irnerio, 2001

Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is a novel about reading. It houses within its covers the beginnings of ten different novels. A tension exists between the identity of the reader of novel and the reader in the novel, creating something that is part book and part performance. There is also tension between the novel itself and the potential novels that it contains.

This project started in the spirit of the character Irnerio. He is a friend of Ludmilla (the Other Reader) and upon meeting Our Reader (the protagonist) we find out that he has taught himself not to read. Later we learn that he is an artist who makes sculptures out of books.

I wanted to create a physical interface for the novel that would be able to both communicate and comment on some of its formal qualities. It was also important that the interface play with notions of reading, combining the form of the book with possible forms that are afforded by the electronic text. Also of importance was to play with concepts of identity by blurring the line between reader and performer. The novel itself plays with these ideas, and the interface reinforced this by orienting the writing in two directions, forcing a single reader to move between two physical locations in order to navigate and read the entirety of the text, or forcing two readers to either switch back and forth or communicate above and outside of the interface.

I wanted to use the pages of the booklets both for navigation and as a surface. For navigation, photocells read the changes in dependent upon how many of the translucent pages are obscuring it from the light source. In this manner, I can tell which page (out of eight) each of the eight booklets is turned to, providing practically an infinite number of possible input variations. For the midterm, I have not yet written the logic. However, the idea is for the output would be to project the pages from each of the first eight novels within the Traveler onto their corresponding booklets on the surface. By navigating through the idividual novels, one would be able to reveal the meta narrative of the readers, hopefully in such a way as to make it meaningful for both those who have read the novel and those who have not.

How to display a flying dragon, from Johann Kestler, Physiologia Kircheriana Experimentalis, p. 247. from kircher.stanford.edu/gallery

© Erik Conrad 1998-2006