Site-specific digital literature: ensemble and interaction in new contexts

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The fast-changing technological environment characteristic of the digital era offers new creative and publishing opportunities for writers and artists. This study looks at one of the possibilities the writer can explore, namely site-specific digital literature. Site-specific digital art and literature are multimodal creative works located in a particular place and experienced through digital technology. The article offers a broad overview of site-specific digital art and literature in the context of technological development; describes an interdisciplinary project which explored the possibilities of the literary form in practical terms; and discusses a multimodal ensemble for site-specific digital literature that was developed in the above-mentioned study.

The site-bound nature of site-specific digital creative work implies a close connection between place, artist, technology, content and the reader. Not only is there a strong connection between place and the writer or artist and artwork (text), but the reader’s physical presence, participation and social relationships are also deemed to be obvious in site-specific projects (Sheller 2014:199). New possibilities for creation, publication, reception, immersive experiences and interaction are offered in this manner. In light of the far-reaching impact which mobile and geospatial technology has already had on society in a very short time, creative work that makes use of this technology can provide insight into the evolving relationship between people, technology, literature and space. In this dynamic environment, there is once again a search for approaches and critical language to understand the developmental narrative forms and practices, to describe them and to theorise about them (Page en Thomas 2011:3, 8, 13; Farman 2014a:535).

In order to explore the new creative and publishing possibilities, an interdisciplinary practice-based research space was created for experimenting with and understanding site-specific digital literature. Byderhand (“At hand”) 2015 was presented as part of the word art programme at the Clover Aardklop National Arts Festival in Potchefstroom and was marketed as an interactive reading feast. Byderhand 2015 may be regarded as an experimental publication system because the project entailed the conceptualisation, production, execution, mediation and reception of site-specific digital literature. Through the involvement of diverse authors, artists and programmers, a wide variety of multimodal texts was created and published on a platform specially created for the project. Readers used their smart phones to scan QR codes to gain access to the texts.

The project consisted of four subprojects, each with different genres and target groups. The anchor project, Tuinverse (Garden Verses), was presented in the NWU Botanical Garden. The Tuinverse installation consisted of poems and children’s verses by 15 poets. The verses, which were written with the garden in mind and read by the poets themselves, were supplemented with various forms of processing – including kinetic typographical animations, musical arrangements and programming for an interactive poem. Rusplekstories (Haven Stories) was presented in the Book Oasis, a temporary bookstore and conference space for the duration of the arts festival. This subproject consisted of short stories and children’s stories (set in Potchefstroom) by 30 writers and illustrators. The children’s stories, which also contained illustrations, were presented in a digital picture book format. The target group of the Dwaalverhaal (Wandering Story)at the Technical High School in Potchefstroom was high school learners. Hans du Plessis wrote the story and developed it further into an interactive follow-the-story, with the help of creative writing students and the production team. The story, which is divided into eight episodes and deals with the developing friendship between two girls, takes place on the school grounds; the word text was combined with short video clips which portrayed incidents in the story. The Taxi Strips were combined with the festival shuttle route. Khaya Mtshali designed a set of 15 characters and QR codes for the characters were placed in each shuttle bus, as well as at the bus stops. This subproject was combined with social media.

The question that is investigated in this article is how the interaction and ensemble within this experimental publication system for site-specific digital literature can be understood and depicted so that it can be of value for (i) the conceptualisation and presentation of site-specific digital literature projects and (ii) the understanding, description and analysis of multimodal site-specific digital literature.

For this purpose, a multimodal ensemble for site-specific literature was compiled, based on Miller’s (2011) key elements of digital media, Kress and Van Leeuwen’s (2003) multimodal theory of communication, and Page’s (2010) multimodal ensemble for narrative analysis. Three dimensions of the composition and orchestration are distinguished in the proposed multimodal ensemble for site-specific digital literature, namely: (i) the components of site-specific digital literature; (ii) communicative practices and technical processes; and (iii) immersive experiences. The six distinct (but not divisible) components of site-specific digital literature are infrastructure, devices, text, body, physical environment and experience interface. Each of these components is present in the design, production and distribution of site-specific digital literature and should also be taken into account in analysing site-specific digital literature. To indicate the dynamic, moving, processual and repetitive nature of site-specific digital literature, the ensemble is presented in a spiral form. The technical processes and cultural forms identified by Miller (2011:12) with regard to digital culture are part of the digital environment in which digital literature functions and are thus an integral part of its conceptualisation and design. These technical processes and cultural forms are not only assumed, however, but they are also actively created by the communicative practices of discourse, design, production, distribution and interpretation. The active participation of the reader implies that the different components are actively connected and this results in a unique reading experience. This participatory and immersive experience is achieved by the ensemble of all the dimensions and agents in the specific site-specific project.

The multimodal ensemble for site-specific digital literature can be used to conceptualise, design, produce and distribute site-specific digital literature projects with consideration of the local context and media ecology. The ensemble can also be used for understanding, describing and analysing multimodal site-specific digital literature – for a project as a whole, or for subprojects, or for specific texts.

Keywords: Byderhand; creative writing; mobile literature; multimodal ensemble; publication; site-specific digital literature; technology

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Plekspesifieke digitale literatuur: samespel en wisselwerking in nuwe kontekste

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