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<p> Welcome to my Homepage! is an evolving, expanding web-based cyber dwelling. The homepage, like a real home, is an additive and curated space that is perpetually in flux. Elements, both imported from the physical world and uploaded from digital space, fill the home, whose boundaries are expanded and blurred through hyperlinks. Different rooms have various things to show off and to hide. The basement holds the workings of the house, discarded scraps, and projects for a rainy day. There is a spare room in the attic, a guest room. You can stay for a while, if you like. If you step outside of the house, you are cast into the ether of cyberspace/outerspace, or perhaps someplace new. It is a space to stop by for a short visit on your way to elsewhere on the net, or to lose an afternoon in. The site can be explored by passive interaction, but it also invites more active participation. Your presence on the site, and mine, is unphysical. Simultaneously, many users’ experiences can occur privately, separately, and invisibly. You are a ghost in this house, and no one is home. </p>
<p> A dollhouse and a website-building platform are used here as frameworks, but not to produce a closed system for either the user’s experience or my own practice. The experience of the website is not a game or algorithm; it is not oriented around an achievable goal or “challenge.” It is an adaptable framework; unlike a cybernetic feedback loop it can never achieve equilibrium because of the ad hoc, unstable, obsolescing nature of the internet, in which elements disappear or malfunction. It is also not a deistic clockwork mechanism that manifests predetermined outcomes – it is a site open to perpetual modification, made permeable through links, able to shift direction by my hand or the unpredictable content provided by users. A visitor to the site may return at a later date to find a page or page element they remember missing, moved, or altered. This speaks to how we have learned to live with changes on the net. Any part of the interface could be reworked at any moment, seemingly overnight – construction and redesign in cyberspace are coded to be invisible to users. The fate of my own project rests in the hands of my page hosts, placing myself in the tenuous, but common, role of both designer and user. </p>
<p> But the uncertain, ephemeral realm of the net offers novel possibilities. Dominant voices in culture tell us that there are specific and inflexible ways that objects function, and how to care about or disregard them. Objects like dollhouses are read as categorically nostalgic or representative of implanting domestic values. Manufacturers further determine a limited set of available objects and styles for dollhouse accessories, which constrain the user in terms of self-expression and ability to purchase costly miniature objects. By using the copy/paste function to freely appropriate imagery from e-commerce sites like Ebay and Etsy, I repurpose commercial content, and detach the dollhouse from some of the predetermined material and economic limitations inherent to manufactured specialty goods. The user similarly accesses Welcome to my Homepage! through a contemporary, polished, and recognizable commercial portal, but clicking through leads to an “other” space. </p>
<p> The static, colonial/suburban dollhouse rooms feel oddly out of place on the web, which has in many cases replaced physical play spaces with interactive Flash games and mobile apps. The experience of Homepage! is not uniform. Many styles and eras of image-making tools are jammed together, taking full advantage of the internet’s ability to present everything in proximity, regardless of time-period, media, or place of origin, and as a tool that allows individuals to express, create, collect, and share a multitude of things that they like (from pre-cognitive to obsessive definitions of “liking”). Welcome to my Homepage!’s Web 1.0 or CD-ROM point-and-click functionality, lack of mobile device compatibility, and occasional slow-to-load page elements point to a time when web navigation was clunky and obvious. The site sticks out in comparison to the sleek, unobtrusive terrain of touch-screen navigation and designer layouts we have become accustomed to. I bring awareness to the interface with the hope of raising critical questions about the current state of the net, and if its professionalization is progress for all users, or whether it allows an economic elite to sedate and seduce us away from critical engagement and agency. </p>
<p> I look to the early internet to imagine different possible futures in the web. This is neither a comfortably nostalgic view nor blindly faithful in technological progress. Rather, as N. Katherine Hayles says of the skeuomorph, it “looks to past and future, simultaneously reinforcing and undermining both” (Hayles 17). Not only do some of the web elements I use point back to earlier internet paradigms, but the digitized dollhouse itself functions skeuomorphically in an attempt to think about imagination and play in a digital realm that offers novel opportunities to express agency, but which has largely been co-opted by commerce and branding. </p>
<p> I’ve been inspired in my work by relating feminist thealogical redefinitions of the occult to experiences of new technologies. Feminist scholar and thealogian Constance Wise writes of the occult as a “form of ‘dark’ knowing in the sense of knowledge that resides below the scrutiny of consciousness, arising from a deeper source of wisdom” (Wise 76). She adds, “instead of special sacred knowledge available only to those initiated into a given tradition, ‘occult’ can mean knowledge that is ‘hidden’ in that it is traditionally denied to women” (Wise 5). In many ways the seamless, professional design of the current interface of the internet facilitates access without much conscious thought, and the interface’s invisibility renders its operation mysterious and remote, suggesting the more exclusionary definition of the occult. Often web content creation is portrayed as difficult to learn and available only to those with highly specialized knowledge. This isn’t necessarily true. Scholar Melissa Raphael writes of the occult as existing beyond “a boundary that must be crossed in order to contact and actualize its knowledge” (Raphael 75). Access to an internet connection and dissuasive narratives may be prohibitive to some, but once access is gained, the net is a full package. Not only does it provide tools for art making, but also ways of learning how to use those tools, access to existing and archived works, distribution platforms and community – all in one! Many shareware and open source tools and resources are available. To use these tools and leave the loose threads of their logos and link-backs visible on my site supports the “open sharing of occult knowledge as liberated power” (Wise 77). Net art as a medium feels refreshingly approachable and accessible to me. Not only are many of the tools friendly to self-teaching and often open source, but also the entirety of the art form’s history has taken place within my lifetime. While the typical lifespan of a web-based project is brief relative to artworks in other media, and current net artists must, as Olia Lialina argues, “find ways…to survive fame that comes fifteen minutes after you’ve uploaded your files,” the fleeting and fragile rules of how things should look and function on the net seem especially open to intervention and revision (Lialina). </p>
<p> An important component of having agency and humanity within the net is to experience it as a space for the imaginative production of identities and feelings. “In such a pervasive technological environment,” Sally McKay points out the importance of “online artists who challenge norms and standards and remind us, through their affective interventions, that we machine-bound bodies will always be feeling creatures,” which mitigates “the potential for homogenisation brought about by the use of standardized technologies in collective cultural production” (McKay). Welcome to my Homepage! is ideally a space that allows the mind to wander through seemingly empty rooms (though live page visitor counters let you know if other invisible guests are in the room with you), deep into subpages and out into hyperlinks. Visitors may also directly contribute to the site by submitting their own content to the guest room, writing guest book entries, or by submitting content to peripheral pages. The nature of the site provides for a both an imaginative and affective, pre-cognitive home on the net – a place amidst a tangled mass of rss feeds, social networks, emails, targeted advertisements, and clickbait that reminds us that our electronic, networked lives aren’t necessarily just datasets, storefronts, or cheap substitutes for reality. </p>
Works cited _
Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Lialian, Olia. “Net Art Generations” art.teleportacia, November 19, 2013. http://art.teleportacia.org/observation/net_art_generations/.
McKay, Sally. “The Affect of Animated GIFs (Tom Moody, Petra Cortright, Lorna Mills).” Art and Education (2000):
Raphael, Melissa. Thealogy and Embodiment: The Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sacrality (Feminist Theology Series). Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
Wise, Constance. Hidden Circles in the Web: Feminist Wicca, Occult Knowledge, and Process Thought. Plymouth, UK: AltaMira Press, 2008.
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