Jason Nelson’s “How to transform dog/horse pron/hump lovers into art patrons” is best considered a work of creative nonfiction—a clever and subversive document on art in the age of new media. Excluding the flash-based works to which the piece refers, the project itself is simply an account of the artist’s attempt to, as the title suggests, turn bestiality fetishists into electronic literature aficionados. Basically, this project explains how Nelson replaced redirect pages to bestiality porn that had been placed on his site by a hacker with redirect pages to his own work. After figuring out which of the pages were the source of his sudden increase in traffic (and the corresponding surge of dirty search strings in his site statistics), Nelson decided to replace the offending pages with redirects leading to his own works of art (“Between Treacherous Objects,” “Evil Hypnotizing Mascots,” and “Uncontrollable Semantics”).
After his intervention was met with a number of hostile, befuddled, threatening, and even a few positive emails, Nelson crafted a detailed account this process. Though Nelson’s account is rendered humorously, and includes a number of surprising emails and responses, “How to transform” touches upon serious questions about the nature of interactivity and new media arts. Moving beyond glib techno-enthusiasm, this essay provides deep critical insights into the high stakes potential of interactivity—to make art available to public intervention (in this case, through an unsolicited hack), to make artists available to public scrutiny (in this case, through belligerent and threatening emails), and to make art accessible to the general public (in this case, as an unwanted interruption of web-surfing). Additionally, this piece explores the two-way potential of interactivity, in which the artist “hits back” against the initial hack and the ensuing criticism.
While “How to transform,” on its surface, is different from Nelson’s body of work (which tends to be flash-based and fantastic), it maintains a number of common elements. In particular, readers will find a familiar wit, care for language, and appreciation for the unexpected, all of which are consonant with Nelson’s more overtly poetic works. More importantly, readers will find critical insights into the artist’s thinking and practice, which provide meaning and context for understanding his larger body of work. Most importantly, perhaps, “How to transform” is a rare, but important, contribution to the theorization of electronic literature which points to the humanizing potential of the “literary” between the mechanistic structures of databases, search algorithms, and commerce and the atavistic state which exists a mere mouseclick away.