Brown/RISD festival celebrates digital literature

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Today through Sunday, Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design will be hosting Interrupt 2008, a festival celebrating creative expression in digital media. The festival is held in various locations around Providence and consists of a series of workshops, roundtable discussions and lectures by various artists in the field.

Digital literature, a focus of the festival, utilizes the capabilities of new media, especially computer and Internet technology, in the production of writing. Justin Katko GS, a student in electronic writing and a festival organizer, described digital literature as “putting words in temporal space,” in part because the art form often puts text in motion. According to one of the event’s coordinators, Visiting Professor of Literary Arts John Cayley, the University has played a significant role in the history of digital literature. The hypertext software commonly used to animate text was partly developed here.

The festival’s theme is based on the computer code IRQ, which commands the central processing unit to interrupt one process and begin another. IRQ is also a pun on the words “I argue,” reflecting the organizers’ hope that the festival will foster discussion. Cayley said that the group of writers, artists, poets and engineers invited to participate will be able to provide varied interpretations on this theme.

The festival’s artists-in-residence, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, are well-known within the net art community. The Seoul-based group of Young-Hae Chang and Marc Voge create animated poems in English, French and Korean.

The festival organizers reached beyond the world of digital literature by including the team of Foofwa D’Imobilité and Alan Sondheim. The former is a classically-trained experimental dancer and the latter is a poet and artist. In their “weird and fun” work, as Foofwa describes it, the partners use motion capture technology to record and digitize Foofwa’s dance movements, which are then reproduced by a Second Life avatar. Sondheim edits the avatar’s movements, and Foofwa reinterprets the now-distorted playback, producing a new dance to be fed back into the system. This process is repeated several times, blurring the line between man and machine and leaving the audience questioning what is real and what is fake.

Interrupt 2008 also incorporates an element of community outreach. Electronic writing student Samantha Gorman ’06 GS has partnered with high schools in Seekonk and Barrington to bring a few local students and faculty to the event. For example, one Barrington High School student will be using her experience at the festival to complete the field research for a senior project as part of her graduation requirements. Deborah Gorman, a teacher at Barrington who will be attending festival events, said she hopes to be able to build on the experience to create workshops and independent study projects involving her students and Brown faculty.