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Digitally Inside Out - Re-reading the Book

Project Statement

The first area of consideration was choosing a particular book to work with. I worked through various options regarding books that I have read. As the project was to be an extensive reworking of the original book, I thought I would like to work with a book that had a strong meaning for me. As my sketchbook testifies, I went through various considerations before making a choice. I noted some books that have had a strong impact for me. I decided on the book ‘Ringolevio’. I first read this book at age fourteen / fifteen. I found the book interesting at the time and relevant to the world around me. I wanted to see what impact the book might have on me now after all this time. I have found through experience that some books, films, music etc that I experienced years ago still have resonance, while some have not stood the test of time so well. I wanted to see if ‘Ringolevio’ still came up to the mark.

‘Ringolevio’ is the first novel written by Emmett Grogan. It was written circa 1971/72. The book is semi-autobiographical. It begins with a description of Emmett’s childhood and teenagerdom, growing up on the streets of Brookyn, New York. It then meanders through various adventures in Europe before Emmett returns to the US to join the Haight Ashbury community in San Francisco at around the time of the birth of what would become known as the ‘hippie movement’. Emmett became a leading if elusive figure in the movement and the book describes the philosophy as well as day-to-day happenings of people in the community. By about ’71 it was all over and corporate interests had already moved in to sell the hippie brand to the world outside. The book ends with the break-up of Emmett and his friends within the community and a description of the Altamont tragedy, when the Rolling Stones employed Hell’s Angels to police the concert with disastrous consequences.

Just as with any period of change, the hippie movement had a litany of casualties. Sadly Emmett Grogan died in ’74. It has been alleged that he may have been murdered by government agencies and certainly he rubbed ‘Authority’ up the wrong way. It is unlikely we will ever know the full story. He wrote one other hard-to-obtain book called ‘It’s all in the Game’.

The book still had resonance for me on this reading. I could reassess it and ask what meaning it has if any in the present day. You only have to watch the 6 o’ clock news to see that the questions asked in the book have in no way been answered. My criticisms extend to wondering why Emmett and most if not all of the genuine hippie movement were so naïve. Yes they had some great ideas and they correctly identified the causes of inequality, but they failed to realize that without sustained effort over decades and longer, any change would be overwritten. Also, the book portrays Emmett in the best of all possible lights. He is always wise, right and fighting for the rights of the underdog. Nobody is as perfect as Emmett makes himself out to be and we have to acknowledge the bias toward describing a perfect self-portrait that is enacted. That having been said, it’s still a fascinating read and a worthy basis for my project.

For the process aspect of the project see sketchbook. The idea for a ‘Frame of Reference’comes from the book. Emmett describes it’s implementation when panhandlers were asked to step through a 10’ by 4’ wooden frame that had been erected in Golden Gate Park. The idea was that by doing so, the individual would physically be changing his ‘Frame of Reference’ and could think about that while eating the free food. My process as regards the project began with an assessment of myself as a ‘Frame of Reference’. I reference books, music etc that interested me at the time I first read Ringolevio ‘back in the day’. What I found quite interesting was that most of the albums, books listed were good then and just as good now.

The sketchbook includes sketches done to articulate ideas for the first outcome objective:
‘A reinvention of the book as a sketch model design.’

My idea for the outcome was to re-enact the scene in the book where individuals are asked to walk through the ‘Free Frame of Reference’. For my version I cut up cardboard and constructed an 8’ by 3’ approx frame. I cut excerpts out of the book which I had found particularly interesting. I pasted these onto cardboard which ‘framed’ them. The idea was a performance or ‘happening’ in which the members of my class would participate. On the day of the intended performance, I brought some crystallized fruit in a bowl (symbolizing the free food), the cards with the excerpts written on them, some pens to write comments on the back of the cards and the frame which was to be suspended from the ceiling with thread and sticky tape. I brought a tape of ‘Country Joe and the Fish’ which I intended to play on a tape-deck as the ‘happening’ was enacted. The idea was that each class-member, tutors included, would step through the ‘Frame of Reference’ As they did so I would hand them a piece of fruit and a card and pen. They would sit down, read the card and eat the fruit. Any comments they wished to make could be put on the back of the card. And that would be it. I would collect the cards, noting comments made on the backs and thank everyone for their participation. Alas, on the day we were asked to present the model there was no time allocated for my piece as there was no provision for any model object which lay outside the realm of physicality. This meant that I could not show my object which required time to be enacted and so I never got to present my model. I don’t know how it would have gone. I think it was a good idea and deserved a chance but it was not to be.

Free Frame Object Free Frame Object Free Frame Object Free Frame Object Free Frame Object

From this point we were asked to perform ‘a complete translation of ‘ [my] ‘sketch concept into an interactive digital experience’ ie the model. From the model presentation week we had one week to final presentation. The project entailed an ‘interactive book’. This meant we had to produce an interactive site in Flash. The piece I presented briefly touches on the subject matter, with most of my energy consumed with trying to work out how to produce interactive buttons. We had no technical support with Flash and for those who had no previous experience in it, it shows.

The site as presented now is the same site as previously except that links / timing work better and you can navigate out of the site when finished.