Gregory Chatonsky’s Generative Narratives

Gregory Chatonsky is a French/Canadian artist who has created a significant body of net art. Here are a couple of pieces of his I found that still work and are compelling:

The Revolution Took Place in New York (2002)

The Revolution Took Place in New York is a fictional story generated in real time from an internet source. A text generator gives shape to an infinite novel bearing close resemblance to the work “Projet pour une révolution à New York” written by Robbe-Grillet in 1970: Ben Saïd walks on the streets of the American metropolis and plots something. Some words are associated to video fragments, others to sounds gleaned on the network and others are automatically translated into images using Google. The structured association of these heterogeneous elements generates a narrative flow simultaneous with the network flow.”

Each time I’ve opened this piece, it’s been different. What surprised and charmed me most about this piece was how the narrative made sense, often, and kept me interested in where it was going. That is very unusual indeed in generative works. I’m referring to the text itself. But, also, the way the text goes with the images was also, often, quite interesting.

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Those That Will Die (2006)

“Experience Project, an emblematic web 2.0 site, enables anyone to anonymously narrate one’s intimate experience. “Those That Will Die” extracts some of these texts and automatically illustrates them thanks to certain keywords by using autoscopy videos found on Youtube and self-captures loaded from Flickr.”

Related to “The Revolution Took Place in New York” in that, again, Chatonsky is dealing with narrative and networked databases, both textual and image-based.

This work has quite a bit going for it in terms of the narrative it attempts concerning significant subjects in our lives.

It’s the only net art generative narrative I’ve encountered that reminded me of an experience I had in 1998 in Seattle, a little before the time of Google image search. My partner wanted to check out a store that sold shabby chic furniture, among other things. While she was looking at the furniture, I came across a large fruit bowl full of family photographs from the forties through the sixties. Mostly black and white. Americana family pictures. It seemed there were quite a few families. And the pictures were all jumbled together in a bowl that other people had looked through many times.

I thought it odd that such family pictures were for sale in used furniture (and used other things) store. They were the sort of family pictures that one wouldn’t give up easily. Not because they were great photographs or anything. Just that they were family pictures, and most people wouldn’t want to part with them.

I asked the shopkeeper whose photos these were. He said he didn’t know. Many peoples’. Why would people sell them or get rid of family pictures, I asked him. Various circumstances, he said. Death, perhaps, being the main one. But also, multiple copies. Or a desire to jettison some particular history. Who can imagine all the circumstances under which such things begin to float? I asked him why people would want to buy them. He said “To have a family.”

I couldn’t decide which was more disturbing: the aged family photos floating in the fruit bowl or his answers.

Chatonsky’s generative narrative is very interesting in its attempt to deal, in some way, with significant subjects in our lives via the vast fruit bowl of Google image search databases.

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