Rules and chapters inventory

Navigation demo

Interactive example at Langlois Foundation for Arts, Science, Technology

Installation Space

Installation Space

Wall Text Quotations



Jump Sequence

Slippery Traces: The Postcard Trail (1995)
Interactive database installation & cd-rom publication

Slippery Traces was created as an interactive installation consisting of a large projection, interaction stand, and wall text. It premiered at the ISEA 95 Media Festival exhibition in Montreal and subsequently in a number of museums and was also included in the 1998-1999 travelling exhibition "Deep Storage" curated by the Siemens Kultur Programm. It was published in its cd-rom version the following year in Artintact 3, by the ZKM Centre for Art & Technology, Karlsruhe.

"Photography is memory, the trace of an original. In a postmodern age,...the past has become a collection of photographic, filmic or televisual images. We, like the replicants [in the movie Blade Runner], are put in the position of reclaiming a history by means of its reproduction."

"Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner" Giuliana Bruno (1987)

"Any classification is superior to chaos and even a classification at the level of sensible properties is a step towards rational ordering . . .The decision that everything must be taken account of facilitates the creation of a "memory bank."

The Savage Mind, Claude Lévi-Strauss (1966)

"We can cast a glance upon the sign as a kind of postcard: description/ideology never quite captioning and thereby never quite capturing the real; the view from one side suppressing the other; an irrecoverable distance arising between the object and its given context of origin. Yet the put into play by its position among differences; like narrative, it is a gesture toward, and therefore against, death."

On Longing, Susan Stewart (1993)

"Falsely naive, the postcard misleads in direct measure to the fact that it presents itself as having neither depth nor aesthetic pretensions. The colonial postcard is inseparable from that which occasioned its existence . . .Travel is the essence of the postcard, and expedition its mode. . .No envelope can contain a postcard. Hidden, it immediately ceases to be."

The Colonial Harem, Malek Alloula (1986)

"The paradox, the dilemma of authenticity, is that to be experienced as authentic it must be marked as authentic, but when it is marked as authentic it is mediated, a sign of itself, and hence not authentic in the sense of the unspoiled."

Semiotics of Tourism, Jonathan Culler (1988)


Slippery Traces is a multi-linear visual narrative in which viewers navigate through a network of over 240 interconnected postcards classified into 24 categories or chapters. The intention of the work has been to explore database structures as a means of generating multi-linear narratives at a time when web search engines were introduced. I wanted to produce a narrative work in which three sets of cultural messages could intersect or collapse into each other. First, the archive consists mostly of commercial postcards selected out of 2000 to represent 20th century culture. The second level consisted of my evaluation of these images encoded through keywords and cross-listed through a database to maximize movement between categories. Third, the collection of these images signifies in a dispersed way my autobiography. Amongst the images can be found 1920’s to 1940’s family portraits printed on postcards, places I have been, and cultures that shaped me in various ways.

Classification & the Database:
The intent underlying my selection of postcards was to provide an overview, both cultural and ideological on mid-20th century photographic representation within the framework of global development, tourism and cultural exchange. I was searching for images that were interesting in their content and structure, images that were culturally significant or relevant subject matter or visually intriguing compositions that express a perception based on the photographic paradigm. For instance, images of conventionality and banality such as tourist sites, business arrangements, advertising; images of the social order representing work, industry, military, family; images that make visible the technical in the photographic, such as being blurred, oddly framed, etc; personal images, images that expressed the passing of time; images of transgression, articulating colonialization, the exoticising or eroticising of the non-Western culture; images of abundance, images of the absurd stated through the exaggerated, the touristic, the play of similarity, the play between the natural and the cultural such as dressed-up animals; images of fear such as assassination, nazi group photos, fire, destruction; images that play on ethnocentrism, racism or stereotypes such a Saudi Arab counting money; and images that expressed the poetic and the sublime. The selection does not aim to represent the totality of 20th-century historical experience. I was limited by what was at hand, as well as by the necessity of curtailing the overall size of Slippery Traces to eventually fit on a CD-ROM. This incongruous collection of cultural visual artifacts were then classified into categories that emerged out of the ordering process: "Airplane Industry", "Americana", "Ancient Monuments", "Animals", "Auto Culture", "Caribbean World", "Colorful", "European Images", "Fire & Light", "Fishing Stories", "Industry", "Military Images", "Morality Tales", "Native American", "Nature & Culture", "Orientalism", "Scenic Views", "Social Groups", "The Great War", "The Jump", "The Rocky Way", "Urban Places", and "Yugoslavian Front". These labels express a conglomeration of categories not unlike Borges’ invented Chinese Encyclopedia and, in a similar fashion, provide a rich mix of cultural and metaphorical references encoded into a structure that make possible multi-linear narrative plot development.

Textual Context:
At the start of the viewing experience, the spectator is confronted with one of three quotes that appear on the screen. Randomly chosen, each quote addresses the project either from an anthropological , or colonialist , or media theory perspective, thereby setting a cultural interpretive slant by which the viewing experience becomes framed. In the installation version, two additional quotes are present stamped on the wall, further contextualizing the reception of the postcard image in terms of semiotic and literary viewpoints.

Navigation & Interaction:
The interactive experience begins with the program randomly selecting an image from one of the 24 categories as only one category, and one image can be viewed at a time, in a close-up, fragmented mode. Every image contains approximately 5 hotspots, or links to other images. These become visible when rolled over by the mouse forcing the viewer to explore the surface of the image in search of links. When a hotspot is clicked, the program checks to see if enough images have been viewed in the current category. If not, then it selects another image from the current category. If yes, then it randomly selects one of the two or more assigned linked images determined by the database algorithm. An image cannot be viewed if it has already been selected during the last 12 selections. At anytime following the 5th viewed image, users can review the stream of images, or "meta-narrative" image sequence they have created through the clicking from one image to the next. The resultant sequence consists of any number of images linked linearly where all the images are related in such a way that some detail in the preceding image outlined by a red rectangle becomes a meaningful connection to something represented in the following image. The hotspot links by which an image is related to another is based on a set of conditions encoded in the database structure consisting of any number of literal, semiotic, psychoanalytic, metaphoric or other connections. These were determined by myself through the process of subjective classification where each image’s properties were registered into a database through keywords. The relations have been encoded into the database influencing the navigational structure and can therefore be considered as one of the sites of authorship in the work. As the viewer moves from one image to another, the relation between the images allow for varying degrees of recognition based on the particular result from the database selection process. Sometimes the relationship is quite clear, other times, less. The viewing experience then is in the play and contrast of expectations between knowing that the program will bring forth an image that is somehow related to the clicked hotspot and the resultant degree of closeness or distance between the clicked hotspot and new image.

Slippery Traces had its roots in a two-projector slide show created to explore the ways that the meanings of images change when juxtaposed with other images. Images are normally seen in relation to each other, and like words positioned together in a sentence, they oscillate each other, slightly expanding, re-adjusting, imperceptibly transforming their meaning through contrast, association, extension, difference, etc. Transferred to the non-linear dynamic environment of the computer, the shifts in meaning are exponentially increased as the images are freed from their slide-tray linear positions, to be constantly resituated in relationship to each other as determined by criteria defined in the computer code. The result is an imaginary three-dimensional, nerve-cell-like membrane network in which all 240 images are interlinked with over 2000 connections criss-crossing to form a unified whole. Connections, or hot spots have something thematically in common with the image they call-up. Each time the viewer clicks on a hot spot to move to another image, he or she weaves a path in this dense maze of connections.
In Slippery Traces, the viewer moves from one information source selected out of a range of possible choices to another, also selected out of other possible choices. As mentioned earlier, these linkages are defined through keywords hidden from the viewer in the database according to common literal or metaphoric properties.

Title Reference:
The work's title "Slippery Traces", makes reference to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's particular use of the term "slip" and slippage to describe the unstable relationship between a sign and its meaning. In his remark that "meaning emerges only through discourse, as a consequence of displacements along a signifying chain" he is referring to the notion that the meaning of things are defined not in themselves but through their relation to other signs. Lacan argues against the Saussurian notion that there is a stable relation between a signifier and what it refers to. Consider Jacques Derrida's observation that in the construction of meaning, a signifier always signifies another signifier: no word is free from metaphoricity . The example of the dictionary is offered. When we search for the meaning of a word, our recourse is to look in a dictionary where instead of finding meaning we are given other words against which to compare our word. From this we can gather that meaning, otherwise expressed as the term "signified", emerges through discourse, as a consequence of displacements along signifying chains. Both of these references consider meaning as taking place through the interaction of information modules sequenced in relation to each other. Slippery Traces evokes the cinematic montage sequence through the linear ordering of images chosen through hotspot links, but in contrast to the cinematic model, the narrative potential in this interactive work resides in the interplay of the viewer’s choice, chance, and the encoded structure of the database.

Project Team:
George Legrady, Concept, design, interactive programming
Rosemary Comella, Consultant, database, and programming
Wolfgang Muench, ZKM, Karlsruhe, "Artintact 3", CD-ROM programming

Slippery Traces was produced with the assistance of a Computer Aided-Media Award from The Canada Council for the Arts and also with the support of a Visual Arts Fellowship, The National Endowment for the Arts.

Selected Installations:
DataBase Imaginary, Banff Center for the Arts, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Unioversity of Toronto (2005)

Deep Storage
, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Projects Studios One (P. S. 1), New York; Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof; Neue Nationalgalerie, 20. Jahrhundert, Berlin; Haus der Kunst, München (1998/99)

George Legrady: From analogue to Digital, Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa (solo, 997/98)

Selected Memories, Palais des beaux-arts de Bruxelles, Brussels (1997)

Dawn of the Magicians, National Gallery, Prague (1997)

Osnabrück European Media Festival, Osnabrück (1996)

The Butterfly Effect, Mücsarnok Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest (1996)

3rd Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art, Lyon (1995/96)

International Society of Electronic Arts '95, Montréal (1995)