Working from the conventions of hypertext fiction, Chiappe’s expansive multimedia work presents an ergodic experience in which its user is presented the opportunity to explore a database of texts, arranged in 63 individual chapters – each one accompanied by distinct animation, still images, text, and sound – that recount the long historical context of petroleum extraction in Venezuela. The database structure of the work, manifest clearly on a home page in which each chapter is represented with a hyperlinked word that ambiguously characterizes its respective page, offers its users the possibility to either freely form their own navigational routes or, by providing an arrow that loosely guides its users, to follow a curated, more linear narrative. Presenting five interrelated plotlines that occur during three distinct periods of the 20th Century in the oil-rich town of Menegrande, Tierra de Extracción presents a complex, fragmented perspective of those lives affected – by chance and by choice – when the global reach of modern capitalism collides with desires and anxieties of the local. While the novel’s narratives principally occur either at the beginning and end of the 20th Century – coinciding with the construction of the first oil well in Menegrande and with the contemporary period, respectively –, the prominence given to questions of racial inequity in modern Venezuela contextualizes these stories within a more comprehensive, post-Columbian history of colonialism, slavery, and violence in the Americas.
Beginning his writing of the novel in 1996, Chiappe originally released the work on CD-Rom in 2000 before editing and re-publishing it in its current web-based format in 2007, which was created with the help of various collaborators: Andreas Meier (programming, artworks, design), Ramón Leún (artworks), Humberto Mayol (photography), Edgar Galíndez (photography), Pedro Ruiz (photography), and Raúl Alemán (music). In dialogue with 20th-century print literary traditions emerging mostly as part of the Latin American Boom movement (the fantastic and aleatory works of Cortázar as well as the magical realism emblematized by figures such as Rulfo or García Márquez), Chiappe combines these print influences with those of early electronic literature to recount in a distinctive fashion the politics of exploitation, both of natural resources and of human lives, in Latin America. In addition, by presenting this particular history of extractivist capitalism through an electronic, database structure, Chiappe’s work today offers a prescient and cautionary commentary on a world in which data has become the resource of choice to be exploited for the expansion of capital in the 21st century.