Electronic Literature in the Database and the Database in Electronic Literature

Critical Writing
Publication Type: 
Language: 
Year: 
2019
Pages: 
5-18
Journal volume and issue: 
vol 4, no 4
Record Status: 
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Abstract (in English): 

Due to the constant threat of technological obsolescence, documentation practices of archiving and database construction are of vital importance, to warrant that artists and scholars can continue developing and understanding this field of practice and study. To this end, multiple e-lit databases are being developed in the context of research projects.
Within the field of Digital Humanities, database construction is too often regarded merely as a preparatory task. But from the perspective of its developers, the e-lit database is both a research space, a form of dissemination, and a cultural artefact in itw own right. By no means neutral containers, database carry out diverse processes including storage, distribution, and exposition. Scholarship and artistic practice entangle: scholars attempt to document and research a field. Artists interrogate the database structure in their works, and the production of databases further develops the field, which leads to more (varied) creation and dissemination of electronic literature.
This article examines how the database form increasingly in-forms and infiltrates electronic literature and becomes an aesthetic in its own right. We compiled a research collection in the ELMCIP (Electronic Literature as a Model for Creativity in Practice) Knowledge Base, consisting of works that reflect on the fact that they are part of a database, by taking on its formal characteristics. We consider how scholarship and artistic practice entangle: scholars attempt to document and research a field, and artists interrogate the database structure in works and the production of databases develops the field, which leads to more (varied) production of electronic literature.
We analyze three works of electronic literature: Identity Swap Database by Olia Lialina and Heath Bunting (1999), Dictionary of the Revolution by Amira Hanafi (2017), and Her Story (2016) by Sam Barlow. Embedded in the database, these works reflect a variety of roles for databases in digital culture. Our analyses will shed light on the multifarious roles that databases play in the field of electronic literature—as storage of information, platforms for dissemination, artistic artefacts, and as a methodological tools for critical thinking about the construction of the field itself. In particular, we focus on three functions of databases that are amplified by electronic literature: reflection on online appropriation of identity and data use; commemoration or preservation; and an exercise in empathy.

Databases/Archives referenced:

Title Organization responsible
ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base ELMCIP: Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice, University of Bergen, Electronic Literature Research Group, University of Bergen, Program in Digital Culture
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Record posted by: 
Hannah Ackermans