Elizabeth Kane : “What does the sign we call a body actually signify?”

When you think of this season’s theme, Kristin Chang’s poem “Etymology of Butch,” what elements / images / phrases most strike you? How does your work relate to these ideas?

Kristin Chang’s poem takes me to the not-far-off contemplation of the words that best define me as someone whose gender and sexuality are wide and variable. The most amazing thing to me about “Etymology of Butch” is how upfront Chang is about how her heritage contributes to, confuses, and sometimes limits her potential definitions of herself. The idea of “every animal must atone / for its hunger” speaks to me as the youngest child and only daughter in my family—the ideas of family legacy, of women as the subservient caregivers of authority figures (specifically men), of your worth being locked inside your body until it manifests as child. Of these ideas, my work relates most directly to the idea presented in the title, the “etymology” of a human being. From what language and experiences do our identities spring from? How much is fate, how much is conscious, and how much indoctrination? What does the sign we call a body actually signify?

From what language and experiences do our identities spring from? How much is fate, how much is conscious, and how much indoctrination?

Describe the work you’ll be contributing this season.

I’ll be creating an interactive, multimedia Twine game centered around the idea of collecting. I believe we as people and bodies are collections of our language, thoughts, and experiences—rather than unique and original, we are cobbled together bits of others. I want my game to exemplify the process I wish everyone could be afforded more freely, the process of building your body and person consciously, rather than merely being the sponge to a society which convinces you of what you should be. There will be a certain amount of societal machinations at play in my game—unfortunately it’s inevitable, we don’t choose where and how we’re born—but I guess I want my game to read like a fresh start, where you can cultivate and nurture your weirdness and the curiosity of your identity like a well-tended garden, rather than like a child just trying to survive.

You will be asked to make irrevocable choices, some of which you won’t fully understand, and you’ll collect and grow from them. You’re rebuilding yourself!

What is a Twine game? How do you envision us interacting with your multimedia work?

A Twine game is essentially the current version of 1990s hypertext fiction, a type of nonlinear digital storytelling developed using pre-internet programs such as Storyspace. They used to be distributed via floppy disk, but now it’s as simple as publishing straight to the internet! I love Twine for its accessibility and versatility, easily allowing for multimedia combinations of text, image, video, and audio, and also for its history as a traditionally feminist/feminine-focused media creation tool. Much 90s hypertext fiction dealt with femininity and queerness, and current evolutions in Twine games such as the work of Porpentine Charity Heartscape continue down the same path, so it excites me to be able to participate in such a groundbreaking tradition.

Hopefully you will interact with my work in much the same way as other video games ask, for you to surrender your point of view to the character you create in the game. You will be asked to make irrevocable choices, some of which you won’t fully understand, and you’ll collect and grow from them. You’re rebuilding yourself!

What excites you about the union of text, image, and technology? What do you think the intersection of these mediums can achieve together that they can’t achieve independently?

The union of text, image, and technology affords a complexity that can be lacking from any one singularly. There is a history and theory behind reading a text or reading an image, and the union of the two can skew or add to the reading in remarkable ways. Add technology into the mix, and you can get an interactivity that can be lacking when reading or viewing something. Video games as a genre often aim to place the player inside the world that’s been constructed for them or that they’re constructing for themselves, and I think that onus placed upon the player/viewer encourages deeper thoughts about and mental integration into the work. A work you have to interact with to understand is not like a painting you can glance at and walk past, it’s an experience. (Unless, of course, no one wants to interact with it, which is the struggle that interactive installation artists and now interactive digital artists have been dealing with for decades…)

A work you have to interact with to understand is not like a painting you can glance at and walk past, it’s an experience.

What types of themes and/or mediums do you anticipate diving into next?

So many! I’m a writer by major, and I’m graduating from undergrad this May, so I’m hoping to write a few books. I’d really like to put together a sort of adult picture book about daydreams and escapism. I’m thinking about a Twine game about authenticity that deals with rooting around in memory and finding falsities, sort of like a cross-examination, and about a collection of poetry about the earth and potential other earths and tenderness. Plus, like any other writer, I’ve got a couple novels floating in the ether.

What are you listening to / reading / looking at right now?

Over the past spring break, my girlfriend and I went up to Québec and saw the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Musée d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul. The exhibition “Small Between the Stars, Large Against the Sky” at the MNBAQ was outstanding, full of life and possibility and condemnation.

I just read Post-Subject: A Fable, a lovely book of poetry dealing with understanding language and falling empire by Oliver de la Paz.

I also recently listened to all of Hozier’s new album, Wasteland, Baby!Sunlight” was my favorite.

What are your latest obsessions?

Laurie Anderson’s Chalkroom! My girlfriend and I went to Mass MoCA in January, and I was able to spend about two hours inside Chalkroom. Chalkroom is a VR gaming experience that to me was the conceptual epitome of multimedia. You fly around and read writing on walls and listen to stories and see letter paintings and interact with rooms and stare out at the dead horizon like you think maybe something is out there but really all there is is here, a castle of language.

What wise words do you carry with you into your practice?

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Who is one of the most influential people in your (biological and/or chosen) family lineage? How do you feel their influence in your work?

Probably the single most influential person to my artistic career is an art professor at my college, Kate Randall. She taught me what art is. She’s encouraging and demanding and her influence is my entire drive to continue making art because she got me to believe it really does matter.

How do other artistic mediums inspire / inform your work?

Art is foremost a practice in language, and different mediums communicate differently, so mostly different media inspire different types of communication and speak to different histories. In particular, I really admire the way sculptures force you to walk around them, and so I try to take that natural movement into my interactive works by trying to make a tantalizing world that you want to walk around. ■


Elizabeth Kane is a senior BFA student at the University of Maine at Farmington. They’ve been published in The River30North, and Wanderlust Journal, and were Alice James Books’ first Director’s Chair Fellow.

RECEIVE LETTERS

Reflections from A CLEARING in your inbox.
On letterhead, mostly monthly.