July 9, 2007
One nice aspect of the Remediating Literature Conference was that there was a good mix of different types of electronic literature discourse, from highly theoretical frameworks and schema, to historical contexts for electronic literature, to talks focused on close readings, and more pragmatic talks from some writers and artists on the processes involved in writing and publishing electronic literature.
The E-Poet and organizer of the recent E-Poetry Festival in Paris, Patrick Burgaud, gave an interesting talk on how he came to e-poetry and the frustrations and constraints involved in writing poetry for the electronic media. Burgaud described his initial interest in creating “language-independent” poetry, which resulted in him “inventing visual poetry, unfortunately twenty years after it had already been invented” and how this interest in visual poetry emerged into an interest in using the computer. Burgaud described some of the many constraints involved in writing e-poetry, including the challenge of creating work for multiple platforms, the problems involved in creating work for multiple screen resolutions and video-card configurations, the balance between creating work that can be quickly downloaded and work that is satisfactorily developed, etc. “In creating epoetry,” said Burgaud, “I must always hedge between what I would like to do and what it is possible to do.” Burgaud described himself as a poet, rather than as a programmer, and described a kind of poet-hacker aesthetic, which involves piecing together scripts and code written by others, and hacking them, attempting to bend them to his poetic purpose. “I am using my lack of knowledge, and using my mistakes, to find out what I’m making.” He described the process of writing an Epoem as being much like dropping a pinball through a pachinko machine — the poem changes as it hits each constraint, and the path is not predetermined, but a product of the process. Burgaud said that he had learned to accept that his work would be different depending on the machine on which it was viewed, and that he had come to accept a certain lack of control in this regard.
Digital artist Nanette Wylde showed several of her projects and describe the role that randomness plays in her projects including Storyland and her electronic flipbooks. Wylde said that in projects such as “Arrested she is using randomness to “reflect on unconscious attitudes of interpretation . . . to play with systems of social classification and judgement.” Wylde said that in considering these things, she was not really interested in “owning my own authorship,” and often gathered texts written by others as the raw textual material for her work. For instance, some of the texts she has utilized have been gathered via “postcard research”– Wylde will leave stamped postcards with provocative questions in different locations. Anonymous contributors then respond to the questions, providing texts for the work.
Artist/web designer Jody Zellen, whose work includes installations, net art, photography, public art, web design, and artist books, gave a talk on “linear vs. nonlinear” in which she described the ways that she moves back and forth between print and new media, and between linear and nonlinear forms. She described how she started out making artist books and was drawn to the media out of an interest in the compositional space of the screen as opposed to the page, and the idea of the animated artist book. She also described a compelling use of appropriative techniques in her works, such as All the News that’s Fit to Print, which randomly recombines images and texts from the NYTimes, or “Seen Read and Drawn,” another project in which she remediates the NYTimes, by hand-drawing and then animated images and flip-side texts from the paper. Zellen also showed some installations mix image, texts, audio landscapes and physical environments. Zellen showed her webwork/portfolio Ghost City, a project of 25 separate projects composed over the past decade that together compose “a virtual city that has become an archive of changing web technologies.”
The editor of Drunken Boat, Ravi Shankar, gave a talk in which discussed the formal nature of the online journal in comparison to other web communication technologies, such as weblogs, wikis, and listservs and the role that online journals play in providing “a conceptual exhibition space that isn’t malleable or narrative in the same way” as blogs. Shankar described the function that online journals including Drunken Boat play in “liberating artists from a sense of isolation. Drunken Boat, now in it’s eighth year, is indeed one of the most important journals in new media, a place where readers find electronic literature and web art alongside conventional poetry and fiction, as well as photos, video, and sound art. The latest issue of the journal includes both innovative e-lit and web art from the “Pan-literary Awards Competition” and a massive portfolio on the Oulipo.