The New Work of Composing

Introduction & Inspiration

Born is an all-volunteer project that brings together writers, artists, and others from diverse fields to create storytelling artworks. The name reflects the creative process nurtured by collaboration and the bringing together of traditional and new forms of art and literature, diverse media, and emerging technologies. The project’s “magazine,” first published in 1997 and retired in 2012, brought together creative writers and interactive artists to create experimental, media-rich literary arts that could only be experienced via the Web. The entire archive continues to be a resource for teachers, artists, and writers. Also on the website is a retrospective e-book that showcases the magazine’s finest work.

What you will view in “No Theory but for Practice” is also a collaboration. The original essay, available in PDF and HTML formats, is a melding of presentations by Born editors at the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Conference and the Thomas R. Watson Conference in Rhetoric and Composition in 2008.

The Flash version, created in 2010, reflects a second level of collaboration, inspired by Born’s history of interpreting literary works into multimedia. We asked a previous Born contributor, Molly Sokolow Hayden, to create an interpretation of the essay. As with many of Born’s projects, this collaboration uses the original text as the basis for representation and interpretation into a new medium. Unlike Born’s traditional work, however, Hayden was given the liberty to move beyond representation or “translation” into new media, and to create a visual essay that is her response to ideas in the text.

There are several forms to this response. First, because Born focuses on shorter textual works, the length of this piece poses a particular challenge in both content and format. Because the essay is text heavy, the artist was given full reign to select portions of the text and interpret the narrative structure of the argument. The artist picked sentences and parts of the essay that she recognized were key to the experiences and ideas that the authors were expressing (with some editorial feedback), but which also resonated with her own experience working on Born projects. She then composed a visual-based “dialog” with those points. Thus the Flash interpretation is a structural and visual “reading” by the artist.

The artist’s structural interpretation of the Flash version is that of a patchwork. It is a visual representation of how the narrative unfolds in the designer’s mind—as such evoking specific images, artists, styles, and traditions. The patchwork spirals as the essay's argument comes together, which also serves as a metaphor for Born’s work as a whole. Born continually threads together disparate components to create a whole—words, typography, film, photography, sound, and other technologies are combined in a unique way with each collaboration. And just as unmatched pieces of fabric come together to make a quilt, each unique collaboration in Born adds to the unified final publication, tied together only by its creative process and technology. In Born there is nothing visually similar between the individual collaborations—there’s no single aesthetic. However, as when you give a hundred artists identical boxes to create with, in the end, regardless of what they did, each artist’s creation will share an essential core or consistency due to the raw material they were given to work with.

The visual inspiration behind the Flash version is driven by the artist’s interest in the art and typography of the era addressed within the second half of the essay. Compared to the font palette and tools of the modern designer, the modernists’ choices were minimal. They had to be as expressive as possible, using very simple and limited means. This limitation created a classic scenario of “creativity within confines,” which fostered a certain playfulness. Hayden comments, “even to space out a word extensively, to stretch out a line, was considered radical. I imagine them trying to break out of rigid ideas of how things always had been done and striving for expression while having little (from our vantage) to express themselves with. I find this similar to Born, which is also working the angle of creativity within confines in that the technology is both opportunity and limitation. How can I communicate what I’m thinking about this text outside of traditional ideas of form but also using just these specific tools?” The resulting piece aims to reflect the limitations of those choices.

— Anmarie Trimble, Jennifer Grotz, and Molly Sokolow Hayden