No Terminus: The 2015 End(s) of Electronic Literature Festival
Citation: Coover, Roderick and Scott Rettberg. “No Terminus: The 2015 End(s) of Electronic Literature Festival.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 14, 2016. doi:10.20415/hyp/014.i01
Abstract: Edited by Roderick Coover and Scott Rettberg, this issue of Hyperrhiz features a select number of works that were exhibited in at the 2015 Electronic Literature Organization Literary Media Arts Festival, The End(s) of Electronic Literature.
The Ends of Electronic Literature
This issue of Hyperrhiz features a select number of works that were exhibited in at the 2015 Electronic Literature Organization Literary Media Arts Festival, The End(s) of Electronic Literature. The conference and festival propelled an expansive community of writers, artists and scholars into Bergen with exhibitions, performances, mobile works and viewpoints on the purpose and future of electronic literature. The festival itself was envisioned as a radical and progressive new stage for ELO, bridging core literary practices with radical terminalia seen through diverse kinds of art and computing.
The End(s) of Electronic Literature Festival was the most ambitious in the history of the organization, sited at five different locations in Bergen and fully supported by the Bergen cultural environment. The Festival featured original artworks of diverse media that explored the conference themes as well as screenings, readings, and performances. Several of the exhibitions were up for several weeks after the international artists and researchers returned home, creating a deeper public engagement with electronic literature. The exhibitions explored several different ideas of what "the ends" of electronic literature might entail:
Kid-E-Lit: An Exhibition of Electronic Literature for Children and Youth
(Bergen Public Library)
The first generation of digital natives is finding a plethora of apps and interactive digital narratives made for their iPads and computers, perhaps learning how to think in a new digital vernacular. This exhibition focused on innovations in digital reading experiences for children.
Electronic Literature Festival Exhibition
(University of Bergen Arts Library)
The on-campus hub of the Festival featured web-based works, tablet apps, and installations responding to the themes of the conference. It also included the "Emergence of Electronic Literature" exhibit, including print antecedents, ephemera, and other materials from the collections of the UiB Library and Digital Culture program documenting the early history of electronic literature. A preview exhibit of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 3 was also featured.
Hybridity and Synesthesia: Beyond Peripheries of Form and Consciousness (Lydgalleriet)
This aspect of the program emphasized works, particularly installations, that pushed at the edges of literature and other forms, and that appealed to other aspects of the sensorium than those we typically associate with reading. Works in the exhibition for example involved haptic sensation telepresence, touch-based interactivity, innovative audio elements, interactive images, and locative technologies.
Decentering: Global Electronic Literature
While there are strong centers of activity in electronic literature in North America and Western Europe, innovations in digital textuality are also taking place in Eastern Europe and in the Southern hemisphere. This exhibition focused on electronic literature from Brazil, Peru, Poland, Portugal, and Russia.
Interventions: Engaging the Body Politic
This exhibition featured works that engage with contemporary cultural discourse and political reality, challenging audiences to consider digital artifacts and practices that react to and intervene in matters of the environment, social justice, and our relation to the habitus.
End(s) of Electronic Literature Performances, Screenings, and Readings
(University of Bergen, USF and Østre)
This aspect of the program featured live readings and performances of works of electronic literature, in addition to cinematic works related to electronic literature practices. Authors were encouraged to think broadly about modes of performance, ranging from traditional readings to more theatrical styles of presentation, and site-specific interventions.
Our effort engaged the city with the artists and vice versa through artist talks, demonstrations and playful events that could only have been possible with the immense energy and desire from participating curators, artists and institutions including a university, an art school, two libraries, and three art galleries. Their participation demonstrated the interest, desire, and necessity to tell stories, to play and to find meaning through our contemporary digital media and communication environments that extends beyond academic and artistic communities. Putting on such an extensive festival required resources beyond those normally available to an academic conference. The conference organizers spent two years working with local, Norwegian, and European partners to support diverse aspects of the program ranging from venues, to mounting costs, to equipment, to artist travel, and the exhibition catalog. The coalition of supporters ultimately included the Department of Linguistic, Literary, and Aesthetic Studies at the University of Bergen, the Norwegian Research Council, the Nordic Cultural Fund, the Norwegian Arts Council, Bergen Kommune, Hordaland Fylkeskommune, the Bergen Public Library, 3,14, Bergen elektroniske kunstsenter, Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Lydgalleriet, the Polish Ministry of Culture, Programme Franco-Norvégien, the EU Marie Curie Program, Irish Research Council ELMCIP, and the Bergen Electronic Literature Research Group.
Installed in venues throughout Bergen, the works in this festival defied easy categories such as those of literature, art, performance, narrative or computing. The works dissolve conventional boundaries. The dialogs, collaborations and intersecting performances also grow new forms, and each ELO Arts Festival has been a significant departure from the one before. The works included in this publication can offer only a glimpse into the what occurred in Bergen in 2015. The festival included dozens of artists, writers and performers, staging works in three galleries, two libraries, university halls, three performance venues, and, through its mobile media art works, out in the streets of the city. And it included the participants of the festival, the conference the population at large. The works spoke to the themes of the attendees of the Electronic Literature Organization Conference that ran concurrently with the core arts festival, and it brought work into the public sphere with broad engagement with the broader community and with many of the exhibitions, notably those in libraries, extending well beyond the conference events.
Arts festivals like those held by ELO helped to grow new kinds of communities. They provide a way for those using computing in diverse practices to learn from each other across the arts and to build collaborations that integrate arts, research, and technology. Rather than defined by disciplinary paradigms and methodologies, these communities seem to organize through provocation, flux and reinvention. The "ends" are neither terminal nor territorial. Rather they express evolving trajectories growing in a particularly time among communities of writers and artists. Meanwhile, despite the flux of the arts events, the organization that hosts these festivals has become an enduring presence — a sign that both its core preoccupations and its collective identity remains vital. Common themes, such as how the creative innovation in language, literary forms and poetic expression transform along with creative forms of computing, code, multimedia and transmedia arts, continue to grow and shape-shift, impacted both by individual creativity and by technological changes. It is with that spirit that the works featured in this issue are not definitive of any field but rather suggestive of the concepts and conversations that generate creative action. Artists in the festival embraced both enduring and very recent technologies, claiming new spaces within both established literary areas and emerging forms. Thus, the festival is itself an enactment of "the literary" that it sets out to articulate, and a producer of the "ends" its aims to gather.
The works in the exhibitions were jury selected by peer-review panels of writers, artists and scholars. Curators also reached out to invite additional works from those outside of ELO's circle, most notably in the Decentering exhibition. Conditions vary for showing work in libraries, public galleries, university hallways or virtually without fixed space. How a work adapts (or resists) such constraints is also part of how a work functions and how it might be interpreted. Some works in this festival also moved across spaces or forms, which can alter experience and meaning. For the first time, ELO includes a growing wealth of works aimed at younger users for whom electronic forms are among the established and ubiquitous ways that stories are made and told. The program also celebrated the launch of the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3, in its third edition one of the most fundamental contributions the ELO is making to providing a free, openly accessible and well-documented corpus of electronic literature available for readers and for educators worldwide.
The integration of critical and creative practices have also been central in the development of electronic literature and its related arts. This arts festival expanded that exchange, launching concurrently with the ELO 2015 conference and, in several venues, extending beyond the conference. The conference and arts festival organizers of ELO 2015 put a particular emphasis on equally balancing academic research presentations with direct engagement with electronic literature and digital art. Each afternoon there were readings, film screenings, tours through location-specific works and one-on-one sessions with artists at the galleries. Art openings each evening were followed by performance nights that combine readings, screenings, hybrid works and sound arts. The conference's impact on the city through its installations in libraries and exhibition spaces had been built through several years of staging smaller public events in those venues, such as mounting series of readings and presentations in the city library and creating courses for foreign students to work with local students to creating interactive works. Both local and international students participated in mounting the exhibitions and in creating the myriad forms of documentation and representation.
We have made an effort in this special issue of Hyperrhiz to present a selection works from the ELO 2015 Festival that are highly innovative and accomplished and representative of differing approaches. The issue presents only a slice of the broader exhibition that included many excellent works. Our selection of works to represent in this venue was guided both by a desire to share a focused selection that would be representative of the exhibition as a whole, and to highlight some innovative works that have not already received extensive reviews or attention in other publications.
This issue includes critical commentary and reviews as well as documentation and publication of specific artworks. We asked two researchers for commentaries on the ELO 2015 Festival. Kathi Inman Berens provides us with a detailed review of the festival as a whole, while Davin Heckman takes a close look at the Interventions show. Penny Florence considers John Cayley's Listeners project, which harnesses and repurposes Amazon's Echo device as a platform for literary art. Leonardo Flores introduces us to the emerging genre of twitter-based Bots, combinatory and generative programs that automatically produce poetic, satirical, or subversive language and disseminate it on the social network.
The artworks documented and published here demonstrate just how wildly diverse and intermedial work in electronic literature has become in recent years. Documentation of the OTTARAS collective (Ottar Ormstad and Taras Mashtalir) highlights their innovative work that merges kinetic poetry and sound poetry with generative musical performance. David Jhave Johnston's BDP (Big Data Project) which collates and remixes poetry from web data sources while giving us cause to consider the function (or loss) of poetic language in the massive flood of big data, is represented with video documentation and source code. Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle share their Faceless Patrons project, a work that uses interaction with predatory internet scammers as the basis for activist networked art.
Interactive and combinatory cinematic works are represented by two selections here. David Clark's interactive Korkasow film The End: Death in Seven Colors, published here in its entirety, provides a complex exploration of the deaths of Alan Turing, Sigmund Freud, Princess Diana, Jim Morrison, Judy Garland, Walter Benjamin, and Marcel Duchamp. Another approach to play with narrative conventions in cinema is taken in Will Luers' Phantom Agents, a recombinant film that depicts two players within a broken augmented reality game that integrates and remixes clips of 2oth century secret agent and spy movies, resulting in an experience that raises questions of agency and identity in a networked environment of continuous data flow and change.
The use of augmented reality as a narrative framework is represented here by documentation of Caitlin Fisher and Tony Vieira's Mother/Home/Heaven which takes its readers on a trip through 19th Century pioneer Ontario via interaction with objects from a general store that trigger diary entries and memories. Judd Morrissey's Kjell Theøry is an augmented reality work that took festival participants out of the gallery space by situating lines of poetry in physical spaces such as the University of Bergen botanical gardens. Morrissey's contribution is a short essay that situates this work within a cluster of embodied mixed reality performance projects.
Joellyn Rock and her collaborators offer documentation of their installation work FISHNETSTOCKINGS — a beautiful multilayered visual and textual artwork that mixed visual and textual themes from Hans Christian Andersen's tale "The Little Mermaid" with kinect-driven embodied interaction and Twitter-based textual contributions from the audience. Documentation of Chris Funkhouser and Sonny Rae Tempest's performance of Shy nag: a code opera offers a glimpse into the process behind their seemingly implausible proposition of producing an opera by transcoding and retranslating a digital image into aleatory text, sound, and theatrical performance. Finally, José Aburto's Small Poetic Interfaces was another popular installation at the festival, including three interactive poems driven by unusual interfaces (such as screaming to reveal the text).
So we invite you to indulge in this sampler of some of the stories, poems, performances, sights, interactions, and sounds that comprised the 2015 End(s) of Electronic Literature Festival program. It was our intention as curators of the festival to encourage the community to push at boundaries — both those between literature and other art forms and at the type of subjects and forms of meaning electronic literature can address. We also wanted to push at the boundaries that separate electronic literature from engagement with wider public audiences by producing a large, ambitious festival on par with those produced by professional arts communities. While it is unlikely the ELO will often be able to raise the funding necessary for an arts program of this scale, we hope that the 2015 iteration will provide a reference set of possibilities for sharing electronic literature in public arts contexts. Likewise, we hope that the incredibly diverse selection of works represented here provides both a snapshot of electronic literature in the present and inspiration for future work to yet to come.