Individual Work
Anti-Temporal Letters

Andrew W. Smith’s “Anti-Temporal Letters” is a site-specific (Anti-Temporal Art) and open-access work of electronic literature that can be accessed on a desktop or laptop computer as well as on mobile devices and tablets, although the site is not fully functional on them. I found “Anti-Temporal Letters” on The New River (New River), an online journal dedicated to digital art and writing, but the work is also hosted on Andrew W. Smith’s website (AwwSmith) along with his other hypermedia texts.

“Anti-Temporal Letters” is a hypermedia text that incorporates graphics, audio, video, written text, and hyperlinks. The site opens to a warning screen detailing flashing glitch effects that play throughout the text which might be uncomfortable or dangerous to viewers with photosensitive epilepsy. Once you have acknowledged this warning, you are brought to a white room with a podium in the middle holding up a computer screen, and a woman’s voice welcomes you to the “Living Museum.” You are given the option to approach the exhibit, and when you do, footsteps are heard as the screen zooms closer and closer to the podium and the computer that sits on top of it, until all that is left on your screen is the computer’s screen. Classical music interspersed with glitchy audio begins to play, and the screen reads: “The Exhibit of Anti-Temporal Letters Collection 1 - presented by the Time Council and Living Museum.” You are prompted to view the collection, and when you click the button to do so, you are met with “A Very Temporal Letter from the Creator” which describes the exhibit as a “collection of intercepted transmissions, often captured mid-exchange, from time-traveling rebels and their confidants.” The assistant curator August explains that these transmissions contain “radical, dangerous, and false ideas,” and cautions you to resist these ideas and read them instead as “instructive examples of madness and insolence.” Before continuing to the collection, you are reminded of the dangers of letting your mind be led astray, and then warned that the “Museum remains watchful.” Once you have continued on to the exhibit, you are a series of letters (or transmissions) each with an assigned Archival ID. You are prompted to click on each letter to open them and read their contents, and when you do you will notice that the background of the site becomes more and more glitchy. The straight, horizontal gray lines that cross the site’s white background begin to undulate and are then intersected by vertical lines at seemingly irregular intervals. As you continue to open letters – the contents of which are an extension of the work’s form and its preoccupation with disruption and disintegration – the background becomes more disjointed and shifts to a darker hue. The new visual glitches produced by the opening of each letter are accompanied by raw and abrasive audio glitches, radio transmissions, and the sounds of a distant thunderstorm. The text of each letter and its associated Archival ID changes throughout this process too, taking on new fonts, sizes, and colors as well as new kinetic properties causing the text to shake, sway, and splinter.

The media format of “Anti-Temporal Letters” is an extension of the work’s thematic preoccupations with potentially radical and disruptive forces which pose a threat to order and organization. Andrew W. Smith takes advantage of the audiovisual properties of the hypermedia format in order to express the work’s thematic concerns in a way that is more visceral than plain, written text. The so-called “radical, dangerous, and false ideas” expressed in each letter are echoed in the formal disintegration of the work, and in the chaos and disorder that is embodied visually and sonically throughout.

As Andrew W. Smith explains in his New River entry, “Anti-Temporal Letters” is an interactive experience with multiple endings: you can either destroy the computer monitor, light the Living Museum on fire, alert the guards of the exhibit hack, or remain silent. When prompted to choose between these options, you are asked whether you are here merely to observe and read or if you will become an active participant in the story. But, when you do interact with the story and choose either to destroy the monitor, light the museum on fire, or alert the guards you are punished for your action. When you remain silent, you are rewarded with a transmission from a rebel describing their difficulties reaching your TimeZone and alluding to a set of possibilities now available to you. You are then instructed to stay alive until the next transmission.

Author statement: 
Anti-Temporal Letters emerges from a line in the opening sequence of Janelle Monae’s music video for “Q.U.E.E.N.”. The line refers to a “Time Council and Living Museum”, a fictional organization dedicated to the capture and exhibition of time-traveling rebels. Anti-Temporal Letters riffs on this concept, imagining what those rebels may have communicated to each other across space and time. This work is interactive and not each experience is the same.