Ben Chang, Silvia Ruzanka
Dots and Dashes is an interactive narrative in virtual reality. It tells the story of a romance in a different kind of virtual world, the world of the telegraph. Listening in on the wire, the viewer follows Nattie, a telegraph operator, and her online conversations with another operator, a man known only as “C”. Their story emerges in bits and pieces, fragments of communication in dots and dashes in between the primary business of the telegraph wires, the business of linking financial institutions and burgeoning industries. As Nattie discovers that “C” may not be the man he appeared to be on the wire, the line between the real world and the electric world of the telegraphs begins to blur.
This piece is based on the novel “Love on the Wire – a Romance in Dots and Dashes (an Old Story Told in a New Way),” by Ella Cheever Thayer, published in the 1850’s. The uncanny similarities between this story and the world of the Internet, online dating, and today’s virtual environments provides the springboard for an exploration of a wealth of anxieties and dreams that link two time periods over a hundred years apart. The construction of identities in an electronically mediated environment, the shfting boundaries between the natural and machine worlds, the spiritual dimension of science and technology. The telegraph wires become a labyrinth, passing through magnetism and hypnotism, spirit photography, clockwork automata, hysteria, illusionists, and the machine age.