“Help create my digital portrait, and then erase it…” So begins the interactive self-portrait, “Because You Asked,” by Alan Bigelow. Combing words, pictures, and sounds via a Flash interface, readers are invited to flesh out a silhouette of the artist by clicking on icons while a jangling, electronic beat cycles in the background. Each icon reveals a short statement about the artist, initiates a loop of the statement being read aloud, and fills in the silhouette with random scattered words and phrases from the statement. Declarations like, “My dreams come in episodes, like a TV drama” and “Sex is my favorite drug” provide readers with insights into the life of the artist that are as intimate as they are intriguing. As readers continue to click icons, the scattered words and looping phrases accumulate and overlap, and eventually a photographic image of the artists appears against the cacophonous sonic backdrop. When all the icons have been successfully clicked, readers are then permitted to erase the portrait, and are left to ponder the phrase: “Because you asked…”
While the piece appears first as a poetic confession, astute readers will struggle with the obvious irony of being implicated in such a “self-portrait.” While it is certainly fair to assume that the statements and image are Bigelow’s own, the unaffected voice of narration as it loops endlessly, the cascading repetition of beautifully rendered phrases, and the generic character of the icons all point to the reader’s culminating gesture of erasure, which unveils the final phrase, “Because you asked…” In most cases, the reader-centered aspects of interactivity tend to be overstated, however, this self-portrait points to the real culprit in user-generated content. Rather than the act of interacting via a purely technological interface, “Because You Asked” implies that reader involvement takes place at a more fundamentally human level, that of curiosity, imagination, and consciousness, suggesting, perhaps, that we see ourselves as much as anything else in the things that we look for.