On Tuesday, February 4, 2013, Facebook released a generated video titled “A Look Back” to commemorate their 10th anniversary.
A Look Back is an experience that compiles your highlights since joining Facebook. Depending on how long you’ve been on Facebook and how much you’ve shared, you’ll see a movie, a collection of photos or a thank you card (link).
For those who have share plenty, this work assembles images and status updates from your Facebook feed and arranges them to be displayed on a video template that organizes them into several topics, to be described below. One could see this generated movie is a kind of Hallmark ecard from Facebook to you, designed to please you with pretty music and images you’re most likely to enjoy. And at that level, the work is a likeable bauble, as enjoyable and forgettable as a well chosen greeting card or something you’ve “liked” on Facebook. But part of its interest is in how effectively Facebook is able to use its metadata to mine its user’s database and generate a a surprisingly effective customized experience that could be considered an unexpected e-poem.
“…and by islands I mean paragraphs” is a delightful combination of computer generated poetry, mapping and the reworking of texts. The text is displayed as an interactive map that allows the reader to explore each island and the texts that they generate and regenerate. It alludes to an earlier piece, “Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl” (also reviewed in this site), which also employs a map to structure the text.
In “…and by islands I mean paragraphs” the space is larger than the computer window, vast like an unknown sea, goes beyond the horizon we can distinguish. The reader is forced to explore this vastness in which text recreates itself or is altered by the reader’s own interaction with the islands. It is impossible not to wonder whether it likely that one might find the same island twice. However, a reader that submerges herself in this world ends up too involved in the mutability and the textual permutations and the search for possible repetition becomes less pressing.
In her introductory text to “…and by islands I mean paragraphs,” Carpenter states:
Their fluid compositions draw upon variable strings containing fragments of text harvested from a larger literary corpus – Deluze’s Desert Islands, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Bishop’s Crusoe in England, Coetzee’s Foe, Ballard’s Concrete Island, Hakluyt’s Voyages and Discoveries, and lesser-known sources including an out-of-date guidebook to the Scottish Isles and an amalgam of accounts of the classical and possibly fictional island of Thule. Individually, each of these textual islands is a topic – from the Greek topos, meaning place. Collectively they constitute a topographical map of a sustained practice of reading and re-reading and writing and re-writing islands.
The texts themselves, the islands, have different characters: they can be lyric, factual or a combination of both; but, independently of their own character they succeed in transporting the reader.
“…and by islands I mean paragraphs” is a truly magical piece of electronic literature: evocative and ethereal, without completely giving up the concrete (for which it used the grounding aspect of the map). It allows the reader to explore a world and to discover its wonders and surprises. If you have never encountered eliterature before, this is a wonderful piece to discover a whole new world.
Daniel Howe offers various possibilities for describing Automatype, as “either ambient text art, a weird game of solitaire for the computer, or an absorbing ongoing puzzle for a human viewer.” The installation has nine screens with one word each. The piece uses the RiTa Toolkit , which was specifically developed for the creation of language experiments and generative literature.
Each of the words “evolves” by changing one letter at the time, much like the Word Morph game, but they all work independently of one another.
Talan Memmott’s 2003 work Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] situates itself within an art historical context by presumably introducing the reader to self-portraits of artists from between 1756 to 1954, allowing the reader to simply click through what might conventionally pass for a mundane educational presentation.
This occasional poem celebrates the presentation of “I ♥ E-Poetry: 500 Entries Later” at E-Poetry 2013 on June 19, 2013. Based on Montfort’s own “Taroko Gorge” source code, this stripped down version generates lines inspired by the title of this blog (“I ♥ E-Poetry”) using four variables: a subject, a symbol, a prefix, and an artform. Part of the pleasure of this piece lies in reading it aloud, especially its symbols, which represent words compressed into single characters. Montfort understands the computational aspect of these characters, encoded into alphabetic systems such as (Ascii and Unicode) and decoded by both machines and humans. These symbols carry great amounts of cultural information, referencing card suits and avant garde artistic and literary movements, such as the ‘Pataphysical apostrophe.
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 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.
This series of installations are poetic visualizations of a personal database, consisting of every word written in the author’s computers for a four year period (2002-2006). The database contains metadata, such as time-stamps for each word, capitalization, and its source. This allowed Mendoza to create software installations that lead us to pay attention to the language in through various conceptual lenses.
“Every Word I saved” (pictured above) recontextualizes the language in the dataset by displaying it in alphabetical order as a stream of text flowing in the screen, suggesting a radically reorganized stream of consciousness. The words are stripped of all data, except for their capitalization, a minimal touch that provides significant variation from the steady stream of repetitions of the same words. The kinetic presentation of streaming text allows us to perceive these meaningful graphical cues as they crest like waves over the steady linearity of lower case letters.