Letterscapes: a Creative Response

Letterscapes by Peter Cho is a collection of twenty-six interactive scenes, one for each letter of the alphabet.  When I select a letter from the main dark blue screen, in which small white letters are swirling like water down a drain, the screen focuses in on that letter.  Movement of my mouse triggers movement of the letter. Each letter behaves differently.  Some letters are distorted into individual pixels, but when my mouse and the letter stop moving, its recognizable form returns.  Some letters keep their form but swirl or spin.  Some letters float or fly gently, others lurch and convulse violently.

Cho calls these scenes “typographic landscapes,” but what I see is a child’s letter recognition game gone awry.  As a parent of young children, I’ve downloaded several letter recognition apps for my iPhone.  These apps are designed to show children how the letters of the alphabet look and to allow the child to interact with the letter in some way.  For example, some tell the child how the letter sounds; others allow the child to practice writing the letter with his finger.  Letterscapes begins with the same model.  The user selects a letter and interacts with it.  The difference is that the interaction is essentially meaningless.  There is no deeper understanding that comes from the interaction.

The introduction from the Electronic Literature Collection Volume Two suggests that the user meditate on reference, representation, and abstraction.  I can see where the reference to a known shape, a letter, calls to mind certain concerts: perhaps literacy or communication of ideas.  The changing representation could call to mind the fact that letters are simply representations or symbols which have no meaning outside our culture’s shared understanding.  The abstraction of these symbols could make the user question the literacy and communication of ideas represented by letters.  But to be honest, this analysis is a stretch to find meaning.  Letterscapes didn’t entertain or enlighten me.

One thought on “Letterscapes: a Creative Response

  1. I like your description of Letterscapes as a “child’s letter recognition game gone awry.” I’d like to hear more about why you find the ELO Collection’s description of the piece unconvincing, or even more productive, pose an alternate conception of the piece. And that’s where I think your descriptive word “awry” can come into play; you might use that analogy of learning to read and dysfunctionality as the basis to argue for a competing interpretation of the work.

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