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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

Talk with Your Hands Like an Ellis Island Mutt: A Recombinatory Cinema Toolkit

Steven Wingate (South Dakota State University, USA)

Performances and Screenings
Wednesday, August 5  15:30 - 17:00 (Sydneshaugen skole: Auditorium B)

Talk with Your Hands Like an Ellis Island Mutt is a recombinatory cinema project that utilizes video material from my digital lyric memoir DADDYLABYRINTH, which appeared in the ELO 2014 exhibition and later premiered at the ArtScience Museum of Singapore, to create an interactive, polylinear narrative cinema experience. From the video “selfies” of DADDYLABYRINTH I have culled individual hand gestures and, through image manipulation and repetition, created sixty-four separate videos eight to twelve seconds long that can be recombined using a variety of strategies, from the performative to the algorithmic.

A three-minute video describing the project is at The sixty-four building blocks that make up Hand/Mutt are compiled at and the original source videos can be found at

This interactive cinema project uses associational thinking to reach beneath common storytelling tropes and into the proto-narrative subconscious, where story is born in the collision between one image and another. My approach is indebted to the contrapuntal editing of Sergei Eisenstein’s theories, and informed by two more contemporary theoretical approaches. Walter Fischer’s Narrative Paradigm posits that the human mind will create narrative from any stimuli that are offered to it; Eugene Dorfman’s concept of the narreme sees narrative as consisting of discrete, recombinable building blocks – just as linguistics sees language as a combination of morphemes. My approach to recombinatory cinema rests on the faith that what we call “film” can be a polylinear narrative environment in which narremes, brought together into a variety of lines by the interactive viewer, can generate story experiences unique to each individual and thus be bound, by the co-creative process of interactivity, to each viewer’s psyche. 

In time for the Bergen conference I will develop, from the visual elements of daddylabyrinth, interactive recombinatory cinema experiences using (1) the touch-screen based interactive narrative platform Opertoon ( and (2) the database-driven VJ software program Isadora ( Hand/Mutt is the prototype project for a database-driven interactive and performative cinema system, and I will use it to explore how databases and interactivity let us conceptualize new ways in which the fundamental building blocks of cinema are capable of colliding – and what stories our minds create when they do.


As evidenced by the 2014 ELO exhibition, which featured several projects that were cinematic in nature, it is clear that a branch of electronic literature has been heading toward film – and thus that film is indeed one of its “ends.” A forthcoming panel I organized for the 2015 Society for Cinema and Media Studies, “The Experimental Cinema/Electronic Literature Frontier,” directly addresses this relationship. Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema (1970) suggests a coming art in which “the computer becomes an indispensable component in the production of an art that would be impossible without it” and in which “the machine makes autonomous decisions on alternative possibilities that ultimately govern the outcome of the artwork.” What Youngblood presaged has been fulfilled in electronic literature, and it is this cusp that I would like to explore.

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