Elina Mikkilä


Exposition: Various Writings: Chapter One (16/05/2017) by Dion Star et al.
Elina Mikkilä 28/09/2018 at 10:50

The research positions itself in the context of “the ongoing discourse on the future of writing”. Despite this apparent topicality the debate about the end of the ‘Gutenberg era’ has been around for more than twenty years, with more or less unchanged rhetoric/arguments. It has become a redundant leitmotiv. Most recent statistics (presented during the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017) show that the e-book has failed to convince the reading public. At the same time, social media (and the like) give rise to a powerful ‘second alphabetization’. Thus, the starting premise of the exposition the alleged verge of an abyss, where “the digital eye will take over” – should be revised. Even if – and especially because – it is used as “a fictional perspective”.


As much as I salute the embodied approach as a fresh wind, I find it difficult to disconnect the act of writing from writing as a cultural technique. This latter aspect is implied by the chosen contextual setting and thus to be considered in all of the observations. Lacking founded knowledge of the current debate the references remain on the level of inspirational quotes. This approach might offer a legitimate starting point for artistic practice (indeed, Flusser is mentioned as a source of inspiration). However, such subjective impetuses are redundant, when it comes to academic discourse about digital writing. For instance, given that writing in the digital space is referred to as “secondary orality” (Ong 1982), it would be more adequate and fruitful to analyze McLuhan’s quote (in Obs. 2) in whatever relation to this point of view. Bringing a new perspective into the debate that is still largely based on French poststructuralists’ (notably Barthes’, Foucault’s, Kristeva’s) theories is overdue and welcome. But, in order to break the rules, you have to know them first.


Due to the fact that some of the references are used as topical buzzwords rather than true methodological foundation, the former give the impression of academic ‘name-dropping’. E.g. the constraints imposed by the members of the French experimental group OULIPO on their own literary work have to do with the semantic materiality of language. They were, on the one hand, highly challenging, on the other, ludic in an innovative fashion. (A more fruitful starting point for an embodied involvement with writing would in my view be the Dadaist experiments and those of the Vienna Group.) In the same vein, the visual adaptations of ‘antonymic translation’ all include the interplay of black and white – despite the aim of wanting to avoid dichotomies.


The last chapter ‘(Towards a) Taxonomy’ presents a selection of art works – without even an initial attempt to classify them. Since the artistic practice forms the core of the examination and also the observations are predominantly subjective (with an argumentation that is partly difficult to follow), it is crucial to fulfill the (cl)aim of a methodological taxonomy in order to legitimize the work as artistic research.


The introduction promises both “layering and simultaneity” of the exposition material. This kind of a palimpsestic structure is attained at two occasions, when the (moving) images interact with the text (cf. one of the films in Obs. 1 and Obs. 3). Yet, all in all the different elements remain isolated; the scroll bar in the middle highlighting this separation. There should be a clear aesthetic decision for one of the strategies (in all of its variations) in order to avoid arbitrariness. In my view, the layering approach offers more symbolic potential for an interactive exploration of ‘various writings’ (in line with Homi Bhabha’s eminent concept of ‘hybridity’). Readability is perfectly sustained by the visual material that (dis)appears when clicked on.


Various Writings: Chapter One defines itself as a trialogue. In fact, it has a tripartite structure (possibly owing to the origin of the different elements of the exposition known to the artist-researchers). However, like the ambiguity between separation and simultaneousness in the visual form, the exposition lacks a true exchange between the different parts and/or collaborators. E.g. Obs. 1 depicts an illiterate tribe leader imitating the act of writing. This forms a parallel to the childhood reminiscence in Obs. 3, where the speaker starts to write without knowing how to read. Although I welcome the intention to overcome binary oppositions by using a tripartite structure, a hypertextual presentation would in this case possibly allow for a more fruitful exchange in the Barthesian sense of « un espace à dimensions multiples, où se marient et se contestent des écritures variées » (1984: 65). It would be interesting to see the heterogeneous writings communicate with each other on an aesthetic meta-level.


The deficits owing to a poor knowledge of the discourse about writing as a cultural technique ‘on the move’ could be turned into an innovative strength of the exposition – in line with the call. In Obs. 1, for instance, the elusive chain of subjective associations could be replaced by a conscious aesthetic strategy of absurd argumentation – e.g. by exaggerating observations like “lost in translation” and “people can see through this charade”.


The exposition holds inspiring potential to deepen artistic reflection in line with the literary tradition: Its tripartite structure reminds of the traditional symbolic of fairy tales. Similar to observations 2 and 3 as well as their visual interpretations, the so called ‘pop-literature’ (from the 1990’s onwards) shows affinity to lists. The taxonomy-to-be allows to draw a parallel to the study of literary production aesthetics based on the examination of different manuscript versions. To these established practices the exposition offers an interesting alternative interpretation.


However, in order to attain (even modest) discursive significance, the exposition must overcome its l’art pour l’art temptation by truly engaging in the societal and/or theoretical discourse which is merely alluded to in the present version.