"Ghost City – Avenue S" is Jody Zellen’s return to digital art and the world of electronic literature acting as her pandemic journal with the first entry in the series being from March 31, 2020, and new entries being added several times per week. This project is a contemporary continuation of one that Zellen began in 1997 titled “Ghost City”. The original project can be found here and information on it can be found here as well .
Zellen’s newest piece is an example of a computer art installation that invites the reader into Zellen’s lived experiences throughout the pandemic whilst living in California. In this way, it contrasts her original work that looks at the global experience of urban living. The work functions through clicking and scrolling through images and text to view the journal entries. If a user wishes to move to a different page, they can click on the three red dots that are somewhere on their screen, typically somewhere on the bottom, below the images within the entries. Some pages link to Zellen’s other works such as the page The Unemployed . This page reads click here for unemployment.world above the red dots. If the user clicks on that, it opens in a new tab that visually documents the unemployment rates of various countries based off the statistics from May 2019. Once there, clicking on each image will take them through a cyclical loop of visualizations detailing the unemployment rate and population of various countries. Through a hyperlink at the top of the page, users have the option to return home and by closing the tab, they will return to Ghost City – Avenue S . The work is open-access and site specific and can be found here . Alternatively, users can access the site here , which shows them a grid view with date and entry title allowing them to choose which digital journal entry they wish to access. The work can be accessed on both desktop and mobile devices that are connected to the internet, however the experience on desktops is preferred as the images are larger and it is easier to navigate through the site.
As Avenue S, is a newer piece of work, there is not a lot of data on its critical reception, but it was included as part of the Boston Cyberarts Summer Exhibition in 2020. The Director of the Gallery, George Fifield, felt the need to include it as the work speaks to the emptiness of urban reality while serving a reminder that “you cannot close creativity and art mixed with technology”. In Zellen’s own words this work provides “an alternative experience” through “animations and texts that are a poetic meditation on isolation”. Read the full details on its inclusion at the Boston Gallery here
Outside of the digital media and electronic literature space, Avenue S connects to the idea of journaling to reduce stress and anxiety. The Article Journaling to Reduce Covid-19 Stress from Michigan State University lists five ways that journaling improves mental wellness and includes a reference to several studies on the benefits of journaling including one from 2011 that highlighted stress reduction through journaling as the act of writing helps individuals to release negative thoughts and emotions. In his work, Hypertext, George Landow speaks to the relationality of hypertext as interconnections are made obvious to the reader which makes them more engaged with the text as they are able to “make [their] own experiences the de facto organizing principle (or center) for the investigation”. This means that each users experience with a work of hypertext will be unique in that users are better able to orient themselves within a work of electronic literature in comparison to print works. In returning to Avenue S, through following the series of linked pages, the reader is forced to engage with the text in an ergotic manner that connects their pandemic experiences to those outlined in Zellen’s art. Thus, while they are not writing out their experiences in the same manner as Zellen, the reader is still able to find some relief from the anxiety of the pandemic as they realize that just because they are isolated from friends and family, their experiences are not uniquely theirs and they are not alone in this world. In other words, while the reader is not journaling themselves, the relationship between reader and writer in works of hypertext, like Avenue S, provides them with similar benefits as if they were journaling their pandemic experiences alongside Zellen.
Landow, G. (1993). Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. John's Hopkin's University Press , pp. 2-13.
Tams, L. (2020). Journaling to Reduce Covid-19 Stress. Retrieved February 13, 2022 from, can.msu.edu .
Zellen, J. (2020) Ghost City - Avenue S. Retrieved February 13, 2022 from, thenewriver.us/ghost-city-avenue-s .
This entry was composed as part of Dani Spinosa's course, ENGL 4309: Digital Adventures in English, at Trent University in February 2022.