Monday, 24 January 2011

Digital Work for MA Performance Writing. Writing about my work.

as I feel there are many overlapping issues I have included all the digital works in one piece of writing, rather than separate, as in the 5 non standard pieces. Perhaps this reflects my inability to fully understand the digital. It is not because I think that all digital forms should be lumped together.

if you would prefer a pdf document follow this link

Flash Movie: Texting through spring into summer.
[also see additional 5 non standard page writing on Jacob’s ladder book.]

How to work within a given?
As soon as I saw the boxed linked form I thought of texts, as in texting rather than some actual words.
The texts that I have chosen are all sent to me, in their original predictive text form. The top box of each layer refers to birds from February through to June. The bottom boxes are more related to the landscape from a closer to a further view, also chronological in both the year and the day.
It can be difficult to create nature based work, especially when rurally based. It’s quite hard to describe. Maybe it is all in my head.
With ointment (the art group in west Wales) I feel we have trodden a precarious path and somehow without a knowing consensus we became a group that made work in and about the rural (we lost a couple of members and it sort of then happened).

"ointment events explore unique responses to current environmental and rural change in conversation with a growing audience. We constantly aim to develop a place-sensitive language of ideas and images in rural and agricultural sites. "
(for some of my work with ointment follow this link)

To put it bluntly how to not be sentimental, nostalgic, (there is a difference between nostalgic work and work about nostalgia) hippy, new age, fluffy; and crucially how not to be read in such a manner.

..in this hatred of the present or the immediate past a dangerous tendency to invoke a completely mythical past. Michel Foucault “Space, Knowledge, and Power”

How to be honest – both here and now and in the work? I come from a rural working class background and the natural and agricultural world is part of my world. It is a cultural that is disappearing and of course I want to celebrate it, but not romantically. David Abram’s book The Spell of the Sensuous is very popular with a lot of artists – visual & movement - who work with land and ecology. Although he has written of interesting ideas on the magician in this book I have extreme difficulty with the “we”. It is assumed that everyone in the developed world and much of the developing world has lost touch with “nature”, I don’t feel entirely part of that we. I find he argues about language and thinking in a way to support the notion of the nearly lost noble savage (and perhaps in an inaccurate way). I prefer the much more pragmatic, historical (as I see it) – although still personal - approach from Morris Berman and his trilogy on human consciousness The Re-enchantment of the World; Coming to Our Senses and Wandering God.(I note in Amazon that they tell me people who bought The Re-enchantment of the World also bought the Spell of the Sensuous)

SO work about the natural world, the rural world, is something both comfortable and uncomfortable for me. I have to work out how to inhabit this area. Of course there are also all the feminine associations with land/landscape which I would currently like not to proliferate (I have my private land body practice). The phrase “hot potato” keeps coming into my head.
I was really happy with the way I put together the nature texting piece, especially once I had sorted out how to change the colour of the lines and the text. But it is not a stable work: if it is played in Windows Internet Explorer the first layer bounces and doesn’t respond as it should, yet in Flash Player all is calm and efficient. Sometimes I cannot open it in Flash Player.
The (Microsoft Office) PowerPoint show had glitches when shown via the Mac. The Excavator was constantly changing the size of the “brush” the other day. The Story Generator will only rarely open “correctly” into the black un-editable screen. So how reliable and accessible are these pieces? They require a computer, electricity and an understanding of how to use a computer. My mother would not be able to view any of the digital works except those that I can leave to reveal themselves, such as PowerPoint. Also she wouldn’t understand the predictive text misspells. You can never guarantee how a page based work will be read [indeed there are those who cannot read, or cannot see] but there are no glitches in how it performs. Or are there? The piece of work I created using ogam can be looked at sideways, even upside down if the instructions are not noted, but it doesn’t really make for an annoying and unpredictable reading [of course in making a work you can set out to annoy, confuse]. I can’t control what sort of screen is used to view any digital piece, even if the screen is set up properly. A friend was looking at my Flickr account and I noticed the square pictures were (very) rectangular, he said it didn’t matter! If I had brought a photo album with me all would have been fine...just a heavier suitcase.

And what of the implied 3 dimensional space? So many things are fake 3D. Buttons, surrounds, icons in newer versions of Adobe Photoshop (effective diagrams become “cartoons” that I find difficult to read), shadowed images; it is played with constantly – I don’t understand why. My first introduction to computers was in 1995/6 doing an HND using Macs, they seemed to represent the flat page until ou actually wanted to create the illusion of 3d in work created). I also don’t understand why most people don’t “see” it, or wonder about it, question it. For some reason the flat screen is seen as needing to be 3 dimensional. When it comes to this template in Flash, I enjoy it. Because it is not fake, shadowed 3D. Because it plays a game. I can imagine it created with acetate, I like things that overlap. It could be created with neon lights in a large room. Of the four digital pieces the flash movie template was the only one to really play on the idea of depth.

What is the difference between using a printer and paper made by someone else and a programme made by someone else? I feel that I have less control over the digital; it is a heavily collaborative activity. But does the viewer see it this way? Why do I feel there is any difference between paper and screen – I type on the keyboard for both? I deal with words, typeface, size, colour. A design sensibility.
Johanna Drucker talks of the field of digital humanities as a “study of ways of thinking differently about how we know what we know and how the interpretive task of the humanist is redefined in these changed conditions” (Drucker, 2009)

I think at this late stage I will need to go back and look at how the typewriter changed the relationship to writing. Especially when I read
“When ... Ezra Pound sat down at the typewriter, he gave rise to modern verse in English. Gradually, the page became an active presence within the poem itself, in a way which had only been hinted at previously in Mallarm√©, the shaped poems of Herbert or Blake’s illuminated manuscripts” (Siliman, 2003)pg 34

Does it take looking at digital work for me to go back and ask further questions about page based (standard or non standard) work? What is digital what is not? Newspapers, leaflets, much paper based work id digital to start with now.
In the days of only the hot press being available words were written then the letters handled into order. Lithographic techniques are very direct. But the typewriter and now this keyboard are very different...or are they? And what happens when I start to add photographs/images into the mix? Something is going on with regard to materiality. Also, for me, to do with thinking. Since I have achieved a workable relationship with typing on the computer keyboard I have adjusted how I think, certainly how I express my thinking, in that I am now more able to think clearly as I type than when I write. And it is certainly easier to read.

[A strange late night just into the New Year thought pops into my head: the digital world is binary 0 & 1 where as the human brain – oft compared to a computer – has a consciousness capable of holding paradoxes. The screen is flat but the brain can experience 3 dimensions]

There are probably some areas that are commensurable between the digital and the book/paper/analogue text, but I see little point in the argument of will the computer replace the book. There are many areas of literature that have little overlap. What of the concrete poetry that stops just short of sound (Hamilton Finlay) in comparison with poetry that can be sounded? There are times when writing becomes a visual language, an aesthetic rather than a reading experience, sometimes a mix of the soundable and the mute. This can all occur on the screen or on paper. To the viewer/reader is there any difference? A friend when investigating the excavator declared that this must be something that concrete poets had been waiting for.

Back to the Flash movie template. I created several Flash movies on this template as I got used to the format. Initially I felt the text one was maybe a trial – especially before I was able to change colours. My planned piece was one using text from an instruction manual of electronic circuitry and instructions for bobbin lace: circuits & bobbins. There was something about the clicking sound of electricity and wood and ivory bobbins (textiles creeps in) and their specific vocabulary that sat well together. The text used is all in chronological order. I found some sound of a clicking from the end of a vinyl record. As I “played” with the two movies I enjoyed the occasional large text floating across the “foreground”. For the next two movies I worked at that – removing the boxes (which slightly adjusts the reading as not possible to line up the middle of each layer) and eventually enlarging the text quite a lot. I discovered the “foreground” text slides under the layer that has been clicked on. It became a much more wandering work in of flapping ears & aprons (full text link here) and diary. I used existing words, that is a poem and excerpts from a diary, both are in self published books of mine.

Feedback: The spring to summer has proved popular, I think that some people find it harder to relate to the circuits & bobbins because of the language and the persistent clicking sound! It does depend on how comfortable the viewer is with a computer and the willingness to wander and build up a picture.

Future: I can’t afford the program at the moment and there is a lot of learning to do – but great potential

Excavator: I have to admit I just leapt in with found text. Time constraints make for fast thinking! I used found text in the form of photographs. The top and bottom layers are a 19th century letter, very domestic, some listing of colours and frocks...this is relevant as all the other texts were invoices from mid 20th century for groceries sold to a cafe in Aberteifi/Cardigan and found shopping lists: lists and gridding being a feature of all of these. As I didn’t have the technology available at the start I played in Adobe Photoshop erasing down the layers. In Photoshop you really do excavate down the holes you make in the top layer are the only ones you can go through to lower layers. In the Excavator program you in effect erase with each layer. This difference enhanced a feeling I had of painting/drawing when I came to Excavator. This was experienced by two other people (both who use Photoshop). When we all tried out each other’s work in The Reading Room it was discovered that this feeling was also variable depending on the text/image that was presented. The text on white background works were much more like erasing.

Future: I think the layering in Photoshop is very useful for creating new works along the way. Use this link to see examples. Excavator would only be available as screen grabs so not high enough resolution for printing onto paper. But could give text to retype/write
The Excavator when offered to other people (and from my experience) did seem an enjoyable interaction. But this is a program set up for something specific and has the distraction of the north, south, east, west views down the side....

Story Generator: Bert & Flo (portrait link here)
I had seen this format before during PW10 at the Arnolfini in the spring: JR Carpenter’s JR and Pookie. I am immediately reminded of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber where often stories are retold with a slightly different slant, they progress but a character changes or a situation. The way this program works the chronology will always be the same and there is repetition, so as the stories pile up you get a sense of a whole yet very much each individual little tale. The adjustment in how many lines that will be chosen makes for very different readings, keeping between 5 and 10 makes for a flow, but dropping to 4 and 10 can throw up some interesting little nuggets. As does playing with sentence length.
With the story telling theme I linked back to the Fortune Teller/Story teller of the non standard page piece for additional text, but actually took the characters from an existing ongoing story (heavily influenced by JR & Pookie!!)– seen also in the Flash movie flapping ears & aprons and "bert whites nature notes". Both these methods create new versions within a chronological structure – although in the paper version the chronology can be broken.
I have one technical problem, I cannot seem to “save as”, it becomes an inoperable document. I finally did save the Bert & Flo, but as I said to JR Carpenter in an email, I have no idea how, which bothers me. Since then I have not been able to do so. The only way round is to copy earlier, different versions (that you are using as a template), then after saving the new story go back and use “rename”.

Future: This story generator is not just a finished object in itself – I did enjoy it in that form but as a means to other ends, to create scripts to be read/performed. I have already used it to create text to be read by two people for another project.

PowerPoint: vital exchange

I have always seen great potential for PowerPoint despite the terrible creations made with it and a bad reputation with some people. It doesn’t have a slow enough fade between slides for my liking, I knew that already. I wonder is this fondness due to its linking with slide shows/transparencies? I have used this “old” form in the past quite a lot (even using a six projector unit attached to a “green screen” Mac). PowerPoint has been a useful tool for lectures and seminars.
A viewer, in this instance, is very passive, they just sit and watch. But as a format it can be very interactive with many links within the presentation and even out of it if the internet is involved.

Tired after a day in Bristol I embarked on the content for this straight onto the first slide, using the question answer format shown during “class”. When there is no inspiration start with the given. Immediately it made sense as I sat breathing to create a work about meditation or silent prayer. I just went through the classic processes, trying too hard, concentrating TOO much on breath, the prattle of thoughts, sometimes extremely fleeting, the continual conversations with self, a multitude of voices, commentary, judgement.

It is fairly logical to use and should when saved as a PowerPoint presentation be a unit in itself, but having it played through a Mac proved otherwise. It is not as glitch free as I had previously experienced it to be.

Feedback: I have been pleased with feedback! Two people were very reluctant to even use it as they have great dislike of PowerPoint. Both had a positive experience – “mesmerising” and “the most beautiful PowerPoint I’ve seen”. And it had the bonus of laughter in people who practice meditation and recognised its content.

Future: very useful. I am very happy to work within this form. I will when I have time attempt some more visual presentations, with multiple stories perhaps based on Red Riding Wolves


General Conclusion
There is a lot of research for me to do, with regards to theory in digital writing, even the labels. Not to mention technical learning. Johanna Drucker has concerns about “The Myth of the Democratic Multiple” (Drucker, Figuring the Word, 1998) with regard to artists’ books and it is easy to think that digital work can overcome the attachment to commodity and free up access to art. But the digital remains accessible to only those with access to computers. Some public access, at libraries for example, has heavy filters that block many sites such as Blogger.com and works with “unsuitable” tags. How does the artist fund the free work? Is it only given free when they have received funding for a project? Do funded projects fund the unfunded work? Nothing new there! But the material for some of these works is available at no or little cost – or hidden within costs already made, such as PowerPoint being part of Microsoft office. It comes down to time (time making and time learning how to use programs). Reproduction, dissemination is probably very low cost.
I see that many old concerns and theories transfer to the new technologies, but new concerns also reveal themselves.


Bibliography
Drucker, J. (1998). Figuring the Word. New York City: Granary Books.
Drucker, J. (2009). Speclab digital aesthetics and projects in speculative computing. xii.
Hayles, N. K. (2003). Translating Media: Why We Should Rethink Textuality. the yale journal of criticism volume 16 number 2 , 263–290.
McGann, J. (2004). Radiant Textuality.
Siliman, R. (2003). The New Sentence. New York: Roof.