An Infinite Variety of Similar Things (IVOST) was initially conceived of by JS van Buskirk as part of an Atlanta Poets Group performance inspired by John Cage’s Indeterminacy (a collection of that artist's one-paragraph short stories). The poems are one minute long when read aloud, and each is an arbitrary excerpt from a theoretically infinite thought process or preoccupation. The complete text of the IVOST series consists of 60 poems: an hour’s worth of a theoretically infinite assortment of preoccupations. They are abstract, lovely, melancholy, silly, banal – encompassing the scope of private thought. Each poem has a key line repeating throughout, representing the recursive and repetitive nature of mental preoccupation.
At around the same time JS began work on the IVOST poems, Julie Püttgen was developing the Internet Mandala process as part of her MFA work at Georgia State University. This system of text-to-image translation functions by layering images found through search engine results for selected texts or key words, and assumes the following: that there is an underlying visual order within the internet; that trolling for images using words as bait yields important insight into this order; and that participation in a series of chance operations within this order can produce a culturally significant mirror for personal meaning. In a larger sense, the Internet Mandalas are fueled by playful exploration of the traditional Buddhist use of mandalas as condensed diagrams of universal meaning.
JS and Julie – lifelong friends – soon realized that the IVOST poems and the Internet Mandala process would each greatly benefit the other in a collaborative project. Julie created mandalas for JS' key lines in each of the IVOST poems. The image associated with each poem is thus essentially a translation of the poem’s key line into a sort of visual language of the internet. Some of the IVOST mandalas clearly reveal their connection to the text, while others stand in peculiar and even startling contrast to their textual sources.
There exists a strong sympathetic resonance between the poems – texts presenting private and internal consciousness; and the mandalas – composite renderings of the poems’ texts, generated out of the collective consciousness of the internet. As a complete body of work, the IVOST pairings flicker between individual and collective awarenesses. Visual flashes of unknown bloggers merge with recognizable references to international news media, celebrity pop culture, and advertising graphics. Taken together, the poems' individual narrators become an infinite and intimate society, with the mandalas as its mirrors.