This year the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2020 Conference and Media Arts Festival (July 16-19) was hosted by the University of Central Florida on UCF’s downtown campus in Orlando, Florida.
The speakers and presenters who participate in the conference proper are predominantly scholars and academics working in the humanities, some of whom are themselves practitioners. In this reviewer’s opinion, the talks at ELO can be somewhat erudite. Truth be told, what brings me to the ELO each year is the exhibition track.
From the 2020 Conference website:
Installation pieces are frequently designed to be experienced through a particular interface, and may in some cases take time for a user to traverse. They might include physical elements (we particularly encourage you to think about ways to make use of materiality alongside the digital) or be designed as a solo experience.
It’s precisely that fusing of the material and the digital, the prospect of some newly imagined tangible interface for reading electronic literature, that convinced me to attend this year and the piece that really shined was conceived by Noah Pivnick, recent graduate of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
The work is titled Luna Cycle. It it was a small installation hidden away in a make shift annex off the main exhibition gallery. The room is completely dark save for the title of the piece in white text reflected on a clear pane of glass in a window frame suspended from the ceiling above a table and chair.
Pivnick has made some interesting choices. This is no branching narrative. There is no intricate web of links between and among various passages hidden beneath the screen. There’s nothing to click, nothing to tap, no explicit choices to be made.
The artist’s statement includes the following:
The piece is meant to evoke the withering of a relationship over time using cycles of repetition punctuated by subtle shifts in narrative tone, and to have those shifts seep through the screen subliminally each time the reader passes through the loop.
Repetition is a tricky prospect in any narrative, especially so in the genre of electronic literature. But here it works. The loop serves as a kind of narrative resignation. It reinforces the story of two people experiencing a relationship in decay who nonetheless still clearly love one another.
Much has been said about electronic fiction laking a clear sense of progression and an intuitive sense of navigation. Unlike longer works of text-based electronic narrative, Luna Cycle is perhaps a ten minute experience in total. Without giving away too much, it’s fair to say the reader’s choice to walk away from the piece actually serves the narrative.
Behind the scenes, there’s been some contention between the more established digital exhibition-artists with works of high production value and the smaller, less well known experimental writer/designers. The former want their work shown in traditional, formal gallery spaces. Since those spaces are expensive and limited in capacity, this means opening the exhibition to only a few submissions. Which is a shame. One can only imagine were there more pieces like Luna Cycle engaging thoughtfully with the intersection between form, narrative, interaction and interface.