Animation Overpowers Poetry in The Mandrake Vehicles – Diana Huang

Each exhibit of The Mandrake Vehicles exists in 7 parts. In the first, there is a rectangular block of text, related to mandrakes, which can be read normally. In the second, many of the letters float away, leaving a jumble of somewhat nonsensical letters, though new words can be found throughout. In the third, some of these letters shed copies of themselves, and these copies fall through the original block and either become caught on other letters or fall under the block to form words. The words at the bottom are seemingly random. While some are tangentially related to mandrakes (radishes), others seem entirely unrelated (hobbit). In frame 4, the block of letters which has now both lost and gained letters, pulls itself together to reveal a second poem. The process repeats in frames 5 -7, with 7 giving another, shorter hidden poem.

I examined this exhibit by first clicking through part 1. From “skimming” the structure of the exhibit, I couldn’t understand much about what the author was trying to say through the words, so I looked up the word “mandrake”. Initially, I knew little about mandrakes besides the fact that they were plants. From a quick read of the Wikipedia page, I learned that:

  1. Mandrakes have hallucinogenic properties.
  2. Mandrake roots sometimes look humanoid.
  3. Mandrake roots have been used in magic rituals and neopagan rituals.

With this context, I thought I understood slightly more about the exhibit. Watching the letters falling away and arranging into words did seem like the experience you would get from a magical or hallucinogenic experience. Also, the mandrakes speak and are described in a very humanoid manner throughout the poems, to the point that many of the lines seem like they are about people and not plants. The strange history that the plant has also gave me some reasons for why someone would want to create an exhibit about them. With this new mindset, I reexamined all 3 exhibits, expected to come to a new revelation.

Unfortunately, I did not. I found the poems difficult to understand. Trying to view them in the light of the background of mandrake history did not help. The language in the poems is beautiful, but as hard as I tried I couldn’t make much sense out of the poems themselves. I think the reason some of the poems ended with dashes was to show connectivity of the poems, like how the roots of mandrake plants connect multiple mandrakes together, but I couldn’t tell the order of the connections.

The biggest positive impression I got from the exhibit was seeing the letters rearrange themselves into new contexts, giving a very cool reminder that all the English literature we have is made up of only 26 letters (plus punctuation). The animation also brought the mandrake poetry to life. However, my overall reaction was disappointment. I’ve found it interesting so far to look at web literature because you can be more creative with it than with normal text. However, even if the creative parts are good, you still need writing worth reading! I didn’t find the poems in The Mandrake Vehicles worth reading and the animation wasn’t enough to redeem it.

-Diana Huang

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~ by Diana Huang on January 23, 2011.

2 Responses to “Animation Overpowers Poetry in The Mandrake Vehicles – Diana Huang”

  1. […] in the end, it was the traditional reader in my who was left stumped. As Diana Huang wrote in her response this week, “The language in the poems is beautiful, but as hard as I tried I couldn’t make […]

  2. If I were to revise this, I would supplement the first paragraph with ideas, or simply refer to it later on. It is all straight description that anyone would know after looking at the work. Also, I would explain what I believe makes writing worth reading and why the poetry of Mandrake Vehicles was not.

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