Electronic Literature and the Long Pandemic

MLA 2023 – San Francisco
442. Electronic Literature and the Long Pandemic

Saturday, 7 January 10:15 AM-11:30 AM, 3000 (Moscone West)

1. Breathing on Screen: COVID-19 and Electronic Literature by Women-Identifying Digital Artists – Anna Nacher, (Jagiellonian U)
2. Visualizing Women’s Work in the Long Pandemic – Xtine Burrough (U of Texas, Dallas)
3. A Zoom of One’s Own? Crafting Feminist Resistance through Electronic Literature during COVID-19 – Abigail Moreshead (U of Central Florida) and Anastasia Salter (U of Central Florida)

John Murray (U of Central Florida)


  • Breathing on screen: COVID-19 and electronic literature by women-identifying digital artists – Anna Nacher

In my paper, I would like to explore the work of women-identifying digital artists submitted as an element of a collaborative research project on Covid-19 and electronic literature funded by DARIAHeu and carried out throughout 2021 by a team consisting of Anna Nacher (Jagiellonian University), Soren Bro Pold (Aarhus University), and Scott Rettberg (University of Bergen). The aim of the project was to capture the cultural moment of the Covid-19 pandemic and a convergence of multiple crises (Mbembe 2021) through the lens of digital culture, specifically, electronic literature (Nacher, Pold, Rettberg, 2021). To this end, we organized an online exhibition entitled Covid E-lit (as a part of the 2021 Electronic Literature Organization Conference), and carried out 12 semi-structured interviews with artists. The interviews were transcribed and documented in a full feature documentary that was shown at the Oslo International Poetry Film Festival in June 2021.

Analyzing both the artworks and the transcribed interviews, I will ask how embodied forms of communicative relatedness, proximity, and community building were mediated through electronic literature, in the exclusively online environment during the pandemic (Abrahams et al. 2020). During the COVID19 pandemic, it became clear that digital environments have emerged as a vital part of our everyday reality and powerful cultural mediators. Not only have Google, Amazon, Facebook or Alibaba become the most valuable corporations in the world, but to a great extent the plethora of platforms shapes our imaginations and cultures of communication, as demonstrated by the rise of Twitter, TikTok, and Reddit as powerful actors capable of influencing contemporary public opinion on a global scale. However, relatively less attention has been paid to creative strategies emerging in the process of ‘platformization’ of societies, defined as ‘the way in which entire social sectors are transforming as a result of the mutual shaping of online connectors and complementors.’ (van Dijck et al., 2018: 19), with even less focus on the role of embodiment and somatization in this process. The examples consist of works by Alex Saum-Pascual, Annie Abrahams, Utterings (a collective established by Annie Abrahams and Daniel Pinheiro),  Xtine Burrough and Giselle Beiguelmann among others.

Works Cited
Abrahams, A., Pinheiro, D., Carrasco, M., Zea, D., La Porta, T., de Manuel, A., … Varin, M. (2020). Embodiment and Social Distancing: Projects. Journal of Embodied Research, 3(2), 4 (27:52). DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/jer.67
Mbembe, A. (2021). The Universal Right to Breathe, trans. C. Shread. Critical Inquiry, 47 (52), https://doi.org/10.1086/711437
Nacher, A., S. Pold and S. Rettberg. COVID E-LIT: Digital Art from the Pandemic curatorial statement. Electronic Book Review, 6 June 2021, https://doi.org/10.7273/kehh-8c36
van Dijck, J., Poell, T., & De Waal, M. 2018. The platform society: Public values in a connective world. Oxford University Press.

Anna Nacher is Associate Professor at Jagiellonian University, 2020 Fulbright alumna, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Literature Organization. Her research interests are located mostly in digital aesthetics, including new media art, electronic literature and sound art. Occasionally, she ventures into ecological humanities. Her recent publications include articles in journals (European Journal of Women’s Studies, Hyperrhiz, Electronic Book Review, Acoustic Space, Communications +1) and chapters in edited volumes. Co-curator of an online exhibition of electronic literature and digital art produced during the COVID19 pandemic: https://eliterature.org/elo2021/covid / Anna Nacher is also a musician and sound artist focusing on voice and field recordings, since 2021 she has been collaborating with Victoria Vesna (Alien Star Dust Online Meditation, Noise Aquarium Meditation, Breath Library). Since 2014, she has been building a community of permaculture practitioners in the Carpathian mountains.  More information and a full list of publications: http://annanacher.wordpress.com

  • A Zoom of One’s Own? Crafting Feminist Resistance through Electronic Literature during COVID-19 – Abigail Moreshead and Anastasia Salter

As we shifted to remote work collectively in academia, domestic spaces were invaded by expectations of the office and classroom, and the binary of public-private (as well as boundaries surrounding domestic labor) collapsed under this new pressure. A formerly marginal platform, Zoom suddenly became central, emphasizing a panopticon of self and collective surveillance, with the camera at the heart of its interface. Feminist electronic literature offers a means to push back against the camera and question the assumptions behind both Zoom as a platform and the labor expectations of remote working. In this analysis of feminist labor responses, we center several works of third-generation electronic literature (to use Leonardo Flores’s 2019 term) which use and resist Zoom as a platform.

Significant works under discussion include Alex Saum-Pascual’s 2021 work, Room #3, which uses Zoom both as a tool and as a subject of commentary on isolation and surveillance; and Sara Raffel’s performance, “Video Off: Zoom and Pandemic Productivity,” which makes visible the labor of individuals balancing caregiving alongside professional responsibilities. Taking up Maud Ceuterick’s argument that the pandemic has “increased the urgency” with which the “binary separation of domestic and professional spheres… needs to be tackled” (2020), we analyze these and other examples of Zoom-based electronic literature as a crucial activist response to the pandemic labor crisis. These works both offer us a means to reimagine and push back against the platforms of pandemic pedagogy and to call for greater attention to the ongoing challenges of disproportionate labor divisions.

Works Cited
Ceuterick, Maud. 2020. “An Affirmative Look at a Domesticity in Crisis: Women, Humour and Domestic Labour during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Feminist Media Studies 20 (6): 896–901. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2020.1789396.
Flores, Leonardo. 2019. “Third Generation Electronic Literature › Electronic Book Review.” April 6, 2019. https://electronicbookreview.com/essay/third-generation-electronic-literature/.

Abigail Moreshead is a PhD candidate in the Texts and Technology program at the University of Central Florida. Her research focuses on book studies, with an emphasis on feminist media and bibliography. Her dissertation examines women illustrators of the early 20th century wood engraving revival. She is currently the managing editor of the James Joyce Literary Supplement and the social media manager for Johnson’s Dictionary Online. Her work has been published in Nineteenth Century Gender Studies and Feminist Media Studies.

Anastasia Salter is an associate professor of English at the University of Central Florida, and author most recently of Playful Pedagogy in the Pandemic: Pivoting to Games-Based Learning (with Emily Johnson, Routledge 2022) and Twining: Critical and Creative Approaches to Hypertext Narratives (with Stuart Moulthrop, Amherst College 2021).

  • Visualizing Women’s Work in the Long Pandemic – xtine burrough

In this talk I share two virtual postcard series developed during the pandemic to make visible tensions felt by women around the globe as we continue to balance our work and home lives. I Got Up 2020, Pandemic Edition is an Instagram diary that reinterprets On Kawara’s original postcard series as a social media performance. As the public sphere collapsed into domestic territory, the distribution of spaces that once stabilized my ongoing roles as artist, educator, mother, and partner was no longer viable. In response, this work of electronic literature documents my home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic (June 2020 to May 2021) and engages themes of labor, the mundane, and domestic life in a daily meditation on living in quarantine.

Following this, Women’s Work is (Screen) Saved amplifies the experiences of women workers on Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk workforce, expressed in survey reflections written in December 2020 about balancing work and motherhood. I transformed survey responses from 100 women into a set of virtual postcards designed to fit a photo-based screensaver. Women wrote how their lives were profoundly changed, and the postcards illustrate the variety of effects the pandemic has had on women around the globe including physical changes, anxiety, and grief. Reflecting on her grandchildren, one wrote, “You can’t hug through Zoom.” This work transforms collected texts from women workers—ghosts in the machine—into virtual postcards for viewing as screensavers on those screens we can’t hug through at the ubiquitous pandemic worksite: the home office.

Links to Works
I Got Up 2020, Pandemic Edition: https://www.instagram.com/igotup2020/
Women’s Work is (Screen) Saved: To install the screensaver, download the image set and follow simple installation directions at: https://github.com/xtineburrough/womensWork
Abridged Documentation Video: https://vimeo.com/xtineburrough/womenswork

xtine burrough (x/x, she/her) is a media artist who works at the intersection of remix practices and digital poetry. She creates screensavers, apps, electronic literature, content for media walls, net.art, series-based works for Instagram, digital videos, interventions on Mechanical Turk, YouTube, and Venmo, and fine art prints. x received a commission for “Data/Set/Match” at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, and funding from the Nasher Sculpture Center, Puffin Foundation West, Humanities Texas, The National Lottery (UK), and California Humanities. A Professor in the School of Arts, Humanities, and Technology at UT Dallas, burrough directs LabSynthE, a laboratory for synthetic and electronic poetry.

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