Film Professor Caitlin Fisher wins international digital poetry prize

York film Professor Caitlin Fisher, Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture, is co-winner of the City of Vinaròs 4th International Digital Literature Award 2008 prize in poetry, a first for a Canadian.

The award is for outstanding work in digital poetry. Fisher won the City of Vinaròs prize, along with 2,500 euros, for her work "Andromeda", an augmented reality journey poem about stars, loss and women named Isabel.

The work uses a unique authoring environment, Jit/tag, pioneered in the Augmented Reality Lab at York under Fisher’s direction. The technology makes it easy for artists to explore robust, multiple and simultaneous fiducial recognition with sound. The Augmented Reality Lab is part of the Future Cinema Lab in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

Right: A picture of one of the pages of Caitlin Fisher’s digital poetry piece "Andromeda"

“It was really exciting, especially as no other Canadian has won it and earlier awards have gone to key pioneers in electronic literature,” says Fisher. “I’m somewhat surprised, too – my work is more closely associated with a lyrical, narrative tradition and the digital poetry community tends to prefer computationally generated poems. It’s also nice to win because the piece uses technology developed by our team here in the lab. The award opens up more and different kinds of collaborations with our lab and it connects us with the digital poetry community internationally.”

"Andromeda" is a pop-up book overlaid with fiducials – black and white squares. The reader explores the physical object with a camera attached to a computer running ARTag code. The black and white squares are then replaced with moving images, text and sound. “It is part spoken word, part moving image and part written text,” says Fisher.

Fisher says setting up the lab took a lot of hard work and time. “This piece was on the crest of that all coming to fruition.” But she is glad the Augmented Reality Lab is complete. “It felt like I finally had a space to draw breath,” she says. "Andromeda", created this past fall, actually benefitted from some errors present in an earlier version of the code: “We couldn’t figure out how to stop the audio tracks from looping. The result is a kind of choral piece I never thought I would write.” She plans to present an expanded, performance version of "Andromeda" in Chicago this April and in Barcelona at the E-Poetry Festival, the most significant digital literary gathering in the field, in May.

Left: A picture of one of the pages of Caitlin Fisher’s digital poetry piece "Andromeda"

The City of Vinaròs prize’s four judges were looking for work that explored and used the possibilities of the computer as a space for creation, and that had an accessible interface design and literary quality, seen as the renovation of poetic and narrative techniques through a new means of creation. For the digital poetry category, the text could be a single piece of work or a compilation of poems. The jury also took into account works that experimented with the Internet as a medium for literary creation.

As a theorist, creative writer and digital artist with broad interdisciplinary interests, Fisher completed York’s first hypertextual dissertation in 2000. In 2001, her hypermedia novella, These Waves of Girls, was awarded the international Electronic Literature Award for Fiction by the Electronic Literature Organization. Fisher was awarded a prestigious Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture in 2004. She directs the Augmented Reality Lab in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York, where she is working to construct and theorize spatial narrative environments that combine the physical world with digital traces and artifacts. She is also a co-founder of York’s Future Cinema Lab, dedicated to exploring new stories for new screens.

The City of Vinaròs prize is administered by the Hermeneia Literary Studies & Digital Technologies Research Group at the Open University of Catalonia and Vinaròs Council’s Culture & Education Office. For more information, visit the Hermeneia Research Group Web site.