Father Figure2021-2022
Inform 7, web browser, Mac Mini, HD monitor, mechanical keyboard, mobile monitor stand, folding chair

The work is based on the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Ninth implies that American rights, by nature, remain in excess of what can be described. If "other" American rights are naturally known, then they are apparently owned, the way that objects and ideas and people might all be owned, as private property that is seemingly always about to be lost or stolen.

The insinuation of freedom upholds American whiteness, the tacit rule of the silent majority. This majority holds its tacit rights in reserve like a stockpile of arms: what Cheryl I. Harris calls the "property interest" in whiteness that is "neither uniform nor explicit" but is a "settled expectation."

The work depicts America as a command-line interface, where fuller access to the system, or naturalization, is contingent on piecing together an arbitrary language, rules, and conventions, and is thereafter made a "natural" expectation. The interface design follows the judicial metaphor of unwritten rights existing in a "penumbra," a legal grey area that is navigated by mixing black, the bounded intent of the written law; and white, an expanse of unspecified freedoms and potentials.

In genre terms, the work is an interactive fiction that nudges the user through a process of acquiring and then applying various “properties” such as rope, faith, whitenessfire extinguisherbear mace, and the rights in question, which inevitably escape the user’s grasp. The work is populated by other characters attempting to do the same, generating a dynamic narration of American conflict.

The protagonist of this fiction is the American individualist, an atomized user who can only grasp at straws when encountering forces beyond its immediate purview. Fumbling toward its horizon, that user stumbles into the U.S. Capitol, in search of the father figure who in the American imagination predicted trouble from the start, and provided the tools to resolve it.

The work was installed as part of the Shall Make, Shall Be project at the Federal Hall monument in NYC, where the Bill of Rights was ratified.

More details and a demo of a prototype can be found in this presentation given for the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.

A playable web build of this work is forthcoming.

Hateful Little Thing, Faith, OK2, Dumb Desire