Contemporary Art @ Boğaziçi - Interview Project

Alan Bigelow

By Melis Nilgün

1- To begin with, could you please tell us a little bit about your background?

My academic background is in English, music, and theater. I was a music major in college for a while, then I switched to English and went on to graduate school. My theater experience was self-taught and enhanced by being able to experience (as a dish-washer and a stage hand) the summer institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut (USA). After my dissertation (on the plays of Sam Shepard), I got a full-time job at Medaille college in Buffalo, New York, USA, as an English professor. That was twenty years ago. I have been there ever since. Before my teaching job, I was, at various times: a grave-digger, a newspaper delivery person, a model for studio art classes, a grocery clerk, a life guard, a dish washer, a street vendor (Italian ices), a groundskeeper, a specifications writer for the Gallup Poll, and a library shelver. I have also repaired snow fences in the dead of a Connecticut winter and paved roads in the broiling heat of a Montana summer. During all of it, I was always reading. Mostly fiction, but also poetry, drama, and whatever else kept my interest.

2- When did you first realize that you are an artist? Was there a turning point to start making art or you were interested in it since childhood?

I was always interested in art. My parents collected art in a haphazard way (incidental prints and copies of classic European works, with some World War II fighter aircraft thrown in for my father's benefit), but enough so there were pictures around the house which gave me a sense of what good art might look like. I grew up in New York City, so I also had access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of my favorite pastimes was to go into the museum and deliberately get lost in its labyrinthine holdings. Sometimes, I would be lost for hours. I started writing poetry when I was thirteen years old, and continue to this day. I got into new media in 1999. I am not sure I would call myself an "artist." A Net Artist, maybe, or a digital writer….

3- Did you get influenced by other artists? If you did, how?

Oh, yes. The Abstract Expressionists, for one, and the Surrealists, and Pop Art, but really it was just a matter of what caught my eye. As a Net Artist, it is difficult to trace their influences in my own work. Seeing they were all great, and they were in museums, the best lesson I learned from them was how to recognize great art when I see it. This allowed me to use the "eye" test on my own work (not that it is great!), but just to make sure it was not too embarrassing to publish.

4- How do you describe the concept of art and new media art?

So far, I have managed not to attempt this description. It can only lead to colossal misunderstandings.

5- Which technique do you use? Could you tell us more about the digital or technical equipment you use?

In 1999, I began with Flash, which was a terrific tool for creating new media work. I am very happy that I was able to be a part of its heyday. However, as we all know, Flash is no longer the standard in new media and not particularly device-friendly. Now I use HTML5, jQuery, and JavaScript in an attempt to make my new work viewable across multiple devices and platforms.

6- What was your inspiration that makes you work on digital literature?

I got started in digital writing for a very specific reason. I owned the domain name and was worried that someone, at some point, would try to take it away from me. So I built a story over it. It was my first digital story—part html, part Flash—and I had such fun doing it, I just kept going. I also saw that the web was the best place to publish stories, and any story that didn't use multimedia was not utilizing the web as it should be. A short time later, was born.

7- Even you write digital literature, you have 10 reasons to hate it :) How do you explain this?

"Ten Reasons Why I Hate Digital Literature" was a blog post I wrote for My purpose was to vent (as every artist does) about their love-hate relationship with their work. If you ever find an artist who loves their own work, without a trace of self-doubt or misgiving, please email me their name. I want to steal their identity.

8- Could you explain how you started your project 'stories for the web' ? was a site I set up in 2000 as a way to put all my stories and poems and web playthings in one place. They were starting to clutter up my study, and I needed to get them out of the house. Now there are thirty pieces and counting. I am about to redesign the site…

9- Could you please tell us about your recent works?

I have three new works, all created in 2013 using HTML5 and JavaScript. These are a new direction for me and departure from the earlier Flash works. With these works, I find myself building for the small screen of portable handhelds. I am also (particularly in "meme"), stripping the digital writing down to its core, to its basics text-visual language with no accessories. "meme" (2013): URL of Work: "meme" reduces a story to its basic narrative form through the use of archetypal images and text. The first in a series. "Silence" (2013): URL of Work: Viewers can look for the text in "Silence," but they will not find it. This story uses the P22 "Cage Silence" font, which is inspired by John Cage's famous work 4'33". This font does not appear on screen or print. There is no vector or bit map information other than the period character. All of the information is searchable, but it is not visible unless you look at the source code. < Cody in Love > (2013) URL of Work: < Cody in Love > seeks the true nature of code as it is manifested in text. The work is a personification and an elegy to love. It is an examination of the digital heart, and how to find it within a coded and text-based world.

10- Could you describe your process of ‘making a piece of art’?

Usually, I start with an idea, and sometimes even a sentence fragment. Then I lay down the text. After that, depending on my mood, I go for the visual layout and navigation. Once that is all synced, the final media I add is the audio track(s). Then I let the project sit for a while, to let the kinks filter out of it. Sometimes I will ask a friend to read it for me to see if there or any major glitches. If all is well, I release it.

11- At the same time we know that you are a lecturer. Is it enough to lead a life? Or how do you handle the business side of being an artist?

I am a full-time college Professor, so I have been very lucky in terms of being able to support myself while still having time to work on my digital writing. In addition, my college has been extremely generous in funding travel to conferences and festivals, which I would otherwise not be able to attend. I am not sure what I would do if I had my life to do all over again. In my opinion, academia still is a pretty good place for artists.

12- Apart from these, what do you do in your free time?

I watch TV. I surf the web. I eat good food (healthy food, when I can). I drink wine and beer (in moderation, of course). I take walks. I travel (when I can). I try to enjoy life (although almost every waking moment is spent worrying about the insignificant details of life).

13- As a last question, what advice would you like to give for those who want to become an artist?

If you do not like what you make as an artist, then don't expect anyone else to.

Thanks for your participation and hope to see you in Turkey!