This webwork was commissioned by the Film and Video Umbrella as part of the Tristero project; a website where people can upload their junk mail for it to be manipulated or variously treated by an artist. Four artists, Nick Crowe, Jacqueline Donachie, Michael Landy and myself were invited to be involved.

The Tristero project was inspired by Thomas Pynchon's novel 'The Crying of Lot 49' which revolves around a phenomenon called the Tristero: a clandestine mail system which operates under the radar of the US Postal Service, whose initiates covertly inscribe and re-direct apparently innocent letters as a way of sending coded messages to each other. The Tristero is a kind of hacker underworld before the fact, a secret network of marginalised, dissident elements who take pride in the creative re-purposing of overlooked or discarded material, transforming dead-letters and junk mail into multi-layered carriers of meaning. The Tristero website is a customised digital image depository to which subscribers can donate waste material from their mailboxes or hard drives in the hope that it will be transformed into ready-made, Merz-style artworks by the artists.

In this particular work for Tristero viewers are confronted with a 3D visualisation of a data space where they see the images, texts and other material that has been uploaded by the various users. As they move the mouse around the screen they are able to shift their 3D view of a particular uploaded item which is represented as a constantly falling array of copies of the object. The longer they interact with the database the more chaotic it becomes. The self-replicating objects come to resemble trash pouring down the screen. If, whilst the viewer is logged on, another viewer also logs on then each of the viewers will see not only their own 3D database but also the 3D database of the other viewer(s). The multiple 3D views of the data-space generated by multiple viewers interacting with it are montaged together into a single shared image, where the actions of any one viewer effects what all the other viewers see.

Vectors responding to viewers mouse movements also play across the visual field. These vectors are clearly connected to events concerning each of the viewers but in ways that are not clear. The geometries appear oblique to events but imply the location of the invisible viewers. Given that what a viewer sees is what everybody else sees these vectors give a non-cartesian indication of where the others are seeing things from. The system thus functions as a surveillance mechanism legible to those who know the "code".

Any number of viewers can be logged on at the same time. If the viewer is logged on alone the work will default to run in a demo mode where a number of "fake" viewers will visit the site as well, generating other 3D databases and their various perspectives.

Simon Biggs
August 2002