My project, A Mountain Pine Script, was intended to investigate the ways in which humans interact with their immediate environment and the compulsion to read signs from our environment. In noticing the inscriptions left behind by bark beetles on the trees in Utah forests, one has already learned something of the local spin of climate catastrophe. The remnants of their bored egg galleries struck me immediately as a kind of illegible text, and my goals were to use various digital tools as different approaches to accessing and “making sense” of this text. There were practical obstacles, of course. For example, individual patterns on branches and wood debris are difficult to discern from each other and from knots, cracks, and other natural shapes in the wood. Experiments with different attempts to read the beetle galleries made apparent how necessary and generative distinct and numerous approaches would be. Some were more intriguing than others.
My academic interests lie primarily in translation, non-human consciousness and agencies, and legibility/illegibility. The unique opportunity to use advanced technologies in Digital Matters helped me approach these ideas in exciting, transformative ways.
[Figure 1: Bark beetle paths ‘bent’ into the shape of a text]
The ease and precision of the 3D scanner was a constant and productive source of insight. I was able to manipulate my scans of the bark beetle egg galleries within modeling programs. This helped me not only to isolate and study certain aspects more closely, but to see those materials in completely new ways. For a project focused on the many ways in which humans are compelled to impose patterns and make sense of inaccessible or illegible inscriptions, the tools made available by Digital Matters became invaluable to the growth of the project and to the clarification and intensification of its goals.
[Figure 2: 3D modeling point cloud of a bark beetle gallery section]
Many of the most radical, transformative discoveries for the scope of the project had as much to do with the supportive individuals in and around Digital Matters as with those technologies. Colleagues within Creativity and Innovation Services (CRIS) and the broader Marriott Library network were always willing to offer ideas, unexpected associations, and potential new directions. The overlapping interests and the diverse projects happening within the same space were creatively and intellectually invigorating. For any future fellows, my advice would be to talk to others in the community about their projects and yours. For any future fellows, my advice would be to talk to others in the community about their projects and yours.
[Figure 3: Bark beetle galleries on downed woody debris in Centennial Valley]
For the interconnected communities and disciplines of creative writing, literature, and translation, digital tools can be a radically transformative prosthetic of human sense and imagination. For example, data visualization can broaden the potential approaches to what and how we read, write, and perform text. Pattern recognition programs can increase the kinds of writing we can access, and research tools can expand the breadth and depth of our insight. As I found in trying to understand more about bark beetles, discussions orbiting these digital spaces have a materializing, effect rather than a disembodying one. Writing already troubles the dichotomy between meat space and virtual space, and digital tools are just catching up.
Many of the most radical, transformative discoveries for the scope of the project had as much to do with the supportive individuals in and around Digital Matters as with those technologies.