resolves this problem of digestion by breaking up its narrative onscreen. The active “reader” of Pound’s poem becomes a passive “viewer” of ‘“Dakota” as it’s visually “read” to her. In a medium marked by interaction, YHCHI’s “Datoka” feels like a textual movie. Here there is none of the clicking common to other digital literature. The piece cannot even be paused (though the viewer can, by right-clicking, forward or rewind the piece.) The piece pushes back at the notion that the reader/viewer should physically engage the work on a computer screen. After a minute the stark contrast and quickening pace feels like a bombardment of information that is actually less overwhelming when transcribed (as the artists do elsewhere.) In this way, “Dakota” is marked by both urgency and distance. It’s as if the creators are daring the viewer to ask for more immediacy, taunting the reader who wants to see fewer words per digital “page.” In another piece on the group’s site, “ARTIST’S STATEMENT N0. 45,730,944: THE PERFECT ARTISTIC WEB SITE”, asks what else the artist could be doing instead of waiting for a large file to upload. “Read a good book?” it suggests back. Perhaps YHCHI wonders, on some level, if the reader/viewer may not be better off doing the same. “Dakota” is hard to watch because of the physical strain this seeming passivity puts on the reader/viewer.

One thought on ““We drank and insulted each other’s mothers.”

  1. I didn’t occur to me yesterday to make the connection between the style of this work (text-based work, black on white background, broken up in seemingly digestible bits) to Star Wars One Letter at a Time. With the latter, when fiddling with a work many people my age experienced before we were literate, breaking down the screenplay one letter at a time is a way to make the piece new (and admittedly difficult) while maintaining the familiarity of the audience’s pre-literacy. “Dakota” doesn’t make the same assumptions about its audience. It doesn’t expect us to know Cantos. But it still plays with the process of reading so as to unsettle our familiarity with it.

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