In September I was invited by Ted Davis, teacher and researcher at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst of Basel, to run a workshop in his ‘glitch’ course and to do a lecture open to the public on the 7th of October. I immediately thought that “glitch” was a perfect perspective to run another instance of The Mobile is the Massage, a workshop I conceived together with Jacopo Pompilii.
In the first instance, we attempted to translate McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage into an ebook in EPUB format specifically meant to be read on a smartphone. That fitted the glitch theme, since the current limitations of the reading application inevitably led to unexpected results. As in Basel we had only 3 hours, I decided to choose a different book to translate, one that would be quicker and easier to access and interpret.
In the end, I settled on Emmett Williams’ massive Anthology of Concrete Poetry, published by Something Else Press in 1967 and reissued by Primary Information in 2013. I provided two main references to the students in order to question or strengthen the connection between concrete poetry in print and the dynamism of the smartphone’s screen. The first one was Clive Phillpot’s understanding of concrete poems as pageworks, that is artworks that push the boundaries of their specific medium: the page. The second was Kenneth Goldsmith’s idea of concrete poetry as ancestor of graphical user interfaces, expressed in his Uncreative Writing:
Concrete poetry’s twist was to align the history of literature with the history of design and technology.
Each group of students was asked to choose a poem and translate it to EPUB. Interestingly, 4 different languages were included in their choices: English, German, Italian, Portuguese. The results were then documented using Vine, in order to perform the whole process with smartphones. Some participants used CSS3 animation to enhance the poem’s message, others ‘reverse-engineered’ the poem by creating a page sequence, yet others developed a dynamic abstract composition by separating the words from the paratextual elements. Here you see some of the outputs:
In the afternoon, I did a public lecture in which I spoke, among other things, about rich and poor media. This triggered a lively debate on what are the characteristics of a poor medium and according to which parameters it should be evaluated. Two ideas emerged: 1. ‘poor media’ is not exclusively a technical concept; on the contrary, it includes the social practices and rituals around a particular technology; 2. the poverty/frugality of poor media is in constant transformation since it is produced by the temporal and spatial context in which it is measured.
I’d like to thank all the participants to both the workshop and the lecture and Ted for having me there and for designing such a beautiful poster event.
P.S. Another reason I was excited to go to Basel was to see IRL the glitch facade of the HeK (Haus der elektronischen Künste), a project by !Mediengruppe Bitnik. Unmissable if you are nearby.