This page is referenced by:
The Progressive Dinner Party is a collection of 39 works selected from Carolyn Guertin’s Assemblage, a showcase of new media art by female artists from around the world. The Assemblage contains works with a variety of genres, tones, schools and generations, though they all seek to use traditional narrative forms or language in innovative, non-sequential ways. But just as importantly, Assemblage also acts as a union of the languages, skills, visions, art, and voices of women, which were not often heard. At a time when women were rarely acknowledged for their participation in computer technology, the Assemblage was critical for featuring digital-born works in the 1990s for women who contributed to the art of writing during the earlier stages of the World Wide Web.
Celebrating 39 women selected from this collection, The Progressive Dinner Party presents many unique takes on electronic art and literature. These include popular works such as “my body: A Wunderkammer” by Shelley Jackson, and works that were previously lost, like “Light/Water” by Christy Sheffield Sanford. Other artists include Claire Dinsmore, Stephanie Strickland, Jennifer Ley, Sue Thomas and Lehan Ramsay. E-lit artists Carolyn Guertin and Marjorie Luesebrink chose these 39 authors to highlight various pioneering works of electronic literature during the momentous transition from print to digital media. This idea was inspired by Judy Chicago’s piece The Dinner Party, which celebrates the contribution of women to art throughout history. Included in Chicago’s work are important women like Susan B. Anthony, Virginia Woolf, Sacajawea, and Empress Theodora of Byzantium. Like Chicago’s piece, the goal of The Progressive Dinner Party is to preserve the memory of these impactful female digital artists and prevent them from being lost to history. This took the form of a virtual three-sided table with 39 place settings linking to different’ “plates,” each displayed in a theme particular to the artist being celebrated. The Progressive Dinner Party has received positive critical response from postmodern literary theorist N. Katherine Hayles and digital author Talan Memmott, both of whom have written essays and commentary regarding the piece. These essays are currently housed in the site for anyone to view.
The Progressive Dinner Party was published in Riding the Meridian in 1999, an online journal founded by Jennifer Ley that showcased 262 works produced by many well-known artists and writers from around the world. Riding the Meridian was collected in the ELO repository in 2019. The repository contains metadata of over 3000 works from 22 collections of electronic literature owned or managed by ELO. The journal is valued for being one of the earliest spaces on the internet for sharing new forms and approaches of creative expression that were made accessible to all. Among these works were Mark Amerika’s Grammatron, Bobby Arellano’s Sunshine ‘69, Strickland’s The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, and Talan Memmott’s Lexia to Perplexia.
Although a number of the works within The Progressive Dinner Party can still be found on the web, many others link externally to sites that no longer exist, were missing media, don’t function in modern browsers, or all the above. As time goes on, more of these works are lost-- sometimes for good (such as Diana Slattery’s Glide, a gorgeous multimedia piece reflecting the fluidity of language and storytelling.) Many of the women in The Progressive Dinner Party helped revolutionize and broaden the field of electronic art and literature. And unless preserved, these 39 pieces would no longer be accessible. Therefore, the goal of my project is to keep these works alive so that the study of women’s early contributions to electronic literature are available to the public.
It should be noted that along with the 39 artists, several other key people were involved with the original site’s creation. Carolyn Guertin devised and curated The Progressive Dinner Party site based on her collection Assemblage: The Women’s Hypertext Gallery. Her work skeleton sky: a millennium poem is also featured in both sites. With a focus on feminist literary avant-garde and electronic work, she had created Assemblage for trAce Online Writing Centre, a digital archive of international new media art by women on the World Wide Web. She has written several books, including Digital Prohibition: Piracy and Authorship in New Media Art and three other textbooks regarding digital media. She has taught at universities in Canada, Europe, and the United States. Guertin has also been a member of the Electronic Literature Organization and served on the Organization’s Board of Directors.
Another important contributor is Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink (M. D. Coverley) who co-curated The Progressive Dinner Party. A writer of hypermedia fiction, she is also a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Literature Organization and served as the Organization’s second president. She has been writing digital-born fiction since 1995, which has been published in Cauldron and Net, Riding the Meridian, Beehive, The Iowa Review Web and more. Luesebrink has also written critical articles regarding e-lit and worked as editor for Word Circuits, The Blue Moon Review, Inflect, and Riding the Meridian.
Ley not only founded Riding the Meridian, she was also featured as an artist. She also created, co-founded and edited the poetry journal Perihelion in 1998, and hypertext poetry and graphics site The Astrophysicist’s Tango Partner Speaks in 1996. Ley has worked with a diverse range of media for over forty years with an interest in community building and social activism. Her work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). She has worn many hats including artist, filmmaker, hypertext writer, and editor. This wide array of skills is partially owed to her schooling, which have earned her a B.S. in Art Education, studio concentration in ceramics and photography from the University of Wisconsin Stout, a background in film production from NYU, and post graduate experience in ceramics and oil painting. Her poetry has been featured in websites and magazines including Salt River Review, Beehive, Poetry Magazine and Poetry Cafe, among other places.
Talan Memmott wrote a comprehensive essay of commentary on The Progressive Dinner Party (specifically on the nature of web-specific hypermedia and hypertext literature), which the site includes. Having a background in electronic writing and digital art, Memmott has shared his extensive knowledge in universities around the globe including the University of Bergen, University of California Santa Cruz, Rhode Island School of Design, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden, and at Winona State University. Memmott obtained a PhD in Interaction Design/Digital Rhetoric and Poetics from Malmö University in Sweden, and an MFA in Literary Arts and Electronic Writing from Brown University, Rhode Island.
N. Katherine Hayles also offered her commentary on The Progressive Dinner Party, sharing her thoughts on how the term “open-work” could be used to describe electronic pieces such as those contained in the collection. Hayles is a prominent literary critic and theorist who writes and teaches on the relations of science, literature, and technology. Her insights come from a background in the sciences and in writing, having received her M.S. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1969 and her Ph.D in English Literature from the University of Rochester in 1977. Over time, Hayles has focused her writings on electronic textuality and literature, posthumanism, technocriticism, and American postmodern literature. Additionally, Hayles has shared her teachings at the University of Iowa, University of Missouri-Rolla, the California Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Critical ResourcesAbout. http://nkhayles.com/about.html. Accessed 4 Sept. 2019.
Assemblage: The Women’s New Media Gallery. 3 June 2001, https://web.archive.org/web/20010603193138/http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/traced/guertin/assemblage.htm.
Brooklyn Museum: The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/dinner_party. Accessed 4 Sept. 2019.
Carolyn Guertin’s Home Web. 14 Oct. 2000, https://web.archive.org/web/20001014035957/http://www.ualberta.ca/~cguertin/Guertin.htm.
Jennifer Ley -- Online Resume. http://www.heelstone.com/resume/. Accessed 4 Sept. 2019.
M.D. Coverley/Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink. https://califia.us/about.htm. Accessed 4 Sept. 2019.
Progressive Dinner Party. http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/templates/Dinner/dinner1.htm. Accessed 4 Sept. 2019.
TalanMemmott. http://talanmemmott.info/. Accessed 4 Sept. 2019.
Using the Webrecorder
The Electronic Literature Lab [ELL], the site where my research took place, partnered with the organization Rhizome to use its Webrecorder tool to preserve The Progressive Dinner Party. Developed by IIya Kreymer and directed by Dragan Espenshied, the project provides an archiving tool that preserves page performance and functionality by emulating the web browser. Members of the Electronic Literature Lab held a Zoom meeting with Dragan Espenshied remotely, who introduced them to the Webrecorder and answered any questions the lab may have had. One of Espenshied’s main points was that there are two methods of recording that are made available by the Webrecorder: the first is used for local files--the original files held locally on ELL's computer; the second is reserved for external files, or those works accessed through external links.
I obtained local files from the artists by contacting them via email, while Dene Grigar sought them out through contact with the artists via Facebook and Instagram. Though we had many of the artists’ email addresses already, I had to find some of their contacts by browsing the web for online portfolios, artist statements, and interviews, or asking assistance from Ley and Luesebrink. Once contact was made, the artist would search her personal archives for her works and send me the files, and I would proceed to download them to my computer and check for possible missing files. If files were missing, I would make a list of what was needed and send it to the artist, who would then continue searching for more files. On occasion, I would have to make alterations to the work to make them functional (such as reconstructing folders to match file directories found in the code.)
Once all the files were obtained, I would locally run them through the Webrecorder. However, certain steps had to be taken prior to the recording. The local files first had to be prepared by placing them all in the same directory, and the URLs had to be given newly generated links that differed from the orginal site's. The WARCIT utility was then used to convert the contents of the directory into the web archive format known as WARC (WebARChive.) Afterwards, the generated WARC file was compared with the original files to check for accuracy, and notes were placed in Scalar whenever discrepancies occurred. Lastly, the WARC file was published to the online Webrecorder and made accessible online. When necessary, the newly generated files were compared to the original ones loaded on a legacy computer in the lab.
When needed, I was able to find the external files to a work still intact on the Web. I oftentimes found links to these files in The Progressive Dinner Party, and could run them in The Wayback Machine if need be. If I could not obtain them this way, I would search the web for other possible locations the work could have been housed, including in online journals and portfolios. Once the external files were obtained, they were first examined to ensure their functionality. I would traverse the work and compare it to other references (such as images or video traversals) of what they looked like in their original state and environment. If a work appeared differently through Chrome, Safari, FireFox or Pale Moon browsers, I made a note in the website regarding the differences between the newly recorded work and the original. When I finished checking the work for its functionality, I would copy and paste the link into the online Webrecorder. A compatible browser was then chosen from the ones made available in the Webrecorder. Once these steps were complete, I manually traversed the works for all possible links on the site to capture them in full. The Webrecorder would generate a new URL so that the files were made available online.
In some instances, neither the local nor external files of a work could be obtained. This either meant that I could not make contact with the artist or that the files were no longer available to anyone.
Below is a chart by ELL manager Holly Slocum detailing the process in which works are captured by the Webrecorder.