TERMINAL 1.0

Programmed Poetry
Brion Gysin, Tiziana La Melia, bpNichol
September 8 —​ ​October 29​

Brion Gysin
Permutation Poems, 1960


No Poet’s Don't Own Words
I Am That I Am
Junk Is No Good Baby
I Don't Work You Dig
Kick That Habit Man
Come To Free The Words
Rub Out The Word
Calling All Reactive Agents

This embedded "version" of Permutation Poems is adaptation of the program developed by Ian Sommerville and Brion Gysin in 1960. The original program ran on a Honeywell Series 200 computer. This version was written by Justin Filip as a further adaptation of software created in Python by Joseph Moore for the New Museum exhibition Brion Gysin: Dreamachine, and shared under a GNU General Public License. This version has also been released under the ISC License and is freely viewable and available for download and further adaption through github.

ENTER FULL SCREEN

INTRODUCTION

TERMINAL is a four-part installation project that examines single-user interfaces and the influence of technology on the adaptation of artistic forms.  The project addresses itself to an idea of what different hardware units, operating systems, and user environments have offered to artists and to the viewers, readers or users of their work.  Each iteration of the project considers a different computer interface and related work (text-based programming of poetry, graphical user interfaces and early digital animation, online and peer sharing as virtual social practice and, finally, a parody of social media and its daily saturation of life).

Conceived as an installation in four parts, the project utilizes a single-user space at Western Front—our former ticket booth/reading room—to offer an intimate viewing experience that works away from the traditional spatial paradigm of a white cube. Launching September 8th, 2016, the first installation looks at media poetry specifically programmed for computers, and features an installation of bpNichol's First Screening (1984), a digital publication written in Apple BASIC for home use on an Apple IIe.  

TERMINAL expands beyond the gallery space to include this website. It is embedded with a variant of the code for a series of Permutation Poems written by Brion Gysin that first appeared in 1960.  Rooted in the expansive and playful legacies of Nichol and Gysin, TERMINAL 1.0 also features work and a reading event by artist and poet Tiziana La Melia, whose recent installation The Eyelash and the Monochrome has grown from her own computer use, and specifically her acknowledgment of Microsoft Word as a context and catalyst for the piece.

While starting from the specificity of a single-user environment as both a creative and exhibition space, TERMINAL also asks what we choose to use computers for, how this is limited or shaped by the interfaces we access, and how making projects under different technological structures can be figured amidst a wider set of material concerns. The investigation supposes that different hardware, software, operating systems and user environments have offered specific opportunities and limits for expression; artists in turn have created works that respond in unique ways. The ongoing erasure of user control in favour of the ease and simplicity of seamless design has been taken up by many, including artist Olia Lialina, is my impetus for engaging in better understandings of web- and screen-based work.¹ It is hoped that these practices might foreground how a conscious adoption of technology and knowledge of its limitations can alter the possibilities for creation. Perhaps these lesser-known historical works will also offer suggestions of how creative practices might wrest control toward fruitful artistic ends and offer viewers, readers or users an opportunity to contemplate and question the nature of these interfaces, and the role they play in our daily lives.

MEDIA POETICS: THE CUT, THE CONTEXT AND THE CUTE

Allison Collins

TERMINAL took shape around a need to be specific and the idea that, at times, computers create the conditions for viewing artworks that are made with them. This inquiry into viewing conditions and specific sites of artistic production is further rooted in a desire to address Vancouver (aka Terminal City). I am compelled to consider how the influence of computers can manifest here, at Western Front, and in particular how we might begin to see works by artists in our community as contributing within a larger framework of understanding screen-based or computer-driven work.¹  Mixed into this inquiry is the desire to learn from the conditions required to create work, such as access to a computer or the requisite knowledge of programming necessary to make a work function.  

In exploring this, I take up how specific types of interfaces can make certain characteristics of media artwork possible. This notion is exemplified in bpNichol’s First Screening, a work that is rooted in the command-line interface of the Apple IIe, taking advantage of coding and self-publishing to generate a set of quirky communicative poems that bring the viewer into a relationship with the machine they are facing. Tiziana La Melia, working almost 30 years later, takes up the software interface of Microsoft Word as an imaginative catalyst, yet ultimately frees the words from their home on the screen to use them for and within paintings, print objects and eventually a publication. The Eyelash and the Monochrome, drawn from the artist’s strained relationship to her own portable writing machine (i.e. her laptop), takes up the space and condition of writing anywhere, but always with the same screen. The work traces a familiar contemporary pattern: beginning with an act of composing text on a computer, adapting and reinterpreting language and thought and finally transmitting the whole into various relevant material experiments. She also achieves the important reminder that just as computers have predominantly transitioned from a conditioned and specific user/creator space to a well-designed but less individually adaptable tool, so too has the way artists use it to make work. Despite having become ingrained into our everyday structure, carried around as little portable studios or ubiquitous machines for social connection, computers retain an important site specificity. You can take them into and out of new contexts, and like a franchise food chain they will deliver the same virtual ingredients wherever you go.

Honeywell 200 console

Before we dig deeply into these shifts, I’d like to address a project that sets a staging ground for poets using computers. Created in 1960 with programming collaborator Ian Sommerville and ‘installed’ above, Brion Gysin’s Permutation Poems used a very early computer console: the Honeywell 200. As early as 1959, artists took to computers to explore the possibilities of programming or digital composition, and many of these early instances necessarily took shape on business-oriented machines. The capabilities of computers during this era was practical, seen as technical, and focused on calculation and data manipulation. It was the era of McLuhan, and these complex machines became a viable medium with which to make new experiments with language.²  Gysin’s Permutation Poems play a part in this lineage, fitting into both a timeline of computer use for creative means as well as his lifelong commitment to multidisciplinary experimental practice.

No Poets Don’t Own Words

Gysin was a painter, performer, poet, writer and mystic.³  Born in the UK to Canadian parents, he spent much of his adult life in transit, with formative time in Tangier, Paris (at the Beat Hotel), and in New York. He is credited with introducing the ‘cut-up’ method of writing to William Burroughs, in which words and phrases are literally cut into pieces and rearranged to disassociate them from received meanings and reveal new ones. A collaborator of many throughout his life, Gysin is often referred to as a close friend of Burroughs, who revered him, and who often developed the ideas Gysin shared, to great acclaim. Gysin’s experimentation and desire to innovate ultimately led him to invent the "Dreamachine" with Ian Sommerville, a flickering apparatus that was meant to induce waking dream states. His forays in painting and poetry paralleled his efforts with technology, and he spent much time transforming gestures and words through systems of his own devising.

And so the whole point of it...is that idea that you just put the material into a certain risk situation and give it a  creative push. The thing makes itself. That’s always been my principle.

The Permutation Poems are an early example of the extension of his larger aims, wherein he used a computer to generate a type of cut-up poetry. The poems are formed by a program that takes a given data set, consisting of a line of words or a phrase that is transformed mathematically. The end result for each line of language inputted into the program, is a poem comprised of all possible reorderings of words present in the given line, until each possible iteration has appeared. Thus, line by line, a poem is written by the computer:

I AM THAT I AM
AM I THAT I AM
I THAT AM I AM
THAT I AM I AM
AM THAT I I AM
THAT AM I I AM
I AM I THAT AM
AM I I THAT AM
I I AM THAT AM
I I AM THAT AM
AM I I THAT AM
I AM I THAT AM
I THAT I AM AM
THAT I I AM AM
I I THAT AM AM
I I THAT AM AM
THAT I I AM AM
I THAT I AM AM
AM THAT I I AM
THAT AM I I AM
AM I THAT I AM
I AM THAT I AM
THAT I AM I AM
I THAT AM I AM
I AM THAT AM I
AM I THAT AM I
I THAT AM AM I
THAT I AM AM I
AM THAT I AM I
THAT AM I AM I

I AM AM THAT I
AM I AM THAT I
AM AM I THAT I
AM AM I THAT I
I THAT AM AM I
THAT I AM AM I
I AM THAT AM I
AM I THAT AM I
THAT AM I AM I
AM THAT I AM I
AM THAT AM I I
THAT AM AM I I
AM AM THAT I I
AM AM THAT I I
THAT AM AM I I
AM THAT AM I I
I AM I AM THAT
AM I I AM THAT
I I AM AM THAT
I I AM AM THAT
AM I I AM THAT
I AM I AM THAT
I AM AM I THAT
AM I AM I THAT
I AM AM I THAT
AM I AM I THAT
AM AM I I THAT
AM AM I I THAT
I I AM AM THAT
I I AM AM THAT

I AM I AM THAT
AM I I AM THAT
I AM I AM THAT
AM I I AM THAT
AM I AM I THAT
I AM AM I THAT
AM AM I I THAT
AM AM I I THAT
I AM AM I THAT
AM I AM I THAT
I THAT I AM AM
THAT I I AM AM
I I THAT AM AM
I I THAT AM AM
THAT I I AM AM
I THAT I AM AM
I THAT AM I AM
THAT I AM I AM
I AM THAT I AM
AM I THAT I AM
THAT AM I I AM
AM THAT I I AM
I I AM THAT AM
I I AM THAT AM
I AM I THAT AM
AM I I THAT AM
I AM I THAT AM
AM I I THAT AM
THAT I AM I AM
I THAT AM I AM

THAT AM I I AM
AM THAT I I AM
I AM THAT I AM
AM I THAT I AM
AM THAT I AM I
THAT AM I AM I
AM I THAT AM I
I AM THAT AM I
THAT I AM AM I
I THAT AM AM I
AM THAT AM I I
THAT AM AM I I
AM AM THAT I I
AM AM THAT I I
THAT AM AM I I
AM THAT AM I I
AM I AM THAT I
I AM AM THAT I
AM AM I THAT I
AM AM I THAT I
I AM AM THAT I
AM I AM THAT I
THAT I AM AM I
I THAT AM AM I
THAT AM I AM I
AM THAT I AM I
I AM THAT AM I
AM I THAT AM I


 

Brion Gysin, “I am that I am”, 1960

The possibilities of mathematical computation created the output, demonstrating the meaning that can emerge independent of the will of the author; Gysin’s use of the computer was a means to this end. The computer, a source for completing the composition under the terms of data manipulation, was an expedient tool that could displace intention from poet to machine.  The resulting poems reflect Gysin’s ethical position when it came to language. In his own words:

Writing is fifty years behind painting. I propose to apply the painters' techniques to writing; things as simple and immediate as collage or montage. Cut right through the pages of any book or newsprint... lengthwise, for example, and shuffle the columns of text. Put them together at hazard and read the newly constituted message. Do it for yourself. Use any system which suggests itself to you. Take your own words or the words said to be "the very own words" of anyone else living or dead. You'll soon see that words don't belong to anyone. Words have a vitality of their own and you or anybody else can make them gush into action.

The permutated poems set the words spinning off on their own; echoing out as the words of a potent phrase are permutated into an expanding ripple of meanings which they did not seem to be capable of when they were struck into that phrase.

The poets are supposed to liberate the words - not chain them in phrases. Who told poets they were supposed to think? Poets are meant to sing and to make words sing. Poets have no words "of their own." Writers don't own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody.

"Your very own words," Indeed! And who are you?'
 ⁵

Gysin rejected outright notions of authorial control, claiming the right of anyone to transform any word through whatever process or structure is desired.

At the end of the computation, the Permutation Poems become a set of propositions, a new raw material from which Gysin could draw. He shared the work as a series of sound poems on BBC radio, later publishing the works as text pieces. That the poems were specifically generated using a Honeywell series 200 computer appears to be of little imaginative interest to Gysin It is rather the sound poetry experiments that resulted which ultimately demonstrate his desire to break down language through repetition and variation.  It is clear in the listening that these performances complicates the rote nature of a computer-generated poem, with inflections and rhythms that emphasize variants of meaning, playing up the resulting interpretations of the individual lines rather than their formal nature or relation to sets of data.

Kick That Habit Man

Gysin’s emphasis moved steadily toward sound and performance. He eventually choose to publish the permutations in print, leaving the computer behind for the tape recorder and other more readily accessible materials. Any particularities that have evolved in the way the software for the Permutation Poems has been reproduced reinforce this emphasis, where the original program is simply a means to output the words. Adapted and rewritten by Joseph Moore for the New Museum (on the occasion of the exhibition Brion Gysin: Dream Machine, and further adapted for accessible viewing on this website, the decision to include the project as it seen here is founded on these factors. As seen here/online, the moving poems are a variant of the outcome of the original computation. They follow Moore’s pursuit to make Gysin’s work and processes better known.⁶  Further, and more importantly, the Permutation Poems have been preserved and shared in a manner that adheres to Gysin’s own ethic: a playful desire to pull apart language at its core, shedding notions of individual ownership. His standpoint anticipates the open source movement by what feels like eons more than decades.

Gysin as a figure has a particularly local relevance in sensibility more than literal presence. While his works have been collected and examined in Vancouver, and his innovations, like the Dreammachine, inspire a certain amount of contemporary experimentation, he remains a lesser-known figure to his counterpart, Burroughs. His work is cited among the influences for local artists associated with counter-cultural practices of the 1960s, such as Tripps Festival organizer Sam Perry.⁷  As part of the wider lineage of Beat poets that made an impact here, he has been particularly noted as an influence on writers interested in concrete poetry.⁸  This community would have included bpNichol, whose contribution to the field has been remarkably influential across the country and around the globe.


BPNICHOL FIRST SCREENING

bpNichol is a fascinating figure in Canadian poetry. Like Gysin, he was a writer whose work could not be contained in disciplinary boundaries. He first became well-known as a concrete poet, a term he eschewed for the more open-ended descriptive term ‘borderblur.’  His extensive output during his short career (he died quite young, just shy of his 44th birthday) ranged from a sensitive production of clever visual poetry, to an ambitious multi-volume lyric poetry project called The Martyrology (which is still being analyzed by his peers) and to such charming landing points as contributing writing for the popular children’s television program Fraggle Rock. Nichol’s curious spirit, dedication to writing and his innate sense of playfulness is evident in his practice and well-documented by the scores of scholars and writers who have taken time to elaborate on his practice. The document of his visit the Western Front in 1977 for a reading with the Four Horsemen (Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery and Nichol), for example, demonstrates the sensuous regard he had for sound as it sheds itself from literal meaning. Forming almost trancelike sound shapes with accompany gestures, and at-times comical body movements, his engagements with language were a total immersion in form. Having taken on genre, compositional strategy, language, the visual and sound performance all, he quite deftly moved his curious mind into the kinetic possibilities of the computer.

Included in TERMINAL, First Screening is a series of twelve kinetic poems, written by Nichol in 1983-84, that take the Apple BASIC programming language as a site for animation and communication. The project was published by Nichol’s imprint, Underwhich Editions, in an edition of 100, and distributed as a 5.25” floppy disk. To view the work, a user had to run the program on an Apple IIe computer. Early machines like the Apple IIe were relatively accessible on the consumer scale, and ideal for writers, as they had a recent and important update to include lowercase letters. They cost about $1400(USD) for a unit in the 1980s, and were therefore primarily in the reach of the upper middle class. They have been cited as the most affordable and appealing option for a multi-tasking writer.⁹ The Apple IIe supported active gameplay (Nichol was a bit of a gamer), had an accessible coding platform in Applesoft’s version of BASIC (Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), and was an adequate word processor.

First Screening is a program on a floppy disk that, once inserted, mounts to the hard drive of the Apple IIe and runs automatically through ten poems that appear in sequence as text-based digital animations. The project takes the visual layout of concrete poetry into kinetic space, primarily through the movement of words across the visual field of the screen. For example, in the piece “CONSTRUCTION 1”, the word TOWER scrolls up the screen with increasing speed until hitting a crescendo of movement, and emitting an alarming sound followed with flashing inversions of the word “BABEL.” The timing and constraint of each piece is determined by the code, which also specifies the location and duration and how everything appears to the user.

Ten evident works use the computer as a space of composition and animation, however, they are conceptually much more than simply moving image versions of words. Two works in the project enact a more complex relationship with the viewer: “Off-Screen Romance” a hidden kinetic poem, can only be activated with the input of the BASIC command (RUN 1748-), which a curious reader will discover only if they read through the clues left in the final remarks of the program code. Active investigation of the code also reveals one further work, appearing as part of the code, that uses puns and language tricks that play on the commands of the program. This aspect is viewable only upon activation of the LIST command.

 

These small acts by Nichol underscore his interest in the computer and it’s potential to transform language. They are an extension of his earlier concrete experiments with a typewriter. For example, clear links can be made with poems gathered for publication in Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (1967/1973), most notably “The Evening’s Ritual”, which uses the words “sat down to write you this pome”, anticipating the later animated poem “Letter”. The clever “Computer Riddle Poem” suggests that Nichol (like Gysin) was considering the potential of mathematical permutations and how small variants might texture our understanding of language.  Published more than a decade later, First Screening reframes this commitment to experiment with visual formal characteristics of language, taking up the possibilities offered by code as a space to create.

Code is language. It seems only natural that code should be, or would become, poetry.¹⁰  

Nichol’s commitment to treating code as a space to invite user interaction is an innovation most celebrated. This aspect of the project has been thoroughly examined by Lori Emerson in her book Reading Writing Interfaces, where she notes,

In First Screening it appears as though Nichol—writing at the very beginning of the era of the personal computer— understands the ease with which the digital computer has an entirely different effect on the body than that of a reading/writing machine such as the typewriter.¹¹ 

Not only does he charm the viewer/reader/user with his moving (sometimes dancing) lines of text, but he encourages active thought and participation in the BASIC programming language - something which was genuinely novel for the time.

Like Gysin, Nichol’s coded poetry has had to be retrieved from an earlier period, as the Apple IIe inevitably fell out of use. The project has been preserved and made available through adaptations and the development of new versions by a dedicated group of his fellow writers and coders. In fact, their efforts made the mission to view bpNichol’s idiosyncratic First Screening quite simple.¹² Both the the original BASIC program and the Hypercard re-issue have been made more accessible. Platforms for it now include: the original BASIC code (for use in an online BASIC emulator), a Hypercard version, a Javascript version, and a video capture of the poems, as well as the user interaction which prompts the “Off-Screen Romance”. The code is both easily adaptable and forever preserved as the master reference document.  


WHAT’S MORE

It’s more than a mere coincidence that so much effort was made to preserve Nichol’s work. His project may have focused on technology and been something of a unique or novel inquiry for the time, but the poems deny any robotic essentialization. They feel remarkably human, as if a little of Nichol (his voice, and wit) has been captured and preserved in the code.  First Screening, as it is seen in TERMINAL, is literally a welcoming project—a reminder of the intimacy of the user and his or her computer.

… … … … …

It is not lost on me that choosing Nichol’s Apple IIe and Gysin’s use of the Honeywell series 200 as our starting point is both a limit and feature of this project. Resurrecting this early lineage of computer work has also unearthed the unsurprising fact that this terrain of work that is primarily comprised of white male artists, writers and thinkers—those who had the most access and freedom to experiment with technology. Today’s inheritors of this history have a much more diverse constitution, and make cogent rebuttals and new configurations within the wider visual and virtual space that has developed along with devices and politics of practice.

Out of a happenstance, First Screening was recently on view at Oakville Galleries, in the exhibition Down to Write You This Poem Sat. Taking as its title a line from Nichol’s poetry, the exhibition looked at the blending of text and screen through works by the likes of Martine Syms, Maryse Larivière, Raymond Boisjoly, Tiziana La Melia or Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. These contemporary iterations of digital poetics reframe and complicate the terrain. Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, for example, have made scores of freely available flash animations that speak directly from a subject experience that underlies a resistance to ‘invisible’ interfaces, and foreground the virtual space of speech, enabled through flash animation.¹³ See: Ah for a recent example of their work, viewable on their website and described as a ‘public service announcement.’ Other artists in the show are equally notable for thee ways they challenge the boundaries and interrelations of poetry, politics and the practice of visual art.

It is a happy coincidence to see differing approaches to the same work, which underscores the specific goal of TERMINAL: to attempt to understand how we have absorbed such technologies into our consider how offering up specific uses of the computer might be a physical reminder to helps us to understand that condition.

Looking to the wider terrain of media poetry and its influence on visual artists opens a path for speaking of the way that computers have altered language and the way we use it. Early command-line driven programs have transformed under the conditions of a contemporary graphical interface. A more complex, layered and nuanced language of computer use has evolved as text becomes immersed in the intonation of typeface specificity, clipart, the shape of the page, and possibilities of different software to act simultaneously within user view. What can be said to remain constant is the sensibility to enter the language offered through the screen with the desire to pull it apart and expose its guts and capabilities.

Tiziana La Melia, The Eyelash and the Monochrome

(Spread 1), 2014, Dye sublimation print, silky faille, sieve graphic by Sylvain Sailly
(Spread 2), 2014, Dye sublimation print, silky faille
(Spread 4), 2014, Dye sublimation print, silky faille, eyelash pattern by Sylvain Sailly

Tiziana La Melia is an artist and poet whose regard for the computer remains one element of her much larger body of work. A productive painter who often crosses disciplinary boundaries, La Melia’s recent work, The Eyelash and the Monochrome, lives both inside and outside the confines of a computer’s influence. Beginning as a piece of writing, the project has evolved to contain a series of adjacent visual poem paintings, digital prints, drawings and other installation elements. Informed by both visual art and poetry, her project seizes on the constraints of Microsoft Word and Photoshop as a generative starting place for her inquiry. It takes to Word’s virtual ‘page’ with blinking cursor, making new metaphors from these two elements:  a post-modern monochrome and the winking eyelash of the poet who stares into the void of a new blank document.

Exfoliate. Tighten. Whiten. Pores less zen.

In the interval between speech and recognition, in that quiet valley of a blank in which the eyelash spoke to me. That moment felt like the edge, like performing a full split, like having the perfect arc in my foot. Awakened from that sluicy haze and taken to the margin’s chasm I let out a giant sigh of relief; to be emptied of an identity allowed me to enjoy the lack around me, it felt like wearing lace.

The Eyelash dramatizes the blankness before me. It personifies time, it is a comfort stuck in time. It turned the blank, from a curvy void into a rectangle. It’s edges block, a cliché of prison doodles, trapped in a cube, timid to door knobs, fretting grey, smug relaxed or hanging from a peg. To smear, to towel, to door, to floor, to wax. The edges are the limits whose pores for sure are blurred.

Is the Eyelash all I need to draw to make a perversity? I took a picture of the one I saw on my cheek this morning. I found it more difficult to capture than my pores. Eyelash extension, classic brush stroke on the corners of two young oranges, tendril over eye, cartooning the difference. Baby doll lower ones. Load the brush and dab gently and shiver slightly for cute, fit effect.

A cute curse.

Please elaborate, but cute.

The comic invented Nermel to place his bitterness towards acuteness.

The Eyelash is thin and even when I first saw it as the cat’s smile, as the vertical length of the default cursor out of which words flowed, slowly medicated your mind or you slowly meditated on it’s regular pulse you would see the end points of the pole curve as though you had fallen into a lull.

It started like

I stared at the chaste white monochrome for three days. A black line the width and length of a single eyelash, blinked. Occasionally it moved across the blank. This eyelash ... it pressed against, it pushed the Letter within a preset margin invisible to the naked eye. Empty until the symbols articulating space began to fill it.” 
¹ ⁴

The environment of the screen, including words and the image-plane context they drift into, is lifted by La Melia as an object-image. She speaks of and through the experience of writing, and (with a tendency that can be likened to Gysin or Nichol) redirects the context, processes and tools of the computer. All aspects have been ingested into the form of the work. The known constraints of the screen are abused through wordplay and spun into collage forms, allowing The Eyelash and the Monochrome to speak to what metaphorical spaces have come lately from our interactions with computers. Her project commits to a continuation of undoing the computer interface as a straightforward tool, returning to play and pun but expanding the cut-up idea beyond text on page to enclose the entire experience of the screen.

In the introduction to this text I spoke to the notable erasure of user control in favour of the delivery of content through digital tools.  Here, the tendency of the artists brought together is to draw upon such problems and instead make spirited situations for language; taking apart assumptions about what a phrase, a sheet of paper, a screen, or a terminal should do.  Computers have become so ubiquitous and simultaneously increasingly impenetrable, unknowable. But in this space they return to thought, and can be taken apart again - dissected in their experience instead of their form.

By carving out a small space here I wish to challenge the obstinate state of the rigidly designed contemporary computer. In exposing what artists think computers should do, can be, these projects can help us. What they recognize is where you might start: by seeing that what faces you right now is a context, a language. Built and described by others, to compute is to engage in a form of communication, one that can be re-configured according to our desire and ability.

This visual language we are confronted with is merely one translation, and there is much more to read underneath.

 

Introduction

1 — See: Olia Lialina, Not Art&Tech http://contemporary-home-computing.org/art-and-tech/not/ and Lori Emerson,  Reading Writing Interfaces, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2014).  These texts provided key influences on the present exhibition.
 

Media Poetics: the Cut, the Context and the Cute

1 — An important historical account of the various methods and adoptions of media literature has been undertaken by C.T. Funkhouser in Prehistoric Digital Poetry. Rather than reiterate such a historical survey by looking for similar unique projects (like Allison Knowles and James Tenney’s wonderful A House of Dust http://zachwhalen.net/pg/dust/ which is ‘simulated’ online), in conceiving of locally resonant works to bring to TERMINAL, I have chosen a particular affirmation of playfully-spirited cross disciplinary practices that extend to the present.

2 — Punning aside, Vancouver does have a local undercurrent of electronic music, and media-based visual practices steeped in technology, which has contributed to a particular local awareness of media art. At times the creedence afforded to these practices seems to remain with hindsight, as a celebration of our mythical art heroes in Intermedia (who experimented across technical platforms, brought video cameras into the mix with film, etc.), for example, or early mutli-media spectacles like the Tripps Festival. This city also has a well-documented history of video production and new media experimentation at artist-run centres like VIVO Media Arts Centre and the Western Front, and yet the level of contemporary awareness in Vancouver of media-based work rests on a subcultural level.  It is possible that everyone was literally outside having a hike in the hills throughout the 90s, rather than playing video games in their parents’ basement, making BBS bulletin boards or joining surf clubs. TERMINAL will attempt to root its analyses and observations in an awareness of relevant media that has been made or has circulated on this coast.


3 — For an excellent overview on the highlights of Gysin’s biography and career view Marina Cashdan’s interview with Laura Hoptman, curator of the New Museum exhibition Brion Gysin: Dreamachine, for The White Review, viewable online: http://www.thewhitereview.org/art/the-idea-machine-brion-gysin/.

4 — Brion Gysin quoted in Jason Weiss, Writing At Risk: Interviews in Paris with Uncommon Writers, (Iowa, University of Iowa Press, 1991, pp 71.


5 — Gysin, Brion. “Cut-Ups Self-Explained”, in Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader. Jason Weiss ed. (Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 2001), pp. 132.

6 — Other citations of Gysin’s poems and the poet’s writing about the cut up method similarly point to the idea that it was an emancipation from authorial control that he sought. A simple online tool replicates his ‘cut-up’ process for users who wish make their own versions. See http://permutations.pleintekst.nl/gysin/cut-up.cgi

7 — See. Scott Watson, “Urban Renewl, Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos, and Squats,” Vancouver Art in the 60’s, http://vancouverartinthesixties.com/essays/urban-renewal.  

8 — Gysin spent a small amount of time in Vancouver during his service in the military, as outlined in the biography Nothing Is True-Everything is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin, but his influence on the art scene has mainly been noted in terms of his contribution to concrete poetry through selected acquisitions and exhibitions.  See http://belkin.ubc.ca/past/RecentAcquisitionstotheCollection and http://belkin.ubc.ca/past/breathless-days-1959-1960

9 — Emerson, 71.

10 — Kerry Doran “Speaking in Code” Rhizome, March 5, 2015. http://rhizome.org/editorial/2015/mar/05/speaking-code/ Accessed on August 26, 2016.

11 — Emerson, 67. Emerson’s close readings of several poems in the project is included as a resource in the TERMINAL installation space.  Nichol’s project (and Emerson’s deft analysis) has been similarly acknowledged by Kerry Doran in a recent article for the popular online art journal Rhizome. See: Kerry Doran “Speaking in Code” Rhizome, March 5, 2015. http://rhizome.org/editorial/2015/mar/05/speaking-code/ Accessed on August 26, 2016.  Alongside my earlier mention of seeing this work on view in Oakville just one month before the launch of this project, every indication is that First Screening has reached a stage of particular relevance, perhaps partly due to the increasing interest in media archeology as both a study and a practice.

12 — Following my initial discovery of the Hypercard iteration of the poems, an online search turned up the exhaustive work to preserve the piece that is now housed on vispo.com. The technical details outlined by Jim Andrews made clear that the Hypercard format was already an upgraded re-issue of the original 5.25 floppy work, first published by in 1984.

13 — Thanks to curator Frances Loeffler for the tour and discussion of the works at Down to Write You This Poem Sat, on view at Oakville Galleries throughout summer 2016. The exhibition website is here:  http://www.oakvillegalleries.com/exhibitions/details/123/Down-To-Write-You-This-Poem-Sat with further details about artists presented.


14 — Tiziana La Melia, The Eyelash and the Monochrome Transcript from Photoshop & Draft # 4, unpublished, 2016.

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