Individual Work

Andy Campbell’s “Aphiddd” is an animated, interactive poem that was created based on another poem that Campbell wrote years earlier. It was published using webGL, and is accessible on web browsers (either Chrome or Firefox), and requires a computer with a graphics card (which essentially any computer will have). The work consists of digitally edited photos of plants and the outdoors, which have been formed into a tree, with words laid overtop. Some of the messages appear etched into the bark of the tree, while others swirl around it. As the user continues up the tree, more of the poem is revealed, and readers can also zoom in and out with either the scroll wheel, or two fingers on the pad. Users change the angle by physically grabbing and turning the tree to experience the work however they would like.

The main part of the work is presented in 3 parts. Starting with the bottom of the tree, You will see the first section of the poem swirling around. When you press “next” in the bottom left, you can see the second part, and so on. However, throughout there are messages etched into the bark of the tree as well as hidden messages that you can find as you rotate the image by hand. There is also a sound track, which was developed by Barry Snaith, according to The sound track is eerie, and adds another layer to the piece, although it can easily be experienced with or without sound. The work can be accessed here , or here , and is available to anyone, provided they have the required web browser.

“Aphiddd” explores the parasitic nature of a toxic relationship. Most of the poetry swirling around the tree talks about physical pain. Aphids are not harmful in small numbers, but they can become very destructive to plants over time. Campbell is using the metaphor of the aphid to show us that as time goes on, the damage becomes extensive to the relationship. As we explore the work, we discover more of the story unfolding, and we can begin to understand how much damage has really been done. Since this work is based off of another (unknown) poem by the same author, it is up to the reader to decipher the story, and can be related to many situations.

The language used in the poem is simple to understand, but the messages are hard to decipher. Each poem is presented in a circle, which continuously spins around the tree. Some parts are upside down, some parts are just difficult to get close enough to. Since it rotates constantly, there is no definitive beginning or end to any of the 3 sections. There are also many hidden messages on small parts of the tree that you really have to search for. The words which appear to be etched into the bark itself do not form easily understood, cohesive sentences. As parts of the tree seem to have grown back over, and these messages are intentionally more difficult to decipher and could represent old, partially healed wounds. It is also interesting to note that the letter “d” always appears in 3’s, like it does in the title “Aphiddd”, every single time there is a letter “d”. This adds another dimension to the work, as there is no obvious reason why this choice has been made. It seems that the nature of the work allows us to interpret the parts that speak to us, and to take what we need from the piece.

Regardless of interpretation, the piece is a cohesive experience. It is not simple to read, it requires that the user engage with the piece very intentionally, and it does a wonderful job of engaging the user. The piece was published originally in 2019, and hasn’t had any critical reviews just yet, however it is absolutely worth exploring.

Author statement: 
Aphiddd was inspired, rather fittingly, by another poem I wrote many years ago about a friendship that I felt had become dependent, even parasitic in nature, largely without me even noticing. The work developed as if the older poem were the ‘host’, the plundered source material – which made for an interesting writing and editing process. The idea to use photo-scanned plants and materials as part of the work came from spending time outdoors during the autumn/winter months and seeing plants, leaves and barks deteriorating. The colours at times were spectacular and beautiful, despite the nature of what was happening. Originally, I was looking to create small digital bugs comprised of text which would freely and randomly roam around the sections of tree-bark as you explored the work, but it turned out to be a little too messy and over-complicated to implement. The poetry runs along ‘splines’ generated through primitive geographical shapes – mostly tori. These are sometimes stretched and overlapped to give a sense than the text is encapsulating or ‘suffocating’ the natural branches and bark sections, often without even touching them. After being optimized (the original photo scanned textures are 4k, reduced to 2k), the piece was created entirely in Unity and published using WebGL.