Cherchez le texte: Proceedings of the ELO 2013 Conference

Aura in the Age of Computational Production. A Non-Linear Timeline of Twenty Years Online

by J. R. Carpenter

July 1993 The New Yorker published a cartoon by Peter Steiner depicting a dog sitting at a computer informing another dog sitting on the floor that: On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. 1

November 1993 I got my first Unix account. Ingrid Bachmann made me. She was the moderator of USNET group called alt.arts.nomad - Sleeping Beauty Awakes, which was the first networked-art project in Canada, as far as I know. On the internet, nobody knew I was a fiction writer. Not even me. 2

May 1995 I graduated from Concordia University, in Montreal, Quebec, with a BFA in Studio Art, with a concentration in Fibres and Sculpture, approximately 1.1 months after Netscape Navigator 1.1 was released. 3

November 1995 I made my first web art writing project during a thematic residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts, as The Banff Centre was then known. The theme of the residency was Telling Stories: Telling Tales. I told them I was a writer, and they believed me. The piece was called Fishes and Flying Things. It remediated a paper zine printed from a QuarkExpress file stored on a 44 MB SyQuest cartridge which I still own, the contents of which I can no longer access. The images were digital scans of photocopies of borrowed books no longer in my possession. The text was based on the title of an installation art exhibition I had on in Montreal at the time, of which, other than an event poster, no physical or documentary evidence remains. Upon my return from Banff to Montreal, my artist friends informed me that web-based work was elitist, because so few people could access it, and my writer friends assured me that the internet would never catch on. 4

November 1998 I gave an artist’s talk called A Little Talk About Reproduction at Studio XX, a feminist artist-run centre for technological exploration, creation and critique founded in Montreal in 1996. This talk reflected on the formal transition I’d made from zine to web, from the vast perspective offered by the passage of three whole years. On the internet, nobody knows how far we’ve come. 5

February 2010 I gave an artist’s talk called A Little Talk About Reproduction at In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge, a gathering held at The Banff Centre. The first talk had been prognostic, to use Walter Benjamin’s term. By the time of the second, we might say that everything expected of the future had long since transpired. Except, we had no idea what to expect. We might say that in the age of computational production longevity lends aura to a work. Except. On the internet, nobody knows how far we have left to go. 6

June 2008 I made a web-based work called in absentia with the support of Dare-Dare, an artist-run centre which, at that time, was operating out of a trailer in a vacant lot in the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal. The launch event was a six-hour-long outdoor neighbourhood block party attended by over a thousand people. The work was projected on the underside of a viaduct. There were DJ’s and bar-tenders and Port-o-Let portable toilets rented especially for the occasion. The police came six times. No arrests were made. 7

November 2012 Alexandra Saemmer suggested, in a paper presented at Remediating the Social, Edinburgh, that in absentia can be considered part of the cannon because it is contained in certain academically-funded collections of digital literature. Which lends more aura to a digital work -- a canonical status inferred from inclusion in collections, or Port-o-Lets and a police presence? 8

At 4:40PM on 1 April 2012 Andy Campbell tweeted a link to a blog post called “The closed circles of elit” in which he wrote: “I can't see how electronic literature can really evolve though without being exposed to an audience outside of academia.” 9

At 4PM on 2 April 2012 I tweeted: “as an author of web-based #elit I've always assumed my audience to be people at work who are supposed to be doing other things”. William Gibson re-tweeted this, to his 100,000 followers. 10

On the day I sat down to write this, I Googled “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” On the internet, it says this is the most reproduced New Yorker cartoon of all time. Steiner has earned over $50,000 from its reprinting. 11


  1. 1.,_nobody_knows_you%27re_a_dogback

  2. 2. Mercifully, nothing remains online of the writing I did at this time, as far as I know. back

  3. 3. back

  4. 4. back

  5. 5. at at Maid in Cyberspace – Encore!, Studio XX, Montreal, PQ, Canada November 1998. back

  6. 6. at In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge: A Gathering, The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, Canada, February 2010. back

  7. 7. back

  8. 8. Alexandra Saemmer (2012) “Evaluating Digital Literature: Social Networks, Selection Processes and Criteria” in Remediating the Social, Simon Biggs, ed., Bergen: Electronic Literature as a Model for Creativity and Innovation in Practice. pp 83-88. back

  9. 9. / back

  10. 10.

  11. 11.,_nobody_knows_you%27re_a_dogback

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