Slippery Traces: Navigation Flow and Inventory of Images (1995)

Slippery Traces explores multi-linear narrative plot development by having viewers weave a sequence of images by clicking on a hotspot section of an image which then leads to the next image. Each viewer creates a different narrative shaped by a high deterministic emphasis on their interests but nonetheless partially influenced by chance. The choices, relations and groupings of images and their cultural contents become visible over time, revealing varying degrees of relationships between the sequenced images which represent at the structural level, the author's "point of view" encoded in the program. Key theoretical references are Alain Robbe-Grillet's narrative structures whose novels "are composed largely of recurring images, impersonally depicted physical objects and the random events of everyday life"[1] and Roland Barthes' discussion on narrative analysis, the "death of the author" and the role of the viewer in "constructing" the story [2]. Slippery Traces resembles to some degree, an extended "decentralized" network structure described by Paul Baran in his publication "Introduction to Distributed Communication Networks" (RM 3420-PR Rand Corporation) where each central node (chapter) branches out to individual points (images) which have sub-sections (hotspots) that link to other images, thereby being the conduit points by which the viewer can escape their local environments (chapters) and branch out to navigate between chapters.

Hierarchical Structure
• Images are grouped into 24 chapters
(only one chapter can be viewed at a time)

• Each chapter has from 4 to 12 images
(These can be viewed by rolling over the top)

• Each image has 3 to 8 "hotspot"
(All the hotspots can be viewed by holding the mousedown over the image)

• Each hotspot is wired to two different images in separate chapters

Navigation Conditions
• The program begins by randomly selecting an image from one of the 24 chapters

• One image is seen at a time in fragmented mode. User must move the mouse to view the whole image

• Hotspot links become visible through mouse movement over image

• When a hotspot is clicked, the program checks to see if enough images have been viewed in the current chapter

• If not, then it switches to an image from the current chapter. If yes, then it randomly selects one of the two or more assigned links, changing to a new image from another chapter

• An image cannot be viewed if it has already been selected during the last 12 selections

• Users can review the sequence they have created after having viewed a minimum of 5 images.

See demo of the navigation interaction


This chapter of 8 postcards focuses on air technology: jets over scenic landscapes, the spruce goose I had visited in the 1990’s, the ghost-like marching of recruits walking to the air force academy, Michael Hayden’s electronic artwork at one of the Chicago airport’s walkways, and the most irreverent being the Iranian postcard of the destroyed helicopters from the bungled rescue mission to Teheran.

Air Force Airport Amsterdam Concorde Landing Iran Hostage Crash
Jet over Mesa OHare Airport Shuttle Landing Spruce Goose...

Americana signifies nostalgia, old pioneer style imagery of houses, timber, rollercoaster, campfire, fake California scenery, kitsch lit dance halls. Most pictorially interesting for its snapshot style is the campfire scene with the photographer’s shadow in it. ZKM lawyers recommended removing the shirtless biker and highwire Venice, walker due to copyright reasons.

Acadian Shack Assembled Scenery I Beach Cartoon Big Tree in Amazon
California Biker Cooking at Camp Fire Mirror Ball Roller Rink
Sunburned Cartoon Virginia Slide Wire Walker Women on Dead...

Ancient References      
If Slippery Traces were to be seen as a “document of the world” through 250 postcards, then Ancient Reference provides the historical grounding. The images consist of symbols, systems, objects, and architectural works that represent complex culture and language in its ancient forms. Most interesting is the Roman street plan for its self-organizing, evolutionary structural design.

Coliseum in Nimes Egyptomanie Knossos Lascaux
Mexican Calendar Newspaper Rock Prehistoric Bones Roman Baths in...
Roman Street Plan Stonehenge from... Stonehenge Sunset Tunisia Coliseum

Out of 9 images, 3 are of snake-like, one attacking, one controlled by a human, one a menacing looking eel. Both the mosquito in attack mode, and the moose remind me of my Canadian youth.

African Elephant... Caged Lion Horse Llamas and Plane...
Moose drinking Water Moray Eels Mosquitos Rattlesnake
Snake Charmer

Asia Exoticised      
Asia Exoticised is a chapter about the exotic other. Images representing cultures in highly stylized ethnic clothes, non-Western social activities, and the exotic leading to the erotic, a longstanding tradition of representing non-Western cultures through eroticized posing, in this case, a Malaysian topless family, and an image of Tahitian topless women in the bush. MAny of these were collected on an Asian research trip in 1985.

Akha Tribeswomen Arab Counting Money Burning Money Chinese Mother and...
Chinese Women... Floating Market Japanese Postcard Japanese Tea Ritual
Malaysian Family Rice Farmers Tahitian Nude Women Thai Dancers

Auto Culture      
Auto Culture represents the importance of the car in the American dream of the 1950’s and 60’s, stylized to represent modernity. “Man with Fancy Car” is a photo by Chip Lord, of the art/architectural group Antfarm taken at a gas station in Houston. This image is very much a representation of hotrod culture, as is the one with Craig Breedlove’s “Spirit of America” dragster at the Bonneville salt flats. Most interesting is the photograph of the trailer park with its 1950’s car becasue of its snapshot quality.

Car House in... Fifties Car Fotomat Freeway Junction
Holiday Inn Hot Rod on... Man with Fancy Car Mexican Auto...
Rollercoaster Trailer Park

Caribbean World      
This chapter includes an earthquake devasted view of Managua, a stereotyping representation of Afro-Americans picking cotton with watermelon I purchased in a Georgia gas station some years ago. The two most visually interesting are B/W photos of a Caribbiean waterfront fish exchange, and the village scene with thatched roof building, because of their personalized compositional quality.

Barbados Cop Boy in Village Cameroon Singers Caribbean Seaport
Eating Watermelon Jamaican Children Managua after... Panama Village

This chapter includes ethnic rituals, a focus on decoration and meals. There are 3 Hungarian cultural images, one of a Hungarian Highwayman, who were some form of mythical soldier robbers. Portuguese boat includes a naked boy on the right side with his back to the camera.

Cockerspaniels Ethno Flower... Managua after... French Mushroom...
Girls in Hula... Hungarian Rituals Japanese Meal Oxen Pull Boat
Portugese Boat Seated Highwayman

European Images      
Many are photographic postcards from the 1920s to the 1940s. The chapter includes some historical autobiographical material: my father at the piano & mike entertaining in a bar on the Lake Balaton, 1940’s; my aunt Julia at the Lido in Venice in 1912 looking somewhat miserable at the age of 2; 2 images of her husband Laci, who in his youth (1930’s) participated in motorcycle races; and a postcard from my grandmother from a restaurant in Lugano (1930’s). She had a tendency to scribble over both sides of the postcards totally covering it with texts.

At the Piano Carnival Ghost Dutch Fairgrounds Flower Girls
Hallstatt Julia in Lido Motorcycle Race Man on Motorcycle
Restaurant in Lugano Venice in Fog

Fire & Light      
This chapter includes images consisting of light spectacles (Rio, Hong kong, Venice, volcanoes, etc.) transitioning to dark images of night and danger as in the Berlin Wall pictures.

Berlin Wall at Dusk Berlin Wall at Night Blowing Fire Hongkong Fireworks
Santa Monica Fire Locomotive at Night N.Y. Time Square Rio de Janeiro
Venice Carnival Venice Fireworks Volcano

Fishing Stories      
Even though quite banal in subject matter, fishing postcards always seem to be abundant in antique stores. 2 photomontage cards provide visual equivalents to exaggerated fishing stories. Ice fishing image reminds me of Franch Canadian winter fishing north of where I grew up in Montreal.

Big Fish Diver with Fish Gone Fishing Ice Fishing
Man Fishing The Fish are...

A collection of mixed activities. Cactus harvest is in fact an agave field for tequila. The Robot arms are at a nuclear facilities, Giant Coins is in Sudbury, Ontario to where I hitchhiked at the age of 16 to try to get a job in underground mining. The dentist chair seems surreal.

Ben Casey Bottling Plant Cactus Harvest Dentist Chair
Giant Coins Industrial Factory Men in Tobacco Field Robot Arms
Rotterdam Shipping Salt Field Tobacco Auction Wine Barrels

Out of the 7 images, 2 are American, 3 from (former) Communist countries, and 2 from Nazi Germany. The most surreal is the one of German soldiers holding milkjugs. East German Guards doing goose walk was in front of the Memorial Against Fascism building in East Berlin which had an eternal flame that is still lit.

Berlin Tank Monument East German Guards Men Clean Guns Nazi Group Photo
Nazi with Milk... Soldiers Getting... Soviet Cruiser

Morality Tales      
Nature and culture come together in this chapter as well as New England fall colors, and some surreal stories such as Frog eating fish, Hen brooding pigs, giant corn, and giant grasshoppers. The two images of the red shirt hunters and deer led to the title of this chapter.

Deer Approach Car Farmer Shooting... Fawn Feeding from... Frog eats Fish
Giant Corn Giant Grasshopper Hen Brooding Pigs Hunter Dead Buck
Sleeping Hunter... Wild Goose Tracks

Native American      
The charged representation of native cultures throughout the 20th Century strongly reflect the unease that American culture has had towards its indigenous population and the process of conquest and annihilation that may still be going on.

Indian Women... Indians with Dolls Native American... Priest with Indians
Sioux with New Yorker

Nature & Culture      
Like Morality Tales, this chapter intersects the natural with the cultural. Nature becomes culture as mankind interacts with it. Turtles in Malaysia lay their eggs while men steal them.

Bears in Zoo Dinosaur Elephants at Work Feeding Geese
Finnish Hay Stacks Hunting For Truffles Little Dogs in Hats Malaysian Turtles...
Man Feeding Bear Man in Greenhouse

Edward Said's book has influenced the selection of these images. The images speak of the exotic orient, land of the strange and of the other.

Arabian Bride Cairo Procession Cairo Tombs Camels in Aden
Kabylie Moroccan Snake... Mt. Nemrut Pyramid
Sphinx Sultan's Palace Tunisian Shoe... Women Making Bread

Scenic Views      
Scenic Views consist of photographic images turned into postcards that retain their quality as photographic compositions. They are slightly off, and therefore slightly more revealing. "Man on a ship" and "Tourist boat" provide the contras from the personal to the conventional.

Canoeing in... Desert Scene Lake Geneva Man on a Ship
Moosehead Lake Rider in Badlands Taku Glacier Tourist Boat

Social Groups      
Social Groups is a mix of postcards reflecting social activities and interactions. The chapter is an odd mix from the Reagan shoot to Nazi Courtship, to the Blueberry Queens in northern Quebec, to the cruise souvenir cards

Blue Glass Bubbles Blueberry Queen Family on Train Florida Coconuts
Happy Ending Hotel Room on Ocean In Moos Jungle Indoor Pool Scene
Nazi Courtship Reagan Shot Romantic Walk Ship Cabin

The Great War      
These early 20th century photopostcards seem ancient and far in the distance. Postcard 2,4,8 are of my grandfather, a captain in the Hungarian Huszars on the WW1 Serbian front. Image 5 is of my father in his youth at military college in Hungary.

Belgian Wounded Hungarian Huszars Kaposvar Mounted Soldiers
Soldiers in a Play Wooing Soldier WWI Hospital... WWWI on the Front

The Jump      
The “Slippery Traces” project began with these twelve postcards organized in a two tray projection system which I used in my seminars to discuss semiotics in visualization in the early 1980’s. The primacy of the outstretched arms gestures, in configuration with the recycled vocabulary of water, sky, rock, ball, women, animals, jumping, has potential for a nearly unlimited range of meanings when any of these images are paired side by side.

Chinese Ballet Red Chinese Ballet Snow Diving Pig Girl and Dolphin
Girl Jumping for Ball Man Diving Off Canoe Man Diving Off Cliff Pool with Diver
Row of Women Skiers Sailor Feeding Dolphin Under Water with Ball Water Ski...

The Rocky Way      
Rock is the uniting material and topic in these images. The state of being immersed, looking through, touching, standing witness, scale, are relevant features that cluster these images into a thematic whole.

Digging On The Moon Earth and Milky Way Earth Station Heads Through Wall
Man in Mudbath Meteorite And Man Miner Drilling Monument Valley
Moon Landing On The Moon Swiss Hotel Utah Arch

Urban Places      
This chapter features images of urban grids, urban spaces such as a subway environment. The original version of this chapter included these 3 images of Berlin which have since been replaced for the published version in the ZMK Artintact 3, cd-rom.

Alexander Platz Berlin City View Berlin Convention... Octagonal Structure
Subway Station Venice California

Yugoslavian Front      
The Bosnian war was taking place when the "Slippery Traces" project was initiated. The famous 15th Century Mostar bridge was blown up in the mid 1990’s during the war and reconstructed in 2004.

Bosnian Ferryman Bosnian Group... Dubrovnik Mostar
Old Sarajevo