I can not believe this semester is heading towards its end already. And with that comes the fun part of being a student: term papers, exams, projects and deadlines.
For our Elit class, we are supposed to create our own piece of Elit . From what I have heard so far my classmates are planning some really amazing stuff and I can not wait to see the final results. And who knows – maybe we are even planning to release something at the end of it all?
Finding Ideas As I mentioned before, my classmates planned some incredible stuff – games, poems, netprovs … you name it.
My own project is going to include short stories and poems (and even some pictures if I can include them the way I want them to be included in this). I always loved to write and even though I usually write for myself and never showed it to anybody, I think its nice to put something out there. At first I struggled to find a theme/topic that fit, but after reading through some old notes and walking around Bergen I decided that I wanted one of the main topics to be nature and how we connect with it in today’s society. Nature is one of the most important things in our lives – whether we realize it or not – and I think we sometimes need to make ourselves aware that its resources are limited and can not be replaced. As I’m still working on the works I don’t know what I really gonna end up with – to me writing is a lot about change and I can’t even tell how many times I changed the stuff I’ve written so far. But I’m pretty sure there will be other themes coming up – but I don’t want to give away too much just yet.
About the technical stuff I have to admit – I don’t know anything about computer games, coding, or any other technical stuff (in fact, I don’t even know what I don’t know). I know about printing books and how you can make a text look pretty in a it but that’s all I can do with a computer and the right software (not really helpful for Elit though).
One of the most important things (or let’s just call it one of our assignments) for our project was to make it interactive. So I had to face two problems: 1. How can I make/write/create something that is interactive or has interactive elements? And 2. How can I achieve this with my non-existing knowledge of coding/it-stuff/anything technical?
I think I found a satisfactory solution for problem number 1 – not I just have to find a way to solve number 2.
Due to some other project that I have to hand in in three days (well no I just checked – two days) I have not worked as much on this project as I would have liked. But after handing in this term paper in my whole life (which, fun fact, is the last term paper in my whole life) I will finally have enough time to focus on this project and I am sure I will come up wit solutions to all problems that go along with its development.
In this week’s presentation, we were introduced to an Elit piece called Galatea. I had never heard of it before but the name immediately made me think of Greek mythology. And I was not disappointed. Even though Galatea might have been the most minimalistic Elit piece so far really liked it.
What is is about? In this piece of Electronic Literature, the player finds himself in the role of an art critic on some sort of vernissage, who discovers a statue, Galatea. In contrast to all the other objects, Galatea is alive/animated. To interact with the statue, the player has to type in commands. These can be simple questions, but also more complex. There are different commands available, from asking questions to just simply looking around – but the most interesting in my opinion is the „think“ command. In this case, the art critic does not interact with the statue, but more with himself, presenting is thoughts on eg. Galatea or his surroundings, so the player gets to know more about the character he is playing.
There are different topics one can talk to Galatea about, for example about her creation, her creator and about different mythologies. There is a whole list of topics one can discover in the Elit piece. The player even has the chance to walk away from the statue, but this ends the Elit immediately. But, at least in our walkthroughs on Wednesday, the Elit sometimes ended rather abruptly with a longer answer from Galatea.
About Interactivity As mentioned before, Galatea might be the most minimalistic piece of Elit I have encountered so far. The layout is simple and looks almost like some sort of notepad or Word document. There are no sounds, no pictures – the reader/player can solely focus on his interaction with Galatea. I don’t think there is a real topic in this Elit. There are different ones that the player can discover through the questions he asks – but in contrast to e.g. last week’s Queer Skins, I don’t geta real message form the piece. I believe its main focus is on the interaction, rather than on the topic – which I think is nice.
In class we briefly talked about a possible feminist read of the piece – a woman being put on the pedestal, supposed to look perfect.In connection to this there is the reference to the mythology – and Galatea being the recreation of a perfect woman without being perfect. We also talked about Galatea referring to the subject-object part in human conversation. Galatea being a literal object, but also the subject of the conversation – or the object when you look at it from the reader’s perspective.
Conclusion Even though it might not be my favorite piece of Elit I have encountered so far, I liked it. I think that it is nice that its layout is simple – but I can imagine the work behind this piece must have been incredible to make it possible for the reader/player to interact in so many different ways simply through text.
The piece Mette chose for her upcoming presentation is Queerskins,a web-based novel. It is about a young, gay HIV physician named Sebastian, who grew up in rural Missouri and with Catholic parents. Apparently, he died at the beginning of the HIV epidemic. The piece deals with a modern and important topic and I will try to briefly point it out in the following post.
But let’s start with the first impression
I have to admit, I was already impressed by the design of the homepage, before I even thought about clicking anything – I loved the fond ( yes, I have a thing with fonds) and I really liked how the page is divided into two parts. On the left side, the reader can explore „Queerskins: A Love Story) (a VR experience and interactive installation) on the right one can find „Queerskins: A Novel“. I looked at both, but as it is more interesting to me, I’m just gonna talk about the novel part. When I opened the novel. I got confronted with a bunch of pictures and videos, as well as classical music playing. I tried clicking on all of the images and videos, but nothing happened. The bottom page presents you with the names of the different chapters: Missouri, Mother, Alex, Carlos, End, Bathilde, Jean-Marie and Return. These chapters are divided into numbered parts so in the end one has maneuvered himself through 62 slides (or maybe pages?).
Starting with Missouri, every new page offers different audio files, videos and pictures, as well as „handwritten“ notes/diary entries and (flash-)cards. They all overlap each other which made it quite confusing for the first few seconds. But soon I realized that I could move and drag-and-drop everything on the screen. As I tried to „find everything“ I decided to move everything I had already seen to the left sie of the screen and maneuver my way through the different slides. After Missouri I made my way through all the other chapters and was impressed – I really really liked the story and the way Illya Szilak created this piece of ELit.
Let’s talk about the topic…
Digging through the different notes/diary entries, I felt like I was invading someone’s privacy – but the audio files reminded me more of a documentary (so not really as personal as a diary) – I could even picture everyone in these audio files sitting there and talking into a camera (someone wants to have a guess who might have spent a little too much time watching documentaries on Netflix the last couple of days?)
By talking about Sebastian, we do not only get to know him and his story, we also learn about the other characters.
We meet the mother, who loves her son but her religiousness makes it heard for her to accept her son’s homosexuality; the father who seems to be unhappy and unaccepting of his son and his life, we get to know Sebastian’s first love and his longtime boyfriend as well as others.
Everything they say about Sebastian and all the personal notes we discover during the different chapters makes it possible for us to piece together our own picture of him. To me, Sebastian seemed to feel guilty, somehow torn between his religious upbringing and his homosexuality, which is considered a sin in the Catholic Church. He seemed very caring of others (his time in Africa) and yet it seems like he does not really fit into the society he lives in.
I am really excited to discuss this piece of ELit in class because I think there is way more to this story than the conflict of religion vs homosexuality.
About my personal project
I started to work on my own project over the last couple of days. My initial idea was to create a small collection of poetry and/or short stories considering a certain topic. I started writing and re-worked some of my already existing pieces, but I haven’t fully decided on the main topic yet. I did some free writing and came up with several ideas, I just need to finally make a decision. As I grew up speaking German as well as French I thought about writing the same poem/story in both languages and creating different shapes with them, making it look like they mirror each other. French is not the only possible option, I thought about the combination of German-English too. I think I just need to see what makes the most sense to me and how it looks.
Considering the technical implementation of everything I looked at several tools from our list. I tried Storybird, looked at Canva and Notegraphy. But I think I will end up using Adobe Spark – basically just because I have never worked with it before and I’m really curious how things will turn out with it – even though my project might not end up looking like I am imagining it right now.
After it was my turn on Monday to talk about High Muck a Muck in my #elitclass, one of my classmates chose something quite different for her presentation on Wednesday: Being Spencer Pratt, our first #netprov.
I have to admit – when I was younger I loved The Hills and absolutely hated Spencer Pratt (basically just because Lauren Conrad was my favorite character of the show and she hated Spencer). It’s been a long time since I last saw the show or paid attention to anyone who was part of it, but when Sophia started her presentation with a couple clips from the show, I really wanted to rewatch The Hills immediately (and well, may roommate and me might or might not be binge-watching the show now).
What is it about? Being Spencer Pratt is about .. well .. being Spencer Pratt? Or more precisely: someone pretending to be Spencer Pratt on Twitter. Here’s a short version of the story: Apparently, Pratt lost his new phone and his Twitteraccount got hijacked while he and his wife Heidi were part of the UK’s edition of Celebrity Big Brother. At first, the hijacker pretended to be Pratt tweeting from the set of the TV show, but after some time he outed himself to be a poet from the UK who tried to improve his career. While he was in control of the Twitterfeed, the poet replied to Tweets, retweeted people and played games with Pratt’s followers.
What’s the deal with it? As mentioned before, Being Spencer Pratt is a #netprov, a networked improv narrative, and nothing is as it seems. Temspence, how the project was names by the fan-community, was a collaboration of ELit writers Mark C. Marino and Rob Witting – and Spencer Pratt. Yes, that’s right; one of the biggest villains in the history of Reality TV(not my name for him, but apparently some articles refer to Pratt as exactly that) pitched the idea to Marino who was one of his teachers at USC and soon, the project came to live.
Why should we care? Being Spencer Pratt is about pretending to be someone else. Marino and Wittig made people believe (at least for the first couple of tweets) that it was the real Spencer Pratt tweeting from the CBB-house, where the contestants usually are not allowed to have their phones with them. After that, they pretended to be a British poet who wants to become famous, but even that is not who they really are.
The project questions our perception of the authenticity, reality and identity of and in social media and reminds us not to take everything we see online for the truth.
Especially today, in a time where everything that we encounter on social media can be manipulated with Photoshop, filters, or just a pseudonym, it is hard to forget that not everything we see online is real, that people pretend to be someone they are actually not. As we expose ourselves to social media everyday, we should remind us that everyone is telling a story online – and stories are not always real and true.
And in the end? Now after I got to know this piece and spent some time thinking about the motifs and themes behind it, I have to say that even though I might never be his biggest fan, I think Pratt surely knows how to gain attention online. On a another note, intended or not, his project raises awareness of the authenticity of the „perfect life“ how it is often suggested online. It teaches us to question the things we see on social media – whether it is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other platform.
On a further note I still haven’t figured out if my project is going to include poetry or short stories. I usually write in German and I feel like translating poems/short stories into English would make them lose something. So I might have to come up with something completely new, but for that I definitely need more time than just a few days to be creative enough to come up with a new storyline. I really liked the design and the idea of High Muck a Muck and I really liked the idea of Being Spencer Pratt – maybe I will be able to write something that is a combination of both topics? I’m not sure yet. I haven’t though about a way to visualize the poetry/short story yet, but simply because I do not know about the options I have. I really plan on looking into that this week, but I feel like I’m gonna choose my way of visualization when I know for sure what my project’s gonna be.
This week it is my turn to present one piece of Elit to my #elitclass. I spent quite some time figuring out which of the pieces from the ELC I should present – but I always found my way back to one piece I checked out at the beginning of my journey: High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese. I’m not sure why I always got back to this specific piece; maybe because I liked the aesthetic of it, maybe because I liked the theme(s) of the piece, or maybe just because I had the feeling that there was more to be discovered than I already had? Anyway, I decided to go for it.
But before we dive into the piece, let’s start with some basics. High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese is an interactive poem consisting of a website, 8 videos and an interactive gallery installation. The piece is an interdisciplinary collaboration of 9 different Canadian artists, writers, designers and digital developers who shared and transformed each other’s work over 3 years, starting in 2011. The project was first presented in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada in 2014 and was even exhibited at the 2015 ELO Conference in our beautiful Bergen. Oh and by the way – the project has won the 2014 Spark Creativity Award from BC Creates as well as the 2015 New Media Writing Prize – need any more reasons to check it out?
No? So let’s start
The first page of the piece welcomes us with the request to „take a gamble and enter through the Pak Ah Pu lottery card.“ According to Wikipedia Pakapoo (or Pak Ah Pu) „is a Chinese lottery game poplar in Oceania in the 19th Century, including on the Victorian Goldfields. A pakapoo ticket is bought which contains rows of characters from the Thousand Character Classic (an ancient poem in which no two words are repeated). The master ticket is kept hidden and is marked by the organiser of the game. The player marks a number of characters on their ticket. The ticket closest to the master ticket wins.“
When we enter the piece we get confronted with the first of many poems…interpretation anyone? (Oh and could we just take a moment to appreciate the pretty font?)
Up next we find the „main page“ of the piece, a human torso with several blue droplets. Five of the seven darker and bigger ones signify Pacific Rim, Victoria, Vancouver, Richmond and Nelson, while the other two are called „Canada“ and „Everywhere and Nowhere“.
Brittainy Newman points out that „[i]n Chinese medicine it is said that vital energies flow along the human body’s natural pathways, specifically linked to human organs. The cities within British Columbia are labeled on top of a drawing combined with watercolor of a human body, essentially personifying these various links with specific themes, thoughts, writings and their corresponding characters.“ (And again, could we just stop for a second and admire the pretty drawing? Or am I the only one appreciating this kind of hand-painted style?)
What is it about? Maybe the name as well as the Chinese symbols at the beginning of the piece already gave it away, but the main topic of High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese is the historical and contemporary Chinese immigration to the west coast of Canada. According to Nicola Harwood, the curator and one of the artists, „the project approaches immigration as ‚a journey towards a new identity‘ fraught with tensions: between the old way and the new way, between races, cultures, neighborhoods, and also between different groups of Chinese immigrants such as the old laborers struggling to save money to bring their families to Canada and the new wave of immigrants from Hong Kong that come with cash and invest in property“ (Surrey.ca).
According to the authors‘ statement on the ELC web-page, „High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese troubles the cliché of historical tales of Chinese immigration to North America’s ‚Gold Mountain‘ by juxtaposing this classic narrative of struggle against one of mobility driven by the exigencies of contemporary global capitalism“ – but more on that later in class.
Because we’re gonna explore the different parts of the piece together, I just want to show you one of my favorite parts of High Muck a Muck:
If we start discovering the Vancouver-part from left to right, the first thing we’re gonna find is a video called „Diaspora“ by Nicola Harwood . The term Diaspora is one of great importance to the whole piece and refers to „a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographical locale. Diaspora can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland“ (thank you Wikipedia). Up next is a text which is hidden behind two men – „All dressed up and clean-shaven with no where to go, a troublemaker, that one, a yellow peril, … an Asiatic Exclusion League problem,“ – in my opinion, this quote underlines how High Muck a Muck „challenges the racist paradigm of an all white Canada into which Asian immigrants enter but are never fully allowed to arrive“ (Nicola Harwood) as it presents several (old-fashioned) stereotypes, such as an Asian being a „troublemaker“ and a „yellow peril“.
(As I would like for us to discuss the theme and the literary value of High Muck a Muck in class, I will not provide you with a in-depth literary analysis of the poems here.)
The Navigation Navigating High Muck a Muck is rather easy, even though sometimes it can be tricky – some texts disappear after a certain time and if you were just busy with something else chances are you might miss something. Basically every building, person, and icon in this piece is clickable or hides something; sometimes it’s a part of a poem, sometimes it’s a video and sometimes it’s an audio-piece. The reader can click on one of the blue droplets on the torso and can read the poem either by discovering its pieces through specific characters or simply read it entirely by clicking on the red book in the left corner. Even after I have now spent several hours working on this piece, I still feel like I haven’t found everything there is.
I think High Muck a Muck is the prettiest Elit I have discovered so far. Its design was the first thing that drew my attention to this piece and I still enjoy the handwritten poems, the watercolored drawings and the way the colors are rather simple and calm.
At first, I also really liked the traditional Chinese music in the background; but after I spent a few minutes exploring the piece I had to mute it. In her Directory Entry, Brittainy Newman states that „[t]he music is shown with purpose, supplementing the despair in Fred Wah’s writings and the repetition of the music on loop forces this upon the viewer“ and I get the point – but still, the repetition of the music started to kind of annoy me after a while. Another thing I enjoyed was the multimediality of the piece. Especially the oral histories one can find as an addition to some of the poems were nice to listen to whereas I found some of the videos hard to follow. Their length of 4-6 minutes sometimes made it tiring forme to watch them if I couldn’t grasp their context right from the beginning.
And what’s up with the name anyway? The term „High Muck a Muck“ refers to „a Chinook jargon for somebody in a position of authority who thinks he is more important than he actually is“ (Surrey.ca). Why does it relate to the topic of this Elit? Great question! That is something to talk about in class as well.
I’m gonna update this post after class with the things we had to say about it – so stay tuned
I always loved poetry (that was maybe the only reason why I chose German as one of my main subjects during school) – so when one of my classmates decided that she would talk about Pentametron and poem.exe, I was excited. I did not know such as thing as a poem-generating-twitterbot even existed, so I was curious so explore what all of this was about.
Pentametron was the first Twitter account I checked out. „With algorithms and discrete / I seek iambic writing to retweet“ the biography of the account declares – and that is everything the reader has to know. Pentametron basically retweets other twitter users and at the same time looks for matching (in the sense of the rhyme scheme) tweets to create original poems. Example:
Even though the poems do not always really make sense, the reader can see the vision behind the bot. But to actually ‚read‘ the poetry Pentametron creates I would suggest to simply look at the account on twitter and not following it. Why? Because the account does not post retweets in a consecutive way – sometimes it can take days until a new tweet is retweeted and a new poem is created. Still, up to this day, the account has almost 24,000 followers – and just follows two accounts itself. One is Sonnets, the other one is a William Shakespeare account. So… wanna have a guess on what or who inspired Pentametron? Even though it is questionable whether or not Pentametron is as poetic as Shakespeare’s sonnets, I really like the idea of this bot and what it is trying to create.
But is this really poetry? Real art? Let’s first have a look at the other bot we discussed in class.
poem.exe is different than Pentametron because its algorithm does not „simply retweet“ other twitter users. Instead:
„poem.exe is a micropoetry bot, assembling haiku-like poems throughout the day and publishing them on Twitter and Tumblr. It uses an Oulipo technique based on Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. Verses are selected at random from a collection of a few hundred, and a single line is taken from each one to produce a new poem. After assembling a poem in this way, the program looks for seasonal references and uses these to decide whether to publish or reject the poem.“
So while Pentametron tweets one line for a verse, poem.exe is tweeting the whole haiku in one tweet. This makes it easier for the reader to just follow the account on twitter than following Pentametron.
In my opinion, the haiku’s of poem.exe can also be seen as more ‚poetic‘ than the Pentametron-poems, and I think one can notice that the program of poem.exe is looking for references in its created works to see if they make sense or not. In class we compared the created haiku’s with others and we could not really make out a huge difference between the pieces (besides that maybe sometimes the computer-created haiku made a little less sense than the ‚other‘).
But now on to the million-dollar-question: is this art?
Well, we talked about this briefly in class and I still think it is hard to answer. To me, art has always something to do with the emotion of the person or the people who created the poem/the novel/the painting etc. And in the case of the two bots we can say that they do not have feelings they can put into their works. But art is also about the way it makes people feel – the emotions they go through while reading a certain piece or listening to a specific song. And just because I cannot make any sense of some of the tweets/poems Pentametron and poem.exe create – does that mean no one can? I think the question whether these bots can be considered art or not is a question the reader has to answer individually.
Did I like Pentametron and poem.exe?
I definitely enjoyed exploring the world of poem-generating-twitterbots. But well, I’m still more a fan of the ‚classical poems‘ – but I also started following poem.exe on Twitter – so we’ll see how this story ends.
I had no idea what to expect from Hobo Lobo of Hamelin and I have to admit that I chose it because I liked the name of it. At the second glance, I realized why I thought the name sounded familiar – It reminded me of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, a story/tale my grandma used to tell me when I was younger. So I was curious to see if Hobo Lobo was inspired by “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” or if the only thing they had in common was the name.
First I had some difficulties opening the website, but after switching to another browser, it worked perfectly fine. I was surprised to find a page with a hand-drawn artwork – in my opinion a nice change to the digitally created artwork we often find in other Elit pieces. I also really liked the colors and the font that was used throughout the piece.
After trying to click on around the website, I decided to go for the numbers in the left top corner to start my journey from there.
As the first two pages of the story had no music or sounds in the background that changed when I started the third page. The (at least to me) classical sound of a night out in the country with chirping crickets, frogs and owls gave a nice ring to the first few slides and matched the atmosphere that was created by the blue-colored story. The chirping was soon accompanied by the sound of a pipe but these sounds just lasted another few slides until they were replaced by a more dooming sound.
While the nature-sounds as well as the sound of the pipe fit perfectly with the blue of the first half of the slides of the third page, the dooming sound matches the red-colored background as well as the images we see in the second half of the slides – besides it foreshadows what happened to the rats that disappeared in the story.
Navigating through Hobo Lobo was really simple – the numbers in the upper left corner made it easy to go through the whole story in one sitting without any interruption. A nice little detail that I realized was the blurring of the numbers after you moved to the next slide, so I always knew exactly how far I had explored the piece. As the different slides are not presented in a full screen mode the text (or lexia) fits perfectly beneath each slide; the texts are usually quite short so they fit on the screen – and most of them do not need any scrolling down to be fully read.
The fact that the whole piece is navigated through side scrolling as well as a lot of elements in the story made me think of a pop-up book.
In the end …
Especially the typography o the whole piece reminded me of old tales such as “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”. Also, the artwork has a classical touch and immediately made me think of the pictures one can find in old fairytale books.
Reading the story, I could clearly see how Hobo Lobo was influenced by “The Pied Piper” and I really liked the sarcastic tone of the piece.
I chose the first piece by Sharif Ezzat because I liked the visualization of the texts.
Navigating through this piece of Elit is easy – the blue stars (which turn white – I liked that little effect!) serve as the hyperlinks to the different texts. While a few pieces are rather short, some others need some simple scrolling down. Another little effect I liked is that the hyperlink-stars change their position when you reopen Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky – so one hyperlink will never be in the same place you first saw it at.
Another point I liked about Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky is that it starts with someone reading in a foreign language and the stars appearing slowly in the background. The sounds of bells and chirping birds which the reader hears
For my reading I started with “Shall I tell you about my water, which is getting thirsty?” – one of the shorter texts in this piece of Elit. Even though I would not consider it a poem in a classical way, I think the language of this piece has something poetic and metaphors like „But now my water is thirsty.“
The next one I read was “Shall I tell you about the stars, why they respond so slowly?”, again a rather “short” piece. In my opinion, this piece has also something poetic about it.
Next up was “Shall I tell you about my love? She is near to me always.” This was the first longer text I encountered and is rather a very short short story than the first two pieces I read.
I read the remaining pieces and saved “Perhaps I should tell you that the whole world is determined to become my family” for last, because, in contrast to the other titles, it does not start with “Shall I tell you about …” and I thought it could be some sort of starting or ending point (even though to work as a starting point for my reading, I discovered it too late). It is also a very short piece but in my opinion, it can work as a starting point as well as an ending point and it is the only piece that addresses the reader directly “I asked them to keep it down; you are still sleeping in a small room upstairs.”
Even though the texts do not really seem connected at first, I think one can read them as one story, maybe some biography.
Overall I really liked Like Stars in A Clear Night Sky a lot and I think the way this piece of Elit is presented is well thought out.