“You can get all the shit or you can get all the glory,” explains Finnish artist Marja Saleva.
Screen captures from He is so obsessed with me, Part 2, courtesy of Marja Saleva.
Ah, the single life. Whether you're unlucky in love or don't have time for romantic escapades, being unattached has its ups and downs. Finnish Artist Marja Saleva explores her ambivalence towards being single at 40 in her choose-your-own-adventure style web story, He is so obsessed with me. The interactive piece takes you click-by-click through countless visual scenarios mapping Saleva's emotional life from the perspective of an imagined companion, "He."
"This happened because that happened. And there could not have been any other way," the opening screen states.
The threads of the story draw from over 3,000 slides of photo and text, linked together by clicking arrows at the bottom of the screen. This interaction advances the story and shapes its outcome, but the arrows are unmarked, rendering the choice arbitrary—you can choose to move forward or start over, but the rest is a crap shoot. In this way, the experience questions the interplay between choice, causality, and chance in shaping our experiences.
"There are all these different narratives together," Saleva tells Creators. "Sometimes it's joy, sometimes it's sorrow, sometimes it's really painful, sometimes it's pleasure."
Untethered to a physical space, users are free to come and go on their own terms. The intimate nature of this interaction mirrors the visual intimacy of the stories, as the screen confronts the viewer with images and questions that can feel highly personal.
"Have you never been married?" the text in one narrative chain asks. Then, "Have you never lived with someone?" And finally, "There have always been women like that."
The images have the off-kilter, candid quality of photos snapped in moments in between moments—the kinds of photos that signal a subject's comfort with the photographer. Some are manipulated with layers and drawings, while others are simple gradients of color or smatterings of light and lines. Strung together, they tell loosely recognizable stories of domesticity: a wedding, a meal, a violent beating, an intimate moment in bed.
"Sometimes the story is kind of clearer, but sometimes it can be really strange and you don't really get it," Saleva says. "I wanted to make so many crossroads that it's almost impossible to see it all."
It's almost, but not entirely, impossible. The viewer's latitude can expand with the amount of time spent in the piece because the links between photos are fixed. This makes it possible to navigate the combinations by tracking each choice and its result. Ultimately, access to Saleva's labyrinth of "dreams, fantasies, and feelings" is determined by the user's attention span.
"Even though all the feelings are in it, I can't say that you get all of it because it just depends where you go," Saleva says. "You can get all the shit or you can get all the glory. I can't control what you get."
Ain't that the truth.