exhibition text Speaking Out Loud


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In the late 90s, with the wide spread of new communication technologies, language came into focus of artists fascinated with the possibilities of these new media. Networked computer, whose functions and interfaces are largely based on language systems, offered a new and exciting field of artistic exploration and experiment. Generative poetry, hypertext based projects and the creation of software code as semantic and aesthetic system marked some of the major domains of the broad artistic spectrum of these times. Consequently in 2002, the Netherlands Media Art Institute devoted an exhibition entitled ‘The Pleasure of Language’ to this wave of language-based digital art. Shortly before in 2001, Peter Weibel had curated ‘Im Buchstabenfeld.’1 This exhibition ‘on the future of literature’ presented a compelling range of written language based works celebrating interactivity and exemplifying the change of the reading / writing process devoid of paper and books. Eventually in 2004, the exhibition‘p0es1s’ tried to decipher the aesthetics of digital poetry, while also reflecting on subjects as distributed authorship.2

SPEAKING OUT LOUD looks at the still productive field of language-based media art from a different angle than these previous exhibitions. Speaking Out Loud is less engrossed in the pure ability of digital technologies to visualise or even generate the dynamics of language – although some of the works in this show are great examples for exactly this capacity. However, the exhibition Speaking Out Loud picks up on the anual theme of ‘democracy’ under which NIMk’s thematic exhibitions in 2008 were developed. Speaking Out Loud centers on the processes of both ‘thinking out loud’ and ‘speaking out.’ Thinking out loud describes the associative, dynamic and rather uncontrolled process of simultaneously thinking and speaking about a particular topic. We think out loud to make a suggestion, to put forward an idea or a thought rather than to make a claim. Speaking Out Loud advocates this free and creative process of thinking out loud through artworks that enable a playful and surprising experience of language. This happens in the form of what could be summarised as experimental language exercises or canny transformations and alternations of language. The act of ‘speaking out’ demonstrates resistance and the existence of alternative concepts and views. As a democratic act it constitutes a cornerstone of democratic society. In that sense, the exhibition promotes the idea of controversy, dissent and debate as a relevant society shaping strategy. In the light of representative democracies, low voter participation and increasingly leveled concepts of life, Speaking Out Loud subtly attempts to call for taking an active role in the debate. Moreover it explores the subversive power of spoken or written text but also unmasks the inflationary and culturally connoted use of words and phrases. Language is a complex, reciprocal system both coined by culture and shaping culture. The exhibition presents works of Dutch, English and German language. Even though most Dutch speak at least two of these languages with ease, only a small percentage of speakers worldwide are truly bilingual or even multilingual, in that they actually use two or more languages native-like. Most speakers have a first language in which they are more elaborate than in the other(s). A vast variety of cultures – and here I do not only mean ethnic cultures but also subcultures – can exist within one cultural bigger frame such as a nation, these cultural differences are expressed and even established through the use and formation of language. Language is never an abstract system, not even in it most artificial form, but it is always a system of cultural multivalence and manifold semantic layers. Speaking Out Loud also investigates these processes of understanding and translation of language. The artworks in the exhibition deal with the act of speaking, reading and writing. They particularly reflect on and emphasise the performative qualities of language and thus reveal the strong and inseparable connection between words’ meaning and their performance/performer. Renowned novelist Paul Auster captured the act of speaking as “When words come out, fly into the air, live for a moment, and die. Strange, is it not?” It is this fluidity and dynamics of language and its meaning that the exhibition centers on, observes and reflects. In this fluid state, words fl y and dance, thus enabling a mental dialogue between the artwork and its viewer/listener, and opening up to continuous interpretation.

Susanne Jaschko
1 Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria.
2 Kulturforum am Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany.

RO, 1977, lives and works in Amsterdam
2008, language/sound-based performative installation
Tudor Bratu is resident artist at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. His artistic practice spans from photography, to installation, performance and book making. Using both image and language in his work, he investigates the common patterns of representation in the mundane concerns of day-to-day life. A Conversation Piece is a performative speech installation that consists out of 500 keys of classical organs, connected to a computer system and sound amplifi ers with speakers. Each key is in turn connected to a digital sound fi le. When a key is stroked, the sound fi le is activated and a sentence is pronounced through the speakers. The machine can be used as either an instrument for performative storytelling, by using all available permutations of the 500 sentences, or as a polyphonic speech machine, whose way of working and functionality deals with the nature of the dialogue. When multiple keys are activated at the same time, as one would play chords on a piano, a multitude of different voices speak simultaneously through the different speakers. The resulting ‘symphony’ of language approaches thus the nature of an external or an internal dialogue. The 500 sentences are excerpts out of various writings of art history, philosophy, poetry and prose, reworked by Bratu. Through A Conversation Piece various languages (i.e. voices), themes and thoughts are re-actualised, re-contextualised and re-appropriated by the player and the audience, in the sense of providing a way of tracing back meaning through language, from the source: writer, to the source: writer/performer/audience. The work deals with concepts such as the performativity of language, the act of speaking, the uncanny in the human voice and shifting meanings in the use of either speech or writing. The concept of A Conversation Piece was developed together with Istvan Ist Huzjan. Huzjan is also in residency at the Rijksakademie. Previous to A Conversation Piece, Bratu and Huzjan created A Speech Organ, a work which is based on the one thousand most commonly used words in the English language.

TIM ETCHELLS UK, 1962, lives and works in London
VLATKA HORVAT HR, 1974, lives and works in New York
2003, single-channel video, 63 minutes
Vlatka Horvat’s work investigates the relationship of lived experience to language, modes of representation and social/cultural economies of interaction. She is particularly interested in the discomforting or uncertain aspects of lived experience – doubt, perplexity and hesitation, strained or uneasy presence. As a writer and art visual artist Tim Etchells is fascinated with rules and systems in language and in culture, being both productive and constraining. This led to a charged linguistic collaboration between Etchells and Horvat. There is a fine line between adoration and abuse in Insults & Praises. A man and a woman sit side by side in front of a mirror, taking turns insulting and praising each other. Together they draw on an exhaustive list of verbal abuse, derogatory terms, compliments and declarations of affection suitable for a wide variety of occasions and purposes. The performance of this relentless verbal task is evidently live – an improvised sequence of insults and praises which flow readily at times and falter at others, leaving the two silent, struggling for a new direction. They perhaps intend these celebrations and attacks for each other, or invent them simply to generate an inventory of phrases which might be used at some later date. At times they seem to be locked in a monolithic conversation, while at others they seem to be working together, sharing the task of creating a catalogue of emotive terms and possibilities.

LINDA HILFLING DK, 1976, NIMk artist in residence, Sept – Dec 2008

2007, search engine and media intervention
Concept and initial python/bash-coding by Linda Hilfling,
Firefox extension programming by Erik Borra and code released under GNU GPL
Originally commissioned by Impakt GATE PEEPIN’ 2008, artistic intervention
Produced by the Netherlands Media Art Institute

Linda Hilfling works with the premises of participation and public spaces within media structures, with a focus on means of control (codes, organisation and law) and their cultural impact. Her artistic practice takes the form of interventions reflecting upon or revealing hidden gaps in these structures. The Misspelling Generator is a browser extension intervening directly within the Google search engine, allowing users to take advantage of the informational grey-zone of misspellings. Most users regard a search engine as an objective tool, although an underlying code defines the search results. An integral part of the Google search engine is the spelling control suggesting alternative words, if it suspects that you have been misspelling your search terms. Since the early days of Usenet, misspellings have been used as a way to overcome censorship. By ignoring the suggested corrections the misspellings can be a gateway to an alternative world. Using the Misspelling Generator, each query typed into the normal Google search-box will generate misspellings inserted above the normal Google results – similar to Google’s ‘Did you mean’, but now with ‘Have you tried’ instead. When hovering the mouse over the links, you can see the number of search results for each misspelling. Clicking the link will redirect you to the Google page with the results for that specific misspelling. It is a useful tool for creating simple cryptography, circumventing specific cases of censorship, or in general as a means of accessing the ‘grey’ side of the internet, which otherwise is isolated by the rigid structures of ‘corrective’ info-culture regimes on search engines like Google. Did you agree to the Terms of Service? You probably did. The countless click-and-agree-contracts populating the Web are veritable gate keepers of the gated communities making up today’s Web 2.0 net culture. You need to agree in order to get access to any given service, but are you aware of the impact of these regulations on your content? The project Gate peepin’ is an artistic intervention within the Firefox browser window. By altering the browsing experience of different web 2.0 platforms according to the Terms of Service regulating the service, the tool allows its users a peep into the otherwise hidden layers of regulations governing the use of so-called democratic web-spaces.

DE, 1971, lives and works in Berlin
www.hoepfel.net TEXT 2003, prints, circuit boards and interactive installation
Text is a multi-part work consisting of prints, circuit boards and the installation Semiotic Collider. Hinting at computer simulations of living systems, the project analyses similarities between semiotic systems and life forms, both of which are conditioned by physical constraints and evolutionary processes. The project is based on the conviction that cultural and biological activities are inseparably connected and can be described as communication or semiotic processes. In the same way DNA is read as ‘nucleic acid text’ again and again and interpreted as a ‘textual fabric’ for new life forms, the behaviour of biologic messengers, cells, creatures and whole populations can also be understood as responses to signs. The Text images show fractions of infinite, generative mutation processes of structures which more or less resemble characters. They are generated by an algorithm that simulates force fields as an environment of a particle cloud. In this process the structures constantly mutate and undergo transformations and recombinations of their components. Each Text image represents a specific environment where a ‘particle population’ emerges with some degree of freedom to generate structures. Just as organisms exchange genetic material, these ‘proto signs’ pass components on to their neighbours and affect each other’s development. Depending on their cultural background, spectators may find meaning encoded in singular structures, thus drawing an individual line between connotation and pure coincidence. Meanwhile the circuit boards explore the relationship between signs and the computer’s physicality. Here the structures become physical vehicles of the computer as a ‘semiotic machine’. The interactive Semiotic Collider shows different populations of signs which can be accelerated to interfere with the screen’s frequency and to breed a whole zoo of signs every time they permeate each other

JAROMIL 1977, lives and works in Amsterdam, NL.
Live and work in Dordrecht, NL.

Jodi, or jodi.org, is an art collective of Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans. Jaromil is a media artist, GNU/Linux hacker and activist. They share a passion for minimalist aesthetics, text, inner processes and literary experiments as automatic writing. Their artistic collaboration, commissioned by the Impakt festival in 2005, led to the development of a tool to write and publish time-based text to be used in email communications and websites, arguing that hesitations in writing can be a vehicle for sentiments. 'TBT' is a console based application for the recording and playback of the act of composing a text, including all hesitations and misspellings, with precision to the millisecond. This technique vehicles additional information in digital poetry, offering a new tool for flow of consciousness and automatic writing which, when used online for e-mails and blogs, can give a “human touch” to text. The software has been kept as basic as possible, free to use, modify and embed in other applications. 'TBT' can be considered software art, but above all it is a new form of digital poetry and a good occasion to reflect on the role of art in relation to old and new media.

DE, 1962, lives and works in Berlin
HORDE 2006/2008, mixed media installation
The Dutch version was commissioned by NIMk for Speaking Out Loud Phenomena in contemporary life are the focal point of KH Jeron’s artistic interest. He sees his work as an investigation of popular social issues. Often he collects material from public sources like Google, Wikipedia or TV. This material is enacted by small robotic vehicles or compiled into videos. Jeron is interested in shifting the recognition by subtle interventions. Horde is an installation, a sculptural object and a technical network. KH Jeron constructed dozens of vehicles moving autonomously and erratically on a white, shiny platform. Each vehicle maunders, i.e. vocalises fragments of various specialised texts on information, disinformation and information retrieval. The aim of Horde is to illustrate the chaos of the modern media-generated overload of information and how scientific approaches can help us to deal with it. In order to build a contrast to the cacophony generated by the vehicles, Dominik Kuropka, who is a specialist in semantic web services and information retrieval, has applied a scientific method to the texts. Kuropka, who re searches information retrieval and fi lte ring systems, has organised the texts along a coordinate system with the help of a ‘vector spacer’. A vectorspacer is a tool based on a simplified version of the vector space model, and processes and classifies texts. The texts processed in this way are arranged in the exhibition space according to their numeric multi-dimensional representation in the vector space model. As a result, the color and placement of the texts reveal similarities between the various texts and bring a visual order to the babble of voices.

CHRISTOPH KELLER DE, 1967, lives and works in Berlin

INTERPRETERS 2008, modular video installation, 26 min, loop
Christoph Keller’s attitude as an artist goes further than that of a post-producer who simply uses and discards the objects and forms of the world. In as much as Keller observes and rearranges something, he simultaneously reflects the process of observation. He takes the position of artist/inventor who can change roles, whereby this role-playing is not a fictive game but rather an ‘intervention in reality’. Interpreters is about simultaneous interpretation and the locus of language itself. The situation is inversed: the viewer sits inside the cabin and looks and listens via headphones at the simultaneous interpreters who translate their own speech. Five interpreters talk about the process of simultaneous translation, in which the words of a speaker are instantaneously translated and ‘interpreted’. An integral part of this activity is participation in the speaker’s flow of thought. An uttered word or contextual interpretation can not be retracted in this type of translation; rather it can only be added to the seemingly linearly progressing train of thought by means of subsequent formulations. For the video, Keller first interviewed the interpreters about their work and the special situation of simultaneous interpretation. These interviews were compiled by the artist and then played back, usually to the same person, who now had the task of providing a simultaneous translation of the recorded interview. The viewer in the video/translator’s booth can see and hear the act of a simultaneous self-translation. This allows an examination of the notion of authenticity, of truthfulness as it is transferred and transmitted by other persons. The translator is expected to switch off his own personhood, his subjectivity, and to find an immediate, objective and appropriate oral equivalent for what he hears. This poses the question of the functionality of the person as a purely technical transmitter, who nonetheless should also ensure the transfer of ‘meaning’. There is also the question of objectivity in the function of a simultaneous interpreter, which can be a very sensitive matter in political contexts.

MANU LUKSCH AT, 1970, lives and works in London
MUKUL PATEL UK, 1971, lives and works in London
A NEW AND EXCITING EXPERIENCE 2008, mixed media installation
Originally commissioned by Space and Queen Mary, University of London Manu Luksch & Mukul Patel’s interdisciplinary and process-led way of working aims at critically dissecting the myth of progress through technology, and typically interrogates the junctures between social and technological infrastructures. Recent works have focused on the security and surveillance industries. This is the story of a woman who does everything by the book. The book in question could be a user’s manual, warranty papers, terms and conditions or any other relevant instructional or cautionary text. For her own safety and that of those around her the woman acts only on such explicit printed instructions. Security and safety are key contemporary concerns, inflamed by extravagant assessments of risk and an environment that is increasingly regulated and litigious. Individuals pursue risk-averse behaviour and surround themselves with products that stimulate exposure to novel experiences. A New and Exciting Experience addresses such perceptions and behaviours while poking fun at the technobabble and nannying tone of user’s manuals. The mixed-media installation includes documentation of a recording session with the SPACE Age Sirens, a choir of senior women from London’s East End led by Laka D. The women set extracts from wash ing machine user manuals to popular melodies.

EVAN ROTH US, 1978, lives and works in Hong Kong
EXPLICIT CONTENT ONLY Original Publication: 2005, format: mp3 Updated Re-Release: 2008, format: Vinyl
Evan Roth (aka fi 5e) is an artist with interests in technology, tools of empowerment, open source, and popular culture. Roth’s work with graffiti, open source technology and public space led to him forming the Graffiti Research Lab with James Powderly in 2006. He frequently releases work under the name ‘fi 5e’ and enjoys spending his free time violating laws related to copyright and vandalism. Explicit Content Only is a data visualization of the curse word content of N.W.A.’s ground breaking 1988 gangsta rap album, Straight Outta Compton. All radio safe content has been removed from the original 60 minute and 27 second album, leaving a condensed 2 minute and 55 second string of content deemed ‘explicit’ by the United States Federal Communications Commission. At the age of 10, Roth bought the Straight Outta Compton album because of his infatuation with curse words. At the age of 27, Roth created this reductive mash-up as a tribute to a piece of popular culture that has had a profound influence on his career path. Despite receiving a RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) cease and desist notice, the album can still be download for free from evan-roth. com. The intellectual property concerns associated with the project highlight comparisons between the content censorship issues surrounding rap music in the 1980’s and censorship as a side effect of excessive use of copyright law today.

UK, 1969, lives and works in Tampere
2002, media installation
Charles Sandison is well known for his spatial installations of language-based projections. The inability of art to communicate is often the subject of his art. He creates simply crafted, seductive spaces which are ‘of themselves’, independent from the viewer, in that the viewer and the artwork move alongside each other on equal terms. Sandison uses text as a deliberate negation of what normally is expected from moving generated graphics. This simple use of text undervalues the raw processing power of the modern computer. His technique is to paint with light, time and elemental characters. The installation presented features two kinds of words, ‘EVIL’ and ‘GOOD’. The ‘evil’ words are blood red, and the ‘good’ words are pure white. Both words posses the same attributes and have exactly the same goal. Their drive to occupy all the given space is motivated by the desire to eliminate their opposite. Equally, the desire to eliminate the other requires them to colonise all available space. Thus the will to exist is defined by struggle and a conflict of opposites. As the words move in opposition to each other they organise themselves into columns of attack and lines of defense. The words are animated using genetic codes similar to those found in microorganisms such as bacteria or cancerous cells. The words fl ow slowly, almost like liquid or paint. As they move they are like broad brush strokes, spreading out into the darkness of the room. GOOD AND EVIL is an artwork that is both global and internal, but certainly also political.

AT, 1982, and lives and work in Berlin
DE, 1981, and lives and work in Berlin
2007, mixed media installation
Trikoton is both a design label and a project which focuses on the human voice and techniques to record and reproduce it. While Magdalena Kohler is studying fashion design, Hanna Wiesener is studying product design and interactive systems at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Together they try to find new possibilities for generative fashion design and man-machine relations. How does it feel when your sweater becomes a medium of your own voice? Knitting and communication were always related: When people came together in knitting circles, it was storytelling time. The idea of the work is rooted in this history and in these stories. Trikoton/The Voice Knitting Collection transfers voice signals to clothes, thus creating a new aesthetic of speech-recording. The scheme of pattern cards for old, mechanical knitting machines inspired the audio data programme. The frequency band of a spoken message is converted into a binary code for knitting patterns. For the Ars Electronica festival in 2007, Kohler and Wiesener created Gelsomina, the Voice Knitting Machine. For the installation, a mechanical machine from the 1970s was hacked to become interactive. A microcontroller and 24 small engines were used to imitate a pattern card that could be directly controlled by voice signals via a computer. Recently a Trikoton collection based on a parametrical knitting program was produced together with a German knitting company and Design Reaktor Berlin – a cooperation of the University of the Arts and small manufacturer. Now a web-based application enables the user to transfer his or her own spoken message into a fashion piece – as personal and unique as the human voice.