Andy Polaine, Andy Cameron, Joe Stephenson, Luke Pendrell, Rob Le Quesne, Sophie Pendrell, Tomas Roope, in collaboration with practitioners across a range of disciplines.
London, October 1994 - February 1995
Anti-rom was intended as a critique of the poverty of contemporary multimedia. In particular it was intended as a critique of those CD-ROMs which fail to go beyond traditional linear form - the kind of CD-ROM where shiny 3D buttons are grafted over packets of pointless information - the automatic vending machine type of CD-ROM where you can press a button and have whatever you want, as long as its Coke or Fanta (and there's no Fanta). We asked ourselves whether this poverty was an intrinsic aspect of interactive media per se - or whether it was caused by a poverty of imagination thus far on the part of interactive producers. Does a CD-ROM have to be banal and boring, or is it rather that crucial formal aspects of interactive media (how it operates as a language, what forms and figurations of rhetoric it makes available and most importantly of all, what kinds of spectatorship it offers) are barely understood by any of us? Taking the advice of Alexei Gann, theorist of the Constructivists, we chose to take concrete problems as the point of departure. The concrete problem was a simple one - how can a CD-ROM be made to work successfully at the most basic level? That is, how can it be made to engage a spectator so that he or she doesn't walk away within the first few minutes? We were not the first to look at this issue. Gerald van der Kaap's Blind Rom was a great source of inspiration to us, and the Japanese computer game industry has spent the last 15 years coming up with ingenious and lucrative solutions to this question. Anti-rom was an experiment. We wanted to make something which worked in its own terms. We found ourselves operating within a profoundly non-linear paradigm, a paradigm of ambient interactivity, ritual activities, and of representations which were circular, repetitive, without syntax and without closure. It was hard not to think like a modernist. It was hard not to find an "essence" of non-linearity, a truth of interactive media - some approaches seemed intrinsically more suited to the nature of the medium than others. We found it was almost always easier and more successful to make things which were playful, rather than purposeful, things which were open-ended rather than closed-off. Much has been made of a supposed natural relationship between interactive media and liberty. For techno-libertarians, interactivity is something that gives individuals more choice, that takes mediation out of the media, and empowers all as free consumers in the marketplace of signs. Liberty, in this sense, is the defining illusion of interactive representations. By engaging with interactive media, this illusion, the illusion of liberty, crumbles. An interactive experience can be as tightly controlled as any other. In its form of spectatorship however, an interactive representation is always to some extent immersive, throwing the viewer inside the time of the representation. This corresponds to the linguistic category of the imperfective aspect (1), and it is from this that a linguistics of interactive media may develop.
Circumstances of production
Anti-rom was made in response to an Arts Council of Great Britain research grant of 4,000 pounds, given to research the artistic opportunities presented by new non-linear technology. We reckoned an experimental CD-ROM would be more useful than a report. We used Director on Mac 650s and 840s, mastered it on a borrowed WORM burner and pressed 1000 copies, all of which were either given away, or distributed at cost price. None of the group has a programming background and all have either taught at, or graduated from, the BA in Contemporary Media Practice at the University of Westminster.
(1) see Bernard Comrie, Aspect, Cambridge University Press.