The First Nontechnical Issue

Year: 2021

After writing ‘Official Website Coming Soon!’, I answered yes, of course! to Marlies van Hak, who kindly asked me if I’d be interested in building her behind-the-scenes online stage.

To define the purpose of the website, me and Marlies engaged in long discussions about archiving, digital spaces as places, classification systems, coding messiness, various userships, London, and Brussels. During our conversations, we revisited different kinds of websites and the different reasons for their online presence. In today’s current state of the internet, the most popular websites seem to be social media platforms, e-shops, institutional archives, publishing platforms, and artistic portfolios. All of them are wrapped by the same layer: presentation websites - meaning that they present a product of sorts.

This digital extension makes sense, for every item needs its price tag. Unfortunately, the popularity of presentation websites and their styling regiment make it hard to distinguish the purpose of presenting the subjects, especially in the creative digital context. Sometimes, when browsing through artist websites, very similar, yet slightly differing, modes of presentation distract me from getting into the artist’s work. Where there seems to be interesting material to read/look at, I see containers and skeletons. How can it be that all different creative voices use the same graphics and constructs to translate their uniqueness? I don’t think that all stories are the same.

These doubts are perpetual, particularly in the case of a writer’s online voice, a profession that Marlies and I have in common. Publishing triggers a cringe. Everybody is/can voice it out on public speaking platforms. The writer’s thrill of having their first article published belongs to the ancient history of excitement; these platforms make the role of a writer a comic matter. Who isn’t a writer after all? Or a critic? Or an editor? Or a web developer? Or a [insert_role]? Belittlements from digital floors bring forth the question we, as creative workers who are doomed to depend on these infrastructures for exposure + income, struggle with the most: 'Why?'. Why do we need to show our works, if not for income? Furthermore, why is it inevitable for artists to gain recognition in the field independently from exposing their works on-popular-line(s)? Who in this world cares about what we have to say? And so on.

Answers to these doubts are personal, therefore many. Everything can have its digital translation. Most familiar concepts and constellations do. Because of repetitive abundance, many people believe that a website is a dead medium: an opinion that doesn’t necessarily make me want to flee the country. In times when I don’t easily come across digital alternatives which put a smile on my face (especially not from big structures such as educational institutions) this opinion resurfaces and claims itself true. Deep down in my heart, and even though, as a web developer, I struggle myself to build the web examples I want to see on the internet, I strongly disagree that a website is a dead medium. I have beautiful memories of examples that, as a teen, made me feel inspired and proactive online.

My answer to these doubts is that if we don’t build alternatives, we won’t see the alternatives. Now, in the web domain, alternatives can happen on two levels: technical or interface. I am not a big fan of new technical alternatives (for there are so many useful tools, technologies, and languages already), nor interfaces that aim to present their intentions as oppositions to online trends (the avant-garde). What I mean by building alternatives starts with understanding the value of what (and if it) must be shared and thinking about how to use the web extension as a tool for continuous singing. Websites were, are, and can still be magical places of expression (in this case, expression ≠ CV highlighting).

“We throw shade by existing in the world, by showing up and not only surviving, but truly, fully, living. We practice the future in the now, testing out alternatives of being. We openly, honestly consider together how to be strategically visible, when visibility is radically necessaryMarlies van Hak:

Interesting. As we know, it is only radically necessary in this world, today, because of its capitalist tendencies. For many people, even artists, the push for visibility is a tricky and undesirable one. I understand this reference in relation to your argument, but wanted to mention it anyway :)
.” - Legacy Russell

Despite the hardships, I believe that discussions and more time with the one I’m building for are the core contribution to future online happiness.

After reviewing the content which Marlies shared with me, three tangible bubbles formed in my head: 1. well documented, 2. uncertain, 3. ungraspable. The more I paid attention to them, the more the pack started looking like a house with transparent rooms of various sizes; built to offer a dwelling and a sense of orientantion in a digital space.

The well-documented corner,

is found on the left side of the website. By clicking on +roles, the user unravels a scattered list of roles that are bound to Marlies’ professional history. After each refresh/user session, the roles change their spots, meaning they’re not assigned to any fixed location on the webpage. They mark a personal history, but not an exponentially growing one. They mark history of experiences, rather than a succession of the former.

Each role contains a number of projects in which the roles are embedded. Each project contains a descriptive text about the project + the sensory content of the project such as images, sounds, pdfs. Together with Marlies, we decided that we wanted to offer two modes of reading the archive: textual + visual. The reading mode can be changed through read and see, hear, sense buttons.

With acknowledgment of the potential user unfriendliness followed by choosing the non-list style of presenting, we decided to embrace the list logic for the sake of user comprehensibility (even though we didn't address the accessibility fully; note to selves: what if users do not enter the website visually, for instance? What do we offer them?). Besides not wanting the user to feel lost or distracted, we wanted the user to dig through the archive differently from tripping up and down the hierarchical classification (which is how archives are often structured).

the uncertain,

is directionless content within the archive. There are currently two roles on the website which feed off of no content, yet are built on the present absence/void of the content. They are represented by dark blue holes which illustrate nothingMarlies van Hak:

They illustrate nothing that currently has to be (re)presented digitally, I would say. They do illustrate a potential or a past/present (analogue) experience, which for various reasons do not have to be part of the online archive (yet) — these roles may stay opaque, deliberately.
at the moment, yet the potential of something in the future. One day, they might be replaced by a project. Visually, they are the only elements on the website which bring forth the website’s background and which I call my ‘SVG masterpiece’. I illustrated thirteen lines inspired by water/fluidity/hairs/particles/larvae/planktons - all these a mix of subjects we both find moving. I gave each line a behavior. They change positions very slowly. The only reason why I drew exactly thirteen of them is for the sake of the composition’s balance.

the ungraspable

material is found on the right side of the website where six little bubbles are contained. They toggle textual content by clicking the buttons below them. When the user enters the website, the frames of the bubbles + content of Current Bio are open by default. Although its main importance is that it's a bio written by Marlies about Marlies, in the default case, it serves as a welcoming note to the website and gives an idea of how to approach her archive.

While the archive on the left side represents a certain history, bubbles to the right aim to grasp Marlies’ reflections in time present and which are crucial contributors to future works which will become a part of the past moment to the left. One of those bubbles, called Side Note, is what brought you here.

* Middle line as a tool *

We wanted to have a visual split between different times experienced in Marlies’ work, without necessarily prioritizing one over the other. The function of the blue line in the middle is for the user to change widths of divided content and, if necessary, isolate the reading moments. My inspiration for this design decision indirectly came from the VSC editor, in which I operate between multiple panels. Note to self: most web developers/designers end up designing on top of the tools they use.

Some references we shared, listed here in a non-chronological order:

- (p.s. listen to The Process of Undrowning with Alexis Pauline Gumbs on spotify when you find a moment someday)
- Maggie Nelson’s On Freedom
- I have recently been reading Sara Ahmed, and in one of her books (Queer Phenomenology. Orientations, Objects, Others, 2006) she states that it “matters how we arrive at the places we do" and that writing — and time — takes detours and turns.
- Attached is Neimanis’ article on hydrofeminism. The more extensive book is this one:
- Speaking of "all things river", I immediately thought of Sevdaliza's All Rivers at Once.
- In-between inspiration (user agency > play :))
- Yesterday, I discovered Mindy Seu and her archive and I can't wait to start reflecting on this with you.
- [13:29, 08/11/2021] Maisa: sth more from mindy:
- Legacy Russell's Glitch Feminism

show selected bits from hand-written notes

*Problem of archiving*
*CV = Tiny CV*
*show back end*
*not to polish*
*do we have strike through roles?*
*share reference*
*The bio - instead of her bio*
*what are we emphasising?*
*void = opacity —> not everything has to be visible*
*independent buttons*
*how to be intimate with the material?*
*more rhizomatic*
*quite inviting - invited*
*are buttons in their order? - Yes.*
*favicon = larvae*
*blue - M*
*15 dec deploy*
*first moment = too sepia*
*Wednesday = 11:00*
*pre-final meeting, or whatever*
*font = good*
*⊃ ⊐*
*svg masterpiece is good*

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