Matthew Ritchie, The New Place, 2001
Matthew Ritchie's artistic investigations derive from the very simple postulate that "everything is information." He has developed a body of work based on systems that evoke scientific classification tables. Ritchie's paintings, for example, resemble charts of fictional territories. His works often function as meta-narrative structures; his method of combining elements might be described as a kind of syntax. The formal sources for his wall drawings and floor sculptures include the works of Minimalist artists such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt.
|Matthew Ritchie, The New Place (detail), 2001|
In the past few years, Ritchie has expanded his field of research to include digital media. From 1996 to 1997, he was involved in the development of The Hard Way, an online project whose interactive narrative composition — like those of computer games — offers multiple paths that trace an evolving fictional thread. The artist's description of the structure of The Hard Way1 perhaps best reveals the system on which all of his work is based:
There are forty-nine elements, divided into seven groups of seven. The seven groupings describe seven separate areas of operation in the system. Each element can appear in seven different ways depending on the context it is used in. Although the number of combinations is probably infinite, that is not the point; this is not a numerological system. The forty-nine elements are characters, with precisely defined functions in the story that is told by their interaction. This is the story of origins, or genesis and fall, as a metaphor for the construction of art. (Matthew Ritchie Interview, Owen Drolet, Urban Desires 1; March-April 1995)
Ritchie is developing a new project, The New Place, which functions to some degree as a sequel to The Hard Way, while introducing the possibility of an investigation that is not limited to the online medium. Sculpture, painting, computer games, and other forms yet to be determined are included in this very large cross-media plan, which is outlined in part in his contribution to 10101: Art in Technological Times. The Web project can thus be understood as a trailer, a preview of things to come.
The New Place is intended to function as a conceptual and narrative bridge between The Hard Way, an online project built in 1996 with ada web, and a new major project being undertaken with SFMOMA and Houston CAM titled Proposition: Player (2001).
The Hard Way ended with a section of narrative that describes "The Watchers." A miscellaneous group of mythical characters involved with the evolution of human consciousness, "The Watchers" leave their original environment and arrive on earth, which is "The New Place" of the title of Ritchie's work.
The New Place is a prototype interface for Proposition Player. In a way, it is a kind of sketch for a much larger project that will involve 49 characters/elements interacting in a completely realized information environment.
The New Place focuses on establishing relationships between three new characters: the Actress, the Golem, and the Swimmer, and their corresponding sets of elements — NO4, CaCO3 and H20. These are the primary elements of the carbon-oxygen weathering cycle. As the viewer progresses, he is encouraged to explore a fluctuating information environment.
At the conclusion of the project it is hoped that the viewer will understand that "characters," which are traditionally understood as "active" story elements, and "environments," which are traditionally understood as "passive" story elements, are now interchangeable. The characters become navigation icons that in turn manipulate the landscape they inhabit.
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Major support for e.space has been generously provided by the James Family Foundation.