Layering emerges from the procedural processes in the digital texts, which emphasize navigation as part of reading. The combination of audio, moving and still images, linked sections, architectural components, (walls, buildings, rooms etc), objects and characters make up the layers of the works. Layering in reading, Katherine Hayles explains, includes “the practices of concealing and revealing [that] offer fertile ground for aesthetic and artistic exploration,” which in reading “reveal themselves according to time sequences, cursor movements, and other criteria” (Mother 54). The criteria I have located in the works of this study that are part of layering include spatial relations and haptic properties. Being able to grasp objects in the works (e.g. Façade and Dreamaphage) and move around designed spaces brings the layering in the works to the fore. Layering as a spatial and temporal organization of the narrative restricts reading and outcomes. Layering includes the elements in the texts, such as the architecture created by the system of links, which develop into the possible combinations of narrative. Furthermore, layering restricts readings by configuring relations within the text, based on the elements that combine in the order of events and navigation in the texts. I discuss layering as it applies to the images moving over written text, accompanied by sound in Last Meal Requested, and the sequencing of elements based on keywords in Façade. In Dreamaphage layering is made up of the combinations of audio and visual files, written text, images and audio sources. While Façade features layering that relies on the use of language to connect the objects, the designed space and the characters, and includes the reader in each possible arrangement of criteria.
Depth is an intrinsic part of the representation of space in design, particularly because of how it directs movement in the navigation of the works. Layering results in a sense of depth in reading, whereby order is imposed on single or combinations of narrative events and actions in set sequences. The result is a defined reader perspective in relation to the near and far, future, present and past as part of narrative. Depth is composed of a system of representative elements that makes “the near and far possible as distinguishable but inseparable parameters; it is also what serves to connect them as aspects of the same field” (Casey 66). By making one element appear closer than another, in time and space, an impression of depth is established in narrative. By portraying what is near and far from a particular point within its design structures, through visual and temporal means, a sense of movement can be achieved in navigating the digital work. The movement through the narrative that results from the depiction of depth in the works can be movement in time or space or a combination of both.
Layering plays a significant role in narrative. The examples of layering discussed in this chapter are part of the emergence of the spatial dimensions in the narratives of the texts. In my analysis, chains of associations between the physical attributes of the texts as part of design, and the associated meanings in narrative are established. The meanings drawn from these attributes and the implications they have for reading are highlighted. By critiquing design in relation to layering and the resulting depth, it shows that the works are relatively stable, although complex entities, and are therefore readable with clear indicators of how narratives are realized in each. Layering is used to combine and codify the deign elements and as a result they illustrate the restrictions that are imposed upon reading. The primary narrative areas restricted by layering are connected to the representation of space and time. The temporal is restricted to a particular order of events and actions through the arrangement of layers in design. The representation of historical time can also be manipulated through layering, with distant events made more proximal in space though the overlaying of more recent events as I describe below in Last Meal Requested. As key events are triggered via the navigation of the reader a specific narrative chronology is developed. The layering of the texts coordinates the events that compose these narrative chronologies. The spaces that make up narrative are layered in design according to how they can be arranged and navigated in reading. These layers both guide and restrict the possible ways the texts can be responded to.
Layering and Reading
The layering of elements in the design restricts readings of the works. These restrictions center on the representation of perspective in the work. Layering arranges the narrative events and actions in the sense of one relating to another in reading. In the relating of one event or action layering builds upon the procedural order of the work, whereby if it not simply the order of events or actions which the design of the work controls, but the possibilities for relating these events and actions to each other according to the mechanics of reading. This function operates in a similar way in each of the digital works discussed in this study. The second function of layering in is that it creates a sense of perspective for the reader. Perspective in Last Meal Requested is built upon the first person recounting in audio and visual media of the three themes of the work: state violence, racial violence and violence against women. Five layers of audio can be played while still images move over the written portions of the work (See Figure 3 below). As I explain below, the layering that results from this arrangement sets up variations of an asynchronized, multimedia, first person perspective for the reader in real time.
Reading Time in Last Meal Requested
In reading Last Meal Requested the temporal is established through a system of layering that relates anachronistic elements to each other, creating a perspective of a permanent present. The design of Last Meal Requested features images of historical figures and events from the distant past (from 1906-1919) that move over written descriptions of more recent figures and events (from 1989). The visual images block out the written descriptions of the more recent events and emphasize the images of the distant past. This layering between the images and written text creates an inverted time frame in Last Meal Requested. The material configuration of Last Meal Requested becomes the dominant temporal context for its reading. This inversion of the temporal is realized spatially in the design of the work, and sets up associations according to the breaks and contrasts between the visual and written. The reader of Last Meal Requested is propelled into becoming a witness to the themes centered on violence in various forms towards racial, ethnic and sexual minorities.
Figure 3: Last Meal Requested layering between an image obscuring writing.
The temporal distance between the layers of Last Meal Requested are reconciled in reading through the material attributes of the work. There are a number of material similarities between the video of the beating of Rodney King and the lynching photos, which make this reconciliation possible. The King video is a looped video film made by an eyewitness of the beating of King by LAPD officers. In perspective and time the King video originates at the site of the event it depicts and places the viewer in a relationship with that event. The lynching images are taken from postcard photos taken at the scene of each lynching, that were reproduced in large numbers and sold as souvenirs or mementoes of the event (See Als and Allen 14). Like the surveillance camera of today, both the King video and the lynching post cards provide evidence of an event in the form of a visual artifact in an iconic sense. The time and site of the event are linked to the viewer as a testimonial of truth via the composition of the visual artifact. The composition of the lynching post cards is always centered on a point in relation to the hanging corpse. In the five lynching images of Last Meal Requested, the line of sight originates in the crowd below the hanged body of the victim. The video of the King beating positions the viewer on the roadside opposite and slightly raised from where the victim lies. The ten second loop from the King video provides a fixed recurring moment taken from the original nine minutes of footage shot in 1989. In the lynching images and the King video the visual conditions of the eye witness are recreated for the reader of Last Meal Requested. In this way the temporal differences between the images, audio and writing de-emphasize the representative elements of the work, and instead the material configuration takes over as organizing the time of the narrative.
The disruption of the written word by the animated image suggests a focus on the spatial and visual attributes rather than interpretive structures suggested by the written word in Last Meal Requested. The images of violence that move over the written descriptions of the assault on Rodney King by LAPD, the execution of a woman by the Afghani Taliban and the gassing of the Kurdish residents of Halabjah render them difficult to read. The written accounts are obscured by the visual images of the event. Passages such as “Unaware that the incident had been videotaped the police officers filed inaccurate reports, not mentioning the fact that Rodney King was left with any head wounds” (Last Meal Requested) are made distant by the layering of images of lynch mobs. By obscuring the written portions of the text, a sense of depth is implied through the distance it achieves. The reader becomes a witness to the (recorded) events in terms of perspective of time and space. A hierarchy is established through the depiction of depth, with the written accounts as the most fragmented, obscured and distant, but also the most historically recent. The layering of the text makes the near past become distant and brings the distant past near. The procession of time is inverted by the layering of Last Meal Requested. As narrative events the images occur in the dynamic time of the animation, as opposed to the recounted time of the written retelling.