Report on PO.EX’70-80

Report on PO.EX'70-80

Relatório de Christopher T. Funkhouser sobre o projecto que deu origem a este Arquivo Digital. [Texto]

I have followed the development of the Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature archive project since its inception in 2005, and have studied this valuable electronic (CD-ROM and online) resource closely. I admire the way in which PO.EX has grown to participate in a larger consortium of research groups focused on electronic and experimental literature, and how it has thusly—through its knowledge of the content of these various international initiatives—established a thorough approach to the task of building an archive dedicated to important artistic and scholarly concerns. I believe PO.EX plays a central role defining how this pursuit can be successfully accomplished. The qualities of this erudite initiative, for reasons enumerated below, are without comparison; it is the most refined digital archive of contemporary poetry I have ever accessed and made use of.

The intellectual care put into populating and shaping the PO.EX Digital Archive—while maintaining a high level of usability—reflects not only deep consideration and cultivated knowledge of the subject by its producer(s), but a dedication to preserving valuable cultural information and making it available to those without physical access to rare and sparsely distributed historical materials. Rui Torres’ vision to locate and represent thousands of literary artifacts related to twenty authors from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, a reasonable starting point, has demonstrated how an extremely sophisticated and dense archive can be constructed, and it would be to the benefit of many if it continued to grow to incorporate and represent subsequent and contemporary works. Combining his research in cybertext with a firm knowledge regarding experimental poetry, Torres effectively employs a rational and inventive fundamental framework and multi-function scholarly design scheme in PO.EX that favors intellectual control and objectivity. He does this, in part, by housing the informational aspects database into a more easily administrated XML environment and delivering the content via a smoothly designed user-friendly interface.

Beyond preservation (“textual representation”), documentation (e.g., of artifacts, performances), and containing a copious amount of secondary, critical materials relating to Portuguese experimental poetry (“contextual simulation”), the PO.EX project often boldly reimagines contemporary renderings of historical works by combining conceptual attributes of print-based works with contemporary technology (“interpretive interaction”). The results of these adaptations, as in Torres’ hypermediated, plagiotropic treatment of Herberto Helder’s Húmus and the collaborative Flash/ActionScript/PHP/RSS animations of António Aragão’s Poemas encontrados by Jared Tarbel, Nuno F. Ferreira, and Torres, are deft, aesthetically pleasing, respectful contributions that thoughtfully propel expansion and interpretation of the original creative enterprise. What originates are an archaeological endeavor (locating and preserving an historical work of visual poetry) blossoms into more elaborate representations as dynamic collages in which the technical production is masterful. These new applications, inspired by contents of PO.EX, answer problems or questions arising from the concrete, visual, and/or experimental writing contained in the archive. Works whose dynamics were previously technological in spirit are now illuminated and activated through advanced digital methods.

Two primary features of PO.EX make it a truly stellar example of a digital archive: (1) an effective, functional taxonomy that enables users to search for works logically; and (2) thorough preservation and representation of the works that are being catalogued within the archive. These crucial aspects of the PO.EX archive are a model of how a digital archive can reach peak effect. PO.EX, communal and focused, presents a scientific and proficient organizational scheme; its contents are not difficult to negotiate and may be used reliably.

PO.EX’s deeply structured practice addresses and accounts for the many contexts in which a certain work may exist. Understanding materiality in contemporary works is a pursuit now receiving much attention from scholars. The taxonomy developed by PO.EX is extremely impressive in the way it uses electronic media to deliver meta-data, which is categorized into forty fields for each item. Given the new material considerations and constructs for writing, adapting to embrace a rigorous range of organizational characteristics increases the utility of archival endeavors such as PO.EX. Establishing useful ways to differentiate the areas of investigation inside the archive, as well as fortifying what it contains, helps users to locate and most efficiently make use of its contents. PO.EX is an exemplary instance of an archive that contains useful surface (macro) and internal (micro) levels of organization.

I would very much like to encourage, and then witness, the growth of this fantastic project. I urge the producers of PO.EX to continue doing what they have pioneered thus far, and discover ways in which to further expand without sacrificing the supreme level of quality they have managed to sustain up to this juncture. I imagine what the project needs, in order to move forward, is further funding for demanding technical production, for translation services, and for basic outreach and research. The potential number of ways in which PO.EX could be expanded are numerous, including Augmented Reality implementation and other types of integrated, virtual renderings. The mobile application of Silvestre Pestana’s 1980 work Povo Ovo recently developed by PO.EX is certainly an admirable step in this direction. I wholeheartedly recommend PO.EX to any funding agencies capable of offering support for such clearly engaged and progressive research agendas.

The coding behind the PO.EX Digital Archive is open source; its methodology is packageable, adaptable and could be applied to other archival scenarios. It is my hope that other initiatives will spring from the impressive groundwork presented and shared by Prof. Torres and his community of collaborators. By practicing textual strategies and research in this manner, the PO.EX project nobly invests in cultural capital through its promotion of enriched artistic expression, and by building a vibrant multidimensional context for it. This is critical and creative machinery working together in tandem, at a level unmatched by few other initiatives.