Text in the .Move Festival catalogue (Germany) about "The Big Plot", by Alessandro Ludovico. 2009.

Identity as a multilayered self in Paolo Cirio's "Big Plot"

The dissolution of the 'identity' as we used to know it (before the networks) has led to an ongoing fragmented and fast evolution. In the networked era identities can be formed by extremely varied and juxtaposed layers of the enriched self. This process derives from the constant mediation that internet applies to every identity through multiple platforms and standards usually identified in the popular "web 2.0" expression. This leads to multiple partial representations of the self in a multilayered form. What happens is that out of the ordinary physical life, our mind has already started to think in this terms.

We feel our identity not anymore as an indivisible whole, but as composed of different pieces that are deeply and reciprocally influenced by our online experience. Aesthetically wise these juxtaposed layers have different shades of transparency and they are redundant, hosting similar scattered bits of personal content. And the transparency of the self seems to be reflected in different cultural fields. Mainly aesthetically as in the pervading use of glass in public architecture or in the transparency textures of fancy dresses, or in different see-through plastic used in electronic gears. Or even functionally in the continuous recording of every electronic act we do, writing a sempiternal log of our lives. We are then (voluntary and involuntary) induced to code new parts of our informational body. That's why real persons can be more and more undistinguishable from the character they should assume in the context and the modalities of an online social network platform. What we used to call "avatar", for example, has evolved from an iconic pixelated representation of the physical self (either the real one or the imagined one) into only one of the many virtual layers on which we stratify our public online presence. It constitutes then a multilayered presence that is considered as a whole in the online environment. Online identities can be typified in a sort of "species" taxonomy.

It'd be summarized as: 1. the real person; 2. a real person assuming a famous character and playing as him/her; 3. a real person creating and playing a plausible fictitious character; and finally 4. a computer generated and self-sufficient character. Cheating in the description or the use of an online profile is as common as the projection of a desire or an emotion on a networked environment, and in the end conscious and unconscious emotions are actively building the "enriched self". The emotion of triggering off a new or re-enabling an old human relationship, for example, is one of the most precious goods that social network platforms sell to customers. But it's not only about emotions and meeting of individualities. It's also about the intertwining of the different relationships that starts to move on the matrix where the loosely attached piece of the self move onto.

Then hundreds of Facebook "friends", for example, coupled with the offline ones, and the others scattered on the other different platforms are "writing" a sort of automatic narrative that can always be dreamed as "fatally wonderful" at some random point. In this sense "The Big Plot" by Paolo Cirio is an intriguing multifaceted plot that intertwines the paths between its four protagonists. The pieces of their respective identities are created not by short descriptions or memory flashbacks as they are in a typical serial narration of a fiction book. They are scattered in different platforms carefully using the respective reference media (video, picture, curriculum vitae, bits of personal activities and so on). In this sense the work is a pure experiment in narrative building through pieces of identities that can be retrieved in the respective platforms.

Actually there's no software tool able to effectively combine all these different data sets into an (incomplete) human profile, so the user role is both strategic and uniquely revealing. And that's another crucial level of the Cirio's identity game: the visitor has to view and connect the pieces himself, as it should be in a real case of a personal data search or a classic "investigation". The more he views and connects the more he's gratified to fictitiously be closely acquainted with the single person/character. And the more the visitor goes deeper the more he's embroiled in the complex narrative. The big difference here, is that he's not just turning pages to see what will happen later, or clicking in the same direction and under a known frame to choose its own path to a bunch of possible pre-defined ends. Here the user is easily pushed to literally "investigate" the subject with only a few direction and directing points. This "investigated" narrative is a contemporary twist of the events' sequence we're used to. When we're involved with "The Big Plot", we're proactively searching the narrative, with no fixed expectations, but using most of our human skills (intuition, deduction, ability to connect facts and similarities), with our typing hand invisibly taken by the hand of the artist. And Cirio goes beyond the narrative experiment. He let users to create other characters that would interact with the one he created in a quite engaging and complex plot. Namely, a "big one". Opening the plot has been done many times in the past, but usually it leads to just loose the focus on the carefully originally developed narrative, letting the user to mash it in something slightly playful.

Cirio's approach is different. His narrative involves the so-called "Alternate Reality Game", then actively implementing a part of the same narrative in real life as well with already a few groups of enthusiastic users following his framework. This "recombinant fiction" results then quite naturally close to our environment of the everyday full of multi-mediated and multi-dimensional self. This injection of reality into the screen-based relationships is then definitely balancing the fictitiousness of programmable illuminated pixels with the flesh of reality in an irresistible alliance. This definitely adds a stable character of fluctuation to the self, that varies continuously and in multiple forms the individual position in the contemporary mediated social landscape. The resulting identity is a conglomerate, a perceived unity that can be eventually composed at incredible speed generating what is perceived as a human being, and that's what our primary instinct are always looking for. The Cirio's skills are used in literally "exploding" the usual writing efforts. The definition of a character becomes so ethereal that any possible manipulation seems to be possible. The virtual pieces are just data, their connections are just links and all the media involved are just data again. It's a whole amount of information just properly structured, but potentially re-combinable ad infinitum. The induced vertigo, then, is of infinite characters misplaced between reality and fiction, infinitely programmed and stitched with real facts and data. So this fast Recombination of data and the (human controlled) fast conglomeration of a trustable fictive identity is a process that pushed to the extreme can populate the social networks with patched human-like figures. They should populate the networks, reflecting physical reality and its dynamics, and contributing to shape a online landscape that includes these soon-to-become "extensions" of our daily life. And in "The Big Plot" this frightening scenario is envisioned, potentially implemented and opened to collective test for those who want to enjoy a one of a kind work of art.

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