Part game, part text, part interactive memory-scape, Dreaming Methods’ Clearance (2008) is a web-based “multimedia exploration” that invites its users to make sense of memories, fleeting phrases, radio clips, and moving images that intrude upon a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape. As this puzzling environment unfolds, it becomes increasingly difficult to parse what is dreamed from what is real, what is remembered from what is invented, and what is the singular trauma of the player-character from what might be a larger-scale, perhaps global, catastrophe.
The work opens with government-compiled information about the work’s central character: Iggi Hayer, a South African-born British national whose mother, father, and wife are all deceased. As this information loads, another window opens beside it, which plays a scratched but high-contrast black-and-white video clip of a man walking towards the camera. These images and texts come swiftly, with little time to linger on any of the finer points, before they give way to other sections of the work. In the segments that follow (at least nine), the reader-player takes the perspective of the character, presumably Iggi Hayer, who drives through empty roads, walks through abandoned fields filled with rusted and industrial remains, and remembers his past in fragmentary snippets.
The navigation of Clearance is challenging, offering little in terms of interaction. The reader-player can pan from left to right with mouse movements and reveal animated memories with mouse-overs and re-position them with clicks-and-drags, but the ability to transition between different levels—or “passes,” as the piece seems to refer to them in the end—is only intermittently granted. For the most part, the work itself structures most of the movement that the player can take, even to the extent that it beckons the reader-player with “this way” text markers that locate transition points to different segments.
In one such section, Iggi seems to address an absent loved one. The text, “I’ve been seeing a few things since you disappeared,” appears briefly on the screen, before it is replaced by the following question: “Did they wipe everyone out?” Who “they” are is one of the most interesting mysteries that Clearance presents. Although clues are doled out via different media clips on the screen, they are also hinted at by the singular most recurrent image in the project, the stone sculptures of large, strange, human-like heads strewn across all parts of the landscape. These images are based entirely from the “paradox carvings” of Billy Johnson, who made news in 2007 in England for leaving his “mystery head” sculptures anonymously in the gardens and yards of Yorkshire residents. Johnson shares credit for Clearance on the Dreaming Methods production, along with Andy Campbell and Judi Alston, and at one point the work links to a news article about his “mystery heads” in Yorkshire. The connection between the heads that dominate the landscapes of Clearance and the real-world sculptures in Yorkshire lend an ARG feel to Clearance, suggesting that an additional layer to the story might exist beyond the pages of the work itself.