Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Alan Moore - Artist, writer and magician

There are lots of interesting people making artistic crossovers between magic and art. And when I say magic, I do actually mean real magical and/or spiritual practice – not writing books about dragon slaying wizards (although, of course, that’s all totally cool. I am a swords and sorcery fan myself, and poster girl for all that is nerdy). It’s no more the province of bad pagan poetry – I love the trees/they speak to me/I am a faery in a wood/this poetry is no good or weirdos with dubious personal hygiene. If you’re interested to learn more about modern magical practice, you could do worse than read a few books from the Avalonia press, browse at Treadwell’s or, better, attend some of their brilliant and often academic-oriented events.

As far as practitioners go, lets look at Alan Moore, graphic artist and ceremonial magician. No-one can doubt his artistic credentials. Here he is talking about his engagement with magic and the relationship it has with his artistic practice:

“I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether that be music, writing, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness… Indeed to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people's consciousness, and this is why I believe that an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a shaman.”

Christine Hoff Kramer’s academic paper Alan Moore’s Promethea: Comics as Neo-Pagan Primer and Missionary Tool was presented at Harvard University’s 2007 Charming and Crafty conference and detailed the way that the graphic novel could in fact induce a state of magical awareness in the reader, and perhaps trigger spiritual experiences. Her abstract was as follows:

Alan Moore's series Promethea is a both a sophisticated reworking of the superhero genre and a primer on contemporary Paganism and ceremonial magic. Moore creates a strong female lead in Sophie, a college student who learns to channel the demigoddess Promethea and bring a utopian apocalypse of the imagination to the world. In the course of the story, the reader is extensively introduced to the elemental system used in contemporary Pagan ritual, as well as the occult kabbalah.

In this paper, I will argue that the graphic novel medium is an ideal form for this combination of story and spiritual instruction. Moore's writing, combined with J.H. Williams' art and layouts, creates a highly immersive reading experience that may potentially trigger spiritual experiences in the reader. As he told Comic Book Artist, Moore wrote the kabbalistic issues a state of ritual meditation. In order to describe each of the states of consciousness that Sophie would explore, he sought to achieve them, and to produce art as expressions of those states. "What you were seeing in the comic is not the report of the magical experience," he told CBA. "It was the magical experience." From this perspective, the comic itself becomes a tool to help create the positive shift in consciousness portrayed in its conclusion. The reader is not just presented with occult techniques for consciousness change, although Moore clearly does seek to educate and inform. For some readers, the comic also holds out the experience of consciousness change itself.

In a culture where the distinction between low art and high art still persists and "low art" works are often dismissed as cheap and mindless entertainment, the notion that a comic could effectively serve as a trigger for meditative or other spiritual states in its readers may seem absurd. Art historian David Freedberg's The Power of Images, however, explores the history of response to images in Western culture and charts the persistence of viewers' intense emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical responses to both popular and fine art. If anything, Freedberg asserts, it is more acceptable to have strong and varied responses to popular art forms, under which he includes everything from personal religious images sold for home altars to erotic photography. Freedberg presents convincing evidence for the persistent belief in images' power to affect viewers psychologically and spiritually, as well as to move them to action.

Moore uses comics' unique blend of word and image to communicate his personal religious vision to the reader with unusual power. As a spiritual tool and missionary text, Promethea may be properly considered an heir to the sequential religious art used to stir and educate medieval worshippers.
However, Christopher Loring Knowles makes a good point in his essay “Show me the Magic: Pop Culture and Occulture”  – that as far as art and entertainment is concerned, he, as the reader, wants to be entertained rather than lectured. As Kramer’s paper outlind, “As a spiritual tool and missionary text, Promethea may be properly considered an heir to the sequential religious art used to stir and educate medieval worshippers.” – and perhaps here the operative words are educate and missionary. It can be hard when using magic in writing or art not to evangelise, and bore. Ultimately your work is a novel/poem/painting, rather than an educational treatise on achieving nirvana.

“I don’t want to read comics about magic (I’d rather watch spaghetti boil) I want to read comics that are magic.

I’m not talking the soapy, sentimental “magic” of our idealized memories of comics gone by, I am talking about comics that do what magic is supposed to do- take you out of the everyday world and put you somewhere else. Comics that offer what life supplied to us when we were young-- new experience. Rejuvenation. A sense of real wonder.

Too many comics suffer from what every other pop culture media is presently suffering from. Too much emphasis on technique, too many gee-whiz digital pyrotechnics, too much sweat, too many committee-driven decisions, too little magic. And I’m here to tell you that comics is the last citadel for magic. There’s too much money at stake with every other form of mass entertainment for magic to thrive.

And the kind of magic I believe comics needs is not the charts-and-graphs magic of Alan Moore, nor the make-it-up-as-you-go-along magic of Grant Morrison, it needs a more primal magic. The magic of the shaman, of the seer. The magic of the prophet, of the holy man. This is the magic that I bank on. This is the magic that you can do more than read about.

It is the magic of an inspired creator, who throws him or herself into the primordial ooze of the imagination. Who ventures forth into those places in the Collective Unconscious where the gods dwell, speaks to them and then brings back their secrets to us. It is a true form of magic to make a bunch of random squiggles and symbols coalesce on a page and give the reader a true, immersive experience. Not just a momentary diversion, not simply a riveting entertainment but the kind of experience that pulls one out of their everyday experience and then takes them somewhere so radically new that the journey changes the reader forever.”

And I think this is the point – as part of one’s own spiritual development, whether as creator or consumer, it’s the transcendent ability of art that’s important, rather than its detailing of ritual and technique – which, after all, is only one of many roads to the same destination. Perhaps from this point of view the more immediate and visceral nature of visual art has a stronger relationship to altered spiritual states than writing. Perhaps.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Children’s Literature and the Inner World – 2nd NCRCL Conference

My notes from a very interesting day's conference at Roehampton a week and a half ago.

Magdalena Sikorska (Kazmierz Wielki University, Poland)
Graphic emotions: affective visual language in contemporary picturebooks

Looking at picturebooks that portray difficult-to-depict emotions and culturally sensitive issues. Picturebooks that challenge the emotional stability of the adult world. Encoding and decoding emotions.

DH Lawrence: We devalue the inner life and overemphasise the intellectual (paraphrased).


Katarzyna Kotowska The Hedgehog – adoption
Anthony Browne – My Dad – emotional distance / coldness between father and daughter
Shaun Tan – The Lost Thing - oppression
Benjamin Lacombe – L’enfant silence – Being lost, mute, not being able to communicate
Iwona Chmielewska – a book about menstruation (I didn’t get the title, sorry)
Stian Hole – Garmann’s Street - bullying
Svein Nyhus – Wlosy Mamy – maternal depression

Erica Gillingham (Independent Researcher)
When love takes over: falling in love and coming out in young adult fiction

Looking at modern explorations of LGBT relationships and the coming out narrative in YA books – how modern novels have moved on from a) only considering “coming out” and b) this being a negative experience, ending in death/suicide/depression/being ostracised.

In 1969 the first YA novel with a gay character was published – I’ll get there, it better be worth the trip by John Donovan. Since then over 300 YA novels have been published featuring LGBT characters in some way.

In the 70s-90s a gay/queer narrative was only contained in a “problem” novel. When characters came out it ended in disaster – and there were no profound experiences of love, passion or a gay relationship. More recently there have been a range of genres and styles of YA writing – fantasy, magical realism.

Queer YA can be categorised in three areas (with many novels containing more than one of these themes)

a) Homosexual visibility – the coming out narrative

b) Gay assimilation – Stories in which character/s happen to be gay, but the story doesn’t have sexuality as its main focus

c) Queer community/Queer consciousness – Shows characters within the context of their families and a gay community

Book list:

Malinda Lo – Ash, Huntress

Jane England – Wildthorn

Joanne Horniman – About a Girl

Alex Sanchez – The Rainbow Boys

Martin Wilson – What They Always Tell Us

Paula Boock - Dare Truth or Promise

Julia Anne Peters – Keeping you a secret

David Levithan - Boy Meets Boy

Emily M Danforth - The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Brent Hartinger - Geography Club

Julie Anne Peters - RAGE: A love story

Sara Ryan - Empress of the World

Laura Goode – Sister Mischief

Books by Dan Savage and Terry Miller.

Considering the Anthropomorphism Paradox

Anthropomorphism gets a bad press. Why?

Reasons against:

a)It’s inherently demeaning to animals

i.e. why is a wolf dressed in a scarf to hunt pigs? Does it make him an inadequate human being, and ridiculous? It eliminates the dignity of the animal.

b) Cuteness

Using humanised/talking animals is just a way to make books look cuter and sell more books

c) Dumbing down a narrative

That is, anth. could be seen as asking us to forget what we know about the real world and accept the fictional as real.

d)Disappointment for children

When they realise/learn wild animals aren’t friendly/can talk etc.

e)Affecting life decisions as an adult

The idea that what we read about animals as children can affect the decisions we make in relation to them in adult life – i.e. whether to remove them from gardens or urban areas; eat them etc.

Criticising the criticisms

· The criticisms do not consider why anth. exists in the first place or why it is so popular – thinking about how we relate to the environment

· There is a difference between identifying with an animal character and feeling empathy for an animal character who is exploring human emotions/situation

· We are just one species amongst many – it’s not what separates us nut what we have in common with the animal.

· Animals in books remind adults of our “animal urges” and children identify with the animalistic life needs of eating, sleeping, defecating.

Anth. forces us to take sides with/against animals, e.g. wolves = bad, mice = good?

Ursula Le Guin – Cheek by Jowl – book about anthropomorphism, children’s literature and sci-fi – our innate connection to animals.

Farah Mendlesohn
What is This Child You Speak of?

Readers under 12 are referred to as the blanket term of “child”, unlike adult readers who are split into a variety of classifications: female reader, gay reader, black reader etc.

Recommended reads: Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine, Watching Kids – Leila Berg and Holly Blandford – Why Literature Matters to Girls.

Jacqueline Rose – “the child cannot exist in literature created by adults other than a figure of fantasy or desire which society needs to believe”

Rose believed that children did not choose books, but they are not just dumb recipients of books as gifts – “pester power”, word of mouth and scrounging and bartering. Reading books they find at friends’ houses etc.

Writers have frequently not experienced what they write about. But all adults have been children. Do we act as though we were never children? We don’t all have the same memory of it.

In terms of research: humanities researchers are generally unaware of what constitutes the “average child” – talked about the statistical differences found when considering mean, median, mode and range. We can know everything about the child – race, sex, religion, parents’ occupation – but know nothing about their inner lives.

The books above explore the processes of people watching children and trying to understand the inner life of children.

The word “child” erases differences between children.

Why are we so determined to construct the inner life of the child, when we recognise that knowing the inner life of “the adult” is impossible?

IS there an “essential child” or does the definition change with time?

Conclusion: we should accept that we can never know someone else’s inner self, but acknowledge that as humans we always want to find it.

Philip Gross
Outside In – on creative work with young people

Borders, edges and margins produce stories. Borderlines are creative places.

If there is a border, there is an edge, and therefore conflict and uncertainty, and chances of invasions and evasions. Lawlessness on the border = STORY!

Creative = stepping over a border between real and made up.

“Re-composing the world around you in a different order that increases the available options for ways of being or responding”

If a border = risk, there are options there for harm as well as inspiration.

In an age when young people are skilled at performing themselves for others – ie YouTube – is there an urge to speak up for an inner space where you can hold the world at a distance? That isn’t the only place we can be cerative, but it shouldn’t be lost. Long, boring spaces of inwardness – the bookish child – have they been lost with today’s higher levels of stimulation, socialising and networking?

The Moomins – “a bible of healthy introversion”

All characters have intense inner lives that we don’t necessarily know about, but we know they have them.

Borders are places of risk. As a parent, nervous of a child’s inner space, because when they go there, you don’t know where they are. His daughter’s anorexia, as explored in his book The Wasting Game. Is an illness like anorexia a way that creativity is lost – because obsession offers no options?

PG often plays a writing game with children – describing boxes. One person describes the exterior of an imaginary box to another, and the second person then describes what is inside the box. Children find this interesting because of a concern with interiors and exteriors, and the dissonance they can contain. Children spend a lot of time second-guessing the internal state of adults, and are very upset with “two-facedness”.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Anais Nin - The House of Incest, original recording by Louis and Bebe Barron

I am priveliged to have in the CD player in my car (the only place I get any peace to listen to anything) the orginal audio recording of Anais Nin reading her symbolist prose poem The House of Incest. I came to get it from my dad who has just finished his BA dissertation on Louis and Bebe Barron, the sound artists who created the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet. This recording is one of a number of recordings of artists reading their own work that the Barrons recorded in 1949.

The House of Incest is a surrealistic look within the narrator's subconscious mind as she attempts to escape from a dream in which she is trapped, or in Nin's words, as she attempts to escape from "the woman's season in hell." So says Wikipedia.

Nin's usage of the word incest in this case is metaphorical, not literal. In other words, in this book the word "incest" describes a selfish love where one can appreciate in another only that which is similar to oneself. One is then only loving oneself, shunning all differences. At first, such a self-love can seem ideal because it is without fear and without risk. But eventually it becomes a sterile nightmare. Toward the end of the book, the character called "the modern Christ" puts Nin’s use of the word into context: “If only we could all escape from this house of incest, where we only love ourselves in the other."

Nin was under the analysis of Otto Rank during the period of writing House of Incest. Rank was an early disciple of Freud, serving as the secretary and youngest member of his Vienna group, but had long since dissented from Freudian orthodoxy and developed his own theoretical school. Incest: From a Journal of Love"—The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin (1932–1934) reveals that the two were also having an affair.

Rank helped Anaïs edit House of Incest. He had experience with this topic, as Otto Rank's most famous book is The Trauma of Birth. House of Incest is largely an attempt by the narrator to cope with the shock of the trauma of birth. Anaïs Nin describes the process as akin to being "[e]jected from a paradise of soundlessness.... thrown up on a rock, the skeleton of a ship choked in its own sails."

In Anaïs Nin: An Introduction, authors Duane Schneider and Benjamin Franklin V both argue that the basic theme of House of Incest is that ultimately life in the real world, which contains both pleasure and pain, is preferable to any self-created world that attempts to include only pleasure [1]. Franklin and Schneider argue that a world consisting only of pleasure is ultimately a sterile world where intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth is not possible, and what results is stunted people. In this, they offer the passage from House of Incest wherein Anaïs Nin writes, "Worlds self made are so full of monsters and demons."

The prose of House of Incest is considered by many to be one of the major challenges of the work. The prose and tone of the work is not linear and does not utilize everyday language. Rather, the book is written in prose that is often described as either surrealist or symbolist.

"My first vision of earth was water veiled. I am of the race of men and women who see all things through this curtain of sea and my eyes are the color of water. I looked with chameleon eyes upon the changing face of the world, looked with anonymous vision upon my uncompleted self." (Page 15)

It's a really beautiful piece, and Nin's voice, off-key intonation and accent gives it an otherwordliness and exoticism.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Hexen 2, Suzanne Treister, Tarot and Game Art

This interview is part of GameScenes' ongoing series on the pioneers of Game Art and the early days of the GameArt World. The conversation between Suzanne Treister and Mathias Jansson took place in  August 2010 via email. I am reproducing it here with gratitude for such an interesting interview, having just received my copy of Treister's HEXEN II art book, which is truly spectacular.

The book starts with an excellent essay contextualising the work and explaining its rationale, essentially (I think) using the tarot with its rhizomatic associative nature to represent the linkages between hippy counterculture, history, philosophy, cybernetics, developments in theories of human nature and the mind as well as the cold war and government. The images themselves are beautiful : a whole set of tarot cards (you can order the cards from Amazon - mine not arrived yet) depicting concepts and key players from all of these disciplines - Ada Lovelace as the Queen of Cups, Timothy Leary as the King of Wands. The book / exhibition (currently at the Science Museum) starts with several maps linking all of these disparate, or not-so-disparate, entities together, showing lineages from William Blake to Leary to the CIA, ARPANET and the Macy Conferences of WW2.

Basically, a must have, must-see.

The original article that follows can be found here. having written my MA dissertation on poetry in virtual environments (and produced the book and CD of the text "Ceres Chrzan is Typing/Already a Memory, Already a Soft Song") and being married to an ardent gamer, this is of particular interest, and even more evidence that Suzanne Treister is probably my new hero.....

"Suzanne Treister (b.1958 London UK) studied at St Martin's School of Art, London (1978-1981) and Chelsea College of Art and Design, London (1981-1982), is now based in London having lived in Australia, New York and Berlin. Primarily a painter through the 1980s, Treister was a pioneer in the digital/new media/web based field from the beginning of the 1990s, developing fictional worlds and international collaborative organisations.

Treister's practice deals with notions of identity, history, power and the hallucinatory. Her investigations into the life and research of the fictional character Rosalind Brodsky, most recently explored in the multi-venue project, HEXEN 2039, were described by Art in America as 'One of the most sustained fantasy trips of contemporary art', which belies a deeper mission: to explore how we make sense of history and the politics of war." (source)

GameScenes: Suzanne, you're considered one of the first artists who fully embraced gaming as a form of artistic expression. How and when did you begin to explore this medium for means different from pure entertainment? And what did you find fascinating about videogames?

Suzanne Treister: From the mid to late 1980s I spent several nights a week hanging out in amusement arcades in London's Soho with my boyfriend who was hooked on videogames. Over time, waiting around for him to finish so we could go and eat or see a film, I started to think about the games, their structures, their objectives, their themes, their addictiveness. I started to consider their cultural subtexts, antecedents, the effect they may have on society and how they might develop and connect to other mechanisms, developments and fantasies or projections of the future. At first I wasn’t so crazy about playing the games myself, until I got addicted to Tetris, and then when I got my Amiga computer in 1991 I started playing some of the platform games, similar to the ones in the arcades, which had come free with the games magazines I was buying for research. In 1995 when I visited Los Angeles for the first time, staying with friends for a week, I barely left the house. I spent almost the whole time killing and escaping from the Nazis and their dogs in the videogame Castle Wolfenstein, which my hosts were also hooked on.

Suzanne Treister, 1989 - "Picassoids Video Game", oil on canvas 213 x 153 cms (image source)

GameScenes: Did you create your first game-inspired paintings back in the '80s? Why did you decide to transfer digital interactions on a canvas? What games did you find most inspiring?

Suzanne Treister: Yes, just to backtrack a moment, in the 80s, before I became interested in videogames, I made paintings using appropriated imagery from history and popular culture to describe hypothetical narratives, or possible ways of reading the world. An early series had used themes and imagery relating to the USSR/Russia whilst other works referenced literature, art history, war and religion in the mapping of imaginary scenarios. I saw them as a form of contemporary history painting. On one level much of this work originated from a desire to negotiate my family history, specifically the issues and historical events surrounding the relocation of my father from Poland/France to the UK during WWII which in turn inevitably produced a fascination with the Cold War and the Eastern Bloc. By the end of 1987 my paintings had begun to develop a more repetitive visual structure, images such as books spines, candles, metal bolts and flourescent lights were repeated in rows, blocks or mazes, housing other images or scenes. These works sometimes referenced ludic structures as ways of mapping space and encouraging the viewer’s interaction in a psychological sense.

In 1988 I made the first videogame paintings, substituting the characters or forms found in arcade games for historical characters or living persons and everyday objects.

Suzanne Treister, 1989 - "Koons-Kiefer Video Game No. 1", oil on canvas 122 x 107 cms (image source)

For example, 'Koons Kiefer Videogame' made in 1989 represented the US artist Jeff Koons as a kitsch toy horse about to enter the space of German artist Anselm Kiefer, depicted as a virtual forest of birch trees made up of end to end painted book spines. The inclusion of ‘Videogame’ in the title aimed to provoke an anticipation of a goal oriented narrative at play, and in the case of the painting, and other related works to come, the development and outcome of this narrative was to be projected by the viewer.

Suzanne Treister, 1989 - "Video Game for Primo Levi", oil on canvas 213 x 153 cms (image source)

The second painting in the series was titled, 'Videogame for Primo Levi'. Levi was an author I admired, writing about his survival of the Holocaust. I set up the structure of the painting/game as a maze of bolts and hinges through which clusters of green light bulbs had to make their way. The painting was stylistically overtly kitsch, but monumental in scale and reference, highlighting the problematics of artistic representations of history in relation to the corresponding horrific actuality of events, and in turn commenting on the anaesthetising effect of the video game narratives, which were based for the most part on the idea of continuous killing or destruction in the pursuit of an ultimate and singular goal.

GameScenes: Were there other artists around at that time also interested in creating art inspired by videogames? Or did you feel that you were somehow alone in your exploration?

Suzanne Treister: In the 80s there were no artists I knew of who were interested in making work about videogames and curators who visited my studio didn’t even know what they were. Nor did there seem to be any interest in the subject from within academia, although this changed abruptly a few years later with the expansion of the cultural studies industry.

Also at the time of making my first digital works I felt quite alone. In 1991 when artist friends came to my studio and I showed them for the first time my Amiga computer humming on the paint stained workbench they would ask worriedly, ‘Of course you’ll only be using it to work out your paintings, won’t you?’ I was severely warned of the dangers of being ‘taken over by the machine’. There seemed to be a misconception that the computer actually made the work, rather than the artist, and one could partly blame this on the term ‘computer generated’ which seemed to have mysteriously entered the language.

I wasn’t seduced as such by video games or computers but I felt I had to deal with them as they were not going to go away. I had been however, since childhood, seduced by science fiction, from the British TV series ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Tomorrow People’,  ‘Adam Adamant Lives’, to the writing of George Orwell, H. G. Wells and J. G. Ballard. These, along with writers who interested me several years later, for example Bulgakov, Bassani, Umberto Eco, Borges, Bruno Schulz and William Gibson, plus my interest in psychoanalytic theory and obsession with the Holocaust and Eastern Europe, all these I would say in one way or another, however oblique, contributed to my move into the new media world, and within that, more explicitly, to a belief in the idea that narrativity and ‘reality’ was becoming fluid and mutable within these new technologies, and to a suspicion that somehow the ‘interactive’ video game was an early embodiment of a whole new paradigm which needed to be observed and interrogated.

Suzanne Treister, 1991-1992 - "Examine the Evidence", videogame still (image source)

GameScenes: Between 1991-92, you created a series of fictional videogame stills using Amiga’s Deluxe Paint II, and, between 1993-94, you produced "Software", a series of 36 imaginary software packages. What was the idea behind these fictional games?

Suzanne Treister: The works I made on the Amiga computer were similar to the recent paintings but now incorporated digital effects, text and inevitably resembled far more closely the games themselves. The titles of the works echoed the game titles on the screen. Eg. Are you Dreaming?, Dream Monster, Easyworld 5, Examine the Evidence, Have you been sentenced to a fate worse than death? You have reached the Gates of Wisdom - Tell us what you have seen, Incidents reported, Do you know? Lost in Space, Blinded by the Text, Monster Visions/Song Titles, Identify the Murder Weapon, Mutant Territories-Grand Prix, Quiz 2, No Quiz, Quiz - 10 Questions.

In Mutant Territories-Grand Prix the screen showed an ariel view of a racetrack made of jewles and the instructions on the screen read, ‘Drive around the map until you run out of petrol’, rather than the usual goal oriented challenge of regular games.

Text was able to enter the works in an organic sense, in that the computer screen was a natural site of text; word processing, text messages, programming. All these manifest text on the screen and I could play on this directly in the works whilst intimating broader subtextual narratives and readings.

Easyworld 5 contained only text instructions. In front of a royal blue curtain appeared the words: Determine your position on the screen and proceed at an even pace. So long as you know where you are you will be ok. Wait until you have decided where you want to go first. When you have made your decision move player 1 into a vacant box. Then the curtain will open slowly to reveal the object of your dreams. Wait for a few seconds and then press "EXIT". You will have arrived at the scene of a crime. Welcome to Easyworld 5.

Rather than depict the usual suspects from actual games, or versions thereof, in many cases the scenarios were abstracted so that the viewer would have to insert their own hypothetical narrative and become themselves the protagonist, i.e. they would have to imagine their own persona rather than being given the role of a fighter or comic character.

I photographed these early Amiga works straight from the screen. The photographs perfectly reproduced the highly pixilated, raised needlepoint effect of the Amiga screen image. Conceptually this means of presentation was appropriate in that it made it seem like I had gone into a videogame arcade and photographed the games there, lending authenticity to the fictions.

In 1992 I worked on a new Amiga based series which presented stills from a single imaginary videogame. This piece played on the phenomenon of computer system messages counterpoised with the cultural fear/fantasy of a technological future paradise. Individual screen texts read in sequential order: Would you recognise a Virtual Paradise?, Not enough Memory for operation, Presume Virtual Breakdown, You have entered a Virtual Wilderness, Software Failure..., Error finding Question, No Message – Proceed.

Suzanne Treister, SOFTWARE: Would you recognise a Virtual Paradise 1993-4 oil paint &/or mixed media on cardboard boxes and floppy disks  dimensions of each diptych: 22.5 x 16 x 4 cm (x 2) (image source)

Between 1993-94 I made a series of fictional software boxes, each cardboard box and floppy disc label painted to describe an imaginary game or piece of software where various things may happen, where a whole range of virtual experiences could be possible, from pornography to perpetual paranoia, from ethical hallucinations to torture. (http://ensemble.va.com.au/Treister/Software/Software.html)

GameScenes: Have you ever felt the desire to join the game industry or create art games? Can you share something about Rosalind Brodsky, a virtual persona that is responsible for a remarkable amount of your artistic production? What's the story behind her conception? How is Rosalind connected to gaming?

Suzanne Treister: No, I never had the ambition to join the gaming industry but I did make a game. From 1997-99 I developed, in line with the developing games industry an interactive cd rom, ‘No Other Symptoms – Time Travelling with Rosalind Brodsky’, which in many ways echoed the structure of quest games such as Myst. I invented Rosalind Brodsky as an alter ego in 1995 and firstly I made her a set of time travelling costumes. The original biography of Brodsky went like this: ‘Rosalind Brodsky, with whom I share Anglo/Eastern European/Jewish roots, was born in London in 1970 and survived until 2058. Her first ‘delusional’ experience of time travel supposedly occurred while she was in the middle of a session with the pyschoanalyst Julia Kristeva in Paris, at the moment she noticed the similarity of Kristeva’s face to the photographic portrait of her Polish-Jewish grandmother who had been murdered in the Holocaust. By 1995 Brodsky is a delusional time traveller who believes herself to be working in London at the Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality (IMATI) in the 21st century. IMATI is a controversial government funded organisation which develops equipment and carries out time travel research projects whose results are for use primarily by the military and other government research organisations. Established in 2004 its mission is to carry out interventional historical, anthropological and scientific research through means of time travel. Working with virtual technologies which render the users’ bodies invisible in their own time and space the Institute develops virtual simulations of key moments in history. Researchers at the Institute then carry out simulated interventions/experiments within these virtual times/worlds. In academic circles there is controversy as to the validity of this form of ‘anthropological’ research, but there are many who suspect that IMATI has actually found the secret of authentic time travel.’

The cd rom journey takes the form of a tour organised by IMATI in memory of Brodsky's contribution to time travel research. In the introductory scene there is an announcement that a demonstration of armed academics is taking place outside the institute, threatening the building, staff and visitors within. You, the player, now risk remaining in suspended time travel for the rest of your life. The aim is to survive by navigating the space of Rosalind Brodsky, with escape eventually only possible via her satellite spy probe from where a shuttle will transport you back to earth to an underground home in the mining town of Coober Pedy, South Australia, in the present day.

The tour uncovers biographical and historical data focussing on much of her life, work and personal interests. During her lifetime Brodsky carried out major research in areas of film, TV, music, architecture, genetics, the history of Eastern Europe, the Holocaust, the 1960s and the Russian Revolution as well as contributing to the research and design of a range of time travel equipment. From Brodsky's study, concealed behind a memorial wall, you are able to travel to her home in Bavaria, journey from there to her Satellite in outer space (constructed from Christo’s wrapped Reichstag, teleported by IMATI from Berlin in 1995), access her electronic time travelling diary, her feature vibrators and discover the time travelling costumes and attaché cases in her wardrobe. The wardrobe conceals the entrance to a lift which takes you down to the Clinics. The Clinics is an underground laboratory where, for analysis, due to the decline of psychoanalysis in the twenty first century, stressed time travellers must travel back in time to the homes of Freud, Jung, Klein, Lacan and Kristeva. Brodsky’s case histories with these analysts are documented as are recordings of her time travelling cookery TV show and the music videos of her band who were popular in Eastern Europe in the 2030s.

The cd rom was completed and published with a book in 1999.

Since then I have not made any games based works except for the inclusion of three video ‘training demos’ in the 2009 project ‘MTB [Military Training Base]’ which used footage of actual geographical sites; Donald Judd’s ex-military base/art foundation in Marfa, Texas; the ruins of the Palace of the Queen of Sheba in Ethiopia and the Unabomber's cabin in Montana.

Since 2001 I have made works developing from the Brodsky project; documenting and displaying, in installation, web and dvd form, the IMATI Time Travel Research Projects which had supposedly been carried out at IMATI. These include: Golem/Loew - Artificial Life, Operation Swanlake and HEXEN 2039. I am currently working on the sequel, HEXEN II.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

More fortune telling in literature

Two other books helped inspire Taropoetics, my experimental poetry project. They were Margaret Atwood's novel Lady Oracle - an interesting essay about it here - and Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle. The former uses the idea of automatic writing to create poetry, and the latter uses the I Ching as a storytelling device in a story-within-a-story:

Dick used the philosophic I Ching (Book of Changes) to determine the plot particulars of The Man in the High Castle, explaining:

"I started with nothing but the name, Mister Tagomi, written on a scrap of paper, no other notes. I had been reading a lot of Oriental philosophy, reading a lot of Zen Buddhism, reading the I Ching. That was the Marin County zeitgeist, at that point; Zen Buddhism and the I Ching. I just started right out and kept on trucking."[4] In the event, he blamed the I Ching for plot incidents he disliked: "When it came to close down the novel, the I Ching had no more to say. So, there's no real ending on it. I like to regard it as an open ending".

The I Ching is prominent in The Man in the High Castle; having diffused it as part of their cultural hegemony overlordship of the Pacific Coast U.S., the Japanese — and some American — characters consult it, and then act per its replies to their queries. Specifically, "The Man in the High Castle", Hawthorne Abendsen, himself, used it to write The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and, at story's end, in his presence, Juliana Frink, queries the I Ching: "Why did it write The Grasshopper Lies Heavy?" and "What is the reader to learn from the novel?" The I Ching replies with Hexagram 61 ([中孚] zhōng fú) Chung Fu, "Inner Truth", describing the true state of the world—every character in The Man in the High Castle is living a false reality.

I wondered whether Atwood's reference to automatic writing, albeit in a slightly comedic novel, pointed to Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal. This is an avant-garde text which the writer "received" over a number of months. (Another very interesting essay on Weiner available as a PDF here).

In the early 1970s, Weiner began writing a series of journals that were partly the result of her experiments with automatic writing and partly a result of her schizophrenia. She influenced a number of the language poets and was included in the In the American Tree anthology of Language poetry (edited by Ron Silliman). Beginning with Little Books/Indians (1980) and Spoke (1984) Weiner's work engaged with Native American politics, particularly the American Indian Movement and the case of imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier.[4][5]

Interest in Weiner continues into the 21st century with the recent publication of Hannah Weiner’s Open House (2007), "a representative selection spanning her decades of poetic output" [6] This volume was edited by Patrick F. Durgin, who provides an overview of Weiner's art:

Hannah Weiner’s influence extends from the sixties New York avant-garde, where she was part of an unprecedented confluence of poets, performance and visual artists including Phillip Glass, Andy Warhol, Carolee Schneemann, John Perrault, David Antin, and Bernadette Mayer. Like fellow-traveler Jackson Mac Low, she became an important part of the Language poetry of the 70s and 80s, and her influence can be seen today in the so-called "New Narrative" work stemming from the San Francisco Bay Area. With other posthumous publications of late, her work is being discussed by scholars in feminist studies, poetics, and disability studies. But there does not yet exist a representative selection spanning her decades of poetic output. Hannah Weiner’s Open House aims to remedy this with previously uncollected (and mostly never-published) work, including performance texts, early New York School influenced lyric poems, odes and remembrances to / of Mac Low and Ted Berrigan, and later “clair-style” works.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tarot, Art and Literature

I'm reading Italo Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies, a novel based on interlocking stories generated by the tarot. A group of travellers chance to meet, first in a castle, then a tavern. their powers of speech are magically taken from them and instead they have only tarot cards with which to tell their stories. What follows is an exquisite interlinking of narratives, and a fantastic, surreal and chaotic history of all human consciousness.

Calvino adds a note at the end of the book as follows:

I publish this book to be free of it: it has obsessed me for years. I began by trying to line up tarots at random, to see if I could read a story in them. "The Waverer's Tale" emerged; I started writing it down; I looked for other combinations of the same cards; I realised the tarots were a machine for constructing stories; I thought of a book and I imagined it's frame: the mute narrators, the forest, the inn; I was tempted by the diabolical idea if conjuring up all the stories that could be contained in a tarot deck.

Tarot is in the public mind, the art mind. Suzanne Treister is just about to exhibit her art show, Hexen 2.0, at the Science Museum in London. The blurb from the official site is:

HEXEN 2.0 Suzanne Treister 2009-2011
HEXEN 2.0 is the sequel to HEXEN 2039 which imagined new technologies for psychological warfare through investigating links between the occult and the military in relation to histories of witchcraft, the US film industry, British Intelligence agencies, Soviet brainwashing and behaviour control experiments of the U.S. Army.

HEXEN 2.0 delves deeper into the histories of scientific research behind government programmes of mass control, investigating parallel histories of countercultural and grass roots movements. HEXEN 2.0 charts, within a framework of post-WWII U.S. governmental and military imperatives, the coming together of diverse scientific and social sciences through the development of cybernetics, the history of the internet, the rise of Web 2.0 and mass intelligence gathering, and the implications for the future of new systems of societal manipulation towards a control society.

HEXEN 2.0 specifically investigates the participants of the seminal Macy Conferences (1946-1953), whose primary goal was to set the foundations for a general science of the workings of the human mind. The project simultaneously looks at critics ofJ technological society such as Theodore Kaczynski/The Unabomber, the claims of Anarcho-Primitivism and Post Leftism, Technogaianism and Transhumanism and traces precursory ideas of Thoreau, Heidegger, Adorno and others in relation to visions of utopic/dystopic futures from science-fiction literature and film.

Based on actual events, people, histories and scientific projections of the future, and consisting of alchemical diagrams, a Tarot deck, photo-text works, a video and a website, HEXEN 2.0 takes us to a hypnotic, mesmerising space of early technological fantasy to hallucinate feedback from the past from where one may imagine and construct possible alternative futures.

The HEXEN 2.0 book and separately available Tarot deck will be released in February 2012 by Black Dog Publishing.

I'll be purchasing the book and the tarot set for sure! It's available for preorder on Amazon here.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Witch Fitch: The 2012 Sketchbook Project at the Brooklyn Art Library

So I have been a busy bee finishing my sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library's 2012 Sketchbook Project. It's a brilliant thing to take part in. A few months ago I signed up and chose a topic - "Fill me with stories". A couple of weeks later a slim 4x6 notebook arrived in the post, ready for me to fill with anything i liked. Drawings, photos, painting, collage, print... just something that related vaguely to the topic.

The sketchbooks will be permanently archived at the library and will also go on tour around museums and libraries in the US.

Being obsessed with witches, I decided to fill the book with excerpts from stories about witches as well as a few random thoughts and ephemera along the way. a meditation on the fictional witch, if you will: hence Witch Fitch.

Here are a few pics of some of my favourite pages. I'm no artist as you can see, so my approach was mostly collage withe some primary school-level colouring in. Great fun.

There are some fabulous entries already online here with arange of topics from cigarettes and alcohol to "27 ways to...". Also check out the Library's online store which has some gorgeous notebooks, vintage photos, art supplies etc... Yay, geeky art heaven.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Back on the blog

Hello, tiny readership. I'm back. I had some time off to have a baby! Yes! I did. And the parents among you will know that blogging is about bottom of the priorities you can have with a baby.

However, I have not been idle (writing-wise - clearly I haven't been idle otherwise. Idle would be AMAZING. I'd love to do idle), and have finally finished, or near-finished, my teen novel. It is a dystopian work set in the near future after an energy crisis, with witches. More on that soon. My hopefully-soon-to-be-agent is reading it about now.

I was also pleased to see an excerpt from a long poem "Undine" I wrote a while back with illustrations by my friend, witch and all round glamour puss Laura Daligan, in the current issue of new "mermaid lifestyle" magazine Mermaids and Mythology, by the same people who brought you Fae magazine. Check it out at www.themermaidmagazine.com.

Hopefully I'll have more to report on the novel soon. Happy new year 2012!