Jason Nelson Digital Oddities and Creatures
a bit more about.
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Being a digital artist and writer allows me to break things,
to rethink all manner of technologies, gizmos and interfaces. Everything, from the images to sounds, the movement and code, the machines and interactivity become texts for poetic play.

Hating catagories, here are three divisions of a self!

I was born on the Oklahoma prairie, part of my youth spent wandering the storm drains of suburban Oklahoma City, and the other watching thunderstorms lurch closer across the wheat fields of my grandparents farm in South-Central Kansas. Evidently early teachers reported I would rather "sing for the class, than with the class", and I grew up floating in the space between gifted and troubled (a space I continue to occupy).

Abandoned buildings and pathless woods appeal far more than crowded festivals or tourist anythings. Generally, I find the organization of the world, its right angles and forever taxonomies to be baffling, and most of these systems we've built aren't real in a....well......real sort of way. If I controlled the world's resources I'd explore space travel, as the most human of endeavours is to explore. And my grandfather's last word was "gizmos".

(see my CV for awards and pubs and such) While I generally find titles and identifiers to be cumbersome, if I was held tight by burly creatures and forced via threats to those I love to call myself something, I would say I am a Digital Frankenstein. A builder of interactive creatures, poetic, artistic, reactive, strange, compelling divisive, all cobbled together from parts born in and outside my brain.

My creations live in various worlds. Some are interactive poems and fictions, driven by narrative and poetry made alive by interface, motion, sound and image. Others are artworks crafted from technology, robotics, touch screens, sensors, game engines, really anything I can acquire and break and then rebuild.

If I am to have a future, if those who blunder on about the coming catastrophic whatevers are wrong, I want to continue stretching, forever rethinking my literary and artistic play. Two weeks ago (which won't be two weeks when you read this), I bought a drone, built a new game engine, and started creating designs from death data. So imagine those three combined, with breaks for ice cream or loving my love Alinta Krauth.

I began my academic life as a Cultural Geographer, with Masters work with the genius Brett Wallach, Then after stumbling around in the bureaucratic madland known as City Planning, I returned to my love of writing and art by finishing an MFA in Poetry with an emphasis on Digital Art at Bowling Green State University. Then after teaching writing at BGSU for a few years, I was offered a fancy tenure-track position at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

And while I do miss the northern lands, the cold weather and snow, and my US and European Colleagues, I've accomplished much more than I'd ever anticipated here in the Sub-Tropics. I'm tenured, finished a PhD, created over 50 digital poems and artworks, was the first representative for digital creative work on the Literature Board of the Australia Council of the Arts (Australian NEA), won or was a finalist for a dozen awards, won over 250K in grants and been an international advocate for digital art and writing.

And, of course, I love teaching. I often say good teaching is a combination of cooking, performing, and bull fighting. With each year’s courses I develop new recipes, combinations of skill development and creative inspiration.

I also try to create a vibrant/engaging environment in the courses, to make the students look forward to each week’s adventures. And lastly, with bull fighting, I have to lure them in, coax them into being curious, resourceful and innovative. But then, after they charge forward, I have to know when to get out of the way.

Interview with J.N. from the E.L.R.

1.ELR: Jason Nelson you have been creating works of digital poetry since the early 2000s and since 2005 you have been teaching Net Art and Electronic Literature at Griffith University in Australia. Could you tell us how you got started with Electronic Literature and where your inspiration came from?+

1.Jason Nelson:
Curiously, I began adventuring into this world very much by accident. Prior to 2000 I was a City Planner type, working with GPS, GIS and other mapping playthings. And while I adore the idea of planning, good, creative, freethinking planning of cities and places, the reality of paperwork and politics and mindless development sapped by interest, away, away, so far away.
And as the anxiety of my un/sad/dis-satisfying career built, I revisited my creative brain, attempted to find ways to combine my interest in the textual and my technical prowess.

Holy cats…I can see this just might be a very long story. A tale filled with grand gesturing cliff falls and long swims to the shore led by apologetic dolphins. So I’ll reduce it back a bit.

So after deciding to leap into creative waters, I finished an MFA in Poetry at Bowling Green State University. And honestly, the program was rather conservative, rather bland, so I was forced to find fuel for my experimental synapses elsewhere. And as I already had considerable experience with tech/code/software, and could think/build spatially from my Cultural Geography/Planning Days, I explored ways of combining screen wonders with my abstract writing.

At BGSU there was a graduate computer lab, with six old Macs. At the time I didn’t know how to crack software, so I figured I had six months to learn Dreamweaver and Flash, with a 30 day trial on each computer, moving from the window to the door.

And yet even when I started creating my interactive poems/fictions, I had no idea there was anyone else creating such things, no notion of Electronic Literature or even digital art more broadly. My inspiration instead came from maps, 19th century engineering, early magicians, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry (I took a creative writing class with Elizabeth Robinson at the University of Oklahoma during my Cultural Geography days) and a general interest in the way technology worked and didn’t work.

Ok, ok….I’ll stop there. As I’m started to ramble, ramble on, a horsey car, doors flapping in the dust of gravel roads, the wires, the telegraph wires are still there, waiting for some future/past day.

Briefly, I , very much, started creating digital literature without any idea such a world existed. Perhaps, just perhaps, that explains my unique style, that…or a bike ride concussion.

2.ELR: Most of your works are similar to video games. What is the purpose of the use of ludic elements in your works? +

2.Jason Nelson:
Hmmm. Actually. I’m not sure I agree with the word “most”. Statistically only a small percentage of my over 50 digital poems/fictions are directly related to games, or use, what others would call, game engines.

Sure, all, or most, of my digital creatures have play and interactivity, interface and movement as central textual elements. But only, around ten of my works would be considered games, or game-like by the game masters, those Ludic overlords who require the gates to art-games be held fast by those who alter game rules, not those who use game land/screen-scapes.

Admittedly my most well known works tend towards the game end. The idea that my game-works have spread so much more, so widely (to the millions) is interesting. What is it about a game that draws in readers/players, holds them in the creatures gaze, and compels/propels them into sharing/re-visiting?

I suppose. Hmmm. Maybe. Hmmm. Ok. How about this. When you play a game you live inside the game (at least partially). So readers tend to inhabit the gameish digital poem, they internalize the textual elements.

Sidenote: By textual elements I mean more than just words. I consider all the facets, the movement and image, the sound and interface, the video and code, the words and animations to be critical, integral textual elements of a digital poem/fiction.

Indeed, I was asked recently, during an interview for an academic position at the Rochester Institute of Technology (for which I placed second unfortunately…sniff…sniff) what makes a good digital poem. My response was, in part, that the words of a digital poem should be inter-related/connected/bred with the other textual elements (mentioned above). And if the words could be ripped out, forced on to a page, and they formed a perfectly happy poem, there was something wrong.

Jeez. I have segued massively. Back to games.

I love the language of games. It’s one of the languages I, and so many others my age and younger, learned from adolescence. A game’s grammar fires forth from triggering and gathering, from exploring/adventuring/deftly tussling, the same mental play that great/good/readable books/stories/poems entice. The world is a sad and exciting little/big game, one we lose and lose and lose and lose. And yet, holy hello, we keep playing. .

3.ELR: You clearly establish a relationship with your readers by inviting them to actually “create a poem” or by addressing directly to them in the instructions, or by providing them with different options of interaction. What do you think about the apparent freedom of the reader in the digital context and how important is it for you that readers sort of “dive” into your works?+

3.Jason Nelson: I want to reach the back of a reader’s brain. To snake my hand through the vessels in their arms/hands/ears, past all manner of organs and bones, crawling up the spinal cord/chord, past the brain’s more logical homes, and grab the grey matter home of the subconscious. Dearest gawd I want to shake the hell out of your subconscious.

This is, of course, a baffling thing for many readers/critics/reviewers. Most people equate game with puzzle or fiction with story as treasure hunt. So when my work attempts to bypass all that, and thrust itself directly into your dreamy, floaty hidden voice that makes you, ummmm…you, it’s difficult to dissect, analyse and then re-assemble.

I’ve been told by writers, famous and beginning, my creative creatures are hard to encapsulate in an article. Hurrah me thinks. It’s been said ten trillion times by ten trillion scholars, across ten trillion dimensions, that interactive work makes the reader part of the writing process. My digital writing doesn’t really exist until someone adds themselves, moves and chooses, and each experience will be very different, deviant from others.

The directions thing is curious. Adding directions into my first few dozen creations came from insecurity. I was alarmingly worried my readers wouldn’t understand where/how/when to move and click and write and select and push and run and jump and fire and cry, so much crying. So I added directions and signs, like arrows pointing to critical moments, or endgames.

And now I include an arrow or arrows in everything I create. It’s become an internal meme. The directions have shifted from useful to meta-play, self-disregarding and ego-booming. The reader is driven to the park, shown the various paths, wooded or concrete or muddy hollows, and then pushed into the grass while dogs come running, come running, their digitally paws leaving growling, barking marks, go play, go play.

4.ELR: A major innovations brought by New Media technology concerns the literary aesthetics. Along with the ludic elements and the possibility of interaction there are audio-visual effects and hypertextual links which transform the plain text into a work of art and reading into a complete new experience. Could you describe your concept of aesthetics in digital poetry?+

4.Jason Nelson: I so totally want to just say “No”. In a kind-of curt, aren’t I an arrogant and superior bastard whose work is unapproachably beautiful and self-perfect. And the aesthetics can only be described by seeing/reading/playing the work itself.

But that is an easy place to live, one devoid of discourse. And as my work is too messy and broken and playful and frayed and strange to be allowed seating in the Perfect Club, aesthetics are the crutch my digital poems/fictions use to cross the swollen river (the deer enclosure was empty, but the horses still expected apples).

Nothing about the world, the land/city/nature/culture-scapes around us is clean and well formed and exacting. Despite roads and the square shapes of buildings, the networks and calendared schedules, most of our surroundings are tethered to chaos theory, to incomplete stories, brief visions/expressions heard while galloping past.

And yet so much of New Media art/literature borrows from the clean lines and perfectly proportioned, complementary colours of design. It pretends to work, everything intentional and inter-locked and design-porn perfect.

So my aesthetic comes from this place. This imperfect, messy, collided swirl of clanging ideas, smashed together stories, brief and disconnected phrases/visions. Sure there is always a strange attractor, always a hovering point, around which the theme of my literary creatures swarms.

And yes, sometimes my works (odd using the term work for creative digital text play) do collapse into straight narrative, direct point, simple and clear visuals. But always with the hand-drawn, the organic line and carolling poetics in mind (in the back of my mind…mind you….minding…ok ok. I’ll stop)

Did I even answer your question? How about this.
When all the various media, interface, texts, words, coding, interactivity hold hands, gather up power tools and build treehouses for wolves with jetpacks, I’m super darn chuffed (happy in Aussieland).

5.ELR: You have launched the new website dpoetry.com for the Dispersed Digital Poetry Project. Could you illustrate the process (HOW) with an example and use this very blog to host one of your poems?+

5.Jason Nelson: Of course I can and will! Your site/audience rocks.

The notion of the Dispersed Digital Poetry project is somewhat simple. I’m creating a series of digital poems, possibly up to 50. Each of those digital poems will be hosted on a different website, with all the various sections then inter-linked and connected. So there will eventually be 50 different entry points, and as the reader moves through the series, they will be continually entering new domains (literally).

I have around 20 or so started, and will launch the series soon. Part of the process comes from my ever-experimenting creative methods. On my hard drive there are dozens of half-started/finished digital poems/fictions. Some of them are ambitious giants and others are smaller inventions, playful gizmos. The Dispersed project will give all those orphaned interactive poems homes, and in turn, bring new audiences to both my work and the sites that host a section.

So, yes, do come and play. .

"Recently, he has produced two new, and typically messy, strange and unsettling works, Six-Sided Strange and Scrape Scraperteeth, the latter commissioned by the San Francisco Gallery of Modern Art. They bear all of Nelson's trademarks – seemingly stream-of-consciousness text clips, hectic presentation and guarded messaging – and they push at the boundaries of what can be called a game.

Last week, I spoke to Nelson about these works, and the whole idea of art games and their relationship to the mainstream interactive entertainment industry. If you want to know what connects Basquiat with Mario Brothers and James Joyce, come this way..."

- Keith Stuart, The Guardian

"I RECENTLY played a poem. It featured a hyperactive sun, mutant ladybirds and a rotating paper clip. There was text, too, although some of it had to be searched for. I bumped my avatar into a flashing bomb and these lines appeared: “one sunday morning/ the strength team exploded/ hot water bags/ with their convictions.

Welcome to the world of digital poetry, where words shift, combine with images and sound, and respond to the click of a mouse. For devotees of Wordsworth and Byron, the results can be confusing. According to The Wall Street Journal, the work of Jason Nelson, the creator of the poem I played, is as “alienating as modern art can get”. But despite the criticisms, there is no doubt that digital poets ..."

- CultureLab, New Scientist Magazine

"A self-taught tech-head, the founder of secrettechnology.com says he started out writing traditional print poetry. But his love for technology, combined with his frustration of not being able to fully express himself, led Mr Nelson to experimenting with digital poetry.

"I was always interested in how software and devices could be used in creative ways and started experimenting with how interactive interfaces, like game engines and website code, could be used to rethink how we understand poetry," he said.

In the past year, Mr Nelson's digital poems have been featured in galleries in New York, the National Library of France, the University of Edinburgh, archived in the US Library of Congress and spread around the world through viral networks."

- Australian Broadcasting Network Online