Various Writings: Chapter One (2018)

Dion Star, Lizzie Ridout (co-author), Maria Christoforidou (co-author)

About this exposition

VARIOUS WRITINGS: CHAPTER I There are rumours that writing will cease, books will die, the digital eye will take over. Standing at the edge of this precipice we look away from these preoccupations. Instead we look back, investigating the act of writing through systematic consideration, attempting to disregard all preconceptions. This exposition focuses on the gestural and uses Vilém Flusser’s concept of ‘pseudo writing’, to analyse the interaction between the physical actions and the technologies of writing. The first act of Various Writings’ was a response to Vilém Flusser’s text The Gesture of Writing. This text radicalised our ideas on what constitutes research and thematised the conditions of sharing in ‘other’ terms. Flusser meticulously disassembles the act of writing. We follow in his footsteps, using personal mythologies, Oulipian constraints / translations, taxonomies and non-verbal conversations as implements to excavate relics of writing. We collect codes, tools, surfaces; test writing against various technologies and translate it into movements, attitudes and objects.
typeresearch exposition
keywordswriting, flusser, gesture, gestures, pseudo writing, art, oulipo, trialogue
last modified29/08/2018
published inRuukku Studies in Artistic Research
portal issue8.

Ruukku portal comments: 2
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.

Johanna Pentikäinen 28/09/2018 at 10:53

The exposition fits very well to the theme of RUUKKU #8. It explores the nature of writing and thus questions the very essential part of meaning-making processes related to all research and artistic activities.


For me, the most fascinating part is how the exposition questions the ”natural” essence of writing and challenges the viewer to look the theme from different perspectives. For me, the exposition seems to inquire writing from ”various” perspectives to show that there is no such thing as a writing that is some kind of general human-controlled meaning-making process. Instead, there are various context-related ritual-like activities that we may call ”writing” in hope of finding some evidence to trust our own attempts of somehow trying to make sense of the world and communicate with others.


The artistic practice is in focus of this exposition. It clearly develops and communicates the theme. I personally found this piece really alluring and sophisticated, but at the same time, I feel my own limitations as a reviewer because I do not know the context(s) the researchers are from (and the exposition does not provide the information).


In order to be (more) significant in other disciplines, the exposition would need to communicate its setting, methods, and findings in a more explicit way. The written parts of this piece of research are very compact and dense which is partly purposeful and partly means a risk of confusing the reader.


As part of the artwork the compact texts work well and are part of the linear composition of the artwork. The text can be read in the same time than the videos are being showed, and reading and watching both compliment and beautifully disturb each other. The artwork does not need any longer texts to maintain its communicative aspect and composition.


At the same time, I felt that I am missing some worthy information. Who are the artists, and why they work within this theme? What is their background and how they developed their research questions? What are their presuppositions and argument(s)? How they or their artwork communicates with other artworks, theories? How do they justify their epistemology and methodology? In other words, this piece would need to show some awareness of the social aspects of the research conducted in research community, which means being aware of its mode of speech. Not all aspects of these questions are needed in an artwork like this, but at the same time, some mapping would be preferable.


The exposition shows solid understanding of the practices and designs of artistic research, and its overall implementation is noteworthy. However, it needs some improvements in the ways it communicates its research settings and contexts. Hopefully the artists find a way to share the background information with curious readers without violating the current manifestation of their project.

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