This new book collates my research into the history and language of meteorology with current thinking about data storage and climate change. Archival material from the Met Office Archive and Library in Exeter has been studied and sifted, along with classical, medieval, and Victorian sources, including, in particular, Luke Howard’s classic essay On the Modifications of Clouds, first published in 1803. This research material is presented as a sequence of texts and images, acting both as a primer to the ideas behind the project and as a document of its movement between formats, from the data centre to the illuminated screen, from the live performance to the printed page.
In his foreword, media theorist Jussi Parikka, author of A Geology of Media, describes the multi-modality of The Gathering Cloud project as “a series of material transformations made visible through a media history executed as digital collage and print publication, hendecasyllabic verse, and critical essay”.
In her afterword, poet Lisa Robertson, author of The Weather, describes this iterative compositional process in quite another way: “…whatever gathers things together whatever gathers people together and thinking together given the great long whooshing passage of time wind economies technologies believes and whatever gathers a sentence together and whatever a poem is both physical and mysterious and so we wish to read…”
Many thanks to Jussi and Lisa, to Uniformbooks editor Colin Sackett, to NEoN curators Sarah Cook and Donna Holford-Lovell, to Chris Meade and Jim Pope at the New Media Writing Prize, and to Claire Trévien at Sabotage Reviews.
I’m pleased as punch to report that my hybrid print and web-based work The Gathering Cloud has been shortlisted as an editor’s pick for the the Saboteur Awards 2017. This news came as a complete surprise to me, via email this morning. I couldn’t be more delighted.
Now in their 7th year, the Saboteur Awards celebrate indie literature in the UK in all its forms, from spoken word shows to novellas, via collaborative work. Nearly 2,200 people nominated this year. The four most nominated works in each category have made it into the shortlist, as well as a work selected by one of the Saboteur editors (as indicated by a * by their name). The idea is for each of the editors to put the spotlight on a work that would be unlikely to make the shortlist otherwise but which they believe deserves some attention. My thanks to Saboteur editor Claire Trévien for slipping The Gathering Cloud into the wildcard category.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In more recent works, I have turned my acquisitive attention toward the appropriation of literary texts.
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.
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.
The event will feature Rob Sherman exploring themes arising from his research into the Franklin expedition of 1845-6, Nancy Campbell (artist and writer, whose latest book ITOQQIPPOQ is included in the exhibition Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage on now at the British Library), and novelist Kate Pullinger.
Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual events, locals, persons or texts are entirely intentional. These notes conflate and confabulate characters, facts, and forms of narrative accounts of sea voyages into the unknown North undertaken over the past 2340 years or so. The ever-shifting computer-generated portion of this narrative is composed from fragments of stories of fanciful, fluid, and quite possibly fictional floating places described or imagined in such diverse works as Tacitus, Agricola (97-98), Hakluyt, Voyages and Discoveries (1589–1600), and Eugene Field, Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1889). The characters of Owl and Girl are borrowed from Edward Leer’s Victorian nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussy Cat (1871). In my version, a girl most serious, most adventurous, most determined and her lazy friend the owl set out, set sail, sail away toward a strange sea in a boat, craft, raft of pea-, bottle-, lima-bean- or similar shade of green. The cartographic collage they voyage through is a confusion of islands and soundings from Scotia Bay and the South Orkney Islands (1967), and my own photographs from Nova Scotia (2008-2011). Of the horizontally scrolling texts which annotate this mythical, implausible, impossible voyage toward seas unknown, the northern lights, the fountain of youth, the text in grey which begins “7 May: departed from Dartmouth” is an erasure poem based on The second voyage attempted by Mr John Davis with others, for the discovery of the Northwest Passage (1586). The Morse Code quotes a line from a Peter Høeg novel. All the other notes are composed by me. By me, of course, I mean the girl.