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Cold Reading

Shotgun weddings between cinematic storytelling and hypertext narrative are certainly not new; the format stretches back to the dial-up era with David Blair's pioneering Waxweb and has been successfully employed by Walid Ra'ad for an online version of the Atlas Group project. Perhaps the awkward, potentially confusing structure of connecting text, images and video clips through hierarchies of linkage, combined with the internet's propensity for fostering dubious information, lends itself to the faux-archival conceit--a metaphor employed not only by Blair and Ra'ad, but also Rosa Barba for her Dia Art Foundation online commission, Vertiginous Mapping (2008). In her first web-based work, Barba tells the story of Alkuna, a fictionalized arctic community in the Nordic nation of Forgotten, whose history she bases on that of a real but unnamed Swedish city. Years of diamond mining by the corporation known as Urban Future Organization-Science Division (or UFO-SD) have led to geological instability beneath Alkuna, and now the entire city faces mass relocation. The viewer wanders through this story via a collection of various media: dry texts vaguely written in the styles of governmental memos or corporate press releases, videos of raw 16mm rolls of Swedish industrial sites set to looping electronic scores, photos of landscapes and maps from the city's municipal archives, and an intriguing collection of repurposed archival films detailing Sweden's transition from left-side to right-side driving in preparation for joining the Common Market. Whether the tentative, semi-articulated nature of this work should be taken as a structural shortcoming or conscious esthetic choice remains unclear. But Vertiginous Mapping succeeds in creating a peculiarly European atmosphere of social power, one in which a private company poses itself in a pseudo-governmental role, and a government undergoes social initiatives with the proactive determination more often seen in corporations. - Ed Halter

Image: Rosa Barba, Vertiginous Mappaing (screengrab), 2008