hypertext patterns: scruTiny

hypertext patterns: scruTiny

ScruTiny In The Great Round
by Tennessee Rice Dixon and Jim Gasperini
publisher: Calliope (distributed by Maxis)
CD for Macintosh and Windows

A working vocabulary of hypertext structure helps us understand hypertexts more quickly and more clearly.

A previous HypertextNOW applied a vocabulary of hypertext patterns to Rockett's New School, a work far in audience and intent from the literary hypertext that is the customary field for such analysis. Continuing this exploration, let us turn to ScruTiny in the Great Round by Tennessee Rice Dixon and Jim Gasperini. This work is intended to be (and succeeds as) high art, an electronic artist's book, far from the mass-market children's entertainment of Rockett. At the same time, though, the graphically-rich ScruTiny is also quite unlike the writerly hypertexts more familiar to hypertext analysis.

ScruTiny in the Great Round is a challenging and accomplished interactive collage -- a hypertext almost entirely without words. Text appears only briefly and incidentally amidst thousands of collage elements. The collages move, animate, and respond to the reader's touch.

The hypertext structure of ScruTiny is dominated by a grand cycle of 12 collages, each representing a moment in the progress of regeneration: encounter, romance, gestation, emergence. Each collage collects disparate elements: suits of armor, Victorian woodcuts, ancient sculptures, animals, flowers. Many elements respond when touched to perform a brief animation; in effect, each collage is also a desktop, offering an array of artifacts to be examined as the reader desires.

"In counterpoint, two voices alternate, interleaving themes or welding together theme and response. Counterpoint often gives a clear sense of structure, a resonance of call and response reminiscent at once of liturgy and of casual dialogue." -- Mark Bernstein, Patterns of Hypertext, Hypertext '98

The cycle that shapes the entire work find an echo in most of the collages, for circles and cycles appear frequently as iconic representations of the female. Most of ScruTiny's tableaus establish a counterpoint between male (rigid, inorganic, seeking) and female (soft, organic, encompassing) imagery, and circles often establish the boundaries of the female domain.

"Mirrorworlds provide a parallel or intertextual narrative that adopts a different voice or contrasting perspective. The Mirrorworld echoes a central theme or exposition, either emplifying it or elaborating it in ways impractical within the main thread." -- Mark Bernstein, Patterns of Hypertext, Hypertext '98

The "great round" of ScruTiny is reflected in a pair of mirrorworlds, for each collage (with the exception of "Reunion") appears in two "levels": Sun and Moon. The color palette of the Sun scenes is warm, that of the Moon scenes is cool. (The palettes throughout the work are unusually restrained for computer art, making the subtle tonal difference between Sun and Moon more emotionally nuanced than might a less monochromatic palette) Navigation is easy within the Sun or Moon worlds, but moving between Sun and Moon requires more effort. This structural feature distinguishes the Sun/Moon dyad as a mirrorworld, not a counterpoint.

ScruTiny in the Great Round is structurally fascinating, its visual texture is dense and rich, and its concerns transcend the individual as its structures transcend the merely human. With its thousands of images and animations, ScruTiny in the Great Round is a vast dynamic painting, constantly changing and responding to the viewer. Like all painting, it needs to establish itself, and its prominent structural motifs assure the viewer that this is indeed a work of art, not an arbitrary melange. Indeed, the themes of ScruTiny -- the march of time, the parade of the seasons and of the generations -- have long inspired artists and sculptors to structural experiment. As writers and readers become more comfortable with new media and with hypertext structure, as we learn to perceive structure more clearly and to describe it more evocatively, perhaps Dixon and Gasperini will explore themes less symbolic and abstract, yet with the same attention to medium, imagination, and linkage that they bring to ScruTiny in the Great Round.

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