By Sarah Whitcomb Laiola, Curator & Co-founder of Filter
“Filter: Instagram Storytelling and Zine Culture” showcases the six works of electronic literature published in the October 2021 inaugural issue of Filter: An Instagram Collaboratory for E-Lit. Winner of an “Emerging Space for E-Lit” grant from the Electronic Literature Organization in November 2020, Filter is a 'zine for electronic literature hosted entirely on Instagram. It circulates and promotes works of e-lit that engage with, disrupt, and/or are optimized for the poetics of that platform, inviting e-lit creators and critics alike to explore the critical-creative possibilities latent in platform features, ranging from 10-frame image posts and time-limited Stories, to looped Boomerangs, video Reels and Interactive Stickers.
Filter occupies an important crossroads for the ways we understand the relationship between Instagram and creative-critical literary work. On the one hand, as a publication venue, it mobilizes Instagram in its most familiar, popular mode: as a social media site for sharing photo- and video-based content. This is the model of Instagram through which popular, third generation e-lit practices like Insta-poetry emerge. On the other hand, it invites engagement with Instagram as a platform that is not limited to literary distribution but integral to the creation of Instagram-based e-lit. How can we understand a 10-frame image series or 24-hour story expiration as a poetic constraint? How does the looped Boomerang prompt us to reconsider recursivity, and how does remix get re-interpreted through Repost? What possibilities for one-touch narrative interaction are there in moving from one story frame to another, and how does the 24-hour temporal limit to Stories require us to rethink the relationship between born-digital literature, performance, and liveness? These are the kinds of questions that Filter asks when it prompts us to consider Instagram as not just a distribution but also a creation platform for e-literary work.
The zine's inaugural issue, “What is Instagram E-Lit?,” called for work exploring this space of platform complexity. The submissions we received and those accepted exhibited here offer productive sites for further engagement. Perhaps the works that most explicitly engage with Instagram as a platform are Penny Florence's “UM”, which engages with the formal possibilities and constraints of the Instagram platform, and xtine burrough's “I Got Up 2020, Pandemic Edition” and James Mackay's “roadsurfacesofcyprus”, which each explore and challenge the norms of Instagram culture. In “UM”, a piece of videographic poetry, Florence uses the forced 15-second cuts of Instagram's Stories to determine the rhythm of cuts and internal movements. In “I Got Up 2020, Pandemic Edition”— a project housed at the @Igotup2020 account and excerpted here and in Filter— burrough challenges the interplay between spectacle and the everyday on Instagram, as she as she creates videos and images documenting the times she's woken up each day in 2020. What burrough's “I Got Up 2020, Pandemic Edition” does for Instagram's normalization of spectacle, Mackay's “roadsurfacesofCyprus” does for Instagram's prioritization of beauty, as, through images of road surfaces in Cyprus, Mackay insists that Instagram be a place for the boring and even the ugly. Indeed, as Mackay details in his artists' statement, when he began to document “the ugly” on Instagram, he received an automated, algorithmically derived message from the platform suggesting that he “might possibly want to take some time for self-care,” a critical anecdote that informs not only the direction of his project, but two other works featured here as well: Richard Carter's “Waveforms” and Raynen Bajette Amos' “Salt & Smoke // Air and Water”; deconstructed meme. In both of these pieces, the artists' use machine learning algorithms to generate poetic forms that prompt us to speculate on the interrelationships between the machinic, and the natural, the biological, the environmental, and the living. Finally, closing out this exhibition is the Marino Family's “Coronation: A Webcomic”, a project that mobilizes the familiar webcomic form as daily practice and coping mechanism for the COVID-19 pandemic to effect a kind of creative nonfiction account of their experiences.
What is Instagram E-Lit? If we are lucky, we will never have a definitive answer to this question. But the pieces collected and exhibited here offer ways we might begin to formulate an answer, as they challenge, critique, expand, and disrupt our expectations for the relationship between electronic literature and the Instagram platform.
We would like to thank Sarah Whitcomb Laiola, Assistant Professor at Coastal Carolina University, for entrusting The NEXT with this important exhibition. We thank the six artists that have given permission to show their work. We also thank Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) for funding the original project that led to this exhibition.
Additional sponsors: Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) and Washington State University Vancouver.
A special thank you to the ELL team: Richard Snyder, Associate Director, who worked directly with Laiola to mount the show; Holly Slocum, Senior Designer, for creating the exhibition space at The NEXT; Sierra O'Neal, 2D Animator, for creating the animated assets for the exhibition; and Dene Grigar for ongoing guidance and support.