Sunday, December 4, 2016

Enigmatic books by Adriana Ramić - 3

Enigmatic books - previous posts in this series are here (2011), here (2011), here (2011), here (2013)here (2014), and here (2015).

Still life - Yesterday I visited the third floor of the Witte de With gallery in Rotterdam and I saw this still life:
Archive warning - A heap of thick books is irresistible for me. So I sat down on one of the stools and started exploring the thick volumes. I was alert for heavy lifting because the shape, size and colour of the books said: ARCHIVE! - ENCYCLOPEDIA! - LOGBOOK! Just like the yellow-black warning colours of the  wasp.
This was volume 10 of "Serious elements", pages 7165-7950. Another alert: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR READING!
Opaque - Upon opening the book I was confronted with seemingly innocuous chapters and paragraphs of English and Dutch text.
 But upon close reading the text yielded no meaning at all. It had the look and feel of normal language but it was totally opaque. Babble, automatic speech, bullshit text from some artistic source.
In all the pages I tried there was not one normal sentence.
I had no idea how the monumental text had been generated: was it a dump of a database? Was it scraped from the website of the gallery? Were these the raw contents of a harddisk? 
Parody and seduction - The long paragraphs of nonsense characters suggested some raw data dump or a misconfigured printer. But what was most striking:
  • The texts were a perfect parody of current art speech. Complicated, theoretical, jargon-laden and content free. Is this all there is? Must it be like this?
  • Even though I knew the books were meaningless, there was a powerful seduction to sit and search the books for any meaning, for some revelation. To come and sit here every day, searching this monumental text. In something so enigmatic something of value must be hidden! *
First explanation - Finally I picked a brochure from the stack and it was - of course - as I had expected. But it was more technological than I had expected:
Please browse through the collection of books on the ground. They present you with a text. It was written by an artificial neural network trained by Adriana Ramić. She decided that the neural network should learn to write texts from the digital archive of Witte de With, which it then taught itself to do.
On the other hand, I couldn't see the difference between the text of a neural network and a text generated by a Markov process, like here and here. Now I'm inspired to experiment with automatic text generation.
Second explanation - I had also noted this postcard-sized photograph hidden in a corner. I'm irresistibly drawn to these nondescript photographs of "something" - "somewhere". And the enigmatic caption made it even better: "i armoric terre lives are a human forms were time." *
The brochure gave the solution for this mini-mystery:
The selection of works forms a cryptic arrangement. It is Adriana Ramić's interpretation of the neural network's text. Is it possible to order an archive in a way so that it tells the same to everyone?

* There must be a pony somewhere:
** Typing this text in a search engine yields: Hepatitis B, Schlumberger Global Stewardship, Jobs at Kroger, United States Army, Terre des Hommes, Mobile Forms Software, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Population Clock.


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