Individual Work

“[]” was commissioned by New Radio & Performing Arts, Inc. for its website in 2006. It is a collaborative work created by Mary Flanagan, Daniel Howe, Chris Egert, Junming Mei, & Kay Chang. “[]” blends artwork in an environment that depends on user participation. Users may either create an account or use the program anonymously. The user begins by entering English words and phrases at her discretion, and the program employs a lexical database to organize the words by similar topics. Each group of topics is visualized as a seed that is planted in the user’s virtual garden. The seed grows into a unique garden of trees that evolves in response to the combined interactions of the other members of the “[]” community.

Once users have entered the program they can search for something, view their own garden, or view other user’s gardens. When a user searches for a word, a seed is generated in the shape of a square. The seed quickly begins to produce words that relate to the general “topic” of the searches word. The user can plant these seeds and create her own garden. If the user chooses to view other user’s gardens, she is taken to a forest of scrolling trees. These trees represent various user’s gardens. Once a tree is selected, the user is able to see the literature generated on the word or topic. Some will links to external websites, such as specific articles on online news outlets.

“[]” suggests that communities emerge from conceptual and linguistic exchange in the same way as a garden grows from the dispersal and germination of seeds. “[]” encourages users to interact with each other by exploring and modifying virtual gardens, which are linguistically derived and continually evolving. The project experiments with user-generated communities as a means of developing and archiving words and ideas over time.

Janet Barriage was a student of Dr. Kiki Benzon for a course in Contemporary Fiction taught at the University of Lethbridge, Canada during the Winter term of 2011.