THE WRITING MACHINE COLLECTIVE
a Hong Kong-based new media art group
What is The Writing Machine Collective (WMC)?
The Writing Machine Collective (WMC) is a HK-based media art collective with a research-based orientation and theoretically engaged in new media issues.
The following keywords demonstrate some of our key concerns:
- Writing systems as the creation of codes and symbols, writing as performance versus writing as inscription
- User interface, compression, dictionary, data structure, information theory, codification…
- Data visualization as forms of reading and writing
- Computing as an artistic medium, algorithm as a thought process, machine as space, as process, and as an organism
- Forms and variety of digital literature
- Nature and processes of interactivity
- Computational thinking in contemporary art
- Computation and cultural engagement
- Generative art and literature
The Writing Machine Collective (WMC) began with a group of media artists who wanted to explore issues of emergence, complexity, and algorithmic principle in art-making. Since its inception, WMC has published six exhibitions (2004, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2018) in Hong Kong.
The first edition, WMC_e1 (2004.06-07), showcased interactive works that played with written texts and visual poetry through automatic collage and combinatorial logic. While clarifying concepts for intellectual curiosity, the involved artists looked for handy solutions for technical realization from available customs-made software packages. It was an attempt to solicit attention for how coding can be the conjuncture of literature, machine and visual creation. A large part of the research process was about clarifying concepts for our intellectual curiosity, and at the same time looking for handy solutions for technical realization from existing software packages.
The second edition, WMC_e2 (2007.01), Writing and Machine as Sites, explored writing as multiple sites of cultural engagement. The exhibits presented the diversity in user-interfaces – writing as a generative process, a performance, a bodily event, a form of artistic intervention and so on. The struggle between technical research and the need to ensure playfulness and easy access became a kind of tug-of-war underlying the event. Artists in this edition had a stronger awareness to free themselves from the grip of Macromedia. While open source was not an emphasis of the second edition, the push for freeware was very much part of the discussion within the group. Though some of the works were still produced with packages like Flash Actionscript and Max/MSP, the deployment of programming language was more open and task-oriented, including languages such as Processing and Inform 7. The concern for programming literacy was realized via a 12-hour-long workshop series over 4 weekends, targeted at people with no programming experience. A one-day children’s workshop using Scratch was attended by 40 primary school students. As an experiment, WMC_2 also included a 6-month virtual exhibition held online showing a dozen of works starting February 2007.
WMC_e3 (2008), part of Digitalogue, a historical retrospective of media art in Hong Kong curated by Ellen Pau on behalf of the HK Museum of Art, focused on writing as a digital art form. Although WMC_e3 only contributed five works to Digitalogue, the showcase upheld the centrality of codes and code-writing in new media, and subsequently led us to consider once again the idea of art beyond the object of aesthetic judgment. The five works selected for WMC_e3 emphasized code-writing in new media art and the programming competence of the artist. The exhibits physically displayed were all work-in-progress, i.e. tentative display objects articulating just some of the many tangential relations to the coding process. In this sense, none of the completed works physically displayed could be considered final, but they were tentative display objects articulating only some of the many tangential relations a display may bear to the coding process. In the lecture series of Digitalogue, WMC research director, Hector Rodriguez, reflected on the “black box” problem in media art education. Many users know only how to operate technology, but lack the knowledge of how it works inside a machine. To open up the “black box” of the technical works
WMC_e4 (2011.01), Computational Thinking in Existing Art Forms, foregrounded the procedural operations embedded in computation and promoted programming literacy among the artists. A dozen of generative art works digital and non-digital assembled to shed light on computational thinking in the exhibition, highlighting an interdisciplinary vision.maintained programming literacy as a core mission, and code-writing at the core of creative activities. Our previous exhibitions gained for us some basic experience in dialoguing with the contemporary art community and reviewing questions of community building. WMC_e4’s specific problematic was to find adequate forms to present the process-oriented character of computational, code-base creative works to the ordinary visitors. In the words of our Research Director Hector Rodriguez’s words, we found it essential to “open up the black box” of the creative processes. To examine digitality and computational thinking philosophically in non-digital works with an interdisciplinary vision was also part of our agenda. WMC_e4 had 8 invited works and 4 works solicited from an open call. In this edition, as an experiment to see how computational thinking could be expressed in more familiar art forms, a video program was curated through an open call, titled “Video as Writing Machines.”
WMC_e5 (2014.10), themed Tracing Data: what you read is not what we write, focused on the materiality of data, not only as an object of investigation, but a domain often hidden from our daily experiences. To the non-expert visitors, we highlight the idea of reading as writing and writing as reading in the context of new media. Computing not only gives birth to new ways of making art and literature (writing), it has also provided new ways of reading (understanding and analyzing). The exhibition explored the changing nature of reading. The featured artworks touched upon three kinds of proliferation of new media in contemporary society: archive, surveillance and cinema.
For a critical response to the ubiquitous presence of moving images in our everyday environment, WMC_e6 (2018.08-11), Cinema Expanding: Visualising the Unseen, focused on the impact of computational technologies on the viewing experience of cinema. By presenting a series of 3 exhibitions (two solos and one dialogic-solo) and educational events distributed across 3 months, it not only challenges the current definition of moving images but also explores new possibilities in perceiving media tools and machines. The new programme format (exhibition series highlighting docent training programme) was also an experiment for WMC in search of the learning activities which can realise its education vision.
The latest edition of the Writing Machine Collective carries on with the group’s commitment to making media art and new technologies easier to understand to the general public. By converting academic research into experiential activities, we hope to encourage the audience to be more critical about their usage in new media while remaining their curiosities onto the alternatives.
In past editions, we have received positive comments on our contribution to the field of new media art practices premised on our research rigor. Looking into the future, WMC will devote even more effort to take our concern out of the territory of minority interest: we commit to translating expert knowledge to the general public, to turn digital literacy into general literacy.
(Linda C.H. LAI, Founder/Artistic Director, December 2019)
｢文字機器創作集｣ (WMC) 是一個立足香港的媒體藝術集合，值著研究為本的方位和理論介入而進行各種各樣的新媒體創作。
*電動制文本 Vs 超文本；詩 Vs 敍事；造句 Vs 語意構成
2011年的《文字機器創作集第四輯》（WMC_e4），累積了六年的經驗，在方向上顯然地較之前清晰。繼續推廣程式編碼的素養固然是首要的任務，同時也明白到尋找與當代藝術群體對話的接合點的重要性，而在建立藝術群體上又有那些地方須要注意。WMC_e4以「數碼化與計算思維」(computational thinking)為主題，其特定課題之一是關乎美學上的。如何為「過程」為本 — 即過程與產品同等重要，或過程比產品更重要，並以編碼為基礎 — 的新媒體藝術尋找合理的表達或展出形式？同時，我們提出了計算思維的出現先於數碼藝術的普及，在二十世紀的藝術實驗中早有伏線和先例。為此，我們透過公開徵稿而策展了兩個錄像放映節目，以「活動影像作為書寫機器」為題，播放十來個錄像作品。這算是一次實驗，透過較為人熟悉的錄像媒體去表達計算思維以及可引申的藝術想像活動。
（黎肖嫻/ 「文字機器創作集」藝術總監, 2014）