Judy Malloy

Classic Authoring

Book Reviews
Authoring Systems and Interfaces

Adriene Jenik
MAUVE DESERT: A CD-Rom Translation
Software discussed in this statement: Adobe Director, Lingo, C++

"Committed", in her words, "to using and abusing new technologies", Adriene Jenik is an award-winning media artist, filmmaker, and educator. From 2009-2016, she served as the Katherine K. Herberger endowed chair of Fine Arts and Director of the School of Art at Arizona State University (ASU), and she is currently a professor of intermedia at ASU. She has also been an active member of the Paper Tiger TV collective and Deep Dish TV.

She brings to her work -- which has been at the forefront of exploratory media, new media narrative, and community-based networked public art using wireless networks -- a knowledge of technology; an interest in creating new forms of literature, cinema, and performance; and a narrative sensibility that is sometimes community-based, sometimes addresses issues of gender and sexuality, and sometimes looks at the human connection in a technology-mediated world.

In addition to MAUVE DESERT: A CD-Rom Translation, Adriene Jenik's directorial credits include What's the Difference Between a Yam and A Sweet Potato?; (with J. Evan Dunlap) El Naftazteca: Cyber-Aztec TV for 2000 A.D.; (with Guillermo Gomez-Pena); and Desktop Theater. (with Lisa Brenneis and the DT troupe). She is Director of SPECFLIC, an ongoing Distributed Social Cinema project.

Her creative writing and essays have been published in The Drama Review, High Performance, Felix, The L.A. Weekly, Off Video, Heresies, and the Utne Reader. Her awards include a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in New Media, as well as commissions from the Franklin Furnace Future of the Present project, the San Jose Zero One festival, and UCLA Performance Studies. Her work has been widely screened and exhibited, including among many other places, the San Diego Museum of Art, the San Jose Museum of Art, the Banff Centre's Walter Phillips Gallery; Exit Art, the American Film Institute, the Toronto International Film Festival, OUTFEST, the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, and the European Media Arts Festival.

Adriene Jenik's narrative of the creation of MAUVE DESERT: A CD-ROM Translation, based on Nicole Brossard's le Désert Mauve, is a classic look at the process of creating a new media narrative. And is also an example of how writers and artists work to keep their projects current in the face of changing platforms and applications.

"The beauty of words, the power of the desert, and the fears and fantasies of human evolution with technology are all still real -- and present and prescient in the work," she observes in her statement.

For more information about Adriene Jenik, visit her homepage at http://www.adrienejenik.net

Adriene Jenik - MAUVE DESERT: A CD-Rom Translation

"Keep to beauty. Have no fear. Muffle civilization's noises in you."
-- Nicole Brossard in le Désert Maauve
(translated from French to English by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood)

In 1991 I stumbled upon a book that would change my life. The English translation of the feted French-Canadian poet/essayist/novelist Nicole Brossard's most accessible book, le Désert Mauve, literally jumped off a shelf in my favorite independent bookstore into my book-laden arms. After reading and rereading the first page of this slim but affecting experimental text, I knew I was destined to bring it to life in images and sound.

It was my great fortune that this very personal discovery coincided with an emerging cultural shift in media practice. As I began developing the work for the screen, after securing an option through a personal appeal and extended exchange with the author, it's challenge loomed large. The looping, recursive structure of Brossard's story, so beautifully suited to flipping back and forth through the pages of a book, was going to be particularly challenging to confine to a linear (beginning to end, time-based) film format. As well, I was wrestling with how to attend to the issues of language and translation. (central themes in the text and politically loaded cultural issues in both the French Quebec of Brossard and the American southwest borderlands of the book and myself) Living and teaching electronic media art in Los Angeles, where the future of electronic entertainment was buzzing in the industry background, heightened my awareness of the restructuring and convergence of media made possible through computing-centered digital formats. I soon understood that the full realization of my vision for MAUVE DESERT required that I acquire new skills, knowledge and artistry to create a new expressive form -- interactive cinema.

Though there were countless lessons (creative, technical and personal) encountered over the course of the five years it took to create MAUVE DESERT: A CD-ROM Translation; some of the most rewarding related to my learning the power of programming.

Like many other developers of art and entertainment projects on CD-ROM, I found Adobe (previously MacroMind, then Macromedia) Director to be a useful authoring tool. One of the primary challenges for any artist using an off-the-shelf software package is to not allow their vision to be curtailed or contained by the dictates of the software. As well, the dynamic and shifting development of media compression codecs was made up of competing and increasingly proprietary engineering teams hosted in large and small companies throughout California. As many meetings as I might have to try and interest young coders in my ideas, vision and the story of young Melanie in the desert; it was increasingly clear that, at least until I was able to raise some real money, I would need to learn to program myself.

Lingo, the scripting language incorporated within Director, made good on its ease of use and learning for scripting novices. I dove in, but quickly hit roadblocks in handling the process-heavy video and audio I needed to trigger, as well as in the complex ways I wanted to enable drivers of the CD to access and experience language. I would need to learn a "real" programming language -- C++. Driven by my productive obsession, I was able to move fairly quickly through a tutored introduction to libraries and syntax, and thus began my embrace of code as an important aspect of my own creative expression. Once I began to code, I was able to realize parts of my vision that programmers I met with had insisted were impossible, and a whole range of other expressive possibilities opened up before me.

A specific example with MAUVE DESERT is the way I incorporated the character Longman into the piece. The character is a symbol of hubris and the violence of a civilization seduced by the power of knowledge and illusions of ultimate control in Brossard's novel. Modeled after J.Robert Oppenheimer in her text, I updated Brossard's desert/atomic test subplot to reflect the contemporary relationship of the desert landscape to long-term (10,000 year) nuclear waste storage needs. Longman interrupts Melanie's story intermittently, and I wanted my own treatment of this character to reflect our lack of control over these powerful (human and technological) forces that can;t be ignored. As well, as I strove to translate the chilling fearsomeness of this character's cool containment, I wondered, what would really frighten my viewers, safely clicking away at their computers? I programmed Longman to be triggered randomly, but with increasing intensity of frequency, during the experience of the disc. One of the endings of the piece is triggered if the viewer continues to drive and drive and encounters the last of the Longman interruptive installments. At that point a complete and sudden computer shutdown is initiated from within the program -- truly the end of the world for the obsesssed computer user.

Though it has been almost 20 years since I first strained to understand the potentials of this new medium, I still feel that there is significant potential for expression by artists that has yet to be realized. This month, as I release a DVD documentation of MAUVE DESERT: A CD-ROM Translation, (the piece will no longer play as originally programmed on Intel-based Mac operating systems) I'm still proud of the results of this early experiment in interactive storytelling. The beauty of words, the power of the desert, and the fears and fantasies of human evolution with technology are all still real -- and present and prescient in the work.

Adriene Jenik, June 2011

*I thank all of my teachers and guides throughout my journey with this work and Judy Malloy for inviting my reflections on it.

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