New Article on the Use of Conceptual Machines in Art


Today I concluded my collaborative writing with artists Eloi Puig and Vitor Magalhães. The invitation to participate came from Eloi Puig, artist and professor who chairs the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona. Vitor Magalhães is an artist, writer, and professor with the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Medeira (Portugal).

Our article, entitled “Il n’y a pas de rapport sémiotique: 3 lecturas discontinuas” (“There is no semiotic relation: 3 discontinuous readings”), explores the idea and use of conceptual machines. These machines are designed to consume and reorganize the form and possible meanings of images and texts drawn from the cultural archive. In our writing, we each lay out a theoretical framework and discuss the background and aims of our individual work in this area. The article will be published later this year in a bilingual collection of artist texts. An exhibition will coincide with the book release.

Inspired by the permutational writings of OuLiPo, Barcelona artist Eloi Puig’s ongoing Torvix project utilizes an algorithm he has designed for intervening into and transforming existing film materials. The algorithm, applicable to any chunk of time-based media, embodies an intricate set of rules for analyzing and creating transformations in the sequence of the materials selected for the purpose. The original film sequences must contain a spoken text, which the artist transcribes into a written document to be used in the transformational process and which the operation also lays down word by word in subtitles. The algorithm begins by analyzing the duration of the selected film sequence, divides it into 26 equal units (corresponding to the number of letters in the alphabet), and then performs a series of re-edits of the footage based on the correlations in the rule-set between the occurrence of letters, punctuation, line breaks etc in the transcribed vocal track and a specific type of transformation (increase/decrease speed, run in reverse, insert black frame, and so forth). More information about Eloi Puig’s project can be found at Torvix.

Portuguese artist Vitor Magalhães has since 2010 been working with a “transnarrative linguistic-visual device” that he has titled La Máquina de M (The Machine of M). The core of the project is a mechanism by which variant combinations are produced from a collection of cultural materials bearing a name that starts with the letter M, or in a few cases an upside down M, that is, a W. Inspired by the fifth of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, “Multiplicity,” Vitor’s project is a kind of machine for outputting combinations and recombinations of words and pictures. One manifested result, included in an online group show, presented a video diptych of images and words unfolding a series of associations expressed through the parallax view between two juxtaposed screens. This image-text work of expanded montage is organized according to “a principle of friction, distancing or deviations.” A second version, now in preparation, will present a video installation accompanied by prints, diagrams, text and other materials. More information about Vitor Magalhães’ project can be found at La Máquina de M.

Finally, my current project, Lost Grids, which I began in 2017, puts forward an apparatus for manufacturing and juxtaposing two incommensurate planes: a plane of associations forged by citing and pairing pictures and texts from the cultural archive and a plane of corresponding visual surfaces produced by intermixing these citations through a creative misuse of digital code. The latter, which take the form of multi-colored grids, are formed by selecting texts from the plane of associations and by then entering the language of the texts directly into the underlying digital code-bed of the images. The grids are ultimately created from a magnification of the specific visual glitches that result from this technical intervention. In 2019, the work in progress was printed and exhibited as two separate and parallel series (of grids and image-text networks) along opposite walls of a gallery in order to emphasize the interval and incommensurability between the ornamental forms and their corresponding conceptual contents. More information about my project can be found at Lost Grids.

[Image from the unpublished manuscript]

[Image from the unpublished manuscript]