December 1, 2005

DAC 2005 Session 4b

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 11:06 am

Now I’m in the second track of session 4, which includes:

– Maria Engberg: Stepping into the River
– Louisa Wei & Huaxin Wei: Illustrative Narratology for the Digital Artist/Designer
– Dene Grigar & Steve Gibson: Ephemeral Writing

Maria Engberg: Stepping into the River

This is a literary and procedural reading of John Cayley’s riverIsland, which must be interesting to be delivering with him two rows behind me.

Without an understanding of the way that the work’s complex surfaces create textual events — especially transliteral morphs — we can’t grasp the work.

Her assistant can’t get the piece to display on the screens, so Cayley’s come down from the audience with his computer, to try projecting.

She argues that riverIsland can usefully be seen as a metatext engaging both ancient Chinese poetics and current digital poetics. Commenting on and creating meaning about certain western dominated technological conditions. She writes:

In riverIsland, Cayley uses his algorithmic morphing to transform the materiality of letters and radically address the changed situation of writing in programmable media. The work also exposes the Western alphanumeric preference inherent in today’s computer technology by contrasting Chinese and Western languages. This raises a number of interesting issues (which this paper can merely reference); one of the more urgent issues concerns the nature of translation and the socio-historic context of computer technology as developed in Western culture and with Western alphanumeric sign systems and philosophical logic as its basis. would add that these “new ways of understanding” poetic activities and practices in programmable media are highly interesting for literary scholars as well.

The need to argue, especially to traditional literary communities, that algorithms can create poetic tropes. That’s what the transliteral morph is.

David Kolb asks: Are there new poetic tropes available in digital media that aren’t available in other media?
A: Yes and no. What’s specifically happening in riverIsland is new, but there’s certainly a long history of procedural and graphically rich writing in print.

Louisa Wei & Huaxin Wei: Illustrative Narratology for the Digital Artist/Designer

The two presenters are sisters — one now teaching in Hong Kong, the other in Canada.

The incredibly complex structure of the Dream of the Red Mansions.

Interesting techniques for teaching narratology visually. And Jay Bolter’s AIM icon keeps popping up over the slides!

Showing an effective map of Oedipus Rex based on character and location using different techniques than those shown in the narratology slides. Had design students do mappings of Garcia Marquez novels using design techniques. Another was remaking the idea of a timeline in order to map the movie Memento. After students made these maps they showed them the maps used by Marie-Laure Ryan and Mark Stephen Meadows in their books to describe digital narratives. From there they worked with the students on a mapping technique for digital narratives. Now they’re trying to borrow some ideas from UML, given that it grows from a computational tradition.

Question: Lisbeth Klastrup says she noticed a number of side comments about students being more accustomed to thinking in a digital mode than a traditional narrative one. Do they find it easier to work on digitally-focused projects?
A: I can’t talk with them about novels. They know games, and think movies are traditional already – non-linear kinds of movies. So, yes, the digital can be easier.
Other paper author: One of the features of digital projects is that the stories can easily operate on more than three levels, which is quite rare in traditional media.

Question: I’m really impressed by the strategy and techniques of your teaching. I think it’s exciting and can be moved into other arenas.
A: Thanks.

Dene Grigar & Steve Gibson: Ephemeral Writing

Dene Grigar is here in person, while Steve Gibson will be participating via iChat video from Canada. He looks to be in some kind of studio space with a projection screen and speakers. He says he’s in his tracking studio, with robotic lights and many other toys…

They’re discussing a project called “When Ghosts Will Die.” A narrative installation piece about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. He’s doing a live demonstration. We cut back to his studio which is starting to fill with smoke, and the lights just went out. Video and sound respond to his movements nicely, but none of the text (visual or auditory) could be understood on this end.

They write:

In “When Ghosts Will Die” three kinds of words can potentially be produced: 1) oral words taken from pre-existing sound files, like Nikita Khrushchev’s warning to America during the height of the Cold War, and studio recordings specially created for the story; 2) inscribed text projected onto a screen––lines quoted from the writings of Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project exemplify this type; and finally, 3) inscribed text projected into the air and enhanced by smoke from a smoke machine––Oppenheimer’s comments work here, as well. While all three can be viewed as ephemera since they are words that can easily be wiped away, the second example differs in that its words appear on a surface of an object––the screen––while the first and third do not. This subtle difference affects the way in which we engage with and understand the text, for as N. Katherine Hayles suggests “[t]o change the physical form of the artifact is not merely to change the act of reading (although that too has consequences the importance of which we are only beginning to recognize) but profoundly to transform the metaphoric network structuring the relation of word to world” (23). It is the extent of what that “change” may be from one form of ephemeral writing to another that kindles our curiosity.

It’s a piece to be performed by their two bodies — he had to do things scripted for both their trackers. I wonder who is imagined as the audience?

So I asked. And so far it’s been performed two places, both in the round. One an underground industrial space in Dallas, the other his studio. Going to the UK, and probably Japan.

Jill asks, what else is ephemeral writing? Text from waving cell phones in the air? Shelley Jackson’s tattoo story?
A: Things that don’t last. Probably not tattoos, but definitely waving cell phones.

One Response to “DAC 2005 Session 4b”

  1. mark Says:

    Well this topic could take up entire essays on its own (and has), but the distinction between ideographic and “alphanumeric” writing systems quoted above seems somewhat simplistic. Of course they are clearly not identical, but upon further study they are not wholly dissimilar either. Much psychological research concludes that even alphabet-based languages are mostly read by fluent speakers in the same way that ideographic languages are—by recognizing the shapes of known words as atomic units, not by separately perceiving individual letters (the latter is someone only someone just learning to read, or encountering an unfamiliar word, would have to do). Writing the two is a bit less similar, but there are still similarities—ideograms are built up out of their constitutent strokes, which even have a standard order they should be written in (or typed on a computer).

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