Textualities based on practices

This post provides two samples of pedagogical material used during the Cuentanos un secreto workshop when it explores digital literacy practices as, UX, Game design, animation or ebooks. Both examples are grounded in Ulises Carrión’s and Augusto de Campos’s artwork and manifest.
This is a extension of the paper Secret sharing, a pedagogical tool for e-lit practices presented on ELO18 in Montreal.

There will not be literature any more. There will be, perhaps, new ways to communicate that will include language or will use language as basis. As a medium of communication, literature will always be old literature.
Ulises Carrión, 1975

There are several examples taken from art and visual communication history that can provide a phenomenological context to understand the mutation of books and written language into the networking and programmable media (Cayley 2008). For instance, in her book Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (2014), Johanna Drucker provides diverse examples from graphic design, book history and cinema theory. In Uncreative Writing (2011), Kenneth Goldsmith gives an extensive framework of samples, mostly from the 20th century imaginary revolution, focused on the late 1970s avant-garde movements. 

Such examples, rather than exemplify e-lit practices or digital culture in the flashy and futuristic new land of never-ending tech, contextualize digital culture within the critical eyes of History and place the language of computation practices into the ground of culture, where technology is a result of the human will. Those examples seem simple, but in depth they condense complex linguistic and media theories, as explained by Katherine Hayles’s concept of the “eventualized text” or by Marshall Mcluhan’s idea that “The medium is the message“. 

I want to explore two of these examples: The New Art of Making Books (1975) by Ulises Carrión (Fig.9), and The Concrete Poetry Manifesto (1956) by Augusto de Campos. Both examples come from the field of art and are manifestos. I feel the need to clarify that, being manifestos, neither of them use the scientific method; in fact, they don’t seek to demonstrate anything at all. They manifest, and there is where their beauty lies. Also, both “theories” are far from being mere theoretical frameworks for art practices. They are visible, tangible and playfully applied in diverse art pieces by their creators. They ensemble theory and art practice. They mirror each other. Thereby, they can easily be tracked, analyzed, compared, used and played with as pedagogical materials. 

Figure 9: Ulises Carrión’s portrait. Original picture by Jhon Liggins (1979).

Élika Ortega, in her essay “Not a case of words: Textual environments and multimateriality” (2017), provides diverse examples about the impact of Carrión’s work on textualities in the programmable and networked media. The New Art of Making Books framed a fantastic cultural phenomena during the 1960s: the avant-garde practices for artist’s books or book-works, a term coined by Carrión to call those practices. The innovation of Carrión’s essay lies in his conceptualization of the ontology of the book, the language and artistic book practices. The New Art of Making Books is an essential theoretical framework for anyone who wants to question the book, both as an object and as a cultural institution. 

“What makes a book a book? What is a book? What is language? Is a rose a rose, or it is just the typical rose?” (Carrión 1975). Merely opening the door to these questions implies a tremendous advance for understanding the book and language beyond print media. 

As Ortega also points out in her essay, Carrión’s contribution to understanding textualities in network and programmable media is the conceptualization of “the book as an autonomous space-time sequence” (Ortega 2017). This definition provides an alternative for diverse cultural expressions: some of them are literary genres, but some others are expressions that appeal to their own symbolic language, as an ordinateur of symbols.

Figure 10: Caption of “Love Story”, 1983, by Ulises Carrión. (LIMA Collection)

For instance, on May 23rd, 1983, Carrión performed an organized sight-seeing tour in the Dutch city of Arnhem and its surrounding countryside. The tour was based on the “real” love story of an artist and his wife: Ton and Ina. The people who signed up for the tour visited the most important places in Ton and Ina’s love story: “the place where they first met,” “where Ina’s father banned their love,” “where they shared their first kiss,” etc. During the tour, you would go from point A to point B, and so on. (Fig.10)

According to Harry Ruhè (1992), Ulises Carrión said: “the city as organized chaos imbues the story with a clear and perceptible structure. A tour around the city, along the story’s most important points, [is] an aesthetic experience“. Based on Carrión’s definition of a book as “an autonomous space-time sequence,”. Love story is an organized sequence of moments contained in the city of Arnhem, fixed in time. The book is an autonomous reality close in time: May 23rd, 1983.

As a parallelism, this can easily be translated as a sketch for a user experience journey into the city. A geolocative narrative app, using augmented reality technology for tourism, would have a similar approach to Carrión’s art piece: go from point A to point B and tell a story. This is what some geolocative narrative art pieces have done already, such as 34th North 118 West (2003) by Jeff Knowlton, Naomi Spellman and Jeremy Hight (Fig.11) or Pilgrim (2018) by Lauren Hutchinson.

Figure 11: 34th North 118 West (2003), geolocative narrative based on GPS technology. The reader walks through the city and triggers moments in time based on their location. 

In his concrete poetry manifesto, the Brazilian Augusto de Campos described concrete poetry as “Tension of things-words in space-time” (Campos 1956). One of my favorite examples to illustrate this statement comes from experimenting with the collection of Poémobiles (1968-1974), in particular with a poem called “In-comunicable”. (Fig.12)

Figure 12: In-comunicable, in “I Am Also Not a Book” at Reina Sofía in Madrid (2017). The exhibition was curated by the editor and publisher Guy Schraenen. 

Based on paper pop-up technology, “In-comunicable” (1968) is a folded paper card which holds three cut paper layers. Each layer has its own text/content that shows itself in a consecutive order during the performance of opening the paper card. Inside the card, the word “in” is printed in red font in the background layer. The next layer says “Comuni”, and, on the last layer the word “cable” is written. This last layer, cut by the horizontal axis, allows the layer to show the content of the second layer, “Comuni”. This will only happen when the paper card is completely open. By then, it is already too late, and the content “cable” is no longer readable. 

In fact, the piece only “communicates” when the paper card is opened. When it is closed, the reader can’t know the card’s content, and the card cannot communicate. In contrast, the art piece will not have any meaning without the active interaction of the reader. Only when the reader plays the poem do they find its meaning. Yet it is the “tension” between the three consecutive layers and the interaction that shows “in-communicable” as meaning, a metaphor.

In 2006, in Time of Digital Poetry, Katherine Hayles described the cybertext as being “eventualized,” being less discrete and self contained. This eventualized text is procedural: it is the result of processes and it can trigger processes, either by human or non-human actors. It is a self-contained text in space-time (Hayles, 2006: 182). From this point of view, De Campos’s Poémobiles seems to be a UX paper prototype of Katherine Hayles eventualized text. “In-comunicable” is a self contained system and poem that signifies while it triggers its own process.  

I would also like to clarify that my argument here is not to place art and design at the same level. Each cultural manifestation regards visuality from a different perspective. Nevertheless, both of them are constantly mirroring, communicating and feeding each other. And time adds a unique and valuable perspective for understanding any cultural process. 

Los discretos [The discrete ones]

Figure 13: “Los discretos” [The discrete ones], 2012, by Nosotros. 

 (Carrión, 1975)

To conclude, I would like to present “Los discretos” [The discrete ones]. It is important to clarify that, in Spanish, “discretos” does not actually translate as “discrete” because “discrete” constitutes a separate entity, a self-contained object. Discreto actually translates as “discreet” in English; however, you need to be quite self-contained to be discreet enough. In the case of these secrets, they are too noisy to be discretos or self-contained. 

This collection of secrets explored digital narratives enclosed in a single digital button. The collection was created in 2012 at Faro de Oriente, and its main idea was to assign the semiotic relations between the diverse states to one of three digital “buttons”: normal, hover or trigger. 

This performative idea of using digital buttons of state as a semiotic space regards the principles of concrete poetry manifesto: “Tension of things-words in space-time.”. Those states promote a systematic understanding of the whole poem, with the user interaction as part of the poetic language.  

This collection was named in 2018. The name was inspired by Katheline Hayley Time for Digital Poetry (2006) and Roberto Simanowsky’s essay “What is and to what end do we read digital literature?” (2009). While Hayley’s ideas made me reflect upon the eventualized feature of the cyber text that differs from the self-contained objects in print media, i.e. the discrete characters, Simanowsky’s essay made me think for the first time about the doubts and contradictions of electronic literature. What makes e-literature literature? 

What is literature?


What would the world be like without doubts and contradictions?


  • Campos, Augusto. Concrete Poetry: Manifesto,1956 http://www.ubu.com/papers/noigandres01.html  Accessed Aug 14 th, 2020.
  • Carrión, Ulises. “The new art of making books”. In Ulises Carrión: We Have Won! Haven’t We? Edited by Guy Schraenen. Amsterdam: Museum Fordor, 1975. 
  • Cayley, Jhon. “Performance Of Writing in The Age Of digital Transliteration.” In Digital arts and culture 98. Bergen: University of Bergen, 1998.  Accessed May 1, 2019. http://cmc.uib.no/dac98/papers/cayley.html
  • Cuéntanos un secreto, 2012. Accessed May 1, 2019 http://cuentanosunsecreto.com 
  • Goldsmith, Kenneth, Uncreative Writing, Columbia University Press, 2011. 
  • Hayles, N. Katherine “The time of digital poetry: from object to event.” In New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories. Ed. Cambridge, MIT Press: Morris A & Swiss. 2006.
  • Hutchinson L & Unseld S. 2019. “Pilgrim.” Artwork, Geolocative narrative experience at IDFA 2018. Date of retrieval: April 11th, 2019 https://www.idfa.nl/en/film/400bc75c-13f1-4012-b4aa-67b9684156b8/pilgrim
  • Nosotros. “Los discretos (The discrete ones)” in Cuéntanos un secreto collection. Mexico city, 2012.  Accessed May 1, 2019. http://hey.viniciusmarquet.com/los_discretos/index.html/.
  • Ortega, Élika. “Not a case of words: Textual Environments and Multimateriality in Between Page and Screen.” in Electronic Book Review. (January 2017). Accessed April 13th, 2019. https://electronicbookreview.com/essay/not-a-case-of-words-textual-environments-and-multimateriality-in-between-page-and-screen
  • Ruhé, Harry. “Love Story.” In Ulises Carrión: We have won! Haven’t we? Edited by Guy Schraenen. Amsterdam: Museum Fordor. 1992.


  • Carrión, Ulises.“Love Story caption” Performance. Video. Accessed April 14 th, 2019. LIMA collection http://www.li-ma.nl/site/catalogue/art/ulises-carrin/love-story/533
  • Knowlton J, Spellman N & Hight J. 34th North 118 West. Artwork, Digital narrative experience. 2003, digital. Accessed April 11, 2019. http://34n118w.net
  • Marquet, Vinicius. Secret composition, 2019, digital vectors; Personal collection.
  • Marquet, Vinicius  Exhibition La Trampa Grafica, fanzine making and digital edition, 2013, Photography. Personal collection 
  • Marquet, Vinicius  Ulises Carrión portrait , based on John Liggins original picture, 2015, digital media; Personal collection
  • Marquet, VInicius . In-comunicable by Augusto de Campos,  Photography; Personal collection
  • Nosotros. “Los discretos” [The discrete ones]” Screenshot http://hey.viniciusmarquet.com/los_discretos/index.html/.

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