¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 I recently redesigned my web site.7 Instead of breaking the works up individually by date or medium or concept alone – which is how many sites are organized,8 but I feel can limit how people understand the work, and body of work – I set up a cross-referenced tagging system and database, like a blog. So rather than having to choose if a video installation that uses sculptural elements belongs in the ‘video’ or ‘installation’ or ‘sculpture’ section of my site (or having multiple copies of the page), it can sit across all three. I can also tag it conceptually as interrogating notions of embodiment, as interventionist in nature, or as part of an ongoing series of art or thinking. Any piece can have as many tags as I want, and the database behind the site understands where media and concepts and series are connected: you click on any tag and the site reloads after filtering out artworks without that tag. It additionally uses an algorithm to dynamically show several ‘similar works,’ which have several of the same tags, when viewing any singular piece.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The most fascinating part for me in all this is that I myself get to see the trajectories of my thinking and making, over time, through the eyes of a simple computer program. I am certainly not always aware of how I am continually jumping back and forth between my ideas and media, of how many different ways the seemingly disparate works relate to each other, or don’t.9
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Concordantly, I also began re-thinking what led me to my current practice and modes of inquiry, how my past and ongoing experimentation and research continue to influence each other in ways I often don’t know about or see, until in hindsight. My practice has always been guided by questions: each new work and how my audience or participants engage with it opens up new and other possibilities in the studio, as well as in my writing. This recent re-design and re-thinking, I should add, happened alongside my early writing and research on the implicit body, which also coincided with a re-working of my overarching artist statement.10
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Forced to think broadly and in text, I’d say my art seeks to interrogate the relationships we, as moving-thinking-feeling bodies, have to other emergent categories, including but not limited to language or society or space. I try to suspend and amplify that which is often presupposed in contemporary culture, in order to foster greater dialogue around these complex systems and their relationships to matter, affect, and meaning-making.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 But that’s not where I began in my practice, and nor where I thought I’d wind up. Given her intimate familiarity with my work, Nicole was asked to write a feature on me for NY Arts magazine in 2006. From her article:
Stern claims his interest in the body comes from his early study, and subsequent hatred, of fashion design. That, combined with his musical and slam poetry background, led Stern towards considering the body as text and as concept, but eventually (and he would say, inevitably) steered him to the inverse: the body as performed and emergent. One of the most fascinating aspects of this work is that it does not presuppose the categories of body and language that it works with. (Ridgway, 2006)
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 I can see now that my early ventures into art intended for a large public audience might actually explain my current fascination with autoethnography: it began with a fictionalized narrative inquiry, with a text (of sorts) in and around the body.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The body of work I affectionately call the non-aggressive narrative (2000–2005) first manifested in an Internet art site called hektor.net (2000, Figure 42).11 The piece came out of my core interests back then: design, poetry, and, most of all, narrativity. In film theory, narrativity speaks to the processes whereby a story is presented and then ‘read’ by the audience. I used the term in my work in order to counter the brouhaha around hypertext at the time, believing ‘interactive,’ especially with regards to fiction, to be a mostly ill-defined term used to sell products. I instead opted to involve myself with more exploratory ideas around web surfing, oral traditions, and cross-modal perception for story construction. Taking cues from Mieke Bal’s Narratology (1997), I loosely defined narrativity to be the conditions under which a story may or may not emerge.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 On a more personal note, I can also admit more openly now – I was mostly unaware of it then – that I wanted to explore trauma through a sideways engagement with a car accident at the age of 17. I was the driver, and there were people hurt because of my recklessness. I wanted to play out said exploration in a way that invited empathy without voyeurism, in a way that put the viewer, rather than myself, into some kind of active role. I invented a character to play – someone more interesting and provocative than me – and after any given click, had him instigate viewers into thinking-feeling a narrative. I hoped to unfold the potential for a story, rather than speak the details of ‘what happened’ (to me).
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Part of this was academic interest, some of it was because I thought a ‘real’ autobiography was too self-indulgent; but mostly, I think I must have liked performing new possibilities in ‘what happened’ in order to create new possibilities in what ‘just might happen’ beyond the present.
hektor.net is a navigable artsite of experimental pinhole photography, spoken word, and video poetry. Each vignette is in a performative writing style, and the series collectively explores narrative and storytelling, time and memory, multiplicity and identity, anger and trauma, and the labors of communication…. While viewers surf the site, hektor attempts to re-member: embody a past in the present. Floating memories, re-presented as art pieces, congeal in different patterns; from the ‘ruins of memory,’ viewers re-invent the past and its meaning, piecing together a story for themselves. However, similar to Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch, where readers can tackle any chapter, in any order, to assemble a whole story, this narrative is built by the listener, according to which pieces they have seen, in what context, and in which order. Viewers continually bring new insights to possibility by juxtaposing visited and revisited pieces and ideas several times over. (Stern, 2000)
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The site portrays no specific histories, is a nonlinear series of ironic and sometimes funny, short but fairly lucid, monologues. hektor would say these are about personal relationships, but they’re more transparently about his self-infatuation, his encounters with sex, class, and race issues, and his uncomfortable revelations about his participation in the power structures that make those identities very real. Viewers click through and construct a mostly unrevealed narrative which is driven by their responses to a made-up character that is not me, or even part of me, but whose initial creation was inspired by a past that I myself am always only beginning to grasp. hektor is an intelligent jerk with a fair amount of self-reflection and a whole lot of armor, and my intention – like in narrative inquiry – was for provocation and empathy.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 In the production of hektor.net, I utilized drastic digital effects on several of the monologue-style video clips – many displayed from several angles at once – which were then seamlessly embedded inside of larger images in tables; each vignette opened in its own browser window and played with layers upon layers of foreground against background, using pop-ups, animations, and graphics that fed off one another across the screen. This aesthetic was an attempt to exploit movement and stasis in several open windows at once as a (flawed) substitute for embodied, live performances on the poetry slam stage – where hektor, as a character, was initially born.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 To keep the integrity of the site I envisioned, I made a conscious choice to adopt broadband video streaming technologies that, unfortunately, the vast majority of homes did not have at the time. In line with this decision, I aimed for audiences in academic institutions and web and design firms (it was the dotcom boom, after all), who would have access to fast Internet connections and the necessary plug-ins like Flash and QuickTime, which were still fairly nascent (web-based video applications like Vimeo, YouTube, and Silverlight were barely even fantasies).12
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 This meant that most viewers had to surf the site in somewhat public spaces: cubicles, computer labs, or Internet cafes. hektor’s videos contain racy spoken word about taboo topics and the images range from scary to somewhat explicit; the overall vibe is suggestive of deviance. Says Eduardo Navas in a short review, ‘Some pieces take on social issues such as lower, middle, and upper class values while other pieces show hektor’s obsession with sex’ (Navas, 2003).
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 While my initial intent as an artist was to give hektor, the site, and his and its visitors a complexity that was greater than the sum of all parts, an unexpected consequence of relying on broadband was several dozen angry emails from embarrassed office workers (etc), who were caught viewing and listening to what could be misconstrued as pornographic, sexist, or racist material. My favorite of these was from someone who opened up a pretty explicit link; he jumped from his seat to turn down his speakers and cover his screen before quitting his browser, and wound up spilling coffee all over his keyboard.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 I had hoped that between story, speaker, and screen, vision, sound, and affect, hektor could somehow extend beyond the computer display-based proscenium of his performance – stomach squirms on a given click, pursed lips in response to an image, angry groans elicited from provocative phrasings, an overall experience and practice of sensation and perception, and how they relate to narrative. But because of the spaces viewers necessarily used to surf, and the people these audiences perceived to be watching them, hektor sometimes drew out activities far more pronounced and physical. His victims would literally spring from their seats to cover their screens from potential passersby; hands would shoot out in order to quickly shut off computer speakers; I imagine they might stumble and look around nervously whilst simultaneously rushing the mouse to the corner of their screen’s browser windows – maybe over-shooting? – in order to click the ‘x’ and close them. This kind of response wasn’t the norm, of course, but what little news reached me succeeded in opening some exciting possibilities that lay outside of textual narrative. hektor was indeed enjoying the complexities I had intended for him. But he wasn’t just a character and story that online communities were stitching together. He garnered embodied, personal responses offline – for better or for worse, and in relation to the colleagues / community around each individual’s computer station. This fascinated me, and led to my interest in creating sites and situations that amplify affective and active relationships.
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- ¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0
- Four years later
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- ¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0
- Introduction to an Experiment
- It’s Not Really Autoethnographic, but OK
- http://nathanielstern.com, though ‘recently’ is relative to when I first wrote this chapter in 2008, and I launched another new site with more advanced features in early 2013.
- Or this was how most artist web sites were organized in 2008. Four years later, many work with dynamic and database-driven software.
- These last two paragraphs were collected and edited / paraphrased from a blog comment I once left at http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com/2008/06/tuesdays-aside-shifting-gears-trust.html
- See http://nathanielstern.com/artistic-inquiry-artist-statement/ – I tend to add to this and edit older works out all the time now.
- Although it now uses flat QuickTime files rather than streaming technologies, hektor.net is still live and online, as well as available for free and full download under a Creative Commons License, at http://hektor.net.
- Interestingly, a lot of hektor.net won’t work in today’s browsers either, without a few changes in settings – both because of somewhat outdated file formats, and security-based pop-up blockage. Don’t even bother on an iOS device.