Review of «Programmed Visions» in Vectors

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. «Programmed Visions». Vectors 3.1 (2007). <> 17 February, 2014.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun has created an archive of text fragments on racism. Rather than a scholarly article, this is an exhibition, but not a very curated one. Text fragments are precented to the user at random, with so few interface elements it is very difficult to read. Vectors’ editor claim that  «In the interplay between «form» and «content,» we are meant to understand that our desires to standardize the world and make it interoperable are not innocent.» (Introduction). Unfortunately for me, I am not smart enough to understand this. I spent two frustrating hours with this text to fulfil my duties for this research project, and I wonder if anyone else except the authors and editor has ever read more of it. Below is an account of my reading experience.
As I start reading, a paragraph of text breaks loose and starts to float across the screen.

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Did I click on something? Not sure. I try to figure it out instead of reading. Suddenly, the whole screen changes to another view of text fragments. And I still haven’t read anything. I click around,  but cannot find a way of returning, of getting the first text back. The only hot link I can find is the triangle, the «folded corner» at bottom right. It reveals a hypertext map that is sort of understandable, but nothing is linked. I can’t move anywhere. And I don’t understand where on the map the place I started is either. Frustrated, I refresh the page to start over.

This time I start to read, and again, as I touch the text to scroll, it begins to move. I click on the text, and an animation makes it look as if I move the window back from the text, rapidly slides it down and to the right, and then closer again to another text fragment. I start to realize:

There are hyperlinks anchored to whole paragraphs, with the only visual marker being that the cursor symbol changes to a pointing hand when I roll over a «hot» paragraph. There are section that scroll, however. These are marked with a gray band at the text’s edges.

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The first node introduces racism as a theme. My reading sequence is listed below, with the first (top left) words as title.
2. On the purity of traits. They are not watered out, they may reappear.

3. On violence and war and racism.
I look up on the map. I cannot use it to access other parts of the text, but a line of my readings is drawn on it, so I can use it to retrace my them.

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4. Different states of matter.
The nodes I enter keep referring to something earlier in the text, something that I haven’t read before. «Now I would not go so far as to to say that all these statements and distinctions are quite wrong» Which statements? Which distinctions?

This node is clearly excerpts from two old texts put next to each other. One of them is cut off in mid-sentence.

5. Will the source of Poetry be dried up?
As the reader window moves to a new location it passes over a photograph. Will I ever see that? An why?

Having read the whole text, including two poems, I have to scroll up, and this moves slowly, to uncover a part of the text that can be clicked so I see a new fragment.

6. US supreme court.

I can not find a link here, and have to «re-navigate» on the map. I go back to what appears to be 5, and finds another link by chance. I think I clicked on «colonization».

Here one of the fragments is obscured by the window frame.

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At this point I am truly annoyed by the interface, and want so much to give up on this text that I ponder how much time I need to waste on it before I can tick it off as «read» on my to do list. I have spent 45 minutes on it, reading a tiny fraction. I guess I will need to put in two hours. The texts that are assembled are good. I truly want to read them, but not in this silly way.

There are no links in the leftmost fragment. The King Kong section is linked, as is the rightmost, unreadable fragment. I will try to test whether they lead to different places.
King Kong actually shows a text in the background stating «link to Roney end», and ends up at Melancholic Responses. The other shows «doll» or «dull man», and ens up at the court ruling I read in 6. I try to go back using the re-navigation map. It is not easy to navigate, as it uses completely other titles on the nodes. But there is only one line connecting my current location, so I follow that to go back.

8. Melancholic responses.
About Psychology and racism.

I need to take a break at this point. But there is no way of making sure I can come back to this node, no way of bookmarking. I have to leave the browser window open on my computer. This obviously failed. I quit my browser at a point, and had to enter from the beginning again. After only four clicks, however (quite random), I found myself at «Melancholic responses» again. So I followed a link from there.

9. Dirty nigger
This is a rather strange screen, as it consists of several pieces. As I scroll the left piece, the one at right also scrolls. At center, a fragment about metonomy. At righ, the left half of a column with court minutes. Will I see the rest of these fragments in another screen? I try to view the map, and a rectangle shows me what appears to be the authors of the fragmenst I see. How can I move to the other parts? I try following a link in the right column.
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10. The information filed in the criminal district court.

This is a fragment of a legal argument. There are no links in the lowest screenful of text, so I have to scroll slowly upwards to search a link further on, only to find that there are no links. At least I cannot find any. So I will have to go back to the previous node via the map.

11. Dirty nigger
12. f. The Italian immigration

A classification of immigrants to the U.S. from different European nations as races, listing their vices and virtues.

13. Mr. Justice HARLAN
Another legal argument, again without any links that I can find.

14. In shis shift into a modern, biologigal (reprise)

15. The salvation of the race through heredity
No link.
After reading 15 nodes, I go back and read the three introductions to the piece: editor’s, author’s and designer’s. It appears that the links I search for are not hard coded, but are determined by an algorithm that uses my cursor position as input, and then select the link destination from a list.

16. Dirty nigger (reprise)

17. In American society today.
Here, for the first time, appears a paragraph that seems to be from the author herself. Set on a semi-transparent background making it difficult to read. And as I moved my mouse, it disappeared before I could read it. Clicking to try to get it back, I am moved to another node.

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18. The defense attorneys broke.
About the Rodney King trial.

19. It is from this area between mimickry and mockery
I do not understand anything in this node. I also noticed it was full of links until I clicked outside the pane with the fragments. Then there were no links, mabye because of a bug in the software, maybe by intention. Clicking back, the links reappear.

20. Racialization in America.

After this node, I give up. I can’t think of a reason to come back to this text again. Is this research publishing? I don’t think so. It is a creative project, maybe an experiment, maybe art. It will not be cited by any researcher as a piece of prior work.

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