I believe individual artists should dictate the possibilities of their chosen media, and not leave it to the Adobes and Macromedias of the marketplace. The notion of artists creating their own tools is as old as art itself. For centuries, artists ground their own pigments, plucked pig hairs to make their own brushes, and primed their own canvases with glue made from boiled rabbits. Instead of distracting artists from their true purpose, these crafts actually tightened artists’ connections to their materials and processes.”

-- Golan Levin, “Designing with Code: One Artist’s Journey”

Classical art was sustained in part by a strong sense of craft. This craft element was rooted in the artist’s awareness of the intrinsic posibilities and limitations of their tools. Digital artists, however, sometimes use commercial software packages (such as Photoshop or Maya) whose internal operation is a mystery to them. Many digital art schools teach new media software but fail to teach computer programming and computer hardware. For this reason, art students often work without understanding the tools that they are using.

This situation discourages artists from exploring the full possibilities of computation. Computers have more capabilities than those of any individual package. Every commercial package predefines the range of possibilities for the user, and so limits what can be achieved. In light of this, the Writing Machine Collective – 4th edition (WMC_4) aims to present works in existing art forms to foreground the procedural operations embedded in computation. This exhibition will set an example to encourage artists to study digital tools in greater depth.

Macro Objectives of the project:

  • to promote programming literacy among artists

    •to treat technology as an “artistic medium” instead of a “tool”

    •to foreground the procedural operations embedded in computation

    •to support in-depth research and production of code-based generative art

    •to rediscover the generative/computational elements in existing art forms

    •to embrace interdisciplinary artistic research

    •to promote the appreciation of computational art among the general public

The Artists and their Works: Performing computational thinking in WMC_e4

Many of the WMC works have set out to move beyond the semantic aspects of writing to address the above issues. The present continuous tense of writing is a shared feature among all works. Highlighting the continuous, performative process of writing is also to open the possibilities of intervention, interruption, re-writing, and thus the precarious and contingent state of interpretation.

Writing as a performance is most explict in Yue-jin Ho and Iras Tam’s Mouse-click Notation, a piece of micro-writing that is the sonification of mouse activities. Permutation as a mode of computational thinking is explored in Justin Wong’s generative comics, City Forum, which may churn out potentially infinite animated comic narratives based on a library of graphic prototypes archived across the time-span of 3 years. Zoie So’s sculpture (Mediated Facial) and Linda Lai and Gary Ng’s dispersed installation (Scriptorium) both concern with connectivity and procedures, highlighting computational thinking’s algorithmic nature.

The writng process as intermedia translation subverting semantics-based encoding-decoding is explored in the works of Told To, Enrica Ho, and Vasco Paiva. Whereas To (Visual Diary Generator) turns image into text, Ho (Le montage de l'émotion) desires meaning-laden text to relax to become visual prints of pure color sensations. Paiva (Sea of Mountains) calculates pixel values in a video clip and turns them into a sound score.

Winnie Soon + Helen Pritchard’s jsut codeand Mary Flanagan’s [borders]engage with computing as social media and on-line communities. While Soon and Pritchard playfully and industriously encode, decode and re-code messages on Twitter to subvert and stretch the limits of ‘meaningful’ messges, Flanagan indulges visitors in the virtual world of apparently boundless drifting as far as code-writing and algorithmic rendering allows.

A few artists in WMC_e4 focus their effort in revealing the linguistic nature embedded in the architecture of the computer, especially Hector Rodriguez (Gestus), Kenny Chow and D. Fox Harrell (Coding Landscape, Crossing Metaphors), and Ip Yuk-yiu (abbreviated Double Indemnity).

Taking another perspective, more than a few works implicitly pronounce new species of cinema, and playfully fill the screen with new writing material, overcoming the hegemony of mainstream narrative cinema. “Twenty-is-one-is-twenty” could be a way to describe the multi-window found-footage work of Rodriguez’s Gestus. Chow and Harrell’s highly pictorial Coding Landscape invites visitors’ fingers to contribute to the work the missing protagonists of a landscape excursion. Ip’s Double Indemnity, using one mainstream Hollywood genre film as its raw material, allows the ‘back kitchen’ of the celluloid construct of the movie to take over the screen space. Lai’s Scriptorium is a tongue-in-cheek enquiry of where visible material on a screen comes from, and if anything that moves qualifies for a moving image. Wong’s City Forum is a self-proclaimed generative cinema, exploring the infinite internal self-multiplication of a fixed library of visual images. All of these works in one way or other build upon the notion of archive, library and database, presumed features of computation.

The critique of culture is the explicit objective of the many ‘writing’ exercises in this exhibition. In addition to Rodriguez’s critique of mainstream narrative cinema, Justin Wong’s work is primarily caricature of local politics and social scandals. Ho and Tam’s Mouse-click notation, originally titled ‘two-word poem’, pays tribute to the forgotten laborers of ancient China, the evidence of whose existence survives only in the inexpressive utterance of the 2-word poems. Linda Lai’s Scriptorium directly addresses de-humanization in assembly lines and, in response, re-creates the assembly-line experience with computational authorship, re-defining productivity as personal engagement. Linda Lai’s work is based on her on-going research on the history of the book and writing.

(Linda C.H. LAI)(extract form editorial in proceedings)



2010年12月16日谷歌悄悄地公佈了它的電子書庫,自此公眾得以在線免費閱讀近520萬 冊數碼藏書,你不單可以一本一本地翻閱,還可以透過網上介面進行搜索、連結,這個電子書庫不單為人文學科的研究與教育開展了全新領域,而且還進一步改變我 們的書寫方式。現在每當下筆前,我們必須考慮到這些伸手可及、用各種語言書寫,數以千億計的現成文字。文字不再必須從腦中直接書寫出來,它們可以是搜尋出 來、連結出來、照搬過來,因襲過去而再轉化成新的。電子書庫是當代種種改變書寫方式的發明之一,但它的影響不是在文字處理(如電腦輸入、排版)或視覺(如 列印、電子墨水)層面,而是深入到創作何謂屬於「我」的文字。


運算式思維(computational thinking)是今次《文字機器創作集第四輯》的主題。根據卡耐基梅隆大學(CMU)運算思維中心的使命簡介,它是:「建基於電腦科學基本概念的問題解決方法、以及用於系統設計和了解人類行為」,亦同時是「人類思考和了解世界的基要組成部份。」運算式思維有三個核心特徵:-,抽象層次的創作與工作;二,演算式(algorithmically)思考,並著重於歸納法;三,在工作中注重「均勻縮放」(scaling)的原理(http://www.cs.cmu.edu/〜CompThink/)。運算式思維或許是沿自電腦,但它也是一套可以應用於程式編寫外,如解決社會難題和藝術創作的思維模式。


在 過去三期的《文字機器創作集》中,運算式思維一值是重要的一環。於我們來說,「書寫」是任何把獨立單位組織成系統的活動。而系統組織過程中的連結、排列、 歸類則是書寫當中的「表演性」。書寫的「藝術性」,則在於作品透過書寫系統把資料或原料轉譯、重編,出現和最初截然不同的樣貌。《文字機器創作集第四輯》 中不少的作品都以文字語言以外的方式表達上述的書寫與運算式思維概念。當中有放大書寫中的表演性(何禹旃/譚慧心)、探索演算式思維中的無限可能(黃照 達)、關於算式演算過程中的連接與程序(黎肖嫻/伍紀穎,以及蘇慧怡)。而涂業生、何佩霖與Vasco Paiva的作品則是利用跨媒體的轉譯過程,去顛覆本來基於語義的編碼與解碼,可以是從影像到文字、從文字到圖案,又或者是把空間的量度化成聲音。


對於孫詠怡/ Helen Pritchard 與Mary Flanagan她們關心的則是網上社區與社交媒體,孫詠怡/ Helen Pritchard讓觀眾嬉戲於從Twitter到手機的信息編碼/解碼活動,而Flanagan則帶領觀眾去看她到虛擬世界盡頭的旅程。羅海德、周嘉年/ D. Fox HARRELL和葉旭耀的作品則以影像方式揭露了電腦架構中內嵌的語言本質 。








(Chinese abstract translated from full article in English: HO Yue-jin)



Project Chief / General Editor: LAI Chiu-han Linda

Research Director: Hector RODRIGUEZ

Art/Technical Director: WONG Chiu-tat Justin

Producer: Michelle ROCHA / Deputy Producer: MOK Chung-ling Jolene

Venue Designer: CHENG Chi-lai Howard / Deputy Venue Design: WAN Ka-nok

Executive Editor: HO Yue-jin

Graphic Designer: YUEN Wai-cheung Edith

Grant Proposal Executive: LEUNG Yin-lui Janice