Some Reassembly Required…
Inviting readers to walk beyond where the sidewalk ends. This text is produced limitlessly, the poem without an end until the reader decides to stop reading and exit the screen. The work’s generative programming challenges traditional notions of authorship and of agency in navigating a text (how do I know when to stop reading?), has inspired multiple creative and compelling remixes (which I’ll get to), and was not very interesting to me at first (tbh).
See, I’m all about challenging the academy/the establishment/whoever the authority is but, in the case of Taroko Gorge and its remixes, I was a little underwhelmed by the gauntlet being thrown down. I guess, in comparison to other works of Elit I’ve encountered, this body of work just seemed so much less??? That was until I came across an article by our friend Katherine Hayles in which she described the design of Taroko Gorge and its subsequent remixes as a kind of digital assemblage. That’s some art shit. My kind of art shit.
Heck yeah. Once I donned those art lenses, I was able to see past the work’s seemingly simple interface and really take a gander and what I was looking at: neo-assemblage. Double heck yeah.
So, assemblage has existed in many forms over the years. Most notably by Picasso and good ol’ Duchamp but also by artist such as Dubuffet (real cool guy with a real cool body of work) and Tatlin. Many Dadaists preferred “photomontage“, a cousin to assemblage and a precursor to Photoshop, while Neo-Dada artists, like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, preferred to call their process of making works of art from composing found objects into different arrangements “combines“. Assemblage also brings to mind bricolage, which is a kind of “do-it-yourself” combining of seemingly disparate found objects into a whole work (a topic I’m researching for my thesis).
Anyway, art history lesson over, viewing Taroko Gorge and its subsequent remixes such as Along the Briny Beach (2012) by J.R. Carpenter and Tokyo Garage (2009) by Scott Rettberg, as contemporary assemblage, I think, generates some interesting questions about the composing process and its performance–how much of what we write is simply found language, pasted together and given meaning because we decide it has meaning?
All of it. But, also, I think viewing these works as digital assemblages helps re-conceptualize the seeming nonsense of their decontextualization.
Assemblage was a way to help expand the mind beyond the constricting constraints of traditionalism by pairing non-like objects together and asking viewers to read them as related, as a new whole. Taroko Gorge and, especially, Along the Briny Beach, seem to do something similar in the ways both works make use of their lexia and display. Taroko Gorge places absurdly paired wording in a traditional strophic form while Along the Briny Beach does the same, even using quotes about beaches and the sea from traditional literature, but adds further complexity to the canvas, so to speak, by having 3 additional strings of lexia run horizontally across the screen, one string invisible until an image of a beach slides behind the otherwise background-colored text, revealing it. Kind of overwhelming at first, tbh. Both pose unique challenges to readers and their processes of reading and processing information. But, they also offer so many fascinating possibilities in regards to both. Like with Michael Joyce’s Twelve Blue, there are no clear answers and there is certainly no easy sense of closure. Only limitless possibility. A large expanse of blank space open to interpretation.
I’m reminded of what Hayles said in an earlier article of her’s we read–that there is no story; only readings. I think this concept applies to Taroko Gorge and its many remixes (and also too many works of assemblage). The traditional notion of authorship is blown out of the water by pieces like these. The program combines the text into stanzas. And, I would argue, the traditional notion of reading is also obliterated by the infinite scroll. I can’t go back. I can only watch. Watch and remember. In this way, the poem becomes a little bit mine–for as long as I can remember it. This work and its design places readers in this odd space, somewhere half-between passive observer and cognitively engaged participant. Along the Briny Beach and Tokyo Garage similarly place readers in this limbo.
The text that slowly inches up the screen is often intellectually or aesthetically or poetically stimulating but, at the same time, its steady and unending ascent can make the text become this endless stream of nonsense, without clear purpose or intent to guide reading. In some ways, these works read as a kind of counter-to, anti-poetry. There is no inherent meaning. No specific place to start nor any closure. At the same time, though, there seems to be this invitation to meditate on the use of language to convey poetic thought and aesthetic appeal and just beauty. What does any of this language really capture? It’s all words. What is beautiful about their repetitive recombinations? Anything? What is the function of poetry and language, especially in this digital age where forms of aesthetic representation are vast and varied and so easily accessible but so rarely able to be appreciated?
Ultimately, I think Taroko Gorge and its remixes provide a way for readers to explore their own preconceptions about language, semiotics, authorship, authorial intent, and reader expectations. The works certainly challenge many traditional conceptions of these topics. But, I think viewing these works as both digital and cognitive kinds of assemblages allows these works to become a question about the overall nature of composing, creating, and interpreting meaning and signification in online spaces as well. At the very least, doing so engaged me with the work in a new–and interesting–way and provided me with a way to develop insight I might not have otherwise.
~Till next time~