Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image

point of view

A few months ago I asked the university library to order the 11 DVD set Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image by Bick Productions and New Museum of Contemporary Art. It arrived recently and it has been put in the care of HUMlab by the University Library. It is a fine presentation and I look foward to using it in teaching in HUMlab. Some of us in the lab today were speaking about the idea of having a digital arts afternoon sometime in the winter. The Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image box set will be perfect for such a session. Here are the contents of the box:

Francis Alÿs, El Gringo, 2003, 4:12 min, color, sound
David Claerbout, Le Moment, 2003, 2:44 min, color, sound
Douglas Gordon, Over My Shoulder, 2003, 13:48 min, color, sound
Gary Hill, Blind Spot, 2003, 12:27 min, color, sound
Pierre Huyghe, I JEDI, 2003, 5 min, color, sound
Joan Jonas, Waltz, 2003, 7:03 min, color, sound
Isaac Julien, Encore, 2003, 4:38 min, color, sound
William Kentridge, Automatic Writing, 2003, 2:38 min, b&w, sound
Paul McCarthy, WGG Test, 2003, 5:20 min, color, sound
Pipilotti Rist, I Want to See How You See, 2003, 4:48 min, color, sound
Anri Sala, Time After Time, 2003, 5:22 min, color, sound

More information is HERE and you can see some video previews HERE.

Open House!

Today HUMlab is having an open house! We are still in the middle of reconstruction, however we are taking the chance to show off a little :-). With lots of changes on the horizon, this is a great chance to stop, before the momentum gets to strong, and reflect on where we have come and where we are going. When I began at the lab, there were two phd students, a few core staff, and a great lab. The lab is similar (yet updated), we have more than doubled our phd’s and we also added 4 post-doc. It is an exciting time to be in the lab now. (I am sure our director can add more about The State of the Lab later)

In the meantime, if you are in Umeå, come check us out. We are under the library and we will begin at 13 CET. The program can be found below:

13-13.15 Dekanus Britta Lundgren inleder

13.15 – Reading Games, Playing Stories: the Role of Personal Identification in the Experience of Fictional Events. Jan Van Looy, litteraturvetenskap

13.30 – Crafting Cosmos: Archaeology, Hypermedia, and re-Constructions of Classic Maya Societies. Jeanne Lopiparo, akreologi

13. 45 – Vad gör egentiligen en spelforskare? Torill Elvira Mortensen, medie – och kommunikationsvetenskap

14.00 РRecontextualizing Information: Critical Making and the Digital Humanities. Matt Ratto, id̩historia

14.30 Fika med medverkan av humaniorabibliotekarier från hela landet samt showcase.

15.00 – 15.45 Från humaniora till informationsteknik: studiomiljöer, nya ämnen och humaniori.se (Patrik Svensson, HUMlab)

Honorary Doctor Katherine Hayles

This photo is from yesterday’s ceremony in Aula Nordica at Umeå University.


Dean Britta Lundgren in the process of making Katherine Hayles an honorary doctor at the Faculty of Arts at Umeå University. The ceremony is a highly formal two-hour session with formal dresses, Latin and a great deal of people (about 600 I believe). It is a happy event with the recognition of new professors, honorary doctors and prize winners.

Katherine Hayles live in Umeå and online tomorrow

Tomorrow morning I will meet honorary doctor Katherine Hayles at Arlanda, and hopefully we will make it to Umeå together. I am currently in Tallinn – participating in the conference Intelligent Access to Digital Heritage – and will give a talk on “Bringing innovation and order to the table: HUMlab, QVIZ and a Virtual Worlds Timeline” in about 1,5 hours.

Much more importantly, Katherine will give a lecture tomorrow on “Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary” at Umeå University. Time: 2:10 pm CET (Oct 19, 2007). Place: Lecture Hall F in the Humanities Building. Please be advised to turn up at least a few minutes early. The lecture will be streamed. This link will lead to the live stream tomorrow.

One Day in Second Life

You don’t become a woman by adopting a female identity in cyberspace if you are a man in real space. Cyberspace has been seen as the site of certain cross-dressing, or swapping of identities, that can only be phantasmatic or supplementary. But while entering cyberspace does not make a man a woman, it may make him see other possibilities for being a man.
Elizabeth Grosz, Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (MIT 2001) 21.

As I have written here before, I have a job working in the virtual world platform Second Life. I work as a guide at the Swedish Embassy, Second House of Sweden, showing avatars around, chatting to their human backdrops and answering questions about Sweden, Second Life and myself. Last weekend I was working a very quiet shift from 7am until 9am, rather early but Second Life is across time zones and this is the shift for the USA. I think I had had about two visitors in an hour. I was bored and wanting to log out and do something more interesting. Then, right beside my avatar a female form appeared with someone teleporting almost on top of ‘me’.

I (I will call my avatar me from now on) moved back from the visitor who seemed to be wearing a Little Bo Peep costume with long white stockings and stiletto heeled boots. I introduced myself and started the usual spiel about “Welcome to the Second House of Sweden. If you have any questions…..” But ‘she’ seemed to be ignoring me. She moved around a bit, I was having trouble seeing the sign over my avatars head that states I am an ‘Official Guide’ and asked her is she could see it. She replied in Swedish so I continued the chat in Swedish. I soon sorted out the problem with the sign but by this time my visitor had moved about three meters away from me, standing directly in the double doorway to the embassy facing towards me. I though some problem was happening with my browser window as the clothes on the visitor’s avatar seemed to be fading in and out. Her blouse became transparent and I could see the intricate underwear she was wearing. There was no conversation from the avatar, just the clothes fading back and away until she was naked (with a high detail torso), apart from a floral hat, the long stockings and the boots. She then moved toward me, pushing against my avatar.

At this point, behind the nude female avatar another (standard Second Life male) avatar appeared in the doorway. Wearing the white T-shirt and jeans that marks the new comer to Second Life, although he had obviously done some appearance work on the body of the avatar as it resembled the heavy form of someone who does hard physical labor. Heavy arms, thick but hunched shoulders, square hips crowned by a bulging belly. His name was Bengt and when he appeared I immediately greeted him in the same way I had greeted Lina (the female ‘stripper’ standing next to me). Lina moved away from me as Bengt returned my greeting in Swedish and he was soon greeted by Lina, still naked and now moving towards him. The avatar Lina pushed herself agains Bengt and asked if he would like to follow her somewhere. He replied immediately “Yes, but where?” Lina replied that it would be somewhere ‘cozy’ (in Swedish ‘mysigt’). She said she would offer him a teleport to ‘the cozy place’ and the avatar soon disappeared while Bengt waited a few seconds and then teleported out of the Second House of Sweden. I was left with sense of perplexed wonder.

Had I just witnessed virtual prostitution? Or was it a pick-up similar to the performances that take place at public beats in the queer community? Maybe it was just avatar exhibitionism. As Lina was using Swedish (if the user was located in Sweden) did it mean that there was someone, somewhere looking for cybersex in Second Life at 8am on a Sunday morning (the local time)? I wondered if it was a man, woman or otherwise operating Lina. And why, when there are thousands of places used for sexual communication in Second Life, someone had chosen the site of the official Swedish government presence to find a partner?

I think without doing considerable research on the subject (and I really hope someone is) the whole area of simulated sex in embodied virtual spaces is a somewhat mysterious one. My opening quote from Elizabeth Grosz’s excellent book Architecture from the Outside is designed to provoke perspectives on some of the issues involved. Some of these perpectives could include the symbolic performance of gender/s, which is a staple of such 3D worlds as Second Life. As well I have encountered several Furries (the community of fur costumed anthropoids who can exhibit transgressive sexualities), at the Swedish embassy in Second Life. Even a simple search for a term such as ‘Indian’ returns many sex related sites with the Second Life inworld search engine. But I wonder, how are these virtual practices are being integrated into real life or if they are at all?

new acquisitions

We just purchased some Swedish digital materials on CD and DVD (from Stockholms Stadsarkiv) to use in some upcoming classes and for work we are doing on historical sources in an educational context.


I have always liked Söderskivan (about the southern part of Stockholm – a district – between 1870 and 1930). It has an innovative and accessible interface and it encourages exploration drawing on rich demographic and historical materials. Now there are several other products about other parts of Stockholm. If you are interested in just trying these products out, talking to us about them, using them for your work/paper, or possibly writing a critical paper, please contact Stefan Gelfgren at stefan.gelfgren@humlab.umu.se.

digital humanities at Stanford

I have had the opportunity to follow some of the digital humanities work going on at Stanford over the last couple of years now. My current trip is not primarily about HUMlab, but I am glad to be able to check in with some of the key people here. One primary organization is the Stanford Humanities Lab, of course, and I had a good discussion with Jeffrey Schnapp earlier today. We talked about processes and structural properties of the field among other things. This afternoon I am meeting with one of Fred Turner‘s students, and tomorrow I will have coffee with the inimitable Michael Shanks (SHL and the Metamedia Lab). Great people. I also hope to get together with Danish Henrik Bennetsen (SHL) later today to hear more about their collaboration with Lynn Hershman among other things. The colloquium series Critical Studies in New Media is an interesting and creative arena. I was impressed last time I was here with the number of graduate students present from different disciplines and the energy present.

Another organization is the Stanford Humanities Center and there is currently an open research fellow position in digital humanities there (final application date October 15). Their New Directions in Humanities Research seminar series often brings up digital humanities topics. Soon to be honorary doctor Katherine Hayles is one of the upcoming speakers.

I also had the pleasure of talking to Bob Smith at the Wallenberg Hall about (experience-based) display technology. Very useful.

Reading the Collective Text: facing up to Facebook

About a week ago I was approached to help out in a project being developed as part of the annual awards ceremony here at Umeå University. I had blogged about the social network phenomenon Facebook and the post had given the impression that I was familiar with its uses. For this reason I was asked to give advice about the setting up of a Facebook group for the honored guests who will be attending the ceremony in late October. Since agreeing to do so I have been learning a lot about Facebook. In fact I have been close reading Facebook from the perspective of use as a collaborative text, investigating its contours and textures. Here are some of observations.

Facebook is a horizontally arranged network based on association rather than interest (unlike Myspace). One builds connections with others in the viral sense; email is used to bring contacts into the system. By allowing Facebook access to email account (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and AOL) mass mail-outs can be one way of building up you friends list and of course bringing contributing to the Facebook database. The other way of finding contacts is through work, school and college. I myself went to a tiny high school in a small town in rural Australia (Oakey State High…go the Bears!) so it is not on the list of schools (you can only choose, not type in). But the town I went to university in is well represented. Interestingly the private schools (as in non-government) seem to be much more represented in the lists of high schools. In Brisbane, the capital of my home state there are 13 High schools listed and only 3 of them are government schools that did not charge fees. I wonder if this reflects the overall demographic of Facebook or the use of digital social software in Queensland, Australia. There is also college and company searches but when you type in the title Facebook will not prompt the line for you as there are no prior entries in the database of the term.

Setting up a profile on Facebook is not too different from other social platforms. There is lots of plug-ins that can be loaded into a page; video, books I’ve read, photos, movies and the list is growing daily. There are issues of readability relevant in regards to a Facebook site. I myself believe minimalism works on the web, this is a design question but I try to keep my site fairly sharp and to the point. I decline lots of offers from friends for zombie clubs, vampire attacks and poking or biting my colleagues. I have decided it is an identity thing I have going on Facebook and not a game. I am also fully aware of what I disclose on Facebook as it is a public space, even if it does have something of a gated community feel to it. I don’t think the gated (restricted access, password protected etc.) is that substantial.

Once you have a profile on Facebook then you can join interest groups. These can be from the sublime to the ridiculous: “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush!” was a group I just noticed. I have just applied to be friends with digital researcher Anna Valdes (I have met her…I wonder if she remembers me?) in order to join her group Gender and Computer Games. The gender group is made up of serious academic researchers, game developers and players in Sweden. A worthwhile project I believe. The groups are what led me into the close reader of Facebook, as we need to create a group for our honored guests visiting Umeå for the annual awards ceremony. There are actually 3 stages we have to get through to create a group:
1. Joining Facebook
2. Becoming a friend with one central person who is organizing the group if it is not open.
3. Joining the group
Each of these stages has to be fulfilled if one is to be a member of the group. If it is a closed group only the administrator of the group can invite another;

You can join any open group on your networks. Also, you can join any “global” group that is open. These groups can be found using the Search page. Just type in a keyword for the group you want to find and specify that you are looking for “Groups.” Alternatively, you can browse by category from the Groups page. When you find the group you are looking for, click on the “join group” link on the right side of the screen. Some groups require administrative approval for you to join. If you try to join these groups, you will have to wait for an admin to let you in. Finally, there are some groups on Facebook that are invitation only. You cannot request to join these. Only an invitation from a group admin will give you access

So sometimes you have to make each member a friend before you can invite them to the group (tedious). If you send an invite to become a friend to someone who is not a member of Facebook they are asked in the same mail to join Facebook and become members of the group once they accept the invitation that appears in the Facebook Inbox.

All these considerations add up to becoming the texture of Facebook. The texture is the layers of text that have to be negotiated to engage with the site. Texture combines the collaborative aspects of Facebook (millions of authors creating content) with the structures and laws that come from those that created the Facebook platform. In essence with the efforts to create the annual awards group, I have been navigating the texture of Facebook in something akin to what Jerome McGann described in Radiant Textuality: Literature After the World Wide Web (2001) as a ‘Deformance’, the moving from non-normative readings of Facebook (I have no idea what I am doing and I make ‘mistakes’) to normative readings, where the texture becomes familiar and I create the group site that is suitable for the annual awards ceremony.

Charlotte Sennersten on eyetracking

Charlotte Sennersten from Blekinge tekniska högskola och Högskolan på Gotland will speak today about “Experimental Platform Intergrating a Tobii Eyetracking System with the HiFi Game Engine. The abstract (in Swedish) can be found below:

Charlotte Sennersten är doktorand i datorspel och jobbar med professor Craig Lindley och andra bl.a. kring innovativ användning av eyetracking i analys av datorspelande. Dom är intresserade både av design- och analysperspektiv. En fråga är hur ögonrörelsemätning kan ge feedback till design av datorspel. Metodmässigt används en nyutvecklad metod för att analysera dynamiska 3D-stimuli med hjälp av ögonrörelseapparatur. De experiment som kommer att beskrivas är bland annat utförda i samarbete med FOI.

The seminar will be streamed here.

E-Literature Seminar for Teacher Trainees

DiscussionOn Friday, Jim Barrett and I (Jan Van Looy) gave an introduction to Electronic Literature to teacher trainees at HUMlab. First, I spoke about the history of the hypertext idea, how ‘books’ can be seen as a writing technology, just like wall paintings, clay tablets, scrolls and… the computer. Since WWII the idea of a new type of text has become more and more prevalent, first in academic circles, then with professionals, and since the advent of the World Wide Web in just about every living room. You can find my presentation here: When Fiction Meets Interaction: Hypertext, Hyperfiction and the Meaning of Meaning. Perhaps, while I am at it, I could also shamelessly make promotion for a book I have edited with Jan Baetens on the subject. You can find more information and its introduction in full text here: Close Reading New Media

Then Jim gave a splendid introduction to electronic literature paying a lot of attention to pre-electronic examples of non-linear narrative and to Michael Joyce’s Afternoon. You can find more of Jim’s presentation on his blog.

I finished the introduction by discussing a few medium-specific techniques used in Geoff Ryman’s 253, in my opinion still one of the most honest – and amusing of course – attempts at creating a new kind of interactive story. I particularly discussed how he uses a sort of dramatic irony to depict scenes from different angles. As a reader, you follow a path through the heads of 253 passengers in a London subway train. You listen to their thoughts and ideas, for example on other passengers, to whom you can then jump and whose ideas about the former you can then read. Make sure you visit car number 3 where a theatrical performance is taking place. A highly recommendable experience!


Then two groups of students were seated at the workstations where they had to prepare an assignment. Our idea was to introduce them to several, preferably contemporary, works, while at the same time making sure that it would be more than a random clicking exercise. As a starting point we used the excellent and freely available e-literature collection, published by the Electronic Literature Organization. We also gave the students an assignment which would make them look more closely at the techniques used in the text, particularly where interactivity is used to steer or enhance the story level.

Full House

It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm with which everyone engaged in the exploration of the material. The equipment in HUMlab is excellent and with the speakers on, there was almost electricity in the air with continuous music, laughter and talk in the background. At the end of the day, we had a closing group discussion on the collection. I sincerely hope that there will be more seminars like this one, sooner rather than later.