The Gathering Cloud Wins The New Media Writing Prize 2016

My recent hybrid print- and web-based work The Gathering Cloud won the Main Prize at the New Media Writing Prize 2016. Winners were announced at the New Media Writing Prize Award Event, which took place at Bournemouth University 18 January 2017. The award, now in its seventh year, saw entries from around the world from across a variety of different styles and media including poetry, non-fiction, digital novels, web-based works, and trans-media pieces.

The judges admired Carpenter’s grasp of digital and non-digital elements, and found her piece, about the relationship between the digital and the natural, beautiful and engaging.
The Literary Platform

Research for The Gathering Cloud began in 2015 when I submitted a proposal to the inaugural Dot Award for Digital Literature, sponsored by if:book. I proposed to create a new web-based work in response to the storms which battered South West England in early 2014, resulting in catastrophic flooding in Somerset and the destruction of the seawall and rail line at Dawlish. Reading the news in the months after these storms, I was struck by how difficult it is to evoke through the materiality of language a force such as wind which we can only see indirectly through its affect. I began to explore weather, and wind in particular, in all its written forms.

Winning the Dot Award enabled me to explore the intertwined topics of language, weather, and climate change in a freer and more open-ended way that I might otherwise have been able to. I looked through mountains of private weather diaries held at the Met Office Library and Archive in Exeter. One thing I figured out pretty early one is that it’s hard to study only one kind of weather. On one single page of a weather diary it is possible to see noted thunder, lightening, lilacs, a meteor, and hyacinths in full flower.

Detail of a private weather diary held at the Met Office Archive in Exeter
Detail of a private weather diary held at the Met Office Archive in Exeter

During the first week of August 2016 I was a principal performer in the South West Poetry Tour, along with Steven Fowler, Camila Nelson, John Hall, Mattie Spence, and Anabel Banks. Each night we performed new works written in collaboration. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to generate new writing on weather. In my collaboration with John Hall (video) I used classical texts on weather as raw material, and in my collaboration with Anabel Banks (video), we worked with two texts on clouds. She drew upon Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide, written in 2007, and I used Luke Howard’s classic Essay on the Modifications of Clouds, written in 1803. Howard was the first to standardise the names of clouds that we still use today. Anabel added one tricky constraint to our collaboration, that we write in hendecasyllabic — eleven syllable lines.

In September 2016 I was commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival in Dundee to create a new web-based work in response to the theme “The Spaces We’re In”.

Physical urban space and virtual information space are inseparably intertwined. How does being digital change our sense of our spatial surroundings? Can we play in or animate the hybrid or glitched spaces in-between? Is there negative space in cyberspace? […] NEoN will interrogate the materials that make up our built environment – from air and glass, to cardboard and concrete to circuits and steel – and the designed devices we use to navigate it. As buildings and bridges seem to emerge readymade from the screen to real space, NEoN’s programme will help us figure out how ‘the digital’ helps us through the transition, or at least helps us to understand and critique it.
NEoN Digital Arts Festival 2016

When the festival’s curators told me about the theme I knew immediately that I wanted to call attention to the environmental impact of so-called ‘cloud’ storage. I’ve thought a lot about the complex relationship between biological and digital memory in previous work. The scale of the digital cloud is too vast to think about in terms of the body. I had to think bigger, so I turned to the clouds in the sky.

I decided to continue to build upon the structure of Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modifications of Clouds, to incorporate more recent texts on cloud storage and media theory, and to stick with the hendecasyllabic constraint. The resulting work, The Gathering Cloud launched to a crowd of 350 people at a Pecha Kucha Night in Dundee on 8 November 2016, the night of the US elections. I hadn’t intended for the title to wind up sounding quite so ominous, but I do think that now more than ever we need to find ways of talking about the enormity of climate change in human terms that we can understand and act upon.

Many thanks to everyone at the Informatics Lab at the Met Office, all the performers on the South West Poetry Tour, the curators and staff at NEoN Digital Arts, and everyone involved with the Dot Award and the New Media Writing Prize, with special thanks to Michael Saunby, Kay Lovelace, Chirs Meade, and Jerome Fletcher.

Further reading:

NEoN speaks with JR Carpenter

JR Carpenter takes the big prize at the 2016 New Media Writing Prize Awards

The Gathering Cloud shortlisted for the New Media Writing Prize 2016

I’m thrilled to announce that my recent hybrid print and web-based work The Gathering Cloud has been shortlisted for the New Media Writing Prize 2016. Winners will be announced at the New Media Writing Prize Award Ceremony, which will get underway at 18.00 on 18 January 2017 at Bournemouth University.

As it happens, I was invited many months ago to give the keynote address that evening. The tile of my talk will be: Things Rarely Turn Out How I Intend them To. Now truer than ever. Admission is free and all are welcome. Register Here.

The Gathering Cloud - a new hybrid print and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter
The Gathering Cloud – a new hybrid print and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter

Of The Gathering Cloud, media theorist Jussi Parikka Writes:

J.R.Carpenter’s new hybrid print and web-based work The Gathering Cloud unfolds as fittingly dreamy, beautiful piece with hypertextual hendecasyllabic verses that attach solidly to the undergrounds of contemporary data clouds.

Like her earlier work, it engages in a contemporary that is entangled between the past and the now. The topic of the cloud becomes the vehicle that drives the work, from Luke Howard’s “Essay on the Modifications of Clouds” (1803) to querying the environmental significance of any word, any seemingly fleeting moment captured as image, uploaded, and stored on the cloud as part of the transactions of data that are the humming backbone of our digital poetics.

~ Jussi Parikka, Machinology

The Gathering Cloud was commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival, Dundee, UK, 9-13 November 2016. Many thanks to the curators Sarah Cook and Donna Holford-Lovell.

Further reading: NEoN speaks with JR Carpenter

View the work online here: The Gathering Cloud

View the full New Media Writing Prize 2016 Shortlist

The Gathering Cloud

The Gathering Cloud is a new hybrid print and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival, which takes place in Dundee, UK, 9-13 November 2016.

This work aims to address the environmental impact of so-called ‘cloud’ computing through the oblique strategy of calling attention to the materiality of the clouds in the sky. Both are commonly perceived to be infinite resources, at once vast and immaterial; both, decidedly, are not.

Fragments from Luke Howard’s classic “Essay on the Modifications of Clouds” (1803) as well as more recent online articles and books on media and the environment are pared down into hyptertextual hendecasyllabic verses. These are situated within surreal animated gif collages composed of images materially appropriated from publicly accessible cloud storage services.

The Gathering Cloud
The Gathering Cloud – a new hybrid print and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter

The cognitive dissonance between the cultural fantasy of cloud storage and the hard facts of its environmental impact is bridged, in part, through the constant evocation of animals: A cumulus cloud weighs one hundred elephants. A USB fish swims through a cloud of cables. Four million cute cat pics are shared each day. A small print iteration of “The Gathering Cloud” shared through gift, trade, mail art, and small press economies further confuses boundaries between physical and digital, scarcity and waste.

The Gathering Cloud
The print iteration of The Gathering Cloud

The Gathering Cloud was commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival, Dundee, UK, 9-13 November 2016. Many thanks to the curators Sarah Cook and Donna Holford-Lovell. Portions of this text were first performed at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution during the South West Poetry Tour, 1-8 August 2016. Thanks and curses to Annabel Banks for sugesting the hendecasyllabic constraint. Thanks to Kay Lovelace, Rachel McCarthy, Michael Saunby, and the fine folks at the Informatics Lab at the Met Office for tips, tricks, and discussions on code and the weather. And thanks to Jerome Fletcher for everything else.

Further reading: NEoN speaks with JR Carpenter

View the work online here: The Gathering Cloud

And the Dot Award for New Media Writing goes to… A Picture of Wind

Last Wednesday 20 January 2016 I attended the New Media Writing Prize Awards Ceremony at Bornemouth University where it was announced that I’ve won the inaugural Dot Award. This new annual prize sponsored by if:book UK, a charitable company exploring the future of the book and digital possibilities for literature. As well as funding the New Media Writing Prize, if:book set up the Dot Award in memory of writer and designer Dorothy Meade. The Dot Award aims to support writers using the web in imaginative and collaborative ways. The prize is awarded not for a finished project but rather for an idea, a proposal for project which, in the judges’ opinion, shows promise. The prize itself comprises £500, technical and creative support, and promotion of the completed work.

I am delighted to have won this inaugural Dot Award on the basis of a proposal to create a new web-based (tablet compatible) piece called This is A Picture of Wind. This work will expand upon a short text written for a print anthology due out in Canada later this year. This text was written in response to the storms which battered South West England in early 2014, resulting in catastrophic flooding in Somerset and the destruction of the seawall and rail line at Dawlish in Devon. Following the news in the months after these storms, I was struck by the paradox presented by attempts to evoke through the materiality of language a force such as wind which we can only see indirectly through its affect. I began to explore weather, and wind in particular, in all its written forms. I have been collecting language pertaining to wind from current news items as well from as older almanacs, private weather diaries, and past forecasts held at the Met Office Library and Archive in Exeter. I have also been studying classical ideas of weather. For example, in his epic poem De rerum natura, the Roman poet Lucretious writes: “The wind burst open the cloud, and out falls that fiery whirlwind which is what we in our traditional language term a thunderbolt.”

Detail from a weather diary held in the Met Office Archives
Detail from a weather diary from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 1874, held in the Met Office Archives in Exeter, Devon.

This award will help me develop a simple yet stable web interface to combine these diverse archival and classical materials with my own quotidian narrative of the storm events of early 2014, live weather data and maps, and text scraped from Twitter. I do not know yet exactly what form the final work will take, only that it will attempt to address climate change by picturing through language and data the absences left by wind.

Notes Very Necessary – new work published in The New River

Notes Very Necessary is a web-based multi-media collage essay co-created by UK-based playwright, director, and dramaturg Barbara Bridger and artist, writer, and researcher J. R. Carpenter.

This new work aims to addresses the inter-related issues of cultural imperialism and climate change by appropriating and remixing images, text, and data generated by centuries imperialist, colonialist, capitalist, and scientific exploration and exploitation in the Arctic. The title is borrowed from an essay called “Instructions and notes very necessary and needful to be observed in the purposed voyage for discovery of a passage eastwards” published in Hakluyt’s Voyages and Discoveries in 1580. This essay, co-authored by the Englishmen Arthur Pet and Charles Jackman, offered detailed instructions on how to conquer new territories by taking copious notes. The proposed voyage eastward, toward the discovery of a Northeast passage to China, hangs In 2015 Barbara Bridger and J. R. Carpenter attempted to follow these instructions by making, finding, and faking notes, images, data, and diagrams online and reconfiguring them into a new narrative. The result is a long, horizontally scrolling, highly variable visual and textual collage essay charting the shifting melting North.

Notes Very Necessary || J. R. Carpenter & Barbara Bridger
Screenshot of Notes Very Necessary || J. R. Carpenter & Barbara Bridger

Notes Very Necessary was commissioned for conjunctions : experiments in collaboration, a collection of interdisciplinary essays co-edited by Jill Talbot and Eric LeMay, published in The New River: A Journal of Digital Writing & Art in December 2015.

“In the spirit of the essay to test new forms and practices, this collection brings together work created through collaboration. We asked writers to collaborate with other artists or artisans in the co-creation of an essay that, in some way, pushed the genre beyond words.” Jill Talbot and Eric LeMay

On Sea Birds, Castaways, and Phantom Islands off the Coast of Newfoundland

As a Visiting Fellow at the Eccles Centre for North American Studies at the British Library in London over the past few months I’ve been chasing fleeting references to phantom islands in cartographic and literary depictions of the New World during the sixteenth century. Since the first voyages to the cod-fishing grounds off Newfoundland, there have been reports of an Island of Demons in the region, reputedly inhabited by a curious mixture of wild animals, mythological creatures, evil spirits, and demons. These might sound like tall tales, but in 1542 a young French noblewoman was cast ashore on an island off Newfoundland bearing many of these characteristics, and lived to tell the tale.

In August I gave a talk about this research at the Summer Scholars Seminar Series at the British Library. An expanded version of that talk has been published on the British Library’s American Collection blog: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/americas/2015/10/sea-birds-castaways-and-phantom-islands-off-newfoundland.html

Writing on the Cusp of Becoming Something Else

As an artist and author of both print and digital literature I have made extensive use of archival materials over the past twenty years, incorporating ‘found’ images from old text books and ‘borrowing’ source code from dusty corners of the Web. I will aim to frame these acts of appropriation as contributions to a larger cultural project during Friction and Fiction: IP, Copyright and Digital Futures, a one day symposium taking place at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London 26 September 2015.

The Songs of Maldoror (1869)
Lautréamont, The Songs of Maldoror (1869)

In 1870 Le Compte de Lautréamont famously wrote: “Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps the author’s sentence tight, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea.” In The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, McKenzie Wark observes that Lautréamont “corrects, not back to a lost purity or some ideal form, but toward to a new possibility” (2011 34). In this spirit, let’s use Lautréamont’s expression, but eliminate the false idea of an assumed male author:

“Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps the author’s sentence tight, uses her expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea.” J. R. Carpenter

In the 1920s Lautréamont was re-discovered by the Surrealists, who hailed him as a patron saint. In the early 1950s news broke that some of the most poetic passages of Lautréamont’s most well-known work, The Songs of Maldoror (1869), had been plagiarised from text books. I’d love to say this is where I got the idea from, but I’d been plagiarising text books long before I’d ever heard of Lautréamont.

Hannah Hoch, Bourgeois Wedding Couple (1919)
Hannah Hoch, Bourgeois Wedding Couple (1919)

The Letterist International credited Lautréamont with the discovery of a method they termed détournement. To détourne is to detour, to lead astray, to appropriate — not a literary form, as in a style, a poetics, or a genre, but rather a material form, as in a sentence, a book, a film, a canvas. In this material approach the Letterists lagged decades behind the Dadaist, Constructivist, and Surrealist collage and photomontage artists of the 1920s.

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (1934)
Joseph Cornell, Untitled (1934)

I went to art school. I came to writing through the material practices of photographing, photocopying, cutting with scissors, and pasting with glue. Hannah Hoch was my hero. Her lover Raoul Hausmann was pretty great too. I was mesmerised by the strange relations between image and text in the collage novels of Max Ernst (1891–1976), as was another of my art school icons, Joseph Cornell. At the recent exhibition of Cornell‘s work at the Royal Academy in London I was delighted to discover that Cornell had appropriated a black and white image of a girl balancing a stack of suitcases on her head from the front page of my website.

J. R. Carpenter, Luckysoap.com
J. R. Carpenter, Luckysoap.com

One of my earliest web-based works, Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls was first published in a literary journal in 1995, but I remained unsatisfied with the fixed order of the story. In 1996 I made a non-linear HTML version in which readers could move through the story their own way. Most of the images and subtexts come from a civil engineering handbook. The deadpan technical descriptions of dikes, groins and mattress work add perverse sexual overtones to the otherwise chaste first-person narrative. Between the diagrammatic images and the enigmatic texts, a meta-narrative emerges wherein the absurd and the inarticulate, desire and loss may finally co-exist.

Environmental Geologic Guide to Cape Cod National Seashore (1979)
Environmental Geologic Guide to Cape Cod National Seashore (1979)

I built The Cape in 2005, but some of the sentences had been kicking around in my brain since the early 1990s. I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with them until came across a used copy of an Environmental Geologic Guide to Cape Cod National Seashore published by the University of Massachusetts in 1979, around the time of my one and only trip to Cape Cod to visit a grandmother I barely remember. I used photographs, charts, graphs and maps from the Geologic Guide as stand-ins for non-existent family photos — a surrogate family album. I used DHTML timelines produce a silent, jumpy, staggering effect reminiscent of the Super-8 home movies in which I’d always longed to star. The Cape has since been published in the Electronic Literature Collection Volume One, under a Creative Commons licence, and as a zine, in which images from the Geologic Guide mingle with diagrams appropriated from children’s text books.

Zine iterations of web-based works by J. R. Carpenter
Zine iterations of web-based works by J. R. Carpenter

In more recent works, I have turned my acquisitive attention toward the appropriation of literary texts.

In …and by islands I mean paragraphs (2013), small paragraphs generated by JavaScript draw upon variable strings containing fragments of literary texts harvested from a vast corpus of essays, plays, poems, novels, and travel writing on the topic of islands, including a number of works which have already borrowed from each other. My aim is not to claim these fragments of literary works as my own, but rather, to make their inner workings more overt. For example, whilst the title of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Crusoe in England” (1971) makes clear reference to Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe (1719), nowhere within the poem does Bishop acknowledge that the textual topography of her Crusoe’s island borrows heavily from Charles Darwin’s descriptions of the Galapagos Islands in The Voyage of the Beagle (1838), a book which Bishop admired. And why should she?

J. R. Carpenter, ...and by islands I mean paragraphs (2013)
J. R. Carpenter, …and by islands I mean paragraphs (2013)

McKenzie Wark argues: “For past works to become resources for the present requires… their appropriation as a collective inheritance, not as private property” (2011: 37). In …and by islands I mean paragraphs I have clasped the authors’ sentences tight. I have used expressions from both Bishop and Darwin. I have eliminated the false idea that either text is fixed, advocating instead for the bright idea that literature is our and we should use it however we want.

Incorporation of appropriation, variation, and transformation into the process of composition results in writing that is always on the cusp of becoming something else.

AUTO_MATIC_BIO_GRAPHIC

I will present a workshop tomorrow at In the Regions of Utopia, the second symposium of the Imaginaries of the Future network, taking place in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, 28-30 June 2015.

This workshop facilitates an interrogation of place-based identity by calling into question the persistent notion that ‘home’ is necessarily a place. Further, this workshop challenges the inward-facing tendencies of autobiography by employing a computer program to create a collectively authored quasi-autobiographical narrative which is at once dynamic, inclusive, variable, and provisional.

This workshop begins with an exercise prompted by a quotation from Anne-Marie MacDonald’s novel As the Crow Flies (2003), in which the author suggests we may come from events rather than places:

If you move around all your life, you can’t find where you come from on a map. All those places where you lived are just that: places. You don’t come from any of them; you come from a series of events. And those are mapped in memory. Contingent, precarious events, without the counterpane of place to muffle the knowledge of how unlikely we are. Almost not born at every turn. Without a place, events slow-tumbling through time become your roots. Stories shading into one another. You come from a plane crash. From a war that brought your parents together.

With this example in mind, participants are invited to complete the sentence: “I come from…” with statements pertaining to events rather than places. “I come from a plane crash.” “I come from a war that brought my parents together.”

Participants are then invited to complete additional stock autobiographical sentences in ways which challenge the primacy of place. For example, the sentence: “I was born…” may describe a time rather than a place. “I was born on the night shift.”

Each question is asked several times, allowing participants’ responses to riff off each other.

The responses are entered into a computer program as they are given. This program randomly selects one response to each statement and outputs a story. Individual participants’ responses are thereby shuffled into a collectively authored quasi-autobiographical narrative which may be endlessly refreshed. The notion of autobiographical veracity further undermined by leaving key gender signifiers such as Mother/Father to computational chance.

Participants will be invited to speak these narratives aloud in various ways (separately, as a group, in a round). As we consider what sort of stories emerge from this generative, variable, collective, event-driven mode of autobiographical authorship, we will propose new questions by altering the source code. How does our story shift if the statement “I wish…” is changed to “I need…”? How does our conception of regionality or locality shift if we think in terms of coming from shared events rather than places? As we experience events unfolding in real time online, how might we come from a plane crash in Manhattan, or a protest in Hong Kong, or the Occupy movement?

The source code of the AUTO_MATIC_BIO_GRAPHIC program is based on a 1k story generator created by Nick Montfort in 2008. Examples of stories generated by a previous iteration of the AUTO_MATIC_BIO_GRAPHIC program were included in my print book GENERATION[S], published by Traumawien in 2010. Feel free to download the source code and replace the variables with your own life events.

Walks from City Bus Routes – new work published in The New River

Walks from City Bus Routes is a web-based computer-generated guide ‘book’ which perpetually proposes plausible yet practically impossible walking routes through the city of Edinburgh and its environs using JavaScript developed by Caden Lovelace and images and text culled from a City of Edinburgh Transport Map published by the Edinburgh Geographical Institute in the 1940s and a pamphlet called Walks from City Bus Routes published by Edinburgh City Transport in the late 1950s.

Walks from City Bus Routes || J. R. Carpenter

Walks from City Bus Routes has been published in the Spring 2015 issue of The New River – a long-standing online journal of digital writing & art founded by Edward Falco with help from Len Hatfield in 1996. The New River posts new issues twice a year in December and May, and is currently hosted by Virginia Tech’s Center for Digital Discourse and Culture. This Spring 2015 issue is edited by Arian Katsimbras & Emily Dhatt and contains work by Alan Bigelow, J. R. Carpenter, Chris Joseph, J.P. Sipilä, Aaron Oldenburg, Jody Zellen.

Readers keen on web-based bookish-drifting-wander-walking may also be interested in Wanderkammer: A Walk Through texts, a web-based collection of hyperlinked quotations from great writing on walking. Wanderkammer first appeared Walk poems: A series of reviews of walking projects edited by Louis Bury Corey Frost published on Jacket2 in 2011.

A Handmade Web

I’m headed to Bath Thursday 26 March 2015 to participate in a one-day symposium on Slow Media hosted by the Media Futures Research Centre at Bath Spa University’s Corsham Court campus. I will be speaking about a A Handmade Web. The term ‘handmade’ usually refers to objects made by hand or by using simple tools rather than machines. The result may be homely — as in a child’s clay ashtray — or exquisite — as in a pair of bespoke brogues. I will evoke the term ‘handmade web’ throughout this presentation to refer to web pages coded by hand rather than by software; web pages made and maintained by individuals rather than by businesses or corporations; web pages which are provisional, temporary, or one-of-a-kind; web pages which challenge conventions of reading, writing, design, ownership, privacy, security, or identity.

I’ve made a hyperlinked version of my presentation available online here: http://luckysoap.com/statements/handmadeweb.html

Fishes & Flying Things || J. R. Carpenter, 1995

The above image is from Fishes & Flying Things, my first web-based project, Fishes & Flying Things, made entirely by hand in 19995.

For more information on Slow Media, see: The Origin of Slow Media: Early Diffusion of a Cultural Innovation through Popular and Press Discourse, 2002-2010, by Jennifer Rauch (2011).

Slow Media, Thursday 26th March 2015, Bath Spa University, UK

Slow Media Symposium Draft Programme (PDF)

#slowmediabathspa