“Show me how to do this” Learning E-lit by Making Together
Curated by María Goicoechea de Jorge and Mark C. Marino
Exhibition for ELO 2022
The making of electronic literature is an artisanal practice, born of community practices of sharing. While some artists find their own way into the rabbit holes of e-lit, most follow a guide or teacher, learning as a sorcerer’s apprentice. Whether this happens in a formal setting, like a classroom, or in an informal context, like a rainy day passtime for a family, the time spent sharing the forms and tools of electronic literature as well as techniques for making e-lit is crucial to bring new artists into the field and new works into being. In that way, the process is very much like teaching other forms of craft, like sewing, or even cooking, which has in turn inspired e-lit, such as the field of gastropoetics.
In this exhibition, we have gathered works that have emerged out of such tutelage and collaboration, where a mentor, teacher, friend, or family member has introduced one or more new artists to the field by making a work of electronic literature with them. Though sharing expertise and collaboration has always been part of e-lit’s DNA, we wanted to emphasize this aspect in the context of the ELO 2022 conference dedicated to Education. Thus, this eclectic mixture of works brings together original student work produced in the kitchens of e-lit courses and other related fields, such as interactive media, creative writing, transmedia storytelling or narrative game design. Some works, like Balanced Emoticons, are creative deviations from classroom exercises, others, like Marinated Guide to Game Making, subvert and expose the contradictions of student’s manuals and textbooks. But there are also works that do not belong to the academia and that have emerged from all sorts of collaborations: human and non-human (Electric Hebrew), husband and wife (Things that Want to Be Held), father and son, uncle and niece… or just a bunch of friends doing e-lit together. Making e-lit is a familiar affair.
The topics covered by this array of works are very diverse, though we have perceived certain contextual trends, such as works that have emerged thanks to the isolation enforced by the COVID pandemic (Cat with a Hundred Eyes), deal with its psychological effects (Friday, October 1st), expose the inequality suffered by migrants during the pandemic (Luck), explore the emotional pandemic of general grumpiness and resultant online gambling (Grumple), or provide some solace to the movement restrictions that ensued (The kindness of Jazz: MacKay SoundWalk). Another trend has been to rewrite, and thus pay homage to, classic e-lit works, such as Figurski at Findhorn on Acid: The Radio Play, which is a radio adaptation of Richard Holeton’s 2001 hypertext novel that provides a highly-textured and sensually-enhanced experience of the original work; or We Knew The Glass Man, which is a text-based Twine interactive fiction that builds on characters from the 1993 hypertext novel Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse; or Curiosity Kills the Cat, a cute graphic interactive fiction with a twist that is reminiscent of popular Inanimate Alice.
One aspect that has stood out of this collection of assorted works is e-lit’s convergence with other fields, such as the You and CO2 project, which uses the interactive digital narrative No World 4 Tomorrow for climate change education; or as in O LIVRO DAS CAPITAIS (THE BOOK OF CAPITALS), which relies on digital poetry, music and art to teach Brazilian geography and culture. The prolific field of interactive fiction and narrative games has given way to educational pieces that approach issues such as growing up and becoming independent (Between the Lines), psychological abuse in couple relationships (Let’s Talk Alex), or even give us some tips in case we are planning to escape from prison (Prisongenix).
In works of e-lit, interfaces get recycled and interfaces are not always what we might expect. Our Night recycles Artsteps, the program to create VR exhibitions, into an interactive narrative space. Similarly, one might expect The Doll Shop to be a tempting place for children, but children be warned away from the horror of this haunting space.
Finally, we have also included in our collection links to some repositories or portfolios of students’ works, such as Tropos or DMS E-LITERATURE, where teachers and students can search for inspiration. Ultimately, mentoring is about teaching, as we see in You and CO2 and THE CODE OF THE VERSE.
Mentoring has always been a part of the transmission of any art, but it is especially important in the world of electronic literature, which involves not only the transfer of computational skills but more importantly the aesthetic and indeed literary potential of digital platforms. We hope that this exhibit reminds you of the mentors you have encountered and inspires you to look for opportunities to mentor new artists, either through your work, your teaching, or your collaboration, bringing fresh new visions into our community.
* Special thanks to Jeremy Douglass for help with the website!
** Our featured image was made in collaboration with an artificial intelligence program, called Hotpot.ai.