Award-winning artist Alison Clifford, currently studying for a doctorate in Glasgow, Scotland, has created or collaborated in creating a number of interactive new media projects in which literature, including poetry, combines with sound to highly imaginative, often engrossing visual effect.
Having first learned about some of Clifford's work from the SFMOMA blog, Open Space, I sought out Clifford's "The Sweet Old Etcetera" (2006) project, which Clifford bases on the poetry of E.E. Cummings (1894-1962), an unconventional poet who delighted in breaking up words and lines and structures and brilliantly did so without sacrificing meaning to form. Clifford's work is best understood at the project's site, which invites personal interaction with Cummings's poetry.
For the project, Clifford reinterprets a Cummings poem by putting individual letters or characters and symbols into playful motion, beginning with the symbol ( ). Clicking on that symbol begins the first step in filling the visual landscape with Cummings's words, which, with every successive click, begin to branch out, sway, and tumble or cascade, allowing the user to rebuild the poem, both its form and content, graphically. Sound accompanies each click (imagine initially a musician tuning, for example, or simply plucking). Where you may click can be a matter of trial and error, heightening the interactivity and making you pay more attention. I found the site irresistible.
Another 2006 project is "Silhouette: A Dance", created for Born Magazine, in which Clifford interprets Addie Tsai's poem of the same name through its structure, different sequences of which present themselves with each replay or virtual reading of the poem. Again, to best grasp the concept of the project, it's necessary to engage with it directly.
More recently, Clifford has been investigating "the space between sound and image" by using such technology as 3D software and interpreting photographic light paintings—images in which exposures, motions, and gestures have been improvised. Conceptually, what's captured in the imagery is both real and not. Here's Clifford's Palimpsest (2011), a collaboration with composer Graeme Truslove that displays the "journey" of recorded audio loops around a computer-created virtual light sculpture:
Palimpsest from Alison Clifford on Vimeo.
Interestingly, Clifford's use of photographic light paintings links back to Picasso.
Another of Clifford's collaborations with Truslove produced "Substratum" (2010), which required development of computer algorithms to "'translate' samples from still photographic lighting paintings into animated fragments [which were sculpted] into multi-layered moving image works that interpret the deep textures of the audio, creating an immersive audiovisual experience." Take a look:
Substratum from Alison Clifford on Vimeo.
Not everyone may find this kind of experimental art-making to their liking, and that's okay; nonetheless, to my mind, Clifford and her collaborators are to be applauded for venturing so creatively into the medium of interactive Web-based art and digital literature. What they produce is conceptually brilliant, often gorgeous to behold, and sometimes just great fun and play.