Watching Textual Screens Then and Now: A Cinema/E-Lit Conversation

Abstract (in English): 

Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema (1970) suggests a coming art in which “the computer becomes an indispensable component in the production of an art that would be impossible without it” and in which “the machine makes autonomous decisions on alternative possibilities that ultimately govern the outcome of the artwork.” Much of what Youngblood presaged has been fulfilled in the field of electronic literature, which has a significant unexplored areas of overlap with experimental cinema.

Among the most salient points of overlap between these two forms is the tension they draw from the collision between image and language. Early computer filmmaker John Whitney described his work Permutations (1966) as “dot patterns which might be compared to the alphabet… constructed into ‘words,’ [which] in turn can be fitted contextually into ‘sentence’ structures.” Works of electronic literature like Talan Memmott’s Lexia to Perplexia (2000), Stephanie Strickland and Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo’s slippingglimpse (2007), and Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s Screen (2003) engage this tension between image and language, as do films such as Paul Sharits’ Fluxfilm 29 (1966), Stan VanDerBeek’s computer-generated Poemfield #2 (1966), and later experimental film works like Su Friedrich’s Gently Down the Stream (1981), Peter Rose’s Secondary Currents (1982) as well as the contemporary films of Tony Cokes and especially David Gatten. There are even similarities in the way these two communities have imagined exhibition –witness the connection between VanDerBeek’s multi-projector “Movie-Drome” and the CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment developed by ELO co-founder Robert Coover.

Kenneth Goldsmith recently observed that “We skim, parse, bookmark, copy, paste, forward, share, and spam. Reading is the last thing we do with language.” To this inventory, I would like to add one more thing that we do with text: we watch it move on screens. This is even reflected in ELO’s 2015 call for artworks, which invites “screenings of types of digital literature that benefit from sustained watching, such as poetry generators and kinetic poetry.” I seek to bring together the experimental film community’s conversation about watching text with conversations about the same (and similar) topics within the ELO community, such as Lori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces.

This paper intends to capitalize on a specific synergy between experimental film and electronic literature by delineating shared history, terminology, and theory to talk about the textual screen that can be shared by artists and critics on both “sides” of this imaginary fence between them, in the hope that it will spur further discussion and collaboration. My presentation – or at least a portion of it – will be presented in cinematic form.

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans