13 September, 2006: Since this piece was written, the site has been updated to incorporate some design changes, an RSS feed and new sections for Research and Documentation.
Visiting the site
Visiting the site you’re presented with an image of what appears to be a medical folder placed on a wood-grained surface. A sticker with the title of the site, ‘Archiving Actualities’, is affixed to the folder, top right; tabs with the letters of the alphabet are exposed along the side of the folder, some in groups – ‘HI’, ‘QR’, ‘TU’ etc.; and lying on the folder sits a page of notes, in a font simulating handwriting, apparently torn from a spiral-bound book.
These notes appear to be case notes by a consultant, introducing and commenting on the contents of the file that we are yet to see.
The notes are made up of short sentences, grouped in sections, like poetry. In fact they are poetry.
They speak of the scar as a physically and historically defining moment, and invite the visitor to expose the scar to an audience through this site.
Mousing over the alphabetical tabs highlights them in red and selecting a letter opens the folder to a list of profiles with surnames beginning with the chosen letter.
Prominently displayed at the top of each page is another sticker, with a red cross (outlined in black) and the exhortation to ‘Add Scar’.
Choosing a participant takes you to the case history of their scar, including personal details, a portrait and an image of the scar accompanied by discrete snippets of data and an extended story regarding it’s creation.
The site is built on storytelling. From the very first, the notes presented on the home page position the site as the productive coming together of science and storytelling, of objectivity and fiction.
Using poetry as the introduction immediately throws us into ambiguous terrain. It seems to implicitly obscure meaning, or at least make it ambiguous. One of poetry’s great assets is to create an entrée for the imagination by unhinging meaning away from words. However that seems to go against the stated goals of the site – “to develop an international databank of scar stories” – this suggests a much more objective, scientific vision for the collection rather than the illusive, emotive vision created by the words.
But what this text does is to reflect and prepare us for the stories within the site, picking up on their contingent, anecdotal style. It immediately sets the scene, creates the milieu within which the visitor can offer their own story’s poetry, while suffusing it with an added dimension and the historical necessity of myth.
Beyond the collection of data as a scientific activity, the stories themselves seem to play with scientific method and analysis.
The site consistently uses the metaphor of the medical report to present it’s data, implying an invisible presence throughout, the anonymous figure of the consultant collecting this data, acting as a silent witness, creating an environment of freedom of speech, gifting the participant the opportunity to express themselves freely within the confines of the site. Ostensibly this would be the artist, Rhiannon Jones, but she is herself also a contributor, embedding herself in the collected data.
I’ve submitted my own story, so, aside from the fact that I know the artist personally, I’m also implicated in the creation of the ‘databank’. If my story is anything to go by, the viewer should consider these as anecdotes, framed by when they took place, the participant’s memory and the method of presentation – I may be embarrassed about how I got my scar or feel the story is lacking in some way and falsify or embellish the account. Or I may be traumatised by the event and not be able to give a clear description of what happened.
So does it matter that the stories are potentially fictional? After all, we’ve already recognised that the site is built on ambiguity.
The use of the word ‘story’ is significant – it is not strict reportage, but a later reinterpretation of the memory. I think the collection in itself is the important thing, as a means of remembrance and preservation. The scars themselves are as open to interpretation as our stories are, and ‘act as a physical expression of memory.’
In it’s intent, this is a social site, the creation of a community around a shared attribute, that—once instigated by the artist—is self-sustaining. This brings it into the sphere of community sites like MySpace or friendster, but with much more specific and potentially meaningful common ground for the participants. To this it adds elements of interaction, performativity, exposure and connection.
But are scars too tenuous a connection to sustain a community? After we’ve presented and compared our scars where does this leave us? The site itself can take us no further, gives us no options for further interaction.
But what is not apparent is that the project doesn’t stop with the site, or indeed start with it either, it’s just one aspect of a larger piece. In parallel the artist initiates discussions about scars at random moments in random places as performative acts. These take on a life of their own, continuing after the artist has departed, having served her purpose in catalysing the event. They will drive traffic to the website and encourage a greater freedom of sharing these stories online and in public.
So far these two arenas for the project are working somewhat in isolation. The website is where all the data should end up for the greatest audience for these stories but at the moment it only reflects part of the material. Ideally a way of integrating the ‘live’ data would bring the various strands together and fulfil the aim of creating the international databank.