Tomoko Takahashi’s Word Perhect is a website that neatly juxtaposes the real world with the never-never land of supposedly labour-saving usefulness of the macro-filled, bloated software that spawns from Silicon Valley and fills up your hard drive in a matter of seconds.
Word Perhect gets straight to the point. Using bits and pieces gleaned from the artist’s (presumably messy) studio, pocket, it invites you to re-think your approach to writing a letter. Writing a letter on a computer, at any rate. Select something to write on – let’s try a torn off strip of cardboard backpack (although tantalisingly, you’re offered numerous items you can’t actually write on – a cassette tape, for example) – and you’re ready to go.
Fonts are banned. Instead, your purple prose comes out in a stream of hand-written letters – ‘messy’, ‘tidy’ or ‘barely visible’. Don’t try and delete what you’ve just written. Word Perhect relishes mistakes – it’ll put a big black scribble on the offending letter. As the program says, ‘Once you written, you can’t take it back. Be responsible whatever you’ve done!!’.
Word Perhect knows that the average computer user is longing for distraction – how about a quick game of patience or a spin round the net? ‘Do you want a pint or some sort?’ offers one icon, encouragingly. This is what function buttons should do, you think. Any program which asks ‘are you hungry?’ must be on to a winner. However, the following advice is returned: ‘Lack of food makes one grumpy. For avoiding the consequences, I advise you to eat NOW. Recomended (sic)/handy food will be the cheese and chive bagel which you can get from your local 24 hrs open bagel shop.’ Now that’s user-friendly.
The website was produced as a collaboration between the digital organisation e-2 and the Chisenhale Gallery, which uses its huge East London gallery space to work with young artists in what it calls the ‘r&d’ department of the capital’s current art boom – artists who have shown there include Rachel Whiteread, Sam Taylor-Wood, Cornelia Parker and Gillian Wearing. Takahashi (born 1966), who created Word Perhect with the programmer Jon Pollard, is a London-based artist whose largely installation-based work is concerned with the breakdown of technology. Her main beef, in Word Perhect, is the way word processors normalise language. So, click the thesaurus and you’ll be met with the message, ‘I think it’s some kind of big lizard’; try to save a document, and a scrawled note reminds you, ‘Sometimes things get lost.’
Yes, even in the pixel-perfect never-never land of virtual reality.