Jason Nelson’s “Sydney’s Siberia” is a poetic meditation on urban space presented through a Flash-based “infinite zoom” interface, which Nelson has repurposed and re-titled as “infinite click and read.” The images and words, created by Nelson during a residency in Newcastle, South Wales, document a pedestrian view of the city, with a decisive emphasis on the ordinary. The piece begins with a photograph of an historical figure enshrined on a wall, overlaid with a narrative that reads, “between 1875 and 1877 twelve men and women created the folly history society. their goal was to photograph strangers, build histories of important and far reaching deeds and then memorialize them as grand pillars, window adorning guardians civic’s future.” When clicked, the user zooms into the image, revealing its tiled composition, a mosaic of small images, each with its own text (and often including Nelson’s familiar hand-drawn gestures of emphasis and redaction). As the platform suggests, this zooming is “infinite,” and the deeper the user travels into the image, the more images he or she will discover. In total, there are 121 tiles, each with its own image and verse.
The visual and literary preference demonstrated for the small, the overlooked, and the trivial aspects of the urban landscape coupled with the non-linear organization of the piece meshes with the zooming function, giving readers the sensation of a meandering walk in which every detail becomes an occasion for reflection, and where close inspection yields ever new levels of detail. The verses themselves range from the absurd (“the first cloud seeding efforts used remnant bricks and paint raining cities not yet assembled”) to the contemplative (“to be human is to contain, organize and hide or something else maybe, maybe”). The obtrusive lack of human forms in this urban landscape adds a bit of loneliness to this wandering, which resonates with the piece’s title (taken from a book review written by John Thompson, in which he describes Botany Bay as “Sidney’s Siberia,” a place where “every unwanted human activity and group was exiled to”). With this title, Nelson suggests that Newcastle, as a marginal neighbor to the more prominent Sydney, is a place of exile. Nelson, a careful observer of the fringes, seems to make a statement with “Sydney’s Siberia,” that there is much to see in the margins, if readers take the time to wander and look.