The INTRE:FACE Digital Conference (06.02.2016-07.02.2016), organized by Katharina Deloglu and Tom Bresemann, hosted by Andreas Bülhoff, tackled many important questions regarding digital literature. In a series of articles we bring you the speeches and discussions held at the INTRE:FACE Digital Conference, dealing with problems regarding digital literature and different tools used to construct it, for example how can digital tools be used to offer new approaches to production, what digital tools already exist and how are they structured, to more applied problems, such as how can literary activists use digital means to connect with one another, how we can make most of digital material and many other interesting topics.
Nora Hadjisotiriou from Ideogramma was presenting the project COSMOS, put forward to Creative Europe for funding but was unsuccessful. The project is currently under evaluation by an expert and hopefully after her recommendations it will be proposed again. In essence, it is ‘a platform to get European literature out into the wider world’.
It is based on the concept of osmosis, which means it brings organizers and authors, readers together. COSMOS will represent the founders of the European Union, the old as well as the new and also future EU members. It will cover the whole of the European Union. The partners for the project will be selected in such a way that the project will be able to feature a great variety of activity in the literary scene. In the end, just like with literature, the whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts.
The project will be launched at the “Cosmos Rays'” event, held by all partners at the same time. COSMOS is for everyone, no matter what gender, education, race… The platform should aim to create discussion among people and would bring literature to mobile devices, in rural areas … COSMOS would mobilize the work of EU artists, as an active aggregator. It will be multilingual, every partner will have to choose three different European languages (theirs and two others) in which they will present content, but we also intend to include Arabic and Hebrew, we want the platform to bring the talent found in the EU to everyone in the world.
Elena Schmitz: You are at your second stage of funding?
Nora Hadjisotiriou: We need to reapply because we didn’t get the funding first time around. We have a meeting next month and will reach out to some of the 11 partners in the original proposal and also increase the number to 15-20. Every partner has to bring two languages to the table, so we try to bring as many languages as possible. This also results in a very diverse group of partners who range from very traditional institutions to magazines for the homeless.
Elena Schmitz: What will be the nature of the magazines you collaborate with?
Nora Hadjisotiriou: Literary magazines that already exist. They dedicate space in every edition, whereby they agree to publish writers submitted by partners from different countries. The magazines will be compensated, for the editorial work and translation. The portal will be interactive in the sense of like and dislike, at first we also wanted to let people comment, but comments are a bit too open. We want to make the web platform of Cosmos the go to website for literature. It will hold all the versions of the texts that will be featured. The magazines also have other articles that are of interest, a wider art range (also fine arts, theatre…). It’s ok to do experimental poetry, it’s not enough to just make stuff, we will also create the demand, make it easily accessible, so people will want to come to events.
Katharina Deloglu: Marketing strategies are a major thing we are facing right now, could you tell a bit more about your approaches?
Nora Hadjisotiriou: Because of that we are talking with a digital marketing company that will undertake to do this. They can create the demand and reach potential visitors.
Andreas Büllhoff: What will be the connection between the web page and magazines?
Nora Hadjisotiriou: If you’re an online magazine, you can link to someone else. On our site there will be links to different sites, the printed magazine will also feature those magazines and promote the magazines that have space for Cosmos. We feel that the world is passing into a more digital future, so unless someone funds it, it will be killed as well.
Andreas Büllhoff: You don’t choose online magazines for your site?
Nora Hadjisotiriou: Partners will suggest two magazines that are online and one physical magazine, so everyone will also be responsible for three languages (probably their own language, a nearby country that is in friendly relations, etc.). We knew a guy from Israel, so he brought Hebrew. Sometimes we had to renegotiate with people who wanted to offer a language that was already taken – this required tact at times.
Tom Bresemann: It’s also interesting that as an organization in Cyprus you didn’t choose a Greek magazine.
Nora Hadjisotiriou: That’s not a problem, we approached a writer and advised him to launch a trilingual magazine in Greek, Turkish and English and we brought this on board. Platform projects require you to prepare a plan every year and the platform also has to grow. The project will be proposed the second time around for a 4 year long period and it will also be more focused on building relationships amongst partners.
Tom Bresemann: In Germany, on the one hand everyone talks about how digitalization is important, but on the other, that they don’t understand it. If it’s not an event, the project doesn’t get funded. In the cultural and literary fields there are not any sponsors for those projects.
Aleksandra Małecka: In Poland, it depends on your relationship with the organizations in the local area. If they like you, you will get the money. At the state level, there is a special program and there is also a high focus on children, so we always have to include them if we want to get funded. We had workshops for children during our more experimental pieces.
Tom Bresemann: We had been planning the new budget for the last 2 years, but it didn’t get through because the people in the Senate don’t understand why digital projects are important.
Laura Serkosalo: We can apply for such projects. It is not so strict if there is an event or product, it is more flexible I think.
Tom Bresemann: But nevertheless, we eventually did get the money that was intended for a digital project from the sponsor who had stated explicitly that they didn’t fund blogs – even though it was a blog project.
Laura Serkosalo: When we apply, the main thing is to read what the funders want and respond in your application in a way to please them with all their points.
Nora Hadjisotiriou: You need to keep in mind what they want, not what we want.
Tom Bresemann: Peter Dietze – you’re running DISPLEJ.eu, which is also trilateral (Slovakian, Czech and German). Did you get the funds for the platform or events?
Peter Dietze: Depends, the funders just give us the money and don’t really care what you do with it (in the Czech Republic).
Linde Nadiani: We had the chance to meet a head member of a fund, he gave us hints how to apply to stuff. Hints that were really useful: not to include so many languages and to have more concrete ideas in the descriptions.
Tom Bresemann: So now we’ve talked about our funding situations and after the break Jürgen will show us the software and what can be done with it. For us, it’s interesting as organizers to not only put up an app, because it’s much better to be involved in its production from step one, together with the programmers. We say we want to have interesting situations with literature, want to present it in a not scary way and see 2 or 3 things that can be done with it. What is then possible digitally needs to be discussed with a programmer, to find out what can be done, the same is with festivals; you have to talk with writers to organize events.
Katharina Deloglu: The collaboration you have with the marketing people, Nora, is a nice example of how we can learn from each other and it’s also nice you include them in the project as well and involve them at the planning stage. This could be something we could do for another project. Jürgen also has an idea about how to connect people in a network. The DeepaMetha team shares a lot of the vision that we might also have. So do any of you have experience with intersectional collaboration?
Max Höfler: Interdisciplinary collaboration for us is quite common: we try to do it every day and of course we also had some projects, a bigger one 2 years ago, Post, a collaboration between finance and literature, sort of “post sendung” – every inhabitant of the city gets an advert every day, we did a piece of art that was sent to everyone in Graz and invited artists to create that art, you get in contact with everyone, people who don’t have any idea of art and those who do, you have to keep in mind what different communication can happen this way.
Tom Bresemann: We are also using a structure another branch already uses, whereas programmers use the word author, only to use it for written stuff, we use it in regards to art also for broader intellectual property. You have to keep in mind the differences in the meaning of the communication. Was the city the partner?
Max Höfler: No, a big art festival and the Post.
Tom Bresemann: You could collaborate with the NSA to send an email to everyone in the world.
Elena Schmitz: We launched a project where we work with 15 intermedial projects, we go to hard to reach areas (prisons, uneducated children …), we’ve done this already and it seems to be well received. Did you have to pay the post?
Max Höfler: Yes, but we got a better price, it was really exciting to get in touch with people who don’t have any idea of literature.
Tom Bresemann: Did you get feedback?
Max Höfler: Yes, we had a hotline set up, one artist made a fake announcement of the “Hausverwaltung”; we installed a hotline where people could phone if they thought there was something wrong. We got some feedback from that also.
Laura Serkosalo: We did a project last year, we had parliamentary elections and wanted to do something with politics and art, we asked 200 members of the parliament what is art and chose the most interesting ones, gave them to different artists and the national broadcasting company made films about those pieces and that was broadcasted all over Finland. So we could show to people what different forms art can take.
Katharina Deloglu: Did you get any reactions from the politicians afterwards?
Laura Serkosalo: Yes, we had a conference, where we discussed the role of politics and literature. They are interested to be in the video because of the elections.
Tom Bresemann: We have to understand that we don’t bring the ‘good to the people’, but rather that they have their interests and those are related to what we want to show them. A nice example is our office: the garden is off limits, the heating stops sometimes, but still if the owner wasn’t like he was, we wouldn’t even be there.
Laura Serkosalo: In the project we also asked regular people, anybody could make a proposition, make their own video and at the end we chose a winner.
Max Höfler: If you think of art as entertainment, as in one way it should be, it can create a lot of emotion, but it also has a surplus which normal entertainment can’t provide. Art can change your perspective on the way you live, art shouldn’t be limited to being serious. Good art catches you anyway, takes you by your heart and pulls you with it. You get swept away by a big wave of emotions and experience that on the one hand entertains you, and on the other educates you.
Tom Bresemann: I don’t think it has to be one or the other – I’m not sure about the educational perspective. I still think that my stuff is not more important, entertaining than, for example, a football match. For me, I’m more interested in irritation, not just provocation, but more like changing a few screws. It would be really weird to eat a wurst and listen to poetry; in small ways people don’t even notice they are irritated.
Tom Bresemann: I’m entertained by irritation – that is interesting for me.
Max Höfler. Even if I talk about entertainment, I also like to be tortured by literature. I somehow enjoy sitting through a reading for 6 hours… I try to have different experiences out of art and that is what I’m talking about.
Nora Hadjisotiriou: Every so often brainstorming should be held with people outside of the field, because they think in different ways, then it becomes interesting and exciting, we have to be open.
Tom Bresemann: I liked with the sound out when we did the tourist bus thing, there was actual tourist cheesy talking, then it was just a guy reading poetry in between, the combination of the two modes of talking and sightseeing was really interesting.
Katharina Deloglu: We also had people who didn’t know there was a reading on the bus.
Laura Serkosalo: There was also something that was distributed and we should have put the papers on the benches.
Tom Bresemann: Organizing digital literature projects is complicated. Nothing is repeatable, so everything has to work on the spot. Twitter has to work perfectly, for example, so it really gave us a lot of hell. If you present a book or something, it is much easier, and the organisational question is very different.
Katharina Deloglu: One of the main points could be that the creation is taking place in the presentation, with Jazra there was a production going on during the presentation, so it is completely different from reading a book. I like that a lot, and in “Literaturhäuser” it is sadly often not the case, they are somehow stuck in the classic presentation and the electronic field has potential to further them. How to facilitate and familiarize them with the idea of using these new technologies?
Laura Serkosalo: That can also happen with normal literature. It can be presented as a project or process. We had an event in the observatory – we had a couple of tablets that you could use to see the book. There were also guides talking about the books and showing what to do with it, how it can be used, etc. We had projectors in the observatory so the space itself became the book. You can develop different ways of presenting; we had a series of events, lectures on the cosmos and computers.
Aleksandra Małecka: It is important to collaborate with academia to gain recognition. I admire the faculties that have special digital literature courses, for example MIT, I am also trying to involve universities. That way, people hear about this in the university and scholars have new things to examine. Are there such opportunities in Germany?
Tom Bresemann: Probably in Vienna, we have two writing schools in Germany, and one in Vienna, they are combining more new approaches to writing.
Max Höfler: Concerning what you mentioned (to have the process on one hand and presentation of a finished product on the other) at Forum Stadtpark we try to make the process transparent. We made a live performance: a friend of mine and I wrote live; we had a screenshot of a silent film, where everything was explained. We did this live writing and the performers tried to react off what we wrote. We wrote dialogues as well as instructions for what they should do and created a live silent film. They just moved and responded to what we wrote. Those are new forms of how to make the creative process transparent.
Laura Serkosalo: Miriano Panzoti, an Argentinian artist, wanted poets and writers to use an open space. We had four writers at a railway station, a screen in the open space, and the writers writing and commenting on what they saw and people also reacted to this changing text.
Katharina Deloglu: We have a very nice committee from different art branches, they would advise the program, so you have an input in your planning process.
Tom Bresemann. I think that in art product opposes process, but both are ok. For me for example, just to learn that there is a world we don’t know much about by itself is already interesting. With regards to digital literature, and the software we are presenting later on, DeepaMetha, I don’t know much about coding programming, so I try to translate it into language, and for me it is a tool for presenting, connecting. The question I ask myself as far as the software is concerned is who are the people we want to do things for or with, in what moment and with what tools? With Jazra’s project, which is a totally different thing altogether, it must not be easy to program the code that arranges the data, compile the database, make the connections between the program and the database … but still there are similarities with what we do. It all comes down to open sourcing, which has a lot to do with people doing things and not getting payed enough.
Katharina Deloglu: If you compare Jazra’s project to Antykithera, it’s a totally different thing. Maybe how projects are carried out depends on the country you do things in, not only on the pay you receive for it.
Elena Schmitz: It also depends who you want to reach. Are you doing it for the sake of an audience or just for the sake of doing it? To go back to Jazra, when we watched the video, it is interesting to see how it is made. You have generated words and music from Twitter, so not only it incorporates new approaches to literature, but is also very contemporary, because of the social theme of refugees. When we do projects, we should always keep in mind what we want to do, who to reach…
Tom Bresemann: In the end, it’s hard not to create products, because we probably already do our projects in such a way that if there wasn’t a product, we also wouldn’t do it. Even events, venues… are products. It is hard to not sell anything.
Max Höfler: If you plan a product, if you want to do something you will in the end sell, you think about it in a different way than to when you only want to create something. If someone wants to turn it to a product after, then it just happens. If you are going from a productive perspective, the result would be different than if you would just experiment.
Aleksandra Małecka: I would recommend an article “Communitising electronic literature” by Scott Rettberg. It talks about the distinction between the first and second generation of electronic literature. The first is still capitalistically orientated and limited; the second is more about the gift and reverse economy. It calls upon communities of people who don’t do it for the money but get the money through other sources. These developments in digital literature also seem to coincide quite aptly with developments in the economic situation.
Tom Bresemann: In the German scene, in the end, there is no real distinction made between the finance and art side of events – it always feels like you are a service provider. Could digital literature provide new room for playing with art, rather than just facilitating it?
Aleksandra Małecka: How many traditional conventional poets can live off their poetry in Germany?
Max Höfler: No one just from the book sales. Clemens Setz from Graz might be able to get by for a couple of months with the money he got from prizes, but he also complains he doesn’t know how long that will last.
Tom Bresemann: In Germany there is a huge gap in prizes between the ages of 40 to 60. If we are thinking for a moment about ways of making money – let’s look at the digitalization of music: a lot of people buy it, so why don’t we sell poems for like 2 cents?
Elena Schmitz: The successful Welsh poets that live off their poetry are those who do a lot of gigs. Their appearances earn them their money.
Tom Bresemann: We also only make money when we put on events. Hence we have to run from one representative project to another.
Elena Schmitz: In some ways, as a provider of literary content, it’s good to take heart in the fact that people still feel the need to experience something that feels concrete. No matter what has changed otherwise, there is still an appetite to have an experience in time and space; people would rather experience it physically and with other people.
Tom Bresemann: We are interested in seeing big poets. A publishing house only sells books with authors, and people care more about the person behind the story – not the story itself. When you want to sell something, you have to do it through an interesting person.