Entanglements: an exploration of the digital literary work FISHNETSTOCKINGS

The Mermaid and its Doubles


In FISHNETSTOCKINGS, Andersen’s classic fairy tale is recast as a space of invention and intervention, where “a layered mix of digital video, text, silhouettes and cutout elements are motion activated with a combo of code, Processing and Kinect” (Fishnetstock.net). As the Kinect imaging system tracks and responds to audience movement, participants are not only able to interact with the sea creatures that stream through the narrative, but also to cast their shadows onto pre-recorded videos of dancers and mermaid silhouettes as they step between the video screen and its light source. The participants and their shadows imperfectly double the silhouettes and dancers, the latter of whom are also depicted in silhouette. Within this mise en abyme of shadow, silhouette, and material body, each performs simultaneously the roles of screen and projection, positive and negative image, and text and technology. The narrative components of Andersen’s fairytale are thus refreshed through what Katherine Hayles calls a “double vision that looks simultaneously at the power of simulation and at the materialities that produce it” (47). At the same time, returning a (material or virtual) body to the silhouette of the mermaid enables it to occupy an order of signs that is both indexical, in which a signifier marks the absence of its signified, and iconic, in which the signifier preserves some measure of its signified. This ambivalent signifying capacity is amplified by the participants’ movements, which release the mermaid from her sedimentation within Andersen’s fairy tale. In doing so, she is free to re-inhabit and reimagine what Jessica reminds us has always been a rich and vibrant set of historical, cultural, and ideological meanings.

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