“The Defacement of Desire” by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter

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Screen shot from “The Defacement of Desire” by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter. An empty room with pictures of women as walls and, also, as the floor. In the middle there is a rectangle with a distorted text that is not very readable.
Open “The Defacement of Desire” by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter

This collaborative poem is designed as an installation at Brown University’s CAVE, a cube-shaped room equipped with projection in all six directions, surround sound, and multiple input devices, such as 3D goggles, gloves, and head tracking. Soderman and Carter use this last input significantly in this work as described in their artists’ statement:

Surrounded by four giant close-ups of cinematic starlets gazing down upon you, there is no choice but to look (or look away). Using the built-in “headtracking” feature of the Cave, a portion of the starlet’s face in your line of sight fades away, thus interrupting the (masculine) desire to possess through the gaze: you cannot help but see through what you desire to possess.

The poetic texts exists in images of handwritten journals, which a reader can bring up through their interaction with the piece, further exploring the politics and poetics of privacy, trespass, possession through gaze and touch.

An interesting twist on the dynamics of this poem is that the authors have made the source files available for readers to download and view in the Cave Writing software, which provides a partly-functional full screen preview. The problem with the preview is that the CAVE has different input devices from a computer, so you get a very limited experience of the work and can’t interact beyond clicking on some images to change them and listening to the audio recorded reading of lines of verse.

However, access to the source files frees the materials from the interface, providing the intimacy of the view from the editor, or even a directory listing. The editor interface allows you to read the scripted behaviors, the arrangement and naming of the objects, position, timelines, groupings, and more opening it up to Critical Code Reading. A directory listing allows you to listen to audio clips and look at images outside of the organizational structure of the piece, which allows for a fascinatingly different kind of experience of the text. Ironically enough, the pleasures to be found in these files and interfaces only tease one’s desire to experience the work in the environment it was designed for.

This work is greater than the sum of its parts, and one of its parts is in Providence, Rhode Island. Considering that CAVE writing workshops and courses have been offered at Brown University since 2002, it might be worth a pilgrimage.