Janice Lee ({out of nothing} and Entropy)

AJ: I’m impressed by the variety of media featured on the electronic publication {out of nothing}, which you co-founded with fellow CalArts graduates. Each issue presents a unique project in video, sound work, code-based work, or other media, and brings it into a central space. What inspired the boundary-crossing, mixed nature of this online space? How did you select these works?

Janice: Some of the work was solicited and most was submitted to us. I like to think that people sent us work that didn’t fit in other places because of our approach to the online journla itself. We didn’t want the journal to just be another online journal that fell into the illusory constraints of the web. We wanted each issue to be completely separate and independent and organic and reflect the theme of the issue, the content, and stretch the possibilities of the form. The form was the internet, which is wide and massive. If the form is an empty gallery, there are infinite possibilities to curate and exhibit a show. And on the internet, those possibilities are also plethoric. The internet isn’t bound to just text, but can easily display sound, video, and other media. And we wanted to take the care for each piece to be exhibited in that unique context.

AJ: {out of nothing} seems to have had a kind of as-time-permits approach to its issue releases. Did this kind of casual approach allow the project a lot of freedom? Was its roughly semi-annual, to-be-determined nature intentional, or does it reflect the ebb and flow of its founders’ lives?

Janice: Yes. We were never too strict with timelines though we had intentions, mostly because yes, we all had and have very full lives and didn’t ever want OON to be rushed or obligatory. Each issue took as long as it took. We planned on semi-annual and this became more flexible but also, such is the nature of time itself.

AJ: When you visited Jen Hofer’s Tiny Press class, you mentioned that the journal is coming to a close. Can you tell us why{out of nothing} is being retired and what (if any) future plans the{out of nothing} collaborators have for continuing joint ventures?

Janice: Mostly just because we three editors have other projects we are working on, we didn’t ever want OON to be an obligation. It existed for as long as the impetus was there, and we wanted each issue to be invested with the maximum amount of passion and energy. We simply felt that we wanted to move on to other projects, and that we had accomplished what we set out to accomplish with the project. We didn’t want it to exist just for the sake of continuing to exist. We will defininitely continue to work with each other. We are life-long friends and collaborators and it will be interesting to see what might arise. There may even be a ghostly return of OON in a future rendition. Joe Milazzo and I also continue to work with each other at Entropy and I published his debut novel for my series with Jaded Ibis Press.

AJ: Your published work seems to reflect the same kind of cross-medium nature that makes{out of nothing} a success. Can you tell us a bit about the non-traditional or un-unified nature of your writing? KEROTAKIS, for example, is a story about cyborgs, science, the mind, the mother-child relationships. It is told from the varying perspectives of a cast of characters. It fuses image with text, narrative with theory, and explores the emotional self as deeply as it reflects your interests in biology, technology, neurology, philosophy, and metaphysics. What are your intentions with this multiplicitous approach to narrative?

AJ: I’ve noticed that your narratives are largely fused with theory, a technique we have in common. I feel that this kind of experimental, boundary-crossing work produces a narrative that is rich, a narrative that ruptures the limited nature of traditional books. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to adopt this technique and what your intentions with it are?

(This is sort of a combined answer to both of the previous two questions)

Janice: I would call this less a “technique” and more a mode of thinking or existing in the world. I have many interests (ie. science, the paranormal, ufology, anthropology, theology, phenomenology, alchemy, etc.) and I don’t see them as distinct categories. That is, for me, writing has to do with thinking which has to do with knowing which has to do with questioning which has to do with existing which has to do with living. Being a writer as being first and foremost a thinker. So all of these disciplines and areas, theory included, are different ways of thinking or knowing, so that thoughts and concepts constantly form layers of a larger web. So my narratives are fused with all of these different points of knowledge because the narrative is much a mind-map, a reflection of a mode of thinking and narrating that to me, reflects a complex thought process that isn’t linear, that wants to remain layered and somewhat chaotic and uncertain because there isn’t a clear thesis or resolution yet to be arrived at, at least not in these narratives.

This perspective also reflects the way I think about belief systems. I talk about this a little here. That my reluctance to embrace linear narrative is also a reluctance to fall into any either/or mentality about how the world works.

And because I don’t see productive distinctions between disciplines, between poetry and science or between neuroscience and philosophy, I see them as wavelengths of a broader spectrum or various intersections of a constantly changing rhizomatic map, so the obsessive research patterns behind some of my work reflects that. The investigations behind KEROTAKIS and Daughter, for example, were extremely rhizomatic. They are amalgams of what I was reading, thinking, and reflecting on at the time. So behind the “story” and characters, they also are abstract snapshots of my point of view on the world itself at the time I was writing them.

AJ: Finally, what kind of advice could you offer to aspiring writers who are preparing their own experimental, boundary-crossing work for publication? Do you have any juicy cautionary tales that stem from lessons you’ve learned, or mistakes you’ve made?

Janice: I think mostly to not think of the audience until you need to, and to always be as genuine and honest in the work as possible. I feel like often younger writers start out with real and honest intentions to experiment and tell a story the only way that makes sense, but then start to see what is getting published, what is trendy, what is considered “smart,” what is being talked about, and then unconsciously switch modes or tweak their aesthetics in an effort to “fit in.” This quote always resonates with me:

If writing is language and language is desire and longing and suffering, and it is capable of great passion and also great nuances of passion- the passion of the mind, the passion of the body- and if syntax reflects state of desire, is hope, is love, is sadness, is fury … if the motion of line is about desire and longing and want; then why when we write, when we make shapes on paper, why then does it so often look like the traditional straight models?… (Carole Maso)

And I don’t think it’s only about “traditional” writing, but also about a lot of experimental writing that looks like other experimental writing.

Besides that, lean on your friends and teachers and mentors. Participate in the community and be present and show up to events. Talk genuinely and honestly with others and connect to other human beings that write and allow things to happen. Believe in yourself and believe in the work and remain open to possibilities. That all sounds cheesy and cliché but it’s absolutely true.