Sarah Ciston: Digital Writing Platforms of the Future: Creative-Critical-Code Writing As Artistic Research and Performance

This research investigates writing/reading code and natural language together. It introduces a hybrid form of creative-critical-code writing I practice as artistic research, plus a platform I am developing to support this writing—emphasizing process over product, community collaboration, access, legibility, and the plat/form-content relationship. Spaces like Github are already being creatively misused for writing, offering expanded experiences of text, from details like predictive text and syntax highlighting to the holistic digital material object (its drafts, media, hyperlinks, code, comments). These hint at possibilities for more integrated platforms. Where existing web browsers were designed to hide code “under the hood,” this limits people’s ability to read programming languages as part of writing systems and to engage meaning across the boundaries of natural and code languages. Obscuring code limits readers’ engagement with writing except in its narrowest static forms—excluding the digital traces of drafts, diffs, comments, shares, and reposts as they exist as part of the writing itself. Instead, I examine how critical-code-embedded lyric artistic research essays and other writerly forms could exist as lively documents that reveal and enact their own processes, and trace their authors and collaborations. This proposed form, platform, approach, and ethic has distinct expressive and pedagogical possibilities—expanding the accessibility and interpretability of code, while questioning the siloed terms of academic engagement. Constantly digital, we rely on our platforms, “performing live” networked to them daily. What do traditional plat/forms ask us to leave out, that this liveness reveals? To rethink coding and writing together as live creative-critical-code composition is to invite the bodies who are composing back into our code and our literary forms—and to imagine new forms that can hold their imperfections, hesitations, revisions, and connections.


Sarah Ciston is a PhD Candidate at University of Southern California, a Fellow at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin, and a graduate of the MFA in Writing from UC San Diego. They also lead Creative Code Collective—an interdisciplinary artist-programmer community. Their projects include an AI system to ‘rewrite’ the inner critic and a chatbot that explains feminism to online misogynists. They are currently developing a zine library called “The Intersectional AI Toolkit.”