“Can I Speak to You about Text?”

Thinking about Electronic Literature and my own artist’s writing practice. What writing practice you say? OK I admit that I have not shared much of that on this blog, but I do write. I write poetry and, recently, a vignette inspired by a scene from Anna Deavere-Smith’s Fires in the Mirror. Nurtured and inspired by poet/writing professor, Pamela Sneed, I am working on a body of writing that I hope to share some day soon. I am also interested in text as a visual form, and have explored that with my students, in particular the Guerrilla Art Collective (GAC) class. I’d like to use text as a literary visual art form in my own practice. However, I feel out of my depth, so I’m currently focused on listening and learning before I move forward with these desires.

I recently read Katherine Hayles chapter “Electronic Literature – what is it?” as part of an Expanded Writing class that I am taking with Abe Avnisan at SAIC. It’s gotten me thinking a lot about text in not only a literary form, but as immersive installation. This speaks directly to the body of work I am developing around light installation right now. I’ve long admired artists like Jenny Holzer and Glenn Ligon, whose use of text and light as a visual form crosses over into the more literary form regarding the concepts of power behind the meaning of their words. I use both artists as inspiration when I teach the GAC. Now, I’m thinking about how text can be installed as a form of light that interacts with architectural space. How can my own writing cross over into the world of immersive installation and light that I already inhabit?

Furthermore, I’ve been exposed, through Hayles chapter, to E.L. artists that use writing in not only an immersive space, but one that is interactive through virtual reality. Wardrip-Fruin’s Screen is one such work that really got me excited.

Wardrip-Fruin, Screen
Wardrip-Fruin, Screen

This work creates a full-bodied kinesthetic experience for the viewer. One wears virtual reality equipment to see and hear the text as words begin to meander in the space, and the viewer has to bat them back into place. As words fall and fly around the room, the literary structure of the narrative begins to fall apart, and the choreography of the visual text movement creates a whole new level of experience. I love the immersive and interactive quality, of course, that would be obvious to anyone who knows my own work. Furthermore, I love the playfulness by the introduction of chaos and chance. It reminds me a bit of the cut-up method employed by so many artists and writers.

There were far too many artists mentioned in this writing that gave me that “Oh WOW!” feeling about things I can do with my own writing. Janet Cardiff, Young Hae Chang, David KnoebeP, Alison Knowles, just to name a few. They create work I don’t yet know HOW to do (technologically speaking). But, if I can learn the software and coding or better yet, collaborate with someone who can do this…  I can see ways to incorporate writing into my visual practice in a way that would be powerful and intensely satisfying. I’d love to explore how a narrative or poem can interact with a physical space, be embodied in light, and offer a playful relationship to the viewer as a participatory action.

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