Benjamin Hall - A Compression Artefactualism
“A Compression Artefactualism” is a branching hypertext novella by Benjamin Hall, taking the form of an enquiry into the conjuration, packaging, compression, extraction and dissemination of media on the internet. Using the formulation of a ‘frontier of extraction’ in Friction (2005) by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, the hypertext takes inspiration from real events, figures and pieces of online media to ask whether capitalist ‘resourcefulness’ in the field of content creation stimulates creativity or is little more than a profiteer’s dark magic trick. Hall and Tsing discussed whether these ‘feral ecologies’ exist in virtual spaces, but choices and branches in the hypertext allow readers to reach their own conclusions (and feel the consequences).
The narrative takes place on a semi-fictionalised version of Stock Hill (in Hall’s native Somerset, UK), in a deforestation zone which you can wander around, conversing with its inhabitants along the way. You can meet a data cloud, a data swarm, a group of Shutterstock rejects, the ghost of an .mp3, Geralt of Rivia, teenagers filming an iPhone advert, a mountain climber listening to Gil Scott-Heron and more. The hypertext features .GIFs by Hall throughout, and the narrative is permeated by embedded internet material and references to Tsing, Ryan Patrick Maguire, Eddo Stern, Hito Steyerl, Suzanne Vega and others.
“A Compression Artefactualism” remembers many of your decisions as you play. You can make friends, ignore situations, get in arguments, and agree or disagree with everyone, culminating in a branching finale leading to multiple endings dependent on how you conducted yourself and your impressions of the denizens of Stock Hill. The novella centres around the analogy of a compression artefact as a visible scar of resistance to the hegemonic forces of algorithmically driven content curation systems on the internet, and allows readers to tailor their own experiences of the text in billions of different possible combinations.
“A Compression Artefactualism” was created by Hall as artist in residence on Digital Artist Residency (https://digitalartistresidency.org/) in August 2020. Thanks to Tom Milnes for supporting the project, and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing and Ryan Patrick Maguire for their aid, insight and words.