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The ActiveText Project

explorations of dynamic and interactive texts


The Concrete Poets of the '60s, and their Dada and Futurist forebears, treated the visual appearance of text as a principal participant in the production of meaning. Their interests in such experimentation grew out of a deeply held belief that traditional forms of written communication, with its clean spacing, rectilinear layout, and sober letterforms, no longer could speak to the cultural schizophrenia of the modern age. Working within the constraints of traditional letterpress, these artists and poets managed to explore text's visual presence in ways that seem fresh even to the MTV-jaded eyes of today.

As concrete poets practicing at the beginning of a new century, we have embarked upon the ActiveText Project. The ActiveText Project is an on-going experiment in radical ways of treating and interacting with the visual appearance of text in ways which reflect our post-millennial data devotion. Users can set glyphs, words, or entire passages in motion, pull them apart, blow them up, infect them with dynamic behaviors and even reconstitute them, in an attempt to deconstruct standard notions of text presentation and reception. We use these behaviors to write digital poetry, create whimsical web pages and do performance art in dance clubs.

At the core of the project is a C++ library called ActiveText. This library implements a general purpose architecture for creating dynamic texts, using an object-based hierarchy to represent texts. This hierarchy makes it easy to work with the ASCII component and pixel component of the text at the same time. Static, dynamic and interactive properties of text can be easily intermixed and layered. The user can enter and edit text, adjust static and dynamic layout, apply dynamic and interactive behaviors, and adjust their parameters with a common set of tools and a common interface. Support for continuous editing allows the user to sketch dynamically. The documents produced by the ActiveText library can be of use in a wide-range of areas, including chat-spaces, email, web-sites, fiction and poetry writing, live performance and low-end film & video titling.



Jason E. Lewis
Alex Weyers

Related Work

John Maeda

Bill Seaman

Dynamic Typography

David Small

Suguru Ishizaki

Yin Yin Wong

Joshua UCLA

Camille Utterback


Typography in Motion









dynamic text performance tool

It's Alive!
dynamic and interactive text editor

Tu Uyen Triptych
triptych of interactive poems

painting with text

first sketches

Dynamic Typography
playing around with type


ActiveText SoftType

ActiveText Behaviors

ActiveText: A Method for Creating Dynamic and Interactive Texts

Dynamic Poetry: Introductory Remarks to a New Medium