Vivian Selbo,

Vivian Selbo,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 11 1997 3:30 AM

Vivian Selbo,

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     Context, context, context. It's äda'web's conceptual linchpin, and also the name of one of the site's six filters, or top-level directories on the server. It's moreover what Benjamin, äda'web's curator, calls the art and sometimes the artists we work with--they're the context, the way some players in Hollywood are the talent. What he means is that the artists give us the big ideas, and those give us an excuse to play around with the technology that makes them happen.      Darcey Steinke, author of the new novel Jesus Saves, her third book, and Liz Fried, a literary scout for foreign markets and a professional "cool hunter," came by this afternoon to talk about Darcey's forthcoming project with äda'web, which is called "Blindspot." Liz is curating a new series of projects with äda'web that will pair authors with Web designers to invent new kinds of reading experiences. Benjamin and Andrea, äda'web's director of business development, had already given Darcey and Liz several Web tours, showing them sites we think exhibit exceptionally creative ways of combining text and images. Then Darcey went away to write. Now we've all read what she wrote, a dark and anxious piece about a woman alone in an apartment with a baby. The table we gathered around was spread with images she'd brought in: an architectural plan of the old Upper West Side apartment that figures in her story, black-and-white snapshots of its interior details and the inside of the elevator, and a drawing featuring some objects that appear in the story. As she talked about pacing, mood, and atmosphere and how she'd like to see them considered, Ainatte, Cherise, and I (äda'web's design team) suggested ideas about presentation and structure--visual, aural, and architectural. Bees figure in the story in an odd sort of way, and I thought that we should incorporate some bees buzzing into the piece, making them louder as the tension mounted. Another idea involved layering--putting windows around things that could be opened to reveal other things. When our talk narrowed into coding strategies and we started using the shorthand of domain names to identify design ideas, Darcey sat back in her chair with the look of a patient foreigner who doesn't understand a word.      There's an advantage to working with people who aren't immersed in the technology. They don't know its limits. They challenge your ability to think around them. They force you to speak in plain English, and they don't surf the Web on a T1. By the end of the conversation, though, Darcey was slipping tentatively into the language of download time, JavaScript, and the narrative consequences of framesets.      A week ago, Spalding Gray was sitting in Darcey's chair. A yet unnamed Web extension of his latest monologue, which he's going to start working on at Performance Space 122 in mid-December, was on the table and in the air. It will be his first piece about New York because, he says, after three decades of living in the city, he's moved away and can write about it. This will be äda'web's first Web production for Digital City New York, the parent company that makes all our work possible. (Digital City Studio is a subdivision of America Online.) My computer went into "demo syndrome," a malady of refusal and breakdown--call it performance anxiety. Spalding said it made him daydream about sex.

Vivian Selbo is a Web site designer and artist. She works at äda'web, a Web site that helps artists learn about, and create projects for, the World Wide Web. She lives in Manhattan.