Reading: Mark Amerika

41st Annual UND Writers Conference:
"Mind the Gap: Print, New Media, Art"
March 24, 2010

© 2010 Mark Amerika and the University of North Dakota

[Video of this reading is also available.]

[Please note, unless otherwise specified, poetry is presented with published line breaks:
for proper spacing and formatting, please consult printed source.]

Crystal Alberts: ...I have the standard announcements. Please turn your cell phones off. Thank you. And, of course if you're going to take pictures please do so within the first few minutes. I have a couple of other announcements. At 8 o'clock tonight Cecelia Condit will be talking about her work at the North Dakota Museum of Art, and at 6 p.m., we have a film screening in the Lecture Bowl. Also, as many of you know, we've been doing this for now 41 years, but what you may not know is that we don't have an endowment. So, we fundraise every year and we are currently doing that again for the John Little Memorial Endowment and so we have a raffle for an iPod, and we have t-shirts, and we have a silent auction for a piece of art. So, if you're feeling like supporting the Writers Conference go on out and talk to Kathy at the table. Along those lines, a couple of other thank you's: particularly The North Valley Arts Council, The Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, and The High Plains Reader. And now, without further ado, Brian Maxwell.

[Audience applause]

Brian Maxwell: Hello. Hello. I guess I haven't used a microphone in a while I apologize. Okay, I'll try and make this quick and I'd like to speak to the theme of the conference a little bit. I'll be the first to admit that, at times, I'm a little bit more than intimidated when it comes to digital art or new media. Maybe, because it took me so very long it seems to read a print book correctly with any sense of aplomb. I'm also at a slight disadvantage it seems cuz I'm kind of caught in the middle of the technology explosion. I fully embrace the potential and the plausibility of the digital age, but I also have a rather slow computer and sometimes it seems like a rather slow brain when it comes to new stuff. So I often find myself sort of skeptical, but for reasons that most people do. It's usually fear of the unknown, fear of the unfamiliar. However, the magic for me in reading, anything at all is always been the moment when I look up. I realize that the world inside the book and the world around me are the same and at once not the same. That there exists a wonderful sense of play, between the possible points of reference, and the logic and emotion and sensual understanding and the comprehension and the confusion. All these elements are part of the communicative process, the process of creation and of connection. So, I've read Mark America's print work, enjoyed the experience of his novels. I found many of the same sorts of pleasures in his digital artwork as well. Even though I had to work a little bit harder to get there for the reasons previously stated. What struck me most about the digital projects were the similarities of experience. As I work my way through Grammatron, for instance, or phon:e:me, I constantly end up reaching places where the world created overtakes my stubbornness, or my insufficiencies as a reader and all these problems, personal problems most of them, are usually replaced by a voluntary surrender, as I'm able to submit to an imagination that is every bit as vivid and powerful and precise as any of the print books that I have pretended to master. And you have been lucky enough in his work especially to experience a sense of wonder, a sense of awe and a sense of magic. So, in speaking to the theme of the conference, if we are gonna mind the gap at all: the gap between traditional and what we might call non-traditional media and art, I think it's well worth our while to go ahead and try to experience it. Cause I know that after I did and after I got over my stubbornness, I was pretty impressed. So without any further ado, Mr. Mark Amerika has been named a Time Magazine 100 innovator. His digital artwork has been shown in museums around the world. He has received art commissions from a number of prestigious organizations. He has published novels, founded the Alt-X Online Network, and received much praise for his various digital projects, which are too many to mention here, so I won't bother. But, please put your hands together and join me in welcoming him today.

[Audience Applause]

Mark Amerika: Thank you. Thank you very much Brian. Can everybody hear me okay? Great. It's a pleasure to be here actually and I, I'd like to start off by thanking the UND Writers Conference and everybody who does support it for keeping this tradition alive for 41 years. I've known about this conference for a very long time, and I'm very honored to be here. And, also a special thank you of course to Crystal Alberts for her wonderful coordination and the invitation to partake in this event. Like I say, I'm very honored to be here today and to share a little bit of my work with you. I thought of what I would do is kind of mind the gap by hybridizing my presentation to you today so that, so that what I'll do is I'll take you on kind of a personal narrative, a little trip here in time. I'll go back in time with you too, meaning that I'll read an excerpt from my first novel, which opens with a story called "Village Tripping." I'll just review an opening section to that. I actually published it back in 1986, so that gives you some historical perspective on it. The novel, this is my first published short story, the novel eventually got published in 1993 as part of the launch of the Black Ice book series, which is an imprint of Fiction Collective 2 or FC2, which is now located at the University of Alabama Press. So here is what the imprint looks like. And let me read a little bit of it to you right now. This is actually the opening pages.

niceties niceties nice cities (don't exist) meanstreets

falling headfirst into the pavement our buoy of boys
cracks his numskull and turns more nonsensical
derivation inside/out & backwards (summer
salt wintry peppering)

Tuesday was okay Thursday he had a plan Friday he was out roaming the meancitystreets Saturday he slept late Sunday he wrote a little Monday he woke up feeling like blowing it all away Monday night's marginalia took him over soon he was Tuesday morning looking for a new gig the plan had decentered too bad for our buoy of boys his nuclear family holocaust was hollow and cost a bundle to repair the damage was irreparable or so it turned out so he began shooting stars with speed pretty soon he had a gig as a bagman for a CBGB shitband everything was going supergroovy I thought I saw him dead on Astor Place but that was some space chick from Missouri Amber was her name she had been dumped near the great cube the rolling spinning turning statuesque personification of a geometric gentrified neighborly transmogrification her heart was stone her mind was stoned Lois E. Sider, Lois Sider, and her kid sis Apple Sider say that Amber used to whore around Saint Mark's Church it's really too much I'm gonna forget it Saint Marx, with an x, was a bad man or so I hear them calling

brain fried and scrambled maybe sunny side up sweet disposition honey can you take out the garbage so I go for a walk where to take this shit (I wonder) if only words could recycle Too late for a bold cure gotta face reality The Ecocycle Truck rides by I start chasing it Here take this I throw myself into the truck it turns me into blueprint

now I'm feeling archtectonic I go to a bar The Grass Roots drink a tonic grease my hair with yet still more tonic all I need now is a relatively mild form of detoxification I can hear them calling me by name Saint Marx they yell I'm not a Marx I call back I'm an animal well Mark the truth comes out Saturday creeps into the bedroom like a nun in a bikini asking me where do I find Saint Charles Place I say New Orleans you can't miss it all of the parades go down it on Mardi Gras the trolley rides up and down it you can't miss it but I do miss it and now it's late March one month too late never enough Sundays Friday was the beginning of the workweek I wrote a nuclear education piece called "Unclear" Saturday I took off for a little eco ramification principal player in the ensuing garbage scene was Me plus Apple Sider and oh yeah a cameo by our buoy of boys what's his name I forget doesn't matter fact is he slept late overslept yes so very much unlike him usually the kind to get up on time eat a good breakfast make it to the workspace start honking on the tele tele-ing everybody that he's alive and well and doing the dirty deed and dog eat dogging and do or dying and driving the Big One home jeez I can't wait for Wednesday


So that splits into another riff and so the riffs are... You're going to start picking up on all the work, throughout the different media, how the riffs that I write and that I compose using at first more kind of like poetic language and then eventually prose and then all kinds of sounds and images and code works, as well, oscillate between what I think of as like a spontaneous or automatic writing style and a more remixological I call it collage assemblage style, which I spoke to a little bit before on the panel. So I'm always sort of alternating between those two stylistic tendencies. This one is almost like a, the next section, which comes immediately after what I just read and yet is still part of the same narrative. Something like an homage to William Burroughs and his literary cut up method.


Alkaloid Boy meets The End Is Nearing—The End Is Nearing is all caps as a character—Alkaloid Boy meets The End Is Nearing and reevaluates his current position. Flinging out long scroll he goes over the balance sheet mesmerized with its condition. Movement ratio untouched unencumbered transient feedback loop outside the vicious circle no hawks to ward off no chastity belt to slow him down. Meanwhile the growing Big Death hid away inside the Death Terminal's central location computer virus spreading facts sheet distorted "just when you thought you had your program under control you find out that it has a mind of its own." Somewhere in the neutral column lay Blue Sky. She's more than the selfadhesive facility that keeps your body broken in and mind mattered. She's the loose canon free whistle love hassle-free blowjob nuke warm tomb mama womb mama. It all spreads out everlasting hope peace love care. You can see it in her face. The way she does her hair.

Ancient rock star from other planetary consciousness in a time still not known to Man. Alkaloid Boy growing into the rough discursive passages of The Black Death and its Terminal Blues perception. No gloom and doom here boys. Just blatant disregard for the mutual laughter easygoing pyrotechnics love's alabaster wings serenade symposium. None of it. The upper of the Upper feigning heroics getting rich. The lower of the Upper poorly performing cheap imitations of their hierarchical master geniuses. Then the vast middle of Everybody losing it slowly wondering how in the hell slave labor technology turned into the heavy burden. Many clothes draping the monster new technology. Many fashions dining the plates of the masters. Many new plates of pictures shining on the dead reel of the Platonic masters. The genius overload fortified to kill. Blue Sky looking into the Big Sky seeing The Black Death hovering spiritually resounding throughout the heavens Her motor desiring The End Is Nearing while Alkaloid Boy tries to make a comeback. Music videos show the old man balding. His voice whispers soundtrack backlash: "alkaloid boy/ he's very nervous / alkaloid boy / you can see it in his delivery..."

You're here for Youth. Youth is eternal until The Black Death does its final number. Until then it's Youth. Either that or die a slow death of usury. Use. Use and re:use. Re;use and re/fuse, refuse. Isometric exercises compounded by daily withdrawal into isotopic future's realignment clause. Why? Because because because because. Because The Death Terminal's central bank location has videotape information leading to the facts. Never mind the computer virus slow death take over. Never mind the terrorist indoctrination full liability comprehensive plan. Never mind the collection agency's pedantic perusal of your bodily flesh. Excise your sin taxes and levy the poisoned language juice in their artless direction. Turn strong social impacts into natural make-up compacts and see how they run like peegs from a numb see how they fly.

Blue Sky calls me over the intercom to say she's all lost in the secret agent boiling bubbling hot love lava of last night. Easy happy going coming. Super stroll in the autumn bowl. Leaves of her ass strumming electric blue guitar notes against my despotic numbed musculature. Freedom tongues rolling hot saliva sweat over the creamy dew drop madness moisture. Heaven and Earth. Wild lustful forestry energy. Trees on the horizon in a natural burn. [Line from published version omitted: The moral equivalent of our founding fathers] Eating clear Blue Sky heaven juices cleansing insides reeling years morning dreams thundered pleasure lightning happiness eyes wide open. Summer shower tar pits kneel. The feel of plunder.


Okay, so that's the opening to this book, which is very experimental also I should say in its composition. So, you can see it outside, but typographically speaking and the way that I experiment visually with the page really points back, I think, to, well there's all kind of authors we could point to, but the one that comes to mind right now is Stéphane Mallarmé and his early poem of the 19th century that I translate as, "A throw of the dice will never abolish chance," where he's very much experimenting with typography and the layout of the words and on the actual page. So it becomes very much a focus on the visual and the sonic and the language play and the reason I'm mentioning that now is because that might feed in a little bit, you'll pick up how that might feed into some of the developments that come later on in my writing practice as I start experimenting with these digital art forms.

This book actually went into three printings as part of this launch of the Black Ice book series, which I found kind of interesting because it got reviewed in a lot of different places. Not just this book, but other ones, where you had a tension in mainstream publications like, for example, Vogue Magazine, but then you'd also get people writing about it in DIY Magazine, punk rock magazines like Maximum Rock'n'Roll out of San Francisco.

Another book that I want to just read a section from is called 29 Inches. It's actually the last fiction book that I published. I published it with Chiasmus Press out of Portland, Oregon. 2007 so, fairly recently. There have been some other fiction books I've published, of course, in between those years, but not enough time to read from them all. I thought, since I wrote the blurb that's on the back of the book, I thought that'd be, might be the easiest way to give you a taste of it and I'll also read you the very short introduction so you can get... I'm going to demystify the process in terms of how I actually wrote this book.


29 INCHES traces the nomadic wanderings of a group of online characters whose contemporary lives are driven by technosexual lust. Everyone has their RIMMjob (a personal digital assistant that does it all), including Bram and Kendall, who have recently escaped from the new age religious brainwash of Trungpa Jimmy and his tribe of ultramarathon runners. To survive in the post-dotcom economy, as well as fulfill their wish to Save The Planet, Bram and Kendall start their own webcam performance art project cum amateur porn site with over 20% of the proceeds going to radical environmental groups. Meanwhile, they suffer a temporary split-up themselves and Bram, in search of Kendall, takes a wild hallucinatory trip through what he refers to as "Buddhist Amerika!"


I wrote this, well, this actually is subtitle a long, 29 Inches: A Long Narrative Poem. So it too is very experimental in its composition. Perhaps, I would say the two works that most influenced this, the development of this work would be William Carlos Willam's Paterson, five book Paterson. And even more so, someone who is heavily influenced by that book and a former colleague of mine at the University of Colorado, Ed Dorn and his book, Gunslinger , also a long narrative poem. So, the authors note I'm going to read to you. I'm reading you the blurb and the authors note, because I want you to get a feel for what it's like to conceptualize these kinds of projects.


One day, I opened up an email which was clearly spam, but what was not clear was why they were sending it to me. They were not trying to sell me anything. The only language inside the body of the email was a random assortment of words that looked to me like a bad William Burroughs cut-up.

But the more I looked at this email, and the others like it that were to follow, the more I began to focus on them and their aesthetic potential. They were much more interesting to read than the glut of supposedly non-spam emails I was receiving on a regular basis from the various bureaucratic institutions I am still somehow tethered to.

This immediately set up a creative challenge for me, one that would test my ability to riff off of these invasive emails in a way that would reposition my relationship with the endless amounts of spam that successfully evaded my spam filter.

The odd language poetry that these emails contained set me off in a direction that I have found helps me deal with spam. Instead of being pissed off by it all, now I USE it as a component in the emotional alchemy I process when writing my fictional verse. Consequently, the new work, entitled 29 Inches, is an homage to the most hyperbolic email spam I have ever received on the subject of penis enlargement.

In 29 Inches, irrelevant email becomes relevant source material, a gift from the Spam Gods.


And then I open with a quote from book four of Paterson, which kind of relates to the intro. as well that I gave in the author's note, which, where William says in the poem, "The measure intervenes, to measure is all we know..."

So, the book is populated with random subject headings for example, from spams that I get and then those get remixed into the narrative flow. So, basically everyday in the summer of 2004, I believe it was, I would wake up and I would look eagerly, look for my spam e-mails that day; cut and paste them into a new window and that would be the source material to continue the long narrative poem over the course of a few months, while I wrote the book.

So, the story does take on this kind of road trip quality to it, very playful and fun. And since part of what I'm going to show you is related to my conceptual art and language experiments that have made their way into performance and visual art museum culture, I thought I'd read a section that plays with that world a little bit, that art world as it's called. So they're on the road now, Bram and one of the hitchhikers that he's picked up named Sheesh.


[Please note the visual layout of this poem has not been retained in digitization.]

Let's go, said Bram
and they hopped into his hybridized
textualized/texturized soyburger machine
and like flint stones starting a caveman fire
began accelerating up I-25 toward Boulder.

(And here comes one of those spam infiltrations).

Controlled mood swings
muuuuuuuch beeetter thaan KY
liquefy my love—hemmorhaging effect!
Generic X is Better and Cheaper
you are the man
you are the man

I am the man! Bram cannot control his
sensitive ego-I-dentity.

The curse of free-for-all spam was becoming
his sole source (material)
an automated Enabler
firing his kiln of muddy waters
into a living mold
of loosey goosey clay-gun graffiti:

Who is this translator
of the art market
that turns his hip
Casanova meets Beckett
interiorize spirit
a canister of leaking
Guggenheim bile.

A porn bunny
who evangelizes
the simulated effect
while partially serving
lye cuisine on a plate
of scarface fractures?

More chemical iconoclasm
ferments-spilling circus angst
on the scalding hot fortress of
her doctrinare body—but are the paying
for the work, the process, or the clown who
they think creates it

She too has a vision-wanting,
for instance, to switch on her
mammalian time travel machine
now stuck on pre-menopause
maybe rewind it to machine-gun orgasm
fast-forwarding past all of the blood letting...

But for now its a simple game of
love me, forget-me-not?
love me, forget-me-not?
She soon begins to indoctrinate him
with an irreproachable suggestion
that the cup has indeed
runneth over—and there's still more
to come!

What then is the eventual outcome
of all this coming?
Will she outcome him?
It's not even close.

He comes, comes again and again,
spills his painterly seed,
impregnates a thoroughbred market.

The Madison Avenue revenue stream is so steady
and dependable that she almost drowns inside

his endless

Basically, they're swimming in it.
And the only thing they want more than that is, well,


This is a disease—the one they call Guggenheim bile.

WANTING MORE is what makes them
decidedly American—nay, Western

They describe their life together as being


/ / / / / / / /

An ad in AMERICAN ARTNEWS reads:


The work—at first outcast
The artist—at once outlaw
The process—at first inexplicable
Becomes All Too Familiar.

And that's it?

This would be tragedy exemplar
if it were not already
a gastrointestinal loophole.

The dreaded gaseous Eros...

The bedded lineage of reading
between the sheets...

The devil is in the downfalls .
dreampools . deathpalls.

Only a gallery of ultrarapid exposures
capturing a flash of filigree
Behind the Green Book
would capitalize
on these pseudoautobiographies—
these egocentric dilapidairies
whose death by consumption
can raise cholesterol levels
to heartclogging prices
never seen before!

Milk the market
(the heavenly cream of the crop)
until a cultural aneurysm
gives way
the next
cash spasm.


(his background story by the way as a working
class boy who barely got himself through college
and who then, after moving to The Big Apple,
somehow ended up homeless, living on
the streets of Soho only to eventually move to the
streets of Chelsea before most of the galleries did
(!), didn't hurt him any—his ideally constructed
persona was a mythologically narrativized
clone of himself, something the theorists he
despised could easily latch on to—if only they would!)

another neurological disorder
would make its way into the fluxus
of Dow fibrillations and arrhythmic aesthetic
so that the leafy morph of mystic fibrosis
down in the muck
of not really giving a fuck
about it All
could eventually get filtered through
a vocabularian in marshland
that refuses to move itself
off the political agenda.


Okay, so what you got there is an improvised remix of spam e-mails as part of this long narrative poem. So that touches a little bit on my, the beginning of my earlier relationship with the art market and that transition from publishing primarily in print form. A few things here online and starting the Alt-X Online Network and moving into, now this more hybridized practice where the writing starts infiltrating hypertext space, video space, performance space, visual art space, etc. All these different kinds of venues and media. One of the things that we started doing at Alt-X, which by the way is at, is we started our own e-book and print on demand series. And as a result of my having been, sort of taken into the art world, you might say, unexpectedly, accidently as what they were now calling an internet artist in the mid-nineties, one of the results was that I started writing about it, and just writing about my experiences. I ended up with this book called How to Be an Internet Artist and one of the short little sections there is called "The OK Texts." Now these texts have appeared in lots of different media themselves. Right now it's in this print on demand book and that's how I'll read it to you, but, it, really it first appeared, if I can get my computer up here—we'll see if that's coming up—it started off as one of my "Amerika Online" columns. Opps, [looks like it] is off. Hopefully that will. There we go. All right, this is like circa 1996, and it certainly looks that way, too. I'll take you through some of them.


Technological determinism will cause you great pain. Continue?


Your health will one day disappear and you will die without meaning. End session?


There are many men and women who dream of making love to you but you will never get to know them. Auto-destruct?



You know what this is like when you have no choice and you have to always say okay. Imagine these messages popping up into your screen.


Oblivion is the only cure for agony. Repeat escape function?


Multi-national corporations create user-friendly software so that you will always depend on their lens to the world. More co-dependency?


We cannot process your information. Your information is corrupt and needs cleansing. Erase brain?


The machine has lost your identity. You have become inessential. Create alias?


The machine cannot find your memory. Imagination cache has been obliterated. Restore default dreams?


An error has been detected in your consciousness. All source-code is corrupt. Continue?


A mechano-erotic configuration has been deleted. A false pretense for existence will follow. Save now?


Revolutionary double-speak has engendered a new information war. The system is about to crash. Download drugs now?



I'll go to the last one.


A transfer of $247,789.40 is about to download. Are you sure you want to disconnect?


So, that was part of my "Amerika Online" column, which I was starting in the early to mid-nineties. Today, I would never do that because I just, you know, make regular entries, write regular entries into my blog, but there wasn't really such thing as a blog in those days. Around the same time that we started Alt-X in 1993 and don't forget, think about this now, this graphical user interface that we have here where we can see the images, and we can have our sexy style sheets, SSS for our web design, that stuff wasn't around in 1993, right. In fact, there wasn't a graphical user interface for the world wide web when we literally started Alt-X.

So we had to grow with it and, as I was learning how to adapt to the rapid, what then became the rapid development of the internet, and everything that could be done with it, I was also as an artist being affected by that. Not just as a publisher, but as a writer and as someone who experimented in inter-media forms.

So little known fact, just for the record books since they've got the video camera running, I actually started my first major work of internet art, which sometimes is also referred to as hypertext or electronic literature, Grammatron before I started Alt-X. It just took me four years to finish it; whereas Alt-X was a visible experiment developing starting in 1993. So that, when I started Grammatron, I opened up a file, a Microsoft Word file, and started writing out this idea, which was loosely going to be conceived as my 3rd novel, my 3rd published novel. This was April 3rd, 1993 when I started typing in the opening words to Grammatron. I say that date specifically because it was in April of 1993, I believe, that the beta version of what then became one of the most significant browsers, sort of came into view and that was called Mosaic, which was developed by a grad student in Illinois, which then became Netscape. And soon we started getting competition with Microsoft Explorer and Firefox and all these browsers that we know now and that we depend on to navigate the World Wide Web.

But, at the time, we were just really interested—or I was just interested even though I had some collaborators, of course, helping me as always—with experimenting with the web as it was, as just an emerging graphical user interface that was somehow network connected. And I decided about forty pages into the novel that it was sort of a cop out to write what was all of a sudden feeling to me like a second generation perhaps, even slightly derivative work of cyberpunk fiction. Because the cyberpunks, of course, in the 80's were developing their novels about a future world, that cyberspace was very much a part of their lives. In fact, I think the term cyberspace was conceived as a consensual hallucination in the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson and about 1984 was when it was published. So, I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to have my character, who I mentioned in the panel, Abe [Golem] and do this investigation of the Kabbalah in cyberspace as part of a narrative as a regular print novel. I decided, you know, let's get it into this space that I'm trying to depict, which was a very fundamental primitive version of the space we all now are working with.

So, let me show you Grammatron, just to give you a taste of it. Has anybody here has a chance to look at Grammatron? A few, okay good. So, there it is. And, while I'm trying to be sort of, I mean this was 1993 to 1997 and it took four years to make, kind of like a film, like a, an independent film that needs constant funding, and this did need constant funding. In those days, things like animated .gifs were about as sophisticated as you could get. You could refresh the page through, it was called a meta tag. And, you could begin to start streaming audio through what was then called Real Audio. Forget Mp3 downloads, that was impossible because the audience, that I was looking at had 288 or at most, if they were lucky as we were releasing this, 56 or, yeah 566 modems as well.

So, they were very slow and the question is how much data could we push through the pipes you might say, through the wires at that time and still give them the kind of experience, you know, the person at the other end that you at least wanted them to have, you know, hopefully. So there's a lot going on: launching audio, animated gifs, images, flashing.

Also, you know, when you have a book, I don't have to give you an about and tell you how to read it, fortunately. You know how to read this book. But, here in those days you had to almost like, really lead the, you know, the reader on. You had to tell them about the work. How you composed it, what's required in order for you to be able to, just get started. As part of that process I started theorizing, right, what this all meant. And so I created the companion theory guide called Hyptertextual Consciousness. I developed a soundtrack specifically for the work. Coming from a music, like alternative rock, musician background, I always wanted to be able to get the sounds into my work, but it was impossible to make that happen in book form, so this really opened up that avenue for me as well.

I'm going to skip over a lot of it and just get right, and you see there it says the high bandwidth version and the low bandwidth version. I'm going to go to the low, because I want to get to the hypertext part to read you some of that, because I don't have time to go through the more intense high bandwidth version. So, let's go to the, lets say the first screen of Grammatron 1993-1997 and then in 2000, one of the first of nine works of internet art selected for the Whitney Biennial. It was the first year that they ever included internet art in the Whitney Biennial. It was a whole lot different than publishing with the small press scene, for someone like me for sure. So, it's called "Abe Golam." Abe, for those of you at the panel, you'll know what I'm getting at.


Abe Golam, legendary info-shaman, cracker of the sorcerer-code and creator of Grammatron and Nanoscript, sat behind his computer, every speck of creative ore long since excavated from his burnt-out brain, wondering how he was going to survive in the electrosphere he had once called home. His glazed donut eyes were spacing out into the vast electric desert looking for more words to transcribe his personal loss of meaning. "I'm Abe Golam, an old man. I drove a sign to the end of the road and then I got lost. Find me."


And then, of course, you see there again, 1997 this was released. There are, you know, at least a half a dozen, seven, eight links and so, as a consequence, where do you click? And, of course, where you choose to click is going to be different than possibly the person who comes after you or sitting right next to you with the same screen in front of them and as these different choices that you make with each and every screen that comes up that's going to give you a completely different navigational routing through this vast network of screens, documents, right? Ted Nelson called this the docuverse. Think of this as the fictional docuverse. And so, there well over a thousand of these screens, right, and thousands and thousands and thousands of links and oftentimes the links are randomly generated. So, at a certain point, as the author/artist/creator, I lose control over your navigational routing through the system, through the story, through the narrative, the story world.


You might choose to go, to follow Grammatrom.


Golam had an alternate persona:


GRAMMATRON was known for being a genderless prognosticator of electronic riffs spreading itself throughout the electrosphere.

Golam, posturing himself on the Net as the GRAMMATRON guru, made it clear that the various fragments he sent out into the Net came attached with encrypted supplementary-data that, when pieced together, would turn on the receiver at the other end to the most advanced programming language ever created, the language of desire gnawing at consciousness bleeding.


And then it all of a sudden says "aloneness," and it's in quotes. So we're getting, there's all these different languages and rhythms that start stacking up against each other and causing tensions. For me, it's almost like a performance now to find all of these different media elements playing with each other. There are a lot of sounds that you can launch as well the more you get into the work. I'll just read this one before moving on, like I said I'm just opening you up to the possibilities of it. Trying to, I'm asking you to put yourself in the position of the artist in 1993,4,5,6 as they're trying to conceptualize, come up with, a road map, a framework to create thousands of links, thousands of screens and still try and piece together some kind of narrative experience.


"Digital Being is the ultimate state of aloneness, an aloneness that only "I" (whoever/whatever that is) must cultivate in order to survive in the electrosphere. The more "I" strip myself of material being, the more powerful my comprehension. If "I" sense any sound or movement that breaks my meditation, or if any material imagining arises within my psychospherical domain, then my connection to the electrosphere becomes "intermediated" by the social engineers whose digicash currencies desperately want to control my, and everybody else's, life. But who am "I"? And why do "I" not have a greater role in all of this?"


And so, this is where it starts opening up into the soft questioning and the philosophical aspects and someone had mentioned the panel, asked the question about trying to locate spirituality in the electronic age, so, that does become an undercurrent throughout the piece. To get through the whole piece probably takes, depending on your routing, anywhere from two to three hours I would say. Sometimes, a little bit longer if you backtrack and try to find things that you obviously have missed and that's another thing that happens for those who have never written in this form before is that you have to accept the fact that your reader is actually going to miss a lot of it because some choices they make are going to take them in directions where they can never come back to other material that they might of, otherwise had access to.

As a transitional piece, Grammatron is the 3rd part of the novel trilogy that I started, but it doesn't become a novel. It becomes a work of something like internet art meets hypertext or electronic literature and thus the first work in my next trilogy, which I think of as the new media net art trilogy. I'm throwing out these terms because this is how we were having to, in a way, think through these issues in the nineties and into the early part of the twenty-first century. Fortunately, I was able to start getting commissions from various art institutions, like the Walker Art Center where they commissioned my next work phon:e:me or the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, who along with Playstation commissioned my third work of net art called Film Text, which I'd like to now not read to you, per se, but play for you, remix for you. Let's see how that sounds and works.


[inaudible] This figure is absence, absent and in its absence it resembles me. [inaudible]

Do you see there it says authorize for next level? Another turn.

Opening shot, an empty desert landscape

Nothing happens here. Nobody lives here.
Cut to a digital landscape. Desert apparition of a dream.

So you recall I was talking about how in The Kafka Chronicles, way back in the early nineties, I was experimenting with the page, its composition, sounds, concepts, visual typography, [unclear]. All of these things are still there, just becoming a bit more interactive in their performance, but also being recontextualized. This stuff is not being published by the University of Alabama [unclear] like my books are.

[plays FILMTEXT]

So I'm going to play it a little. [unclear] you can start launching all of these images, sounds, and texts. There is [unclear] but you have to sort of investigate the space in order to locate it all. [unclear]

"Every piece of writing, on the outside of this treasure, must—out of have respect for those, from whom, after all, it borrows the language, for a different purpose—present with the words a meaning, even an unimportant one, even if an unimportant one: there is an advantage to turning away the idler, who is charmed that nothing here concerns him at first sight."

So there's a lot of sampling and [unclear] as well. Anybody out there pick up [on this particular phrase?] [unclear] Ezra Pound?

[Continues to read from FILMTEXT]

There are about eight of these scenes. And what's interesting is once this piece got put up on the internet, it was part of a retrospective [exhibit] actually about the internet artist at the ICA. And I was invited to a few places in Europe and in Japan to perform it live, which I didn't [unclear] I didn't really know quite what to do, similar to what [unclear] right now, with you, but I decided at that time that I didn't want to play my net art slash electronic literature, live, in a club space in front of a hundred late night party people...because that might disrupt the flow. So instead, what I did is I took all of the material, all of the source material, those video loops that you saw, the audio loops that your heard, the text and the stuff that didn't make it into the final cut of that piece and used it as a source material with a colleague of mine, who is a really excellent sound artist as well as live, lets say, d.j. and I repositioned myself as a v.j., a visual jockey and we went through different parts of Japan and Europe and eventually other places in the States, and the U.K, South America, etc. Doing this tour of live d.j, v.j, with all that kind of stuff that you just saw, but now it was taking place mostly in club spaces, although also openings in museums and galleries as well.

This got me interested, once again, in another passion of mine, which is cinema, film making. And so, in addition to writing and playing with the internet, I have decided to start experimenting once again. I went to UCLA Film School, as an undergraduate, to investigate the possibility of film. Of course, the last work you just saw was called FILMTEXT. So this is going to move away now from, the new work, from interactivity and from book publishing, novel writing, e-books, print on demand, all that, not that I'm leaving it behind, I'm just not focusing on it for now.

And in 2007, got invited by the University College of Thalamus in Cornwall, U.K. in conjunction with the Tate Museum in London to create a new work of art, basically a commission. And they asked me what I wanted to do and I said well, why don't you buy me the new Nokia N95 mobile phone, the first one that has semi-decent video recording technology, and I'll fly out for about two months and meet some local folks and we'll try and put together a small cast and crew and I will shoot and edit and write and put together a feature length film. And they said, "what do you want to do?" You know. "Are you sure you want to?" And I was like, "Yep, let's try that. I want to see if that's possible." I mean why not, as I was telling you, I'm really interested in spontaneity and improvisation in my writing style and remixing stuff. So I thought I could put these things together. And so they agreed and I went out there and the work that ensued was called the ]French Were Free in Mobility], Inmobilité.

What was great about the Nokia, I found out after I got it, is that, look at that, it has its own tri-pod. Isn't that cool? I was shocked. So, this is actually a website, right, for the film, just like any other film. The difference is is that, instead of playing a limited theatrical run, which would be hard enough already—we're sending it to film festivals like Sundance, where I've been and where I've actually gotten funding for other films—I decided that I would keep it in limited edition and show it exclusively in museums.

So it premiered in April of last year at the Chelsea Art Museum, where it had a two month, no one month run in New York and then it just recently closed after a three month run that's part of this comprehensive retrospective that I had at the National Museum of Contemporary art in Athens Greece. So, here's some information about the film, which you can find at There's a whole extra site.

One of the things I found really interesting about this and I'm gonna close up real quick. I just wanted to give you a taste of it, you can follow up on your own, is that I wanted to experiment with scale because I figured okay, I'm already shooting it using a device that's actually a little bit smaller than this, right now I have an iPhone, which this one actually doesn't actually have video, the new one does. And it looks a lot different on here so I created a number of remix versions of this work so the original work that plays in the museums is actually around 75-76 minutes and it loops. And we create a very, kind of immersive, let's call it large project environment. So it's like you're going to the cinema and you get to experience it as if you were going to see a Mathew Barney work at the Guggenheim, John Madden or I'm sure you've seen other video artworks perhaps by [Sherin Najjar], who actually had the exhibition before me at the National Museum in Athens.

The idea with this project though was to not only have that one version, but to try and come up with other smaller remix versions for different audiences in different locations. And what we did with the extras, as you'll see, is beside the films stills and production photos is we created a remix reel, which you can experience on the internet or see in film festivals. So now it goes to mobile, there are actually, believe it or not, internationally, mobile film festivals. So the remixes appear there. There is a director's notebook, which is a free, freely downloadable PDF that also has images from the production shoot, and yes, there's an iPhone app. So instead of clicking on the remixes in the iPhone app, which look nice on the internet, but because I have the local machine, I thought I would just run them and play them a little bit bigger. Here. So here was the trailer that appeared, that is still actually at the Tate Museum website in the U.K. So, you get a feel for what it's like.

[Plays trailer]

Can we hit the lights if possible? If not, that's okay. Okay, so that gives you a taste of one trailer. And you're immediately seeing how I'm finding ways to keep my writing in the work right, so instead of using the subtitles as a translation device for a character speaking a foreign language, what I've done in this feature length film—it's part of my foreign film series; I have another one that I've shot in HD that's about to leave its final cut too, you might say—is use the subtitle region actually to create another character so you're constantly being, your reading is constantly filtering your experiences of the images and sounds as well.

One more piece and then I'll be done. It's the same work. Just to give you an idea of like the, what I like about the flexibility, something that, starting to work with more electronic and interactive forms of writing opened me up to is that the work becomes a bit more fluid, right, supple, able to be reconfigured, or re-contextualized for whatever context may materialize, which a book doesn't always allow for. And so, for example, with immobilité. I already gave you an indication of how this 75 minute loop would play in museum culture, or how this would play at the Tate Museum Website, the one we just saw. But, then there was the BBC big screens. Right? So they have big screens, like public urban screens, huge plasmas, bigger than any of the ones we would have in our homes located in seventeen different cities throughout the U.K. And they too wanted to have an immobilité remix for their screens so they could play that for a month periodically throughout the day. They said, but that one wouldn't work because people are driving on the street and all that flickering image might cause them to have some kind of, you know, well you can imagine, an accident. Imagine it, if you had some sort of epileptic response or whatever. It's kind of not the perfect environment for that. So they said can you make one that's different for our screens, and we said, yeah of course, of course we would. So, I'll show you that one which is the BBC remix. And, you'll see how it plays off of the same source material, but approaches it from a different angle.

[Plays film]

I think I will FIN it there. Thank you.

[Transcribed by Emily Thielen; Reviewed by Dr. Crystal Alberts, 21 November 2010]


Contact Information

Crystal Alberts

Associate Professor of English

Director, UND Writers Conference

276 Centennial Drive
110 Merrifield Hall, Stop 7209
Grand Forks, ND 58202