"The Ephemera of Electronic Art"

Dene Grigar and Richard Snyder, Curators

"Cultural memory is the technology by which a society survives." —Abigail de Kosnik, Rogue Archives, 28

Deena and Ted nibbling on toast across the table. The July air damp on the walk back. Leaves rustled by a hedgehog foraging at the foot of a tree. Kate donning the headset to demo The Breathing Wall at its World Premiere––memories of trAce's Incubation3 conference are triggered by a glance at its program pulled from the archives. As an example of ephemera, this object––like all 34 featured in "The Ephemera of Electronic Art"––is an artifact of a past that situates us in a present. It documents events that, even having passed, remain part of the memory of those who participated and, at the same time, impart information about the event to those who did not. This is how culture is maintained over time. This is how humanity survives as a culture (Rumsey 13).

As this exhibition suggests, we see the announcement cards that tout forthcoming exhibitions; exhibition catalogs that detail art in shows; flyers that publicize events; posters that promote performances; and mementos given as gifts not as trivial bits of detritus meant to be thrown away after they have served their purpose but rather as historical artifacts that operate as "memory architecture within which we encounter and re-appropriate what is left of the past in the present and where we preserve the present in the past" (Giannachi 60). In this regard, they are contextualized within the story of the actual events they represent rather than identified as the object itself. In this way, the exhibition contributes to the "lore" of electronic literature (Ensslin 8). For example, the paper flyer promoting "Lust" speaks to ways publishers made audiences aware of the art they were distributing, a method no longer common today. Moreover, that is signed by the poet Mary-Kim Arnold to Marjorie Luesebrink, both hypertext authors published by Eastgate Systems, Inc., also says much about the kind of networks that evolved during the pre-web period before GUI email applications made attachments possible.

Drawn from the various collections held in The NEXT––most notably Turbulence's, Marjorie C. Luesebrink's, and Deena Larsen's, as well as Dene Grigar's personal archives––these physical artifacts have been selected to highlight the art and scholarship of born-digital art and literature as the field has unfolded over the last two decades. They showcase far-thinking communities, like the trAce Online Writing Centre that emerged in the UK in the mid-1990s and the Electronic Literature Organization founded in the U.S. four years later. They alert us to the artistic achievements of individuals like Annie Abrahams, Eduardo Kac, and Mark Amerika. They remind us of ground-breaking moments in time, like the pivotal meeting, "CyberMountain," that Deena Larsen organized in Denver in 1999 that helped birth the field. They recall endeavors of importance: the bleuOrange mug documents a decade of this Canadian journal's contribution to born-digital art; the notebook given to ELO 2017 conference participants speaks to the dedication and care the organizer Rui Torres put into his event. Taken together, they establish the existence of a field of study that expands beyond any one border and cuts across many areas of art practice and scholarly interests. As ephemera, they ironically serve as solid evidence of past exhibitions, performances, readings, conferences, meetings, and other events have once taken place.

We would like to acknowledge the contributions of members of our team at the Electronic Literature Lab who made this exhibition possible. Holly Slocum designed the logo and created the exhibition site, and Greg Philbrook who did the final coding for it. Sierra O'Neal produced all the 3D models for the event and produced the banner animation. Ariel Wallace scanned and refined all the images used in the site. We also thank Washington State University Vancouver and its chancellor Mel Netzhammer for the ongoing support of The NEXT and the lab.


De Kosnik, Abigail. Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.

Ensslin, Astrid. Pre-web Digital Publishing and the Lore of Electronic Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Giannachi, Gabriella. Archive Everything: Mapping the Everyday. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.

Rumsey, Abby Smith. When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future. London, UK: Bloomsbury Press, 2016.