Loss Pequeño Glazier's Work

The Electronic Poetry Center State University of New York at Buffalo

Judy Malloy's Work

Dorothy Abrona McCrae

Johanna Drucker's Work

Granary Books

Alt-X Network

Grammatron by Mark Amerika

Lit [art] ure -- Something Old, Something New

a Round Table Discussion hosted by Jennifer Ley

Perhaps it is the poet in me who continues to see more than just an artful synthesis of syllables in the term we coined for this issue: Lit [art] ure, one evocative of other -ures -- ligature, armature, musculature and if you'll forgive us a lyric moment, rapture -- all words which speak to that which supports, ties and unites parts to form a whole.

Over the past five years, as delivery rates and computer processing power have continued to improve, writers working on the Web have turned to the use of visual imagery in increasing numbers. Moving beyond the use of image for mere illustration, writers have embraced the visual as a communicative tool on a par with text, and in the process, may be changing what it means to be literate in the 21st century.

Working in the explosive field of Lit [art] ure, where new technology is born (and unfortunately dies) always faster than the critical/analytical process one might visit upon such work as we seek to define the "what" of what we do, has prompted me to ask the four participants of this round table the following questions. To be definitive about the nature of what is to come is foolish, and as recent controversy in the net.art world shows, the fusion implied by the term Lit [art] ure may be hollow. But the fact remains that working on the Web has forever changed how individual writers and artists reach their audience, as the offerings of literary arts practioners make pale the bold pronouncements for E-books and e-publishing by using the Web as much more than a medium of conveyance.

I cannot think of four better people with whom to explore what the future may hold for New Media Web work and the work's precedents in artistic and literary history.

The Participants:

Loss Pequeño Glazier is the author of Digital Poetics (forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press in 2001), Small Press: An Annotated Guide, and the collections Leaving Loss Glazier, The Parts, and other books, as well as numerous published poems, essays, kinetic works, and online projects including sound files, hypertexts, and CD-ROM publications. Recent works include "Viz Études," a series of performances that present a reading and projection of a number of visual, kinetic, text, and JavaScript-based compositions for electronic space, works which mine the more pliant possibilities of e-poetry and explore the material dimensions of writing in electronic space through the use of elements such as moving text, imbedded sound files, and layered text as properties of writing. An installation of "Viz Études" for magnetic media was included in the "The Next Word" Exhibit at the Neuberger Museum at SUNY Purchase, Fall, 1998. Individual iterations of "Viz Études" have recently been performed in San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, Buffalo, Atlanta, London, Salamanca (Spain), Mexico City, and Bergen (Norway).

Glazier is Director of the Electronic Poetry Center, State University of New York at Buffalo, an extensive resource for innovative and digital poetry.

Judy Malloy has been working on the Internet since 1986 when she began writing Uncle Roger, an online hypernarrative of sex and politics in Silicon Valley.

Her work has been published and exhibited internationally including E.P. Dutton; Tanam Press; St. Martin's Press; Seal Press; The National Endowment for the Arts, Franklin Furnace, NY; A Space, Toronto; Sao Paulo Biennial, Brazil; P.P.O.W., NY; the Los Angeles Institute for Contemporary Art; and ISEA2000. Her hyperfictions its name was Penelope and Forward Anywhere (with Cathy Marshall) are published by Eastgate Systems and have been widely reviewed.

Her latest hyperfiction, Dorothy Abrona McCrae is the memoir of a legendary "Bay Area Figurative" painter. Malloy has been an artist in residence at Xerox PARC; an Associate Editor of Leonardo; Contributing Writer to MicroTimes; and has taught Web design at the San Francisco Art Institute. She is the editor of Women in New Media (forthcoming from MIT Press) as well as the Editor of the online arts ezine, Arts Wire Current.

Johanna Drucker is the Director of Media Studies at the University of Virginia where she brings her interests and experience in the history of books, writing, and visual poetics into dialogue with digital media and critical theory. Titles of recent and forthcoming works in print form include Night Crawlers on the Web (2000), Emerging Sentience (with Brad Freeman) (2001), and A Girl's Life (with Susan Bee, Granary Books, 2001).

Mark Amerika is the author of two classic avant-pop novels, The Kafka Chronicles (now in third printing) and Sexual Blood, both published by FC2/Black Ice Books. In 1993, he started the Alt-X Network, one of the premiere digital art and literature sites on the Web. His internationally-renowned work of Internet Art, Grammatron, has been exhibited at SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica, The Guggenheim Museum, and was one of the first works of Web art to ever be included in the prestigious Whitney Biennial 2000. He was recently appointed to the Fine Arts faculty at the University of Colorado where his creative research investigates new models of Internet art and literature.

The Questions:

1. What do you perceive to be the relationship between net art [and/or Web art] and new media writing? Between new media work [both art and writing] and the field of electronic 'entertainment'?

Loss Pequeño Glazier: It is my opinion that such categories are presently in a state of collapse. This fact can bode well or ill, depending on who is making the calls.

But to step back, I would suggest that they were artificial boundaries in the first place -- as if art and writing could ever be considered separate! All one needs to do is refer to any number of examples, those lovely miniature manuscript paintings of 15th and 16th century Persia among them, to see that such a dissolution of boundaries is not restricted to our present medium.

As to the good side of this, we are the heirs to the freedom that accompanies the dissolution of a boundary. This freedom must be taken with some circumspection, however. That is, if writers are going to employ visual elements they should make sure they are thinking visually and are not simply reacting illustratively to text. My suggestion is that if it has taken most of us entire lifetimes to develop our skills as writers, one cannot assume that visual skills do not require the same degree of development. I think there is some work out there that shows a lack of appreciation for the integration between writing and image. (Persian miniatures, for example, typically took over a year to produce, so tight was the attention to how materials, image, and text could be integrated.)

Judy Malloy: Jennifer, I respect your specific definition, but because for me new media encompasses very diverse works in many mediums -- interactive installations; disk or cd based works, interactive video; techno-dance; certain computer-mediated works of new music, etc.-- I feel most comfortable focusing somewhat narrowly on visual art and literature on the Internet.

Because on the Web we are all on the same platform, the viewer/reader moves between works of art, narratives, poetry, and commercially produced entertainment without the clear distinctions inherent in reading a book, going to a gallery, watching television.

Nevertheless, each discipline brings its own culture/ways of working to the environment. Writers, for instance, may slowly build a narrative. Their work may not have the immediate impact or the conceptual integrity of visual art. A writer may be less able to produce the concise statement about the work which visual artists are expected to. Furthermore, a web-based work of literature may require more time -- necessitating a reader as opposed to a viewer.

In this environment, which is in continual flux, each artist, each writer, each artist/writer is very free to fulfill his or her own vision. When I worked with artists books in the 70's I strove to create works which integrated text and images in ways that neither were the words descriptions of the images nor were the images illustrations of the words. Now I now prefer to work purely with text, striving to create narratives which I think of as a pools of information into which the reader plunges repeatedly, emerging with a cumulative and individual picture.

Yet -- whether it is my visual/verbal background or the way the words are situated within the framed monitor screen or a consciousness of the visually intense environment in which I work and the reader moves - I am very conscious of the visual impact of my words.

Johanna Drucker: Loss and Judy have outlined the two aspects of the producer's relation to the net environment and the viewer's interaction with it. For producers, the requirement of having new skills and engaging them creatively with content still sets a high bar in certain communities. That's really not different from the relation of creativity to traditional media. It's always been the case that artists who are able to be directly involved in production have a different relation to the formal potential than artists who use media reproductively. I see this in all aspects of print production, and it is no less true in the electronic environment. What is interesting about desk-top tools is the extent to which they have opened manipulative possibilities to a broader base of users. There has been little corresponding training in sensitivity to design, visual communication, or compositional effectiveness. Just as the most dreadful flyers have come out of desk-top environments, so have confused web-works been produced. A challenge ahead is to introduce some media fluency skills that provide useful ways of understanding how these media shape communication. I don't look for conventions and standards to resolve these issues, since that will be a snooze, but for flexible intellectual principles to provide some understanding of what "space" is, for instance, within the multiple windows of a screen environment. Fundamentals of editing and navigation would go a long way here in informing net-based practice. An exciting challenge.

As for viewers, the change there will come when expectations are retailored to meet the medium. In particular, the time-based and navigation-intensive features of user interface are simply different from those of print media. For all the analogies we can draw, there are significant features of new media that shift user expectations, and these will take time to be codified into forms, and also, in to behaviors. All technological innovation is modified by use, and the aesthetic forms of a new technology may be constrained by its technical features, but they are not determined by it. Use patterns will push emergent forms through practices in this medium as in earlier innovations. Again, letterpress is a fine example. There was no physical impediment to diagonal placement of type on the page from the first innovations of Gutenberg in the mid-15th century. But it awaited the late 19th and the competition for the eye brought on by industrial production and its fostering of advertising to create a cultural climate within which these innovations were introduced. Without a heavy causality argument, it's still clear that a combination of need, interest, and receptivity played into this change.

Mark Amerika: First, I would like to say how honored I am to be in this round table forum with Judy Malloy, Johanna Drucker and Loss Pequeño Glazier, all of whose work I have admired over the years and who, in their different ways, have influenced and inspired my own work.

The answer to this question is, of course, impossible. But it's absolutely necessary to ask it now because we are clearly witnessing what Loss calls "the dissolution of a boundary." The kind of multi-disiplinary, collaborative net art projects that are beginning to emerge on the Web are showing us that we can indeed expand the concept of writing to include a wide array of new media forms that, while influenced by literary art, are also heavily indebted to visual art, sound art, conceptual art, performance art, etc...

As Judy and Johanna suggest, the Web is problematizing the production/distribution paradigms that pre-Net culture so heavily depended on. The R&D projects we're investigating here in the Digital Art division at the University of Colorado's Fine Arts Department are focused on the interrelationship between these conveniently compartmentalized art forms mentioned above and the new media art forms being invented on the Web. For example, we will take an entertainment industry term like "E-book" and run experiments on it. To do this, we will first of all assume that the entertainment industry has very little sense of what an E-Book actually is or can be.

Yes, like Random House et al, we will produce pdf files that are easy to download and read on the screen and/or print up off your local printer. These titles will appear somewhat similar to what we have been calling books, except they may also have hyperlinks in them, or even video and audio clips. There is also a good chance we will eventually use some of these same pdf files to offer print on-demand (POD) versions of experimental titles -- the problem as of today is that print on-demand is not really on-demand and the delays are longer than they should be.

But we want to go much farther than this too. For example, we want to see if the multi-media hypertexts we publish/exhibit on Alt-X are already on-demand E-books. Or what about on-demand mp3 concept-albums with accompanying hyperlinernotes in a Shockwave or Flash interface? How about an online-only database of story-driven browser art? What we're prodding here are concepts. The idea is to explode or overwrite the terminology so that it becomes uncategorizeable and allows the work to exist on its own terms. And we won't limit ourselves exclusively to net-mediated art-writing, but will experiment with wireless access protocols and more hybridized, offline/online real-time publication/exhibition as well.

2. Are there persistent aesthetic qualities that you see as characteristic of new media work?

Glazier: This brings us to the negative potential of our present historical moment. That is, first, the idea is promoted by the computer industry that everything is instant. It would suggest that, for example, with a Web page program, you can make a Web in seconds. Such a concept detracts from the possibilities that might be explored through these technologies. That is, new ways of thinking through text/image are ignored since the point is to sell the most recent version of software. Secondly, these mergings of art are immediately swallowed by the whole entertainment-big media- big advertising corporate monopoly that controls almost everything coming across any broad band channel. This now includes the Web. I think it is important to question our relation to such totalizated concepts. You often see New Media works that seem to accept and be influenced by the conceptions of advertising, software manufacturers, and big media journalism. Indeed, "cyberculture", as characterized by big media, may be a TM of AOL/Time-Warner. It has been so overdone that even critiques of such visions often seem to fall within the same conception. This is not the only way to view the creative potential of this medium. Will we continue to operate within those narrow and reductive parameters? Or will we forge our own identities, develop new practices, and instigate our own implementations of the as yet unfolding possibilities of this medium?

Malloy: Internet art and writing at its best seamlessly integrates the technology and the content; approaches the making of the work with a deep understanding of the capabilities of the technology; understands and integrates the hyperlinking on which the very structure of the Web depends; utilizes the medium in collaborative and/or conceptual ways; is conscious that the reader/viewer is present on the same interactive platform and involves the reader/viewer in a holistic manner; reflects contemporary culture or reflects other cultures as viewed thru the lens of contemporary culture; promotes diversity and postcolonial identity; is steeped in its own discipline as well as in the development and contemporary state of other Internet-based art; yet does not slavishly emulate any other medium.

That is my view, but it is most important to remain true to one's own personal vision - whatever it may be.

Drucker: The multiplicity of graphic and temporal spaces is the single striking feature. Hyperlinks and multiple pathways are features of print culture. The index and table of contents mark nodal points in a path of reading. Alphabetization and page numbers articulate these possibilities. But the capacity of an electronic screen to subdivide into a multiplicity of framed spaces, each of which can unfold along its own temporal axis simultaneously is unique to this environment. I have to give Tim Murray credit for making this clear to me when he curated a CD-Rom exhibition for the 1999 Film Festival here at University of Virginia. Though the talk he gave to accompany the exhibition didn't explicitly make this point, the demonstrations of work he walked us through made me see this fact for the first time. My colleague Rick Provine and I did a session last summer for New Media Center staff and administrators around the country that focused on these features and it was gratifying to see how ready people are for descriptive and analytic vocabulary for understanding this phenomenon.

Amerika: I actually think it's related to what Johanna, in her previous response, said when she wrote about the "producer's relation to the net environment and the viewer's interaction with it." Some might argue that issues of cultural production and user-interaction are not really relevant when it comes to identifying aesthetic qualities in general, but for new media work, I see a lot of artists, like RTMARK, ETOY, Vuk Cosic, John Hopkins and many others (myself included), using the networking medium itself to call into question the whole notion of "aesthetic qualities" that we tend to apply to visual art objects, printed books of poetry, or even video art. I'm mostly attracted to work that experiments with the Net as a unique artistic medium and that challenges the mainstream production/distribution models that have contributed to an eerie kind of market censorship-effect in the culture business.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

[the work] [diner] [dialogue] [theory & practice] [opportunities] [archives] Volume Two, # Two 1999 - 2000