On Monday, August 19, 2013 I presented some of my data visualization work at the Visualizing Electronic Literature seminar and workshop at the University of Bergen. Because I was unable to physically attend, I prepared the following video presentation. For more information, see my entry at leonardoflores.net.
This minimalist scheduled poem engages our ability to hold language in memory in order to act upon it. The text is displayed on two spaces simultaneously, though the header stream begins first before the second one in the box begins to compete for our attention. Each text is displayed one word at a time at a rapid rate, faster than we have grown used to with works by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries or William Poundstone’s “Project for Tachitoscope.” In those cases the texts are synchronized to music, and potentially accompanied by other graphical elements, but Hatcher’s poem strips away all distractions from the text, which allows attentive readers to focus most of their consciousness on one of two textual streams, since it is virtually impossible to actually read both and make sense of them. You have to choose a track or risk having your train of thought derailed, so to speak, because of the speed at which they are displayed— 170 miliseconds per word (over 5 words per second).
This suite of four poems based on W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” was written using GTR Language Workbench— a kind of textual Photoshop that allows users to algorithmically select and transform a text. This free and downloadable Mac & Windows software tool created by Andrew Klobucar and David Ayre can be used to analyze and transform texts, generating new ones using new and historical algorithmic methods, such as the Oulipian N+7. It also allows writers to create new algorithms or sequences of transformations to act upon texts, as seen in its tutorial videos (see the Processors and Mixed Processors tutorials in the program’s Help section).
This award-winning responsive poem focuses on the Australian ghost town Wittenoom, abandoned due to toxic dust caused by asbestos mining. Each of its nine parts focuses on an aspect of the abandoned town and consists of an image from Wittenoom, generally portraying urban decay, an brief looping instrumental audio track, links to other parts of the poem, a title for the section, and a text accessible through different responsive interfaces. A brief parenthetical help text near the bottom left corner of each screen provides encouragement that hints at the interface, promting readers to explore the interactivity and intuit its internal logic. The thematic focus and consistent visual design pull the work together, while the varied interfaces lead to new explorations of the spaces, together producing an experience both jarring and immersive.
This work prompts readers to write according to a set of poetic constraints, offering original, famous, and obscure forms and examples. The interface offers a series of virtual pages floating in fixed positions in space, and allowing readers to tilt them, zoom in and out, and flip them over to read the examples on their verso. A close examination of its yellowed pages reveals barely perceptible ink marks from handwriting on the other side, but that information is missing when one flips the page. Why evoke such physicality in the pages?
This work of generative Internet art presents an essay to readers that reads like an essay written by a graduate student that has done nothing but read Postmodern theory for years. The result might be brilliant, nonsensical— perhaps both— but it exists on a different reality as the rest of the world’s and is likely to have little impact on anything. You might as well pump all that high theory into a machine and put together a little program to produce some semi-random output from that lexicon and then see if readers will read the results at face value.
For this piece to have any function at all, requires a mind that is eager to project meaning onto experience. If we expect an experience to be meaningless, our minds certainly do not bother to piece together the chaos of clues that make the world comprehensible. With Chomsky’s famous pseudo-sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” for example, we undergo an initial attempt to identify a meaningful message. Convincing the mind to choose at the crossroads between potential comprehensibility and inevitable noise is an important task.