Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant Garde Digital History Review

Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant Garde is a digital scholarly project that uses the life and art of Mina Loy to provide users with a digital look into modernism and avant-garde art production. Mina Loy, a member of the first-generation of modernists, wore many hats in her lifetime, fulfilling the roles of artist, writer, feminist, entrepreneur, inventor, and lamp designer. Like the artist the site attends to, Navigating the Avant Garde does not play the singular role of a digital archive, as much as it acts as a digital launchpad for a variety of interested scholars.  This NEH-funded digital project was undertaken over the course of five years through the efforts of the students, faculty, and staff of Davidson College, Duquesne University, and the University of Georgia. 

Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant Garde site logo

The strength of Navigating the Avant Garde comes from the breadth of its content. Upon an initial glance, the site looks simple and easy to navigate, and it is. However, upon further inspection, each sub-section of the site’s main divisions (“Read”, “Interact”, and “Time Travel”) has a variety of content and materials. Every time a link is clicked or a sub-section is opened, a wealth of items to analyze and materials to read spring up. It would be overwhelming if it wasn’t organized just so. To call the site’s design organized might be in and of itself problematic, as the site itself appears loath to traditional convention and form. Users can see the dedication to the concepts of the avant garde that Loy employed in her own artwork in the design and curation of the site’s materials. Navigating the Avant Garde provides an effortless blend of a digital archive, narrative, gateway, and toolbox for other digital modernist scholars. 

Instead of a monograph form of digital scholarship, the site provides a sort of “multigraph” with not only different varieties of historical materials, but also different collaborative sections. While it might seem obvious that a site of this magnitude would require collaborative efforts, Navigating the Avant Garde highlights these collaborators in an explicit manner. As laid out in their Manifesto,

 “AUTHORSHIP is neither eliminated nor crowd-sourced, but

E X P A N D E D    I N  F   I   N   I   T    E      L      Y      .       .        .” [sic] and we can see the fruits of this effort across the site.

In the New Frequencies sub-section, users get to see the student projects related to Loy and the avant garde. Even in this section, there is no one consistent form of digital scholarship that the students undertook in their projects. With a general tie to the avant garde, the undergraduate and graduate student members of the project worked on a variety of endeavors including 3D animation, essays, and even an interactive game. In the Post(card)s section, the user can see the efforts of dozens of collaborators (including students, scholars, and writers) to create a “digital flash mob” with postcards on different subjects that ultimately all tie back to en dehors garde. This is a concept coined by the project creators that is intended “…to account for women, people of color, and others who have been marginalized or excluded from histories of the avant-garde”. These sections, among others, point to another impressive facet of the site’s design, which is the dedication to highlighting different collaborators and the materials that they brought to the project without constraining them to a specific form.

Loy’s Collision 3D Animation by Leah Mell

In the “Read” subsection of the site is where literary scholars can find the materials that can be most closely described as the digital narratives. The section features the site’s Manifesto, a series of baedekers based on Loy’s own baedeker production, a Close Readings subsection featuring what can only be described as digital parallel text editions of Loy’s poetry, and a project blog. In the “Interact” subsection, users can find the materials that they (unsurprisingly) can creatively interact with. This portion of the site features the New Frequencies of the student collaborators, a Signature Style slideshow highlighting differences in Loy’s signature, the Post(cards) section, and a student-created interactive game that allows the user to play a kind of choose your own adventure

Digital Parallel Text of “Ceiling at Dawn”, with the poem on the left, and a close reading of the poem on the right. Users can scroll through both, and hover the mouse over one section of both texts to highlight the corresponding verse/paragraph of the opposite text.
Loy’s Migrations Interactive Map by Jesse Jack

Where the site runs into a bit of trouble is the organization of the “Time Travel” section. In what could be argued as the section most valuable to digital history scholars, “Time Travel” features links leading to archival materials, biographies of some key figures in Loy’s life, a Maps subsection, and a Timelines subsection. Compared to the other sections, “Time Travel” has a significantly less comprehensive corpus of materials. To be fair, the archive subsection serves as a launchpad for users to go find the Beinecke’s digitized Mina Loy papers, and there are a significant amount of biographies. However, when accessing the materials on the other portions of the site, there’s a significantly higher amount of reading and interactive materials. While the materials featured on the “Time Travel” section are incredibly valuable, when compared to the design of the other two sections, it feels disjointed and almost thrown together last minute. Additionally, one of the timelines featured did not properly embed the images, leading to an image symbol on the slides of the timeline.

While this section had a series of smaller problems, I don’t say any of this to detract from the wealth of the materials themselves. The section features brilliant digital visualizations using different digital tools from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, and while the other materials in this section are small in number, they are still a massively useful resource for digital modernist scholars. Overall, the strength of this site comes through in it’s dedication to modernist form (or lack thereof) and to comprehensive collaboration. Navigating the Avant Garde is a collaborative, comprehensive digital scholarship project that is effective at communicating not only the importance of researching Mina Loy, but also how this research can be used as a launchpad for other digital modernist scholarly endeavors.

Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde. Edited by Suzanne W. Churchill et al. University of Georgia, 2020. https://mina-loy.com. Accessed 28-October-2022.

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