Experimental Production

CreaTures Glossary

The CreaTures Glossary is a set of tools for giving meaning to a lexicon of terms related to creative practice and transformational change. The project includes games, a website, workshops, and other interactions that facilitate language as a social practice. 

Reference works like dictionaries, glossaries, and thesauri usually give an elite group of experts the authority to assign meanings to words, even though language is a dynamic social thing. The Glossary thinks of language as belonging to no one in particular and to everyone at the same time. Anyone can participate, and there are several public invitations to do so. 

The Glossary aims to give meaning to a lexicon that is particular to the field of creative practice and eco-social transformation, but which might also work more broadly to describe transformational change. It is building a vocabulary for change. In the CreaTures project, the Glossary has been envisioned as a compilation of key terms and processes that could aid with creating better understandings through the use of a common language.

The Glossary author, artist Amira Hanafi, brings a radical understanding of “common” to the project. They understand language, as part of the commons, as a site where displays of power are continuously produced and contested. Rather than produce fixed definitions, the Glossary distributes power to define language throughout the community or collective that interacts with it. 

The Glossary tools – games, a website, workshops, and person-to-person interactions – capture the drama of everyday acts of linguistic co-creation. These tools are built to facilitate and document continuous linguistic interaction: Meaning becomes plural and fluid, and the lexicon is constantly changing. The tools are also metaphors, which enact some of the processes of change that the lexicon is meant to describe.

The website includes open-source, real-time text editors and games that request input from users who can contribute words or definitions, edit existing ones, or remove definitions entirely. Every contribution is meticulously documented via a real-time database, and users can witness each other making meaning simultaneously. Equally important, histories of these interactions remain freely accessible to any user on the site. The database feeds into the interconnected parts of the site, creating a hidden web of linguistic interaction that resembles real-life language acts. The website makes these interactions visible, which under other conditions might remain hidden.

The games that exist on the site are also played in a hands-on public program. The project has included a few workshops so far, all held on Zoom, including a Glossary workshop organised at the Uroboros 2021 festival as part of the CreaTures Feral track. Several additional workshops and other engagements are planned for Spring 2022, along with an online campaign inviting individual interactions, and a series of one-to-one meetings between the artist and different people. 

Glossary games at the Uroboros festival workshop (video credit: Amira Hanafi).

Glossary functionalities

Build vocabulary: A game played in workshops and on the website, adapted from the Rapid Word Collection method developed by linguist Ron Moe. Moe’s method is intended to assist language communities in capturing the words and meanings of their languages. It uses a series of semantic domains and related questions. This project utilizes the semantic domain of change and associated prompts, such as, “What is a word used to describe a big change?”

The game also generates questions that align with the research aims of the CreaTures project, about the practices, tools, feelings, and impacts associated with transformational change. The terms generated by the online game feed into the Playground feature of the site – a free space where users can organize words and create word communities, which later appear elsewhere on the site as ‘related terms.’ Users can click on words in the communities to navigate through the glossary. The user-generated vocabularies can also be read as short narratives.

Interview with a word: This game asks players to become words, to embody and speak as them. When played in person-to-person interaction, an interviewer asks the word questions, becoming a collaborator in making meaning. In digital play, the computer asks interview questions selected from an array of questions that were developed during interpersonal play.

Print the glossary: A function to allow users to produce a text version of the glossary, containing definitions as they exist on the site at a particular moment. The glossary is open, fluid and changeable, both in its definitions and in the set of terms that it defines.

Real-time collaborative text-editing: The website dynamically produces a real-time collaborative text editor for each term that is added to the platform. Users can see the existing definition for a term; they can also choose an ‘edit’ button that allows them to add to, change, or erase part or all of the existing definition. For users who are hesitant to disturb existing text, a simple input box asking, “What does this term mean to you?” offers a straightforward, additive way to make a contribution.