Workshop on Curating and Exhibiting Electronic Literature

[cross-posted at jill/txt]
Today, in an extension of the ELMCIP project, we've gathered electronic literature experts with gallerists, artists and curators from Bergen at Hordaland kunstsenter for a workshop on Curating and Exhibiting Electronic Literature. This is also a step in preparing to host the ELO conference here in Bergen in 2015. Our goal is to learn more about how to think when we curate exhibitions for the ELO2015 conference, and specifically, to help formulate a call for works for the coming ELO Conference and Exhibition for works of electronic literature that is suited for the different Bergen venues which highlight the Bergen electronic art and literature scene.

I'm not going to blog every talk and discussion, but will "liveblog" a few interesting links and discoveries.

Nick Montfort talked, among other things, about Games by the Book, a recent exhibition at the Humanities Library at MIT, where books were presented along with games. Lovely idea for a library exhibition.

Dene Grigar talked us through some of the nine (so far!) exhibitions of electronic literature she's curated, and Simon Biggs and Mark Daniels skyped in from the ELMCIP conference in Edinburgh, Remediating the Social, to show us what the exhibition there looks like a couple of days before opening. Simon mentioned the challenges of a juried or peer reviewed selection process when you want to create a coherent, curated exhibition. The hurricane on the East coast of the US is also causing trouble. Some art works have not arrived, others, like John Cayley and Daniel C. Howe's "Common Tongues", are at the gallery but without their artist, and with phone lines down and no way of contacting John, it's difficult to make sure the work is presented the way it was intended. Dene talked about how she got the electronic literature exhibition going at the MLA conference in 2012: figuring she could coast the digital humanities wave at the 2011 conference, she simply grabbed hold of the MLA leadership and asked if I could do it. She already owned all the computers and drove all the gear down to the conference (three hours from her home) along with students who worked as docents explaining the works to the audience. She borrowed pedestals from local galleries. MLA provided no funding, so she had to write a lot of grant applications.

Kristian Pedersen is an animator who works with poets to create beautiful moving poetry. He showed us the process behind one of his recent pieces, "Bokstavene" (or "Letters") which plays upon the very analogue human errors in consulting a microfilm archive.

Søren Pold talks about exhibitions he has done in collaboration with the Roskilde library, including one where readers use glued-together leather-bound books like Wii controllers to generate a poem, Tilfældigvis er skærmen blevet blæk ("Coincidentally, the screen has turned to ink"). After your interaction, it prints out the poem on a narrow slip of paper, and posts them to a blog. The installation was even more successful when presented at the Roskilde Festival, where the printouts were particularly useful: people took the printout back to their tents, showed them to friends and their friends came back and tried the installation out for themselves.

Rui Torres, who works on the Po-ex archive of Portuguese experimental poetry, talks about creating a database, and how the rigidity of the database and its metadata is necessary so we can be creative with the database. The interface is a kind of remix, you remix the content of your database through the interfaces, and sometimes the interface might be an exhibition.

Talan Memmott presents the ELMCIP Anthology of Electronic Literature, which is being launched this week at the Remediating the Social conference in Edinburgh. Eighteen works from across Europe - it looks beautifully clean and inviting. The physical edition is on a cute little flash drive and it will also be released online soon.

Sissel Lillebostad teaches curators at KHiB. When you work with commissions in public space, you deal with a very present audience. The space is already occupied: by people, their needs, visions, routines, habits, expectations, information. When introducing art into this kind of space, you have to do it by violence. You have to actually conquer the space for art. Time is also important. KORO expects publicly funded public art to last for at least twenty years. The curator's space is a wish, a vision. It is redefined and created by three unstable structures: the art, its reception and the space itself. All are unforeseeable. A case study: Adsonore by Natasha Barrett, which is a sound installation in the stairwell of a building at the hospital - I blogged about it when it was first installed in 2003. Adsonore has turned out to be a complete failure, Sissel says (and I remember reading that it frightens the people who use the building), but, she asks, why? It was well-conceptualised, there were so many good things. But the people who work in the building hated it so much that it has been turned off. People responded in two ways. Some said well, it was exciting, kind of lively, but a bit frightening at night when I heard voices at the bottom but couldn't see anything. But 80% became very hostile to the work in the first few months after it was installed. The space was too much for the work. So Natasha Barrett changed the system to only run during office hours. That didn't help. The sounds it creates are too intense - every little movement reverberates through the space. Slamming doors, echos, fragments of conversations from last year, yesterday, ten minutes ago. It's a text, and it forces anyone who walks through that  You want to be able to focus completely on art. But in public space you also need to be able to ignore art. You cannot constantly be confronted by art. In a white cube, you can install art that is very demanding. But you can't do that in a public space.

A panel presents some local organizations and art spaces: Anne Marte Dyvi presents BEK, Bergen elektroniske kunstsenter, Malin Barth presents Foundation 3,14, and Elisabeth Nesheim presents the Piksel festival, subbing for Gisle Frøysland.

How does one plan exhibitions of electronic literature? Maya Økland from KNIPSU commented that while elit in the library seems like a great idea, for an art exhibition in a gallery you would be more interested in the quality of the content and context, the artistic quality, than in the platform or programming language. Anne Marthe Dyvi from BEK suggested commissioning site specific art where an artist/author spent an extended time in a specific place to create something particular to that site. She also suggested putting out a call for collaborations between artists and authors. Workshops and hackathons were suggested, much as the Piksel festival organises. What about residencies, Rod Coover asks? Conveniently, Vilde Andrea Brun from the Bergen Municipality (Bergen kommune) snuck in during this session, and as she works with funding for visual and literary arts is able to answer: the city funds residencies for international artists, some through USF, and also Hordaland fylke funds some too. So there are definitely opportunities for this.

At this point I had to rush to the preschool to pick up kids, but I'm looking forwards to the evening program:

20:30-23:00 Readings, Screenings and Performances at Gallery 3.14
"An Evening of Digital Narratives and Poetry"
Michelle Teran, Roderick Coover, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Talan Memmott, Kristian Pedersen, Rui Torres