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Alexandra Grant & Michael Joyce: Wired Words at WRT: Writer Response Theory

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Nimbus IIWhen Michael Joyce made his now infamous retreat from electronic literature, he encountered an artist who had another system of wiring words together. Or rather, she encountered him through the cosmic machinations of a search bar. Her name is Alexandra Grant, and with her recent artist Focus series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (through August 13, 2007), she revealed the latest iteration of her vision of linked language. (Hear podcasts by Grant on the exhibition.)

Previously, Grant and Joyce collaborated on “Wordlessnessless of the miteinander.” They presented presented this work at CalArts and the &Now Festival of New Writing at the University of Notre Dame (2004) (documented in the Notre Dame Review) as well as other showings. Joyce has written about the experience of what he calls a “networked collaboration” here.

In her introduction to the catalog for the exhibit, curator Alma Ruiz presents Grant as one deeply invested in the work of Helene Cixous and in the act of collaboration.

Grant’s works have several throughlines and iconic themes but none more her signature than her “bubble poems,” in which words appear (often backwards) encircled and linked. Another of her central images of this particular exhibit is the ladder, which Ruiz likens to the links between chambers of Borges’ “The Library of Babel.”

Grant continues to carry her project into new instantiations, whether penciling shadows of words on a wall or making wallpaper trompe l’oeil of her own work. Ruiz identifies Grant’s tendency to recycle her works. Most notably, Grant recycled her adaptation of Joyce’s poem “Nimbus” (see text) into one of the show’s most striking pieces and one of the most tightly realized executions of Grant’s unique medium, entitled, of course, “Nimbus II.”

In 2004, her version of “Nimbus” offered the words of the poem bent out of silver wire and then joined together, works she’s described as “spider webs of language.” The new re-imagining, rewiring of “Nimbus” recycles and extends the previous piece into a floor-to-ceiling revolving sphere of wire words, accentuated by an overhead lamp, which casts beautiful and ever changing shadows of the poem’s words on floor, in a kind of two-dimensional time-based, looping textual dance.

At the point of their previous collaboration, Joyce had said:

In recent years my artistic work has moved away from the field of electronic (hypertext) literature out of concern for, and uneasiness with, the current state of such work in which the image has- as admittedly it has sometimes previously in history- taken ascendancy over the word. Literary works increasingly take on the guise of games or captioned interactive images and video. However what brought me to computers and new media in the first place was my writing.

More recently, at events such as Brown’s recent e-Fest 2007, Joyce seemed to be back on the elit scene. It is not yet clear to what extent this return will lead to another hypertextual narrative or signifies the redemption of literary hypertext. However, in his collaboration with Alexandra Grant his words enter an entirely new medium, an artist-specific medium, as his afternoon once was when it was the only work of its kind. Meanwhile, Grant’s work has quite a bit to offer our studies of literary new media.

  • Ruiz, Alma. “Mapping Language.” MOCA FOCUS: Alexandra Grant. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, 2007. 11-24.

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