Augmented e-poetry at ELO_AI

Strange things happen to the reader when printed matter unlocks digital delights!

ELOai_030610_0078 In early June an international collection of e-lit was installed in a gallery setting in downtown Providence (Rhode Island, USA) for the Arts Program of the Electronic Literature Organization 2010 Conference (ELO_AI), including my own piece, Underbelly. There were many wonderful works presented but I’d like to pick out a few that made me think about transliteracy in particular: Requiem, Ethereal Landscapes and Between Page And Screen.

The creators of these works augment their digital art and e-poetry with print, employing a delightful topsy-turvy kind of transliteracy, whereby the printed matter becomes a device for reading the digital, rather than the usual way remediation goes when texts originated for print are digitized. Reading these works, you wonder, where is the poem, where is the story? The poem, the art is powerfully and clearly present, but you’re aware that it doesn’t exist in the computer and it doesn’t exist on the page – it’s between these realms, slipping and sliding along the virtuality continuum – or perhaps it’s the reader who is transliterately sliding around in mixed reality?

It’s an experience that simultaneously displaces and enchants the human reader. It slides you into a magical zone where somehow your corporeal reading equipment – eyes (and reading glasses) – have been substituted by a black & white graphic and a webcam or barcode reader. It’s only when, and if, you allow yourself to be transformed like this that the poetry appears for you.

Have a look at the works, see where they take you…

Requiem by Charles Fisher and Caitlin Fisher

“Requiem is an augmented reality poem in which digital imagery and sound is superimposed on a physical object — in this case the card with the black and white marker. Simply hold the marker up to the webcam to begin experiencing the piece.”

ELOai_060610_0014 ELOai_060610_0013

Requiem, which incorporates a poem written by her father, is part of a larger, more fragmented work by Caitlin Fisher “about collections, hoarding and the things we save when people die” called Cardamom of the Dead. Download and print out a marker.

by by Alexander Mouton and Christian Faur

Ethereal Landscapes is an interactive electronic installation that immerses a viewer into a photographic artists’ book and generative video and audio data-base which a viewer can interact with in real-time through scanning the bar codes on the pages of an accompanying book….

“The concept comes from our love of the immersive quality of books (which can be held), of sound (which surrounds you), and of video (which engages your sense of temporality through its movement).”


Page And Screen
written by Amaranth Borsuk and programmed by Brad Bouse

“…is an augmented-reality chapbook. Like a digital pop-up book, you hold the words in your hands…

“The poems—a series of cryptic letters between two lovers, P and S—do not exist on either page or screen, but in an augmented reality only accessible to the reader who has both the physical object and the device necessary to read it.”

Watch the video or print out the preview marker and try it for yourself (you’ll need a webcam).

Transliteracy: A New Link

Recently, while researching other online new media courses and developing the syllabus for the Jan. 2011 online MA in New Media Narratives course, I was introduced to the Creative Research Centre (CRC) at Montclair State University. The director, Neil Baldwin shared some background on the centre with me and it's great to *meet* other academics interested in transdisciplinary/transliterate creative practise. Today, the Transliteracy Research Group has been added to the CRC's ever-evolving bibliography of links and connections.

Have a look at the CRC's Danceaturgy and Nell Painter's Artist Statement (she's the virtual artist in residence) that highlights issues of transdisciplinarity and digital literacy.

If you have any links  on transdisciplinary, transliteracy, new media and/or creative practise you'd like to share with me, please e-mail me: jess AT

Note: Image is by Nell Painter and is from the CRC's homepage.

Literacies of Handclapping

I heard this fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 this week. It's on Listen Again for just a few days so I'm pasting all the info here for future reference. Definitely worth catching whilst it's available if you can because it outlines a whole set of of very ancient literacies which are part of the transliterate universe.

Put Your Hands Together

B00sq1vv_303_170 In a self-consciously clap-happy exploration of one of the most delightful and satisfying forms of human action and expression, Nick Baker investigates the meanings and motivations, the sounds and symbolism, the elation and frustration of ritually striking one hand with another.
The clapping rhythms of football, flamenco, the nursery and the Pentecostal church are all biologically linked yet subtly different. In this anatomy of a basic human ritual, Nick has collected claps as far apart as Fiji – where a clapping ritual accompanies a narcotic-taking ceremony – and China, where young women on busy high streets clap to attract attention to what's on offer in the stores. Choreographer Luke Creswell, an expert clapper, collects clap-routines in bars all over the world.
What's linked in all cases, according to Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, is humanity's attunement to one of its many internal biological clocks – the one that gives us walking, chewing and nodding our head. He invites listeners to join in with a simple experiment to demonstrate the rhythm of life.
Babies clap early & show awareness of hands in the womb. The clap is not the basis of language development, it is language development. It is display, performance, shared meaning & shared time. Gospel singer Ruby Turner provides musical commentary on how the hand clap moves from babies, through Sunday School, the playground and the church towards soul and R and B.
Do our biological predecessors clap? Perhaps we've been exposed to too many tea commercials. Or maybe chimpanzees have been too exposed to us, primatologist Alison Fletcher explains.

Producer: Tamsin Hughes
A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.
Thu 17 Jun 2010
BBC Radio 4

Talking about Radio

‘Radio is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome ‘– T.S. Elliot.

I grew up in an African community where radio was a very popular medium of mass communication. Every night, when my father retired to his bedroom, I’d fidget with the shortwave radio in the living room, in search of exciting international stations. I discovered many – the BBC, RFI, Deutsche Welle Radio.

At the university, I enrolled for a BA degree in Communication Arts. Broadcasting was one of my modules. I learnt about features, documentaries, interviews, acoustics. The year I graduated, I got a job with a national radio station, and I also won a Commonwealth Short Story Award – an annual scheme to promote new creative writing, funded and administered by the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. (Each year around 25 winning and highly commended stories from the different regions of the Commonwealth are recorded on to CDs and broadcast on radio stations across the Commonwealth).

I left the radio industry many years ago, for a career in public relations. A lot has changed now. New technologies have changed the way broadcasting operates. I now listen to the radio on my mobile phone. I listen to the BBC World Service on the internet. I play back the ones I have missed on iPlayer.  

Yesterday, I was thinking about my love for radio, and John Denver’s song came to my mind: ‘I hear her voice, in the mornin' hour she calls, The radio reminds me of my home far away, And driving down the road I get a feelin' That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday’.


Alone Together

There’s something so poignant about the phrase, “alone together”. It stuck in my head after I saw this CNN video about Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir on YouTube. I presume that most readers of this blog have seen it too. I wonder whether the same phrase at the end of John Vennavally-Rao’s report has also intrigued, delighted and troubled you?

I’m putting down here some random thoughts that haven’t fully coalesced yet into a coherent philosophy, but I’m chasing something/ some things that are hard to see.

The haunting beauty of the choral sound and the inclusive arc of differently coloured faces and backgrounds on the red-curtained stage of cyberspace pleased me deeply. I smiled. I watched it again. I forwarded it to a few friends. I watched it again. I studied a few of the faces — each singing peacefully and unselfconsciously as one can only do in one’s own private space. I felt glad and privileged to have access to those private moments mixed together in an enormous public display that reached and continues to reach across continents and across time. It was/is something precious. I googled Eric Whitacre. I was pleased to read that he’s working on more pieces for the Virtual Choir, perhaps some original work…

And yet, why does it haunt me so? The sense of longing, of reaching out for connection that is communicated to me, the viewer-hearer, is largely a function of the strangeness of the presentation, not of each individual’s communication. Most of the singers look extraordinarily serene, like people absent from the world because they’re in “flow” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990).  People who are physically together when singing together, no matter with how much joy or harmony, don’t wear exactly the same expression as an individual in private rapture. Or didn’t, anyway. As we reach out for connection in this new way, are we inviting others to steal a part of our soul that previously only revealed itself to the walls or landscapes of our private spaces?

Even as I delight in the confluence of digital media that make possible this self-revelatory joining of humans who know nothing of each other besides that all (all of those who are featured, anyway) can sing, I cannot help but be conscious of all those intervening media, “the storage and transmission channels or tools used to store and deliver information or data”. They make the fragile meaning that could not exist if the electricity failed.

But isn’t this just a logical 21st century extension of the artistic process? Artists have always used materials and techniques to transform base material into something else. It’s what artists do. Why does this seem different to me?

Partly, it’s the ephemerality of it — the is-and-notness that flickers on and off at the whim of the switch. Also, it’s the way the human sources are both enhanced by and subsumed in the media. Their “togetherness” is something that the media help us (and them) to imagine. We imagine willingly, but the compulsive clarity of video entices us to go further — to believe, despite ourselves. This mixture of the not-real and the real is disturbing. The putative “togetherness” (not-real) painfully emphasizes the aloneness (real) of the participants. We see each person’s aloneness clearly, multiplied a hundred times in an instant. Usually, we would suspect it only by extension from our own aloneness, when we can risk being conscious of that, and only one-by-one, from the occasional glimpses provided by circumstance.

On the other hand, we also see some elements that inspire us to seek togetherness… that give us hope. Despite our different countries, languages, cultures, genders and body types, we can all sing; we all aspire to make beautiful sounds; we can participate and cooperate to harmonious effect (albeit with the help of a strong guiding and editing hand); we all seek out private time or space to connect with ourselves, we can all be receptive; we can all be gentle. We also all enjoy and depend on similar electronic equipment for our communication and pleasure, so we are patient with each other as we struggle with its vagaries.

As the days passed, my thoughts turned to the creator/conductor/guide/editor — the uber-artist who put it all together. The reach of the work in terms of participants and, even more, of audience, and the fact that the harmony is created in his own private space by one over/above/outside the private spaces of those making the sounds, made me think of him in godlike terms. He is a small god, but with incredibly long digital arms. And now we can all be like him. We “little kings” are no longer held in check by the limitations of our physical resources. We are let loose with the power to make our megalomaniac dreams come true — in a sense — but we pay with the constant awareness of our aloneness.

This aloneness has always been the human condition, but before these digital joinings in eternally-preserved and universally-accessible public spaces, we only dipped in and out of this awareness occasionally. Well, there is no way back, unless we have a Butlerian Jihad in our future. Until then, humanity is working out the Zen of our growth into full and constant consciousness of how we really are — just google the phrase “alone together” to see how much this concept exercises us in the current age.

Transliteracy 多媒体读写能力 at DAW Symposium, Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts

Duo Mei Ti Du Xie Neng Li

200px-Xi'an_-_City_wall_-_014 At the end of June I’ll be visiting China for the first time. I’ll be speaking at the DAW Symposium: Visions and Trends in Transdisciplinary Art and Science at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts (XAFA). It promises to be a huge and very impressive event. I’m just one of many speakers from several countries and I’m really looking forward to meeting them as well as our Chinese colleagues. I’ve been learning a little Mandarin this year but not much went in, I have to admit, so I have a lot of revision to do before I leave.

I’d like to thank my colleague in the IOCT, Professor Hongji Yang, for very kindly working out a translation of the word ‘transliteracy’ for me in both characters and pinyin. I’ll be very interested to hear the view of other Mandarin speakers as to what this means to them.

I’m also keen to research metaphors of computing and the internet in China and very much hope I’ll be able to harvest a few for my growing collection.

Of course, various social media apps are blocked in China so I don’t know which I’ll use to journal my trip, but, time permitting, I will try to post some reports and pictures while I’m there.

Image from Wikipedia


Lunch at the Internet Archive

Internet Archive, 300 Funston, San FranciscoIf you find yourself in San Francisco on a Friday, you might want to consider making the trip to 300 Funston Avenue to have lunch with some quite remarkable people.  The Internet Archive was founded by Brewster Kahle in 1996 and has been crawling the web ever since.

I can search for the trAce Online Writing Centre, founded in 1995, and find copies of the site archived several times a year for ten years. I'd never really imagInternet Archive Friday lunchined, though, that the Internet Archive had a physical existence, so it was quite surreal to find myself inside a large re-purposed church on a residential street near the Golden Gate Park having lunch with 30 or so of the 300-strong IA team. Brewster Kahle himself was there along with special guest Ted Nelson, who is donating his personal archive. As I understand it, anyone is welcome to the lunch. The price you pay is to stand up and introduce yourself as everyone goes around the table and updates the group on that week's archive work. 

The archive is not just webpages. After lunch a few of us went around the corner to see a dozen or so people diligently scanning, page by page, hundreds of books donated to the archive. I filmed one of the workers, Rebecca, for a while as she described the process – the image is rather unclear at the start but gets better towards the end.

What does all this mean for transliteracy? I guess it's about the literacy of memory. The question of how we archive digital work and preserve it for future generations to access is fraught with problems as technology evolves and, ironically, digitising books won't be the answer unless the digitised work itself can still be read – but I'm sure Brewster Kahle is onto that.

I strongly recommend regular visits to the archive online, and in San Francisco too if you can make it. The whole venture is inspiring in its ambition and reach.

A few more pics here.