I stumbled across an announcement from the Beehive Collective <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beehive_Design_Collective> and was admiring, as I always do, their great pen and ink posters, their aesthetics, their rich informational qualities, and their ethical commitment. On the one hand, I find myself admiring their tried and true methods: black and white posters, created by artists working in community, distributed by hand. I appreciate their emphasis on storytelling, not only in their images, but as they promote the causes they choose to represent. I appreciate the fact that their research is based on actual travel and organizing and networking, and that they distribute their work across the borders they are bridging. Even their whole “Beehive” mythology is fascinating.
The other part of the Beehive Collective’s work, however, is not simply flesh and blood art and communication. Not only do they respond to a global situation which was created by the New Economy (in which flows of labor, resources, and capital are increasingly transnational), but their model of information exchange, activism, and distribution makes use of these very same flows. This is not an original point, of course. But it is interesting to look at how the Beehive Collective whose chief medium (the black and white, hand-designed poster) exudes simplicity (even if the phenomenon they wish to critique are complex). Aside from the crunchy, earthiness that appeals to folks who feel threatened by life in the fast-paced, throwaway USA (I consider myself one of these), these posters are practical–the dispossessed people who support this fast-paced, automated commodity culture might not have access to computers, fast connections, technological skills, or the culturally specific knowledge needed to assimilate products that were made for platforms (and by platforms, I am referring to any method of dissemination, from laptops to department stores) that are intentionally or unintentionally exclusive in their character. Sure, our clothes might be made by sweatshop workers in Honduras, but that does not mean that the Hondurans who cut and stitch the clothes are welcome in the malls where they are sold. They are not even welcome in the U.S. Depending on the factory, they might not even be free to leave the premises. A poster, a flier, a story told from one person to another–messages forged through dialogue with their intended audience–perhaps, in a sense, these old media ARE the new media for an alternative globalization, which is emerging. They are just as much creatures of the New Economy as the various market-driven logics that build the sweatshops, send the work orders, destabilize agricultural economies, privatize water resources, and fracture families.
In addition to thinking about the lovely bees and their dedication to the life of their hive, I have also been thinking about some questions raised by Sandy Baldwin at an ELO/MITH panel that I didn’t attend, but which are preserved online. Baldwin asks, “How regional or hemispheric are the set of possible statements about electronic literature (e-lit is formalized around specific statements or conditions of possibility; certain works “appear” and others do not)? To what degree is what we talk about as electronic literature solely out of US/Western Europe? To what degree is it a function of the academic practices of these geographic regions?” And, I think these questions ought to be answered.
To help accomplish this, I’d like to direct people to the International Electronic Literature Wiki, which presents an opportunity to put a bigger picture together. Does the body of Electronic Literature represent a “photo album” or “archive” of life on earth in the 21st Century? Does it really reflect the human experience (or, if you’d prefer, the story of consciousness) as it is unfolding across the globe? Am I a fool to even concern myself with this? Does electronic literature contain some hidden generic restrictions? Or does it embody this same sweep of globalization? I don’t know what the answers are. But I’d like to think about it.
I’d like to hope that Electronic Literature IS a literature that can provide a detailed account of the world as we know it.
In the meantime, you might look at the work of Horit Herman Peled <www.horit.com>. Peled, an artist, activist, and scholar, whose work provides glimpses (images, texts, videos) of Israel/Palestine border checkpoints might provide one example of how digital writers can document aspects of the daily lives of subjects in our era of globalization.