April 13, 2014

Webs: Transmedia and Poetry

Today, a group of artists gathered at the Prøve Gallery in Duluth to talk with Kathy McTavish about her recent transmedia or net-art exhibit that is on display in the gallery this month. She did a workshop and Q&A about the art, transmedia story-telling, new technologies, and the web.  This post reflects the day's conversations and the participants' next steps. I've included some useful links at the end of this article.  

At the art opening last Friday, I was one of the writers who could "input" text into the film generator.  Her art was the "origin of birds." This posting is about my experience with it, a meditation on the "origin of words." Entering words was addictive. My text was not the only text on the wall-- the generator was randomly combining live twitter feed, climate reports, data, and other phrases. A few other poets were entering phrases as well.  The effect was similar to spraying graffiti on a wall, only to have it drift away and be replaced by other graffiti.

On my computer, at her web-page, whatever I entered in the text box would appear in the projection on the walls. This was new! wild! Generally as a writer, I do my work in solitude at my desk.  In the film, the text was performing live. It was me performing live, actually, but because I was at a table in the corner, I was not visibly part of the exhibit. My words appeared whenever I pressed 'enter.'  I noticed interesting juxtapositions and flows. I had surprises and sudden flashes of inspiration.  It occurred to music (her compositions in cello were also part of the film).

Sometimes, I'd share my text box with friends. Cecilia Ramón sat down at my computer and translated the text she watched on the projection into Spanish for our viewing pleasure. The other designated poets showed some of their friends how to access the text entry point, so a number of people were participating at the same time. Some of the writing sparked material I intend to go back to when I'm at my desk. Some was silly or forgettable. It cascaded or even precipitated on the screen, like the live tweets.  My writing evaporated (much like the way that 'too much information' is ignored or disregarded in other settings). I did walk away with the appreciation of how poetry, with its concentrated form and powerful image and sound elements, makes an ideal text for video work.  

Kathy McTavish's work was an exploration of climate change, the effect of overwhelming news and data, and the individual walking through the world. In addition, the software she created suggested new ways to combine multiple elements. I went to her workshop because I'm interested in finding ways to take my poems and stories off the page and into new media.  

The web, of course, applies to the world wide web but the term also offers an image for the artist or storyteller.  A spider's web is circular with many connections.  Web art or story-telling similarly presents a nonlinear form with many entry points and multiple connections. It might be participatory.  Henry Jenkins defines transmedia as "the art of telling one story over multiple media, where each medium is making a unique contribution to the whole."  I found Henry's blog (he is an expert in transmedia) with a lot of fascinating interviews, ideas, and links. 

In the workshop, we discussed her work and some examples of i-documentaries. Kathy had an interesting phrase about some of the work by other artists as having "a hole in the center." Especially artists who are writing about or creating work about trauma or atrocity, the hole in the center could contain the unsaid, the unspoken or the disappeared. I understood how the image of web or circle can offer a useful format for many uses. Kathy also talked about semantic webs, CSS3, HTML5, and Javascript as tools.  

Other artists at the workshop: a musician, a visual artist, a digital media artist, a fiber artist, three poets. We decided to meet with our own work next time. We launched a research institute.  Each of us will create a web aspect of our own work over the next few weeks.  Individually, we will spend an hour with "The Hour of Code" or go online to the "Code Academy." We will each find a example of a transmedia project that inspires us or we might emulate.  Next week when we gather we will bring our concept.  Kathy will help us take it into a transmedia form, social media formats, or code. Individually, each of us will walk away with a web component for art.

Because my book of poems, Night Train Red Dust is forthcoming from Wildwood River Press, I am thinking about women's stories and the five noteworthy women from the past (1900-1930) that I told stories about in my book: Mary Bray, MD; Viola Turpeinen, musician; Rev. Milma Lappala, Unitarian minister; Meridel LeSueur, journalist and writer; and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, union organizer for the Wobblies, and my grandmothers.  These women have inspired me and deserve greater attention for their contributions.  So I thought about an i-documentary or a video story about these women. I look forward to seeing the work that emerges from our group.  Stay tuned! And thank you Kathy!

Here are some useful links:

Learn How to Code - (it's easier than you think!)
The Code Academy: http://www.codecademy.com/
An Hour of Code: http://csedweek.org/learn

For more information about Kathy McTavish
her Origin of Birds workshop:  http://originofbirds.blueboatfilms.com/workshopnotes.html
her website: www.cellodreams.com
Note - she will be available as a trainer or consultant. Contact her through her website.

For more information about Henry James (transmedia expert):

Examples of interesting transmedia work:
Tiffany Schlain, "From Neurons to Networks."  (10 minutes):
YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLp-edwiGUU
National Film Board of Canada https://www.nfb.ca/
Waterlife:  http://waterlife.nfb.ca/#/

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