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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

Roderick Coover: Art Director's Statement

I am delighted to preface the arts catalog of exhibitions and performances of ELO 2015 with its theme of "The End(s) of Electronic Literature" and exhibition themes of Intervention, Hybridity & Synesthesia, Decentering and Kid E-Lit. Arts exhibitions and performances have been a central part of the Electronic Literature Organization activities since it's inception, when the concept of "literature" jumped out of the book on to screens, museum walls and theater stages, and also into public spaces, the locative realms of mobile media and virtual forms.

It was in some other epoch that Scott and I were creating transmedia literary arts events in Chicago, and some of the dialogs we had then are manifested now through this catalog and the program it points to. Now, like then, the aim is to add to a conversation through arts events that are public and provocative. The nature of such arts festivals has grown significantly since the 1990s both within ELO and among other emergent organizations such as DAC (Digital Arts Conference) and ISEA (formerly Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts). While the individual works contribute to various "ends", so too does the concept and nature of an arts festival itself. While some ELO festivals have, by choice or the nature of their locations, contained the arts exhibitions within the walls of the conference venues, this one takes place in galleries, libraries and stages across the city of Bergen. It also takes place beyond the walls of galleries and libraries through locative works. These are accessed via mobile phones and other portable devices. It seeks public engagement.

The exhibitions were jury selected by peer-review panels of writers, artists and scholars. Curators reached out to invite additional works from those outside of ELO's circle, notably in the Decentering exhibition. Conditions vary for showing work in libraries, public museums, university hallways or virtually without fixed space. How a work adapts (or resists) such constraints is also part of how a work functions and how it might be interpreted. Some works in this festival also move across spaces or forms, which can alter experience and meaning. For the first time, ELO includes a growing wealth of works aimed at younger users for whom electronic forms are among the established and ubiquitous ways that stories are made and told. The program also celebrates the forthcoming launch of the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3, the works for which were selected through its own peer-review and editorial processes. Each afternoon there are readings, film screenings, tours through location-specific works and one-on-one sessions with artists at the galleries. Art openings each evening are followed by performance nights that combine readings, screenings, hybrid works and sound arts.

This arts festival is a component of the ELO2015 conference and is designed in tangent with the scholarly program of papers and presentations. The arts festival of exhibitions and performances could not have been possible without the tremendous efforts of conference director Scott Rettberg, who was deeply involved in the arts planning, and the Research program chair Jill Walker Rettberg, who also played a central role in overseeing the development of the Kid-Elit Exhibition. Also essential have been the contributions of curators, organizers and student volunteers including Mei Szetzu, Malin Barth, Anne Karhio, Natali Fedorova, Alvaro Seica, and Jaad Asante among many others.

In my own career, working between media forms and genres, I had at times felt I lived in exile - a refugee from disciplines which, in those times, had not yet embraced digital transformations and interdisciplinary practices that are now becoming commonplace. There were many refugees. Arts festivals like those held by ELO helped to grow new kinds of communities. Rather than defined by disciplinary paradigms and methodologies, these communities seem to organize through provocation, flux and reinvention. The "ends" are neither terminal nor territorial. It is with that spirit that the works in this catalog are not definitive but rather suggestive. In its experiences and provocations, the festival is itself enactment of "the literary" that it sets out to articulate, and a producer of ends it aims to gather.

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