Try It by _william
Try It, uploaded by _william

Take a moment to watch this very brief animated poem, a gif file which reads “towards a new poeTry - Try It”… the full version is available on _william’s Flickr account.

What genre are linear animated digital text sequences? Are they essentially analogous to film? The text and layer effects in this gif are not produced procedurally or computationally while it is being displayed - rather, the jogged placement, changing colors, shifting abstract backgrounds are all burned into the data, and we are seeing a sequence of raw images - the afterimages of procedural transformations that occurred during editing. Only the pixelated-font appearance of the individual characters reminds that they were probably first typed and then cut-pasted into in image editor, rather than simply hand-drawn.

So this digital text is raw pixel data rather than stored as a machine-readable encoded text layer - so what? This would only seem to have a consequence if we wanted to edit the image (say, quickly changing the entire sequence to read “PoeTry Me!”) or to search it, or to index it, or to procedurally represent it through alternate displays or in alternate devices / file-formats using CSS, etc…. While these abilities sound good in the abstract, is the text is perfectly readable now - is the fact that it is not a machine-readable artifact really a problem for anyone but an archivist?

I’d start by saying that the quality of digital text (being stored as symbols or as image data is) isn’t good or bad - but it is something that we can describe as an impression in the mind of the viewer, even one who isn’t a a digital art archivist. Text which we perceive (rightly or wrongly) to be stored symbolically conveys a quality of presumed procedurality - and hence, interactivity.

Computer users constantly and instinctively differentiate between two kinds of text - that which can be highlighted / coped to the clipboard / edit / etc., and that which cannot. In the world of interface-users this is a primary ontological distinction, as important as the distinction between what-I-can-touch (apples, doors) and what-I-can-only-see (distant things, mirror images) - some of which are cannot-be-touched (lens flares, heat waves). Even with text we cannot ‘touch’ ourselves, we become experientially aware of a deep distinction between some text which the computer itself can highlight / copy etc., and other text which the computer cannot.

We are reminded of this distinction in PoeTry It in the moment that the word ‘new’ swirls slightly before vanishing. This is distinct from flash compositions such as Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, or Nick Montforts’ Progress (2006), in which the text remains procedural through the instance and enactment of the art.

If you cannot interact with the text in either case, does it matter that the encoded characters of Dakota are secure in source code and loaded in RAM, while the letters of “Try It” are raw pixels? In some digital text art, we read what the machine wrote - in others, we read what the machine cannot.

3 Responses to “PoeTry It - animated text art”

  1. 1 _william

    Prof.J. Douglass,

    I’m Gratified to find an article about “PoeTry It.”

    For a moment, i Mistookt your name for that of a friend with whome i used to play word games. (he is a Pianist and not a Phd.)
    The Animated poem was writen in direct response to Other Artists Exhibiting on Flickr ! »??/streetart#???? -_- ©?? / !!6_or_SeX-_-.???????????????????????[{may not translate}] and Flip xpander.

    I’ve also seen animated poetics on the web since 1995.

    At first i thought this was on the level of hypertexting / linking Ezra Pound’s “cantos” But the mode of timed text soon became a standard of web advertiserment. ( well it was in ‘95). I had hoped to spur a slough of Flickr artists to post small Text animations. Your observation about the “swirls” is very astute. This piece was a simple exhortation to write.

    Flash art and Gif animations, are both areas where text art can shock and fascinate. Words used in this fashion can often evade the constraints of censorship. After all they are ambigous pixels, un-parsed and constantly mobile.

  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass


    Thanks! Yes - advertising is one of many places where embedding words into pictures is used to prevent machine parsing (so that we can’t, say, use spam blocking algorithms on banner ads) - of course, this is also true for CAPTCHA tests text like the images required when you sign up for a new email account. The CAPTCHA filters the spam attacks out and lets the humans in - while the banner ads prevent us from filtering their text for spam as a way to get in….

    [I tried to fix your links above as requested]

  1. 1 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » Digital Lightwriting

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