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Hiatus, 1999

Beckman’s films begin at the moment when everyday life becomes indistinguishable from the interface of a game. She forces us to question the roles we play in these constructed systems, and to interrogate how we can maintain our identities in such worlds. Hiatus closes in on our relationship to technology, our conflict with its power, and it’s inevitable conditioning of social behaviour.

Shifting between two realities (the digital and physical) the film follows a young woman, Madi, as she plays HIATUS: an online ‘identity’ game which uses virtual reality (VR). Her go-go cowgirl avatar, WANDA, makes her way instinctively through the game world, in typical fairy tale fashion, encountering an assortment of players who trick and confuse her. These include an aggressive male character called WANG, who drains WANDA’s power for his own selfish purposes.

Hiatus originated from Beckman’s research at NASA, and her involvement in early online debates on the purpose of the internet, VR and their applications. In its prescient playfulness the work embodies the optimism of the early internet, a space of hybrid identities and niche communities, but also points to the darker side of this now all-pervasive technology: particularly the gender politics which are highlighted by the simplified immediacy of online life.

Produced, directed, shot and edited by Ericka Beckman. Starring Madi Distefano and Daniel Ruth. Sound Design by Bruce Darby. Produced with Funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Council on the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts and the Experimental Television Center. Courtesy of the artist.

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