John Sparrow

Artist Statement


Part of my current research is the investigation into how new media can change the ways we interact with, consume and create language. Dynamic technologies such as HTML and Flash enable texts to be more than static, closed pieces of art, and to engage with issues of referential instability, interactivity and ambiguity. Rather than claiming to be a replacement for or merely an extension of previous poetic practices, my digital poetics enquiries engage with the relationship between sign and signifier and the reader in digital texts.

As part of ongoing experiments, my work explores how new media can produce texts not achievable on the printed page, and unite art disciplines; transformations, palimpsests, sequences, linking - the "flickering signifiers" of the screen (to quote N Katherine Hayles' term for the fluid referent on-screen). The form and materiality becomes an integral part of the content, the materiality and the artifice of new media, and the foregrounding of this materiality and language's use within it.

The digital media with which I work carry with them traditions of consumption that aim to make transparent the medium for efficient language conveyance and referential closure. My work attempts to foreground its materiality to highlight the language at work within it. The set up of expectation for surprise is essential for the subversion of expected linguistic and formal exchanges, to allow for open readings and more fundamental reader engagement through the tricks and traps of supposed intention. Charles Bernstein's absorptive / anti-absorptive dynamic brought into already-interactive media the art work as score to be performed in order to reach one of many readings. I am interested in how hyper-textual, transformable and/or code works are developed, producing a writing practice in which potential outcomes, surprises, areas of play within parameters produce unstable texts to be realized in performance.

Version 1 comes from an engagement with theories of Language Poetry in relation to multimedia works, in particular Brian Kim Stefans' The Dreamlife of Letters, a Flash poem that plays with the material constructions of language, animating the alphabet through alluring formal conventions.

In Version 1, I wanted to present a text whose linguistic and formal materials were unstable, constantly in flux. The texts' spatial and temporal advancements offer multiple reading possibilities, mutating texts and producing kinetic chain reactions. The piece should be experienced almost like a movie (one which cannot be paused) in which the interruptions, losses and excesses are as important as the communicable information which might be gleaned.

Songs for Wrists is a series of Flash postcards in which texts, contextualised by the photographed background, are changeable by shuffling lines. Clicking a coloured button will also fade and highlight parts of the text, revealing texts within the texts. The work is inspired by the materially economic works of Johanna Drucker, in particular Narratology and The Word Made Flesh. I am interested in how digital media can be influenced by such material enquiry.

John Sparrow Bio

John Sparrow is researching a PhD in Digital Media and Poetics at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is webmaster and archive designer for the contemporary women's writing online journal HOW2 ( His work has appeared in online journals The Errorist, inFlect (, and forthcoming Openned anthology. He has performed at various locations, including the E-poetry conference 2005 at Birkbeck university, for which he was also a curator ( He has recently collaborated with Jena Osman in producing a Flash setting for her ongoing work, Public Figures which can be found in the current issue of HOW2.